Home for The Holidays

This is not a newsflash for those whom know me best.  I was a frenzied mess before Christmas.  Nothing new there. The closer December 25th came the more I found myself eliminating from my mental check list the things I hoped to get done before Christmas.  There would be no baking.  There would be no cards sent out.  I may have written a Christmas letter, sent out cards, and done a lot of baking earlier in my life, but this year, I had to make some choices.  I only have so much time and energy, and I had to decide how to spend each.

The decorating of the house seemed to take me weeks.  I don't put up a lot, but it all takes time.  We have a small tree because space is limited in the living room.  One of my favorite things to do each year is to hang the ornaments on the tree because so many memories are associated with each ornament.

This year I added a few ornaments that I had made back in the 70's.  They had been tossed in some forgotten box long ago and had not been on the tree in at least twenty years.  My former sister-in-law had taught me how to make these.  I had crocheted around small round mirrors with metallic gold thread.  When I found a few of the remaining ornaments this year, I marveled that I had created them at all, especially when I considered that I was raising five young children at the time and had at least one of them in cloth diapers.  I wonder how I accomplished all that I did back in those days.  I think I put a lot more pressure on myself to do it all.  I remember I would sew nightgowns, and dresses, bake cookies, make candy, and do all the other Christmas activities that a mother of five children would do.  I was younger then.  I had more energy.  I also think I had unrealistic expectations concerning all that I needed to accomplish.  Thankfully, I am older and wiser now.  I do like having a few of these ornaments as a reminder of those days of long ago.

This year, part of the delay in decorating happened because a nasty virus hit me a few weeks before Christmas.  I seldom get colds or flu these days, so I was surprised when I woke one morning with a fever of 100.4.  After nearly eighteen hours of sleep, and the downing of many fluids, I was better the next day.  No one likes to be sick during the holidays, but I was especially disappointed at the timing of my illness as I had planned on hosting a party for group of my church friends for the next day.  That all had to be cancelled when I became ill.

It had been more years than I like since I had hosted a family Christmas celebration, so this year, I got my bid in early so that others would know how to plan.  Only three of Jim's daughters and their families were able to attend.  It seems that as the grandchildren become older, we are spread out in even more directions.

Jim and I decided upon our traditional Christmas Eve menu of Mexican food.  We had homemade (not by me) tamales, several cheese and chili casseroles, Spanish rice and homemade green chili.  Every year in the fall, we freeze a bushel of Pueblo green chilies.  We love to add these wonderful chilies to everything from eggs to grilled cheese sandwiches.  This year, my husband said I added too many chilies to green chili because it was HOT.  It was hot, but I thought it was just right.  (Others said it had a nice kick to it, so I guess it was ok.)  The downside to cooking with a lot of these chilies is that my hands were burning and so were my lungs from breathing in the fumes when I was chopping those green beauties.  After the first bag of chilies, I put on some plastic gloves.

We also had ham and rolls and salad for those whose palates haven't grown accustomed to the hot chili flavors we enjoy.  When it came time to serve the food, things got a bit crazy, but somehow, the buffet we set up worked even if it wasn't very fancy.

Just before dinner, at sundown, Jim had us all gather in the dining room so he could light the first candle of Hanukkah.  He explained the significance of lighting the candle and spoke of his heritage and of his parents.  He then said a blessing for us all.

I snapped a quick photo of part of the family as they sat down to eat.  Later, I had to laugh at just how bad of a photo I had taken.  A candle seems to burn right on top of Caleb's face.  Obviously, our Christmas Eve dinner was eaten a  more relaxed style. With a cabinet full of china behind us, we chose to eat from paper plates.  My children imposed the paper plates routine a few years back for holidays other than Thanksgiving.  While I still wish we had a more formal table, it is so much easier with the size of our family to toss the dishes when we are all done eating.  Jim's former wife and her husband joined us for Christmas Eve celebration as is our usual practice.

In the kitchen, the grandchildren seemed to especially enjoy the holiday poppers that were a surprise gift at each place setting.  I love the paper crowns they all donned.

After dinner, we all went downstairs for a gift exchange.

Julie's tree that I decorate every year with her ornaments has a bit of a funny story this year.  I think she would enjoy the story of this year's tree.  I bought a live tree, as I always do, at the grocery store where I always buy the tree each year.  In her first years of college she worked for this particular grocery chain, and I know she always liked a live tree, so I buy an "elf" tree.  I quickly picked up a tree this year without checking to see how fresh it was and realized when I got it home it was already losing needles.  I put it up anyway, gave it some water, and planned to decorate it in a few days.  By the time I got around to decorating it, it was seriously dry.  I had Jim take it upstairs and set it out for with the garbage on the Monday before Christmas.  The garbage collectors left it.  I guess they thought it was a mistake that I set it out.  So, I stuck it in the garage.  Then two days before Christmas, I decided that I should rescue the poor rejected tree and decorate it after all.  I only turned the lights on for the time we exchanged presents because I feared it would go up in flames.

Upper right of the photos is one of the newly weds.  We were so happy to have grandson Caleb and his wife Rachel with us here from Ogden, Utah.  The middle photo typifies our Christmas.  Brad is wearing Jim's readers.  It seemed we were always asking if someone had a pair of readers one of us could borrow.  Jim just had cataract surgery, and for the first time since he was eight years old, he no longer wears glasses except to read.  The problem is, he can never find the readers.  It seems the children are also getting to the point where they need readers also.

Jim got an elliptical machine for Christmas this year.  It didn't come in his stocking, but it did provide a good place to hang his stocking.

The guys all had beards this year.  Jim started growing one a few weeks back.  He hadn't shaved in a few days, and I said there was no reason to rush into anything and suggested he grow a beard.  He never has grown one before, so it has been a fun adventure for him to learn how to trim it.  He has a ways to go before he catches up with his grandson Caleb.

Back upstairs, the family waited for dessert.

Thia, Jim's oldest daughter made the most amazing cake.  It tasted as good as it looked.

It was all over much too soon.

On Christmas Day, Jim and I attended church before we came home to eat a light breakfast and open gifts.  Amy, who had spent Christmas Eve at her own home with her children, came down to see us in the early afternoon.

Jim totally spoiled me this year with an Apple watch.  I was thrilled to get it and have really enjoyed having it.

Amy brought me this beautiful bouquet for Christmas.  It seems that girl never fails to bring me flowers whenever she shows up for special occasion.  I so appreciate that about her.  She really outdid herself this time.

She wouldn't let me take her photo.  It kills me not to photograph my beautiful girl, but she just doesn't like me taking photos of her, so I honor that wish.  It was wonderful to have her with us.  She brought gifts, flowers, and her presence which was the best of all.  Her children spend Christmas Day with their father and his family.  Later in the evening she returned home so she could sleep in her own bed.  I can understand that desire.

Jim has been enjoying his elliptical.  He loves the way it mimics running as he was once a runner.  I think it is a great thing to have in the house because he never has time to go to the club to work out.  Here he is pushing himself to get back in shape in the comfort of his man cave.  The other bonus about working out at home is, in his words, "And I don't have to wear white socks."

On the day after Christmas, as I walked from my office towards the main living space of our home, I was taken by just how grateful I am for all the blessings in my life.  Our home is a place of comfort and peace.  The best kind of evening is one spent at home with the man I love as we quietly read.  There is still just enough clutter left from opening Christmas presents, and from the dog's toys to make this home a place that is lived in.  It always seems a bit empty when the kids leave after a visit, but at this time in our life, we are so grateful to be living close enough to our children that they can drop in even for a short visit.  Jim always jokes that he "loves to see the headlights, but the tail lights are even better."  In truth, it is good to know our children have established their own lives and their own traditions.

After so many years of working long hard days, it is a true blessing to have quiet peaceful evenings at home.  Tonight we had thought of going to a movie, but preferred to stay home.

As the year comes to an end, this post is being sent out with wishes for the very happiest of new year wishes.  2016 has ended on a very happy and healthy note for us.  We are so grateful for that.  We look forward to see what 2017 has in store.  Blessings to all you, my dear friends.  I truly do wish you

A very

Christmas Present: A Time of Modern Celebration ~ A Need for The Ageless Message

The onslaught of messages on just what would make the perfect
Christmas present come long before November.
Christmas catalogs, mailers, newspaper inserts heralding sales on the perfect Christmas gift, pile up in the mailbox and on the table.

Texts are sent to grandchildren inquiring just which gift would be perfect for them.
Shopping commences at malls, in local shops, and online.
This is Christmas present.
It all seems so complicated -
the way we do Christmas present.

A modern and technologically savvy grandma with “old school” habits,
 I write post it notes and stick them to my phone as I scurry about
trying to find the perfect Christmas present.
I check the lists and where to find the gifts.
“What size will fit each now nearly grown grandchild,” I ask myself,
“and will I find something in budget in that size.”
The gifts are all simple really, but Grandma wants all the grandchildren to have a
Christmas gift from her to open.
Shopping, shopping, shopping, I scurry about before I head home.
I check the budget.
I check the checking account.
I run out of checks, still have a bit of money, but can’t find more checks.
“Good thing I’m buying gifts and not sending checks,” I think.
I note the last check is numbered 1225

Wrapping is done in paper from remnants that remain from years gone by because I forgot to put new paper on the list of things I need.
 I find a nearly empty roll of tape. 
I have no ribbon and the bows that remain are smashed and ruined.
Christmas Present is wrapped in leftovers from Christmas Past.
Boxes are found, filled, and shipped.

Hoping to create the perfect Christmas Present,
I arduously haul up boxes of decorations with which to decorate the house.
I both delight in and cry over the memories that escape those boxes holding memories from so many Christmas Pasts.
“Will the children, none living near me, even make it home for Christmas?” I wonder, “And if they don’t, just why am I going to all this work?”

My heart is touched by memories as I hang each ornament, but honestly,  
I am mostly doing all of this decorating for
Christmas Present
as if I’m doing
a routine duty,

There is no true Christmas spirit being conjured up within my heart or mind.

Christmas Present is filled with messages:
This year be present for Christmas.
 Be the present to someone else this Christmas.
Your presence is the present.

It no longer is Christmas Past, I tell myself as I the Ghost of Grandmother French reminds me of all the candy, cookies, pies, and fruit cakes she made to prepare for a Merry Christmas where all the family gathered in her home.
It is not 1950.
It is 2016.
 Christmas Present is complex.


On the fourth Sunday of Advent,
One week before Christmas,
I search for something festive that fits to wear to church.
Festive clothing hanging in the closet screams of Christmas Past when I could fit into those clothes.
Finally, I conjure up some sort of outfit that will be suitable for the tradition that I carry in my head.  The tradition dictates that I must clothe myself in festive, dressy attire to attend church.
Most folks never wear dressy clothes to church these days,
but I am stuck in Christmas Past.
After all, if I dress the part, won’t I feel like I have the Christmas spirit?
I walk into church feeling like I am in costume,
masquerading as one whose heart is ready for the final week of Advent.

The music leader tells us that yellow strips of paper on in the bulletin.  We are to take them and write on them all that is keeping us from worshiping Jesus this year.  What is filling our hearts and minds instead of the One we came to worship? What is robbing us of our joy?  I turn and look at my husband.  He mouths the words I don’t want to hear.  He knows what it is that I am focused on. 

How do I write those words on that strip of paper?  They would reveal just who I am and what thoughts rob me of my joy and keep me from Jesus.  Will anyone read these?  I worry that someone might.  I print the words.  I don’t want the pastors to recognize my handwriting.  Will I be known as the woman masquerading around dressed in Christmas cheer when she really feels no good cheer at all?  Will my lack of faith in believing that God is able to answer the prayers that I keep as constant requests on my heart be exposed? 

I write down those robbers of joy and peace and hope anyway.  I write down what is keeping me from worshiping the one I came to worship.  I write down what keeps me from Jesus on His birthday. 

We are reminded that all that keeps us from God, from worshiping His Son, His Gift to us, is just straw. Straw.  I write down my confession on that yellow strip of paper and carry it to the front of the church and drop it in a simple, rough-hewn wooden manger.  Other strips of paper filled with other confessions are also strewn in that manger.  The replica of the place where Baby Jesus would be placed has become a straw filled receptacle containing not the Christ child, the baby Jesus, but instead it holds the confessions of a people who need a Savior, One to save them from all the things of this world that bring no joy, no peace, no hope.  This manger at the front of church is a crib filled with pain and sorrow and envy and pride and materialism and striving that will burn like straw.  It is filled with worthless things.

It is such a bed as this that would hold the One who came to save us from our sins, the One who came to save us from the idols we worship instead of Him.

The manger contains straw.

It is the Season of Advent.

I have not yet received the joy of His coming this season because I am trying to recreate the rituals, the traditions, of the season.  I am stuck in the trappings of Christmas.  I am seeing and reading the messages of the world about the season.
I have not focused on The Word made flesh who came to dwell among us.
Immanuel – which means God with us – has come,
yet I live as if He has not yet arrived.

Christmas Present is not about me being present at all, it is about
Christ being present in me.

There is no supernatural filling by some Spirit of Christmas Present that fills me with the Christmas Spirit.
I know this.
I need to remember this.

Christmas, like every other time of the year, is about walking in the truth that I am filled with
 His Presence,
and His Spirit.

There is no joy in my heart because my eyes have not been on Jesus;
my eyes were on the trappings of the season.
There was not peace in my soul because I was worried about the
problems of this world,
of my world,
of the world of those I love,
rather than in trusting in the One whom came to bring us
healing, and hope, and peace.

Christmas Present:
Political unrest,
“Wars and rumors of wars,”
The children of Allepo,
Wars and rumors of wars
Fill the news.

On the fourth Sunday of Advent, the pastor reads from Jeremiah 23,
Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! declares the LORD.
Jeremiah tells the people that the LORD has declared that He will attend to the evil deeds of the shepherds that have not cared for the flock.  Evil leaders will answer to God.  A good shepherd will come to care for the flock and to bring them back to the fold.

Earlier that day, on the fourth Sunday of Advent, burdened down with fears for the future, and for my loved ones, I had turned to Hebrews 1 before I prayed for those worries and concerns that were robbing me from fully trusting in the One able to take those worries and concerns and carry them for me.

As I heard the words of Jeremiah, I was reminded of the first verses in Hebrews.
Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets,
but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, through whom also he created the world.

The promise of those prophets for a good shepherd was fulfilled.
Jesus, my good shepherd, has come.
He knows me.
He sees me.
He knows what is in my heart, and what is written on that yellow slip of paper.
He doesn’t ask me to clean myself up so I can come into his presence.
Instead, He cleanses me so I am purged of all the sin that separates me from Him.
He doesn’t tell me to follow in His footsteps so I can prove myself worthy.
No, He shows me I will never prove myself worthy of Him, and so by His grace He robes me in His righteousness so I am worthy before the throne of God.

The Gift,
The child born with the government upon his shoulder,
The child named
Wonderful Counselor,
Mighty God,
Everlasting Father,
Prince of Peace,
 came to save His people from their sins and the sins of this world.

I am no longer wearing those ill-fitting, inappropriate, filthy rags that I thought would cover up what I didn’t want the world to see.  I have taken my eyes off the Creator of the Universe and focused on looking at the world.  I have put my energy into my own efforts to brings a measure of joy to others. I have sought to put on the trappings of the season and make sure all rituals and traditions are followed.  I had not had time to focus on the One we celebrate. 

As I move forward into Christmas Present and towards Christmas Future, my prayer is that I will remember the words of this hymn, O Holy Night.

Truly He taught us to love one another.
His law is love and His gospel is peace.
Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother
And in His name all oppression is ceased.

The pastor tells us as believers in Christ we are robed in the Righteousness of Christ, which is referenced in Jeremiah.
And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘The LORD is our righteousness.’
He robed us in that righteousness not just to someday stand before His throne worthy but to also do His work in this world with compassion, justice, and mercy.

In 2016, I know of no other way to have hope for the future than for me to continue to trust in the One who came to put an end to the hopelessness, injustice, and lack of joy and peace we find in this world. 

I am here to fulfill is my purpose He has given me
to know Him and make Him known.

Everything else is just straw.

Christmas Present
Christ present in me.

Christmas Present
I am filled with His presence.

* Thank you to my pastor Mark Bates for his sermon which spoke to me so powerfully this Sunday and inspired this post.  

Reflections on Christmas Present

Many years ago, I purposed to let go of all the expectations that Christmas be celebrated like the ones I remembered so fondly from my childhood.  Christmas, a time of joy and peace, should not be lived by remembering the past to the point where one does not enjoy the the present.  Distance, divorce, and death, the three "D's" of Christmas, can threaten to destroy the joy and peace that we hope for during the Christmas season.  

Over the years, I've learned that it is best to let go of those expectations surrounding holidays that can lead to disappointment and a sense of sadness that robs us of the joy of the season.  During this time of year, despite my best intentions, I still find myself feeling stressed and unhappy because of the pressures I feel from the expectations of others.  I am working on establishing boundaries on time commitments and on spending during the season of parties, get togethers, and gift exchanges.  I've learned Christmas can be the time when we most get to practice using the skills of being present in the present and learning to enjoy the moment minus trying to meet the expectations we place on ourselves and others.

Early in the season, I purposed to focus on the Reason for the Season rather than being distracted by all the demands that seem to so easily overwhelm during this busy time of the year.

I purposed to enjoy the decorating my house with the those objects that hold meaning and significance to me and tie me to memories from the past.  When I prepare for Christmas,  I put up a small live tree which I decorate with Julie's Christmas ornaments.  Julie was single, and didn't have a lot of ornaments, but the ones she had were stored in a round Christmas theme hat box that I had given her filled with Christmas gifts years before.  Julie had carefully wrapped each ornament in tissue paper and placed them in the storage box on that last Christmas of her life.

 The first Christmas after her death, upon opening this storage receptacle holding Julie's ornaments, I was overcome with sadness and weeping by the unexpected scent of Julie that wafted from the box.  Julie used a strongly scented hair pomade which she would work through her curls as she styled them.  I pictured her doing her hair, and letting it dry, as she had packed away Christmas in 2009.  Honestly, every year, when I open the box, the scent hits me and makes me cry.  Each year, I am grateful I can still catch a bit of the beautiful scent that was Julie.

I don't know where Julie got this skier ornament.  It reminds me of an athletic Julie during her healthy days when she had the money, the time, and energy all at the same time so she could go skiing.  I remember her living in ski country near Vail, Colorado and wonder if she got the ornament while she lived there.  

I gave Julie this angel holding a puppy for Christmas when her dog Phoenix was a pup.  Now, Phoenix is also gone.  

Julie was a highly organized person.  Her Christmas ornaments and other trappings of Christmas were all stored in a large green plastic container.  This year, I opened up the many unopend packages of Christmas lights that she had purchased with the intent of decorating the outside of wherever she was living at the time.  For the first time ever, I decided these lights should be used.  Jim and I spent an early December day stringing the lights on the back deck of our house.  The light from them brought me great joy this year.


Throughout the year, my life is richly blessed by several groups of women from my church.  I found myself saying, "Let's have a Christmas lunch at my house this year," during our last Bible study time before the holidays.  Immediately, afterwards, I felt just a touch of panic when I realized that meant I would have to have my house cleaned and decorated before the date set for the lunch!  

Somehow, I pulled it off.  The house was cleaned.  (Ok, I had the cleaning ladies clean the house.)  The tree was decorated.  The various other Christmas displays were set up.  I even was able to get the food arranged, the coffee and tea made, and the dishes and eating utensils all placed on a counter so my guests could serve themselves in a buffet style.  It all seemed to be a success.  I had fifteen women in attendance.  A more sedate, reflective group of eight sat in the formal dining room, while the rowdy, laughing ladies and I, nine of us, gathered around my kitchen table.  Somehow, I forgot to get a photo of the occasion.  Everyone stayed a long time.  We gathered in the living room and chatted as a group before everyone departed.  What a wonderful group of ladies I have been able to get to know this year.  I look forward to studying the Psalms with them next year.

It seemed a waste not to have another party once I had the extra leaves in the dining room table, so I had another party on the Saturday before Christmas.  This time, my dear prayer group ladies, my Monica Moms, came to my home for a brunch.  How I love these women.  We gather twice a month to pray.  We sat at my dining room table and rejoiced over the answers to prayers we have seen this year. We cried together over those requests that are still on our hearts, the prayers not yet answered.  We encouraged each other.   We laughed.  We celebrated each other.

On Christmas Eve, I was able to go to church with one of my dear high school friends.  It was so wonderful to spend this time with her and then to go over to her home to chat with her and her husband before I had to leave to pick Jim up from work.  

The rest of Christmas Eve was spent at Jim's daughter's house with all of his daughters and their families.  It was a great gathering.  What a great pile of cousins this is!

My daughter Amy was to join us on Christmas Day, but she came down with a cold that she didn't want to give us for Christmas, so she stayed home.  We missed seeing her and spending time with her.  The presents for her and her family will be delivered next week.

Jim and I spent a lazy, quiet Christmas morning.  It was good.  As I sat on the couch visiting with my hubby, I snapped a photo of the place where we do much of our living.  I am so grateful for each Christmas that I spend with the man I love in this home that brings us such comfort.  Home is the heart of Christmas in so many ways.  While none of our children ever lived in this home, and while so many Christmas memories were made in the home we left three years ago, this is now our home, and we are so happy living here.  

We ate a leisurely breakfast after opening our gifts.  Then we took the dog for a walk.   The day was cool, and snow kept lightly falling on us as we walked among the other creatures of the valley where we live. I counted 15 mule deer dotting the grounds around the corner from our house.

I was reminded of that Christmas song,
Grandpa got run over by a reindeer 
as Jim walked by our other neighbors who were also out enjoying Christmas afternoon.

Christmas Day was finished off with by Grandpa and Grandma joining daughter Trinette's family at the movie theater to watch "Star War."    I must confess, that I am not very culturally relevant  on many things.  I had never seen a Star Wars movie!  It was great.  I enjoyed it.  After the movie, the kids came to our house for cold cuts, candy, cookies, holiday bread, and ice cream.  

After dinner and a movie, sweet T was fell asleep in her mother's arms.  Christmas is exhausting!

 Today, I got up to a messy house with the wrappings and trappings of Christmas strewn about.  From the looks of things, I'd say we had a very Merry Christmas.   

Christmas Day 2015
Sally & Boston

Christmas ~ A Reflection of Christmas Past

The day was a bleak, cold one.  Snow and cold weather had brought life to a standstill throughout most of the city the day before.  I had an early afternoon appointment with my cardiologist at the hospital downtown, the one in which I was born so many years ago.   By the time I left the appointment and made my way out of the hospital parking lot, I was starving.  A holiday dinner was scheduled for later that evening, so I didn't want much lunch.  As I drove west, making my way the few city blocks towards the home in which I had lived as a child, my mind was focused on trying to find a place to stop into for a quick bit of food to tide me over until dinner.  There's no place to stop for lunch in this neighborhood, I thought.  

Just then, I caught sight of the little coffee shop across the street from the corner of the block where my childhood home was located.  The coffee shop is housed in the building that once housed a grocery store and the neighborhood drugstore.  Hungry to the point of going into a state of hypoglycemic  craziness, I parked my car on Boulder Street, my street, the place where I grew up, and made my way to the shop. 

As I rushed from the car to the shop, my mind returned to all those times over half a century ago when I would stop on the corner across the street from where I now stood.   My memory transported me to a time when my mother would entrust a quarter to me with the instructions that I was to go buy a loaf a bread.  "Yes, you can keep the change and buy candy if you wish."  I'd skip down the street, stop on the corner, look both ways, run across Boulder Street, and then Institute Street, and then skip up to the front door of the grocery.  

I could almost see those long ago penny candy boxes lined up in front of the front counter where I would pay for the bread as I approached the door.  The door was locked.  It was dark inside.   Pressing my nose against the window, I peered in and saw the shell of what once was the market of my youth.  I remembered the meat counter at the back.  That's where the check-out counter and the candy was, I thought as I noticed the worn floors I had walked across so many times so many years ago.  Coffee bean bags and equipment for brewing coffee were strewn all over the small space.  Was this store really that small?  

Just as I turned to head back to the car, desperate to find another place for a quick snack, I realized there seemed to be life in the other side of the shop, the place where a drugstore once was located.  I walked towards the door and realized the coffee shop was housed on that side of the building.  Inside, the layout was all wrong.  Tables and benches lined the wall where my cousin and I would once sit at the soda fountain to order our cherry cokes when we were cool thirteen year olds with enough money to buy a coke.  On the opposite side of where the soda fountain once stood, was a bar where I could now order coffee and something to eat.

Soon, a bagel, a very good bagel, with cream cheese, and an excellent cafe latte brought my sugar levels back up to normal.  Siting on the wooden bench in the bay window store front, I savored the moment.  

Somehow, despite the cold weather, the dreary skies, the worries in my heart, and the feeling that this Christmas just wasn't going to be that merry, my spirits were lifted by being in that simple little coffee shop that was full of young people studying for finals. 

I felt I was in the heart of "home" while I sat sipping my cafe latte.  Grateful, for the time of rest, refreshment, and time for reflection on the happy, simple days spent in this little corner of my early world, I left the shop and headed back to my car.

These streets, these sidewalks, are as familiar to me as the back of my hand.  I know where all the cracks are, and even the several types of concrete used to make these sidewalks are familiar.  They haven't changed in all these year.  

I look up at the trees that line the street.  They seem to be standing guard as they protect all the memories once made under their leafy branches. Their aged, bare limbs seem all the more empty now that they no longer shelter my great grandparents, my grandparents, my aunts and uncles, my father from hot summer days. 

Grandma's house is just down the street.  I can't see her house, but it is there just steps away.  How I wish I could walk down that street and walk in the door for a visit.   

Trees stand guard on the way to Grandma's House

My roots run deep on this street.

I think of the family history that these trees witnessed on this block.  They watched my father move into the house just down the way over ninety years ago.  I look at the trees and see my parents standing so close together for a photo on their wedding day.  The day was a bleak and cold one.  They'd been married in the United Presbyterian Church across the street right after morning services on that February day.

My earliest days were spent here.
My first Christmas was here.
Daddy was just home from the army.
World War II had just ended.

Grandma's house provided the heart of Christmas for so many years.

My grandmother in front of a fireplace with a Van Briggle hearth -
My grandmother holding me on her right and my cousin Donna on her left

Christmas was no small undertaking in those days.

All the aunts, the uncles, the cousins would be at Grandma's at Christmas.
It had been that way since my earliest days.

Baking for Christmas began before Thanksgiving.
That is when Grandma made her wonderful fruitcake.
The panty, that cold room right off the kitchen, 
the place where we as children could never enter,
the place that seemed like the inner sanctum of the home that was the heart of Christmas,
held shelves stacked high with metal tins full of 
perfectly made candy:
peanut brittle,
cherry drops, 
More tins held the most heavenly tasting spritz cookies.
Oh the joy I would feel
when she would enter the pantry after Christmas dinner 
and load down the kitchen table with:
mincemeat pies,
pumpkin pies,
and  candy,
all made by her own hand.

Preparation for Christmas Day would have also included
days of polishing the silver.
Sometimes, we, the older cousins, had the task of going to Grandma's house a few days before Christmas to polish the silverware and the silver serving dishes.
 We would very carefully take the china from the dining room buffet and set the table.
The table had to be properly set.
The salad plate, the water glasses, the silverware, the napkins, all had to be properly placed.
The silverware was measured with a finger to be an inch from the end of the table.

We always went to the church across the street for Christmas Eve services.  
It was the family tradition for Christmas.

The story was always told of how my father as a young boy, dressed in his new flannel robe, which had been purchased for his part as one of the shepherds in the Christmas pageant, 
had begged to stay home from church.
He said he was ill.
My grandmother was a strict disciplinarian.
He was told to get over to the church and fulfill his duty.
He did.
Halfway though the pageant, he vomited and had been rushed home across the street wearing soiled new robe.

Years later, my cousin, my sister, and I would be angels in that same Christmas pageant.

My home,
Grandma's home,
my elementary school,
the church,
the grocery store,
were all within a block of each other.

My world was small.
It was filled with rich relationships,
many funny stories,
great laughter,
long held traditions,
solid foundations for
and family.

As I think on these things,
the memory of my mother's beautifully clear soprano voice fills my mind.
Christmas memories from this place would not be complete without the memory of her
dressed in her green silk dress,
the one she made from drapery fabric,
 standing  in the choir loft at church just as the Christmas program starts.
My mother, a tiny 4'll" dark haired woman is adorned in
crystal jewelry which sparkles as she sings.
I am in awe of her beauty.
I am proud of her and her beautiful voice.
 With a lighted candle in my hand,  I listen with tears rolling down my cheeks as she sings.
I will soon be lighting the Christmas candles nestled among the pine branches placed in front of the church windows.

Her voice rings out with the words of that beloved Christmas song.

Oh Holy Night!  The stars are brightly shining.
It is the night of our dear Savior's birth.
Truly He taught us to love one another.
He law is love and His gospel is peace.


Today we sang those words of that much loved Christmas song in church.
O Holy Night!
Again, my mind went back to my mother.
I longed to be standing next to her in church listening to her sing that song of 
praise and adoration 
for her Savior,
God with Us,
The One whose birth we celebrate on Christmas.

This past week, as I walked back to my car after walking up to the long ago home of my father and his parents, those memories of days of long ago were again tucked away in my mind.

Grandma's house is still there,
but I can't walk up the path and step on to her porch and find her and grandpa sitting in the dining room reading.

She died on Christmas Eve over thirty years ago.

My father is also gone.
All the aunts and uncles are gone.
Only the memory of the 
times we spent together, 
those times filled with
such wonderful stories,
so much laughter

Mother is still with us.

Today, she and I talked of that Christmas when she sang her favorite Christmas song,
and mine.
She said she went to church today was able to sing in  despite it being her one hundredth year after she celebrated her first Christmas.

I am now a grandmother.
My grandchildren will never have the rich memories of the Christmas traditions of family that I hold so dear.
We don't live near each other.
We seldom see each other at Christmas.
It breaks my heart each and every year not to be with my children and grandchildren.

As I get in my car to leave the streets of my childhood,
I remember the prayer I had for this Christmas.

I prayed I would not be focused on the traditions and trappings of Christmas.
Certainly, those traditions are wonderful to create, to remember, and to celebrate,
but they really are not what Christmas is all about.
I prayed that I would not focus on the trappings of Christmas this year.

I prayed I would rejoice in the One whose birth we celebrate.
I prayed I would not miss the reason we have Christmas.
I prayed that each of my loved ones would know this truth this year:

Truly He taught us to love one another.
He law is love and His gospel is peace.

May your Christmas be filled with 

Home for the Holidays

Reflections on the Holiday Season

Decorating the Christmas tree brings back so many memories of years gone by.
My festive Spanish bell purchased in Mexico so many years ago triggers memories of times with dear people whom were so much a part of my life in the 80's.
Feliz Navidad,
I remember Christmas season trips to New Mexico.
I think of all the wonderful Spanish speaking students whom I taught over the years.
I think of the rich cultural traditions that others have during this time of year.

Some years a few new decorations are added to tree.
This year, dried wheat bunches from the Thanksgiving flower arrangement were gathered together and tied with Christmas ribbon to create a new decoration.
It will be a reminder of the wonderful Thanksgiving we shared with my son and his wife and son
and with 
my daughter and her son and daughter earlier this year.

My tree always is dotted with bells, lots of bells.
Somehow, many years ago, I started collecting so many bells that I decided that my Christmas tree would have a bell theme.
And so, to this day, bells hang on my tree.
The bells of Christmas.
Each bell has a story behind it.  
Each bell carries a special memory.

I love the bells of Christmas.
The angels.
The lambs.
The red berries.
The pine cones.
The red and silver balls.
The lights.
I love the beauty of Christmas.

Christmas decorations remain on display at my house until New Year's Day.
It seems we are so busy before Christmas that I rarely have time to sit and reflect about the true meaning of Christmas until it is all over.

Julie's tree,
the tree that holds only her special ornaments,
gives me great comfort,
but it also sometimes sends fresh shock waves through my mind
when I see her things in my house as a reminder that she is not here to put them up in her own place.

I'm never quite prepared for
 the scent of Julie
 that overpowers my emotions when I open the hat box that contains her Christmas ornaments. 
Yes, the tissue paper that she placed around each ornament still smells like her. 
It got to me again this year. 
I miss you, Jules.
 I love you. 


The holidays really began for me when my high school girlfriends all gathered for our holiday party on the Saturday before Thanksgiving.
(That's me, surrounded by my girlfriends, 
smiling broadly,  dressed in orange, and sitting midway on the stairs.)

Oh how I love these girls!
As a group, and individually, my life is much richer 
because I met these awesome ladies over fifty years ago.
We giggle like school girls while we open our gag gift exchange.
You don't even want to know what we give each other!
We laugh so hard we can barely breathe throughout the day when we have our get togethers.
This year, Dove could not be with us, so she sent a bottle of real maple syrup from Vermont, where she lives, for each one of us.

We cry and give thanks as
we share our list of gratitudes for the year with each other.
Each of us feels loved and blessed because
we belong to something that is rare and precious:
a sisterhood of
of girlfriends
 with deep roots that began in the golden days of youth
 and has lasted until our hair has turned to silver.
We are there for each other no matter what.
As we get older, the "no matter whats" become harder to bear,
but we don't bear our trials alone.
Our friend with Alzheimer's called during our lunch.
Her husband placed the call so we could talk to her.
Three of the girls drove to Kansas this summer to bring her love and gifts from the group and to take her out for the day.
That's what I'm talking about.
These girls are true, forever friends.


Soon, the next holiday was upon us.
Thanksgiving was so special this year.
Ryan and Sheridan brought oldest grandson with them as they flew in for a short visit for 

We have plenty of chairs, but these kids like togetherness.

Firstborn grandson Parker is in his first year of college.
What a treat it was to have him with us during his short break!

Daughter Amy and her children were here with us too.
The siblings took over the kitchen for mom.
That is a good thing since I can't seem to put it all together like I used to do.
After a run through the neighborhood, they whipped up dinner.
(We also had a bit a lot of help from Whole Foods.)

I was one blessed and happy mom on Thanksgiving Day.
Nothing makes me happier than being surrounded by my children and grandchildren.

The trip to my house was a quick one for the newlyweds.
I'm grateful they were able to come at all.
The day after Thanksgiving was Black Friday.
The next day was Small Business Saturday.
Sheridan, as a small business owner, took time to be with us, her family,
 before she was off for the Christmas rush at Hip and Humble in Salt Lake City.

The day after Thanksgiving, Jim was also off to work at the Apple Store.
With me also working, this was a crazy, busy Christmas season for us.

Somehow, we managed to decorate the house,
shop for presents,
write and mail a Christmas letter,
and attend other holiday get togethers with friends and family.

My new best friends became the folks that own the nearby
PostalAnnex in the University Center in Colorado Springs.
I literally dropped gifts on the counter and asked, "Can you wrap and mail these for me?"
They did just that!
I didn't have to go to the post office or FedEx or UPS one time during the Christmas season.
Check them out for all your mailing needs.

A special event each year is hosted by my cousin and her husband:  The Cousin Christmas Party.
Thanks, Diana and Steve for again being such gracious hosts.
We shared great food and deep belly laughs throughout the evening.

On Christmas Eve, we celebrated with Jim's daughters, sons-in-law, and grandchildren at daughter Thia's new home.
What a fun time we all had.

Christmas Day was a very quiet day for the two of us.
Jim said, "Don't get me anything for Christmas.  I don't need a thing."
I thought of a few things he needed.
he needed new gloves that would keep his hands warm while he walks the dog
and navigates around his iPhone.
He needed technology friendly gloves.
"You can text while wearing these gloves," I said.
"No kidding?" he replied.
Then he happily tried them out and was quite excited about the new gloves.

He also needed another winter hat, one that he could wear to work.
He loved his new brown wool cap.

I also surprised him with new "tennis shoes" that he likes to wear to work.

Jim finds great comfort in honoring and remembering his heritage when we light the menorah.
On Christmas morning, my dear, dear Jewish friend in California sent me greetings via a text.
She then sent me a photo of her daughter and her husband, home for the holidays, seated in front of a lighted menorah.
I sent her this photo of Jim.

Jim spoiled me to death with many wonderful gifts.
He didn't listen to me either when I told him that I needed nothing for Christmas.

Cooking a large Christmas dinner has never been high on my list of things to do on Christmas.
Instead, I've traditionally made Christmas brunch.
This year, just the two of us enjoyed a brunch of chili relleno casserole, hash browns, a spinach salad, a fruit salad, and stollen. (We forgot we had also planned to have bacon.)
As we leisurely enjoyed our morning and early afternoon, I realized that we had not spent an entire day together without any obligations or work since mid-September.

Christmas Day the air was cool and crisp, but the sky was a brilliant blue.
We decided to walk in the Garden of the Gods.
We'd not been there in months.
Boston could hardly contain himself with joyful anticipation as we approached one of his favorite walking places.
We thought it would be the perfect day to enjoy the great outdoors now that all the summer tourists have gone home.
We were wrong.
Throngs of people had the same idea we did.
I don't know when I've seen this beautiful place so crowded.

Despite the crowds,
and Boston's over-enthusiastic reaction of being in a favorite place filled with lots of great smells,
 and lots of other people,
we enjoyed a crisp Christmas afternoon walk.

Home for the holidays is an ideal I have carried in my head for a long time.
I envisioned that this meant all of our offspring would gather around the table with us to eat a Christmas meal, or open presents around the tree.

the three D's of Christmas,
 have robbed me of much happiness at Christmas over the years.

This year,
acceptance of those things over which I have no control
allowed me to
with peace and joy,
a quiet
Christmas at home.

Christmas Letter to Friends and Family - 2014

The Big News of the Year:
The Wedding of Ryan and Sheridan 

Our family was greatly blessed this year when Ryan and Sheridan were married in June.  It was the greatest, most fun family wedding ever.  Siblings, cousins, aunts and uncles, and grandmas and grandpas, and family friends spent a weekend hiking, fishing, making and eating smores, laughing and talking around the campfire in Boulder City, Utah when we gathered to watch two families become one during this very special occasion.  Welcome to the family Sheridan, Max, and Henry.  We love you!
Henry, Sheridan, & Max

Parker, Ryan, Bridger, Regan

Other Family Milestones:
This year was a momentous year that meant many trips to Utah for weddings and graduations.  Jim’s oldest grandson Caleb married Rachel in Logan, Utah, in May.  My oldest grandson Parker graduated from high school in Utah this year.  He is attending Utah State.  Jim’s oldest granddaughter Daphne graduated from high school in Colorado and is attending BYU.   We were back in Utah in June for Ryan & Sheridan’s big day.  
The Year in Review:  
I must begin by saying that I scarcely know where the year went.  We celebrated last Christmas in Utah with Ryan and family and with Keicha and Gillian.  Then, we were kept very busy with family events throughout the spring and summer.  
Sally’s year has been dotted with health issues.  She is doing much, much better after gall bladder surgery in April and a heart ablation in July.  In fact, she is doing so much better that she ended the year by teaching English to international student at UCCS.
Jim also has big news this year.  He began a new career selling apples.  More correctly, he is working for the Apple store.  He loves his job.  It has been the best adventure for him.  A great fan of all things Mac, on a whim, he applied for a job with Apple and was hired in June.  It has been a challenge for Sally to get used to a husband working retail.  He only works part-time, but hours during the Christmas season have been a bit more plentiful.  His patience and teaching skills are a bonus when it comes to helping others with questions about Apple products.
Retirement is not on hold for us.  I will re-retire when the semester is over in a few days.  Jim is still retired on his days off.  He also stays busy with his position on several boards.  He greatly enjoys his daily walks with his best buddy Boston.  Sally will be happy to return to having time to do more writing and blogging.  She also greatly enjoys her Bible study groups and other fellowship opportunities at her church.  We are planning a trip to Florida in February.  
Family Photos from 2014
Keicha & Amy

Hannah, Regan, Gillian

Daughter & Son
Amy & Jon
Grandson Atticus with Boston our dog
Grandsons with Grandpa Jim
Bridger, Parker, and Mason

Many no longer send out Christmas cards or Christmas letters, but it has become a tradition for me that I enjoy doing.  With a family the size of ours, it is difficult to distill the family happenings into a small newsletter.  Jim’s daughters all live close by, so it is nice to spend more time with them.  The highlight of the year for the Wessely family was the wedding of Caleb and Rachel in Logan, Utah.  We also had great fun when we all went to Moab for a marathon that Thia, Brad, and Trinette ran in April.  We will all celebrate Christmas Eve together soon.  It will be good to see the newlyweds and Daphne.  These three have been away at college.  
Grandson Caleb's Wedding
Sally, Jim, Caleb, Rachel, and Grandfather W
The year has certainly brought our family great trials, and challenges, but Sally has witnessed the continued faithfulness of God in her life and in lives of those she loves.  Along with the trials have come much to celebrate.  

It has been such a joy this year to witness a new family come together with the marriage of Sheridan and Ryan.  They live in Bountiful, Utah.  They are very busy keeping up with their children while they also manage Sheridan’s business Hip and Humble.  Visit any of her three locations when you are in the Salt Lake area. 
Keicha and daughter Gillian live in Ogden, Utah.  She just had back surgery and will end the year recuperating.  She has been employed by the credit union where she works for over 25 years.  She continues with all of her community work.

Amy is loving her new job in HR with a company located in downtown Denver.  She and her children, Mason and Hannah,  live in Erie, Colorado.  

Jon is in Scranton, PA with his family where he teaches at Marywood University.  Sally spent two weeks in Scranton with Jon this fall after Jon suffered a terrible accident that nearly took his life.  He continues to recover from his injury.

My mother is going strong at age 98.  She remains an amazing woman who lives in her own home.    

Jim and I end the year healthy and happy.  We rejoice over all of our rich blessings.  We look forward to the coming year.  
*Blogging friends, this post is a copy of the Christmas letter I sent out this year. I look forward to the coming year when I will be reading all your news, insights, thoughts, and reflections on your blogs.  

Merry Christmas!

Wrapping Up Christmas - Part III

My goal is to get this Christmas thing wrapped up before it is a month after Christmas.  I partly write these posts for family history.  I realize that the news is old, but writing blog posts become a repository for memories that I don't want to forget.  So, bear with me.  I'm nearly done with these Christmas posts.

This was an unusual trip to Utah for us.  Over the past fifteen years, we have always spent most of our time in Utah in Ogden where both daughter Keicha and son Ryan lived.  Now, Ryan is living in Bountiful which is between Salt Lake and Ogden.  This trip, we mostly stayed in Bountiful and did not make the twenty mile trip to Ogden but a few times.  This meant I didn't get to spend as much time with daughter Keicha and granddaughter Gillian as I would have liked, but we did get to have lunch a few times, and we went on quick shopping expedition so Keicha and Gillian could spend their Christmas money.

On that particular day, after a nice lunch with Keicha, I was able to also drive out with Keicha and Mike, Keicha's boyfriend, to see a project he has been working on for work.  As part of the responsibilities for his job, Mike is working on building a place where boys that are in treatment for addictions will learn woodworking.  (He works at a treatment facility as a counselor.)  These boys are using the skills they are learning to build an enormous skateboard ramp.  This ramp is connected to the wood shop and another shop where skateboard supplies are sold.  The boys in treatment work in the shop.  Mike is teaching these young men woodworking skills.  It is all quite impressive and a worthy endeavor.

 Another day, I had to make a lunch trip to one of my favorite lunch places, so I called my daughter and invited her to go along.  The draw of the restaurant:  Mormon muffins served with honey butter.  Yum.  It is sort of a tradition for Kiecha and me to go here for lunch when I am in town.  Attached to this lunch place is a fun shop where I once took my children shopping for Christmas ornaments when they were young.  I have many happy memories of this place over the years.  Here is my lovely daughter at our lunch.

The two of us...
Of course we could not go to lunch without getting muffins to go.

One day during our time in Utah, we went to Sheridan's shop in Salt Lake City.  I didn't take my camera that day, so I don't have any photographs.  I love to go shopping in my soon to be daughter-in-law's shop in the 9th and 9th area in SLC.  The name of her shop Hip and Humble more than aptly describes this great boutique.  If you live in the Salt Lake City area, you have three of these great boutiques to shop in.  There is a Hip and Humble in Salt Lake, one in Sandy, Utah, and one in Bountiful, Utah.  Sheridan is a partner with her sister in the ownership of these shops.  I'm proud of these two entrepreneurs.

As always, I can't go inside the shop without picking up a few things.  In fact, I bought that great looking scarf that I have on in the photo above at the Hip and Humble.  I also bought cute matching earrings.  And, I bought another great scarf.  It is an infinity scarf.  Sheridan, your shop is just too tempting!  I love your shop.  And, I bought a gift for my husband:  this cute picture to hang on the wall.  

While we were on our trip, my hubby really missed his big red dog.  This saying is a true saying when it comes to my husband and Boston.  His dog does own his heart.

 Jim and I combined family time in Utah with a bit of a vacation by spending three days in Salt Lake City at the downtown Marriott near the new City Creek Mall.  During out time in Salt Lake we continued to get together with family for fun activities like eating at special restaurants and going to the movies.  With the family, we saw The Hunger Games: Catching Fire.  Neither Jim nor I had seen the first movie in the series, nor had we read the books.  Surprisingly, we were captivated by the movie and quite enjoyed it. Then, the two of us saw Saving Mr. Banks.  We loved that movie.

Funny story:  On our way to see the movie early one evening, Jim and I walked past a restaurant we thought Ryan had told us about as being a place he wanted to go with us.  I sent a text that said, "Just walked past the Copper. Do you want to meet us there for dinner after we see the movie."  The reply, "Sure, we will drive down and get a table because it is hard to get a reservation.  Txt us when the movie is over."  So, when the movie was over we texted that we were on our way.  We walked a couple of blocks in the cold winter evening air to the Copper Canyon Restaurant that we had seen earlier.  The problem was that this particular restaurant was not crowded as Ryan said it would be, nor was Ryan anywhere to be found inside.  I called him.  He said the restaurant was right next door to the theater.  I said that was impossible.  We finally realized that Jim and I had gone to a different theater than Ryan thought we had, and I had not specified the name of the restaurant we had walked past in my text.  I just call it The Copper.  Talk about miscommunication.   That's what I get for shortening how many words I write in a text.   Number One Son soon drove over to where we were, picked us up, and took us the right restaurant which was the  Copper Onion.  Wow, what a neat place.  We had a wonderful "adult" dinner that night.

One day Jim and I spent the entire day just walking all over SLC shopping and enjoying a few special meals.  Our breakfast at Eva's Bakery and Cafe was outstanding.  Not only is the food delicious, but the ambiance is really special.

When we went inside for our leisurely breakfast, the weather outside was pretty awful.  It was cold and smoggy.  When we walked outside, I actually let out a bit of shout.  The sun was shining, and I saw something I had not seen in days:  our shadow.

We spent the rest of day exploring the mall.  We had our shoes shined at Nordstroms.

And, I bought my man a new hat.  It is a wool, water resistant cap made by Wigens. He had actually not brought a hat on our trip, and he needed one in the cold winter weather when we were out walking.  This cap even has earflaps.  So far, the cap has been worn daily as Jim take Boston on his walks.  He loves it.

A few days after Christmas, Number One Grandson, Parker, decided to go duck hunting.  His dad and I had to take his gear up to him so he good go hunting.  Yes, this kid is a true outdoorsman.  Dad is putting the rifle in Parker's Subaru.  Parker has his boots.  He is set to go.  Yes, the hunt was successful.

Before he headed out, father and son shared a quick conversation.

While we were in Utah, the flu virus that seemed to making its rounds around the nation did now pass us by.  The grandchildren were sick with terrible coughs.  I had just gotten over the same thing before our trip, and I had also just gotten over an ear infection, so I worried about getting sick again.  The air quality in Utah was poor.  This did not help matters for any of us.  Then, Jim got hit with a stomach virus that was especially nasty.  A few days later, on the night of the 30th, I also got the same stomach virus.  It was no fun.  I spent nearly all day of the last day of 2013 in bed in the hotel room very sick.  Later in the afternoon, on New Year's Eve Day, Ryan's children, Sheridan's boys, and Sheridan's niece and nephew came to the hotel where we were staying to go swimming.  I went down to watch the grandchildren romp and play in the water.  They all were having so much fun.  I couldn't help but begin to fill better just watching them all expend their great energy.  Soon, this old grandma was feeling better and smiling.

I did not want to miss the New Year's Eve party I had been looking forward to at Sheridan's sister's house.  By evening, I got dressed-up and off we went to ring out the old year.  I was not sorry to see the year go.  The party was great.  The food looked outstanding, but I wasn't quite ready to eat anything.  I enjoyed the party despite having been ill.  I especially enjoyed my visit with Sheridan's sister's mother-in-law. It was great to meet and get to know Ryan and Sheridan's friends.  Some of these friends had been Julie's friends in college.  It truly was wonderful to be at this party.

As I look back on this trip to Utah, I will remember the many moments Jim and I spent sitting at the island in Sheridan's kitchen watching my son cook us up many great meals.  I will remember drinking his special lattes that he made while we chatted and laughed.  I will remember the warmth of hospitality and family love that made this time a time to treasure.

I will remember the times with the family around the dinner table.  I will remember my son's seven day old turkey (which I did not eat.)  Did he ever really serve it?  I will remember that nothing, absolutely nothing,  is more special to me than time spent with my family.

We were gone from home a total of ten days.  We flew out of Salt Lake City to return home late in the day on January 1, but we never made it home, which is only forty miles from the airport in Denver, until January 2.  Our flight was delayed due to storms in Denver.  The flight itself took one hour and one minute, but between the delayed flight itself and the weather that had hit in Denver, we decided to spend the night at the hotel at the airport when we finally made it back to Colorado at nearly midnight.  

All in all, despite being sick, and being on the go nearly non-stop, our weeks long Christmas celebrations were really special this year.  I am just now catching up with life again.  We are moving into 2014 with full speed ahead.

Wrapping Up Christmas - Part II

This was the year that I was going to keep Christmas simple.  I was not going spend as much money, and I was not going to do as much decorating.  At first,  I thought we would aim at a quiet Christmas at home.  Then, I changed my mind.  I decided I really did want to go to Utah for Christmas.  It had been nearly two years since I'd been over to see the grandkids.  I did not want to miss out on seeing them all again.  Jim hates to drive over to Utah in the winter.  Despite having written a recent blog post (click on highlight to read) about not driving in the snow, I had convinced him, and myself, that we should drive the twelve to fourteen hour trip during the 2013 Christmas holiday.  I suggested we leave a window open on the date for departure and leave when the weather promised to be best.  Somehow, against his better judgement, my husband agreed to this plan.

A few days after we had made the decision to make the trip, my daughter Amy called and said that there were great airfares on round-trip between Denver and Salt Lake City on Frontier if we were willing to fly on Christmas Day.  Then, she went on to tell me she did not want us driving.  She said driving was foolish, expensive, and dangerous this time of year.  She said we needed to fly.  Of course, she was right.  Jim immediately went on line and booked our flights and rented a car to use while we were there.  Deep down inside, I was relieved.  Flying would be so much easier than driving.

The change in trip plans meant I had to get all the gifts wrapped and ready to ship.  I did not want to carry them on the plane with me.  This also meant that we celebrated Christmas about four times.  First, we celebrated with the family in Colorado.  Then, Jim and I exchanged gifts on the night of the 23rd.  Then on Christmas Eve, we left early in the afternoon to drive to Amy's near Boulder, Colorado to spend Christmas Eve with her and her two children.  We exchanged our gifts with them that evening and then went out for a special dinner.  Jim and I then drove to DIA (Denver International Airport), which is only about twenty minutes from Amy's house, and spent the night at a hotel.  The next morning, Christmas Day, we flew to Salt Lake.  We were surprised how busy both airports were.  I guess more and more people travel on Christmas Day.  I do think the lower rates make it more attractive to do so.

Immediately upon landing in Salt Lake City, about 3:00 in the afternoon, we drove the twenty minute drive to the home of my soon to be daughter-in-law's parents' home.  I had never met Sheridan's large family, nor had I met her parents.  We literally crashed into the middle of their huge Christmas party.  Sheridan is one of six children, and nearly every child has a large family.  Being a part of this family gathering was an awesome experience.  They are a wonderful family.  I felt blessed knowing that my son in marrying into such a beautiful and gracious family.

The Happy Couple
Ryan and Sheridan
When Sheridan and Ryan tie the knot later this spring, they will be creating a blended family that will include Sheridan's two young boys and Ryan's three children.  These kids are already just like siblings. It warmed my heart to see the love and connection they all have with each other.  I captured this precious picture of Sheridan, note the beautiful engagement ring on her finger, giving a loving glance towards her son Max and Ryan's daughter Regan who are sharing a chair and a moment.  Ryan's son Parker is looking on as he sits in front of the fireplace at Sheridan's parents' home.

Here, Max is helping Ryan's son Bridger check out the cool hunting pack that Bridger got from one of the cousins on Sheridan's side during the family gift exchange.  Bridger, and Max, both loved the gift. 

Soon, it was time to move on to Sheridan's home for another Christmas party.  We planned to exchange our family gifts after daughter Keicha, her daughter Gillian, and her friend Mike drove down from Ogden.  After the gift exchange, we would all have Christmas dinner which was prepared by Ryan and Sheridan.  Sheridan's sister and her family would also join us.  (I know, I should provide a chart so you can all keep track of who is who!)

After we drove the mile or so to Sheridan's house and walked in the door, we literally almost tripped over Parker (my oldest grandson) who was right inside the door putting together the family Christmas present from Santa.  It was a green machine.  Soon, it was assembled and moved outdoors.  As you can imagine, it is designed to give the rider a wild ride full of excitement.

Upon entering the house, on the entry table, Sheridan had a tasteful display of family photos, books, plants, and artwork.  There among the special items was a bit of a heartbreaker.  A framed photo of Julie with her head in the mouth of a giant lion statute at the Salt Lake Zoo was placed next to a small urn of her ashes.  That photo was taken about twelve or thirteen years ago when the entire family made an excursion to the zoo. Julie was teasing the children who were toddlers then.  Back in those days, Julie was Sheridan's roommate, friend from work, fellow student at the U of U, and best friend.  While we all knew Sheridan well, Ryan had never met her until after Julie died. Now, Sheridan, will soon join our family when she marries Ryan.  

Not long after arriving at Sheridan's, I went to the window and snapped a photo of the Salt Lake valley below her beautiful home in Bountiful.   The sun was beginning to set on a wonderful Christmas Day.  We had successfully made our trip, and we were with family.  Nothing makes me happier than to be surrounded by my family.  I was a happy mama.  

It is always great when cousins can be together.  Here is Regan, Ryan's daughter, and my second oldest grandchild, with Gillian, Keicha's daughter, who is my fourth born grandchild.  They were both born the same year, but because Regan was born in January, and Gillian in October, they are one year apart in school.
Gillian & Regan
The kids are ready for another round of gift opening, but I think Grandpa Jim is tired and over the gift exchanges that have gone on for days.

I like to pick out gifts for the grandchildren for Christmas, but I worry that they won't really like my selections.  If they ask for gift cards, or money, that works too.  I was so excited about Bridger's gift.  I don't know why, but I hoped he would really like them.  I had so much fun picking out these red Van's.  I see a small smile on his face as he opens the gift.

Phew…I think he really likes them!

Now, I worry about Parker's gift.  Will he like a Pendleton shirt?  Will he like red?  He seems to like it.

Yep, he likes it, and I think he looks very good in it.  Ok, I am a grandmother, and I brag about my grandkids, but, isn't he one handsome boy?

The girls unwrapped their matching pajamas and matching scarves along with other gifts from me.  Hannah also got matching p.j.s.  I wish she could have been here with her cousins for the Utah celebration.

This year, all of my children received the same sentimental gift from me.  While I was on Vashon Island in October, I found a gift shop called Giraffe Home.  Of course I was drawn to the shop because Julie's favorite animal was the giraffe.  It seemed that all of us would always look for a giraffe keepsake to bring home to Julie on every trip we went on.  At Giraffe Home, I found the perfect card.  On the front of the card was a drawing of a giraffe that caught my eye.  Inside, there was a beautifully written poem called Giraffe Blessing.

In so many ways, the poem epitomized Julie.  It seemed to be a message she would want us all to take to heart.  I bought a card for each of my children.  I also found the perfect Christmas tree ornament to go with the card:  A silver giraffe.  We all cried when the gift was opened.  I am sure Julie would have loved the gift.

Soon, the gifts were all opened and Ryan and Sheridan resumed the preparation for our scrumptious Christmas dinner.  The girls got into their new p.j.s.  (I notice that Parker made an appearance in the photo in what is called a "photobomb."   Note his flexed muscle on the left of the photo.  I didn't notice it until I published the photo.  Kids these days!  LOL)

Parker tried on his new backpack, a Christmas gift from his dad. This outdoorsman who loves to hike, ski, fish, and hunt is ready for more adventures.

I also caught a photo of Bridger warming up in front of the fire.  I think this spot,
and this one, are favorite spots in the house.  This is the same fireplace that gives off warmth on two sides.

Christmas Day 2013, was anything but simple.  It was complicated and took great planning.  It was also packed with so many gifts.  Jim and I enjoyed a relatively easy flight early in the day.  We then were blessed to be included in Sheridan's extended family celebration.  It was a rare and special treat to be with my two oldest children and their children on Christmas Day.  We then were treated to a truly fabulous Christmas dinner that was prepared by my son and Sheridan.  We enjoyed spending time with Sheridan's sister and her family who joined us for dinner.  This celebration was truly one for the books.  Jim ended the day by reading his Kindle in his own special spot near the Christmas tree.  Thank you Ryan and Sheridan for this special day.

Only one thing would have made the entire Christmas celebration better:  having son Jonathan and his family with us.  They did not come to either Colorado or Utah for the holidays this year.  We missed them greatly.  Maybe next year…

*  There is still more to come.  I will share our "vacation" part of the trip to Utah next.

Wrapping Up Christmas - Part 1

The holidays, from Thanksgiving to Christmas, are a bit of blur.  It seemed we were constantly on the run going to parties, and shopping.  At the same time we were battling the cold, the snow, and illness.
I got sick before Thanksgiving, and I'm still not completely over whatever it was that hit me.  Despite the fact that I had my yearly flu shot, I got some sort of virus that laid me low for weeks.  I ended up with an ear infection and sinus infection.   I tried not to let the bug that bit me slow me down much.  I also tried to not pass it on to others.  For this reason, and because we were so busy, I took a blogging break from Thanksgiving until after Christmas.  Now, I'd like to catch you all up on some really old news:  Christmas!

Mid-December, I was really on the party circuit.  We had so many fun gatherings with friends new and old, that I was glad that I took a break from blogging so that I could, despite being sick a lot of the time, enjoy the wonderful parties that we had the pleasure of attending.  Of course, one of the highlights of the season is always our high school girl friend party.  This year, we again laughed and ate and laughed and joked and shed a few tears as we shared updates about what we had been up to since we last met in September.  We may have met more than 50 years ago, but we are still girls at heart, and "girls just want to have fun."  I love these girls and am so blessed by our friendships.  Here is our 2013 Christmas picture.  Aren't they all lovely ladies?  They are all among my great treasures in life.

We held a family Christmas party at our home on the Sunday before Christmas so we could celebrate with our Colorado family.  The night before the party, my daughter Amy came down to spend the night and to help me prepare for our guests.  Since this particular night was December 21 and the Winter Solstice, we celebrated the occasion by going out for pizza.  After eating we made our way to the Broadmoor Hotel to see the Christmas lights.  I need to work on my photography skills, but at least you get some idea from the photo I took of how beautifully the grand hotel was all decked out for Christmas.  
One of the great draws for the Christmas visitors this year was this gingerbread house made by the bakers at the hotel.  It was amazing.  

And, it provided the perfect backdrop for a photo of the grandchildren.
Hannah and Mason
I was touched by the beautiful expression on my husband's face when he showed me this menorah that he found on display at the hotel.  I see both pride and sadness in this dear face as he no doubt  remembers and honors the fact that he is the son of Holocaust survivors.  

When we got home from our night out, Mason and Hannah got out one of the board games.  They played the game of Life.  I love how they like to play board games.  We always seems to have that tradition of playing some sort of card or board game when we are all together.  

The next day, we were all jumped into high gear as we got ready for our Christmas dinner for the family.  I remembered a few more things we needed from the store.  Mason, at fifteen and a half, was thrilled because this meant he could drive Grandpa Jim to the store.  Off they went with Mason driving his mom's car while Jim became co-pilot.  I must admit I got a tear in my eye when I saw my grandson drive for the first time.  Where did my cute little curly headed baby boy go?

Amy, took over in my kitchen.  I could not have done it all without her.  She set up all the tables and decided how we would serve the food.  I just realized we sure have a lot of red in this house!  Can you tell it is my favorite color?  

I wanted to bring out the china for dinner and use real silverware.  Amy and Jim had their way.  We used paper plates and plastic utensils.  In my childhood, and whenever I have entertained the family in the past, we used the china.  This year, I was overruled.  Everyone thanked Amy and Jim when it came time to clean up.  I guess I am just a traditionalist.  My father was always strict about a well set table with all the proper utensils and a salad bowl and or bread plate.  Those habits of setting the table properly for holiday dinners are just too ingrained in me.  I also remember all the fun the aunts all seemed to have as they gathered in the kitchen to wash all the dishes and pots and pans after a big family dinner.  Ok, maybe they didn't have fun, but it seemed to me they did.  At any rate, we threw our dishes and utensils away when we finished dinner, and Amy set up everything up quite nicely.  
Once her chores were done, as we waited for all the guests to arrive, Amy put her feet up for a bit while I pretended to be in charge of kitchen.  

Son-in-law Greg, married to Jim's second daughter carved the ham.  

Grandpa Jim helped greet his daughter and others as the house began to fill up with our children and grandchildren.

We had an eclectic meal, but traditional for us, of green chili made by Grandpa Jim, and tamales.  We did not know where to buy good tamales in Colorado Springs, so we got these from Costco.  They were very good.  

We also had ham, and a wonderful jello salad made by Jim's daughter, and my Spanish rice.  (This year I didn't explode the pan on the stove just before the guests arrived as I did a few years ago.)  I also made homemade rolls.  They weren't my best effort.  I'm a bit rusty, but everyone said they were still better than store bought.  

The new hit for our family dinners, is this kale and pomegranate salad.  Amy first made it for Thanksgiving.  Thia then brought it for Christmas.  We have all declared it one of our favorite salads of all time.  

We now have mostly teenagers for grandchildren.  I don't know how that happened so fast.  They gathered to fill their plates for dinner.

Thankfully, we were able to seat everyone.  We had three tables set up throughout the house.

The older kids...

The younger kids...

The adults...
Trinette, Jim's daughter looked so lovely in the sweater that matched her eyes that I had to take a close-up.  What a beauty she is, inside and out.  

After dinner, we all went downstairs to exchange gifts.  Here I am with daughter Amy and her children Mason and Hannah.  

Olivia, Avin, Rachel, Daphne, and Trista all gave me their best smiles.

It's smiles all around.  Caleb, Darby, Greg, and Daphne await the gift exchange.

Brad and Thia check out a gift.

Grandpa Jim loves Christmas.  He really does.  I think the kids all like the contents of the envelope he gave them too.  They all got something green and it fits in an envelope.

At the end of the day, Jim and I were pretty tired when everyone left.  He has a saying about when the kids and the grandkids visit.  "I love to see the headlights, but the tail lights are even better."  We say this because our energy is not like it used to be, but we also can hardly wait for the next visit.

Jim went directly to his chair and used his new Christmas gift from me:  an electric throw blanket.  This blanket is pure evil because if you dare to sit in a comfy chair and turn the blanket on during a cold evening, I guarantee you that you will not want to get up and do another thing!  He loves his new blanket.

There is more to come.  On Christmas Eve, we went north to Amy's house for a celebration.  Then, we flew out of Denver the next day and headed to Utah to see more of the children and grandchildren.  Stay tuned...


Starting with Black Friday and going on until the day after Christmas, it seems the holiday season is all about gift giving.  We spend a lot of time and money searching for the perfect gift.  Some of us spent too much time and too much money on gifts.  Others, tried to give gifts of love, or of service, or perhaps, they took the time to make handmade gifts.  I believe the ability to give good gifts is a gift in of itself.  I've never thought I had that gift.  Now, the holiday season is over, and I'm still thinking of gifts. I find that the best gifts cannot be purchased with money, and that the gift that is given from the heart means the very most.

 Tomorrow is Epiphany which occurs twelve days after Christmas.  For some in the world, Epiphany is a more important day on the Christian calendar than Christmas Day itself.    And yet, we rarely celebrate or acknowledge this day in the western world.  I seldom think of the importance of this day.  In fact, if I have the Christmas tree down, the wreath off the door, and the Nativity safely boxed up and put away twelve days after Christmas, then I pat myself on the back for getting my life and house back to normal in good timing after the holidays.

Today, I was reminded twice of the significance of the Epiphany.  First, I read on Facebook a posting written by a friend in Spain saying she had just seen the parade of the Three Kings.  Then, at church, we read scriptures about the significance of this day when the three wise men visited and brought gifts to Jesus.  We so often see our Nativity sets complete with shepherds and wise men that we forget that it required a length of time after the birth of Christ for the magi to find the newborn Jesus, and it required a journey that changed the direction the wise men would take after they encountered Him.

When I first read my friend's account of seeing the parade of the Three Kings in Spain, my mind went back to the classroom.  Every year on the first day back after the Christmas/Winter Break, I would have my freshmen and sophomores read a story by Sandra Cisneros called Three Wise Guys.  I love this story.  It is the story of a family from Mexico that now lives on the Texas side of river.  They received a very large box from a benefactor for Christmas.  The mama will not let them open the box until January 6, Three Kings Day.  There is much anticipation and speculation about the contents of the box that occurs before the day finally arrives when the box can be opened.

I will not tell you how the story turns out because I don't want to spoil it for you.  I did provide a link for you.  If you click on the title of the story in the paragraph above, you will be able to read the entire short story yourself.  It won't take long to read, but I think you will enjoy it.  I loved teaching this story for many reasons:
  • First, it was a story my classroom which was predominately filled with Hispanic students could connect with culturally and spiritually.
  • It is a story that is a delight to read because Sandra Cisneros' voice is clearly heard.  I love to read anything she writes.
  • It is a story about gifts.  Do we always appreciate them?  Do we understand the significance of the gift when it is given?
  • It is story about transcendence. 
In doing a bit of reading about the Epiphany, I found a poem written by T.S. Eliot entitled, Journey of the Magi.  I have provided a link to the poem where you can read it or listen to it being read by T.S. Eliot.

I love how Eliot speaks of the journey made by the magi in this poem, and how it was not a pleasant one, that they took.  I also love how he makes us ponder, along with him, the significance of the the encounter with what they found at the end of journey.  He speaks of no longer being content with the old dispensation.

And so, I begin the new year pondering the significance of the gifts with which I have been blessed.  Certainly, I have been given many.  I have a wonderful husband who showers me with material gifts and keeps me steady with his gift of emotional stability when I need it most.  I have a beautiful family.  One that has been fractured by grief.  One that needs time and grace to make the journey that we've been called to take into a land we never knew existed.  Mostly, as I begin this new year, I am grateful that I do not take this journey alone.  I have so many friends that give me encouragement along the way.  And, I have my faith.  That is the one great gift that I have been given.  

I have great plans for the new year.  I hope to see many of them accomplished.  I look forward to a new year filled with much joy and continued healing.  To my blogging friends, I say, Thank you for being on this journey with me.  You bring great joy to my life.  You have enriched my life more than I ever thought possible.  You are counted among the great gifts of my life.  

Since it is the first week of the new year, I do hope you won't find the greeting this video a bit too late.  I am sending it as my gift to you for Three Kings Day.  I do hope you enjoy watching it.  Happy New Year and Happy Three Kings Day!

If you have trouble opening the video from YouTube, go to:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VhiF-PD4E_c#t=10  I hope this link works.

P.S.  I hope you will indulge me in allowing me to post some very old news in the next few days or weeks.  I will recount our Christmas holiday which included a journey to Utah.  Stay tuned...