Monday, December 29, 2008

McFamily Christmas: Part 3, Customs and Peculiarities

Every family has their traditions and memory making moments and ours is no exception. Usually we decorate for Christmas at Thanksgiving, but November 2008 found us very crowded with 13 of us staying in the same house, and three of us were having symptoms of upper respiratory illness, so I decided to postpone the fun. Problem is that Muffin had to work late and later for the following two weeks, so he helped with the Christmas tree and I left all the boxes of decorations in the garage and every evening after teaching would sort of run to the garage, gather an armful of decorations, run back inside and put those up. This continued for about two weeks. By the time the McGirls, husband, and Grandtwins arrived, I had decorated fully. For this year, anyway.

Since this would be our first Christmas without Dubbie, I was concerned about Nannie, my Mom, and her emotional well-being. December is their wedding anniversary, his birthday, and of course, Christmas Day. When Papaw, Muffin’s Dad, passed away, Christmas Day was difficult because that was their wedding anniversary also. It is still difficult. But, one of my dear music teacher friends whose husband died several years ago made a wonderful suggestion. Her daughter had sent her a little gift each day for 12 days before Christmas. It was something to anticipate joyfully=HOPE. I began the series of gifts with some baked goodies, and an electric throw. She was so excited about the throw that she cried. A bitter cold front arrived that morning and the temperature plunged about 50 degrees overnight. Her bones ached and she was depressed and cold, but when she opened the gift, everything brightened, and remained brighter for the following 12 days.

Muffin bought apricot-white chocolate bread at a bakery for Nannie. CB brought a very cute retro toilet brush cleaner, some homemade shortbread, and photos of the RG’s. Boo sent an order of photos of Jbear and Gracie to the local Walgreen’s and I picked it up and dropped it in her mailbox, also leaving a gift sack with hand cream inside the storm door. Aunt Kaki brought teas and honey, and Muffin also bought a new reusable grocery bag for her. Joy sent a pillow for her back, just pre-heat in the microwave for hours of pain relief. I think we will do these “12 days gifts” again next year, making a new tradition.

Our family is a cookie family. We love to bake, decorate, and eat cookies. I’ve already mentioned the shortbread, which we cut into Christmas bells, angels, balls, and holly leaves and dipped in white chocolate. I made a new recipe from Paula Deen’s cookie swap. They are peppermint pinwheel cookies—essentially a peppermint flavored dough divided in half, rolled into a red and a white rectangle, then chilled, rolled together into a log, chilled again, and cut into one inch cookies. I placed little skewer into them, then cooled them and tied them up with bows and placed them in a vase. Lots of work, but very cute and verrrrrrry tasty. Yummy tradition!

CB whipped up a batch of gingerbread and chilled it overnight. On Christmas Eve she, Kaki and I rolled it out and cut out men, boys, trees, stars, angels, and morphs. Morphs would be what you get when you have an art major in the family. We had a couple of kangaroo/holly leaf morphs. A Christmas tree with a pumpkin on top. A few men with slightly altered appendages—leaves for legs or arms, very creative hair, and tree limbs hanging about them. There were a couple of men with boys baked together into a sort of “stand in front of me for the photo” pose. Anyway, we dipped some of them in white chocolate and left some of them plain and both are tasty. I think we’ve made G men for Christmas every year for about 30 years now. Definitely a tradition.

Most Christmas Eves we eat a big breakfast—quite late. Muffin is usually finishing the selection of photos for the McFamily calendar which is printed and given to Nana and Nannie. The Photo Calendar is definitely a tradition! Then we scurry around wrapping the last of the gifts, cooking what can be pre-made for Christmas Day, and get ready for the early evening service at our church. For the past 24 years we have attended the Christmas Eve Candlelight Service. This year our pastor read the Christmas story from the Bible, or told it, from a rocking chair, while holding a three year old in his lap and speaking to ten year old twins on the floor in front of him. The story was “interrupted” by songs and hymns illustrating the various events of Jesus’ birth. When he was finished our pastor said “That’s the entire story, but…” and before he could continue, little Roo pronounced with enough volume for several pews full of people to hear, “THE END”.

After the service one or more cars full of our family members tours around our small city to view Christmas light displays in window and yards. Some have continued traditions of animated exhibits and others are brand new, but all are delightful. (That was a pun. Christmas lights. Think about it.)

When we arrive at home we get the tamales, Spanish rice, guacamole, salsa and chips out on the table and eat. And eat. And….. eat. Then, some years, this one included, some of us are part of the music in late services in our city or others. So, we (I) drink Diet Coke to stay awake and be alert to play music for an 11:00 p.m. service. The foods are tradition. The music gigs, a peculiarity.

I would love for our family to have a new tradition of acting out the Christmas story while it is being read. As a child we did that very thing in drama and song every year before Christmas in our small church, and those “plays” are indelible memories. At first I was a small angel with coat hanger wings. Gradually I grew to be one of the choir angels, singing all the hymns with my Daddy who was also in the choir. “Away in a Manger”, “The First Noel”, “O Little Town of Bethlehem”, “O Come All Ye Faithful” and “We Three Kings” were regular hymns in the line-up. The lyrics of those hymns are so special to me. The theology in them is solid too. Teaching our grandchildren about God’s love is one of my greatest joys. As we held our candles above our heads and sang “Silent Night” I prayed that Em and Roo would understand the love poured out for them by Jesus, the gift of love from God, the continuous love we know from the Holy Spirit. That is not tradition or peculiarity, it is fact.

McFamily Christmas: Part 2, Gifting

Here’s the way it goes—Muffin and I shop and gift everyone. I also do a major amount of Nannie’s stocking gift shopping for all who are with us on Christmas morning.

The McGirls/husbands pick a name and shop for that one person, or two people if that sister is married.

Everyone shops for the Jbear/Gracie/Rowdy Girls. It’s just too much fun to limit this option.

At Thanksgiving since the entire family was at our house, we also had gifts ready to send with the W’s and Joy & Mike. They brought gifts here as well. We all tried to be good and save the opening ceremonies for Christmas morning, but, opening ceremony is for the Olympics. So Jonah found his Texas Tech T shirt early and proclaimed loudly that “It fits!” And I burned a lovely vanilla soy candle, beginning on Thanksgiving night. One night when I had body aches and my head felt three sizes too big and I was coughing non-stop, I also stewed in the bath tub with a bath bomb, gifted to me by Joy. And, my main gift from the girls, a big ITunes gift card, arrived in the mail with no warning to delay opening a couple of days before Christmas. My ears are twitching in anticipation of new music on my iPod!

Many toys and hair jewelry and movies and guitar accessories and toddler clothing and geek toys and books were ordered. All arrived at their proper destinations in a reasonable shipping time and were wrapped in shiny or printed paper, topped with bows. Or, my favorite, presents bagged in a pretty gift sack and stuffed with printed tissue for really speedy opening on Christmas morning. As always our stocking were too full and were laid on the stairway with contents spilling onto the stairs. The twins were beside themselves with joy just with the stocking gifts, so the adults in the family took a break and had breakfast—sausage balls and blueberry oatmeal bread with coffee—while they played.

Then we got serious. Boxes, sacks, gift wrap and envelopes were all over the house, which delighted the twins and frightened and confused Maggie, the Border collie, and Scooter, the Sheltie. Both Maggie and Scooter received treats and new throw toys, so don’t feel sorry for them. Everyone was surprised, excited, pleased, touched, loved and happy. The surprise was a gift from Dubby. Nannie had an inspiration this Fall while going through his things, and decided to give each of us some of the treasures he kept in his old barber shop safe. It has been in their house since he closed the historic barber shop in what was once the Drake Hotel, and he was the last barber in that shop. Between the Coffee Shop and the Western Union, the Barber Shop was located downtown, just one block from the T& P train depot. Daddy spent most of my childhood working there and his last few years in that shop was its owner. The safe was inherited from the previous owner, who inherited it when he bought the shop, etc. As far as I know the shop was opened with the hotel in 1919, the year Daddy was born. Perhaps the safe was placed there that year. I know that two of the captain’s chairs in my house were bought second hand for the shop in 1919 and my violin students and their parents still sit in them. They are solid oak and creaky, but functional. The safe has a small chunk missing where someone attempted a robbery many years ago. Even an axe failed to break the lock. My Mom feels like her money and goods are secure there.

When she opened the safe after Dubbie died and found a bit of money in the form of silver dollars and old quarters, she decided to split it up among “the kids”. Imagine opening these packages of coins, some in mint condition, from the 1940’s, ‘50’s and 60’s. There were a few Sacajawea gold pieces as well. It was as if we had just opened the fish’s mouth and found coins, just as Jesus instructed his disciples to do. Each of us had yet another legacy from Dubbie, this one saved for Christmas Day. I was again reminded of what Muffin said at Dubbie's memorial service, "If you think you knew Dubbie, just wait a few minutes and you will learn something new about him."

Saturday, December 27, 2008

McFamily Christmas: Part 1, Traveling

For Christmas 2008 with the McFamily, travel played a major role. The W’s could not travel since Michael had shoulder surgery on December 3 and Becky had many gigs during the month, including midnight mass on Christmas Eve in AZ. Joy & Mike had an appointment with his family in the Midwest for the week, so they left home the 23rd. After more than 9 hours in a plane that was forbidden to land in Chicago, they finally landed in St. Louis, their ultimate Christmas Eve destination, but were not allowed to deplane. Instead, all on board were sent back to Chicago, many, many, many hours late.

On December 21st the Rowdy Girls and their parents arrived from the Hill Country, where the girls settled in, but their Daddy had to keep working until after 6 p.m. on Christmas Eve. That included many hours at the computer from the house, a trip to far West Texas to see some wind turbines up close and personal, and many hours reading contracts and talking on the phone. He was tired. In Texas, we call that “whupped”.

December 21st Muffin had to return to his apartment in the DFW area, work 20 hours in two days, and make the round trip home. He obediently and dutifully made a stop at our favorite market, buying tamales, quiche, and delicious chicken dinners so we at home could continue to bake cookies—delicious and nutritious and much more fun than making “real food” for dinner. About thirty minutes before he arrived, Fabulous Aunt Kaki got away from her job in the Hill Country, made a few shopping stops and arrived here for the week. Following them 30 minutes later, RG’s Dad drove in. While they were all driving to our home, we received text messages and phone calls updating us on the progress, or lack of it, on Joy and Mike’s flight.

So, many, many hours, and many hundreds of miles after the day began, everyone who traveled was exactly where they belonged. A very good reason to give thanks to God! His faithfulness is great, and His mercies are new every morning.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Happy Birthday, Jesus

Historians tell us that Jesus was likely born in the Spring--March or April. He came to earth as a fulfillment of prophecy: For unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given. And His name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace." What a lengthy and lofty name for a baby!

When our first baby was expected, we tossed around names that reflected our family, our deep belief that our children were gifts from God, and a name that would be compatible with a nice Scottish surname. At about my sixth month of pregnancy we visited our hometowns and met with a group who prayed for me and prophesied that this baby would be God's anointed child. We knew immediately that this was a girl (no sonograms in 1975 unless extreme dangerous circumstances warranted the order) and her name would be the English/Scottish equivalent of House of the Anointed One.

Mary was told by the angel to name her child "Jesus", because He would save His people. "Saviour" is a lofty and mighty name for a tiny baby. But, just as I saw the future of my babies and named them more for their future than for their baby years, Mary was obedient to the Word of God and to the ancient prophecies.

Jesus. What a lovely name. As I rocked my firstborn child I often whispered and sang His name to her, as I did to my three daughters who were born after her. My first Christmas as a new Mommy, my darling, beautiful, first born child had an ear infection, which broke my heart and made me cry more than she did. I would rock her and sing to her for hours on end. One afternoon sitting in the nursery rocking, crying and singing, the Holy Spirit whispered to me. "This is how I humbled myself. This is how difficult it is to be a baby. This is how I became dependent on a mother of my own. I showed you how much I love you just by becoming a baby." Imagine! The Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace, the Saviour, the Counselor of all mankind gave up His right to communicate, gave up His majesty and birthright as God's Son to become dependent on one like me--a woman.

Every Christmas since then the scriptures and songs have had new and deeper meaning for me. "What can I give Him? Give Him my heart." "O come let us adore Him." "O come, O come Emmanuel and ransom captive Israel." "Hark, the herald angels sing glory to the newborn King." "Mary had a baby, yes Lord. What did she name him? Named him Jesus. Laid him in a manger." "Some children see him lily white the baby Jesus born this night. Some children see him lily white with tresses long and fair. Oh lay aside each earthly thing and with thy heart as offering, come worship now the infant king, 'tis love that's born tonight." "Mary did you know that when you kissed your little baby, you kissed the face of God?"

Indeed, "to worship" has many meanings, but one of them is "to kiss". Mary was the first to worship Jesus, as she kissed her little baby. As I thought about our two precious grandchildren who were far away today, and as I kissed the two who were with us, I thought "Happy Birthday, Jesus." May You feel kissed today by all who worship You.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Great Gobs of Glue

Every Monday at noon for the past 11 1/2 years I eat lunch with these ladies. Once or twice a year we bring dishes of food and share pot luck and or planned menu together. Most Mondays we bring our own lunch and sit at the generous dining table, always set by our hostess, Precious Peggy, with real (not paper) plates and flatware on place mats purchased as souvenirs from places where she has traveled. I often enjoy my plate of food on Alaska, Washington D.C., or an exotic island. Monday lunch is always an event, and never has a dull moment.

Our purpose for meeting is not a social motive. Each of us has in common our Walk to Emmaus, and this is the oldest reunion group in our city. Two or three of our group have been meeting continuously since Big Country Emmaus began. A Walk to Emmaus is three and a half days of love poured out on the "pilgrims", those who are sponsored on the Walk, by hundreds of God's people. After the closing meeting and ceremony pilgrims are encouraged to become involved with a reunion group to maintain a connection to the Emmaus community and to grow in relation to God. Most of the women in the Monday group, called Acts 29:1 (look it up!), are members at the same church--my church. But we also have representatives from four other churches.

It is a fact that what happens at PP's house, stays at her house from those Monday meetings. After thanking God for our food and asking the Holy Spirit to come be with us, we share our very deepest needs, joys, feelings, and longings with one another. During the first months of Muffin's job 200 miles from our home, this group of ladies prayed for our adjustment to the circumstance. In the years with three of our daughters in college simultaneously, they prayed for direction, peace, safety in travel, good health, good roommates, godly spouses for our girls, financial blessings, and more. During the years when I was the "home parent" for our youngest while Muffin was away during the work week, they prayed for wisdom, grace, steadfastness, wise counsel, revelation in parenting, and more good health and safety. When I was hit by a run away driver on my way to the Monday meeting in my brand new car, they prayed, called, wrote, and held my hand. When our youngest went away to college--far away--and faced very trying circumstances academically and socially, they prayed more and held both my hands. When my Daddy began to decline and subsequently was hospitalized, then placed in the nursing home and died one year later, just last summer, they were right there with me. They prayed, they brought food, they wrote notes and made calls that will forever be etched in my mind and heart.

The photo may appear to be a bunch of ladies having Christmas fun, but this is a photo of Glue. Great Gobs of Glue, which is the love of the Father, expressed through 12 women--the glue that holds me together when life would pull me apart. The glue that mends my brokenness when the tyrannies of time and people shatter me. The glue that sticks to me when I begin to unravel and fall off the page where my life is written by God. The glue that stiffens my backbone when it is eroded by illness or pressure or false responsibility.

Acts 29:1--the story of the Church that is the foundation on which the Bride is being built for our Bridegroom.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Extreme Makeover Wishes

Enter to win a blog makeover here at Fabulous K. She does fabulous blogs!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

The Wall

Every year late Fall brings an onslaught of rehearsals, programs, recitals, concerts, weddings, and extra lessons for students who are also involved in their own rehearsals, programs, recitals, and concerts. It is a fact that Christmas music sets a mood. So those of us who call ourselves musicians begin rehearsing in October for the December Mood. So, after the last program, the final reception, and the last minute of the last lesson is finished, I hit THE WALL. It’s the inevitable adrenaline dropout following the frenzy.

If you have followed the blog since Thanksgiving you know that the family had a fabulous, crazy time together over a period of eight days, followed by the incubation of a cold virus that keeps on giving for about two weeks. We’ve coughed, sneezed, wheezed, snorted, gagged, cried—most everything except sleeping—since Thanksgiving Day. Combine the GERM with the FRENZY and the result is FATIGUE.

Yesterday the final program involved arranging three songs for two clarinets, one violin, and one French horn (totally 7 ½ hours), rehearsing one morning, baking goodies for the reception (white chocolate fudge arranged in a wreath with live holly and berries, cranberry almond bread arranged on a platter with the same). It also included writing a descriptive piece for three student violinists and one four year old student, their baby sister, who played four percussion instruments. Add another 5 hours or so. And we rehearsed at three of their lessons—total of three hours. They drove an hour into town at 9:30 a.m. to perform. I hauled stuff to the car for about 15 minutes. Add another 15 to drive across town and an additional 15 hauling same stuff inside and returning. There were about 60 people attending the program, and truthfully, the music was mediocre, but the results were…..priceless. Everyone is in a good mood, is ready for Christmas, and full of joy after being entertained by old and young alike, eating beautiful goodies, singing “Peace on Earth”. Emotionally, I was also drained from watching my Mother attend this program alone, without my Daddy. It was always one of the celebrations for their anniversary to attend this program each year. One year I played “I’ll be Home for Christmas” for them as a surprise gift. They were married December 5, 1942, and Daddy shipped out with the Army one week later. It was almost three years before they were reunited. This year, their 67th anniversary, he is truly Home with the Father.

For about two hours after this final program of the season I am ready to bake, wrap, shop, mail, and decorate. So I shopped and wrapped, finally cried a little while I was alone, and then went to my massage therapist for my pre-scheduled appointment. And then it happened: THE WALL. About 30 minutes into the appointment I felt completely drained of all ambition, energy and intelligence. I managed to drive myself home, drank the prescribed water after massage, and then decided I must have a nap. Three and a half hours later I woke up. It was dark. I was completely disoriented. Scooter the Sheltie was hungry. Body Flow was finished. I was totally toast—no adrenaline left. I had no problem going to sleep last night either. This morning I almost felt rested, but THE WALL is still there. Perhaps it is physical and my body is just tired. Perhaps it is spiritual and I need time to soak in His presence. Perhaps it is emotional and I am grieving more than I realize. Perhaps it is a triple whammy?

Monday, December 8, 2008

Tis the Season

The McFamily had a wonderful, blessed, loud Thanksgiving. We were Rowdy and Cheesy, and puzzling, and musical, and just plain hilarious. Then we got sick. This is a total bummer. I'm not sure which of us started the scratchy throat business first, but it is still making its way through the family as sinus infections, eye infection, ear infections, and pneumonia. So, while it is not true that the McFamily makes each other sick, speaking of personalities and character, since we basically all get along nicely and love one another. It is, however, true that we made one another sick, speaking of germs.

I, as the Matriarch of said McFamily, (McMatriarch?), did not see a doctor. Instead, I coughed all night three nights in a row while wearing half a jar of Vicks on the soles of my feet, covered by white socks. And took Mucinex. Just the name of that stuff makes me cough. And used a humidifier, which decided to clog its own filter. (I know how it feels. I've been pretty clogged.) And drank lots of water and warm tea with honey and juice and took vitamins and worked out at the gym to release toxins and played rehearsals with the help of Hall's cough drops and finally resorted to the last few ounces of presciption cough medicine with codeine. It works! Now I can truly say "Glory to God in the Highest, and peace on earth" as the music I'm playing is titled.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Long Time, No Post

No time to post! Fam has been here. Is still partially here. And I'm teaching the fiddlin students once again. Since the last post I have cleaned out (with Muffin) two rooms, made five beds more than once, baked two King Ranch Chicken casseroles, roasted a turkey, baked a three layer chocolate mint cake for Kaki's birthday, cooked homemade cranberry sauce, mixed and baked a double recipe of dressing, chopped up turkey salad with grapes/celery/pecans, made this pumpkin caramel pecan gingersnap cheesecake...and French toast. You can read about the entertaining Jbear here. Wish I could cheese his head right now!

More about how Thankful I am later.