Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Mother's Christmas Tea

Mother decided to do a Christmas Tea while I was visiting. It was SO wonderful -- but then social gatherings of any type at her home always are. She has that wonderful knack of hospitality that immediately puts everyone at ease. About 13 ladies sat down in her living room, and almost immediately both old friends and new acquaintances were chatting away and laughing.

Mother enjoyed posing with Peter and Julia before we dove into the food.
I later moved some of the goodies into the living room so NO one would have an excuse not to have seconds or thirds!
These two sisters really enjoyed catching up over tea!
Later, a neighbor came with her adorable puppy, Macey. Macey does tricks! But her favorite thing was to leap lightly onto the couch. The ladies giggled each time!
Ginny presented The Macey Show -- all of Macey's tricks.
Tasha says, 'I'd rather just be scratched.'

The movie vs. the book, kind of:

Just wanted to update you on the movie we watched, The Scarlet and the Black. Good movie, long movie -- about 2 1/2 hours. We didn't think we'd want to watch the whole thing in one wack, but we sure did! Gregory Peck is a cocky, wonderful Monseigneur O'Flaherty, outwitting the horrifically evil Nazi, Col. Kappler, played by Christopher Plummer. (Yes, it was a little hard to see Cptn. Von Trapp as a Nazi!) This movie is all about O'Flaherty and his work to hide Allied POWs and Jews in Rome, during its Nazi occupation. And evidently the book this movie was taken from was called The Scarlet Pimpernel of the Vatican. (And don't get me started on The Scarlet Pimpernel, one of my all-time favorites!)

So, where does the book that I'm reading come in, A Vatican Lifeline '44? This book is told from a different perspective, the perspective of one escaped Scottish POW, Bill Simpson, who becomes the arms and legs of O'Flaherty's operation, who dodges around Rome, takes daily risks with his life, learns Italian, suffers weeks of imprisonment, and saves the lives of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people. This book is a tribute to all those who took risks to save the soldiers, particularly the simple Italian folk who harbored them. It's written in a plain, frank style, in an attitude that seems typical of the brave WW2 soldier -- a devil-may-care, impudent, cocky, brave, clever, heart-felt attitude of devotion to duty and freedom. I may be wrong, but this same persona comes through to me in many accounts I've read by WW2 vets. Simpson describes himself and his friends as "cavalier" and "audacious."

I finished the book today. It is full of detail, but enjoyable. Simpson is no professional writer, but manages to keep the narrative moving quickly, does not lose his reader in the confusion of names and places and secret rendevous, and includes just enough pathos and feeling to warm the page. My parents got this copy from his widow, a personal friend, who has quite a number, but I have no idea if you can find it easily in print.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Christmas, Second Time Around

I'm here in the mountains for a visit with my parents, for a belated Christmas. I'm so glad that Anna was able to spend time with her best friend, Jillian. Lovely young women, if I do say so myself!
Christmas Dinner, again -- and what a dinner it was!! I set the table, but my mother did the cooking.
My Daddy appreciates a good meal :)
Here's my plate, before it was attacked! Starting at 12:00 -- Garlic/rosemary turkey breast, green beans, green bean casserole, stuffing, sweet potato casserole, fresh cranberries, homemade dinner roll, mashed potatoes in the center.
This turkey recipe is fabulous: deboned breast, with a mix of garlic, rosemary, cracked pepper, salt & olive oil, rubbed inside, and the breast rolled up and tied.

After Christmas, and beyond...

I remember the deflated feeling after my childhood Christmases. 364 days until the blessed holiday comes round again! How could I wait that long?

Now I feel more relief, as I'm older. But we had a peaceful, relaxing Christmas at home, and I spent most of my time reading or napping. I did a bit of cooking for Christmas Day dinner, but not too much!

When considering the books I bought myself for Christmas, I decided to begin with something light and fun. I picked up A Thousand Days in Venice, and it did not disappoint. I've read several of De Blasi's books now, and her flowery, romantic style is just the ticket when I don't want to think TOO hard. But she has some real, golden moments in her text, and she knits the story together beautifully with a few repeated images. I enjoyed, too, discovering the beginning of her trek into love, since I'd already read the ending.

My days in Venice over all too soon, I decided to begin on another geographical book -- Dakota, A Spiritual Geography. This book was recommended to me, but I'm reading it primarily because we stand a decent chance of moving to South Dakota, and I'd like to know more about the place if we do. I read perhaps 50 pages or so, but have decided to wait on the rest. It's a harsh book, a sad book thus far. I'm sure the writer desires to be honest, as brutally honest as the Dakotas are themselves, an unforgiving landscape that tolerates no silliness. But emotionally, right now, I wasn't quite up to it yet.

Now I'm over at my parents' home in the mountains for a short visit, and I decided to bring along The Mottled Lizard by Elspeth Huxley. I'd barely begun the first few pages before I knew this was a good idea. Slipping back into Africa with Elspeth was much like cuddling down into a familiar robe. I'm looking forward to many days of pleasurable reading.

So much of my response to a book has to do with the author's style. I do not read what the modern publishing houses and editors insist Americans MUST read. I want a writer whose voice shines out and speaks directly to me from the page. I'm tired of fiction generally; I want real stories from real people, flesh-and-blood accounts where the muscle ripples under the skin of the story. [When a group of modern wannabe writers once told me that you can't use adverbs anymore, I knew I was not destined for publication.]

My mother's house is full of books. She has one here called A Vatican Lifeline '44, by William Simpson. The author is deceased, but his wife attends my parents' church. Mr. Simpson was a British soldier, captured in Italy in WWII. I'm only on page 5, but already I KNOW, I simply know, that I will love this man's voice. Reading him is like eating popcorn; before you know it, the bowl is gone. I'm sure I'll ask myself soon, "How did I read half the book in a day?" You should know too that a movie was made from the account in the book -- The Scarlet and the Black. Although the story and events are kept much the same, evidently in the movie, the protagonist is changed significantly. [Simpson and a Vatican priest are combined into one character, played by Gregory Peck.] We'll watch the movie this evening together. Scary WWII movies with black-coated SS men and terrified Jews are always hard for me to watch. I hope it ends happily.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas Eve, Christmas Day

We went to the candlelight communion service at our church on Christmas Eve. Here's a picture of our church. It was a lovely service, full of music and Scripture and peace.
Christmas Eve is also Philip's birthday! He's not too old to blow out candles. The cake? Strawberry with butter frosting -- the first time in about a decade when he hasn't asked for Mississippi Mud Cake on his birthday.
Julia sits among the detritus of her gifts, hiding behind her Whoppers box.
The teenagers. We were doing good just to get those big boys out of their beds. Considering that they all three wanted cash, cash, and nothing but cash for Christmas, one wonders why they get up in the morning at all!
Our simple Advent candles -- we've used them every year for 20 years. This year I nearly burned down the table by allowing the candles on the right to burn too low. I like to let them burn all day on Christmas Day. I have a friend who places fresh, white candles in her Advent holder, to burn for the 12 days after Christmas -- a nice tradition, I think!
And Sandy is enjoying a hambone.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

How Can I Be Happy This Christmas?

How many of us ask this question of ourselves, while we put on a smile, baste the turkey, finish the shopping, and bid friends, "Merry Christmas"? I think many do.

I have friends who have lost mothers and fathers this year, miscarried babies, so many who have lost jobs, been wrenched through the fierce machinery of divorce, or succumbed to cancer and sickness.

How to be happy, with that?

I understand. My troubles are less, but they have certainly darkened the season. As I decorate and unpack Christmas boxes, I think constantly of how I'll be packing EVERYTHING again, in only a month or so. Philip is home from college -- how wonderful! -- but these few weeks will likely be his last ones to live in this house. When will I have him in my home again? If we move to South Dakota, will he come there? Sadness, again. I feel loss, such loss. Why is it happening again?

And at Christmas, Jesus came. He came to suffer, to suffer alongside us. As I trudge this weary road of loss again, I feel him beside me. And this is why I can be happy at Christmas -- because Christmas means God With Us. And that means God is with me in my sadness, my trouble, my loss.

Great. And this makes me happy because??? Misery loves company??? No.

It makes me happy because I remind myself that we all want to escape our sadness, trouble and loss. And if Jesus had not come at Christmas, we would never escape.

I know there's a heaven, a place where no one will ever tell my husband that he can't have a job anymore, where we won't lose our home again, where I won't ever, EVER have to spend 4 years making new friends only to lose them. I want that heaven. Don't you?

We would never have it, if Jesus hadn't come.

This world of sadness, this vale of tears (as my mother says) is temporary. Jesus ushers us into heaven, where we will see those we've lost, never to lose them again, where cancer won't exist. All because of Christmas.

Think of your sorrows. Think of their end. And thank Jesus for coming.

Making Tea

Christmas Eve Morning. I made a little tray for myself: Buttered toast, fried eggs, a pot of tea. And as I sat on the couch fixing the first cup, pouring in the cream, stirring the swirling brown and white, I thought,"This is fun. No wonder children enjoy it."

My next thought was this: Adults don't do this.

How do we make tea?
Well, most of us don't. We make coffee. In mugs at best, or styrofoam cups with lids at worst, in the drive-thru. Drive-through.

How we've shortened things, or eliminated them. Why do little girls have tea sets? Why do they sit for hours stirring invisible cream into imaginary tea?

Why can you buy a 30-piece toy tea set for your 4-year old at WarMart, but not a real one for you - ANYWHERE?

I see the sitting room of an English home, 75 or 100 years ago, late afternoon. The tray enters, everyone sits. The day dies outside, the fire blazes. As the tea is poured, and tended, and cupped in hand, each one around the low table sits back, relaxes, stirs absently and then sips. This was a ritual, a part of life, a comfort that we've lost altogether. We've replaced the beverage, and lost the benefit.

It's no wonder that something this pleasant would be imitated by the children: little tea sets, little spoons, tea parties in nurseries. And now, the words 'tea party' conjure up images, not of adults, but of little girls in frilly dresses. Why?

Because we keep the things of childhood; they remain precious to us, even as we jettison the things of adulthood.

I'm keeping my tea. Merry Christmas Eve!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

A Christmas Nap

Tonight we made popcorn (on the stove, with real popcorn and coconut oil - yum!) and hot cocoa, and went downstairs to watch "Hercule Poirot's Christmas." Julia had made a little bed for her and Sandy, complete with protective umbrella:
She smiles at a snoozing Sandy. In fact, it seems that Sandy is often snoozing in my pictures!
I love how Julia has her tucked under the blanket :)
Cutie pie!

Christmas Kitties

Some friends of ours will be out of town just after Christmas, and they've asked Anna to come feed and tend to their cats.
Here's Ferguson. Isn't he lovely? He looks like he's waiting for Santa!
Here's Murray. He's quite a tub, but snuggly and sweet.
Kitty #3 is Franklin, part Maine Coon Cat. He's more stand-offish, and I did not get a good picture of him, just a furry blur!

Sandy loves to snooze on her little rug in the sun.
Yesterday was a banner day for vehicle ownership in our family. We got rid of both the Volvo, which we'd had for over 17 years, and the Jaguar, which never did run. It was a hopeful hobby for Adam that never did materialize, for lack of cash. Adam couldn't sell them, and couldn't even get the junk yard to take them, unless the tires and gas tanks were removed first! Finally he called the PBS Car Talk Show, and donated the cars there. The came and hauled them away.
Rather sad, but necessary. Now we're down to ONLY 2 vehicles, thankfully. Before we move, we will trim down to only the van, and I'll be greatly relieved.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

A bit of family fun

Monday, Funday! What did we do? Slept late (esp. the kids). Ate Barb's melt-in-your-mouth lemony poppy seed bread. Adam & I went to eat Mexican for lunch b/c we had a GREAT coupon (lunch for 2 for 8 bucks!). Adam organized Angel Tree gifts and deliveries, which puts you in the right spirit. Played Christmas music all day. Grocery shopping, hamburger cooking. Adam & Anna went shopping at Belk, and returned with LARGE gifts and tales of sales. They were wrapped and tucked under the tree. Julia and I watched "The Secret of Roan Inish." Such a delightful Irish story! Definite chicklet flick material. Philip says I may watch it at my house with his little daughters someday, but I may NOT, under ANY circumstances, SEND IT HOME WITH THEM. HAHA!

On to pictures. Sandy is a laid-back dog. She and Julia are best buds, and that puppy really relaxes with her!
Adam stopped at the Dollar Tree and got Sandy some doggy decor. Voila -- the Christmas
The Christmas hat!
Two fellas sitting on the couch. (I have NO idea what Anna is up to!) When Philip lived here in high school, he spent much of his time in his room. Now that he's in college, when he's home he spends most of his time upstairs with us. So sweet! Last night, the 3 menfolk watched a movie together -- "Blazing Saddles." We got our chick flick; they got their man movie :)

Monday, December 21, 2009

A festive feel --

Christmas week has begun! I thought a little festive change was appropriate for my blog :) And we've received plenty of Christmas cheer in our home this weekend too -- Look at the goodies that have arrived! A fruit basket, a tin full of home-baked yummies, candy canes, hot chocolate mix, cookies galore, breakfast bread. I'm stuffed just thinking about it!
20 years ago, when Adam and I celebrated our first Christmas together, he gave me this adorable ornament - Mr. and Mrs. Beaver. Philip's arrival was still a year away, but here we are "Mom and Dad."
I hang the Beavers each year on this little wooden tree, along with these selected ornaments. A dear friend's husband made this tree for me, years ago -- she and I sang in a wonderful group together in Jackson, Mississippi.
And you can never have too many pictures of Christmas trees, right?
This ornament was made by my brother Max, who did pottery for many years. It's made of clay, fired, and brilliant. I love it.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

A season of contrasts

Bright red bows with frozen ice on them. A crackling fire within; a blowing blizzard without. The Son of God, in a sheep trough.
Many of us on the East Coast are experiencing an early snow "event" this year; it's taken us rather by surprise. I was struck, when viewing a friend's blog, of the contrast intrinsic in this season. Warmth of Christmas. Cold of weather. Is it any wonder that we search for greenery in the frozen winter? We dwell on these contrasts.
How many of us note that we enjoy the snow THROUGH the window, our hands wrapped around a steaming cup, our eyes fixed on an icy ledge?
The cold out there reminds us of how much we have to be thankful for, in our warm homes.
The darkness in the world reminds us how much we have to be thankful for, in our Savior.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Let it Snow!!

Now, these are only preliminary pictures, mind you. The snow started after lunch today, and will become heavier tonight. We are likely to get 4-8 inches total. Here's a shot of our backyard, early on.
The kids didn't waste time getting out there! Julia got a sled out, and Sandy was more than happy to be her partner in fun.

This is merely an informational shot. I wanted ALL of you out there to be informed of HOW KIDS AND TEENS WATCH MOVIES THESE DAYS. The laptop on the chair is Philip's. He'd loaded "The Emperor's New Groove" on it. Meanwhile, Peter is also messing around on his laptop, WHILE he's also watching the movie. Who needs a TV these days?
Philip and Julia. I cannot tell you how much this little girl adores her big brother. She will stick to him like glue for at least a week.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Christmas Cheer Is Flowing!

We had a very Christmasy day today! After slogging through our last true day of academic work, Adam and I and the girls went to a local nursing home (again) with their ballet group. Their wonderful teacher (who reads Scripture with them and prays at each practice, and only chooses Christian music! I'm so thankful for her!) had music sheets ready, and reindeer antlers and red shirts.
The girls sang to the residents.
They also handed out Christmas cards that we made/decorated on Tuesday, and gave out suckers. It was a sweet time of ministry, so good for the children, and such a blessing for others.
We turned right around, came home and cooked, and headed over to some friends' home for a Christmas dinner with our Bible study group. Our hostess, Dot, has done a phenomenal job decorating her house for the holidays! I mean, seriously, you should SEE all her trees, ceramic statues, wreaths and decorations. We enjoyed a pork loin dinner with all the fixin's. Here is her lovely dining room:
We love these dear people, and our group of 8 have had many happy evenings sitting around God's Word, studying what it says about our FAVORITE topic: heaven! Well, this was one "heavenly" meal!

Now, Adam has driven off into the dark night to collect Philip from college. He'll be meeting him only about 2 hours away; Philip got a ride part of the way. It will be a VERY late night for them, but we'll be glad to have him home for the holidays.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

More ornaments? Sure!

Here are a few more:

This beautiful, hand-decorated ball was given to me by my sister-in-law, Faith. She made it the first year she was married to Mark, and I think that's been about 13 years ago. It is elegant and feminine, just like her!
This very special gold ornament was a gift many years ago from my dear cousin, Tammy. The date on it says "1978." I think it may be about my oldest ornament.
This sweet angel with her pink bow hair is very precious to me. When we lived in Mississippi, our pastor's wife, Amy, made angel ornaments every year and gave one to each family in the church. I know it was a labor of love, and I have treasured them. We moved from Mississippi after a few years, and a few years later, Amy died of cancer. I remember her when I see her angels each year.
I have quite a few of these lacey snowflakes. Adam's grandmother gave them to me early in our marriage. The girls chose to put some on the tree this year.
This angel was also made by a friend in Mississippi named Vickie. I haven't heard from her for many years, but I'll always enjoy this sweet angel, made from a cotton boll!