Saturday, December 31, 2005

Blog Review

Bonnie from MacroMoments had an interesting concept to post the first line or two from the first blog written for each month of 2005. Since I didn't start writing until June, my list consists of only half of a year! But it was fun to look back over some of the things I'd written and remember. Anyone else up for it?

P.S. A 'goal' for 2006: learn how to link!

1. Nineteen eighty-eight. Those seventeen years ago I was newly married and still young.

2. I woke up this morning and saw the daylilies blooming outside my window. Their faces were turned eastward towards the sun, and the brilliant orange of their petals lit the backyard like the glow of a Jack-O-Lantern on Halloween night.

3. Wet clothes flapping on a clothesline....old autograph books from my past....

4. I love clouds; wispy strands of cotton, pulled like taffy across the sky....brilliant, fiery curtians settling over twilight, aflame from the setting sun....

5. I walk along the sidewalks, wet with the splattering from the sprinklers. Cleome, Coreopsis and Lantana are embracing in small beds around lit lamp posts.

6. The cottonwood tree is the essence of Kansas; the John Hancock of its declaration. Its branches arch over roadways and split into jagged V's that line the sky in dark silhoutte.

7. There is a short window of time when our youth holds us still in a magical, colorful world of perfection.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Happy Birthday!

Wishing my wonderful and handsome hubby a very Happy 45th Birthday! I have to tease him that no matter what, he'll always be older than me (by 10 months - ha!)

Monday, December 26, 2005

Images of Christmas

A candlelit church on Christmas Eve....a star atop a sweet-smelling smiles and thoughts of good will....decorations in every excursions and laughter....sugar cookies and frosting....carols sung to the piano....lamp posts lit on every block....Frosty and Rudolph and Hallmark given and and friends gathered in and letters from those we hold dear....wrapping, unwrapping, popcorn and chocolate....a baby, a stable, a star, our Lord. The sounds and sights of Christmas....and the true reason behind it all.

Friday, December 23, 2005

O Christmas Tree...

Christmas isn't quite Christmas until the house is fitted and adorned with the Christmas tree; that ordinary evergreen transformed with tinsel, lights and ornaments into an extraordinary celebration.

As far back as my
life goes, we have had a 'real' tree. The trees of my childhood were cedars from our pasture wrapped with strands of large blinking bulbs. Ornaments were scarce, but each one special; glittery manger scenes, glass orbs with sparkled pictures, a home-made modge-podge made at home and school, and always, the little felt snowman stitched with hat and scarf from my kindergarten teacher. Sticky icicles fell upon each branch, catching the light and turning into little mirrors with the fall of night.

The smell of cedar filled our house, mixing with baking sugar cookies and peanut brittle, and though money was tight, there were always gifts. My mother had an account in the Christmas Club at our little bank and would put $5 in it here and there so at the end of the year there would be enough to make our Christmas special. Many times there were hand-made gifts and once in awhile, a much dreamed-about doll or special toy. Either way, it was always perfect.

In the 1960's and 70's when I was growing up, there were no "themed trees"; no certain colors or specialty items placed carefully by adults only. Ours was an interactive tree decorated by six pairs of little hands, sometimes filling branches beyond their capacity, but always with love and laughter. We didn't care if the tree was a bit misformed or lopsided, and finding the "good side" to face out into the living room while squelching the sparce side against the window was always a challenge!

As the years passed by and I grew and changed, the Christmas tree remained constant; sometimes picked from a tree lot, or cut at a tree farm, but always 'real'. It was a joyful comfort to come home during my college years to that familiar smell of evergreen and Mother's baking.

My children's own Christmas memories are filled with the live Christmas tree. In the early years we would traipse out into the pasture land we owned near the Nebraska/Kansas border and select the perfect tree for our home. No ornament was too sacred for little hands and as a result, my daughter and son learned to respect and handle with care both the trimmings and the tree itself.
As they grew older, we began purchasing our tree from a charity in our hometown. The anticipation was always great as we fought with the tree stand then coaxed it in the front door. And there it would stand; a fresh palette awaiting the artistic touch of a child's masterpiece.

This year in homage to our past, we once again returned to the pasture and cut a cedar for our
beloved Christmas tree. For most farmers they are a nuisance scattered across their fields and land, but for us they are our symbol of hope and beauty at this glorious time of year. Scattered needles across the carpeting and constant watering have always been a small price to pay for its wonderful aroma and splendor.

Someday we will probably purchase an artificial tree. I have seen beautiful ones grace homes with magnificent height and perfection. And often they outdo their live counterparts in their visual flare. But for now and for today I will revel in the scent of natural cedar as I watch the twinkling lights and remember precious moments reflected in their ornamented boughs.

"O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree"........
How beautiful, indeed.
Although it's been said many times, many ways....Merry you!

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Pushing Pause

Shopping, especially at Christmas time, is often a harried experience as shoulders brush against strangers and panic sets in as the minutes tick by and one goes from store to store, still empty-handed. This evening as my daughter and I were shopping at the mall, we decided to go into a rather exclusive store; its marbled floors and elegant setting an oasis in the midst of the holiday uproar.

It took up two floors and we rode the escalator downstairs to look around. On our way back up, we looked over the edge of the railing to watch and listen to an elderly gentleman, dressed in a dark brown suit who was tinkling the ivories of a grand piano. He was very good and Megan asked, "Is he really playing that?" I assured her that he was and then she asked if we could go back down and listen to him. When we reached the top of the escalator, we circled around and rode down again, as indulgence in beautiful music is always warranted. I leaned against a pillar a few feet away as my daughter stood next to my right shoulder and we listened as he played a lovely rendition of "Silent Night".

When he finished, he turned on his bench and smiled warmly at us. I approached him and complimented his fine playing. He talked to us for awhile and encouraged my daughter, who spoke of her desire to play, to keep learning and practicing. He was truly a musician, an artist who painted beautiful pictures with his notes and melody and shared his gift with us tonight.
As we got back on the escalator Megan said, "He was so nice, wasn't he? And he seemed very wise." I looked at her and noticed the light he had brought to her eyes...and the beauty I saw there brought tears to my own.

We headed back out into the noisy activity of the mall's hallways, and Megan commented on the change in atmosphere. And she was right. The sweet music had placed a calm in our hearts that transcended the rush of the outside world.
In pushing the pause button on our long day, we were fortunate enough to brush shoulders with a stranger and because of that, were given a lovely moment to remember.

Monday, December 19, 2005

The Old Stove....

This was one of my first posts when I started writing last summer, but I thought that it was fitting now, at the Holiday Season.

I can still see the blue and yellow flames flickering inside the glass panel of the old propane stove in the living room of our farmhouse. A turn of the rusted knob at the back could reduce them to the smallest glow or make them dance intensely with a steady, hissing rhythm. In the ceiling just above it was a grated register which allowed the heat to penetrate the room upstairs. Luckily for me, that room is where my sister and I slept. I can remember on cold winter evenings standing above that register, my little girl feet straddling its sides. The warm air would fill the bottom of my nightgown, causing it to billow out like a hooped skirt, my face illuminated by the light from below. Then quickly, I would race to my bed, pulling the covers up tightly and curl into a ball, trying to conserve the heat against the coolness of my cotton sheets. Our Calico cat would sometimes get too close to the old stove and burn her coat on the glass panel, sending a pungent smell throughout the room. But for the most part, my memories of that stove warm my heart as surely as it warmed our bodies on those long winter days and nights. For the most part.
It was Christmas morning, 1965 and the usual chaos of flying wrapping paper and squeals of delight filled the living room. Underneath the tree that year I found the beloved Mickey Mouse telephone of my dreams. It was fashioned like a pay phone, upright and bright red with the receiver hanging to the side and pictures of favorite Disney characters at the top. Colored discs could be inserted into the appropriate slot and the voice of Mickey, Minnie or Donald would emerge through the handset. It was shiny and perfect and I'm sure, expensive. With six children and one paycheck, I knew that it was an extravagance and that for this holiday, my parents had indulged in a little girl's fancy.
It happened in an instant....and yet in slow motion. In all the excitement I placed my new telephone on top of the old stove and in the busyness of that morning, no one noticed until the shiny red plastic had melted into a rubbery, hot goo. I never got a chance to use it. Not one voice, one conversation. It was an act of carelessness and even at that young age, I knew that my parents had spent hard-earned and hard-saved money on this precious gift. I was in tears, partly from my own loss, but mainly because I knew it had been such a monetary sacrifice. The joy of that special present was short-lived......and I'd let them down.
I'm sure they were upset and thinking themselves, about the expense. But there was no scolding, no lectures. I was a little girl, just four years old, and I imagine they were wise enough to see that no amount of fussing would bring it back. My imprudence had brought about a bitter disappointment evident on all of our faces. But that, too, was short-lived. Sometimes quiet acceptance and forgiveness is more effective than harsh lamentations. And after was Christmas.
They say a picture is worth a thousand words. In a photograph dated December 25, 1965 there is a small girl, still in her nightgown, standing beside a tinseled tree. On her face is a happy smile and a few feet away sits a shiny red telephone. It tells a story, this photograph. But it doesn't tell the whole story.
How fortunate I was to have grown up in a family where material objects were never substituted for the things that were truly important. And though I never got another Mickey Mouse telephone, my parents' love rings in my heart still as I remember their sacrifices, the old propane stove and the true blessings of that Christmas.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Just a Trace

When I awoke this morning, I expected to find our home encapsulated in a winter wonderland. Forecasters spoke of a storm that would be moving into Kansas overnight, dropping anywhere from 4-6" of snow. Unlike our home in the city, out here the snow plows take their time getting up our road and a few inches of the white stuff is enough to shut us down for a couple of days. My husband stopped by the grocery store on his way out of town and my son's friend, who was spending the night, was forewarned that he might be stranded with us for more than just overnight.

When I crawled out of bed, the sky hung heavy in shades of gray and a mist had coated the ground with moisture. But no snow. My son was bitterly disappointed, as in true 13-year-old boy fashion, he loves snow. Once in awhile a few flurries would brush the sky, teasing us with their whimsical folly, but the grass remained brown as they floated away.

By the time we took our overnight guest home, the air was filled with large snowflakes. They fell fast in mad abandon, promising accumulation. In places there was enough to scoop for snowball fights and sledding down hills.

Driving down the gravel road leading back home we rolled down the windows, letting the snowflakes tickle our noses and breathing in that unmistakable scent of cleansing winter.

Though it soon stopped and could only be counted as a "trace", its peace and beauty captured my heart and was a lovely precursor for this Christmas week.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Angels Among Us

"When life held troubled times,
And I was down on my knees,
There's always been someone
Who's come along to comfort me,
The kind words of a stranger
To lend a helping hand
A phone call from a friend
Just to say, "I understand"
And ain't it kinda funny,
At the long end of the road,
Someone lights the way with just a single ray of hope."


It was one of the darkest times in my life. My doctor had discovered a bleeding lesion in the temporal, parietal region of my brain. MRI's, arteriograms, CT scans, EEG's were all performed, but its origin and cause remained a mystery. The next step was a trip to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN where I would meet with both a neurologist and neurosurgeon.

I was a single mother then; my two children were 10 and 8 years old. I was scared and uncertain of the future for us all and wanted only to be well and free from worry. I had no family living near, though felt comforted by the support and concern of dear friends in our community. I had just begun dating a gentleman who took a week away from his job to accompany me on the trip to Minnesota. I remember the evening I left my children at my parents' house; my precious little boy running down the sidewalk, alongside the car as we drove away, and how I watched from my rearview mirror as he stood solemnly on the corner and waved until I was out of sight. The feelings of absolute terror and fear of the unknown are still vivid, and that picture of my son stays fresh in my mind, clutching at my heart.

I had gone to the bank and taken out a second mortgage on my house, hoping the new loan would help cover some of my traveling and medical expenses; clearly not the best answer, but a temporary solution in my quest for answers. A few days before I was to leave, one of my friends from church came to our house with a bulky envelope in her hand. The choir, which I was a part of, had taken up an offering to help with my expenses. One person, she said, had given a substantial amount, but had asked her for anonymity. She hugged me tightly before she left and I sat down to open the contents of the envelope. There in my hands I counted $2600; an unconditional, loving gift from Christian hearts disguised as a tangible blessing. I wept from sheer relief and overwhelming gratitude.

Because of this gift I was able to call home each night, talk to my children and sing them a bedtime song before they went to sleep. Because of this gift I was able to afford accomodations for a week's stay in an unfamiliar town while meeting with doctors. Because of this gift I was able to concentrate on my health and not on the expense. Because of this gift I was able to pay my medical expenses and not suffer financial devastation. Because of this gift, I am a better human being.

The specialists never figured out what was wrong with me. After many hours of waiting, worrying and discussion, their recommendation was for me to have annual MRI's and to watch for any neurological changes. It has been five years and so far, so good. Perhaps I still have a time bomb ticking away inside my head, waiting for eruption. Or perhaps the power of prayer, positive thinking and love has overcome whatever mystery this was.

And as for the anonymous donor, he too, remains a mystery. Sometimes I speculate and wonder who it could have been. Mostly, I respect his privacy and am all right with not knowing. But every year at Christmas time, I send a card through my friend at church, and she delivers it to my unknown angel. In it I tell him how my life is going, share my joys and once again, thank him for the incredible gift he gave me those five years ago. Through that generous and unselfish love, he restored my hope and passed a torch of human kindness that shall never be forgotten.

May God bless my unspoken angel this Christmas.....and for the New Year ahead.

P.S. The man who accompanied me to MN, sat for hours in the waiting room and helped relieve my worries is now my husband.

Catching up

It's been a week since I've written, though it feels like much longer. I've been busy with two jobs, extra activities and preparing for Christmas. Thank you for those of you who have continued to hang in there with me, despite the lack of activity in my own writing and the comments towards your wonderful posts. I've missed this part of my life and look forward to catching up with everyone.

I hope that you are all well and happy, and rejoicing during this magical and holy time of year. Bless you all...I'll be back soon!

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

It was a cold Christmas morning and I lay snuggled deeply and fast asleep in my bed upstairs. We lived on the farm then, and I must have been about 8 or 9 years old.

I awoke to the sound of my mother's voice as she spoke softly. "Girls, get your robes and come downstairs." It was still night time, and though we always got up extra early on Christmas, it was far before our usual awakening.

Mother led us downstairs, explaining that our neighbor had just called and wanted us to look out our window. Together we quietly gathered at the doorway of our back porch, and looking upward and to the east we saw it: a large, brilliant star. The Christmas Star.

We stood and gazed at it; sleepy eyes and young hearts opened wide to receive its wonder; a moment forever etched in my memory.

For many years after, I would awaken during the dark hours of Christmas morning and creep out onto the porch, looking for the Star. I have looked out different windows, in different houses from different towns, always looking to the east, but I haven't seen it since that morning so many years ago. Sometimes I wonder if I imagined it and yet, I know I did not. For some reason, that year my family needed a Christmas miracle; a reminder of God's gift to us and of His eternal and everlasting love.

It's been a few years now since I've tip-toed on the edge of dawn, looking for the Christmas Star. Maybe this will be the year to re-open that tradition. Perhaps it was a once in a lifetime gift and if so, it will be enough. But whatever the case, I believe just as much now as I did all those years ago, in the miracle of the birth of a holy baby, and in the Star that still beckons us to follow its light.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Christmas Memories

There is a short window of time when our youth holds us still in a magical, colorful world of perfection. Everything holds wonder and enchantment, especially the holidays and most certainly, Christmas.

My children have always been close, and those moments were so often captured amidst the glow of a Christmas tree or surrounded by the trimmings of the season. I remember their gleeful laughter and the sparkle of anticipation in their faces at a time when everything was magical and yet, so simple.
How well I recall one cold, December night, the children snuggled in their jammies, when my neighbor called to tell me I should take the kids to the mall to see the castle. I bundled them up for the short ride, still pajama-clad, and watched as they absorbed the white, glittery world of Santa's kingdom.

If we want to truly capture the magic of this holiday season, we need only to observe it through the eyes of our children; a true reflection of the love - and the light - of Christmas.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Holly Jolly Christmas

I took this picture several years ago of my three stepdaughters the first Christmas I was married to their dad. The two older girls were already in college and the youngest, a tender 16-year-old. We were still strangers then, not so sure of each other and trying to find our way.

Several Christmas seasons have come and gone, and though their jobs and new lives have taken them farther away, our hearts have found a place that's close; a place that we can share.