Saturday, December 25, 2010

Thursday, December 23, 2010

A Morning Cuppa and a Christmas Cookie

Quiet reigns.  Peace floods each corner of the cottage.  Covers stir.  The teakettle sings “Good Morning!” as it does each morn, but somehow it feels different today.

The rains have broken and the sky shines with the brilliance of a sun sorely missed of late.  Droplets dance on the barren tree limbs like a dusting of diamonds, while a sprinkling of red berries call birdies to feast with abandon before the next chill wind blows.  Like a child, I secretly wish for a “White Christmas” despite weather predictions of soggy at best.  The warm inviting sunshine snickers at the thought of snowflakes, but I remain open to all possibilities.

Possibilities . . . such a delightful word, so ripe like a sackful of Santa’s toys or a stable brimming with hopeful celebrants. 

Our Christmas celebrations this year remain a mystery of possibilities because I have made good on a promise to open wide to the freedom of serendipity.  My New Year’s resolution for 2011 can be summed up in one word:  Serendipity.  And as has become tradition, I “try on” the coming year’s resolve like a party frock before the big event just to make sure it fits and all.  Thus far it fits like a dream!  : D

In years past I meticulously planned special moments of joy and fun.  This year a tumble of unexpected (and not wholly pleasant) events made planning far too challenging, so I tossed the planning guide aside and decided to try something new:  Just go with the flow.  Picture a woman slipping off a familiar perch of rock down into a serendipitous raft passing at just the precise moment to catch her up and carry her downstream over rills and curls, eddies and swirls.  A bit scary?  You bet!  Fun?  When I catch my breath from too much laughter I’ll let you know.  I’ve never laughed so hard, slept so peacefully, eaten with such relish, and danced with such joy.  Each morning I arise, put on the kettle, grab a treat (just one won’t hurt a bit), and soak up the quiet time of praise with my Lord, as I await the day’s unfolding with a child-like sparkle in my eye.  What will today hold?  I have no idea . . . and I giggle.  I unwrap each moment like a child beneath a gift-laden tree.  Unable to “predict” anymore, I just tear away and take a peek.  Truly the adage “Today is a gift, that’s why it is called the present” sums it all up beautifully.

Impromptu dinner parties happen with the laying of an extra placesetting and the lighting of candles.  Voila!  Instant party!  The chili stretches to fill all the bowls like a widow’s blessed oil. 

A “Cookie Bake Day” invite to one of Rachel’s friends became a rollicking adventure in cookies, frostings, red hots, sprinkles, and more as her mom decided to stay rather than complete her To Do list for the day.  Mixers whirred, tasting tongues lapped up buttercream, and jolly holiday music danced above the sugar-plum elves.  We laughed away the weariness we shouldered at the start of the day.  As we removed aprons, swept up sprinkles, and collapsed into comfy chairs for a restorative cuppa tea (and a cookie, of course) we KNEW we’d spent the day well despite the fact that our lists lay idle and unmarked.  Tomorrow will be soon enough for dusting.

As The Day of Christmas approaches we already have numerous celebrations under our belt.  We’ve celebrated St. Nicholas Day and Hanukkah, Santa Lucia Day (Rachel’s birthday) and even watched for a lunar eclipse on the Winter’s Solstice (cloud cover prevented the tiniest of peeks).  Premiering films The Voyage of the Dawn Treader and Tron caused our family to uncharacteristically journey to the theaters and don funny glasses.  Puzzles and games stack up alongside books and dvds as we play each and every day.  Even practice times for upcoming Christmas performances become a celebratory event as I mute the ongoing cd carols and pause to enjoy the heavenly sound of a harp singing joyfully about that Holy Night wherein Away In a Manger lay our greatest gift of all:  HOPE.

We have but a few days left till the world explodes in a unified shout of “holiday” cheer, but as usual we dance to the beat of a different drummer (he gets quite a workout around here) and have been celebrating non-stop these past few weeks.  I read that it takes 21 days to form a new habit.  I think we have just crossed the threshold of day 21 and now habitually celebrate daily.  I think I am well on my way to enjoying 2011:  The Year of Serendipity.  I’m so glad I’ve given this bold resolution a trial run during this advent season.  Who knew one could find so much fun and pure joy in each day? 

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Sunday Wonder

. . . he that is of a merry heart
hath a continual feast.

Proverbs 15:15b

* * *
I do hope your Christmas has plenty of Merry Heart and Continual Feasting in it as this week rushes by. 
enJOY!  : D

Friday, December 17, 2010

Another Letter from Lydia

Dear Friend,

 I love Christmas. Every ornament placed on the tree holds some sort of happy memory for my family. We call it our memory tree. All of the decorations are set out and ready to help us celebrate one of the happiest seasons of all.

I’ve been spending several afternoons and evenings behind closed doors making Christmas presents. I always like to make home-made presents for people at Christmas. Normally I don’t really get into doing a lot of crafts or projects, unlike my sisters who always have something they’re working on. But every year in December, I become infected with the wonderful Christmas spirit and my crafty, artistic side leaps into action.
However, one crafty thing I love to do all year round is knit. I like to knit hats, scarves, and I’ve even knitted a purse (it came out little lopsided but I’m still working on those). I first learned to knit a year ago in august. My Mom, my sisters, and I went to have tea with a friend and she taught us how to spin wool into thread and to knit. I did not really enjoy spinning but I fell in love with knitting. I found it difficult at first but after a few days I improved and my project (I started with a scarf) slowly grew. Now I can knit with very little effort and sometimes I can’t decide whether I want to spend an hour knitting or reading.
I also love to read. Two of my very favorite books in the world are Gone with the Wind and Up a Road Slowly. What is more fun than getting lost in a good book? Well, I suppose other people could think of things they would rather do. I even would sometimes rather spend time writing or just daydreaming. Reading novels always encourages me to write, especially when I read books about writers, like Up a Road Slowly or Emily of New Moon. It’s always encouraging to read those books and see that the dilemmas and problems I come across in my writing are normal for a writer and can be overcome. I wonder where these authors get their ideas, what inspires them? I get many of my story ideas from just daydreaming. There is a swing set in our gardens near the pond and ever since I was very little I’ve loved swinging. The motion of swinging and the beauty of being outside stimulates my imagination. I always love to swing as the sun goes down. I like to think about fantasy worlds, days gone by, and days to come. What will the future bring my way?

Sometimes I look forward to falling asleep at night and dreaming. The other night I dreamt I was on the beach right as the sun was setting into the ocean. All of the golden colors, the pink and yellow and orange that lit the sky and reflected on the bluish gray sea, painted a breathlessly beautiful picture that I still see clearly in my mind. I woke up longing to be at that beach, walking barefoot on the sand with the ocean roaring beside me as the sun goes down.  Next month, my Mom and Dad plan to take my brother, younger sister, and me to the beach in our motor home for a few days. I look forward to smelling the salty sea, hearing the ocean roar, and watching the golden sunsets.

I wish everyone in the world sweet dreams, a very merry Christmas, and a happy New Year.  

 I so enjoyed being the hostess at our family's  
Colonial Williamsburg table setting 
at our church's annual Ladies Christmas Tea.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Sunday Wonder

And all they that heard it 
wondered at those things 
which were told them 
by the shepherds.

 And the shepherds returned, 
glorifying and praising God 
for all the things 
that they had heard
and seen . . .
Luke 2:18, 20

Join others in celebrating the Spirit of Christmas at 
Spiritual Sundays.

Monday, December 6, 2010

On a Quiet Hillside

 * * *

The house glows with the beauty and joy of Christmas.  A simpler approach this year left some of the glitz and glitter in the box to save for another year.  Carols hum dreamily on the playstation3.  Last year Gary replaced my 200-disc-changer with the PS3.  I pouted and mourned the loss of the familiar but ailing player . . . until I got the hang of the new gadget.  A year later I have loaded nearly every cd we own (MANY!) into the slim little box and labeled them by genre.  Now with a few button pushes I can choose an artist, an album, a genre, a track . . . the list of options just goes on.  My favorite choice?  Genre SHUFFLE!  By selecting Christmas genre and Shuffle we have every album randomly accessed.  It’s like I have my own DJ.  It drives my kids a bit bonkers to have a snippet of Handel’s Messiah follow Judy Garland’s Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, but I think it feels wonderful to “shake it up” a bit.  It’s like having a smorgasbord of music (and you know how I like choices). 

My love of variety spills over into our celebrations as well.  No single “Tradition” exemplifies our Christmas.  Some years we pick a country and celebrate as they do.  We’ve celebrated in all the ways of our ancestors, including:  Germany, England, Norway, and France.  Other years we agree on a theme such as “The Twelve Days of Christmas.”  (Some of you may remember that as I blogged it – see the Christmas archives for some fun photos and reminiscences.)  Each year our menus change as do the guest lists, with some years finding me stuffing tables into little-used corners as we accommodate a crowd, while a different year includes a quiet candlelit meal for just this family.  Sometimes we dine buffet style, other times in elegant courses of five or six.  Whereas the Thanksgiving menu and traditions rarely vary, the Christmas month has no road map.  We like the adventure of Christmas as we journey to the Stable each year to pay homage to our King.  That has become our sole tradition.

This year we will celebrate without extended family as they all have other engagements.  Though we will miss everyone, the gift of a quiet Christmas is a rare treat indeed and we intend to celebrate it joyfully.  The early part of the December month hangs heavy with birthdays, teas, and all manner of gatherings, but the last stretch lies calm and quiet like a shepherd’s plain in Bethlehem.  The still, silent nights will leave us time to hear and see and receive Christmas as the shepherds did so long ago.  I have no idea what will transpire.  Will a chorus of angels break through the night sky?  Will we be treated to a warm and cozy togetherness such as Mary surely smiled to receive on that birth night so long ago?  Regardless the details, our calendar will remain intentionally open to the unexpected, unplanned, and most welcome miracles of this precious season.  We shall come to the cradle with open eyes, open hearts, and open days to celebrate the newborn King.

Being largely “unscheduled” this season I have already seen a rare gift in serendipity.  At the library’s monthly booksale last Saturday I came across a book of eight Hanukkah tales by Isaac Bashevis Singer.  I added it to my bundle; at a mere 50 cents I couldn’t resist the pristine hardcover book with a child’s name self-scrawled on the inside cover.  The little book of tales fell among cookbooks, classics, and even a Colonial Willliamsburg Christmas craft book (Lydia’s tea table next Saturday will be decorated in this style – how wonderful to find a step-by-step craft guide for that fruit pyramid we are planning to make).  I always find the most wonderful treasures as I hunt the shelves and tables of donated books.

Once home, I brewed a pot of tea and set about sorting and leafing through the stacks of books; like our music, I sort books by genre – how else to find anything in this cottage of books!?!  The Hanukkah tales fell into my hands right away and I made my way to the cozy chair for just a peek.  I ended up reading some aloud, wiping tears in between the memories of God’s miraculous ways in the life of His chosen people.  I had expected an informative book about the events of the temple and the oil and all the other bedrock traditions of Hanukkah, but what I found surprised me:  Memories woven across eight nights to inspire families to gather, remember, celebrate, and endeavor to be instruments of God’s miraculous ways. 

The recollections of hardship, suffering, loss, grief, and destitution mingled with laughter, games, and feasting all wrapped in the warm glow of candles burning in the window or by the doorway to invite others to celebrate.  Memories of a Grandpa played out alongside other fairytale-like miracles of rescue from starvation, loneliness, and even Nazi oppression.  Among the tales wafts the memorable smell of latkes frying in the oil.  Latkes!  Potato Pancakes!  Yes!  My memories dance with remembrances of Gary’s Grandma Walpus standing over a hot pan frying shredded potatoes into a crispy cake to dress with applesauce. 

Though not Jewish, she came from the Old Country (first Prussia, then Germany, now Poland – man messes with borders so often throughout history, doesn’t he?) and brought delicious recipes that she taught to her daughter and even to me, her grand-daughter-in-law.  Though there flows no Jewish blood in either of our families, I do have a tiny delicious connection to Hanukkah and it has been YEARS since I fried up a batch.  

As I told the children of my potato-pancake memories they begged me to make a batch.  (I confess the oil splatter messes up everything and I do not like that – but as the Hanukkah celebration makes oil the star, how can I resist?)    

“How about if we celebrate the last night of Hanukkah with some Latkes, eight candlesticks in a row (with one more to do the lighting), and a few more stories from this book?” I asked. 

“YES!”  They chimed. 

“Can we play the dreidel?” asks Rachel, hoping for a chance to enjoy a favorite (and often times ONLY) game played by Jewish children. 

(Where will I find a dreidel in Grass Valley?  We have but one toystore in town and no synagogue that I know of.  Could be a challenge.   Hmmmmm . . .)

And so an empty spot on our calendar will become a sympathetic celebration of Hanukkah.  I do not know all the details and am not even attempting to celebrate Hanukkah “correctly,” but rather in spirit – the spirit of Christmas that seeks to bridge the world with Peace and understanding; the spirit of Christmas that sent a babe to a manger for all to meet in a common place and find hope, peace, and so much love. 

I can already see that setting out to spend these Christmas holidays on a quiet hillside above the fray will yield most wondrous results and memories, and quite possibly add some new traditions to these days as we pause to ponder and wonder and celebrate the God King come to earth as a child:  The True Gift of Christmas.  

* * *

* * *
Until next I write . . . Shalom!  


I just got home from the local bookseller with dreidel in hand.  Much to my surprise I do manage to find everything I need in this little bit of a town -- even a Jewish Hanukkah top!  (Now I'm off to read the instructions and practice a bit before the kids discover my success.)  : D

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Sunday Wonder

 One king held the frankincense

 One king held the myrrh

 One king held the purest gold

 One king held the hope of the world

from One King
Written by jeff borders, gayla borders, lowell alexander

* * *

Do you ever wonder what happened to those gifts the wisemen/kings brought to Jesus? 

Did Mary and Joseph use them to finance an escape?

Did they get lost in the shuffle somewhere along the way? 

Did they hold onto them until Jesus came of age and then step aside lovingly to watch him share it with those in need?

Were the gifts on prominent display in the rustic village home of a carpenter?

Or did Mary seal them away as a “nest egg” to be hatched upon Jesus’ marriage?

Did she leave the cross on John’s arm that fateful day, returning home to a hope chest wherein she had loving stored those precious gifts, only to hand them over to another Mary for the embalming of this precious son?

Did it ever strike anyone odd that the gifts foretold death? 

Has anyone ever gifted a newborn babe with embalming ointments?

Have you ever wondered . . . as I so often do?

*To enjoy a gathering of spiritual thoughts please visit Spiritual Sundays

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Christmas Presence


December has arrived.  

Peace reigns in our home.  

A gentle transformation takes place  around here
as buds of beauty unfurl from roots sunk deep into our hearts.

* * *
“He is coming.”
“Prepare ye the way.”

* * *

Preparations begin with flashing needles that knit hearts and hands together for a gift to wrap around a loved one.

Preparations begin with carols in hand and strings tuned up to plunk or plink as a prelude to concerts shared.

Preparations begin with furniture shifted and books relocated to feather our nest with spots for gentle reading this advent season.

Preparations begin to sparkle, twinkle, ring, and sing out with 
the joy of the season . . . the joy in the reason.

* * *
“It’s here!”
“Christmas arrives!”
“Get up and dance!”
“Sing sweetly!”
“Christ is born!”

* * *

Around Wisteria Cottage the girls plan and prep behind closed doors.  “Don’t come in!” I hear as I tap.  “Okay . . . you can come in now,” follows a bustling and bundling away of hidden treats.  Gary hauls boxes to and fro as Pilgrims pack and leave to make way for the Christ Child.  Matthew partners with us in the celebrations as he conquers his autistic need to be alone and joins in the fun as we dance to the delightful Charlie Brown Christmas soundtrack (his favorite).  I slip off quietly with pen in hand to drink deeply of the peace and joy and love flowing freely in this home.  Though great losses have rocked our world through the recent years, a house built upon The Rock withstands the storms; and the family within the standing home rises up to celebrate in the midst of the torrents.

Once I thought Christmas needed to be planned, orchestrated, budgeted, and executed like a battle.  I fortified against commercialism and dilution by immersing my family in pageants, programs, parties, and all manner of participation to celebrate the Christ Child’s birth, lest any forget and just make merry.  I exhausted myself and often missed the “Peace on Earth” part.

I no longer work to celebrate.  I simply do it.  I simply pause to ponder all the memories and happiness and sweet joy stored up in our traditions.  I no longer fear I will “miss” something as I stop and kneel in the presence of a season filled with so much to ponder.  I wonder as I wander . . . and it is wonder-filled.

We call our Christmas tree a “Memory” tree and we laugh and joke and even wipe away the tears as we unwrap each bauble infused with a meaning all our own.  

* * * 

“Baby’s First Christmas!” . . .  we tell our stories.

“The very first ornament mommy gave to daddy before they were even married!” . . . we tell the story. 

“The Baby Jesus in the manger!”  . . .   we tell HIStory.

* * *

I no longer worry about missing something at Christmastime for I know full well that a Christmas without a tree or a wrapped gift or even a Crèche would still fill us to overflowing with pure delight in gathering our hearts together (even distance between cannot deter us) as we celebrate with the true Presence of Christmas.