Sunday, December 28, 2008

The Fancy Dinner

Come on. You are invited to the fancy dinner.

Place: The Living Room
Time: After the children are fed
Dress: Thrift store fare. Formal (women and girls) Flannel (men and boys)

It's become tradition, this fancy dinner. Tonight is the third edition. Women put dinner in the oven, feed the children, exchange jeans for gowns. Doors are shut all over the house as everyone dresses.

Little girl eyes sparkle delight. Lithe bodies swish, swirl. "Look, Papa, Grandpa!"

"Oooh! You're gorgeous! So pretty!"

Mamas appear from behind the closed doors. Mother bodies swish, swirl. Am I still? eyes ask. Am I still your beautiful girl?

Yes. Oh, yes echoes round the room.

And the men, the men that we love, lumberjack men in soft flannel, bubble over with good humor and cheer.

We sit around the table. Velvet. Flannel. Sequins. Flannel. Taffetta. Flannel. And the children serve. "Would anyone like a glass of wine." Six adults coach five young ones through the art of presenting, pouring.
"No, Lil. You can't have a sip out of my glass. Wait."

"Care for a salad?"
"Coffee and dessert?"

Dishes come and go with a newly aquired ease and grace. We look at these beauties and see adults on the horizon. Conversation and candlelight. The last dish cleared. Table pushed to the wall. On with the dance.

Cousins clasp hands, circle, step in, step out. Feathers and flannel, a comfortable place in a husband's arms, bodies close and graceful, grace that is polished by time. I dance with my boys. Joy and abandon with the preschooler. We jump, swing, gallop. He joins the cousin circle. It's my teenager's turn. He leads. A new skill, tender, sweet. He guides, circles, stiff and unsure but gains confidence as he goes. The song changes and he steps away to test his accomplishment on another partner, "Grandma, will you dance with me?" The sun is setting on his childhood.

After a time, the dancers wander away. Only Claire and her favorite uncle remain and then even she tires. Dresses return to closets. All climb into flannels and knits. Sleepy heads rest on pillows...relive the evening...make plans for the next soiree. Come October at the beach. A tradition to keep.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Door to Door

"One hug more."
"See you in a few days!"

We pulled out of the driveway, weighted down with two car top carriers, honking, waving to cousins.


Over Virginia mountains. Weaving through truck traffic, recording license plates, reading, sleeping.

And when darkness falls, we leave the highway to the trucks and wind over a ribbon of country roads. John navigates, scatters direction-covered Post-Its, shuffles and reoganizes. We grope tentatively through inky night, stop to read road signs.

"We're almost there!"
" This is the road. Look for house numbers." Eyes squint and strain.

"10057. Almost." Headlights seek treasure, family, at 11164 Frog Hollar Lane.

"Come back!"
"Back up! You missed us!" A flock of children crows from porch and yard.

We do back up, thread though exuberant greeters, burst from the car, trailing empty water bottles and stuffed animals.

"You're here!"
"Goodness, you've grown!"
"We've been waiting for you all day!" Words puff in frosty air, squeeze between warm hugs.
"Come in! Come in!"

A tangle of cousins, aunts, uncles, we step out of the dark into the puddle of light spilling from doorway to porch.

"We're so glad you're here!"

And we are too, glad to be in the warm welcoming embrace of those we love.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Snowflakes

Because you asked. Tell us. Did you make the snowflakes? How?

Yes. We did make these curly bits of paper.
Charlie wrapped some strips of paper round the quiller and handed them over to be shaped and joined. But the other four pairs of hands measured and cut and curled and glued with no help at all. The best kinds of projects don't need a mother hovering directions. I joined in and worked too while City on A Hill provided Christmas ambiance in mid-November.

These are our tools. And waxpaper to save the table. And toothpicks for the glue. If you don't have a quiller buy the kind with the little slit in the top. Much easier to use than the pointed awl kind. Prevent squabbling. Get enough. The quiller design board is a necessity as it forms identical curls. You may want two or three if there are lots of eager hands at your house. Precut quilling paper is inexpensive and is of even, narrow width. Better than I can do on my Fiskars paper cutter. We used two snowflake kits that came with white paper strips.

It is time taking, this snowflake creating. The children worked afternoons by cozy fireside, hands on their work, minds wandering the globe with James Cook as I read from the pages of Stowaway.

It's an inexpensive hobby. Three boards, six quillers, two kits. Seventy-five dollars. Most of the money going into the one time expense of tools. Quilling kits generally run between three and eight dollars. A manageable cost.

Of Crops and Christmas

My father is a farmer, no longer one who tills the soil and plants the seed, but a farmer nonetheless, drawn to crops and weather forecasts. I grew up in the corn fields and in the planting and harvest seasons, my five o'clock father came home dusty and tired long after dusk. Memories stirred because a post came across my reading list this week. It my caught my eye as it is of a harvest. The children and I have been following with interest.

"Look at this field of corn. This family's paycheck stands in that field. These are their children. They are all your ages." Internet journals make this big world small and intimate. Tie together the hearts of strangers.

We have been so caught up in this tale I wanted to share it with you. Part One, Part Two and Part Three. Begin at the beginning. Prepare your heart for Christmas.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Searching for the Mark

You miss the mark. A wisp of an idea, a whisper, a breath during these happy, creative days. Cookie baking and Christmas carols. You miss the mark. Stories and puzzles in front of the fireplace. Hot chocolate. Presents...storebought and homemade. You miss the mark.

This unrest grows and swells until, finally "How? How am I missing?" I look into the lives of others and am not found wanting in giving or worship.

Child, look to Me.

I look. I fall short. I miss the mark.

In worship. You attend to many things but only one thing is needed. I have this complaint against your family. You don’t love me or each other as you did at first! In giving. You bring buckets of water to full wells and spare only a few drops for me.

My heart breaks and into the wreckage He pours out His plan to finish well this season.

For worship: We put aside Isaiah for a time and begin the Jesse tree devotional. A soothing balm. A right turning for our wayward souls.

For giving: Silver words challenge. Confront. Words about the very catalog that I glanced through yesterday with callused heart. The catalog in the trash. I sob at my desk and call to the children. John reads aloud. I cannot.

What do You want for your birthday?

I am thirsty. I am hungry. I am cold. Look after my least.

So we gather again around this screen and make plans to forgo the stocking stuffers and look after Him. And in lightening our checkbook to fill other homes with livestock, books, the wrestling with the Word... we fill our own hearts with joy. Abundant, delightful, life-giving joy.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Goon Shoes

One dollar! Who will buy us for just one dollar? Down here! One shelf below Timmy the Tooth on VHS. Down. Behind the green press-on nails. Yes! Us! The Goon Shoes!

We'll fit all of your children with these handy straps! We're bouncy! We're fun!

No! No, lady! Don't make your boy put us back. We're not junk! You don't know! You, you middle-aged woman with big feet! Please! Pleeease take us home! Don't leave us here under these big bikini bottoms!

Put down that sweater! Put it down and look at your son sproinging down the aisle of Second Hand Sams in our green and purple majesty. We're made for each other!

Yes? You said yes?! Oh, you won't regret this! I promise!

Watch that first step out of the store, son. We've got bounce but no traction.

Don't fight! You can't all wear us at once. Two shoes. Two feet. That's how it goes. Set the timer. Wait your turn! Wait!

Yes, big brother, we do turn vacuuming into a circus performance. Yes, youngest sister, it is fun to make the springing trip down the hallway. You're tipping! Grab the wall! Yes, little boy, you are taller than your big sister but your turn is up. Pass us on.

One dollar! A day full of giggles and springs and bounces all for one dollar!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Silent Night

Sit with me, here in the dark, in the peaceful dark of my living room. Sink down into the sofa beside the fireplace.

Here. A blanket to throw over your lap and tuck under your feet.

Let the chaos and the busy-ness of the early evening hours fade.

Feel the the warmth of the cocoa mug in your hands. Sip slowly. Savor this moment.

Be still.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

A Windy Day

What does a family do when they wake up on the living room floor to a stormy morning? (We were having a sleepover in front of the fireplace because Stuart is out of town.)

7:30 Lay under the covers and watch the wind bend the trees vigorously in every direction. Enjoy being cozy together.

7:52 The wind blows the power lines down somewhere and the clock stops.

8:00 Send a kid to the front windows to see if the broken branch in the tulip maple has finally blown down.

8:01 Pray that the wind will be strong enough to blow the branch down when the report comes back that it is still trapped out of reach in the tree.

9:00 Have milk and cereal for breakfast because the power is not yet back on.

9:00 Instruct the children on the importance of keeping the fridge door shut.

9:30 Read the last two chapters of The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. Wish that it were a little longer. It's such a good book!

9:45 Have a longer Bible time than normal because there are no distractions. Thank God during prayer time that the giant limb that blew down from the top of the tulip maple (not the one that we prayed to blow down) did not hit the car. It missed by one inch.

10:30 Work on Christmas project. (Can't tell you about it yet.)

12:00-12:30. Go outside in the pouring rain and fill the garden wagon seven or eight times with fallen sticks and monster branches. Explain to the neighbors that being outside in the rain with the children is better than being trapped inside without power.

12:30 Drip out of wet clothes in the garage. Yell loudly at Charlie and John for dripping into the living room. Change into dry clothing and corral the renegade wet stuff.

1:00 Eat cheese and crackers for lunch.

1:01 Repeat the importance of keeping the fridge door shut.

1:15 Move puzzle table close to the window so we can see to put a Christmas puzzle together.

1:30 Give a gift wrapping lesson to the three little ones. Shout instructions loudly over the squabbling about what paper to use and who gets to cut the paper.

1:45 Send the beaming children to the walk-in-closet with their wrapped gifts.

2:00 (exactly) Cheer loudly because the power comes back on.

2:01 Groan because it goes back out again.

2:20 Cheer again.

2:21 Groan.

2:21 1/2 Yell at Charlie for unplugging the Christmas tree which fooled us all into thinking that the power was out again.

2:30 Turn on Adventures in Odyssey and sit down at the computer to post this. Type quickly because the power is still spotty.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008


Yesterday, Charlie got a letter in the mail. The Christmas activity we were working on came to a screeching halt. Letters for four year olds are not a common occurance here. "For me? A letter for me? Look! A letter for me! I got a letter!" When Charlie was done waving his letter around, he opened it.

He pulled out a sheet of stickers. "Ooh stickers! What is this animal?!"

"Move it back a little, Charlie so I can uncross my eyes."

He did and we identified animals from the African plain. "Mama, do you want a sticker?"


"Which one?"

"I don't care. Which one do you want to give me?"

Charlie smacked a elephant onto my chest and decorated himself with a monkey. But wait! There was more in the envelope. A note and a dollar. A whole dollar.

"Do you want me to read this note to you?"

"I got a dollar! I got this dollar! Is it store day? Can we go to the store right now?! (insert much dancing and waving)

"No. Store day is not for two more days."


"Do you want me to read the letter? It's from Grandma Pugga."

So we read the letter and Charlie was so overwhelmed by his grandma's generosity that he found a narrow scrap of paper and wrote a letter of his own in response. His first letter. He worked through a good part of dinner and smeared a little steak sauce on his work and when he was finished it looked like this.

Anybody want to whip out their secret decoder ring and make sense of what he wrote? (It is readable. I promise.)

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Southern Holidays

1. Stringing up the Christmas lights and raking the yard can occur simultaneously. Today, we divided into two teams and took care of both jobs. These festivities were punctuated every fifteen minutes or so by the reveberation of a shotgun as our next door neighbor scared a flock of Canadian geese out of his back yard.

2. It was cold today as we worked out in the yard so, we bundled up in our sweaters (three or four apiece), our mittens and our toboggans. For those of you who are doing a double take...toboggans are hats down here. I guess the southerners felt left out. What's this, ya'll? A word we have absolutely no use for? I know. Let's change hat to toboggan. We'll show those Yankees.

3. Sometimes it snows. Well, it's only snowed once since we've moved here. The children dashed outside in their pajamas. I didn't call them back in to get dressed. It was a good thing. The snow melted before breakfast.

4. Southerners find innovative ways to create snow. Last night the children played handbells in an antique store at Smallville's annual Christmas festival. Snow drifted down in front of the windows as we played. Snow made by blowing soap from a giant fan attached to the roof overhead. Snoap, the children call it. One malfunctioning machine shot out snoapballs. The snoap fell straight down and covered a few vehicles. We watched the unfortunate drivers of these cars pick their way through the snoap drifts. "Look, Mama. They are snoaped in."

5. Santa Claus is married to Mizzrizz Claus. This one is new to me. I've lived in the South for six years now and it has only been in the past month that I've heard Mrs. pronounced Mizzrizz three or four different times by as many different people.

6. At least once in the next few weeks, someone will sing Christmas Shoes during a service in a small country church. That someone will get too choked up to sing but will stand there tears pouring down her cheeks as the backup music plays. Most of the parishioners will also get choked up, even without the words. For my part, I think this song should be illegal. What do you think?

If you are uninitiated, here's the song in it's four minutes-something seconds entirety. I don't recommend you that watch it or anything but I didn't want you to feel left out. So if you must...

7. Once a girl moves south, she can't move north again. The warm climate thins the blood. I am typing this post wearing three sweaters, a pair of wool socks and a toboggan.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

From Thanksgiving to Now

Stuart came down with a cold the day before Thanksgiving that knocked him out for two or three days.  This is how he he spent all of Thanksgiving Day.  He's a handsome devil.
The rest of us were undaunted.  With Stuart's blessing, we pressed forward with our Thanksgiving preparations.  The girls made sweet potato casserole and green bean casserole and fruit cup (with the bitters).  And all that I needed to do was assemble the stuffing and cook the birds. 
We were alone for Thanksgiving.  I really hate that we are so far from family and friends because I would love for my house to be full of company. I suppose it was for the best on this particular holiday. Our guests would have gone home incubating plague germs!  Anyway, it was just the seven of us so I decided to serve Cornish game hens instead of the traditional (enormous) turkey.  The kids were delighted with the size of these tiny birds and christened them ptarmigan.  Perhaps we were the only family in America that celebrated this Thanksgiving with ptarmigan.
It wasn't enough to celebrate just one holiday on Thanksgiving.  We hauled out the Christmas tree and had it set up before our feast came out of the oven.  (More to come on that later.)
A few days after Thanksgiving, Stuart was on the road to recovery but the children were dropping like flies.  They've been drinking plaudamentum by the pint.  (John stole the name from The Lamplighter and applied it to the gallons of lemon water they've been making for themselves.)  They seem to be on the mend so, today we started our next Christmas project.  Cookies. This one was much easier than last weeks candy canes.  (The candy canes, by the way, went wrong.  Something happened and after we got them on the tree, they began dripping and warping.  They look like a Salvadore Dali creation! They're still tasty so it was not a complete disaster.) 
We made rich butter cookies from The Joy of Cooking.  Here the kids are spreading them with the first layer of confectioner's frosting.
O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree, how frosty are your branches. Charlie put about a pound of frosting on this cookie.  He can't wait to eat it! This was definitely a good project for him.  He had a great time helping to mix up the cookies and the frosting.  He frosted about five or six cookies before he got distracted and began to taste the frosting and nibble on the broken cookies.
Lauren used a little more finesse and a lot less frosting and created some beautiful cookies.  The girls really got into this project.  I was impressed with their creativity and focus. 

Here are a few of the finished results ready for a Christmas party in the near future.