Friday, December 23, 2016

Merry Christmas Everyone!

"But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, 
he saved us
not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy
He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, 
whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, 
so that, having been justified by his grace, 
we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life."

-- Titus 3:4-7 (NIV)

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Christmas in Vermont

Snow and warmth walk hand in hand in the distant memories of those first Christmases in my life. Snow, piled high in towering mountains at the end of the driveway by the vigilant plow who came in the darkness of the early morning with his bright headlights and clunking scrape scrape on the frozen ground. Snow, that fell softly down in great flakes and landed on the dark-haired back of the little Peek-a-poo, Smidgen, as he pranced around in the big backyard. Snow, that gilded the Currier & Ives Christmas scenes that naturally occurred in modern Vermont and forever baptized the ideals of Christmas in my own mind.

I did not feel nor remember the cold of those deep winter days. The house was warm, always warm. There was a wood stove in the living room, it’s windows glowing with the brightness of fire. Deep in the basement there was a furnace which every now and then my mother would descend to stoke with wedges of seasoned wood piled on the basement floor in readiness. My bedroom upstairs was warm and the bathroom was warm. Perhaps the only place that hinted of the below zero weather outside was the mudroom with its windows and cold outside door.  

It was Christmas Eve. The short day had easily given in to the deep, country darkness. Fresh snow lay on the ground and outside the sky was clear and shining with a million glittering stars uninhibited by any city lights. Pushing my nose to the dining room window I could see off in the distance a lighted star affixed to the top of a silo. I loved that star. It was a glowing symbol of familiarity and comfort in the midst of darkness, long, long hours of darkness. I stared at it wistfully, feeling a deep sense of belonging.

Mom was in the kitchen, an even warmer room. Steam from the stove mingled with breathe from the two dogs and the hot dishwater in the sink which fogged up the windows that looked out to the road. Dinner might soon be ready.

I stood in front of the wooden frame couch gazing at the Christmas tree which now towered in front of the sliding glass doors. There were strings of white lights wrapped around the wide-spreading green branches. Single stalks of wheat tied with red ribbons hung from branches and a crocheted star rested against the very top of the tree. Last night I had been allowed to hang a few of the wheat stalks on the tree as mom read scripture verses about Christ being the light of the world, the bread of life, and our everlasting king. There were presents under the tree which dad said we would open that evening. It was on Christmas Eve that Christ was born, therefore that was when we should open our presents. It seemed as though many hours still stretched until present-opening time.

In just a few minutes dad would arrive with Bertha. I liked Bertha. She lived two miles away in the next town in an old house with a wood stove in her kitchen to cook on and a tiny pantry just inside the back door. I can still smell that pantry and see the light from the window as it reflected off the red tin of ritz crackers as Bertha pulled out a handful for me to enjoy. The smell of stale biscuits and old grease mingled with the crackers. My dad was afraid of Bertha’s apple pies — made with real lard and cooked in the wood burning oven and then left for days, maybe weeks, on the pantry shelf. Later I would be told that Bertha had been a school teacher, never married, and had lived in that house since her birth in the late 1800’s. 

Tonight she would come to our warm house and sit by the tree with the colorful granny square blanket tucked tightly around her legs. My little girl antics would make her eyes dance and her mouth curl into smiles. 

The evening seemed very long, perhaps because the light left us just about the time my afternoon nap was over. Somehow there was time for dinner, and time to drive to the neighboring village for the Christmas Eve service. 

The snow was piled high outside but dad warmed the car for a good 20 minutes before we left and then carried me straight into the church where we found a seat in the old wooden pews. It was warm in the church with plenty of heat and I could smell the familiar church smell of stale coffee and mildew. There were candles burning and people laughing and hugging one another as they made their way to their seats. I remembered the carols from last year — the order of service and carols never changed. O Come, O Come, Emmanuel opened the service. I didn’t hear it often. Perhaps this was the only place I heard it. I loved the minor tones and the mournful melody. I wanted to sing it over and over. But the service moved on into Joy to the World, O Little Town of Bethlehem, Away in a Manger, and It Came Upon a Midnight Clear. 

Just as the service seemed to be dragging we came to my favorite part. Baskets of candles were passed down the pews. I was allowed to carefully hold my own little white candle stuck into a round of paper. The lights were turned out and slowly one flame began to light another as the congregation sang in a cappella Silent Night. I didn’t want the moment to end, just like I never wanted to take the last bite of an ice-cream cone, or come in from playing outside, or stop my play to go take a nap. Couldn’t we let the candles burn just a little bit longer? 

Back at home Grandma arrived, her hair tucked up in curlers underneath a large scarf. She sat in the big chair next to the fireplace and showed me the plate she’d brought with her. Forgotten Cookies! How I loved these strange cookies that appeared only once a year. Grandma offered me one and I bit into the sweet, dry meringue that held walnuts and chocolate chips, luxury foods for me. I was glad Grandma let me have a second cookie. For some reason it is the memory of these cookies that remains with me and not the memories of opening presents.
The coffee table now held a tray with slices of date nut loaf and another loaf with the most intriguing bright red and green bits of fruit in it. I knew these had come from my mom’s friend in the next village. They too were a treat, but it was the cookies that I deemed to be the best of all.

Suddenly I felt so very tired and the heat of the wood stove made me feel far too warm. I was almost glad when mom said it was time for bed. I kissed everyone goodnight and followed mom up the wooden staircase to my bedroom at the far end. Mom turned back the old quilts for me so I could climb inside, laying my head down on my favorite little “pill-yo” as mom tucked the quilts under my chin. She flipped on the great plastic goose nightlight that stood guard by the side of the bed and sat down next to me to sing my bedtime lullaby, always the chorus of “Go Tell It On The Mountain.” My eyes were heavy and there was no time to think. I let myself be gently overtaken by the warm stillness of the night.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Mondays are for Grace

"Love is so large that it has to live in the holiness of very small moments of sacrifice."

-- Ann Voskamp, The Broken Way

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Into December

 It's December! A month of excitement and fun things to look forward to and of course lots of work for the "keepers of Christmas" which usually happen to be the wife or mother in the picture.

I always enjoy Sally Clarkson's podcasts but her recent ones on the holiday season have been particularly fun and encouraging.

Pace Yourself and

Christmas Traditions

I am thankful that this year I've been able to downsize our schedule a bit and that helps keep stress down.

This fall has been so long and wonderful. I think I'd take it any year. It was strange to have the beautiful orange glow of the leaves coming in my bedroom window when with the red coverlet and plaid of winter decorating my room.

I think the last of our leaves have finally fallen and the street looks like the beginning of November with lots of dead brown leaves littering everyone's yards. I should probably send the kids out to rake.....

 I love the red and green of Christmas and the holly and plaid that comes with it.

I buy wrapping paper once a year at Hobby Lobby in November when it is on sale for half price. I buy a few Christmas specific rolls and then a few rolls that could be for anytime of the year.
 The kids are so into their Santa hats. I think they would wear them round the clock if they could!

This is David's favorite place to sit. I can count on finding him here with plenty of schoolwork or chores yet to be done!

I keep all our Christmas books inside the coffee table and they've been pulled out now for easy access!

Some of our favorites we've been reading this week include: Becky's Christmas by Tasha Tudor and Lucy and Tom's Christmas by Shirley Hughes.

Last year I first saw this china pattern when I was antique shopping with a friend. I decided that maybe this year I would keep my eyes out and get myself a teacup because I LOVE the bright green and Christmas red of this set and the 3D berries that are part of it. Well, I looked through nearly an entire antique mall without seeing one piece and then low and behold I saw this whole set for about the price of two teacups. I was so thrilled to come home with it. This china just makes me so happy! It's vintage Lefton Christmas china.
It's become my tradition to spend the night at my mom's house near to my birthday. I headed there last Friday and found the guest bed welcoming me.

There was also a roaring fire to sit next to. We needed a Christmas program to watch and finally decided on the Gilmore Girls because I keep hearing about that show and have never seen an episode. It definitely made us laugh! And now I know what the show is like.

Mom cooked a delicious apricot chicken for me for dinner. Yum yum!

In the morning we went out for breakfast and took along our sketchbooks. I'm getting more comfortable at painting and not worrying about how badly it will turn out.

We had good food: egg, avocado, potatoes, bacon. Mom had an amazing gluten free waffle.
 We both love the style of Liz Steel who paints what she eats.
 Goodwill was 50% off last Saturday so Rachel and I headed out for lots and lots of shopping. We wore matching outfits. :) We made it back home shortly after 8 p.m. quite exhausted.

 Laura decided she would try to dress up like Santa Claus -- very cute! She's getting old too fast to which there are both pros and cons.

We are still shopping buddies and spend several hours by ourselves on Wednesdays getting the household shopping done.

 It's nice that the kids are able to do so much of the tree trimming these days. It took me so long to get the Thanksgiving stuff put away and the house was in a state of extra big chaos for a lot longer than I wanted. I think we've finally finished the Christmas decorating.
I like my lantern with the candle in it. It makes sitting on the couch feel so cozy.

Here's our front door all pretty with greens and red ribbons.

And then here's a picture of the top of the fridge which looks so pretty from my viewpoint where you can't see any of the dust that appears to be up there! ha ha!

 I love plaid/tartan so much. It makes me happy to wear it. I'm sure I look like one of those elementary teachers that wears garish clothes and crazy earrings because its fun for kids. I can't believe I do it too. But it's so much more fun.

And see how well the holly cups go with plaid?!
I love our advent calendars. They make me smile too, especially this one because I know what is behind each door.

 My birthday fell on Wednesday. I made pancakes with berries and bacon for breakfast on the Friendly Village china. yum yum! We also enjoyed the very last leaves of our very favorite tea which came all the way from china via a friend. We are trying to figure out how to get more. Michael is thinking it might take making a trip.
 Planning our lessons around Christmas in different countries this December has given me focus and excitement not to mention lots of festivity. I'm going to do this every year!!! We've been sewing ornaments from those countries, reading picture books, watching youtube videos, eating ethnic foods, and generally having a great time.

We are also reading another favorite for our read-aloud: Sleigh Bells for Windy Foot by Frances Frost.
 Since my birthday fell on our weekly shopping, Laura and I stopped at Panera for a little coffee and treat to make it extra special.

Can't believe Rachel and I used to have Christmas tea like this so long ago.
 All the kids managed to be around the table for some birthday cake and tea yesterday! That was so special. We had a delicious Dundee Cake and used the new china. And we started into Becky's Christmas.
 Michael took me to dinner in the evening. This salad with butternut squash and Manchego cheese was delicious.
And we got to see the lights in downtown Indianapolis. Very festive!!

I'm reading Winter Solstice by Rosamund Pilcher as one of my "Christmas Reads" this year. I love this book and I can't wait to post about it on my Reading Scotland blog.

I'm also really enjoying Ann Voskamp's latest book The Broken Way.

Wherever you are, I hope you are enjoying good books and festive moments!

Monday, December 5, 2016

Mondays are for Grace

"Long ago, at many times and in many ways, 
God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, 
but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, 
whom he appointed the heir of all things, 
through whom also he created the world. 
He is the radiance of the glory of God 
and the exact imprint of his nature, 
and he upholds the universe by the word of his power."

Hebrews 1:1-3

Friday, December 2, 2016

Rachel's Sweet Sixteen

Rachel celebrated her sweet sixteen birthday just days before Thanksgiving. Our kids have been promised parties at certain big birthdays and 16 is one of them. So, I had to take the plunge, and with a great idea from Auntie Em, we planned a Murder Mystery Dinner Party.

 We bought a murder mystery dinner package online that told us just what to do. We set the party up in stages with appetizers, salad, main course, and dessert. This helped everyone to have plenty of opportunity to talk to other guests and accomplish their assigned tasks so the murder could take place and then be solved.

With two parties back-to-back (Thanksgiving/50th anniversary for my in-laws and this birthday party) I simplified by using a lot of the same decorating technics for both events! And, my sister, who invented the idea of the murder mystery, volunteered to help me pull the party off -- couldn't have done it on my own!

The party began with appetizers, provided by Auntie Em! Gorgeous!

 After the appetizers everyone moved to the front room for their sit down dinner (Emily and I served).

After the murder everyone congregated in the dining room for dessert -- Rachel requested mini pies instead of cake.

I'm sure you recognize my favors from the Thanksgiving photos. :)

Here are the girls mingling after their arrival. It was wonderful to see so many people come dressed up in costume!!!!

Here's the group! It really was terrific fun and I would love to do this again for an adult gathering although hosting something like this is SO much easier when you are only responsible for cooking and serving the food and don't have to also sit down and eat and interact.

The theme for the murder mystery was modern day fairy tale so there were modern takes on Prince Charming, Snow White, Cinderella, etc.

Rachel did a wonderful job of keeping the party going along the script. She elected to be "Prince Charming."

Here are the girls enjoying their salads and working on their secret tasks.

I loved "Gram's" outfit!!! Couldn't get over it!

Here are two sisters doing some sort of secret bribing or exchange of information.

The lights all went out at one point and the murder happened! SCREAMS!!

After some detective work the mystery was solved! Then there were prizes for best costume, best actor, and person with the most money leftover at the end.

On Sunday Grandma came over with the two cousins whom she was babysitting for the weekend. YAY! We enjoyed more birthday celebration and present opening.

And there were pies left to enjoy!!!!!

 A little help from cousin Arthur.

Rachel had to go to school on her real birthday but I think the festivities of the weekend made up for that plus the fact that she could use some of her birthday presents to get Starbucks on the way to school. :)

Happy sixteenth birthday Rachel!!!

Monday, November 28, 2016

Mondays are for Grace

"It takes courage to listen with our whole heart to the tick of God's timing 
rather than march to the loud beat of our fears."

-- Ann Voskamp, The Broken Way

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Family Thanksgiving

We just said goodbye to Michael's family after our bi-annual Thanksgiving celebration. It was a wonderful weekend together!!!

I am extremely blessed to have two pantries. This is what I call the "little pantry" and here it is the night before Thanksgiving with some of the pies waiting for the big day. Yum yum! Somehow this picture reminds me of a book I used to read as a child....maybe one of Beatrix Potter's illustrations. I can't quite put my thumb on it.

Michael's family came from Oklahoma, Chicago, Cleveland, and North Carolina! Besides Thanksgiving we were celebrating Michael's parents' 50th wedding anniversary! Quite an occasion to celebrate!

So the theme of the Thanksgiving decorations was "golden" for golden wedding. Lots and lots of gold.

The meal came together nicely this year despite losing my master list a few days ahead of time and having to re-create it. Of course the list materialized today after everyone left. Our menu included:

Spatchcocked turkey
Mashed potatoes
Carrots with parsley
Green beans with balsamic vinaigrette and shallots
Butternut squash and sweet potato mash
Gluten free sage and onion stuffing (my favorite!)
Fresh cranberry sauce
Wild rice and butternut squash pilaf

The younger kids had their very own table in the front room. Lots of cousins to play with!

The adults enjoyed one long table in the dining room.

It was a delicious meal!

Afterward Michael's dad gave a speech telling about his childhood and how he and mom met and married (it was also Dad's 80th birthday this year).

Eventually it was time for pie!

This is what it looked like afterward! We then proceeded to eat pie for breakfast, snacks, and dessert for the next two days! Definitely a highlight of Thanksgiving!

We enjoyed a funny round of White Elephant Gift Exchanging.

And presented anniversary gifts to Michael's parents including this uncut sheet of 50 $1 bills which was a big hit!

The Golden anniversary favors:

And the happy couple!

It was fun to see the cousins together again after two years. Everyone was so much older, of course! Rachel and Kyleigh both love music.

Michael with all but one of his siblings.

We decided we needed a girl picture too!

This is my favorite picture of all -- grandparents with a dozen grandkids. YAY!

And so ends another thanksgiving season.