Thursday, December 31

2009 in the rear-view mirror

I don't know what it's been like for you, but at our house, 2009 has been quite a year.

  • In January, my husband's heart was in atrial fibrillation.
  • In February, my husband had major open-heart surgery.
  • In March, we helped to start a new church.
  • In April, my youngest son had an emergency appendectomy.
  • In May, I started blogging again. Thank God!
  • In June, my oldest son graduated from high school.
  • In July, my husband started a new business.
  • In August, my oldest son went off to college.
  • In September, my middle son got his driver's license.
  • In October, my middle son went on his first college search trip and ordered his class ring.
  • In November, my husband had the swine flu and we hosted friends for Thanksgiving--though thankfully not in the same week.
  • In December, my youngest son went to his very first school dance.

Here's my favorite photo from the events listed above. This is how my youngest son looks after he's been given morphine:

At that point, he was feeling no pain.

These are just some of the highlights, of course. Kind of like what I'm going to have to add to my hair if it keeps turning gray at the rate it did in 2009.

How's your year been?

Honestly, of all the things listed above, my starting blogging has been one of the very best parts of this year for me. I'm so glad to have met you, my blogging friends. I love visiting your blogs and I especially love getting comments from you. Hearing from you really IS a highlight for me!

Blessings to all of you for a wonderful new year!

Monday, December 28

A likely story

I was seven years old in 1970, the year that Rankin/Bass produced the holiday special Santa Claus Is Coming to Town. I watched it that year and every year thereafter. I knew nothing about claymation or stop-motion production; I just knew that I loved the wonderful story that answers all the questions about Santa Claus. I could sing "Put One Foot in Front of the Other" right along with Mickey Rooney.

That Christmas special, like its predecessor Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, essentially takes the lyrics to a classic Christmas song and brings them to life, creating an entire story around the words to a song. Details are added as needed to complete the legend, and viewers can learn everything from why Kris Kringle wears a red suit and how reindeer fly to why Santa comes down the chimney and why he lives at the North Pole. It's a magical story, if a bit far-fetched.

And then there's other Christmas story--the one about the birth of Christ. Sometimes I wonder if we might do the same thing to the Jesus story that we do to the Santa story. The truth is, we don't really know too many details about the birth of Christ. We know that Mary and Joseph were from Nazareth, and that they had to travel to Bethlehem register for the census, and that Mary was just about ready to give birth when the couple arrived in Bethlehem. We know that there were no accommodations available for them and that they took shelter in a stable. We know that the baby Jesus was born in the stable and that Mary laid him in the animals' feeding trough. And we know that shepherds who were guarding their sheep in the fields nearby heard about the baby's birth from an angel who appeared to them. The angel told the shepherds about the birth of the baby and told them that he was the Savior. The angel also told the shepherds that they could go to Bethlehem and see the baby Jesus for themselves, and that Jesus would be wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.

The Christmas story is such an important one that we long for more details. Scholars who have studied Jewish history during the time of the Romans have given us bits of information that we've woven into the story in various ways. We've been able to make logical inferences about some parts of the story. And then we've given the whole thing a date on the calendar and added some sweet little bits like the legend of a little drummer boy who plays for the baby.

As I watched those Rankin/Bass classics with my kids this Christmas season, it occurred to me how heartwarming it is to know the "whole story" of Santa Claus. Of course we know it's just a story, albeit a sweet one. And I wondered if perhaps we forget that the story of Jesus is more than just a sweet legend. Perhaps the Christmas story is so familiar to us that we're in danger of forgetting just how amazing it is. God had many reasons for sending Jesus to live on earth. As I reflect upon the Christmas story, I find myself thinking that those who don't believe in the truth of the story might find it just as far-fetched as the Santa legends.

You know, it really is an unusual story. We tend to fancy it up a bit, but it's actually pretty earthy. I mean, if the Lord of all Creation decided to send His Son to live on earth, wouldn't he do it differently? Wouldn't a Messiah enter the world in a much grander way? The answer would seem to be yes--so much so that many people just can't believe the humility of the true story.

I wonder: have our efforts to make this story grand been a good thing? Or would we do better to admit that the story IS unusual?

This Christmas, I couldn't help but think about the fact that the whole story of Jesus is one that would be easy to disbelieve. It would be easy to dismiss it as just a sweet story: fun to sing about at Christmastime, but nothing more. And now Christmas is over for another year. Stockings have been filled and emptied; presents have been unwrapped; Christmas dinners have been eaten. Time to pack away the decorations and the holiday movies for another year.

But that baby really was the Son of God. And unlike the Santa legends, this story is true.

Believe it or not.

Friday, December 18

Catching up

Hallelujah! It's the last day of school!

My kids have been taking final exams this week. Those are finally over, thank goodness. Today is a half-day for them, and then they'll have the fun of being out of school for Christmas break.

Last night we hosted a Christmas party--a White Christmas party, to be specific. We had friends from church over to watch the 1954 classic White Christmas. I have to say, any movie starring Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, and Rosemary Clooney is going to be fine with me, but White Christmas. . . well, it's special. Irving Berlin wrote the song "White Christmas" for the World War II era movie Holiday Inn, which is another favorite of mine. Holiday Inn stars Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire. After the song "White Christmas" became such a Christmas favorite, a movie was written around it. If you've never seen it, I highly recommend that you rent it. Now. You'll be grinning from ear to ear as you watch it. Lots of schmaltz and lots of heart.

Here's how our house looked as guests arrived last night:

So what have you been doing this week?

Sunday, December 13

Christmas Tour of Homes

It's time for the Christmas Tour of Homes with the Nester, and I'm excited to join to the party. This is my first bloggy Christmas, and am I ever enjoying myself! It's such fun to get to take a look at everyone's homes all decked out for the holidays.

Welcome to my house!

I showed you some of my house here. Now for a little further look:

First, the dining room. I've had a red dining room for years, with the shade of red changing over the years. Right now I'm enjoying a red that's very brown, and I love the way it looks at Christmastime. I know red dining rooms are a little passe', but I'm just not ready to give mine up yet.

On the antique primitive sideboard is one of our Nativity scenes, this one made of olive wood:

Our other Nativity set is in the living room. I like it displayed here with my collection of crosses. Many of us celebrate Christ's birth at Christmastime. I like to remember that He came to live among us and to teach us, but ultimately to give His life for us. So what began at the manger was completed at the cross.

I decorate my Christmastime kitchen with snowmen. My husband and I moved to Michigan when our oldest son was 10 weeks old, and we lived there for seven years. The kids loved the Michigan winters, and we had plenty of real snowmen. After we moved away, some dear friends who are native Michiganders gave us this set of snowman plates:

And a collection was born. Most of them reside on my antique dough cabinet:

Just outside the kitchen is my screened porch, which was easy to gussy up for Christmas: a little red ribbon and some greenery, and it's ready to roll.

It's fun to add a few little Christmas touches here and there throughout the house. For instance, I've dressed this little hall table with a red vase that I got at Nester's Swap Meet:

I added sticks from my yard, some greenery (part fake, part fresh), and two antique Santa mugs that belonged to my grandmother. The mugs look really pretty at night because I put those little battery-operated votive candles in them. I've seen the battery-operated votives for awhile, but never bought any until this Christmas. Oh, my goodness! I didn't know what I was missing. The glow and flicker of candlelight without the danger of fire.

And though I don't really do too much Christmas decorating in my bedroom, I did place some greenery around one of my favorite lamps:

I wish you could meet you all in person, but getting to look around one another's homes is the next best thing. Thanks, Nester, for hosting all of us!

Check Spelling

Thursday, December 10

Christmas House Tour

It's time for Julia's Hooked on Holiday House Tours. Thank you for hosting us, Julia!

My husband and I were having lunch together today, and, remembering that Christmas this year is on a Friday, he asked, "Is Christmas three weeks from tomorrow?"

No, sweetheart. Christmas is TWO weeks from tomorrow. Just two short weeks and Christmas will be here. Can you believe it?

I love decorating for Christmas. I also love having the house decorated for Christmas. I'm not sure which one I enjoy more--the fun of decorating or the wonder of having things decorated. Let me show you some of what I've done.

As you approach my house, the first thing you'll see is my front porch. I love this space, which I've tried to make into an outdoor living room. So it seems only natural for it to have a Christmas tree here:

Now come on in--it's chilly outside! We're blessed to have a nice big foyer. Just off the foyer is my husband's study. It's a very masculine room, complete with stone fireplace, leather club chair, and antique nautical prints. So I've kept my decorating to a minimum--a garland for the stone fireplace and a couple of candles are enough to add a touch of Christmas.

To the right of the front door is this antique dresser:

Here I have some of the magnolia leaves that remind me of my mom. I also love to display these little angels that spell "Noel." I'm not sure how old these are--they belonged to my mom's mom. Aren't they darling? My youngest son, Lee, likes to change them around to spell other words, like "Leon." And one day he said, "Too bad you don't have a 'B' and an 'R.' You could spell 'Lebron.'" It's not just Christmastime. Basketball season is upon us.

Just beyond the dresser is the doorway to the dining room. My favorite Christmas decorations in the dining room are on the china cabinet:

Our oldest son was born in 1991, the year that Lenox introduced its "Trees Around the World" series of plates. I bought one of these plates in 1991, 1993, and 1997, the years our sons were born. I love them displayed here.

And at night, it's fun to light up the china cabinet:

To the left of the front door is the staircase, where I like to hang another garland:

As you can see, the foyer leads straight into the living room. I've shown you my wall of crosses. Right in that corner is where we put our Christmas tree.

Our tree is definitely a sentimental one--it's covered in all kinds of ornaments. My husband and I got married in 1985, so this is our 25th Christmas together. We've added at least one ornament to our collection every year. We've bought our sons an ornament every year, too. So the tree is filled with ornaments belonging to all of us.

Across the room from the tree is the fireplace.

Our stockings are all hung here. It's funny that one of our stockings hangs with the toe pointing to the left; the others all hang with the toes pointing to the right. Luckily the odd one belongs to our oldest son, so it belongs in the middle. (Do you hang your stockings in order? Ours go Dad, Mom, Son 1, Son 2, Son 3.) I love the candles on the mantel, along with my homemade topiaries and fresh greenery.

As you can see, the dogs love that chair by the fireplace. But that chair is a hot commodity on Christmas morning, when the boys will argue about who gets to sit there. I don't really care where I sit, as long as I get to be with all of them.

Come back on Monday for Nester's Tour of Homes and we'll poke around a bit more!

Tuesday, December 8

A Christmas memory

Christmas, particularly Advent, is a season of anticipation. For many, though, Christmas is also a season of remembering. At times it can seem that we are caught up like Ebenezer in a visitation of the Spirit of Christmas Past. So it was for me last week, when I went out into my yard to clip magnolia branches for my Christmas decorations.

Suddenly I was once again a new mom, very young and struggling to make ends meet. I lived with my husband and my darling six-month-old son in Michigan, 500 miles away from our families in Tennessee. We had just bought our first house, and I wanted it to look special for Christmas, but my budget was very limited. Naturally, I looked outdoors for greenery to bring inside. And there I stopped, as I realized that there were no big magnolia trees in Michigan. No beautiful waxy leaves to arrange just so atop a mantelpiece or in a windowsill. I had spent all my life in the South, and Christmas just didn't seem like Christmas without magnolia leaves decking the halls.

My mother called, as she often did, and I lamented the lack of magnolia leaves. "Oh," she said. "I never thought about the fact that magnolias don't grow in Michigan."

"There are lots of magnolias here," I answered, "just not the evergreen kind. Not the grandiflora with the big beautiful leaves that I want."

"Too bad you can't pop down here for a few minutes," Mama mused. "Nancy (one of her best friends) has four huge trees right in her front yard."

"Wouldn't that be nice?" I answered. And the conversation drifted to other topics.

A few days later, the UPS truck stopped in front of our house. The man in brown walked to the door, bearing a huge box and wearing a puzzled expression. As I signed for the package, he shook his head and said, "I can't imagine what could be in this box. It weighs almost nothing."

Puzzled, I accepted the package from him. It was addressed to me, and it was from my mother. I eagerly tore it open to discover branch after branch of magnolia, each stem carefully wrapped in damp paper towels and encased in plastic bags. As fresh as if they'd just been cut. Mama had visited Nancy and collected magnolia cuttings, then boxed them up and sent them to me.

It's now been many years since my mother died.  I am grateful that I moved back to the South before she went to be with the Lord. I was there when she passed from this life.

I can collect my own magnolia leaves now. But every time I do, I can't help but remember the time that my mother understood that my soul needed a bit of home. And since I couldn't get it for myself, she had it delivered. Via God and UPS.

Gratefully shared with  Tuesdays Unwrapped with Emily and

Monday, December 7

DIY moss topiaries

One of my favorite things to decorate at Christmas is the mantel. I was struggling to find something with sufficient height to balance the large painting that's always on the mantel, so I made my own topiaries.

Here's my Christmas mantel:

It's pretty simple. This painting is always on my mantel, and I didn't want to take it down. So it anchors my mantelscape (is that a word?). As you can see, the stockings are hung by the chimney with care. I splurged on some new red candles which I placed in three different pairs of crystal candlesticks. I used clippings from our Christmas tree and some cedar from the yard for greenery, and I tucked in some little red ornaments. And to finish off the whole thing, I used my moss topiaries. I've shown them to you before, when they were on my dining room table this fall.

I really like topiaries. And I really like them in pairs. But I don't like the price of them. So I made my own, and I'll show you how.

First you'll need a container (or, if you want a pair, two containers just alike). I found these at Michael's:

They were marked $12.99, but I got them on sale at 60% off.

Then, to make your topiary, you'll need
  • a foam sphere
  • spray adhesive
  • florist's moss
  • a stick
Spray your foam sphere with adhesive, then apply sheets of moss to cover completely.

You'll have to piece together the moss to cover the whole thing. Simply cut off any excess. Now you'll have a moss-covered ball. What you want is a moss-covered ball on a stick. So take your moss-covered ball and impale it on a stick. I used a stick from my yard which I lightly spray-painted gold. I liked this look. You can do the same, or use a dowel rod, a length of bamboo, or whatever tickles your fancy. (If you're making a pair of topiaries, be sure that your sticks are the same length and approximately the same diameter.)

Now you'll have this--a moss lollipop:

Take the other end of your lollipop and stick it into a piece of florist's foam:

Place the florist's foam into your container, anchoring securely. I used gravel to hold mine in place. You could glue yours in place, tape it in place, or even anchor it in plaster.

Cover the top of the pot with something decorative (I used Spanish moss), and add whatever embellishment you like. I like a simple bow. Voila!  For very little money, you've got yourself a moss topiary!

Here you can see who really enjoys my Christmas mantel the most: Snickers (the beagle) and Cocoa (the pound puppy). They love this chair and ottoman, especially if there's a fire going.

And here's a view of my mantel from another year, when I made two additional topiaries--this time double lollipops instead of singles:

Linking to Kimba's DIY Day party and

Organizing Made Fun

Tiny tip and a winner!

The tree is up and decorated, and my 12-year-old, Lee, is asking for gifts to be placed under the it. I can't say that I blame him. There's something magical about being a kid and looking forward to what treasures might await inside the packages.

But my sweet 12-year-old is not above picking up a package and trying to see through the wrapping paper for hints as to the contents. Honestly, some wrapping paper is so thin, you could read a dissertation right through it!

Here's a simple, inexpensive solution. Look at the One Spot at Target for this:

Foil Gift Wrap. These little rolls are $1.00 each, and they're just wonderful. Each roll contains 40 square feet of paper, which is quite a lot for a buck. They're super easy to work with, because they're just 18 inches wide. At first I was put off by the fact that the paper is so narrow, but I've found that this width works just fine for most boxes, and it's much easier to handle than wide paper. Less cutting! Quicker wrapping! Hot dog!

And the fact that it's FOIL means that it is impossible to see through. Even for a kid with keen vision and determination. Now, take note: lots of the papers sold at the One Spot are just paper, and they're pretty thin. Look for the label that says "Holiday Foil Gift Wrap." You'll see patterns like these:

Lots of fun. And they make pretty packages:

Do you like the oatmeal-colored backdrop for my photos? That would be the carpet in my guest room, which is currently Gift Wrap Central. Where do you wrap presents?

Oh, I almost forgot! The winner of my little stocking-stuffer giveaway is:

Lucky #13! Gina at The Shabby Chic Cottage! Gina, shoot me an email with your address, and I'll send off your Victorinox paring knife right away!

If you didn't see the post with that giveaway, I encourage you to read it here. You'll love the Busy Day Soup recipe. It's the easiest soup I've ever made, and it's absolutely delicious. Perfect for a cold day when you have lots of packages to wrap and not much time to cook. Enjoy!