There's Mail From Mom!

Wouldn't it be nice to have a letter from mom in the mailbox each time you checked it? Here's a place to check your mailbox for a heart-to-heart talk with mom...

Friday, December 26, 2008

After Christmas thoughts...

Well, Christmas is over, and the house is very quiet today. The kids and I have tried out the new Scattegories game and also the new Chronology game. They are definite "keepers". I have finished up putting away the good china and trading tables back from one room to another. I think we've carried out about four trash bags of wrapping paper today that had been put in my bedroom till company was gone!

Dinner was my favorite part of the day! I love cooking a huge holiday meal, ironing my Battenburg tablecloth and all the napkins, setting the table with my mother's Occupied Japan China that my dad sent to her from Korea in the early 1950's and planning where each guest will sit.

As I get out serving dishes memories flood over me. This is the serving dish my husband bought me to go with my Homer Laughlin dishes. These are the beautiful oval serving dishes Asher bought me so my table would look prettier when we're having "dress-up" dinners, this is the gravy dish that we picked up at the flea market, and the mental blessings of life go on and on.

This year we didn't get to have any of our married children at the dinner table but we had my dad and his wife Lela and her daughter Esther, we had my father and mother-in-law, Charles and AllaDean, Uncle Mike and a couple at church that I call my extra set of parents-the Whiteacres.

The menu included ham with pineapple glaze, sweet potato casserole, baked beans, deviled eggs, Swiss medley, and a cheese plate. Lela and Esther brought green bean casserole and wonderful whole wheat hot rolls. They also brought Esther's signature Christmas food called Lefskes. (I always say it wrong-so that might not be the right name.) They are Danish (which is their heritage) and made from potatoes, but they taste like a flatbread--very good! AllaDean brought creamed corn and she fried apples. Now that was just the main dishes.

We had to set up a 6 foot table in my kitchen just to hold the desserts! It was so beautiful! I set the Christmas punch on one end and the rest of it was desserts. We had real sugar plums and meringue cookies that Mrs. Whiteacre made. The sugar plums were made from lots of fruits and then rolled in sugar--so good! Lela and Esther brought Spice Jumble cookies and cream cheese mint brownies. AllaDean brought chocolate brownies that were so chewy and rich, all kinds of candy, (turtles, chocolate fudge with walnuts, chocolate cookie dough truffles) and then we had Chocolate Truffle Cheesecake, Peanut Butter Pie, Pecan Pie, and a full cookie and candy tray from all the goodies I'd been making and freezing for weeks, (Lemon Bars, Chocolate Chip, Chocolate Chocolate Chip, Jam Bars, Snickerdoodles, Chocolate Fudge and Peanut Butter Fudge) . It was truly a smorgasbord of goodies!

After all the company had left I went into the living room and sat down in my quiet living room and looked around. Mary and Joseph were resting comfortably in the stable with their newborn baby Jesus. The Roman soldier stood guard in Bethlehem. Our newest member of the nativity (Tobias the merchant) was seated under the palm tree watching.

The children were in bed and had commented on what a good Christmas it had been. We had cut our Christmas budget down this year and not a one of them even seemed to notice it.

I had tried to take my annual cookie trays to neighbors and had a terrible time catching them at home since our road has gone through a major emergency on the week of Christmas. A dike burst at the TVA plant and we ended up spending Monday night in a motel because our water was too contaminated to even touch. Some of our neighbors decided to stay in the motel longer than us and still weren't home.

Our parking lot has been full of work trucks, heavy equipment and workers digging ditches and conducting traffic. At the end of our road a police officer has worked 24/7 checking licenses to make sure only those who live on this road are coming in and out. So Christmas Eve day I made up extra cookie and candy trays and we delivered them to the police officer on duty and several of the work crews. That was so fun!

My at-home children (Asher, Cierra and John) pulled a huge surprise on me this year. I have an old glider on my carport that is just like one my Grandmother Mettler had. Several years ago one of the hangers on one end got broken and my husband just wanted to get rid of it. I begged him not to and kept hoping to get it repaired. I have a wish list on the side of my fridge and the glider being repaired is near the top. Also on the list was for a shelf that has been in the shed for years to be painted and hung in my living room.

Well, two or three days before Christmas the kids asked if they could play outside and also wrap gifts in the church. We had all these workers coming in and out of the parking lot with heavy equipment so I'm giving them the speech about watching as they cross the parking lot, not playing where they are moving heavy equipment, etc. etc. and they were so agreeable. They kept popping in about every 15 minutes to tell me they were fine.

What I didn't know is they were actually at the fellowship hall painting! They had found another antique glider just like mine but in much better shape and were painting it and also painting the shelf I wanted.

Christmas morning after opening gifts they told me I had a couple more and took me with eyes closed to the carport. There was my glider repaired and with a big red bow on it! (Well, I thought it was mine!) I let out a scream I was so surprised and pleased! That thrilled the kids and then I kept saying, "How did you keep me from knowing it! I know that glider has been there all week!" So they had to explain that actually that wasn't my glider, but another one just like it. Then Asher brought me my shelf he'd painted. I was literally stunned that they'd pulled all that off and I didn't have a clue. Now that makes a mother cry with joy.

Sitting in my living room at the end of the day all the memories of this year made me realize each year is unique. You can't have the same faces at the table or the same circumstances. We actually thought Monday that we weren't going to be able to be in our own home on Christmas day. We were able to feel a little tiny bit of what Mary and Joseph must have felt that first Christmas day!

In spite of changes, in spite of not having my older children here it was an absolutely perfect Christmas day. I was still here to be with my at-home family, I was able to have guests at my table, (my dad, who has undergone open heart surgery and many health issues this year is sitting at the table in my family picture smiling), and the spirit of Christmas ruled the day. I thank the Lord for His goodness to me and for the wonderful day we had with family and friends.

I pray that each one of you had such a blessed Christmas too, and that as we head toward a new year you'll find yourself drawing nearer and nearer to the One that makes all our blessings possible.

With love,


Saturday, December 20, 2008

Christmas Reflections...

Dear Daughters,
It's a rainy afternoon and I for a change have a chance to sit by the Christmas tree with all the lights off sipping on hot chocolate and "reflecting"--just like the beautiful lights and ornaments on my tree.
Someone gave us a card this year with the story of a boy who traveled a long distance in Africa to give a missionary a rare shell. The missionary told him, You've traveled such a long way to give me such a lovely gift."
"Oh teacher", the boy replied, "Long walk part of gift." The person telling the story said that when she or her husband would begin to get short tempered during the holidays over the extra time, money, and effort being spent they would remind each other, "Long walk part of gift." That thought has given me a little extra gas in my energy tank when I'm feeling like I've gone just about as far as I can go. I want my family to know that the effort I'm expending is worth it and just part of my love gift to them--rather it's a meal, a homemade gift, or going out of my way for them in some other way.
I don't know about anyone else but the last few "crunch" days are when I have to put a watch on my lips to keep from getting snappy with the ones I love the most--the ones that live with me. I've tried to give myself a little punch in the ribs by agreeing to begin singing a Christmas carol when I catch myself feeling crabby. It's amazing how that works and the spirit of Christmas spreads through the house.
One of my favorite memories this year was when I was practicing Christmas songs on the piano and the kids and I ended up singing them together. At the time we were waiting to watch a Christmas movie and their dad got a phone call. We were waiting and I decided instead of sitting and stewing about "another interruption" I would use the time for something constructive and it ended up being a fun time!
Today I listened to a lady talking about how the first rule of a love relationship was communication. The Lord has been working on me in the area of my prayer life teaching me that just as I make sure that my husband and I have that little "just us" time every day that I should look at my time in the Word and prayer precisely the same way. The time to come talk to Him about what's got me worried, what I don't understand, the tangled areas of my life that I just can't figure out, the areas that seem out of control and lay them before Him, talk to Him about them and trust Him to take care of it all for me and speak to me about them in His Word.
As I listened to her talking about love being meeting someone else's needs without asking anything in return I thought that this is exactly why we need Christmas. It's an opportunity to give to others without any expectation of something in return. It's a time to stop and give and give and give.... I don't know about anyone else but there are some people that wouldn't hear a word from me if it weren't for Christmas. Life has a way of sweeping us down its current and Christmas forces us to stop and remember certain people if it's simply a Christmas card in the mail.
I hope and pray your Christmas is giving to you this year. I hope your reading and meditating on the wonderful story of Christ's birth. I hope your having "magic moments" with your family and friends. And I pray that at the end of the season you're a little closer to the One whose birthday it is!
If you haven't stopped and reflected on your Christmas season yet, why not get that warm cup of cocoa after the children are put to bed and go sit in the living room with candles lit and just your tree lights and think on how good life is and how good it is that the Savior is born!

Friday, December 5, 2008

The Christmas Season

I love the Christmas season from the first day to the last. I love it during hard times and good times and I love it no matter who I'm with or where I'm at.
Yesterday I had a doctor's appointment and afterwards we had to stop in a couple stores to get some supplies for my many Christmas "projects". When we came out of the last store it had got dark and the many lights, the busy-ness of the shoppers, seeing store windows with the colors and decorations of Christmas all gave me a contented and excited feeling at the same time as we drove down the city streets.
I have several books I get out at Christmas time and scan just to get myself into the mood and spirit of the season. One book helps me to get my devotional life in place, another gets me in the mood to bake, create and open my home.
Christmas time takes me down memory lane and brings back warm memories. I can go back to my grandmother's cozy living room and remember the smells of Christmas dinner, the warmth of her kitchen, the tastes of her food. The sweet memories of her at Christmas help to shape the grandmother I want to be to my grandchildren and the memories I want them to have of me.
I can go back to when my children were little and during an especially frugal year the fun we had making a happy birthday cake for Jesus and eating chocolate cake with hot Tang (an orange drink) by the light of the Christmas tree with my babies. I was so concerned about only having Tang (which was given to me) to serve with the chocolate cake and the next year they wanted the same thing, and the next and the next. Tang and cake became a Christmas memory and tradition for them!
Christmas means hours spent at my sewing machine making little aprons, cowboy costumes, pirate costumes, tiny dresses, doll furniture and the list goes on and on. This year's list includes a Union soldiers costume, a Roy Rogers cowboy shirt, a little girls very fancy dress-up dress (with lots of tulle), a military outfit, and a brand new superhero invented by my grandson Caleb named Sylvester man! That one required Caleb's art sent to his grandma so I knew what Sylvester man looked like!
Christmas means the cupboard decorated, the village set out on the buffet, all the nutcrackers standing at attention on the dry sink, and the nativity in the living room ready to move.
Our nutcrackers have been known to attack and kill mice more then once. This began after we watched the Nutcracker on a cartoon and our son Asher was convinced that we needed them to catch the mouse that we had been after for about a week in our kitchen. Sure enough the night that he put the nutcrackers on patrol by the kitchen cabinet the mouse was killed and found dead at their feet. Isn't that amazing? Our son John sets the trap every year now just in case a mouse is lurking in the cabinet.
As for the nativity it is my favorite part of Christmas at the Neal's. It all began with a book given to one of the children that opens out and forms the stable. One at a time nativity figures were added. First Mary and then Joseph and then the baby in his manger.
Now we have shepherds in their fields with little campfires that actually flicker, and we have wise men on the other side of the living room far, far away from Bethlehem.
Along with that, the children and I built Mary and Joseph a house in Nazareth which is on one side of the living room with Bethlehem on top of the piano.
Tonight, Mary and Joseph have had a decree left on their door which states that they have been commanded to pay taxes in Bethlehem. The Roman soldier is standing outside their door.
In a few days they will take their little burro who patiently waits outside and put a blanket roll on him and each morning they move just a little further across the living room. At long last they end up in Bethlehem. And of course, on Christmas Eve the baby appears in the manger.
Within a few days of Christmas the wise men end up with all the others. (Although I know that doesn't follow the Bible I put everything away before they would actually appear!)
We also have a pocket calendar at our house hanging in the hallway that has treats in it every morning up to the 25th. The kids never get to old to check the pocket calendar each morning to see what's in it. It might be a candy bar, a pack of gum, a new mechanical pencil, or all their battery operated toys lined up down the hall with batteries put in them!
Isn't Christmas wonderful! And yes, at our house we have the stress of it too.
We have the weeks we don't know how we're going to make it financially, we have the late night sewing, we have the lights that don't work, the time when one more batch of cookies to make is almost revolting but when I see the look on the children's faces, or get a letter from my daughter saying how sweet the memories of Christmas are all that is quickly forgotten and I know it's worth it.
So pour your heart and soul into making this month a month to let people know how much you love them and to put your silly deer antlers on (like I did today!), play the jolly music, tell the Lord how thankful you are He was born and celebrate His birth all month long!