Sunday, December 24, 2006

Merry Christmas!

Last year was the first year I really felt settled into a Christmas routine. It took a long time to give up the traditions of my youth and my parents/siblings and realize that Paul is always going to be gone all afternoon/night Christmas Eve. This was hard when the kids were babies because they were not good company. I wanted to catch up with family. I wanted to eat hors deorves and drink cocktails. I wanted a nice big dinner. I wanted to spend a long lazy time opening presents. I wanted to get dressed up fancy and sit solemnly in church singing hyms and reflecting on what it means that God became this tiny little baby. Unlikely.

The low was spending--literally--five minutes in church one year (by myself with the kids of course because Paul is leading worship, and of course there is no nursery the one service of the year when you really really need a nursery) before one kid pooped in their diaper and the other two were screaming. I dragged everybody out, buckled them in the van and we drove through McDonalds. Fish fillet was not what I had in mind. I put the kids to bed and sat and watched tv by myself. I was pretty sad.

But, now I have come to peace with our Christmas routine. I have stopped comparing it to the Christmas of my youth because it’s simply apples and oranges..and this is the only sort of Christmas my kids know. And they love it. And I love it. It gets better every year because they are older and now are such good company. We’ve built our own Christmas.

Today we will hang out and clean up in anticipation of our guests who arrive tomorrow. Jon, Hope & the boys are coming from Iowa for a Scrabble showdown and will arrive after lunch tomorrow. Tom & Terry are driving in from Indiana to give some Oma and Opa love to the grandkids and will get in late tomorrow night. We can't start the festivities until the Pastors Dunbar (all three of them) have completed their Christmas worship duties. Ah, the extended clergy family.

This evening the kids and I will bake a birthday cake for Jesus; go to 7:30 Christmas Eve worship (which they can now participate in and enjoy and there should be no pooping involved); and decorate the cake (left to cool during worship) while we wait for Paul to get home. We have services at 3:00, 5:00 and 7:30, so he's usually gone from 2:00 until 9:00/:30.
(Now that we live in the parsonage, he can sometimes run home for a few minutes between the 5 and 7:30.) We'll start opening presents when he's home for good.

Tomorrow morning we'll haul the kids out of bed to go caroling at the hospital at 8:00am. I thought this was crazy the first year we were here. I thought no one would show up that early on Christmas morning, but we usually have 30-50 people come and it has become one of my favorite Christmas traditions. How awful it would be to be sick and alone in the hospital on Christmas morning. It's a very moving thing to walk the halls singing hymns proclaiming glad tidings. The hospital serves us continental breakfast in the cafeteria afterwards and then we all head to church for 10 am worship. The Christmas morning service is also one of my favorites of the year. It's usually a pretty small, intimate gathering. I love it.

We'll cross the street back home and eat egg casserole and birthday cake for lunch. Then we‘ll finish off the gifts and wait for the Iowa Dunbars to arrive. And then we’ll catch up with family. And then we’ll eat hors deorves (cream cheese/crab dip) and drink cocktails (snowflake martinis!). And then we’ll have a nice big dinner (rib roast and twice baked potatoes!). And then, the next night, when everyone is here, we’ll have a LONG time opening presents.

It will be a Merry Christmas.

I hope you have one too.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006 your sappy email...part 2

We're on a roll here, folks. The Dunbar family is reading "The Best Christmas Pageant Ever" which I believe to be (Bible aside) the best Christmas book ever. This is the kids' first exposure to it and they are mad into it. My kids are such goody-goodies that they are HORRIFIED at the Herdmans. The book is cracking them up. It's fantastic.

So, last night Phoebe said "Imogene Herdman took the Lord's name insane!"

Not, "...took the Lords name, insane!" Just "...took the Lord's name insane."

The commandments are forever altered for us.
FYI, it has been raining since about 11 pm last night. The trees here are beautifully heavy laden with ice. I heard the doomsday predictions and went and got batteries and milk and what not yesterday. The kids are in school because the roads aren't so bad now, but by the time school gets out I'm afraid it will be a mess. Snow is on it's way as well. I have a feeling they will miss their last day of school tomorrow, which means no Christmas parties, which means I am off the hook for the second grade class. The other room mother bailed on me and I have to fly solo...but maybe not. I will be sad if our Advent worship is cancelled tonight. It's our congregational hymn sing and I love me song Christmas hymns.

Happy Wednesday.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

put this in your sappy email and forward it

It was just revealed to me at lunch that the prayer Ollie picks to pray at almost every meal has been grossly misunderstood. Our boy, who I was just this morning telling Paul I thought might be a genius, has been praying, "Give thanks to the Lord for He is good. His love and doors forever. Amen."

About ten minutes after I revoked his genius status, the four-year-old started reading. Okay, "reading" might be too strong, but he was sounding out words like dots, mop, tap, nap, cat. Genius status: reinstated. is a gateway drug

Please procede with caution. is merely a gateway drug. The hard stuff lies beyond. Don't blame me when your brain turns to mush and your teeth fall out from the celebrity-candy. Don't call me your pusher. I'm just telling you...warning you that surfing over to could lead to you visiting sites like this (again and again and again and again).

Thursday, December 14, 2006

the closest thing to a dunbar family christmas card you'll see this year

Last night was our Advent worship lead by 3 year olds through second graders. Good stuff. Very festive, very cute. Phoebe had a small speaking part and got to play the bells. They all sang and had class recitations. The event required dressing up and the boys were pretty excited about their ties. Oliver, of course, wore rain boots, but what do you expect? Phoebe's hair is cute, it just makes her look so old! Blessed Avent and merry Christmas!

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Wednesday, December 13, 2006

A few things

1. I sent in my application to graduate school today. I sent in my requests for transcripts. I contacted one professor who did, indeed, remember me and said she would write a letter of recommendation (albeit a vague one as I took her class 12 years ago). I called and left a message with the woman I'm hoping will give me a graduate assistant job which would waive my tuition.

2. I kicked Paul's ass at Scrabble. We've played every night since Thanksgiving and until yesterday I had never won..NEVER. Last night we decided to play 9-tile Scrabble because our games take forever and we have children who like our attention. I played the word MINDLESS, which covered two triple word squares, plus was a BINGO worth 50 and one of the S's crossed the bottome of some other word making plural (I can't even remember what it was now, maybe "route"). All in all, that word was worth 178 points. Boo-ya.

3. Phoebe has been asking that we go get her hair cut. Yesterday she said "chin length and bangs." Not my first choice, but she knew exactly what she wanted. The stylist and I tried to go for soft, layered, swish to the side bangs and she said, "I want them straight across." And so they are. And she is so happy and excited about her hair. She couldn't wait to go to school. She thought maybe if she picked out a new outfit, her classmates might think she was a new student. And Paul and I are happy because she's so happy and we love her loads and we love that she is her own person with her own ideas (and goodness knows I've had my fair share of bad ideas and worse hair cuts...Dudley Moore, anyone?) but the haircut in and of itself....

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Do you really want to hurt me?

I got together with a bunch of musicians the other day. Most of them are good friends of mine. And then there were a couple of acquaintances with whom I've never played or even talked much. I was excited to jam. It's been a long time since we've had an all out hootinany. Plus, we're working on putting a show together--all of us playing on each others' songs and collaborating in small groups. Good stuff.

Also, I've been reworking an old song called Ohio and I was excited to unveil the updated version. I wrote it amost four years ago. It was the first song I wrote that I thought well enough of to want to play it for people. Someone asked me to play it last week and I did and I wanted to stop half way through because I was so bored with it. My friend Todd is alwasy reworking his old stuff and he challenged me to breath new life into that bad boy.

I've been working hard. I changed the tuning from standard to DAGAD. Instead of the simple strumming pattern I had, I now travis pick, playing the melody as an intro and between verses. I put in a bridge. I have vocal parts for two other voices--and not just straight one third up harmonies--but, in my own small way, vocal arrangements. I'm rather proud of how it's turning out and proud of myself for taking the challenge and running with it. I was pumped.

And then I was dissappointed.

I sat there trying in vain to put my finger on how I was feeling while everyone was playing. On the way home I wanted to cry, but held back. Finally when Paul asked me how it was, the tears came. And it took a surprisingly long time for me to come up with a label for what it was: my feelings were hurt.

The whole thing is just wierd to me. On one hand I think how silly to have hurt feelings. On the other hand I think why is having hurt feelings alien to me? Am I a wuss or a stone wall? I don't know. Maybe I'm not used to hurt feelings in this field. It's all bizarre. I feel very out of touch with my emotions.

I played my song (much anticipated in my mind) and everyone nodded their heads like, "yeah, good one." Then someone else played another midtempo song and the comment was made "if we keep playing songs like those we'll put our audiene to sleep." He had a point. Two downers in a row. But, it was dissappointing to be told the song I was so excited about was boring.

Then everyone played songs and jammed. They are all excellent musicians. We had four guitars, a mandolin, a bass, a banjo, and a snare drum (the fiddler couldn't make it). Those instruments got passed around with various people playing at different times (I can't play any of them but guitar). Arrangements were fleshed out with parts loosely assigned--"yeah, you play lead there" (I couldn't play lead guitar to save my life unless it was a memorized riff or solo that I had practiced dilligently) "and here, let's figure out a harmony part for you" (I can sing harmony, but there are others in the group who are much faster at picking it up and are known for singing backup). So I sat and listened and realized I really had nothing to contribute to the group. There was nothing I could be called on to do that at least three people couldn't do better.

Now, I don't mean to throw a pitty part. And I don't want you fill in the comments telling me that, no really, I'm great (though you are all very kind and I thank you anyway). I feel okay saying my talents lie in songwriting and performing. Those talents serve me well. Playing shows is fun. Writing songs is fun. Both are great outlets for me. But, I was excited to be a part of something new and something bigger than myself and my own songs and it was sad to find out that my skillset really really limits how much I can participate and enjoy it.

I felt sad for myself.

So, I'm determined to make the songs I, myself, put forward for this show are killer. I keep telling myself I have nothing to prove, but I kind of feel like I do. Maybe my challenge isn't a musical one but a psychological/emotional one. Maybe the challenge is figuring out my place in this group and how to play to my strengths within it. Maybe the challenge is taking a backseat--I have plenty of opportunities to share my music--and letting other dogs have their day. I don't know. It will be interesting to see how it all plays out. Ha. Plays out.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Right Down Satan Claws Lane

There's no Santa at the Dunbar's house. I'm anti-Santa. I don't think I'm anti-Santa in a killjoy-obnoxious-funsucking-religious-fanatic way. But, I guess you can decide that for yourselves and let me know how deluded I am.

First, let me explain one reason for being anti-Santa that DOES NOT apply to me. That is to say I am anti-Santa for reasons other than this. This is killjoy with a capital K. J.: Magic.

I'm a big fan of magic. Harry Potter? Check. Narnia? Check. Lord of the Rings (movies not books, I'm sad to say)? Check. Toothfairy? Fine. Made up bedtime stories about stuffed donkeys coming to life and my kids having crazy-ass magical powers? Youbetcha. I LOVE that stuff.

In fact, talk to me about toy making elves, flying reindeer and magical fat men in red suits in June and I'd rather like the idea. My main beef with Santa is timing. Why does he arrive the same night as Baby Jesus?

This is somebody who comes to us on December 25; he knows if we've been naughtly or nice; he rewards us accordingly; and when we get to be a certain age we stop believing in him, but keep pretending we do to keep up appearances.

Now, pretend you are three years old and guess whoI'm talking about: Santa or Baby Jesus? Or don't pretend you're anything--which person fits that description? There is confusion enough in the world about who Jesus is. We don't need Santa appearing on a cloud for every eye to see and mussing things up further.

If we need a little something to help explain who Jesus is and what He came to do...if we need an analogy of sorts...a friendly cartoon character to reflect Jesus' nature...I could get into that. But the fact that Santa comes at the same time and is so NOT thank you.

The other problem is one of American materialism and a sense of entitlement. This is such a big problem for me because it is my problem EXACTLY. I wish I had more money. I wish I had more stuff. I wish I had nicer stuff. It is my stray dog sin that follows me around and scratches at my door all the time. I pray about it a lot. I remind myself that my life would still be life with all it's joys and sorrows if I had $50,000 more or $50,000 les per year (though, frankly, the latter is a little hard to imagine). I refuse to let all this Santa business instill this in my kids.

What am I talking about, you ask? This question, that some well meaning stranger or friend asks my children at least once day, "What sorts of things do you have on your list for Santa?" I guess I did it when I was little, and my mom still asks me if there is anything special I want, but the idea of telling a child to sit down and write out all the things they want to be given? To walk through the toy aisles full of plastic crap they'll outgrow in a couple months and say, "which 10 of these things will make your holiday special?" It gives me the heebeegeebees. Because if those things (or some of them) don't show up on Christmas morning, then what? Do you really say, "you must have been naughty?" or make up some cock and bull story about Santa catching a flat or letters getting lost in the mail?

And then I start to think outside of my own family and at the community/world around me. When the poor kids in Phoebe's class say they didn't get anything...or not the conclusion then that they were bad? That Santa doesn't visit the poor because they are bad? Does being poor make them bad? Is that the same thing?

And I think of all the hours each week Paul spends helping people who come into his office to get out of debt, or to manage their money, or to make ends meet. And I think about those people feeling like they HAVE to spend all this money at Christmas to make it Christmas and then spend the next 11 months digging themselves out from under that.

I know I'm getting carried away here.

I like presents. I hope to get some good ones. I hope the ones I'm giving are received with happiness and enjoyed.

My kids know who Santa is. They think of him, I think, like Mickey Mouse. He's in movies and books and everybody loves him and talks about him but why would he come to our house on Christmas? We've come up with this answer for when people ask if they are going to get lots of presents for Santa. They say, "I know I'll get some nice things from my friends and family." I worked really hard to come up with that. I don't want to be in your face shouting "we don't believe in Santa!" and ruin anybody else's good time. And I get wierd looks-o-plent with that reply, but the kids have to say something when they are asked, and boy are they asked.

It's this sort of thing that makes me want to be a pioneer wife. I could make cornhusk dolls for the kids and they'd be so excited. Paul would get me fabric so I could make myself a new bonnet and I wouldn't even want for more. I know a time machine is not the answer. And I know I've been through all this before on the blog, but sometimes I feel Amerian culture just dragging me under.

I know some people do St. Nicholas. Some people have figurines of Santa kneeling and praying before the manger. Some people with the same beliefs as me choose to do Santa and that's fine. There's no law against Santa. But we decided to not do Santa at all. It seems to get harder and harder to manage as the wide world becomes more a part of the kids' lives. Since they can't talk about Jesus at school, all they hear is Santa (don't get me started on public vs. parochial school) . But, we'll stick to our guns and pray and believe that these kids are God's children even more so then they are ours and maybe save a little money for later therapy if being anti-Santa scars them for life.


1. Box of Letters
I wrote this song a year ago, played it once last spring and then totally forgot about it, which is weird because I really like it. It's up beat. It's chorus is "wooo-hooo-hooo" instead of words, which is unusual for me. The music tricks you into thinking it's happy song.
"Now time rolls by window, but leaves nothing at my door
'cept a string of days roughly the same as the string that came before
And I read this box of letters damn near every month
My star may never shine again, but here's proof that it shined once."

2. The Long Winter
I took the story from the Little House book of the same name. It's a fast fingerpick pattern with a built-in bass line. It took a lot of editing and re-editing and re-editing to pare it down to essentials -- I can't sing the whole book. I could, I guess, put it would be a very long song. I played it in Holdrege, NE but this was it's Listening Room debut.
"If you can't hear that whistle blow
then the tracks are blocked with snow
If the engineer can't make that engine roll
Then the train can't bring the coal"

3. Still There
A camp song. I totally ripped off two songs in writing this: Cheryl Wheelers "Further and Further Away" and Nora Jones "Those Sweet Words" (the chords in the bridge), and I'm okay with that. I started writing this after our Soaring Hawk reunion last fall and played it during the summer, but this was it's LR debut as well. You can read the lyrics and hear a homerecording (I play the accordion!) here.

4. Lavalier
It may have been against my better judgement to play this, as I finished writing it the day before and the guitar part was difficult and not exactly executed as I would have liked. But people liked the song. A couple people told me it made them there you go. I'd like to tell you about it, but it's a story song and writing a synopsis of a tale that's told nicely three minutes kind of deflates the whole thing. Hopefully, I will have the means for you to hear it by the end of 2007. * When I walked off stage Mark Erelli was standing there and quoted back to me the last two lines below nodding his head in approval. Yeah!
"Sunday dinners at Granny's house -- ham and peas and mashed potatoes
When we were all thorougly stuffed we'd settle into board games and old tv shows
And I'd skate down the hallway -- hardwood floors and slippery socks
I'd sit at Granny's vanity and look through her jewlery box...."

5. Prairie Christmas
I wrote this after our second Christmas in Hastings. It's my ode to Nebraska. People really respond to this song. I am always asked if I really wrote it. I did. As it is seasonal, I have to really milk it during November and December. Listen to it here.
"Now our kids are grown, each one to their own home
St. Louis, Chicago, L.A.
They drive their S.U.V.'s to bring home plastic trees
But there are somethings that simply will not change
Top the tree with a cardboard star, sing carols with the guitar
Every week light a candle on the advent wreath
Bake the Christ a birthday cake, give more than you take
And contemplate the season's wonder on your knees"

*I am hereby committing myself to producing an album during 2007. My enthusiasm waxes and wanes constantly on this, but this last show was a huge encouragement. The last few shows people I don't know have asked me if I have a cd for sale. Many people. That's a good indicator to me -- because of course my friends want a recording, they love me, but strangers only know the music. Mark told me he recorded his latest album of lullabies in his apartment with one mic. Then on stage he encouraged the community of Hastings to hound me until I had a record for sale. My friend Todd has a digital recorder that he has offered to set up at our house for as long as it takes. This is all good news as I have built up a whole pychological aversion to going into "the studio." it's out there, publicly...I am going to do this (start panic

Saturday, December 02, 2006


So, none of you showed last night. Okay. I gave you little noticed and Nebraska is terribly far away from most of you, but you missed a great event, and I don't mean me.

I have loved Mark Erelli's music from the first time I heard him on "Live from the Mill" on our NPR affiliate the morning before he played the Listening Room a couple three or four years ago. We hadn't been able to get a babysitter that night and weren't going to go, but then we heard him play live on "Live from the Mill" and so we went halvsies. Paul went to the first set, drove home at intermission and I went for the second set.

He gets better and better each time I hear him. He doesn't give the "album version" of his songs live--the songs are reincarnated each time. His songwriting gets better and better with each album. Each song has a pivotal line that just scewers the heart. He makes me want to lay my head down on the table--it's so piercing and dead on I can hardly stand it. That is good music, my friends. Click here to listen to a demo, recorded on minidisc in his apartment in Boston, of an unreleased song called Abraham. When that pivotal line comes, you'll know it. Make sure you've cleared a space on your computer table to lay your head down and cry.