December 30, 2009

The End and the Beginning!

Ohhhh, another wonderful Christmas has come and gone! This year will be memorable for many reasons. The not so good reasons revolve around weather and cars - one storm that lasted about 5 days in all with ice, snow, wind, and unbelievable cold temps.

Our plans changed hourly and bad roads aced us out of some important traditions like Christmas Eve service, but it was better to stay safely at home and finish out our Advent devotions around the table. The number of car incidents we've endured has been ridiculous and they aren't over yet! It started of course with DD getting stuck in the deep snow out in front of our house. As a result of that mishap it was discovered that her 4 wheel drive wasn't functioning properly, and we tried to have it repaired here, but it was too close to Christmas and the weather was nasty enough that getting parts here was not possible, so that problem will be fixed back in her college town. Then my car battery pooped out (we knew it was lagging, but the cold temps knocked it out), my left front headlight died, DD's car was frozen solid when we pulled it into the garage to load it up for her return trip, and then as she was attempting to leave yesterday, her car battery was dead - ahhhhh!!!!! But she and I got a refresher course on how to jump start a car - with DH on speaker phone - and that's a good thing!

Other good memories of this Christmas include time spent with local family, a visit from Santa, and a visit to my dear 99-year-old grandmother, which coincided with seeing my dad and step-mom - thanks to weather delays!

Only 80 years separate these two beauties!

We had great meals and treats...

When I was a kid, we always had a table of fruit and nuts left for us on Christmas morning, and we have continued that tradition with a tropical flair since that's DDs favorite kind!

We spent time watching movies and playing games, and we all got wonderful, thoughtful gifts while never forgetting the most wonderful Christmas gift of all!

And for the "beginnings" part of the story - Our baby girl is over the ocean on a jet plane to Guatemala. In case you don't know, she's part of a team from her college that is going there for mission work at a Christian school. They will paint, construct, and anything else that's needed for the next 10 days. Two other teams from her college are on their way to other destinations for the same reason. Please pray for all of them!

We wish you all a fantastic start to the new year. May you find God's peace and promise in every day! Happy New Year!

December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas from Iowa!

Hark the herald angels sing. Glory to the newborn King.

Mild he lays his glory by,
Born that man no more may die,
Born to raise the sons of earth,
Born to give them second birth.
Risen with healing in his wings,
Light and life to all he brings,
Hail, the Sun of Righteousness
Hail, the heaven-born Prince of Peace.
(Charles Wesley 1739)

"Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid." John 14:27

December 22, 2009

Christmas Countdown - Day 23

1. The storm has descended upon us, our tender lilac bush is wearing an ice coat today - as is the driveway, and our porches, and maybe some power lines?? Just as we had suspected, our plans are changing. We'll not be traveling to Christmas Eve service, and we won't try to go to visit my Grandmother on Christmas Day, unless something drastic changes with the weather. We've rescheduled our visit with her, which made her happy since she won't worry about us being on the road. We're starting this storm with ice and freezing rain, then snow, then wind. Nice if you don't have to go anywhere, but I can't help but think of all the disappointment that will be going around with changed travel plans, etc. We'll be praying for safety for all those who decide to brave these roads, not to mention the people whose jobs require them to be out. Hmmm...last year we were packing for Hawaii about now...

2. One more shopping trip happened Monday - and it was all due to this pretty scarf. My daughter did such a good job picking out my Christmas gift before she came home, that she chose the same thing I bought for myself a few weeks ago! The poor baby spotted my new scarf in the closet and realized that she had to start all over looking for a gift for me - sorry kiddo! In my defense, I never buy things for myself and I hate going shopping, so, when I'm out doing Christmas shopping I try to kill two birds with one stone and get things I need since I'm there anyway - logical huh? Plus the fact that at Christmas there are many more things at the stores from which to choose. And she ended up with a nice new scarf too - happy ending?

3. We've been breaking into our Christmas cookie supply and enjoying a sampling each night with coffee. I wonder which blessed soul started the whole cookie baking tradition. They deserve an honorable mention in history books!

4. One of the main themes in our Advent devotions has been that the Israelites knew so much about the coming Savior because of what the scriptures told them. Christ was not a stranger dropped on the people out of the blue. They knew He was coming, they knew who He was, and they even knew His name. The Bible is so full of God's promises to us, and knowing that God always fulfills those promises is comfort far beyond what our warm house in an ice storm can provide!

December 21, 2009

Christmas Countdown - Day 21

Remember our hedge apple tree out back? It's the one with the fruit that repels bugs and is usually thought of as inedible. But apparently once it freezes, the fruit becomes palatable to the deer.

This is what we've been seeing every dusk for about two weeks now. The several hedge apple trees on our property were loaded with fruit this year, so I'm guessing this will be a regular site for quite a while. The other site we've seen is a number of orange vested men looking longingly at all the deer on our property! We're not sure of all the rules regarding how close to a home they can shoot, but we keep saying that if the hunters would only knock on the door and ask, we'd set them up on our deck and serve hot cocoa to them as they "decreased the surplus population" - to quote Ebenezer Scrooge!

Countdown continues:

1. Christmas cards are arriving and it gives us such pleasure to get news and photos from friends and family. We have longtime friends who were once next door neighbors, and they sent a report about our daughter's first Christmas tree, a blue spruce that's planted in the backyard of the home we lived in then. It's about 10 feet tall this year! They also send us new photos of their beautiful little girl each year and we miss them all the more when we see her sweet face!

2. We made arrangements to visit my grandmother on Christmas. I hope she doesn't get too wound up between now and then. She's always been a worrier (which I inherited!), and at 99 years of age, she is very good at it! Here's a picture of the little tray favors that DD and I have been making to take to the nursing home.

3. DD and I took one more shopping trip this past Friday to get her Christmas shopping finished, get our Christmas meal ingredients, and start finding the things she needs for her mission trip to Guatemala after Christmas. Does shopping ever end?

4. Our Christmas menus are planned and will be very simple this year, since we'll be traveling around a little for services and visiting. Christmas Eve will be soup made with lobster ravioli, salad, and my favorite rolls. Christmas Day will be a brunch and then later on an appetizer assortment, including a round of brie that we found - wrapped in pastry and ready to bake - oooo la la! However...there is a rumor that a nasty storm will visit us mid-week and last right through Christmas morning. This could change all carefully laid plans!

5. Yesterday was the 4th Sunday of Advent. We're getting close! The fourth candle in our devotions is meant to represent the Angels that came to tell the glad news of Christ's birth. We've always needed this good news, could it be that we need in a special way this year? As we watched Glenn Beck's Christmas special, he interviewed troops in Afghanistan who started by saying hello to their families, revealing the number of Christmases they'd been away from home, and then ended the interview by proclaiming that they knew that the true miracle of Christmas was with them no matter where they were, and that they were grateful for the birth of our Lord above all else. There is absolutely nothing left to say now, is there?
Don't forget to pray for our troops.

December 17, 2009

Christmas Countdown - Day 17

The icy weather is so pretty in many ways. I loved the way the iced-over snow reflected the lights on our yard decorations. However...

...the reflection of this tow truck and the headlights of our daughter's car are not so pretty! The poor baby came home after a long week of finals, and made it to within 100 feet of our driveway, but slid into the ditch as she tried to gain traction. What a bummer!! But we were so very thankful that it happened out in front of the house and not along the interstate, and as always we feel grateful for all the resources available to us to solve these kinds of dilemmas.

Here's the countdown progress:

1. Finished decorating DD's room just in time since she came home a day early - no complaints! It was very nostalgic to go through all the ornaments we collected for her over the years. My techie husband fixed up a techie touch for her tree - it turns on and off with a little remote!!

2. We've had some lovely packages arriving lately! My mom's peanut brittle is legendary and she never fails to deliver a batch to all of us at Christmas. Our daughter opened the box and just took a deep breath in to savor the aroma! She loves tradition as much as we do.

3. My dear cousin Holly surprised us with these adorable decorations!

4. Someone else in the house is enjoying the packages as well. I guess I can concede that she is cute on occasion.

5. We've had some true stress in our lives lately, and reading our Advent devotions every day has helped keep us focused in a very special way. Ending the day with "Comfort and joy, comfort and joy, tidings of comfort and joy".

December 15, 2009

Christmas Countdown - Day 15

1. Cards are mailed, though I should have my head examined for going out yesterday to the post office! It was so icy here and the temps dropped all day long, from the 30's when we woke up to the teens by the time I ventured out at 9am. The roads around here were as slick as I've ever seen them and I crawled along at 15 miles per hour to keep from sliding over the edge. I actually saw an elderly lady at the post office who ventured out with her walker! At first I thought it was the most dangerous thing I'd seen all morning, since she had to cross the icy street to get to the melted sidewalk, but my DH pointed out that she may have been a lot more stable on the ice with her walker than the rest of us with just our balance to rely upon! I also stopped for gas since we have a rule about not being low on gas during bad weather, and found that the handle was slightly frozen to the pump - it's cold here man! When I finished filling up, the pump screen thanked me for my purchase and informed me that my receipt was waiting for me inside - are you kidding me???? I looked across the expanse of iced pavement and the incline to the front door of the store, and realized that unless I wanted to get over there on my hands and knees, it was time to memorize the amount of $37.18 and do without a receipt! I got back home by driving down our gravel hill on the wrong side of the road, since that was the only place that had any sort of traction, slid past our driveway as I attempted to pull in, and then thanked God for answering my stream of prayers all the way home! So, if you get a card from us, put that baby in a place of honor on your mantel, won't you?!

2. Wrapping presents has been completed too! I've always loved that task and I used to approach it like a little art project, but we have this cat - that I may have complained about before - and she eats ribbon, tinsel, and raffia, which cramps my style a bit...dopey cat. DH applied a little Febreze in an attempt to make them less appetizing. No chews this morning, so we may be on to something here.

3. I baked brownies for the men's group meeting at church, and of course I put red and green sprinkles on them. Do the men really want those festive sprinkles on top? Probably not, but it's December and I can't help myself!

4. This was a very nice reflection in our Advent devotions recently -

"King Jesus will come humbly and tenderly to his people. The Scripture says He will come so gently that even a flickering candle would not be snuffed out, and yet He will establish justice on the earth. What a great King we serve!" (Orangewood PCA)

We were well into our Christian walk when we learned through good teaching (thanks John H.!), that the whole Old Testament of the Bible points to the coming of Christ. The verses referenced in the words above come from Isaiah 42. We may focus on preparing for this Christmas season for several weeks, but humanity was being prepared for this coming from the very beginning. In fact, it all starts in Genesis!

5. I'm discovering that making a purposeful effort to be calm about the items on my holiday list has made me enjoy and savor all the rituals and traditions a lot more. In the past there always seemed to be 4 or 5 things that I felt needed to be done nearly simultaneously, so it would result in a lot of tension and cajoling of others on my part. Maybe the gift of turning 50 is that you settle down enough to see yourself more clearly and you can get a grip! But, don't wait until then if you haven't hit that 50 mark yet - do it now and have a merrier Christmas!

December 12, 2009

Christmas Countdown - Day 12

Isn't it hard to imagine what wind can do to snow? This landscape reminds me of egg whites beaten to stiff peaks - wild! As pretty as it looks from our windows, once you get out on the roads it's a different story. We took a quick trip up to our daughter's college this weekend, and the first 50 miles or so was on roads that were still pretty hairy in places, even two days after the snowfall was done. We counted nearly 50 cars and semis that had gone into the median and ditches along the highway. Some were on their tops, and one semi cab had actually crashed into the side of it's own trailer. It was a terrible mess, but today as we came back through, most of it had been cleared away with just a few clues like tires, bumpers and a whole car door to tell the story of what had happened. A blizzard is a powerful force.

Here's the progress as of late:

1. We took our trip up to DD's college so that we could enjoy her choir's Christmas concert. She got to be part of a trio in one number, and that made up our minds to go! It was a wonderful concert and truly put the spirit of Christmas in our hearts. The auditorium there is so inspiring and the program held some beautiful music as well as lyrics -

Let nothing disturb you, nothing frighten you, all things are passing. God never changes. Patience obtains all things. Whoever has God lacks nothing. God is enough.

St. Teresa of Avila (1515-1582)

2. My Christmas cards are almost done. I've found that to be a great task to take on the road if I have a small lapboard with me. Makes me feel so efficient to get a task done as we drive!

3. We gave our DD her first Christmas gift while we were there - a new phone, since she "accidentally" dropped hers in the snow during the blizzard - ha! She knew she was getting the phone for Christmas and she swore it was a true accident when it went missing last week. She's too honest to do it on purpose, so Santa agreed to come to the rescue. She was having serious withdrawal without one - she had to round up a watch and find an alarm clock - horrors!!

4. My baking is done - yeah! I put some in the freezer for us, put some into a cookie decorating kit for DD and her friends who were having a girl's night, and a lot of the cookies will go to church tomorrow for fellowship snack time. Which means I had better stop blogging and get to bed to make it to church on time and awake!

December 9, 2009

Countdown to Christmas - Day 9

The blizzard has arrived! Our overnight total was 15 inches and more is coming down now. The winds up on our hill have been brutal - 50 mile per hour gusts. Our house creaked and groaned all night long. You can see that the porch and sidewalk have big drifts and then there's a bare section of lawn and driveway. The DOT has pulled plows from the highways because of winds and poor visibility, and they state that travel is at your own peril - but the roads aren't officially closed - hmmm???

Updates on preparing the way:
1. Printed out a wonderful Advent booklet we found on the internet. We may back up a little and do several devotions a day so as not to miss the rich build up for the season. It puts all other stresses in perspective and makes them insignificant in comparison to the wonderful news of the coming of the Savior.

2. The stockings are hung by the chimney with care.

3. The baking frenzy did begin! So far we have peanut clusters, macadamia nut blondies, and toffee triangles.

My DH is home for a second day thanks to the storm, so I'll have a buddy on this snowy day and I am truly blessed!

December 7, 2009

Christmas Countdown - Day 7

Yesterday was the second Sunday of Advent! A time of preparation...
Isaiah 40:3-5
A voice of one crying out:
Prepare the way of the LORD in the wilderness;
make a straight highway for our God in the desert.

Every valley will be lifted up,
and every mountain and hill will be leveled;
the uneven ground will become smooth,
and the rough places a plain.

And the glory of the LORD will appear,
and all humanity will see it together,
for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.

Here's what's happened for the holidays around here in the past couple of days:
1. We visited a Christian book store and purchased a new advent wreath and several sets of candles. It's so pretty and hopefully will be passed on down through the years.

2. We're done with stocking shopping. It's so much fun to find special stocking sized things!

3. We had fun in a couple of antique shops over the weekend. We're looking for our third gift to each other - another joint gift like the mixer - and it's a hutch for our various sets of china and serving dishes. Our pantry is stuffed with too many dishes and not enough room for food storage, so we're trying to find just the right piece of furniture. We'd prefer to buy an old piece and reclaim it, and at the same time support a small business since times are horribly bleak for them right now. Maybe an auction will be the ticket, and those are still in abundance around here. We'll see if this gets accomplished before Christmas!

3. Bought two poinsettias.
4. The tree is up and decorated!!! The only glitch - same every year - lights. We perpetually forget from the previous year that we needed some sort of replacement or addition to tree lights, and then finding some that match the ones we already have, once the Christmas season is well under way, is next to impossible. Now if we had remembered back in October when the Christmas lights first hit the store shelves, we'd have been in business! We decided that we need to put these things on our Outlook calendar so that it pops up as a reminder the following year - can't trust that memory anymore!

5. This little vintage tinsel and bell wreath is my new favorite this year. I had forgotten about the three that I bought a couple of years ago at a sale, and was happy to find them in a bag in the Christmas decos. And if you look into the little silver ball next to it, you can see me photographing it - ha! Total accident since I'm not nearly clever enough to do that on purpose!

We hear that there's a blizzard on the way. I think I feel a baking frenzy coming on!

December 3, 2009

Christmas Countdown - Day 4

We're having a soft, pretty snow today. I used an extra fine setting on my camera, and I actually was able to capture the snowflakes in the photo - a learning curve for me! In this picture you can see the corner of our pond, which has frozen over and is covered with snow for the first time this season - 21 degrees outside will do that!

Our holiday date last night was attending the live performance of Glenn Beck's The Christmas Sweater! It was very good. After talking it over for a while, my husband and I came to the conclusion that besides the obvious redemption message in the book, one of the most positive things that you can glean from the book is the reminder that life is a gift, and it's to be savored and lived joyfully. For us, we know we need to live joyfully because of the fact that we are redeemed by Christ, and we belong to Him - what more joy do you need?! We've been given the gift of our days in order to honor God in all we do. There are times when we get so bogged down in the ridiculous, contentious details of life, that our priorities can get upside down. I am expounding on this fact because there was a downside to our attending last night, which was that it caused a scheduling conflict, and without going into the personal details of how the conflict came about, we came to the conclusion that our priorities are in line - God, spouse, children, and then everything else. For those who would dispute that - so be it.

O.K. down off the soapbox and on to today's holiday progress:
1. The delivery men and I are getting to be on a first name basis at this point! The pile is growing and hopefully this photo is not revealing any surprises to our very nosy child! And, yes, that really is a new KitchenAid mixer- it's a joint gift for my DH and me. It's more powerful and able to mix large batches of whole wheat bread - that's our justification story and we're sticking to it! Other than Amazon, my favorite place for online ordering is JC Penney. I'm not getting a thing out of this recommendation, but just want to tell you that they have one of the fastest delivery systems out there! I ordered an item on Wednesday, and it arrived this morning!

2. Made my list of which Christmas cookies to make this year. I have lots of wonderful organic nuts that were ordered from our bulk food club, so this year's cookies will feature those nuts. I need to get going on them since I plan on taking some to church for snack next week - I will not obsess on how many things need to get done, I will not, I will not... This is a good mantra!

3. Shopping yesterday was very successful, and driving home late last night with packages in the back, Christmas carols playing, and snow squalls cropping up a few times - happy girl.

Christmas Countdown - Day 3

Matthew 2:13-15-The Flight to Egypt "Now when they had departed, behold,an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, "Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him." And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet (Hosea 11:1),"Out of Egypt I called my son."

This is part of an Advent devotional guide from Christ the King Presbyterian Church, and gives reflection on the above Bible verse:
The Lord cares for his people and his plan. We often struggle to believe in God on both counts. We doubt that he knows our struggles and pain, and we doubt that he has a plan for our life, much less for all of creation. But we see (in this verse) that not only is God aware of the thoughts and intentions of Herod, but he also has a specific plan for Joseph, Mary, and Jesus to go to Egypt until it is safe to return.

1. I searched our book shelves and pulled out a few of the publications we've collected over the years for our advent devotions. They range from photocopied pages from magazines, to homemade booklets produced by churches we once attended, to more professional publications. All offer rich food for the spirit, and point us to the perfect gift of redemption!

2. Heading out to Des Moines today to possibly finish up Christmas shopping. I have my coupons and discount cards in hand - and my list of course!

3. I ordered another of my three gifts from the internet yesterday - I know it's not a very romantic notion to order your own gift, but there you have it! The contents of my Christmas stocking are always a surprise, so that element is not altogether lost! The packages have started to arrive, and the day before yesterday, the FedEx man was actually batting away a bee at the front door - weird weather year, but the frost and cold are finally here and helping to set the mood for the season.

4. I watched Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, which has been a favorite of mine since I was 5. The four of us kids watched it every year and I still can't break the habit -the songs alone are therapeutic for me! This year it was sponsored by Macy's, but remember when it was sponsored by Norelco, and Santa would come riding down the hill on an electric shaver? - oh, so nostalgic!

5. Got our first Christmas card from my crafty cousin Holly. Not only did she make her own charming cards, but on further inspection, I realized that she drew the wreath on the front of the card - way to go!!

6. I have a number of options when it comes to decorating for Christmas (no snickering from my family please!), and this year I made my choice in a slightly backwards way. I have a stash of after-Christmas-sale wrapping paper, and I like to coordinate it with our other decorations around the house (again, no snickering please!), so yesterday I picked out the papers to use first, and then decided on the decorations for the house - sort of Christmas botanical.

7. We'll be visiting my grandmother on Christmas Day, Lord willing, and I've decided to make tray favors for all the residents. I'm also going to see if there might be someone at the home that could use a special gift of some sort. I don't mention this to appear to be some sort of hero, but just as a way of mentioning that these residents often feel very much out of the loop at Christmas especially, since most can no longer celebrate in the same way they did for years and years. Even the smallest acknowledgment can mean so very much to them - just to be remembered.

8. My husband and I have a very special holiday date tonight - more about that coming later - and my brother and sister-in-law have the same holiday date tonight in Denver, at the same time - can you guess where we're going???

So far, my balance of sacred vs. worldly observation of the season feels on track. I find that purposely celebrating Christmas in a Christ-centered way leads to a virtually stress-free holiday. You say "no thanks" to the unnecessary events and obligations much more easily - and we already have!

December 1, 2009

Christmas Countdown-Day 1

December 1st! I love this time of year, and I always have. My sweetest childhood memories are Christmas memories. The build-up, the hype, the reverence for the season are all embedded in my brain from those early years and have had a profound effect on who I am. I'm well known in my family as the Christmas enthusiast!

In a liturgical tradition, we celebrate this season as Advent. Our church doesn't follow this tradition, but we do at home. We recently visited a church that does observe Advent, and we truly appreciated the reverent way in which they approach it. It's not a count down to a worldly present-opening event, but instead, this is how the season was described in their bulletin:
"The church year begins anew with the first Sunday of "Advent", a word that suggests "approach" or "coming near". It is thus a season of anticipation and preparation of the Lord's drawing near to us, God's mission, his coming into the world to seek and save his people."

The bulletin also mentioned the wisdom of shifting emphasis of worship and prayer during different phases of the year, and using the narrative of the Gospel as the guide for this emphasis. There was explanation of how this helps us "rehearse" the great works of God in redemption - I love that!

So, I'm ready to launch into this lovely season and I'm thinking that I'll chronicle our progress towards December 25th, and take a look at how well we do at keeping our focus on the real meaning of this season, while still enjoying the worldly traditions that have sprung up over time. We believe that these do not have to be mutually exclusive, but we certainly respect the many varying opinions of our family and friends on this subject, and we would never attempt to prove one approach over another. So here we go!

Dec. 1st:
1. We have our outside decorations up, and all parts are on timers this year - yeah! No tiptoeing out into the frigid night to turn off the wreath!

2. We celebrated the first Sunday of Advent at a church service this past Sunday, and we'll soon have our own Advent wreath on the table at home. It's a wonderful way to focus our daily Bible reading and reflection, and we did this with our daughter from a very early age, right up until she left the nest.3. I ordered fresh evergreen and candle centerpieces from L.L. Bean for my parents this year, and those have been delivered as of today. I've always secretly wished to have one of those little luxuries delivered to me, so that's why I did it for them - the old give a gift you'd like to receive philosophy!
4. We sent my brother and sister-in-law home from their Iowa Thanksgiving, with their Christmas gift of rhubarb jam and a CD of a wonderful book called "The 5000 Year Leap: A Miracle That Changed the World". I'm letting the cat out of bag a little here, but my other siblings will be getting one from us too! We came across this book at a recent conference we attended, and it's a combination of U.S. history and God's incredible grace in this country - really inspiring!

5. I do have a good start on our own Christmas gift shopping, thanks to the internet and free shipping offers! We each get three gifts, in memory of gold, frankincense, and myrrh given to the Christ child. Today I hope to look over the list and see what further progress I can make. I love the whole process!

6. And finally, my husband and I have been reading Glenn Beck's The Christmas Sweater . It's a wonderful book and we're really enjoying it. It's been setting the mood for the coming holiday!

Hope the holiday spirit has bitten you and that you're on your way too!