1800's Farmhouse where I grew up

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Holiday Greetings

Merry Christmas
  Joyeux Noel
     Feliz Navidad
        Buone Natale
           Mele Kalikimaka

                            
        God Jul ya'll!

Friday, December 24, 2010

High Tech Holiday

My sister just came and went...leaving crumpled wrapping paper and carefully chosen gifts strewn across our family room floor. Hers are tucked neatly into over-sized Christmas bags, on their way to Connecticut for a late Christmas Eve dinner with our other sister. My house is suddenly quiet, and I am doing my best to appreciate the calm of this holy night. 
You see, my only daughter is away from us this year, celebrating 5 hours away 9across the entire width of our state), with her boyfriend's family.  Our loss is definitely their gain. I am glad I am smiling right now remembering my little angle sporting santa hats, elf socks, reindeer antlers, and the like, demonstrating her unique love for this very special holiday.  She has texted me numerous times already, called once, and sent a picture of her beautiful, smiling self all snuggled in a santa blanket I sent to keep her warm. I am extremely grateful for this advent season....and the advent of the cell phone, blackberry, and computer.  I believe rotary phones were still in use when I had my first Christmas away from home.
I have shed tears at least a dozen times already today, and know they will fill my eyes at various times during our Christmas Eve service at church tonight.  I sing in the choir, but have always made it a tradition to leave the choir and join my family before the final hymn is sung.  With candles lit and raised to honor the birth of the baby Jesus, we sing Silent Night, and in hushed silence leave the sanctuary, cognizant of the miracle of the virgin birth and our savior coming.  It is quite a moving experience.  My baby will be there in spirit, and I will keep her in my prayers, as well as her love and his family.
Wishing you all a blessed Christmas Eve, and the opportunity to be with loved ones, whether in person or in some high tech way.
I love you and miss you Kates! Dontey is blessed to have you in his life.
A warm country hug to all,
Lisa <3

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Checking it Twice

The past few years I have begun keeping track of presents I have given to friends and family in a journal-type notebook, hoping to insure that, as my memory fades, I don't repeat gifts.  It has been a success so far, but I have only been at it about three years. And thankfully, my memory is still pretty good! I know exactly where
my keys are.
There's a wonderful thing about recording gifts. I can list ideas, what has been bought, what has been wrapped, and where it is stashed until tree time. Unfortunately, the book is pretty much useless when left at home while I am out on a shopping spree. Like today. I forgot things I wanted to get, and got things I didn't need. Those will go in the "need a gift?" gift box. A wonderful invention, if I do say so myself. My mistakes are turned into a cache of gifts, ready at a moments notice.
Tonight I will check my list...AGAIN.  Not twice, but more like for the fourth time.  Santa has it pretty easy if he only needs to check his twice. My little elves have left the nest. His are apparently available year round, and helping 24/7.  Oh for the good old days of having a child's small finger to hold the ribbon while I tie a bow!  Mom taught me well.
I feel a peace tonight that I haven't been able to find yet this season. Things are all coming together finally. And just in time!  My sister arrives tomorrow for Christmas Eve Day, to visit with us and Mom, before heading to Connecticut and our other sister's home for the holidays.  Mom will be so glad to see her, even if she can't express those feelings in words. I will see Mom at the nursing home before church tomorrow night, and sing Silent Night to her as she drifts off to sleep.  A new, much sadder tradition, replaces the old.
We are family and our hearts are forever intertwined, no matter where we are. Home will always be where the heart is...with those I hold dear.
A warm country hug to all,
Lisa <3

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Where are you Christmas?

There are moments in the great rush to the holidays that I stop and think, this is too much! I have scaled back in recent years on many things, but still wonder, at times, why I make myself crazy trying to make things the magazine version of "special".  At these moments, I tend to seriously wonder, what happened to CHRISTMAS.  The feeling, the love, the soul's gift of renewal and peace.
Tonight I plan to find it. And that will be a story for another time.
A warm country hug to all,
Lisa <3

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Last Minute Shopping

It is only DAYS til Christmas. Thankfully year round shopping that begins with the AFTER Christmas sales keeps my panic to a minimum when the hours are ticking by.  I find it amusing that my idea of panic must be laughable to those who only begin shopping with a few days...or even hours...until the big guy in the red suit is scheduled to deliver his bounty.
I really have only those few little things that need to be bought as close to Christmas as possible, due to being perishable, totally forgotten, or of a size that is hard to hide!  Each year my daughter reminds me of what a truly good job I do hiding their presents. Especially when one is discovered in say....March?!  And then there are the gifts that are safely nestled under the tree, but have no tags announcing the recipient of the gift. I always think I will remember who it is for, and instead have to bear my families mocking tones as I shake, feel, and guess at what is inside and who it is for.  In my defense, I am usually right!
It is surely a hectic time of year, and the little blunders we all make add to the hilarity and joy in spending time together.  There is no perfect holiday, except for the one spent with the ones we love.  Those can never be out done.
The clock is ticking...are you ready?
A warm country hug to all,
Lisa <3

Monday, December 20, 2010

Let it *SNOW*

Flurries, squalls, and a dusting of snow have taken turns gracing our deck recently, giving a glimpse of the white Christmas those of us in the north crave.  I'm not sure why the white stuff makes it seem "more like Christmas", or why the flakes falling give a sense of wonder and delight.  They just do. 
In places farther south that have warmer climates, seeing snow can be nothing short of a miracle. We hunger to see snow falling with the wide eyed amazement of a child, running to the window to watch, and then outside, arms spread wide to embrace the gift. Christmas is a season of miracles, and it seems snow is one of them.
I have been checking this week's weather, on a daily basis, to monitor the possible arrival of snow. There are snowmen (and women) waiting to be created by kids, and kids-at-heart, alike.  This year the forecast is for snow on Christmas Day...and, if it actually arrives, it WILL BE nothing short of a miracle in today's advent of global warming.
As a teenager, I felt the most at peace leaving church at midnight on Christmas Eve, when flurries were descending from heaven.  Returning home to the farm I always headed to the barn, to see if the stories were true that the animals would speak at midnight on Christmas Eve.  Although I never heard more than a whinny, the idea that it COULD happen was enough to make me stand in that cold barn for many minutes. To believe, with all my heart, that miracles do occur.
I still believe. Not in talking animals, but in the power of God to give us miracles when we need them most. Even if it is just a little snow on Christmas to melt our hearts just a bit.  It is in these things that we find the strength to reach out and help one another.
Wishing us all just a little miracle this Christmas....and that we can then pass it on.
A warm country hug to all,
Lisa <3

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Caroling

On the last Sunday before Christmas, members of my church traditionally join together to go Christmas caroling to nursing homes and shut-ins among our congregation.  You don't need to have an especially good voice to sing, but what would be the fun in that anyway?  After a quick lunch of pizza and goodies brought from home, we piled into cars, vans, and trucks to start spreading our cheer.
It was heartwarming at our first stop, that the granddaughter of a resident, who couldn't be more than 9 or 10, raised her hand when we offered to take requests.  She wanted to hear the 12 days, and I insisted she come join us.  She stood proudly singing for her loved one, not missing a beat when the rest of us mistakenly placed leaping lords where laying geese should have been.  No matter who sings that classic, the chorus swells at 5 golden rings. It is also a piece that is best sung backwards to remember the correct order of the days. Too bad it wasn't written that way!
After several stops, our musically talented group descended upon the nursing home where my Mom is a resident.  We were invited to carol outside specific rooms by those residing inside, as well as in the lunch rooms, where we were joined in song by some very talented seniors.  One sweet lady shared that she teared-up after our rendition of Oh Holy Night.  I smiled at her and giggled to myself, hoping it was the message in the song and not our singing that caused her to become teary eyed!
My Mom's floor was our last stop. I greeted her and blanketed those sexy legs I keep telling her she needs to keep covered in her chair.  There are days of recognition and lucid moments that many Alzheimer patients experience, although not as frequent as those who love them would like. But today Mom greeted me with a smile and a kiss, seeming to enjoy the sound of music we brought to her corner of the world.  She listened intently, and I found myself unable to sing the last two songs, as choked up as I became with emotion. I held her hand and allowed the others to serenade her, noticing that my son was also without song at that same moment.
And so it goes, that this is the bittersweet part of the holidays. Having memories we may never be able to match, beat, or again live up to from previous years.  Sometimes you just have to live in the moment and accept things as they come, for they too will become memories, treasured, loved, and tucked away with all the others to revisit at some point in the future.
I am especially grateful to our new pastor for praying a blessing over Mom before we left the home.  Deep within her is a strong, abiding faith, that becomes obvious when met with prayer and song.  We miss her sweet alto voice that for decades joined ours each Christmas in song, lifting up the joy and praise that is Christmas.  I love you Mom!
A warm country hug to all,
Lisa  <3

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Countdown to Christmas

The weeks of advent have flown by and it amazes me that there is only one week until Christmas finally arrives.   How is it that no matter how much you plan and make lists, when the time comes you realize you still have more to do than you have time to do it in.
Baking, decorating, wrapping, caroling, addressing cards, watching holiday movies that make you cry...and this year...blogging!  In an effort to build a few more minutes into my already packed schedule, I am abbreviating this blog to save time.
No one panic, but you now have seven days to finalize everything. SEVEN DAYS!
Ready? Set..go!
A warm country hug to all,
Lisa <3

Friday, December 17, 2010

This Year's Top Ten

 Lisa's Top Ten for Twenty Ten
 1. Amy Grant blasting on my car stereo, singing at the top of my lungs.
 2. Taking the time to wrap at least ONE present with fabric bows, decorated with holly or an adorable little  Christmas ornament. ( vs throwing the gift in a bag!)
 3. Taste testing as I bake or dip pretzels in chocolate. Rumor has it there are no calories if you eat standing   up or while baking.
 4. Tying a big red bow on anything that doesn't move, including the dog.
 5. Watching Christmas movies for an entire afternoon.
 6. Christmas caroling to shut ins. I love you Mom!
 7. Receiving handwritten Christmas notes in cards.
 8. Christmas Eve service, when the entire church lights candles and sings Silent Night.
 9. Sneaking around filling stockings before climbing into bed at midnight.
10.The peace I find Christmas eve, followed by the joy and excitement of Christmas morning with my family.

My favorite activities tend to change from year to year, but change is inevitable, especially when kids grow too big for stories in your lap!  I hope to reinvent some old traditions, perhaps with a new fangled twist, to evoke memories of past holidays and the joy we had in just being together as a family.  For instance, when my children were little, we would bundle then in PJs and blankets in the back seat of the car to go out for our annual light show.  Sticking mostly to quiet country roads, we would crawl at a snails pace, shouting "Look!" to each other as we came upon homes lit in Christmas splendor.  A thermos of hot cocoa, with marshmallows of course, was shared as we took in the sights and lights.  I am sure there was also grumbling and fighting in the back seat, but isn't it funny how our selective memory can edit out those not so perfect moments?
The kids are no longer in fuzzy, footed sleepers or dragging a stuffed puppy with them into the car, but we are going to give this memorable ride another whirl this year when we are all together again.  I am thinking it is time for one of the "kids" to drive, though,to give old Mum a chance to see what she's been missing all these years.
After the ornaments are returned to their boxes and strings of lights are wound into balls that will never untangle the next year, it is the time spent with family that we will always remember best. Those memories shine brightest in our hearts.
A warm country hug to all,
Lisa <3

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Who's Santa?

We all have a mental image of Santa Claus. (For many it is the jolly, old man in the big red suit, driving a sleigh pulled by flying reindeer.)  In different countries, both his image and his name change. The spirit of Father Christmas transcends cultures, though, and offers all the hope and joy that Christmas brings. In my mother in law's home country of Sweden, Jultomten arrived each year to the delight of the children.  Babbo Natale treats Italy's children to surprises, as Pere Noel is busy in France.  St. Nicholas, or Weihnachtsmann, is the German Father Christmas.  My Irish and Scottish ancestors believed in Daidi or Daidain na Nollaig, respectively.  I have no ability what so ever to speak with an Irish brogue, but Daidi looks a lot to me like Daddy.
As a child, I saw Mommy kissin' Santa Claus everyday of the year.  Like the Irish Daidi na Nollaig, my father was MY Santa Claus. He was thrilled to shop and deliver surprises each Christmas, then become our Christmas morning Santa, passing out the gifts that had been piled high under the tree as we slept.  When my own children were small, my husband was also our own family Santa Claus, presenting the gifts to our good little boy and girl.  And dogs. And cats.
As my children have grown into young adults, we now tend to all share the privilege of gifting each other on Christmas morning.  We now have more patience (and practice) at waiting our turn, not wanting to miss anyone's ooo's and ahhh's when unveiling the gifter's special present. For at the heart of things, isn't that where we find the most joy?   After planning, and shopping, and wrapping....my heart swells with happiness just watching my loved ones open a gift I picked especially for them. 
And yes children, there is also a Mrs. Santa Claus!  As women, we do the bulk of shopping and figuring out gifts, even for the most difficult loved one to buy for.  I truly enjoy my role as I also secretly assist Santa in my community. As one of his army of elves, it is a joy to share gifts with those less fortunate, through local churches and agencies.  The news this year has reported that children's letters to Santa ask, not for frivolous items, but instead for clothes and even socks.  Or a job for Mom. 
In the holiday spirit, let us all be someone's Santa, or Mrs. Santa for that matter, and make our corner of the world a better place for those who live there.  Thank you Dad, for teaching me it is better to give. I will miss shopping with you for Mom again this year.
A warm country hug to all,
Lisa <3

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Christmas Bells

Coming home today I heard the tinkling sound of the bell ringer in front of my local grocery store.  I can't help but wonder how they persevere in such frigid weather, as we have been experiencing recently. The sounds of ringing bells are synonymous with the holidays, so I am glad the stores and corners have resident bell ringers taking up pavement at this time of year.  While I would like to, I am unable to drop money into every bucket I see.  There is such a need in our country and the world for the services our loose change support. These hearty, bell-ringing souls create an auditory reminder to love one another, and to help our neighbors at this time of year.
As children, my kids were involved in the bell choir at our church. They played periodically throughout the year, but always seemed to practice especially hard for the Christmas service, chiming together to announce Jesus's birth.  Their pieces resonnated through the sanctuary, the miracle of the virgin birth echoing in our hearts even as the last note ended. 
Growing up I had the pleasure of experiencing vintage Christmases thanks to my mother's love of antiques. Once part of an antique group called Questers, Mom would occasionally bring home some much loved finds. I now have a piece of an old leather and brass set of sleigh bells that I can still picture my mom ringing both at Christmas time, and to ring in the New Year.  I have never had any bells with the same quality of sound as the brass sleigh bells.  They out-ring any of the modern jingle bells available today.
A new family tradition has grown out of the story of that amazing polar-bound train, which became popular when my children were small.  I have always admitted to believing in Santa Claus, and hearing the bells, as the story goes.  Each year my children would find a bell from Santa's sleigh, either wrapped in a beautiful box, or tucked deep into their over flowing stockings. As they heard rumors and became unsure of the existence of the man in red, the bells were a reminder that they believed.  If not in the man himself, they will always believe in the spirit that he encompasses. It warms my heart every time I hear a Christmas bell ring.
Sleigh bells ring, are you listening?
A warm country hug to all,
Lisa <3

Monday, December 13, 2010

Oh the Weather Outside is...

The wind is howling outside, evergreen branches bending with the force. My cats look at me as if I am crazy when I inquire if they would like to go out.  The dog, on the other hand, sits at the door begging for a walk, through rain, sleet, snow, gloom of night, and today's gusty winds.  I really feel for the mail carriers who must deliver to us at all costs.
My Christmas flag can be heard from the front porch, snapping Santa to attention with each gust.  Many times through out the year I lament that I need to move south, that I cannot survive another winter in the mountains of Pennsylvania.  And then the Christmas season arrives, and you couldn't pay me to be anywhere else.  For me, the spirit of the holiday's is tied up in warming ourselves by the fire, shoveling the first snow, and hunkering down under handmade quilts and soft, fleecy blankets in the colors of Christmas, the obligatory cup of cocoa in hand. 
I don't know anyone who bakes cookies when it is 85 degrees outside. The real tradition is to gather in the warmest room in the house and create delicate Christmas confections....the mouthwatering kind, that signal your tastebuds as the tantalizing aroma spreads through the house.  We have our family favorites, some for ease of preparation, and the rest because everyone has requests for their hearts desire.  Just what would Christmas be without this tradition?!  My daughter and I have begun a tasty new tradition of dipping pretzel sticks in white chocolate, then covering them with red and green sprinkles to resemble glittery, little matchsticks.  Bet your can't eat just one!
I neglected to mention the real winter treat for kids....and teachers....alike. THE SNOW DAY.  Not reserved for the faint at heart, a day without school is filled instead with sledding, snowball fights, skiing, and ice skating. And hot chocolate.  Making snow angels, building forts, and rolling a snowman into existance. And hot chocolate.  Eating "snow" cones, shoveling, and...did I mention...hot chocolate?
Old man winter can blow all he wants.  Jack Frost can do his best. But, I will settle in by the fire with a good book, some good music, and an animal or two at my feet. Then, perhaps for a change, a cup of tea.
A warm country hug to all,
Lisa <3

Sunday, December 12, 2010

O Come O Come Emmanuel

Today marked the third Sunday of Advent.  Our church has been decorated in its Christmas finery since the beginning of the month, and the atmosphere today was especially warm and inviting. The stormy weather outside was doing its best to dampen spirits.  My family, minus my son who was called in to work, had the privilege of lighting this week's candle of love.  It was a moving experience listening to my daughter read scripture. Once a tiny tot in our church family, she has grown into an intelligent, and capable young woman. Her reading was beautiful. We anticipate the pleasure of watching another family light the remaining candle next week, and the Christ candle on Christmas Eve.
Traditions in the church family are as memorable and important as those created by families at home. At this time of year, we plan pageants, caroling to shut ins, distribute candy canes at the local college, and work together to make Christmas wishes come true for children in need.  It is in these activities that I often find the true spirit of Christmas that others look for in the local mall. 
The hymns selected today to correspond with the chosen sermon asked the Christ child to come.  In advent we prepare. We ask. We seek.  O Come O come Emmanuel resonates through my mind, where I heard it for the first time as a child.  The choir my mother sang in was blessed with an amazing tenor, who traditionally began one service during advent with an accapella version of that song. I can still hear his powerful, and moving voice as he asked Jesus to come. So beautiful and poingnant.
As the secular side of Christmas grows each year, Advent has greater meaning for me.  Our tree goes up Thanksgiving weekend. We decorate inside and out. We light candles both in our windows at home, and in church. And we prepare our hearts for the coming of the Christ child.
With the advent of Christmas, I wish you all the blessings found in family.
And a few surprises along the way. But those are stories for another time.
A warm country hug to all,
Lisa <3

Friday, December 10, 2010

Santa Claus is Coming to Town

My daughter has made it home for a weekend of shopping, holiday hair cutting, and Christmas movie watching, as we prepare for ( dread!) her first holiday away from home.  It will be a bittersweet two days, knowing that, come Christmas morning, she will be on the other side of the state celebrating with her boyfriend's family. But I will take this time together, and enjoy it regardless.  On Sunday our family is to light the Advent candles at church. This is something we haven't done since our kids were young, playing angels and sheep, wisemen, or the virgin Mary in the children's pageant, and singing oh so sweetly, if not off key.
As I write this blog, Santa Claus is Coming to Town is on, and we are snuggled under Christmas quilts.  We have a tradition of watching dozens of holiday movies in this fashion.  It is amazing how a bit of Christmas spirit can be gleaned from stories like Scrooged and Christmas with the Kranks!  Ernest Saves Christmas has also touched our hearts in a very "Ernest" way.
When the kids were much younger, before the advent of DVDs, we had a tradition of getting a new Christmas story book each year, to snuggle together and read. Sadly, the box of books has since been relegated to the attic. I dream of a time, though, when I can repeat this tradition with grandchildren in my lap, passing those cherished stories to the next generation.
As the weather clears tomorrow, I am planning to reinvent another old tradition, taking a car tour of the local light displays. But that's a story for.....tomorrow night!
A warm country hug to all,
Lisa <3 

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Country Roots

Being born and raised during the depression, my mother had experiences that I can only imagine, and that children of my generation would be hard put to live through and talk about as affectionately as she used to.  As kids they enjoyed (?!) chewing tar balls from the road, a far cry from the minty freshness advertised with the Doublemint twins when I was younger.  One of 7 children, she shared a bed with siblings and as an infant spent time cradled in a dresser drawer.  In those days people made do with what they had. 
Childhood trips to my grandmother's house were crazy, joyous occassions filled with laughter and the noise of extended family.  With 20 + first cousins, we could raise a ruckus. The house itself elicits memories that I still treasure.  Memories of visiting a place where time seemed to have stood still.  Grandma's house had no working toilet until my parents were married.  It was their gift to my grandparents as they wed, the gift being quite unexpected and so unlike today's couples, who fill wedding registries by scanning bar codes with a gun.  Prior to that gift, the only "bathroom" was the outhouse in the side/back yard, off the kitchen.  It stood as a symbol of perseverence, even after the advent of indoor plumbing. A sentinel in the yard, guarding times long past....minus the "necessary" Sears catalog.  
There was no living room, we gathered instead in the parlor.  The telephone was one very modern convenience, unique in that the rotary dial was on the bottom of a hand piece. It stood on the table in the parlor, and as children, we had an insatiable desire to pick it up, returning it quickly to the table when a voice on the party line was heard.  The avocado green was all the rage, I'm sure, when the phone was installed.  A far cry from today's cell phones, Skype, and Twitter!
A treat on our visits to Grandma's house was bathing in the antique, claw foot, iron tub. To a small(ish) child it seemed immense, and bathtime was more akin to swimming than actually bathing.  I remember arguing with my sisters about who got to go first!  Just the act of remembering makes me smile.
Made of thick stone, the summer kitchen adjoined the more modern kitchen at the rear of the house.  I was always amazed that a house could have two kitchens. And two staircases. One in the front of the house and one in the back, along with a third set of stairs that went nowhere. Many times I would look at those stairs, my imagination running wild, creating reasons for their unusual presence.  It was also a rare treat to be able to accompany Mom or Grandma into the musty, smelling basement, or ascend the steep stairs into the dusty, and somewhat spooky attic. On the nights I roomed in the bedroom that had the access door for the attic, I always swore I heard something up there!
As we reached our teens, visits to Grandma's house became less frequent as our young lives were crammed with school and activities that necessitated staying closer to home.  The smells and sounds of the house, filled with such a large and loving family, are etched deeply and forever in my mind.  My Grandparents had passed away many years ago, and more recently we have lost my Mom's twin, as well as her brother in law. Life in those days was not always easy, but it was so much more real.
The Great Depression forever changed people and families. But that's a story for another time.
A warm country hug to all!
Lisa <3

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The Power of Words

The people closest to me might be surprised to learn that, at heart, I have always been a writer. Or.... at least I love to write. I never hated, as other kids did, the term papers,essays, and book reports required throughout high school and college.  I revel in the written word. The expressiveness and power evoked from the combination of thoughts and phrases touch human hearts, minds, and lives. 
The people closest to me might also be surprised that I have written lyrics, and even an entire song that was once performed in a church Christmas pageant. Books of poetry I have penned gather dust in my bedroom amoire. Then there are the stories I have started.... and never finished. Sentiments designed for the inside of cards my older sister once produced cover the backs of papers that were originally destined for the recycle bin. She never even knew I wrote them.
The people closest to me might truly be surprised to learn that I advised a Creative Writing Club at our middle school for several years, hoping to inspire young writer's minds, and exercise their creativity beyond the scope of the newest video games. Of course, at that age, they were more interested in whether there would be snacks at our meetings.
The people closest to me might again be surprised to know that before having major surgery, when my kids were young, the fear of "the worst" happening caused me to write, in longhand no less, story books for each of them filled with the anecdotes of their young lives. Thankfully everything went as the doctor said it would, and I am here to tell more tales. 
Words can evoke strong emotions, and once said, cannot be retrieved.  It is not just the utterance of words though that make them have such great impact. It is also the way they are understood, taken in and interpreted by the listener. My mom always said to choose your words carefully. So except for the occassional slip, I intend to take her advice in both what I say and what I write. 
The most intimate of writings, such as personal letters, journals, and greeting cards that people exchange throughout the year are never more sentimental and altruistic than at this time of year.  We wish peace and love, happiness and joy.  We hang the holly, raise cups of good cheer, and become misty eyed and sentimental hearing classics like There's No Place Like Home for the Holidays. Children climb onto laps and snuggle with loved ones to hear, as if for the first time, the reading of Twas the Night before Christmas.
Do you hear what I hear?!  But that's a story for another time.
A warm country hug to all!
Lisa <3 

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

A Beary Merry Christmas

I am a middle child. One older sister, one younger sister, with me in....well...the middle. I have heard we are all a product of our genetics, in addition to upbringing, experiences, and environment. I'll buy that. As the middle child, psychologists would peg me as a mediator and peace keeper, among other things.  At times this is true of myself, but also each of my siblings.  The dynamics between siblings, especially sisters, is ever changing. 
As a child, there were definite moments where I felt every bit the middle child. This was not always a bad thing. I got the usual hand me downs, was mistaken for my older sister, and had to wait my turn for privileges like babysitting and learning to drive.  It was the natural order of things, and I learned to expect it.  Sadly, there were times, though, that being the middle child just didn't feel very special.
On Christmas mornings as a child, before anyone was allowed to peek at the tree and what Santa had left under it, we had to pose for the required picture. Always taken on the staircase, my older sister sitting a step above me, and my younger sister sitting a step below me, we would smile with the anticipation of tearing paper off wonderfully wrappped packages.  (And push and argue and grumble at each other to hurry up and sit and smile so we could get to the PRESENTS.) 
I have memories of receiving a Thumbelina doll, trolls, and the generic type of "Barbie" that fit best into my parents budget at the time. I understand the idea of generic now, but as a kid, not so much!  My older sister was the first to get a REAL Barbie. And a bike. And many other items that I can't even recall.  The gift that touched my heart the most, and one I will never forget, was a teddy bear my dad had given to me one memorable Christmas. 
After posing for the traditional staircase picture, my sisters and I descended the stairs to find three teddy bears lined up, waiting for us to claim them.  There was a large bear, a medium size bear, and a small bear. This is not quite the story of the three bears, but nevertheless means the world to me. My sisters and I approached the soft, stuffed creatures, each picking up the size that reflected our position in the family.  When I had the middle bear in my hands, my dad stopped me.  Unsure of what was wrong, I looked at him questioningly. He then told me the BIG bear was for me.  Now a picture of my face at that moment, I'm sure, would have been priceless.  The big one for ME!?  I was amazed, overwhelmed, and so happy that my dad had chosen a bear especially for me. Not for his middle child, but for me.
Everytime I played with that bear I felt a sense of being truly loved for who I was.  I never shared with my dad the effect his gesture and that gift had on me, but pray that he knew the impact it had on my life.  But that's a story for another time.
A warm country hug to all,
Lisa <3 

Monday, December 6, 2010

OH! Christmas Tree Two

Today I followed a car most of the way home, with a bailed tree tied securely to its roof.  In my lifetime I cannot recall a time that we had to travel such a distance that we would need to tie a tree to our vehicle in order to get it home safely. I guess that's one of the benefits of living in the country, only half a mile from a Christmas tree farm.
I recall a day, not unlike today, where the skies were full of snow showers and flurries that whitened the ground enough to bring the sled out of the shed.  Our children were enamored with the holidays and excitedly begged to get our Christmas tree long before the turkey carcass was discarded after Thanksgiving.  "Have patience" is what I am sure I said to them both, when in reality I was just as excited as they were. 
With snow covering the streets and the tree farm so close, my husband and I decided it would be quite the adventure to have the kids pull the sled to the tree farm to bring our prized tree home the old fashioned way. My husband's mother was born in Denmark and raised in Sweden, and he thought she would be thrilled to hear we had gotten our tree the way they did back home in Sweden.
So the kids bundled up in their snowsuits, mittens, and boots, and we hiked to the tree farm as they argued about who got to pull the sled.  Selecting a tree was surprisingly and miraculously easy with 4 of us vying to have our opinions heard.  My son invariable disappeared in the forest of trees, leaving my daughter and I to measure and ponder which tree would look the best in our living room. After the fourth or fifth "Maybe this one!" my husband agreed to any tree we picked. He was cold and wanted to go home. Especially since the weather was warming. He feared there wouldn't be enough snow on the roads to pull the sled home.
After making our selection, we had the tree bailed and layed it on the sled.  There was no fighting on the way home about who would pull the sled, because it took both kids to even make it move.  After the first quarter mile, the tree had fallen off the sled at least three times! The kids gave up and my husband ended up pulling the load the rest of the way.
Once home, we cut off the tree bailing only to find cinders, sticks, and other debris that had worked its way into the strings each time the tree landed on the road.  It truly was quite comical.  My husband glossed over those parts in sharing the story with his mother. He just wanted her to know we had gotten our tree the old fashioned Swedish way.  A quiet spoken woman, my mother in law waited patiently for John to finish his story before telling him that, back in Sweden, they used to go to a town lot (from their country home) to get their tree! 
We were speechless, and still laugh about it today. We now have a memory, a memorable story, and know that not all "traditions" are what you might expect.  That reminds me of the tradition of putting the star on the tree. But that's a story for another time.
A warm country hug to all,
Lisa <3

Sunday, December 5, 2010

OH! Christmas Tree (Hole)

My daughter was thrilled to share pictures and stories with me about putting up her Christmas tree with her boyfriend this year.  Last year it magically appeared when she was under the effects of percoset, after ACL reconstruction surgery, due to a basketball injury.  At first sight, I'm sure she thought seeing the tree was a side effect of the medication, but Santa or perhaps an angel (Mum) had decorated as she snoozed the pain away.  A lighted Christmas tree brings more than presents underneath. It's presence signifies hope. A light in the dark of winter. The promise of good things to come. 
Planting a live tree after the holidays extends the memories and creates a visible reminder of special times.  I think my dad's penchant for planting live trees was more ecological than philosophical, but either way it was a tradition I truly enjoyed.  I tend to believe that, for my younger sister, it has never been a warm fuzzy memory.
You see, the story of my sister finding the hole in the ground, that I alluded to in another blog, was meant for one of Dad's blue spruces. The tree would be planted when the weather warmed again after the holidays.
In the midst of that memorable winter, snow had covered our yard and the surrounding landscape with enough of the white stuff to actually play in. We would lay on our backs creating snow angels, dig snow forts, and roll huge balls of snow into our own version of Frosty the Snowman. We also rolled ourselves through the fluffy stuff, as only primary aged kids can do, with complete abandon and absolutely no idea of where we were rolling! That is....unless you landed in a hole filled with ice, slush, and water, intended for one of Dad's trees.
It happened so fast! My sister had rolled right into the tree hole, and came out sputtering and in shock, the frigid water at first forcing the air from her little lungs. Shivering with cold, my sister sprang to her feet, and with an intake of breath,ran howling for Mom and the warmth of our house. Mom met the soaking wet bundle of snowsuit, hat, and mittens at the door, and had her strip down completely before hypothermia could set in.  Off came the snowsuit and clothes, all the way down to her underwear. As if on cue, and before a dry towel could be wrapped around her frozen, little body, the paperboy appeared at the door to collect his weekly fee. My sister, already traumatized, was now mortified by the arrival of the paperboy. This just added insult to injury. (As does the retelling of that bare-it-all story...love you sis!)
Now I am sure my memory of this day may not be exactly the same as my sister's, but regardless, it has become one of those family stories that is well loved, and has already been passed down to the next generation.  As young children, my kids in particular, would beg me to tell the story of their "Aunt and the Christmas Tree Hole"...or the time I fell through a hole myself. But that's a story for another time.
A warm country hug to all,
Lisa <3

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Country Atmosphere

I fully intended to jump out of bed this morning, head for the woods, and start collecting my boughs to green the house.  Of course, the cats demanded to be fed first. Then, while getting their friskies, the dog was roused by the sound of food and wanted her chow too.  And to go out. As I tripped over a load of wash waiting to be done, I decided to throw it in before taking the beast out. I had been up quite some time and hadn't even gotten dressed yet! The best laid plans...
Despite the animal frenzy, the flurries that greeted me outside boosted my Christmas mood, and I decided to head off to one of my favorite country shops to browse instead.  The pine trees were firmly rooted and would be there when I got back, right? I'm not even embarrassed to say I have NO IDEA what the shop I go to is called. I call it the red barn, which works just fine for me. My family now also knows it as the red barn. It's funny how families can develop their own language, something akin to twins who communicate in their own special way.
While "browsing" I picked up the tiniest candy canes and snowmen mittens that I have ever seen. I intend to use them in making handcrafted snowmen this year.  My husband and I create some crafts together. He handles the saw and I do the painting and finishing. We call ourselves JoLi Holidays.  John, Lisa....pretty easy to get that one!  To date I make things for myself, friends, or family, but who knnows what the future could bring.
My successful trip bouyed my spirits further, and I was ready to tackle the greens upon returning home...despite the howling winds and cold temperatures.  I created two swags from spruce and white pine, adding large red bows to hang under my front windows.  They will remain green long into January after the lights and tree have been taken down. So many homes are so quick to dismantle holiday displays once Christmas Day has passed.
It is our family tradition to continue lighting candles in the windows until Epiphany, the arrival of the Wise Men to welcome the Christ child. For us Christmas is a season, not a day. It is a changing of the spirit, and rebirth in the dead of winter.  Which reminds me of the time my Dad dug a hole in the yard to plant one of his balled Christmas trees and left it open during rain and snow storms.  Let's just say my little sister "found" the hole. But that's a story for another time.
A warm country hug to all!
Lisa <3

Friday, December 3, 2010

Greening and Other Holiday Rituals

We've made it through another week...and an unplanned weekend lies ready to be orchestrated in any way that moves me.  Christmas decorating is already mostly complete, due to the efforts of my like-minded daughter, who has an abundance of energy I seem to have misplaced somewhere. (Perhaps with my keys or glasses?!)  I am looking forward to putting the finishing touches on the outside of our home.  One of my favorite activities during the season is gathering pine to "green" my house.  The wonderful smelling boughs adorn doors, and find homes in crocks, baskets, and the burl-dough bowl my mother blessed me with while she was still able to choose specific items to pass on to my sisters and I.  (Pictures will follow when my hunt through the woods and backyard is complete!)  I can still smell the greens that Mom tucked above the kitchen cabinets at the farm. She trained me well!
Greening the house isn't complete without the biggest or best tree to be found.  As a child my dad would take one of us girls to get a tree from Ardent Nurseries where we grew up.  I always felt so special when I accompanied Dad on these trips to the nursery for a cut or live tree. Dad loved to get balled trees to plant in the yard after the holidays.   And Invariably it was his favorite, a blue spruce. This sturdy blue-green tree could hold the heaviest ornaments, and lost very few needles. It also became my favorite tree, so much so that when my daughter began developing a rash from the tree, I just made her wear gloves to decorate!  When Dad passed away, we planted a balled blue spruce in our own yard.  Affectionately named the "Granddaddy Tree", it has received tender care, and in the nearly 20 years since we last shared Christmas with Dad, has grown to 30 feet or more, now towering over our home.  It continues to make me smile and think of those good times, although we are no longer able to reach the top to string granddaddy's tree with lights.
The years have passed, and it is now my daughter's turn to travel to a tree farm to cut down our Christmas tree with her dad. It is also time that my husband treasures spending with his only daughter, including the years he had to carry her piggy back through snow or mud, due to knee and foot surgeries that had her on crutches at the time.  He complained the entire way, and loved every minute.  Such sweet memories.
One year we brought our tree home on a sled, like my husband's Swedish relatives had done so many years before. But that's a story for another time.
A warm country hug to all,
Lisa <3

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Hands and Heartstrings

Winter weather is settling over the east coast, causing a nip in the air, and as I head home I am dreaming of a snow day from school before Christmas.  (Please!?!)  I am usually the first to arrive at home, lighting the window candles and flicking the newly installed switch that turns on the myriad of lights, cascading from bush to fence to bush in our front yard.   Of an entire addition we have added to our once small ranch, that switch is my husband's favorite new toy.  One of these days I am going to stay out late enough for someone to light the way home for me!
On my ride home, thoughts of baking Mom's famous snickerdoodles, a favorite of both my daughter and sister, also come to mind.  I am usually thinking of my mom on my ride home. You see, while she is strong of heart and soul, her body and mind are succumbing to Alzheimer's disease.  It has ravaged most of her once sharp mind, but  miraculously her wit and spirit remain.  A testament to her sweet personality and loving heart, the disease has not changed the essence of who she is. Sweet Sue. The love of my Dad's life, who once cared for his parents, in much the same way that I now feed, sing to, and from whom I tirelessly try to coax a smile. One little smile can make my day. 
I am pretty sure that in the last 5 years I have held my mother's hand more often that I ever did when I was young. Mother becomes child, child becomes mother. There is an unconditional love that allows a new relationship to form, forever bonding hand to hand, and tying heartstrings together in an inexplicable circle of life.  I speak to her of stories from when we grew up, hoping to see a glimmer of recognition in the names and places that I can still picture so clearly. 
Today I retold for Mom the story of the day my horse, Ben, became Houdini for a day, opening his stall door and sashaying his wide hind-end toward the farm house. (Yes the one in the picture!)  I will never forget the shriek that came out of my Mom, when she looked out of the kitchen window to see Ben looking right back at her! I am pretty sure dinner was late that night.  Ben was corralled and returned to his stall in the barn, where he continued his tricks for many years to come. Like the night the lights were flashing on and off in the barn. But that's a story for another time.
A warm country hug to all,
Lisa <3

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

A Time to Share

My 29th birthday has recently passed ( for the umpteenth time), promoting me to greater status as one of the more “mature” members of my family.  Depending on who you ask, the word mature could mean aging gracefully.  It could also draw a laugh from those who know me best.  Personally I use the word tongue- in- cheek, however, because at heart I am a Toys R Us kid and don’t really want to grow up!
With an ailing octogenarian mother, and a father in law who is…well  whatever you call someone who will soon be 90… life has both blessed and defeated me at times, but in either case has always been interesting.  And I have learned A LOT.  My husband and I each lost a parent in our early thirties, and with them were lost countless stories, advice, and family heritage that we can never get back. 
I am praying that this blog will enable those three things, along with my love of country ( America, the d├ęcor, as well as the physical place) to be captured in the minds and hearts of those who care to read, but most importantly, as a family record for my two young -adult children.
Today is December 1st, and for me the holidays are already in full swing.  Each year’s festivities begin at my mountain home in Pennsylvania on Thanksgiving Day.  The day begins with stuffing and putting at 22 pound turkey into the oven, before running off to the local high school football game to freeze our toes (and other parts) off.  There’s nothing better than returning to a warm home smelling of roasting turkey and knowing relatives and friends are on their way to join us….and watch the comedies that tend to ensue in the kitchen.  Like the year our golden retriever, Chewy, broke into my school bag and proceeded to eat two Claritin D tablets while we were at the football game.  Before we were reaching for pumpkin pie, she was already feverish, and appeared to be moon walking on the kitchen floor.  The ability to walk forward seemed to have left her.  Several calls to the poison control center and locating an emergency medical center for dogs brought dinner to an end as my daughter and I rushed Chewy to the hospital.  I am guessing you have, by now, figured out why she was named Chewy?   After several hours of IV and charcoal, Chewy showed improvement, and returned home to spend many more years eating things as if she were part goat.  My daughter once convinced a high school friend she WAS part goat.  It was truly too hard to tell him the truth through my fits of laughter. 
Today I give thanks once again for my loveable, crazy family and pets ( have you ever seen Christmas Vacation with Chevy Chase?) When my daughter and Husband returned home with the biggest tree we have ever had this past weekend, I HAD to ask if there was a squirrel in it?!  But that’s a story for another time.
A warm country hug to all,
Lisa <3