Monday, December 31, 2012

Family Portrait

One of my favorite Christmas presents is a Shutterfly book filled with 42 pages of photos, mostly of our two young granddaughters, Maddie and Anne-Marie.  Their father is a photographer, and they are his favorite subjects. The delightful presentation was full of summer-through-fall activities, showing them sight-seeing, running through parks, splashing in the Gulf, wearing home-school emblazoned tees, mugging for the camera or just looking beautiful.

In the lull after the storm of Christmas activity, I took a few moments to dwell leisurely on the pictures this morning.  One puzzled me a little--a monument in front of the Texas state capitol in Austin on which names were engraved, with 6-year-old Anne-Marie pointing one out.  "Does that name say 'Summers' or something?" I asked Jamie when I called him about it today.  It obviously had some significance, but I couldn't read it.

"Yes!  Don't you have your glasses on?" he answered.  I did, but they didn't help make out the carved-in-stone letters.  It did indeed say "Summers," which I read clearly with a magnifying glass after I hung up.  I figured it was a list of Alamo heroes, because I had seen that name on a list when visiting there a few years ago.

Looking up information on line, I found it was the name of one of the defenders of the Alamo, William E. Summers.  He was born in Tennessee in 1812, moved to Gonzales, Texas in 1836 where he was mustered into The Gonzales Ranging Company of Mounted Volunteers on February 3 of that year, effectively becoming a Texas Ranger. 

Private William E. Summers, marksman, rode with this group on March 1, 1836, to relieve the beleagered fighters at the Alamo.  Just 24 years old, he was killed in the massacre on March 5, only five days later.  He is included in a list as one of the "Immortal 32," men of valor who showed uncommon bravery when they doubtless knew their chances of survival were practically non-existent.

Since this hero was a single man, there is no chance that our Summers clan could be descendants of William E. Summers. However, my father-in-law's middle name was "Willmon," maybe a distant relative of the family?  In one of the geneolgies I read, a grandfather of his was a preacher.  That husband is a preacher, his brother was a preacher, and we have two preacher sons!

This American patriot was on the muster roll of Colonel W.B. Travis.  We may admire his bravery and share his name, but our duty is to see that our name is on the heavenly roll, and that we share the name of Christ as Christians!  Now that is a family affair!

Auld Lang Syne

"It is sad to see our old friend, 2012, leaving us so soon," wrote my friend on Facebook, but as I scanned his post, I didn't see the 2012 and thought that someone had died.  Well, now someone has.  We got the call about an hour ago and we haven't been back to sleep.  My husband has been asked to do the graveside rites for his old friend, so he is in the other room looking up scriptures.

"Look at the first thing I opened to!" he exclaimed a little while ago.  It was Romans 8:18, which says, "For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us."  I suggested he mark it to use in the services.

Our friend's wife called last evening, fearing that his time was short.  We spent an hour or so with her as nurses and aides ministered to her husband.  He had been in the nursing home for several years.  In fact, it is doubtful that he, an Alzheimer patient,  ever knew who we were over the last couple of years that we visited him. Still, Howard was hopeful as he played the guitar and sang to him on every visit, always coming away with the impression that he saw improvement.

We had known this couple way back in the 60's and hadn't seen them since 1970 when they visited us in New Orleans where we had moved.  Then one day at one of my book signings, I was called to the phone.  Unbeknownst to us, this couple had relocated to the same town we had returned to a few years ago.  She had seen my name on the bookstore marquee, called and asked me if my husband's name was Howard.  That's when we found out about her husband's condition.

Talk turned last night to those early years. We had gone to the same church, and Howard and his friend had shared a love of music.  They played guitars together, even then.  Waiting beside his sickbed, his wife reminisced of how they met, at ages 15 and 17, marrying a few months later.  "I knew when I saw his blue eyes that that was the one I would marry," she said.  "And he went home and told his mother he'd found the girl he would marry."  I think she said they had been married 67 years.

So as the old year passes, a bright new year awaits us tomorrow.  Our friend is already in his bright tomorrow, experiencing freedom from earthly bondage "into the glorious liberty of the children of God."  Romans 8:21 

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Not a Creature was Stirring...

"Mom, you know the reason those people bought our old house?" our son, Trevor, said at the breakfast table on the last morning of his family's Christmas visit to us from Texas.  We had been reminiscing about our days in Mississippi, and he had recently visited the current owners of the house he grew up in.  When I asked why, he said, "Because of that old stove!  The lady said when she saw it, she knew she had to have the house!"

The old Magic Chef range!  It had stood in the "mother-in-law" apartment attached to the house Howard and I had bought in 1975 when we were expecting our sixth child.  I used it now and again between tenants, especially for holiday turkeys when I needed an extra oven.  Then when the power was out during the several hurricanes that we experienced in those 20 years, we survived by cooking on the gas range.

"That thing sure was heavy!" my husband exclaimed.  I knew it had been moved!  I distinctly remember that after our daughter and her husband bought the house and we moved to Kansas, she had put her laundry facilities in that kitchen (but she says it didn't happen).  I had to tell the funny story about the gap around the pipe left in the floor when the range was reconnected.  By this time, we were the occupants of the apartment, come back from Kansas to help out with babysitting when Amy was about to deliver her second child.

One night as we were preparing for bed, I saw a shadow dart across the floor.  "Eek!" I cried, "A mouse!"  My husband was standing there and bent to look for it.  Suddenly it appeared with two others trailing it, and they ran up the leg of Howard's pants!  What a hysterical moment that was!  They must have gotten in through the pipe opening of the raised floor house!

Trevor chuckled at the scenario, then, in a mellow mood from Mom's big breakfast, launched into a story of his own.  "You wouldn't believe what I saw through the bus window in Dallas once!" he began.  (After driving to the edge of the city from his neighboring small town, Trevor takes a work shuttle to his downtown office.)

"I saw this man sitting on a bench at the bus stop leisurely reading the newspaper," he went on.  "Then suddenly a big--I mean a big--rat appeared and began to sniff at the sole of the man's shoe.  He was engrossed in the paper, and the rat stuck its head under the hem of his pants. The man absently flicked at his trouser leg, and went on reading the paper," Trevor continued dramatically.

"I couldn't belive my eyes, as I watched, helplessly, from the window!" he exclaimed.  "Then I saw that rat run up inside the leg of his pants!  Boy, did that man do a jig then!  He jumped up, began stomping his foot, yelling and flailing his paper!" Trevor slapped his leg and wiped his eyes at the memory of it while we all laughed incredulously.  Talk about a snapshot in time! 

Other funny stories and memories flowed around the table that morning, but it was soon time for them to go.  They were the last of our family to arrive this week; the others had left yesterday.  Despite the bitter temps we had experienced, and the un-white Christmas after all, we'd had a wonderful time with all our sons' families.  (We had seen our daughters at Thanksgiving.) The warmth of their laughter and presence lingered all day, and on our phone call to check their road progress, they said it snowed heavily on them for a long way just south of us!  Another Christmas memory!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Partridge in a Pear Tree

"Mom, you have a gift over here from Mark and Rhonda," our son, Greg, spoke over the phone.  "If you want to come over and eat, you can pick it up," he suggested.  Oh, how nice! I thought.  We were expecting our older son and his wife  the day after Christmas, but maybe they wanted to be sure the gift got here before then, I concluded.  Since we were already eating supper, we told Greg we would get it the next day.

Today we went by their house to deliver some Christmas presents, and they showed me the box on the coffee table.  In fact, there were two identical boxes marked Harry & David, Royal Riviera Pears from the Fruit of the Month Club, one of which was addressed to them.  Oh. Pears!  I remembered last year that they had sent some to our son, Jamie, who was hosting a family gathering in Houston.

I opened the box, exclaimed over the beautiful pears, then noticed a card that was slipping  onto the coffee table.  I picked it up and saw that it had a gift card to a restaurant inside it. "Olive Garden!" I squealed. "Oh, they shouldn't have done that, too!"   Then, noticing the generous amount of the gift, I said magnanimously, "This is big enough that we can take you guys with us!"

"What is the amount?" Greg asked quizzically.  When I told him,  he said, "I'm afraid that is Joanna's (his wife's) card."

"Oh, you  mean they got you one, too?" was my clueless response.  Turns out I had taken the lid from their box of pears that they had previously opened, and they had laid the unrelated gift card in there for safe-keeping!

We laughed, and I recalled what happened when Mark had sent Jamie pears last year.  Ever the wit, Jamie texted his big brother with something like, "Mark, I got a gift from you, but someone had stolen the contents and replaced it with pears!"  Mark didn't read the whole text but called me and asked me if Jamie's house had been broken into, saying he'd gotten a message about something being stolen!  It took awhile to straighten everything out, when we all had a good laugh.

Probably no other gift-giving occasion is  fraught with such a comedy of errors as is Christmas.  Little children scream in terror as they are thrust on Santa's lap, to their parents' sympathetic amusement. Gifts of wearables are often the wrong size, color or style; re-gifting can be disastrous, and guessing someone's taste can be iffy.  I've even seen games and surveys on "The strangest gift I have ever received."  (My kids used to come up with strange, but earnest gifts to me, ranging from Tarn-X and dishcloths in my stocking to a gift-wrapped industrial-size box of Tide from my teen-ager! With six kids, they knew I did a lot of dishes and laundry!)

The only Perfect Gift was on the first Christmas when Jesus was born.  For all our well-meaning efforts, our gift giving can only be a pale comparison to the expression of Love the Father gave us.  Nevertheless, in our clumsy, human way and adding a little mirth and merriment to our memories, we continue to give gifts, ever looking to our Example who gives the gift of eternal life.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Christmas Outing

What a great day!  Howard took  me shopping to pick out my own Christmas presents!  In true Christmas fashion, I got what I wanted (pajamas), and a surprise as well (a sharp new coat!).  The festive stores and beautiful merchandise were so spirit lifting, with friendly clerks and many wishes of "Merry Christmas" given.

Acknowleging his patience to me, I didn't mind stopping at the store of his choice--a farm supply store.  Instead of being dull and utilitarian, it was warm and cheering, the rustic atmosphere being brightened by prominent displays of foodstuffs dominating the entrance.

Sparkling jars of canned peaches, spiced or vanilla, took our eyes; gift jars of pickles, jellies and preserves glowed emerald, amethyst and ruby in their rows, and  colorful shelves of  Arkansas-canned vegetables stood in modest array. Why didn't I think of giving food as gifts?  Nothing would have been more perfect!

Candies, Christmas treats, nuts by the gallon and other goodies tempted us, but I was content with picking up chocolate Santa morsels for the littlest among us.  My husband's real interest was at the back of the store, where he perused the bags of poultry feed, chicken coop kits ("Environmental Solutions," complete with sloped, treaded walkway entrance).  Who knew? The bales of fragrant prairie hay reminded me of the Christmas manger, the reason for the season.

No trip to this town would be complete without a stop at the close-out retail chain store where we stocked up on paper products, baking mixes and a few irrresistible dainties.  We were really filling time before we took in a movie I had been wanting to see.  (This seemed to be my day!) 

Lincoln turned out to be a great movie, in my estimation.  The main character was portrayed as humble, unassuming and with a homespun wit that was entertaining and endearing.  The fascinating, period background, though drab by today's standards, lent authenticity to the momentous, historic happenings that would change society then and in the future.

A scene near the end of the movie, after the Civil War had ended and the 13th Amendment had been passed, showed President Lincoln and his wife, Mary, riding in a carriage in a relaxed moment. They were talking of travel plans, Lincoln voicing his heartfelt desire to visit Israel and experience for himself the land of the Bible. His untimely death kept that from happening, but it revealed the heart of one of our greatest presidents. 

The stars sparkled brightly in a brittle December sky, and we were thoughtful on the ride home, prayerful for our country and thankful for the season of warmth, family and God's goodness in the midst of uncertain times. It will soon be Christmas.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Nutcracker Sweets

"Can we go out into the backyard?" our 6-and-7-year old granddaughters were asking.  I had made Sunday dinner at our house, and now the adults were settled in uninteresting after-dinner comfort in the living room.  I was browsing the paper, my husband was nodding off and their father was looking up something on the internet.

"Yes," I said, handing them a small wicker basket.  "You can go gather some of the black walnuts out of the backyard for me."  I had been thinking about cracking them and using them in holiday goodies, even though I knew it would be hard to remove the nutmeats.  The girls' eyes brightened and they headed eagerly outside. Soon they were back with several walnuts in the basket.

"Good!" I encouraged them, "Go get some more!" This time they were gone a little longer but brought back a full basket.  There was also something white in the basket.  Two grungy hen eggs!  "Where did you get those eggs?" I demanded. 

"In those cages in the backyard," they explained innocently.  What?  We had moved our chickens from there two months ago!  Those eggs had to be rotten!  "Can we crack them?" they asked.  I told them to carefully go put them in the garbage can in the alley.  Hopefully, they didn't break, but I'm not going out to see!

The basket of walnuts now sits waiting on my coffee table, but we don't have a nut cracker.  Howard could crack them with a hammer, but I still need a pick to dislodge the kernels from their torturous chambers. We made a note to pick up a nutcracker set when we went to town.

Nobody had any!  Every store we tried said they were out of them.  One clerk said there had been a bumper crop of pecans this year, so I guess they are in demand.  I found one nut/seafood cracker at Walmart, but they were out of the picks. The hardware store is suppposed to get some in with a shipment on Thursday, so I'm to check back then.

I remember when the nutcracker sets with the little rustic bowls were a common item for Christmas presents, but I don't see them any more. I bought chopped walnuts and put them in Christmas fudge today.  I also dipped pretzels in almond bark and added sprinkles for a colorful touch.

A few years ago, our son, Jamie and his wife, Tammy, as a surprise Christmas present to the whole family they were hosting that year, took us to see the Nutcracker Ballet  in Houston.  It was a great experience, and memories of the Candy Castle, The Sugar Plum Fairy, the Gingerbread House and the plethora of sweets puts me in a Christmas mood to stock up on holiday treats before our out-of-town children's families arrive next week! Maybe by then I'll have my own nutcracker!

Saturday, December 15, 2012

A Balm in Gilead

I can relate to the families who will have to face Christmas without their dear children, although losing a child at any time is unbearable.  I remember when my parents lost my younger brother just a few days after Christmas when I was 13 years old.  Roy was nine when the accident occured that will be forever emblazoned on my memory.  It was Christmas vacation from school and most of us were gathered around our new Christmas-present television set, a rarity in the early fifties.

Suddenly someone screamed as we caught sight of Roy Wayne running past the window with blazing garments.  Pandemonium broke out as Daddy struggled to get the front door open, finally dashing to the back door where he caught my brother, throwing his heavy coat over him to smother out the flames.  It wasn't until later at the hospital that it was discovered how badly Daddy's hands were burned.

Somehow in the panic and confusion we learned that the smaller boys had built a fire in the backyard, found some gasoline and the unimaginable had happened when the fumes ignited and engulfed little Roy.  Although he was rushed the several miles to the hospital, his burns proved fatal and he died that night.  Heartbreakingly, it was told he had said, "I don't want to die."  I thought of that when one of the surviving children in yesterday's tragedy was reported as saying while hiding with his teacher, "I don't want to die!  I just want to have Christmas at home."

We were consumed in sadness and grief.  I remember a well-intentioned but misguided gesture I made when we heard our parents were coming  home from the hospital without Roy.  Hoping to comfort her, I put the  paper-plate Christmas gift my little brother made where my mother could see it when she walked in the door.  Instead, she collapsed with grief and someone hastily put it away.  His cowboy guns and other Christmas toys were put away along with a partially-burned little boy shoe, kept in their things until their deaths a lifetime later.

Thankfully, a pastor reached out to our unchurched family.  There we found God's comfort, and warmth and friendship that helped us get through our ordeal, although our family was changed from then on.  My older brothers went away to the military, we moved, and I met a special boy at church I would marry several years later.     

I still can't bear to dwell on these memories, but when I heard the tragic news yesterday the same grief surfaced that I had felt so long ago.  As a mother, grandmother and great-grandmother now, I have a heart for children.  Especially at Christmas. 

Little is Much

"God is my everything, my all in all; God is my everything, both great and small," the pastor led in a chorus last Sunday.  I thought about that yesterday as we saw God in the small things.  We had set out on some errands, first praying that God would help us in our efforts to wrap up some Christmas details. 

"Daily He loads us with benefits," my husband said confidently, quoting from his favorite Bible verse.  Knowing we had a lot to do that day and wanting to be efficient with time, I named three stores where we could possibly find what we were looking for.

"The first two will be expensive, but will likely have something, and the other one has bargains, but might not have it. So where do you want to go first?" I asked Howard.  Naturally, he chose the latter.

"There it is!" I exclaimed the minute we entered the store!  Just what we wanted, and at the right price!  Thank you, Lord!  We rushed home to include the items in a Christmas package to go out before 2:00 o'clock.  We hated to stand in long lines, so we would go to the P.O. in the supermarket where hopefully, they wouldn't be busy that early.

"Go to the basement and look for a box," I said, as I wrapped the gifts.  My husband came back with a too-large one he found in the garage.  I knew we had an assortment of boxes in the basement from moving, so I went down myself and came back with something a little smaller.  Praise God, everything fit, if a little snugly.
There were only two people ahead of us in the mailing line.  Another benefit!

By this time, we were hungry and headed to our favorite place for a bowl of chili.  The waitress included a frosty malt at no charge!  Stopping for a gallon of milk on the way home, I got some free decorated bags that would hold some bulky items in my closet and still fit with my craft-paper wrapping decor!

Our next chore was to feed the chickens in the country.  Yesterday we were thrilled to gather half a dozen eggs after days of eggless-ness.  There were only two today, but that would replace the ones we ate this morning!  God's favor!

We got back in plenty of time to pick up our grandchildren from school at 3:00 o'clock. "Can we have noodles?" they asked eagerly, awaiting their favorite snacks.  A small murmur of "thank yous" chorused sweetly as I set the warm bowls before them.  Greg said they had been working on their manners, and I noticed!  Little things mean a lot!

While they were here, Howard and I avoided any talk of the horrendous news on television of the tragedy in Connecticut.  Hopefully they won't hear about it, and by the time they go back to school on Monday it may have faded somewhat.  I pray that the suffering parents and families find God as their everything in the agonizing days ahead, as a million small things remind them of their loss. May they be grateful for the great blessings their children were to them and find solace in Him, the God of all comfort.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Beyond the Blue

"Where are the ducks?" Howard asked as he peered toward the pond.  I pointed until he saw them beyond the trees.  There were more scattered farther along the edge of the water. Suddenly I saw something else!    Bigger birds with long necks!

"Those are geese!" I exclaimed in excitement.  Sure enough, maybe 15 or 20 beautiful, graceful geese were floating on the pond.  It was the first time we'd seen them there!  Mirrored on the shimmering water, they presented a gorgeous sight in nature!  We watched in fascination as they glided along majestically in single file with heads held high like visiting royalty.

Suddenly, with tremendous flapping and the noise of slapping wings, they rose in an arresting display of strength and grandeur.  Soon they were taking almost military formation in the sky at the unseen command of their leader.  It wasn't as if we'd never seen geese before, but the wooded scene, the grey, chill, December day, and the fact that we were "up close and personal" added to our appreciation and wonder at these wild, feathered members of God's creation.

As we drove away, still marveling at our good fortunate at seeing the geese, a news bulletin came on the car radio.  It sounded like they were saying something about the second-worst school shooting in U.S. history!  As the details became clear, my heart broke with disbelief, sorrow and horror.  A classroom full of little kids and their teacher!  I had never heard of anything so diabolical!  I couldn't hold back the tears as I grieved for the innocents and prayed for their families.

It reminded me of the verse in the Bible that says, "In Rama was there a voice heard, lamentation, and weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not," Matthew 2:18.  It was from the prophet, Jeremiah, speaking of the slaughter of the innocents as wicked Herod sought to kill the baby Jesus.  How ironic that this tragedy should happen at Christmas time, when we are getting ready to celebrate the birth of Jesus!  

Even as the geese were winging their way heavenward, we had no idea these babes were being carried on angels' wings to the breast of their loving, heavenly Father, the God of all comfort, to romp and play in fields of untold beauty and unending joy and love, never again to be bothered by the fear and pain of this earth, in a land where every day is Christmas.

'Tis the Season to be Jolly

Who could that be? I wondered as the cell phone in my purse rang.  We were exploring a new store in Stillwater yesterday that I had thought wouldn't open until January, but the clerk said it had been open since Labor Day!  "Are you going to go to the Sectional Ministers' Christmas banquet tonight?" our pastor was asking.  "I meant to ask you last night at church, but I forgot," he finished.

Oh, we hadn't gotten the info on it, or I had overlooked it on e-mail or something, I realized.  I was surprised that Howard wanted to go on such short notice, but we were up for it, especially since we  had missed two other Christmas events due to illness. But first, we had to finish our shopping.  I found what I was looking for at this store, then we were off to Belk's for their big sale I had read about in a brochure that came in the mail.

Oh, my!  That new store must be some competition for them, for they had marked a lot of things down drastically, equal to 80% off!  Not much worked for me, but I did find some nice black pants and a sweater.  "You saved $95.25," the clerk said as she handed me the receipt!  And I had spent less than $15!  Thank you, Lord!  We had prayed before we left home that God would help us in our gift selections and guide our purchases, and He had!

I had just enough time at home to hem the pants so I could wear them last night with a black sweater. Howard said my outfit looked nice with my red, ruffled shawl my grandson gave me recently as an early Christmas present.  I know it felt Christmasy!  It was good to see old friends, meet new people, enjoy the food and laugh at a "church signs"  video clip for our entertainment.  (The funniest was a sign with the name that had blurred into "Meth  Church." ) A thoughtful word of encouragement was brought by a young minister who spoke after the meal, and a beautiful Christmas chorus from church youth had begun the evening. 

It was a fun evening, but nothing compared to our own church party, held in the private dining room of a restaurant, which turned out to be largely a "roast' of our pastor!  He seemed to enjoy it as much as anybody when he was ribbed for long sermons, being a perfectionist, and insisting things be done "his way."  All this was put in a song, punctuated by his favorite interjections and warbled to him by one of the braver members of the congregation, much to everyone's mock horror and delight.  Outlandish games involving those drafted from among us contributed to side-splitting laughter and good natured fun.

A tender moment came in bidding goodbye to a favorite member who was being transferrred.  Someone suggested he lead in a worship chorus he had sung in church on Sunday, and we were soon wiping our eyes in the sweet sorrow of parting, but joyful in the knowledge of the Lord's presence and His keeping power.  We left for the nearly hour ride home with full hearts and refreshed spirits.  "A merry heart does good like a medicine," the Bible says.  A welcome change from bottles of pills from doctors recently! 

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Proof of Purchase

I realized as soon as we checked out that the item I had bought for a Christmas present was the wrong size, but I didn't want to take time to go to the service desk for a refund.  I would exchange it later.  "Let me have the receipt," I said to my husband when we got in the car.  I put it in my purse for safekeeping (LOL), and didn't think about it for a couple of days.

Wrapping the gifts, I saw that another selection was wrong, too, so I would return both items and shop somewere else.  The receipt wasn't in my purse!  Well, I had changed purses for Sunday, so I looked in the one I carried that day.  No receipt.  A search of my brown purse revealed nothing.  I needed the refund to go to another store!  One item I could exchange, but not the other.  I checked the waste basket in that room, then all the others in the house.

Then there was nothing for it but to go through the kitchen trash.  Ugh! It probably wasn't there either, since the bag had been replaced by then.  On the slim chance, I excavated layers of our history of the last 24 hours.  Mail, banana peels, egg shells, tea bags, paper towels, leftovers and floor sweepings.  No success.  I looked and there was a black bag on the back porch that hadn't been deposited in the alley.  Worse junk, but no receipt.

"Howard!" I fretted, "I can't find that receipt anywhere!"  Then, double-checking a waste basket at his desk, I saw one I had missed under a table.  There it was with the clean trash of his waste basket!  I'm sure I didn't put it in there!  It had to be Mr. Neat who disposes of anything immediately (including my prescription drug side-effects information before I have read it--he knows it will discourage my taking the medicine!).

After getting the refund, I hurried to store of my choice only to find they didn't stock what I wanted!  It will be two days before we can go to Stillwater to finish our shopping, and time is growing short to get things in the mail.  My husband assures me there will be plenty of time, but he never worries about anything.  He just waits for Christmas to "happen."

And it will.  Like the Dr. Seuss story when Christmas came without ribbons, boxes, tags, packages, or bags, the real spirit of Christmas has little to do with material things.  And that is what I am looking forward to most--the presence of loved ones, shared good times and the real meaning of Christmas: Jesus birth, whose life, death and resurrection purchased our salvation.  Even though a couple of weeks of being under the weather around here has slowed us down, there is still time to freshen the house, tie up the details, and plan the food and festivities!  Even if  a little help from me does go into making it happen!

Saturday, December 8, 2012

In Due Season

The colder weather, disagreeable as it is with the grey, damp chill, at least is seasonal and more Christmas like than the warm temperatures we've been having lately. The carols pouring from the radio are suddenly more appealing, the Christmas lights glow more warmly, and the increased hustle and bustle add new energy to the step.  Something is in the air.  You can taste it  in great, moist intakes of air.  A sense of expectancy.

These components were present 2,000-plus years ago when a census caused a rustle and stir among the people of Judea. A young woman of Nazareth had been preparing for the birth of her first child.  Tiny garments had been stitched and laid away in a chest. Her house had been cleaned within an inch of its life. Foods had been gathered and stored in bowls, baskets, clay jars and pots.  She had made the most of her waiting time, and now all was in readiness. She would be able to concentrate most of her energy on the new life that would soon make its debut.

Suddenly she had to pack swiftly; she couldn't let Joseph go alone to Bethlehem.  Taking only the bare essentials, and especially necessities and supplies for what could be a birth away from home, she was giddy with excitement.  The Lord would be with them!  She convinced Joseph that she wasn't afraid with him by her side.

Not many days hence, heavenly music would fill the skies where hillside shepherds were watching their flocks. Many strangers were in Bethlehem that night, filling every room and lodging place.  She was grateful that Joseph had found a quiet place where she could rest between the hard spasms of labor that were bearing down upon her.  The animals were unquestioning in their solemn gaze; their stolid bodies filling the stable with their warmth and breathing.

Now strange men, shepherds, were asking to see the baby that Joseph had laid in a manger full of straw, softened by the cloths and shawls Mary had brought.  What an amazing night, the young mother thought.  Through the haze of her pain she had seen his tiny form being lifted from her.  Now the pain was vanquished in her joy and exhilaration.  A beautiful star lit the night with its brilliance.  The shepherds said angels had sent them there to worship the newborn, a Saviour, Christ the Lord. Such knowledge was too much for her just now.  She was still in awe herself at what had just transpired.

After the pilgrims had departed Bethlehem, Joseph was able to find a small house for her  recovery before heading home. But more strangers appeared, with gifts for the baby they called a king.  They were men who studied the stars and were very wise.  Mary and Joseph knew that God had sent this baby,  but others were confirming what they knew to be true.  There was that matter of the prophetess Anna in the temple when they had taken him to be presented to the Lord.  And Simeon, who had been assured he would not die until he had seen the Consolation of Israel.   And now these learned men being guided by the star.

Shortly Joseph would awake her from sleep, and she must hurriedly pack again.  Off to Egypt to flee those who meant harm to the Child.  She could not doubt that he had been warned by an angel.  It was an angel that had appeared to her with the news that would change and shape her life, indeed, change and shape the whole world.  Once again, she was filled with expectancy.   

Friday, December 7, 2012

Out of the Loop

You know you're sick when Calliou is all you feel like watching on television, followed by Ozzie and Harriet. That's about as much as my brain will wrap itself around.  I spoke too soon on Monday when a church friend called and asked how we were doing.  "Howard's still not feeling well, but I am fine!" I assured her.  He had come home from Georgia with whatever they were getting over there when we left.  I thought I had gotten off scot free, but Monday night I was aching in every joint.

Painkilllers, decongestant, and nasal spray keep me comfortable and instill a false sense of wellness until the Tylenol wears off, which is usually late afternoon or night.  Yesterday I convinced  my husband I felt well enough for an outing to Stillwater for lunch and a bit of Christmas browsing.  "Let's stop and see if the new TJMaxx is open!" I suggested on seeing it on the way in.  He said we would stop on the way out, but I was worn out by then and forgot about it. We had to stop at a service station on the way home for a packet of Tylenol.

I have been using these wellness plateaus to make a stab at wrapping gifts, after which I am exhausted and fairly useless.  I really must get back into the habit of cooking, but we have no appetite.  Howard was sick for a week, refusing ordinary food but requesting far-fetched delicacies, then only picking at them when he got them.

I did make a simple supper last night, which he nibbled at even though  he hadn't wanted anything.  Today he bought a couple of boxes of macaroni and cheese, which I prevailed upon him to make for supper.   He told me he didn't know how, which I believed after I saw he had poured the noodles into maybe a cup of water in a tiny saucepan.  He defended himself saying I shouldn't have put that chore on him, and I yelled (my pain talking), that even a 5-year-old can make macaroni and cheese.  It turned out okay after he transferred it to another pan with more water. 

At the end of the day, I was feeling guardedly well enough  to ride in the car with him when he went to feed the chickens.  The weather was cold, grey, and misting a little, making it seem Christmasey, at least.  I stayed in the car and saw his excitement at finding 5 eggs in the nests.  The chickens have been on strike with the shorter days and a change of feed.  We started their regular egg-laying regimen again and they are rewarding us with these little gems, worth $5 apiece, easily.

Tonight makes the second Christmas party we have missed this week.  Even though we had looked forward to going, we had to stay home.  The annual city Christmas parade was held tonight, also, and it reminded me of the excitement around our house when the kids were young.  A hurried supper, riding to town and standing with friends in the shivering, jostling crowds was invigorating and not to be missed in those days. Once our 14-year-old daughter even rode her horse the three miles to town and joined in the parade right behind Santa Claus.  Maybe she is taking in a parade with her grandchildren and her own young daughter in Tennessee tonight.  Her father and I have been temporarily sidelined.  

Wednesday, December 5, 2012


I love life's little surprises!  Today my glance fell on the hand-painted crockery pitcher bought several years ago at an estate sale.  I always kept it turned to the side with the red barn showing, because the bright spot of color reflected other red accents in my white kitchen. For some reason, this morning I turned it around to the other side.  As I stared at the blue farmhouse depicted by the artist, I had a de ja' vu moment.  It could have been our house in Missisisippi where we'd raised our family! 

Why hadn't I noticed it before?  The view was from the front, a flower bed gracing the middle of the yard, with a large, white birdhouse on a tall pole.  We'd had a martin house there forever! And a flower bed in the front! We had the house covered with siding in the same shade of blue more than 30 years ago!  The peak of the roof was facing the road, with a railing on the porch leading to the front door.  The same as ours!

"Look, Howard," I said to my husband as he came in to breakfast.  "This is our house in Mississippi!"  He laughed and marveled and said, "See, there is the light pole!"  Sure enough, it reminded us of the colonial-style lamp post which stood at the edge of our driveway.  A tree in the side yard looked like our old tree and the placement was the same.  A fence inside a row of shrubbery bordered the scene, just as ours had.

I will keep the farmhouse-side of the pitcher visible from now on!  Howard reminisced about our former home and mentioned how we had helped start a church when we first moved there. And the church is still thriving today, 35 years later!  I felt like George Bailey of  "It's a Wonderful Life" when I thought about those times.   The last of our six children was born in that small Mississippi  town, and we didn't move until he had gone away to college. 

The Lord worked it out that my husband would enter the ministry after a career in business while living there.  From that home we launched young adults who would become ministers, a pastor's wife, an R.N., as well as one with the Department of Education and another with a major oil company.

Five of our children would marry while we lived in that house.  During those years we had a butler's tray coffee table we had bought unassembled.  As Howard put it together, he noticed it was short a couple of screws for the brace underneath.  He always meant to replace them, because the brace would turn easily when a foot was propped on it. But we got used to the quirky loose board,  held in place with only one screw at each end.

We called it the courting bench.  It became a family joke when, over time,  first one, then another of our children would sit on the sofa with their sweetheart, unconsciously twirling the brace with their feet, and with downcast eyes and flushed faces announce their engagement to  us.  "Look, they are spinning the board," a sibling would nudge me.  That's when we knew it was serious. 

I got a job at a newspaper while living in the blue house (white, then), and though family duties took precedence over my would-be career, it did awaken in me a desire for writing.  For a year or so after I worked there, they ran my column.  I've been writing ever since, and wonder of wonders, I have published four books!  I love life's little surprises!  It is a wonderful life!

Monday, December 3, 2012

Walden's Pond

"Where are the hens?" my husband and I asked each other as we drove down the hill to the chicken yard to feed them yesterday. The gate to their pen was standing open, yet we could only see one chicken enjoying its freedom over in the house yard.  Our son must have let them "free range" when he left last evening after a late visit to the farm.

When they heard the car door, one by one our feathered friends emerged through the little door of their coop, hopping down rather gingerly and diffidently.  We counted, and they were all there, so when the stray hurried toward us, we fastened their gate.  Maybe something had scared them into keeping close quarters, we thought.  Or else they didn't like the high winds blowing like a gale.

As is our habit, we drove through the pasture to watch the ducks gathered in picturesque panorama on the pond.  Howard particularly found the peaceful scene relaxing and therapeutic.  "Look at that!" I exclaimed at the flap of huge wings that made the ducks seem small in comparison.  "A heron!" I cried, as the beautiful bird landed on a limb of a dead tree across the lake.  There was always something new to see here!

I called our son, Greg, and told him about the sighting.  He was pleasantly surprised, and remarked wryly that maybe that's what was getting our fish.  He and his father had had less than stellar results fishing on Saturday. He mentioned that he had been out to feed the dog during his lunch hour and had let our chickens out.  Good! I thought.  At least the gate hadn't been open all night.

Suddenly a streak that was almost a blur caught my attention across the lake.  Something was running like the wind!  Was it two dogs?  I heard the sudden barking of dogs, but I realized it was from dogs in a pen startled by what was flying past.  Too large for foxes, I realized the darkly silhouetted forms had a cat-like shape, smooth and curved with long tails.  "Howard, those are bobcats!"  I exclaimed.  Soon they were gone from sight, obviously heading for a thicket across the highway. Wow!  I would hate to be out here alone, with that kind of wildlife about.  Is that why the chickens were staying so close to home?

We are always trying to identify animal prints along the water's edge, recognizing canine (we thought), pawprints, the crisply defined toe-prints of a racoon, or cloven hoof tracks that could be deer.  Now we had another imprint to watch out for! Ferocious or benign, from deer, ducks, birds, raccoons or bobcats, every species leaves its "footprints" as evidence of its presence, even the fish's skeletal remains.  In their fascinating existence, these amazing creatures all have one thing in common:  They bear the fingerprints of God! 

Mission Accomplished

Just as I had hoped, when my mind was relaxed during the night I thought about where the Christmas stockings I made so long ago might be.  I recalled a flat, marble-designed cardboard box with a lift-up lid where I always kept the special, satin brocade ornaments and lovely, tasseled stocking with the wide satin band that my daughter, Amy, had made for me several years ago.  Married with her own family by that time, she had fashioned them from her highschool prom dress, salvaging pieces of the once-beautiful, but stained gown she had stored away.

Of course!  That's where the other stockings would be stored, too, I realized.  But I hadn't seen the box, so it must have been packed in a larger container, I reasoned, and was resigned to make yet another trip to the basement to delve into more storage cartons.  But first, I had to do some housework.  All my decor just looked like clutter until I dusted, waxed and polished things.

In my housecleaning flurry, I pulled the sheets from my bed and went to the linen closet for another set.  The shelves are very deep, and a few days ago I had stored a large, styrofoam, decorative pumpkin at the top.  I dislodged something getting the sheets, and the pumpkin tumbled down.  Putting it back, I saw something behind a stack of blankets.  The marbled box!  Now I remembered it clearly!

Sure enough, the cross stitched stockings were there lying neatly beneath the satin one.  Not only that, there were the two red felt stockings I had made more than 45 years ago for my oldest son and daughter. I had stitched their names in rick-rack.  MARK was printed in large block letters, but "Julie" was gracefully scrolled  in longhand.  I had made them from my red felt Poodle Skirt from my highschool days.

A couple of patchwork stockings I had made once, and a quilted "Magi" stocking, plus one of red plush with furry trim were there, too. I decided the cross stitched stockings were too nice for the porch, after all.  But where could I hang them?  The fireplace mantel was already full. Maybe I could stretch a line somewhere and fasten them with clothespins, I thought. Then, going through a crafts drawer I saw a ribbon strung with beads interspersed with tiny, craft clothespins.  Maybe I could hang them on that.  It worked!  There is a metal damper knob on the fireplace that held the string of stockings beautifully, like a colorful catch of fish!  I loved it!

I have a graceful, curved, wicker chest with wrought iron feet and clasp that was just begging to hold the satin ornaments and stocking.  A chocolate satin sheet over a plumped pillow made a perfect backdrop for the rich, ribbon-looped, ivory satin keepsakes.  I found places around the house for the other stockings, and now my decorating is done!  The stockings are hung by the chimney with care, not needing to be filled, for they are already full of memories!

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Deck the Halls

Ever since I put up my little pre-lit tree a few days ago, I have been searching for the small, velvet tree skirt that goes with it.  I have prowled through every Christmas box, closet, and drawer where I might have stored it.  It was driving me crazy, because that was one of the last finishing touches I wanted to do with my decorating (the other is finding the six Christmas stockings that I made for my kids some 35 years ago).

I was mulling the tree-skirt mystery over in my mind in bed last night, and I mentally went over again the fact that I remembered temporarily stuffing it into a small basket when I took down the tree last year.  Now the basket sits in the bathroom holding towels, so I knew it wasn't there.  Then it came to me that  I had also put a small stuffed horse pull-toy in the basket,  and I knew where the horse was!  In the trunk!  Sure enough, something red caught my eye when I opened the trunk, and I pulled out the skirt!  Now the little horse sits on it in its place under the tree!

If only I could get the association technique to work with finding the stockings! I hadn't put them out in a while, but I saw them in a snapshot from a Christmas a few years ago and thought how pretty they would look.  (I was looking at the pictures to refresh my memory of how I had decorated the porch wagon.  I saw I had duplicated it pretty well with greenery, pinecones and red berries.)  I needed more on the porch, though, and thought the stockings would be nice arranged along a bench.

The idea for the burlap stockings had come from a women's magazine showing them cross-stitched with yarn in simple designs.  It was my habit back then to make a new craft from a magazine project every Christmas.  (One year I rolled dough and cut out a large Noah's Ark with animals and baked it. It was a good 12 inches high and quite impressive propped on a high shelf of the built-in bookcase!)

I had lined the stockings with green fabric and used the off-beat colors of yarn I had on hand, which were purple, light and dark green,  pink and orange. The stitching went quickly, covering the burlap with designs of holly, ribbons, a wreath, a Christmas tree, stripes, and  the words Merry Christmas, and Joy.  They were charming in a rustic sort of way and hardy enough for use on my screened-porch.

While I didn't find the stockings, I did take on old violin from the trunk, and propped on an antique cabinet it looks quite Christmasey.  I had already nabbed my husband's small, wooden banjo uke that was sitting atop the trunk.  It is leaning on an easel next to the little wooden sleigh.  Maybe the whereabouts of the stockings will come to me tonight, and once that mystery is laid to rest, I will get a little rest of my own!