Monday, September 28, 2009

If you're looking for Cool, look no further...

"Hey, is all that blinding light bouncing off of us or coming FROM us?"

The iconic "Bolt" pose

Daniel, Angie, Chloe, and Ben...too bad no one looks like they're having much fun, Ben!

Exclusive Interview with Ben Holliday, Courtier Extraordinaire

[Pretend this deathless prose is actually copyrighted...humor me.]

Ed. Note: a few photos may be examined on the Christian Life High School Facebook page...

Editor: Ben, are the rumors true? Were you really selected to be on the Christian Life High School Homecoming Court? How did this come about?

BEN: Um, yes, by popular vote, I was elected to Homecoming Court. No surprise there.

Ed.: Say what?

BEN: You heard it from the horse’s mouth.

Ed. Well, I heard something, but I always assume an uppity attitude comes from the Back End of a horse...just sayin.' Anyway, I was given to understand that SOME of your family members where QUITE dumbfounded by this development…

BEN: As well they should be. This is the first time in Holliday family history that One of Us has been on CLHS Homecoming Court.

Ed.: Tell us how you felt when you learned this news.

BEN: I, myself, was quite shocked. I never thought that I would ever be so honored as to be on my high school's homecoming court. Actually, I'm not sure I'll ever be the same...wait, is that a GOOD Thing?

Ed.: What all was involved in this ?

BEN: It was a big honor. I had my picture taken along with the rest of the court, many times. We had to learn a song and dance that we had to perform at the Banquet. It was “Chicago” by Frank Sinatra. It was like a 1920s swing dance…I even got to wear a fedora ..the Rat Pack…that’s what I’m talkin’ about.

And it was really busy. We had to go to the homecoming games, including Powder Puff (the game when the senior boys play the junior boys in volleyball, and the senior girls play the junior girls in football). Practice for coronation…That was pretty punctual, you know, and took up a lot of time during school. Then after the real coronation, we got served lunch in the board room – Mongolian Beef and Chinese food. That was really nice. And then we toured around the middle school and elementary school and said 'hi' to the tykes, and 'here's your new king and queen," etc. I think it was supposed to be a 'highlight' but who knows what they really thought. Maybe they got out of a test or something!

Then, there were lots of poses for photos. When we were on stage after coronation, we had our photos taken by the school photographer. It’s all on facebook. A few weeks before Homecoming. Mr. Beary announced over the PA system who the candidates were….I really didn’t know anyone would seriously vote for me before then. One day they took us outside and had us pose…it was a nice day out and I was the last one, they gave me a pair of sunglasses and they showed me how to do “The Bolt” - [Ed. note: this iconic pose can be viewed amongst the photos at the top of this installment]

Ed.: Gracious! All this heart-pounding excitement sounds as if it could cause a spot of fatigue...but, then, you're Forever Young.

BEN: Well, it was a 'Ride' - if ya know what I mean! Like, at halftime during the football game---which we WON, by the way....SORRY, Kirkland--actually, NOT sorry. They had all of us on the court and the King and Queen ride around the field in a jeep motorcade…the jeeps were all different colors, and each king candidate rode with a queen candidate. I felt like I was in a deck of cards. That was a blast. I rode with Danielle Cicogna and our driver was Bronson Radke, an alumnus, and he swerved around, and then two of my buds, Andrew and Daniel had the audacity to hop into our jeep…they were stowaways.

Ed.: Whew...let me catch my breath here, laddie...

BEN: Next came the dinner on Saturday. First, we met at one of the girls' houses...well, house is kind of an understatement..and posed for pictures. Unfortunately, this was somewhat spoiled when our moms morphed into frustrated professional photographers and became Really Annoying.

Anyway, I was so busy this past week, between school, x-country practice, working, and then even having a x-c meet ON Saturday, that I had to send my mom and my sister on a mission to get my clothes…fortunately, they can follow directions. Yeh, sometimes they even have to ASK for directions...

It just so happened that my friend, Daniel and I , wore the exact same thing, except his tie was silver grey and mine was pure white. His date, Angie, wore a silver/black dress. My date, Chloe, wore a black and white polka dot dress, so everything was somehow perfectly coordinated. By some weird coincidence, we each got them the same wrist corsage. Well, I mean, they each had their own....

Then it was on to La Casa Grande. It was a nice place in Beloit, WI right across the state line. The food was great…I had beef and pasta and such. But, believe it or not, no dessert. I know...

Ed.: You've got to be kidding! No chocolate of any kind? anywhere? Did you ask for a refund???

BEN: You're interrupting. When we walked in, it was all lit up with Christmas lights, and there was soft jazz music playing, and there was a balcony, and there was an unnecessary amount of our teachers there, pretending to be chaperones. The court and our dates sat at the head table up at the front of the room. We got to see everyone, because we had the best seats in the house. A person could sort of get used to that. It was nice to be there and see everyone dressed up.

Ed.: Well, except for the egregious absence of chocolate, it sounds like a great evening...did anything else happen?

BEN: Well, after they served dinner, we watched a lot of video clips from and Pixar, then we played a game where the faculty sang things and we had to guess what they were singing about...or something like that. I'm still not too sure.
Then Mr. Beary [the principal] narrated a slide show making reference about homecoming about what to do and what not to do. One poor kid had these really embarrassing photos that his mom had snuck in.

Ed. Note: I did NOT 'sneak' them in. I merely complied with the letter sent to "court" parents from the school office, asking us to discreetly look for memorable photos of our students to be used in some creative way at the Banquet. I was only obeying.

BEN: Then the homecoming court did our performance of "Chicago" by Frank Sinatra. That's why so many of the guys wore black shirts and fedoras. Miss Beach choreographed it. And then one of the interns from CrossCurrent [student ministry group] tried to teach the faculty how to do the Thriller game. Then one of the foreign exchange students, Leo, did a beat box solo (rap), then Mr. Beary prayed, and we all left.

Ed.: Wow, Ben, that really sounds like a night to remember....

BEN: Oh, I'll remember it, all right. And, before I forget, THANK YOU, MOM, for sneaking Mr. Beary that picture of me when I was three, riding the toy rocking horse in my plaid pants. That was Just Great. The whole room started laughing, and Andrew made his usual crack about how that was my golfing outfit, and then everyone started calling me "Rocking Horse Boy." Yeah. Nice.

Ed.: *smirk*

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Note how seamlessly I fit into this group of 'unsuspecting peers.' Well, I must admit the fashionable head scarf does help me look a wee bit older than my years...

Do I not blend in perfectly here?

Miss Cee's Institute of Subtly Successful Interpersonal Management

a.k.a. – “How to Be There Without Them Minding”

Greetings, gentle readers! I know, I know, it has been Far Too Long! Please accept my earnest apology for being Incommunicado for so long. Life here at the Circle H Ranch has been nothing if not hectic, even for moi!

But, don’t think you’ve all been far from my thoughts—far from it, as they say! In the interest of consistency, I try to take my own advice (from time to time) and so when I found myself in the situation described below, I instantly recognized it as a Serendipitous Teaching Opportunity to share with all of you!

Allow me to provide the context: My middle-older brother, Ben, and my only sister, Alina, both run on the cross-country team for their high school. [Here’s a mysterious sidenote: everyone on the team, including the Coach, RUN and RUN, but they never catch anything! I know! Even curiouser, they don’t even seem to be chasing anything! It’s like running—just for the sake of running. I’m pretty sure this is another one of those “you’ll understand when you get older” topics. I, myself, think it only makes sense to run when you’re after something that’s Really Worth Catching!]

ANYway, a couple of Fridays ago, the Team Dinner was held at our house. It was kind of awesome because there were lots of people, girls AND boys, and lots of food, including three jugs of chocolate milk!! There was eating, and laughing, and joking and eating, and then playing ‘Apples to Apples’ and goofing around. AND, Mom and Dad were kind of like the wait staff…which, it must be said, was fun to watch.

This is kind of funny, because-actually-Mom had been telling me that I was supposed to be The Helper who waited on the Guests. Now, THAT’s an idea…for someone else…

But, on to the subject at hand: navigating and negotiating your way through a social milieu without having to observe any pesky guidelines or boundaries that could (and, inevitably, do) get in the way of Smooth Social Swimming. For those of us who find ourselves at the younger end of the age spectrum, it is especially important to get the situation well in hand early along.

Bear in mind that the Ultimate Goal (elusive as it may sound) is that you will so completely melt into the fabric of the party that troublesome concepts such as “Bedtime” and “Hey, Where’s Your Little Sister?” do not register on anyone’s mental radar.

When finding yourself in a social situation such as described, the cardinal rule to keep in mind is to Not Draw Attention to Yourself. For some of us, this might seem contrary to nature, if not downright impossible. But, press on, and success will soon be in your sights.

As is the case with all worthy stories, there is a Dramatic Arc involved in this - the Unfolding Party for Older People that you want to insinuate yourself into. Begin with Diligent Observation. When the doorbell rings, be Jenny-on-the-Spot to answer it, dazzling guests with a warm welcome as you usher them in.

Even though it is going to be Really, Really Hard, try not to talk too much…just show them around and make sure they get whatever food, napkins, M&Ms, and chocolate milk that they want. You are There to Serve. Before you know it, they will subconsciously think you are Handy to have around, and not a dreaded Little Sibling Nuisance.

Be sure to mingle-mingle so that no one feels left out, and ALSO, so that no one notices you hanging around too much…;if you’re not very careful, someone—even a non-family member-- can get snarky and wonder aloud just why you are there at Party Central. [I know it seems unspeakably impertinent, but it has been known to happen.]

One little technique I’ve found to be effective is to slip away at odd moments and repair to your private space—both to take a breather, and to survey your closets and drawers: be on the look-out for any accessories or accoutrements that have the visual effect of making you seem Older Than You Are, and hence, more easily taken for a peer than a preschooler. In my case, a Cool Headband Scarf that my grandma got for me was quite effective in providing additional panache.

You will know that success has been achieved when you find yourself in the very middle of the current party game, and No One Is the Wiser!!!!

Party on!!!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Last to Know...

[Warning: flagrant bragging ensues]

One of my favorite 80s bands, the Police, released an album called “Synchronicity” a couple of decades ago now (just another little reality check there). Although only about half the songs (I’m old enough to remember when they were called “cuts”, as in LP vinyl) were worth replaying, the idea of synchronicity fascinated me then, and still does.

Or, as I used to think of it when the thought first occurred-- the simultaneity of life; the simple idea that while certain events are happening Here, activities and passages of different sorts are taking place There, and There, and There—virtually ad infinitum—at the very same moment. It would take someone or something supernatural to grasp it all, let alone oversee it. And, most fortunately, God does. To paraphrases T.S. Eliot again, Christ is “the still point of the turning world.”

Throw in that other oft-overlooked truth that “the secret things belong to God” [Deut. 29:29], and it’s a safe bet that there will be times in life when it pays to “hold on to your hat.”

One side effect of this mortal phenomenon is that things happen, even to those closest to us, of which we are usually unaware. Such has been the case around here lately---well, all the time to be literal about it.

But, here’s the point.

Ben, or Someone wearing his appearance and identity, has been developing a bit of positive notoriety of late. And who is the last to know? Your Faithful Correspondent, [Clouseau accent]: “but, of course!”

This afternoon, as I diligently graded more mind-numbing grammar worksheets at a tot-sized table (my turn to work as the office assistant at John’s and Cecily’s school today), another friend-mom casually mentioned, “So, Ben is on Court.”


My Ben? What court? Another of my offspring has been visiting a court of a very different nature lately (as in traffic court), so the term does not default to a positive connotation for me.

No, silly. Homecoming Court. Ben has been voted onto Homecoming Court. Our elf.

This is very cool, and we are pleasantly taken aback. “Who’d a thunk it?!”
On the other hand, since everyone in residence here SPEAKS ENGLISH, can someone clue me in?!!! Everyone in the world knows these things but me!!! I’m developing a complex. I still don’t even know when this happened.

And, there’s more. [“But, of course!”]

In fairness, we were made aware of this Next Installment, but the communication was at the instigation of Ben’s ever-faithful Coach, who made him call us here at home. But, I’m getting ahead of myself.

The Fall Retreat for Ben’s high school took place this past Thursday and Friday up at Lake Geneva Conference Center. Other than eating food of varying quality, hearing sessions with a guest speaker, and participating in praise and worship time, I am still in the dark as to what else ever takes place at these annual outings. (Bear in mind that Son #1 was graduated from this same institution and participated in these retreats during his own high school career—but we learned early on not to expect any info from him.)

We were about three-quarters of the way through our favorite spy show (“MI-5” on PBS) when the phone rang, showing Coach’s cell phone number. Probably not good.

As Bill wandered into a different room with the phone pressed to his ear, my curiosity was piqued, and my usual one-side-of-the-conversation discernment skills failed me.

After he rang off, Bill explained that Ben had just been voted Torch Bearer by the senior class at the retreat, an honor that left him humbled and nonplussed. Evidently, this takes place each year in this setting, and the person named is then considered a spiritual leader for the class for the remainder of the school year. At least, that’s my best understanding.

Not so many months ago, I’m told, Ben was grappling with the expected confusion and anger that comes in the wake of a complex hospitalization. “There will be a light at the end of this tunnel, Ben,” his coach assured him.

Last week, standing on a picnic table an hour or so north of here, Ben held aloft a torch—indisputably a light—and experienced a tangible demonstration of God’s engagement in life.

Just today, I was told that the torch had to be replaced and relit several times during the retreat’s closing prayer time, owing to the number of students joining in. I’m hoping there might be a photo or two out there but will need to investigate that.

Can there be any more to this story? Certainly, or I wouldn’t have asked.

Less than a week after assuring me that he had NO interest in attending his senior year Homecoming banquet, that same Someone, answering to the name of Ben, apparently changed his mind.

The eyewitness account runs like this: ‘We were in the middle of playing “Captain, Captain, may we cross your ship?” [I know], when Ben asked me to ad lib it a little. So, when they asked to cross, I answered, “Only if C---- will go to Homecoming with Ben Holliday!” Allegedly, heads swiveled around to see Ben the Gallant down on one knee.

And you think you know a person. (Yes, she accepted.)

To tie the proverbial bow on this little installment, I note the reaction of Ben’s older brother when I shared the foregoing account.

“MY brother?!?!”

Yup, that’s kind of what I said, too.

Then the not-quite-suppressed half smile appeared.

“Well, Mom, you know what it is…it’s that old Holliday Male Charm.”

And what can I say? It worked on me.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Persisting in the Echo Chamber

One of my pet peeves is the failure to respond.

Unless you’re engaged in some sort of audiology research, an echo chamber seems like a distinctly unhelpful venue.

It has always irked me when there is every indication that a message has been received audibly, but the recipient seems unwilling to bother with any kind of response. I imagine one of the many annoying ‘mom-habits’ my children will look back on with chagrin is my insistence that they acknowledge and respond when spoken to.

To my mind, how hard can it be? What’s not to get? It’s simple courtesy. It’s fundamental to human discourse. Even animals initiate and respond to communication amongst their own kind. If the only response is “I’ll get back to you,” one can at least know the communication registered.

But, in terms of magnitude, most of this amounts to minor annoyance. It’s when life heats up, or freezes over, when you find yourself barely able to tread the Really Deep Water--well, then it’s very different. That’s when the seeming lack of response to our desperate pleas and obvious crisis feels intolerable.

'Sure, You’re the God Who hears, Lord. That’s the tagline, anyway. OK, so I’m a bit thick, slow on the uptake. But, I know my eyes and ears are wide open, and what am I getting from You? Nada.

Hello! Are You on hiatus or something?'

This is the kind of vortex I can easily find myself swirling in when I keep my focus on the ‘horizontal plane.’ I know that engaging in the Real Stuff requires ‘going vertical’- lifting my face and my focus to the One on Whom I have set my hope (II Cor. 1:10).

But popping in and out of my own personal viewfinder, with unanticipated frequency lately, is my floundering firstborn—the subject of much petition, and the origin of muted angst. If God is really at work here, you couldn’t prove it by me.

If anything, this one who is much prayed for seems even harder than he was before. I mean, there’s not even a dent. If I’m looking for any shred of encouragement, it’s not here. Not yet.

'OK, I’ll just ‘go on faith’, Lord, that You’re really there, You really care, while I wait, You work—all the usual platitudes. Head down, hands clasped, assuming the position of spiritual communication. Could You maybe spare just a minor clue that You’re actually engaged here?'

But—will I ever learn?—once more I’m focusing on the wrong target. I’ve known from the beginning that any transformation in this prodigal is going to be An Inside Job. As in, starting on the inside, in the calcified heart—long before any evidence appears on the outside. No easy trick, that. In fact, I have it on good authority that such battles are fiercely joined, with vast reverberations in the spiritual realm, unseen.

In the meantime, nowhere is it written that my inability to perceive a divine response relieves me of my calling to pray. Persist in prayer, and don’t confuse it with a cakewalk.

It’s hard because it matters. At least, that’s my current guess.

I try to take myself in hand: can I know for sure the Lord is not still engaged here? How do I determine that? What are my criteria? My own puny understanding and surmising? Hmm, that really DOES sound like I’m stuck in an echo chamber.

A few years back, as I vividly recall, I was driving home after depositing this then-student at school. Unhappily, the few minutes in the car together had been another in a long string of dispiriting exchanges. Gripping the steering wheel, I spoke out loud: “Lord, I need something from You!!”

As clearly as if it had been an audible voice, I heard back, “I see it all, Kathy.”

That was enough. And that hasn’t changed.