Monday, January 14, 2013

The Baptism of the Lord

Yesterday was the feast of the Baptism of the Lord.  The official end of the Christmas season.  And as it does every year, the Baptism of the Lord brings up a dilemma.

"Yeah, I know," you're saying to yourself.  "Why did Jesus have to be baptized?  It doesn't make sense. I mean if baptism removes original sin, obviously Jesus didn't need it, and if baptism makes you an adopted child of God well that's pointless in His case too, and if...."

No no no.  All those questions have been resolved.  Check out the Church Fathers, or the Catechism, or EWTN.  They've got all those answers.

No, the dilemma of the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, the one that never goes away,t hat has to be worked out anew every freakin' January, is just this:

"What the heck are we going to do with all these poinsettias?"

Every Christmas every church I've ever attended packs itself to the gills with poinsettias.  I've seen banks of poinsettias, trees of poinsettias, wildernesses of poinsettias.  Vast fields of flaming red tropical plants.  And they look great at Christmas, I think we can all agree on that.

But what about after Christmas?  You can't have holiday red flowers after Christmas.  It looks stupid.

The problem is poinsettias arent' flowers, they're plants.  And the damn things live for weeks, or months.  Too long, anyway.

So what's to be done?  There's always the poinsettia giveaway.  "Anyone who'd like to take a lovely  plant home after Mass please feel free!"  I fell for that one year.  I picked the biggest, gangliest plant I could find.  When I got it home the only place I had room for it was in my bathtub.  It was there until July, when someone (ahem) finally put it out of its misery.

If your parish offers the poinsettia giveaway, my advice is:  do not succumb.  Walk away.  Those plants aren't orphans and you're not Mother Teresa.

If you can't walk away, the next best thing is to go for the white ones.  At least you can try to pass them off as liturgically neutral.  Failing that you can clip the stems and put them in a vase until they have the decency to wither and die like supermarket zinnias.

It's usually kids who can't pass up the big giveaway.  In this case all you need to do is tell them "OK, but you have to take care of it. You have to make sure it gets enough water and sunlight."  I guarantee that plant will be history in a week.

If you live in a tropical climate it's probably ok to take the poinsettias home. You can just stick them outside it the dirt and let them fight for their own survival, I guess.  We don't have that option in Minnesota.

Nobody wants to look at red poinsettias in January- it's like looking at the sweater your aunt gave you for Christmas that you didn't have the heart to return.  Stick to the white or walk away.  In the mean time watch your mailbox for spring bulb catalogs.  That'll take your mind off winter for a bit.

Thursday, January 10, 2013


You've heard it from the time you were old enough to travel:  Always take a carry-on with a change of clothes.  That way if the airline loses your luggage you'll be ok for a while.

A wise dictum, and one DIH has always followed.

Except this last time.  All I had in my carry-on was my laptop.

And this time I paid the price.

There's nothing quite like that sinking feeling you get when you've been standing by the luggage carosel in a strange airport, watching those few forlorn remaining suitcases going round and round, knowing that none of them is yours and no more luggage is coming down the chute.  It's a sad feeling.  A feeling of loss and loneliness, which when combined with jet lag and fury at the airline for losing your stuff makes for a bad moment at the airport.

As it turned out I was not alone in my loss.  Ten of our party were luggage-less.  Including, of course, the bar mitzvah boy, the bat mitzvah girl and their mother.

No matter, we said, they'll turn up tomorrow.  Besides we're staying at a really nice hotel.  They'll have whatever we need.

Surprise #1:  this very nice hotel had no shops.
Surprise #2:  if you ask an Israeli hotel clerk if the hotel has any toothbrushes and he says "Yes, we do," he thinks the conversation is over. You have to complete the thought.  "Well could I have one, please?"  Then he will think about it.
Surprise #3:  Luggage did not arrive the next day, or the next, or even the next.  Lesson learned:  when you've been wearing the same socks and underwear for five days, it doesn't matter how many stars the hotel has.  It feels like a campsite.

Finally our luggage turned up, or some of it.  Whose was still missing?  Why, the b'nai mitzvah group's of course.  They had to find a Gap store in the Old City of Jerusalem just to have something decent to wear to the ceremony.  Luckily there was one a couple of blocks away from the hotel.

The hardest part from me was looking longingly at the heated swimming pool, which was right outside our room.  I kept thinking how nice it would be to stretch my travel-cramped muscles out with a swim.  But here's another lesson I've learned form travel:  buying a bathing suit while on the road is usually a losing proposition.  You overpay for the damn thing and then when you get it home you wonder what you could possible have been thinking when you bought it.  (The answer is:  Oh, well, no one I know will ever see me in this thing.)

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Accidental Amsterdam

Quick, what do you think of when you hear the word "Holland?"

Is it windmills?  Tulips?  Assisted suicides? Chocolate, wooden shoes, Hans Brinker and the Silver Skates?  Pesky Dutch bishops always stirring up trouble?

For me one image will always come to mind:  chewing gum.  Not for sale in packets, no.  Chewed-up wads of gum dotting the sidewalks like a case of the hives.

The sidewalks of Amsterdam are a veritable minefield of gum wads.  This is particularly disgraceful given that the sidewalks I walked on would have been beautiful otherwise.  They were made of paver stones, you know, the fake brick you want to redo your walkway with some day.  Neat, quaint, octagonal I think.  And a disgusting mess of gooey stuff spat out of countless Dutch pieholes.

I have been in Amsterdam twice in my life,  both times by accident.  The first time I was on my way home form Rome, and we got rerouted through Schipol.  I didn't do much touring that time, just hung around the hotel, hiding the in- house magazines boasting about how hygienic the Dutch sex trade is.  Ick, I said to myself. Amsterdam?  Ick.

The second time was three weeks ago, on our way to Israel.

We were supposed to fly from Minneapolis to JFK, then JFK to Tel Aviv.  But somehow we got word that we were bumped from the JFK flight.  But as I mentioned yesterday we were traveling with a b'nai mitzvah party, and if there is one thing this Long Island girl knows, it's that nothing can stop a mom with a bar mitzvah on her hands.  Within ten minutes she got us all on a flight to Amsterdam with a connection to Tel Aviv.

"This is perfect,"  she said.  "We'll take a tour of the Anne Frank house.  It'll put us in the mood."

So, once again we flew in to Schipol.

December 22nd, a lovely soft rainy day.  Christmas lights reflecting on the canals. Barges full of flowers floating on the glassy canals.  The scent of hashish hanging in the air.  Ah, Amsterdam.

And gumwads.  Honestly I couldn't get over the gumwads.  I grew up in New York.  We learned all about when it was New Amsterdam and the Dutch ruled the joint, and why we called out front porches "stoops."  "The Dutch settlers were very clean,"  Sister Mary Mel told us in first grade.  "They called Saturday 'schoonmadaag.'  It means cleaning day."

If Amsterdam is any indication, let's just say the Dutch have come a long way from the days of Peg-Leg Stuyvesant.

Tuesday, January 08, 2013


Desperate Irish Housewife is back from ten days in Israel!

I know, I know what you're thinking.  "Gee, Desperate, you lucky girl!  You went on a pilgrimage?  Cool!  Who'd you go with?

"+Jeff Cavins?"


"+Father Mitch Pacwa of EWTN fame?"

No, not him either.  Although we did see his tour bus in a parking lot.

No, Desperate and her clan went in the Holy Land for Old Testament reasons.  To wit, a b'nai mitzvah.  That's one bar mitzvahs and one bat mitzvah in a dual ceremony. And let me tell you, it was a blast.

A year or so ago a dear friend asked her two children (a boy and a girl eleven months apart,  what is known in in Desperate's universe as "Irish twins")  what they'd like for their big day.  Did they want a humongous party at home?  Or would they like to do the deed in Jerusalem?

They picked Jerusalem.  We were invited.  We all went.

The ceremony took place in a park overlooking the Old City.  So while there were no country clubs or black-tied waiters, there were plenty of young Israeli troops jogging past, toting Uzis and shouting "Mazel tov!"  And at least on party of tourists on Segueways joined in on a chorus of "Hava nagila."  We could not have had a better time.

Our tour guide was a young Israeli, a mosaic artist who had spent her time in the Army giving tours to visiting officials.  She was petite, dark, quick-witted and a walking encyclopedia about her homeland.  I havent' learned so much so fast since I crammed for my Minnesota driver's license test as I stood in line to take it at the DMV.

I will be blogging more about Israel this week.  But first an important prayer request.  +Jennifer Fulwiler, she of +Conversion Diary fame, is pregnant and experiencing some health problems.  Please pray for Jenifer and her family, and check out her reality show, +Minor Revisions, on Youtube. You'll love it.  DIH did!