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...

Sunday, December 13, 2009

It's the most wonderful time of the year....

Tomorrow we're going to shop the day away as a family. We'll end up eating hot Krispy Creme donuts at the end of the day (I'll inhale!) and head home happy and exhausted. This brings back memories of Christmas' past when we've done the same thing.

Two years ago our entire family got together and stayed in a cabin in Pigeon Forge to celebrate Christmas together. At the end of the day all the kids, Grandpa Charles, Esther, Alicia, Nathan and I (with Grandpa Gary at the wheel) all crammed into the church van (and I mean literally!) and headed off to get Krispy Cremes to take back to the cabin.

We were singing, taking in the array of lights and having a wonderful time. When we got to the window of the Krispy Creme the girl at the window wanted to know how many people we had in the van. Gary told her and she handed us each one a Krispy Creme hat to wear! Well, that made the kids happy! Grandpa Charles held the warm Krispy Cremes and we all put our hats on while we made a tour of the 12 days of Christmas down the strip and then headed back to the cabin where the little girls played waitresses in their hats and handed out the melt-in-your-mouth donuts. You just can't have Christmas here at the Neals without one trip to the Krispy Creme on a Christmas outing. When I asked Asher the other day what food he associated with Christmas shopping his answer was, "Warm Krispy Cremes at the end of the day."

Some of our family traditions began from making the best of a rough time. When the older four were very little we had very financially "tight" Christmases. One year while my husband was at work the kids and I put the tree up and the children wanted to have a party around the tree after we were finished. I had little to no food in the house and was racking my brain what to do.

I told the kids we'd have a birthday party for Jesus around the tree. I made a chocolate cake and then realized I didn't have any milk! So I found a jar of Tang someone had given us and heated the Tang. Now I don't know about you but chocolate cake and hot orange drink doesn't sound to good to me but the kids thought it was fantastic!

We turned all the lights off and I gathered the children around at my feet while I sit on the bottom steps of our stairway and I read them the Christmas story while they ate birthday cake and drank hot Tang.

Every year the kids would want to do the same thing. We had to have chocolate cake and hot Tang. People would say, "Chocolate cake and hot tang?????"

"Yup, it's a tradition!"

Our pocket calendar was another attempt on my part to bring sparkle to a very tight budget. I made the first one out of little scraps of fabric I had and hung it on the wall. Back then it was mostly coupons and little promises from mom.

"Good for one hour of playing whatever you want with mom." I ended up playing with GI Joes, Johnny West, and Tammy and Cyndy dolls many an hour over that one! When I would announce my hour was up they would always beg me to keep on playing saying, "But we just got started!"

My grandmother had one of those little elf dolls (looked like Snap, Crackle and Pop) sitting in her china cupboard and somehow when she died he ended up at our house. He would preside over the pocket calendar and sign the coupons. He was named Ralph. Ralph still visits via the pocket calendar each December. Ralph puts new batteries in toys that have been forgotten, makes sure a new person or prop joins our nativity set each year, hides money in the tree branches and leaves the children coupons to this day. (He just left one promising each of our children the meal of their choice during January or February.)

When Alicia was little she was positively sure she saw Ralph meandering through the branches of the Christmas tree! She also thought she felt him pinch her when she reached in my pocket! :)

I look back at the late hours I put in sewing Christmas gifts from scraps of fabric, sewing Barbie doll clothes and selling them so I could buy my children the toy (notice the singular word toy?) they wanted, dropped my pride and bartered with the lady at Party House to buy a display model of a doll that Niki had set her heart on, (Niki, I had to go home and give that doll and its clothes a good washing it had been handled so much!) went to auctions and bought items and then came home and revamped them, (Niki's first sewing machine, the boys beloved barn, and the Walton's cardboard home that was played with till it fell apart!) and scouring library books for ideas that I could convert to our budget.

Over the years these very things that came out of necessity have turned into the most wonderful traditions and memories that the Neal family has. Once the Lord taught me to always try to make the most of the hard situations it was a Christmas gift for me in disguise.

I think of how some of the most wonderful memories we have are from the Lord stepping in and giving us a Christmas miracle.

When my husband was between churches we were living in Knoxville and we were living by faith, my husband's income and our older children's income pooled together. When Christmas came we had $3.00 per child to spend on Christmas.

The Lord had been faithfully providing for us so I wasn't paniced, just wondering what we were going to do! I had gone to the Goodwill and found a little fire truck for Asher that had a siren on it and Brian's aunt had sent me a large metal semi truck to give him that had the buttons with the sound on it so he was taken care of. I had gone to a thrift shop and bought each of my girls a skirt. I had made them each a piece of clothing to match their skirt. I had nothing for Nate or Nevin but was looking!

Gary was working long hours as a manager at a Save A Lot grocery so I was having to do my hunting for something for the boys after dropping the girls off at Crown College.

Just two days before Christmas our friend Mike Shockley showed up and handed us money that someone had given him to give to us. He said that person had stipulated it was to be spent on getting Christmas gifts for our kids. It gave me $25 to spend on each child!

Boy was I excited! So we piled all the kids (plus one of Nevin's friends) into the van and headed out to shop!

At about 10 p.m. everyone was starved so we decided to stop at a Hardee's. We pooled our money to eat and didn't have very much. When we got into the Hardee's the manager came up to us and said they were getting ready to clean out the fried chicken and they offered us all they had left (it was a bunch) for $3.00. You talk about rejoicing in the Lord's goodness! I was so excited. It was like the Lord just topped off a day of blessings with one more.

Most of all, I was thrilled that my children were seeing that the Lord doesn't fail us when we walk in obedience and faith. Even over things we don't need but just desire.

Now that I have grandchildren I get the privilege of gathering them around me. That makes the wonder of the season twice the delight!

I love sewing for them. In my scrapbook I have a picture of a superhero that Caleb drew me. I was talking to Alicia's children and Audrey told me that she wanted a fancy dress that she could wear to play in, (I guess her mom wasn't too fond of her playing in her fancy church dresses1:) Isaiah told me he wanted a military uniform, and then Caleb told me he wanted a Sylvester man costume. I asked him what he looked like and he described him.

He said, "You know, he has green in the body, and an S on his chest, red at the bottom of his legs..."

I said, "Caleb, I don't think I've seen him before. Could I look him up on the internet and get a picture of him?"

He said, "No grandma, I made him up!"

I said, "Then you'll need to draw me a picture so I know what I'm doing."

He said, "Ok, I'll do that right now." And the phone went dead!

Three days later I got the picture. He wrote on it. "Call me when you get this."

When I went to get the fabric I told the lady cutting it. "You're in on something big here."

She said, "Really?"

I said, "Yes, my grandson and I are creating a new superhero named Sylvester-man and you're a part of it now."

That tickled her!

I wouldn't trade watching the American Girl movies with my granddaughters or the Christmas we made a play and acted it out for the family after we'd watched one together.Thank you Mariah, Savannah, Briley and Cierra for letting me be a part of your acting careers!

I wouldn't trade watching "The Nutcracker" or "Polar Express" with my at-home children and my grandchildren. I wouldn't trade reading Christmas stories to them or late nights of laying on pallets on the floor and talking to them while the tree lights flicker.

Christmastime is a wonderful way to culminate the year. It's like throwing icing on a cake!

This year I've thought much of the mood that comes into our home this time of year. The house is twinkling with lights, a tiny village, Bethlehem sits quietly in our living room waiting for the birth of the Savior, the breakfast bar has a new treat on it each day for the family, special blends of coffee are perked, new flavors of cocoa show up in the beverage basket, sweet music plays on the computer or the cd player in the kitchen, and the house smells of chocolate, cinnamon, warm breads or cookies. You can sense anticipation, excitement, and a sense of celebration. There truly is a spirit that comes with Christmas.
And all this is as a result of the Savior's birth! We are able to enjoy life, our family, to have a sweet spirit in our home because He has entered our lives. It all began with Him being willing to bring Himself to earth as a little baby. I never want my children and my children's children to forget this part of it all. That every good and perfect gift that we have in our lives is because of Him, Him, Him.....and that blessings are worthless if we don't know the Blesser Himself.

Merry Christmas to you all. I trust that this Christmas you do know Him and that He has the proper place in your heart and life. If not--I assure you He is ready and waiting to know you and to take His place in your heart and life!

With much love,


Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Just a little Christmas note...

Tonight was to be my Christmas memories and dreams but I'll be doing that in the next night or two. Tonight I'm too tired from creating them!
It's been a good day. I have an ice cream bucket almost full of cookies that I'm baking each day to lay back for gifts for the neighbors, our postlady, the UPS man, etc. The first batch was Chocolate Brownie cookies, (new recipe) and they were yummy. Then tonight I made Snickerdoodles but before I rolled them in cinnamon sugar I rolled half of them in red sugar and half in green. They turned out so pretty!
Tomorrow's cookies are going to be sugar cookies cut in the shape of snowflakes and then iced with a thin white glaze and then decorated on the top with designs to make them look delicate and then maybe a little sprinkle of powdered sugar!
I'm also trying to work on bibs with sleeves in them (to go over church dresses) for Halle and Macey. Not getting a lot done on those with school work and housework going on here! We're still in the recovery stage from a trip to Idaho!
The house looks so Christmasy with the village on the buffet all lit up in white and with a snowy border on the mirror and silver bells hanging off of the top of the mirror. The pocket calendar is hung in the hall and has a little treat each morning for the kids.
Then in the kitchen the Hoosier cabinet is full of goodies from Christmas past, the breakfast bar has my miniature Christmas stove and my Jan Karon snowman on it, the tree is in full dress in the living room and the nativity set is all ready for Mary and Joseph to begin their journey from Nazareth (by the front door) to Bethlehem (on the piano). The wise men are over on the antique sewing machine on the other side of the living room ready to begin their long journey too.
We have Bethlehem on the piano and on the left side are the shepherds watching their flocks by night with little campfires flickering. On the right side is the stable complete with animals, a Roman guard (who will be heading to Nazareth to leave a note on Mary and Joseph's door tomorrow) and a merchant kneeling down in front of the stable selling his wares. There is a palm tree by the stable.
Today Asher knocked the palm tree over while messing with the lights and it almost knocked the merchant off of the piano. I said, "In Bethlehem news today....we had a large storm (named Asher) come through our city today knocking a palm tree over. Almost killed in the incident was a local merchant...." The kids got a kick out of that!
It smells like Christmas here, it looks like Christmas here, it sounds like Christmas here, (we've been trying out lots of cd's today) and the final joy was that the kids said they are SOOO in the Christmas mood. Yeah!!! I'm so excited--I LOVE Christmas!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Home again, home again....

Well, this is going to be the first of a two about our busy, busy life around here the last month or so and then another about of the most wonderful times of our year!
We just returned from a visit to Idaho to see Nevin and Jennibeth and their children. The first week we had a missions conference at their church and the second week we played! SOOOOO fun! The only bad part of the whole trip was the good-byes.
I would put pictures on here but I haven't downloaded the pictures from the camera and my hubby is gone right now with the camera!
What a wonderful, wonderful trip. Seeing the church growing both physically and spiritually, seeing the faithful labor of Nevin and Jennibeth bringing fruit in Bonner's Ferry, seeing my grandbabies growing up and growing sweeter! Being with my daughter-in-law in her lovely home and enjoying the wonderful kindred spirit and fellowship we share.
Some of my favorite memories....telling the children the classic story "Moonfleet" each night. It has pirates in it and I'd promised them a pirate story when I came this time (it's usually Sam the Cowboy [made up by grandma] and The Jungle Doctor stories.) Well, I never dreamed it would scare the boys but Braden had trouble a couple nights and was afraid that when he looked down from the bunkbed he would be seeing the tunnel that went under the crypt at the church where Blackbeard was in his coffin. (Make you want to read it?) I told the boys that if they wanted me to stop I would but it had a very good lesson in the story about not thinking things and money could make you happy. They wanted me to continue the story. I told them if anyone got scared to come and get me in the night instead of waking their parents up. (I didn't want dad and mom upset with grandma!)
One night our bedroom door burst open and Colton was standing there with his eyes as big as saucers saying he was scared. (The night John Trenchard was lowered into the well in a bucket and the turnkey tried to kill him because of the huge diamond he found in the wall of the well.)
I asked him if he wanted me to come lay with him for a while and he said yes. When we got to the room it was his night to be on the bunk bed. I told him I couldn't crawl up there so I'd just lay on the floor. He agreed and crawled up on the bunk bed. While I'm laying there Asher is mumbling non-words in his sleep and Braden is letting a kind of happy sigh out with each breath. I thought, "No wonder the kid can't sleep, this is a noisy room!"
Finally it sounded like Colton's breathing was getting very relaxed and even and I stood up to sneak out of the room. He whispered right away, "Grandma, did you hear Asher?" with a giggle. I said, "I sure did. Are you going to be all right now?" He said yes, and I headed back to my room telling myself that next visit I think I would tell a little less stimulating story!
I love the memories of playing games in the evening with the family at the kitchen table, watching the snow out the living room windows, capturing deer on my camera in the neighbors yard while the guys are out hunting and can't seem to get one, (I made sure they knew I'd "shot" five deer while they were gone!) encouraging little Adalyn to take more steps so I could take some of the credit later for teaching her to walk, baking cookies with my grandsons, (we had icing and sprinkles spread liberally through Jennibeth's kitchen), and our wonderful Thanksgiving Day.
I enjoyed the day before Thanksgiving as much as I did the actual day. Jennibeth, Cierra and I all cooked together and had a wonderful day of fellowship. We made Swiss Medley, Sweet Potato Casserole, hot rolls, Pumpkin Roll, Pumpkin Cheesecake, Chess Pie, and Peanut Butter Pie to go with the turkey, dressing, and mashed potatoes we were fixing on Thanksgiving Day. I know we had more but I can't remember it!
Our Thanksgiving Day was blessed and wonderful. The kids and I made turkey placecards to sit beside their plates and I made a poster board turkey for them to play games with after we ate.
First we threw beanie balls on Mr. Turkey as he was laying on the floor and they got points if they landed on a special feather, his beard, or his heart. Then we hung him up and they had to try to pin a beard on him and a heart on his heart. FUN! We had several other games we played. Kids are SO much fun and so much of a blessing. My husband says I enjoy them so much because I'm still so much of a kid myself. Might be something to that so I won't argue the point.
We went to a local Amish coffeehouse called "The Bread Basket" two times--once to enjoy their huge cinnamon rolls and donuts with our coffee and then once for lunch. Such wonderful memories of sitting around a table laughing, eating and talking.
Going home was so hard. You could sense the dread the day before we left. We'd agreed not to talk about it but even the children seemed to have a mood that was toned down. Saying good-bye is not easy--especially when you see them so little. However, I'd rather have my children far, far away and living in God's perfect will then in my backyard and out of His will. The safest place in the world for our children is in His will.
The last two years have been very traumatic years for our family. We had my illness that stopped life cold for me for some time, (so much time spent in doctor's offices, the trips to Cleveland Clinic, and learning to adjust to the lifestyle and diet changes), we had Gary's mother developing brain cancer, we had Alicia's paralysis, we had the TVA ash spill which not only touched our life but the church's life and the community, (we had to make major decisions as a church and as a family) we had my dad's Alzheimer's developing into a deeper stage, and many other additional things that I can't go into. Not an easy year for us emotionally.
However, we also had so very, very much to be thankful for. I'm thankful for grown children that are serving the Lord, I'm thankful for the wonderful, mature, wise husband that the Lord has blessed me with, I'm thankful that I am alive in spite of my medical problems, I'm thankful for my at-home children that bless my life daily, I'm thankful for the new additions to our family this year. (Welcome Evan Michael Lott, Elisha Maclaren Reagan, [Alicia, I don't think I spelled that right, did I?], and Peyton Levi Neal)
I'm thankful for Swan Pond Baptist Church and the faithful people God has given us. Right now we're working at passing out 5000 John-Romans with a special cover designed for us using the verse "Beauty for Ashes" to let our community we are still here. My husband has met several people on visitation who seem surprised we are still in existence!
Our church people have been so kind and patient through our many trials of the last two years.
I don't take that for granted. I think it shows the level of the spiritual maturity of our people.
I'm thankful for Brother Allen Johnson and the wonderful, wonderful job he's doing at leading the Wings Ministry. The conference was a breath of fresh air for me spiritually this year and had that same wonderful spirit it's always had. I'm thankful for the blessing Allen and Dema and their children are in our church.
I'm thankful for my dad's wife Lela and her daughter Esther and the blessing they are in caring for my precious dad. (and in our church) I'm thankful to have them at my dinner table each Sunday. I feel like God has given me a little love pat by letting me have my dad sitting at my table for Sunday dinner each week.
I'm thankful for my daughter Alicia's faith and courage in facing her sudden paralysis. I'm thankful to the Lord for giving her such a wonderful husband in Jimmy and for her children's elasticity in adjusting to their mother in a wheelchair. What a blessing they are to their grandma! How good it has been to watch the outpouring of people's love for her.
I'm thankful for the Lord opening heaven's windows again for Brian and Niki and bringing little Evan into their life. So many times I prayed the verse "a joyful mother of children" and asked the Lord to be sure and make that plural in my daughter's life. He did it so quickly He actually caught my by surprise. Isn't the Lord wonderful? "Now, Lord, just keep dropping them down from heaven please! " I've often reminded the Lord that Brian would be faithful to raise his children for the Lord after reading the verse, "For I know him that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the Lord, to do justice and judgment; that the Lord may bring upon Abraham that which he hath spoken of him." (Gen. 18:19) I love going through my Bible where I've written B/N for Brian and Niki and have my symbol for prayer beside it and write down Halle Simone and Evan Michael's names there with their birth dates to show the prayer has been answered!
I could go on and on....the Lord is good--in the good days and in the difficult days. I am thankful that His salvation is not just for eternity for He is the Savior of "right now" and will faithfully deliver me from every sin I struggle with when I rely on Him and not myself.
Well, this is part one. It's late and we have school tomorrow, so I'll be back with my Christmas thoughts that are brewing tomorrow. I pray that your eyes are on Him--the author and the finisher of our faith. I pray that this season of Thanksgiving and Christmas are seasons of joy, anticipation and child-like faith in your life. Till tomorrow...