Monday, December 31, 2012

How I Wish That It Would Snow

We don't get much snow where I live.  Occasionally we get a light dusting... every few years we get something big enough to play in...  Needless to say, snow is not a part of our winter lives.

I miss snow.  My in-laws used to live in the New England area, and our yearly winter trek up their way always involved snow.  Our little ones would play in it.  We would go skiing.  We would walk around and see the lovely New England landscape covered in a blanket of white.  It was glorious, and worth every bit of the trouble of finding waterproof boots and gloves for kids of four different sizes year after year.

But many years ago now, they moved down South, too, and our yearly Massachusetts trek has ended.  We've made it a couple of snow-filled times all the way to Vermont, but it is difficult in winter since my husband and I can't stay outside in a tent.  (Yes, we usually sleep in a tent for our Vermont visits since I'm allergic to the cats that lived so many years in his aunt's home!)

I miss snow.  I'm sure those friends who live with it all winter--and have to shovel and salt and dry out their worlds every day for months--are not loving it, but I do, and I wish we would get some.

So that's why I was so thrilled to discover the artifically-produced-but-still-real-deal snow that they had at Christmas Town this year at Busch Gardens Williamsburg.  (More on Christmas Town later, on another day!)  Right there in the middle of beautifully illuminated France, complete with lights set perfectly to reflect the dancing flakes coming down.  It was beautiful.  Magical.

So, there you have it.  I'm desperate enough for some snow to love the manipulated, manufactured stuff falling so light and lovely in the French village at the (also artificial) Old Country!

And so, I end with one of my favorite poems, "Velvet Shoes" by Elinor Wylie.

Let us walk in the white snow
           In a soundless space;
With footsteps quiet and slow;
           At a tranquil pace,
           Under veils of white lace.

I shall go shod in silk,
           And you in wool,
White as a white cow's milk,
           More beautiful
           Than the breast of a gull.

We shall walk through the still town
           In a windless peace;
We shall step upon white down,
           Upon silver fleece,
           Upon softer than these.

We shall walk in velvet shoes:
           Wherever we go
Silence will fall like dews
           On white silence below.
           We shall walk in the snow. 

Sunday, December 30, 2012

He Knows When You're Awake

So, here's some good news for those of us who wake in the middle of the night, spend a couple of hours awake, then fall asleep again. It's just another thing we're doing the old-fashioned way!

This interesting article lets us know that, actually, "first sleep" and "second sleep" were very common throughout history, and it has only been in the past century or so that we have abandoned it in favor of a single, shorter sleep period.

Now if we could just adopt the hobbit practice of "first breakfast," "second breakfast," and "elevensies," we'd be in good shape! By this time of the day, I'd like to have eaten a little bit at least three different times!

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Greeting Cards Have All Been Sent

Yeah, right...

Christmas cards are the bane of my Christmas existence.  Don't get me wrong!  I love them!  I love to receive them.  I love to send them.  I absolutely love keeping up with special friends--moved across the miles or the distance of years--and hearing the updates about what's happening in their lives now that we're separated by time and reach.  I love sending cards to those dear to us who live nearby, too... who find us special and daily enough to eat with us and pray for us and visit us and hang our photo card inside the kitchen cabinet and smile when they open the door and see us and think of us.  (At least I hope some of them do that--we do... and hang them in magnetic frames all over the fridge... and other such silly, fun reminders of the sweet friends the Lord has blessed us with over the years, and right now.)

So, here on this Fifth Day of Christmas, I am confessing--yet again--that we have not yet sent out the Christmas cards.  For the past several years we have made the picture, had the cards printed up, paid for them, and brought them home.  Last year we even got stamps on them.  But then we never mailed them!

No, I'm not kidding.  They're sitting in my bedroom closet right now.  For at least two years now, we've done this!

Why?  Who knows, exactly.  We were busy with school until too close to the holiday.  We were caught up celebrating Christmas in all the wonderful ways we do, once school let out.  We were enjoying each other over a rare time of break from work and studies.  Then school started up again.  We (I guess I should say "I") was embarrassed to send them out so late.  We were back in the swing of things, and the Christmas cards sat gathering dust in the closet.

Thank you to those many of you who have faithfully sent us cards anyway.  I know it is time-consuming.  I know it is expensive.  I love every one of them--and I love you special, special ones who send them.

We have printed the cards again this year, and there are many of them that are addressed and ready to go.  My children are helping.  They've gotten into the spirit of it, too.  So, hopefully--this year at least--even if it's the last one to arrive in your mailbox, the wonderful things will finally get mailed!

And, as we move through this holiday season and back into those wonderful, ordinary, daily days, I will still be humming these lines from "Merry Christmas, Darling":

Holidays are joyful
There's always something new
But every day's a holiday
When I'm near to you.

Friday, December 28, 2012

...You Would Even Say It Glows

This post is pure "practical" and "pragmatic"... a follow-up to my previous post about candles.

First of all, since it was Christmas dinner at my mother's house, it qualified as a special occasion... and thus warranted candles even in Mom's book. We ate by candlelight--festive red tapers burning brightly at each end of the table. It was lovely!

The amusing part came later. One of my fun "happy" gifts to my parents included Yankee Candles: a large "First Down"--yes, as in football--candle for my father, and a couple of small holiday-scented ones for my mother, stuffed down into some Santa pants that Yankee Candle had had as part of a special promotion for Christmas. When they opened them, my mom said, "Well, in light of that, you should open this present!" and proceeded to hand me a Yankee Candle as well!

When I tried to get my father to light his candle--wanting to smell this warm, comfortable "man-scent" actually burning and not just while sniffing the lid--my mom piped in with something to the effect that we needed to light my pine-scented one since it smelled so wonderful and Christmas-y. (She had bought the same Balsam & Cedar candle for my sister, who had ignited it immediately and left it burning most of the day during their celebrations in Atlanta.  Love that girl!)

Happy to oblige--but unwilling to let the opportunity go by to actually get their candle burning, too, instead of sitting there as decoration!--I lit mine and got Dad to light his. We kept one in the living room and took one to the kitchen.  I proceeded to explain to them that they needed to allow the candles to burn until the wax had melted to liquid all the way across the top so as to maximize their life. They had never heard of this "rule" of cande-burning, even though they had bought their gift candles at the Yankee Candle store, which is where I first heard of it, I'm sure. (I think they told me it usually takes the large jar candles about two hours to get melted evenly across--I find that it doesn't take quite that long, but we usually burn them for at least that long at a time anyway.)

Mom wanted to make sure that my sister knew this rule and asked me to call her to tell her.  I did, and she did--and, in fact, her wonderful pine-scented gift of a candle is already gone, burned frequently throughout all the days of their December to brighten their home and make it festive and warm.  She's a candle-burner, too, and had loved this particular gift from my mom!

So, since my mom--a newbie to actual burning of the candles--didn't know this, I figured I'd post it here in case someone else doesn't know it. Here's the "practical" and "pragmatic" I promised earlier...

Here's a picture, from their website, of a Yankee Candle--and indeed, it would apply to any other chunky candle, as well-- improperly handled in the burning department:

Notice how it has burned down into a tunnel, leaving much of the candle unburned at the outer edge of the jar. This is caused by lighting the candle for just a little while and not letting it burn until the wax melts all the way across. Once that has been done even once, you're on your way to a ruined candle--do it multiple times and you really will get about a fourth of the life out of the candle as you should have.

Here's a picture of a Yankee Candle almost burned all the way across, but not quite. Notice the little unmelted "lip" of wax on the inside of the jar, off to the right side?  That needs to be allowed to melt, too, so that the melted wax is straight across and liquid before it is blown it out.

So, really, in the midst if all the wonderful and profound things that could be being discussed as we
ponder the reality of Emmanuel, "God with us,"
how to properly burn a candle seems banal and mundane, if not downright trite!

But I love that the Light of the World was born, and lived, and died, to bring us to God!

And I love the special little reminders that bring us joy amid commonplace, everyday living... including--for me--burning candles!

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Victory in Jesus!

This morning we received the sad news that a friend of ours--a dear man we didn't know well but had come to love, just the same--died sometime in the wee hours this morning.  He had succumbed to a long, painful battle with cancer, surrounded by family and friends as he passed from this life into the presence of his precious Savior.

Jerry was a tall, attractive, friendly man that was part of our special "other church family."  Iivo is the worship leader at our wonderful church plant--which we love being part of and which is our true church home--but we have also come to know and love many special families at the church across town where our children have attended Awana on Wednesday nights for the past  several years.  We adults attend what they call their "Bible study and prayer meeting," which consists of singing several hymns--called out by special request from the congregation--then hearing Bible teaching for about half an hour and then praying together for 15-20 minutes.  You will really get to know a group quickly if you pray together every week, and I am so blessed to pray with and for these dear folks every Wednesday.

Despite the fact that Jerry has been sick for many months, he was always ready each week with a quick smile and a friendly handshake.  I must say that this was, to me, the most memorable thing about Jerry.  He went around every week before the service started--after the shared fellowship meal--and shook everyone's hand.  And Jerry had huge, welcoming hands! Really! These were the biggest hands I've ever felt mine rest in, and he shook my hand with the perfect amount of force--not too crushing (and he could have really crushed me with those hands, I'm telling you!) and not too wimpy or soft, either.  He would smile and take my hand, week after week, welcoming me and greeting me.  Oh, I remember this charming man with such fondness!

It was no secret that Jerry's favorite hymn was "Victory in Jesus!"  Every time he made a request for a hymn to be sung, that was it.  The song doesn't appear in their hymnal, so they had to work up the words on a slide for us to sing from.  But that was the song he was going to request, so they had to be ready!

Oh, the joyful reality of our victory in Jesus--that because of His great sacrifice for us, His saving love, one day we will rest with Him in glory.  Because He died for us, our death is not the end.  Jerry lives on!

So, I know it isn't really a Christmas song... but it is this year!  Victory in Jesus!

I heard an old, old story
How a Savior came in glory
How He gave His life on Calvary
To save someone like me 

I heard about His groaning,
Of His precious blood's atoning
Then I repented of my sin
And won the victory

Victory in Jesus, my Savior forever
He sought me and bought me 
With His redeeming blood
He loved me ere I knew Him
And all my love is due Him
He plunged me to victory
Beneath the cleansing flood

I heard about His healing
Of His cleansing pow'r revealing
How He made the lame to walk again
And caused the blind to see
And then I cried, "dear Jesus,
Come and heal my broken spirit,"
And somehow Jesus came and brought
To me the victory

Victory in Jesus, my Savior forever
He sought me and bought me 
With His redeeming blood
He loved me ere I knew Him
And all my love is due Him
He plunged me to victory
Beneath the cleansing flood

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

...singing Christmas carols of love, perfect love

In the middle of all the celebrating of Christmas... singing, praying, cooking, feasting, gifting, laughing, crying, bursting with love... a moment of pure fun silliness... we literally laughed out loud watching these boys pull this off!  I love kids who are willing to be hams for the sake of a show!

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Thy candles shine out brightly...

I miss my dear, sweet mother-in-law in so many ways. It will be strange not to travel to her home  this week--we've usually ventured their way sometime during the twelve days of Christmas for many years now.

My husband's family is old-world European. So many things that took getting used to at first are now precious parts of my life, adopted into the life of our little family from his. Perhaps I'll write of all of them sometime, but for today I'm thinking about candles. Sweet Tiiu changed my life regarding candles.

I grew up in a home where candles were decorations. They were carefully chosen for their visual appeal--never their actual scent when burning. Why? Because they were never actually burning. In fact, most were never even lit. A candle's visual appeal was, apparently, marred by a black wick. Every candle in our home growing up had a white wick from having never been lit.

I never saw candles burning, save for three notable exceptions. One was the several-times-a-year round of little candles on the birthday cakes. A second was the yearly lighting and passing of the flames during "Silent Night" at the Christmas Eve service. And a third was the times company came over and my mom lit a little votive candle in the bathroom. I remember going into the guest bathroom and just sitting there, watching the pattern of color that would dance on the walls through the sides of the little stained glass votive holder.

So the message I subconsciously got growing up was that candles were for decoration or special occasions only.

Then I began to visit the Sitterdings' house. I remember walking in, and there was always a candle burning in the entryway. There were candles on the coffee table. There were candles burning on the table during meals. At first I associated it with the "guests are here" category of candle-burning, but I soon realized that this was a common thing--an everyday thing. I so loved the feeling of warmth it gave--all welcome and comfort and home and "you are special."

I realized that it made me feel so special, this extravagant act of "wasting" candles in the everyday. It spoke to me, straight to my heart, that "today is special enough--this ordinary, daily-day moment together--for burning candles." So burn them I did.

It took a little while to get used to, for sure--I was conditioned to think this was excessive in the everyday--but only a little while! I loved how it made the house feel--how it made the house smell. (Somewhere on the list of favorite, memorable things ever said to me is a friend's pleased utterance of, "Your house smells so yummy and welcoming!")

And so, as I light the yummy-smelling pine-cone-and-lime Yankee Candle this morning--and, indeed, every other candle in the house!--I remember my sweet mother-in-law, and my dear sleeping children upstairs, and my dear husband out running the dogs, and I prepare my heart to celebrate the wondrous fact that today is anything but an ordinary day!

*From "O Christmas Tree"
O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree,
Thy candles shine out brightly!
O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree,
Thy candles shine out brightly!

Monday, December 24, 2012

He signs his name to a letter he just wrote...

I figure, since it is Christmas Eve--and the "12 Days of Christmas Blog Challenge" doesn't officially begin until tomorrow--I can have a "guest post" of sorts, and I can use a line from a Christmas song that's a little too newfangled to count, in my book.

A few minutes ago, as I soaked in the warm bath that is my annual Christmas-Eve-afternoon "calm before the (glorious) storm," the following email arrived from my sweet husband to each member of our precious family. I have no idea if any of the other recipients have read it yet, but it has been a timely, joyful reminder for me this afternoon. In the midst of all the hustle and bustle... the fun silliness... the exciting plans for giving and gifting... the serious business of tradition-making and -keeping... may I never, never lose sight of the real point of it all!  Oh how thankful I am for the reminder, so I figured I'd remind you, too...

My dear Family,

During this time that is so fun (and also sometimes so crazy) I hope that you are all, in some way, savoring a taste of God’s goodness in sending us the “Light of the World.”  Regardless of the disappointments, trials, difficulties, joys, and triumphs you face, if you have embraced the “Present of the World,” you are secure in God! 

What follows, then, is the realization that NOTHING can separate you from that love!  Not fussing, yelling, bad grades, unclean rooms, dirty dishes, biting dogs, deadlines, stress, worry….  God’s Word has a lot to say about many of those things, but ultimately, God has covered us in the Righteousness of Jesus, and so we are secure.  Remind each other, and yourselves, of that all year round.  Then, how much more sweet every yummy thing will taste, how much better every good thing seem, and thankfulness will abound. 

I want you all to know how thankful I am for each of you.  I love each and every one of you and, to quote a song, “my life will always be richer for the time I spent here with you.”  I am proud of every one of you as well.  You are all incredible persons.  :)

I am looking forward to sharing Christmas with my very favorite people in the world.

Much love, always

* "He signs his name to a letter he just wrote..." from Reba McIntyre's "A Christmas Letter"

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

How to Remove Unwanted Ads and Links from Your Blog

This article is crucial to me right now.  I'm sick of the unwelcome ads appearing on my blogs!  My little students keep seeing links to who knows what... irritating...

Here's the link to the article, entitled How to Remove Unwanted Ads and Links from Your Blog.

It worked perfectly!