Saturday, December 31, 2011

2012: The Year of Changes

For the past few years, some of us have named the new year coming.

2011 has been the year of laughter. There are many studies that conclude that laughing is good for you physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. I have proven them right! Actually, finding things to laugh about is quite easy around here. And if all else fails, there is always Everybody Loves Raymond reruns. I plan to continue this practice of laughing every day just because I like it.

Naming 2012 has been a little difficult because there are so many options. Some of my friends have chosen 'joy', 'yes', 'learning', 'travel', to name a few. For me, it will be the year of 'changes'.

One major change is coming in February, when Hub will retire after working 42 years at the same place. He is so ready and looking forward to it! There are other potential changes that I can't talk about yet, but just the possibility has created some excitement for us.

The verb change means to become different, altered, modified, or to pass from one thing into another. Change can tend to be undesirable, because it sometimes gets us out of our comfort zones and makes us look at things in a different light.





Thou renewest thy witnesses against me, and increasest thine
indignation upon me; changes and war are against me.
Job 10:17
KJV


A new year with its blank calendar pages can be as scary as an uncharted sea. Before Columbus sailed west across the Atlantic, he was told there were monsters out there waiting for him.

Instead, he found a whole new world.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Folklife Fridays: Bare Christmas Trees




On January 30, my Christmas 'tree' is lovely, still bearing its ornaments and lights, still radiating with fiber optics. It hasn't shed one needle. It probably never will, because the people who made it used fine machines and glue and paint to construct it, giving it the general shape of a tree. The closest it ever came to a tree was when it was in a box in the back of the truck, coming home from Sam's, when we were driving through Forest Hills.



It does not make my house smell like Christmas. It used to be different.


As soon as our school dismissed for Christmas break, my lil' ole sister and I went to the woods in search of a Christmas tree. We ambled in woods not our own because we wanted to find something we hadn't seen before. A few times, it is possible we wandered onto government land, but it has been over forty years and we don't fear prosecution at this point.



Cedars were the best; they had much thicker foliage than the scraggly loblolly pines that were common there. The cedar trees usually had a few dead branches around the bottom, but that was easy enough to fix, and they smelled heavenly. So we would saw down a cedar, usually no more than three or four inches in diameter at the trunk, and drag it home. We did this despite the dire predictions of my Grandma who believed that if you cut a young cedar, there would be a death in the family before next Christmas.




In the old farmhouse, a wood heater was our only source of heat. It was located in the large living room, the same room where we would put the Christmas tree. We would put the tree in a large bucket with gravel to make it steady, but sometimes, it still wouldn't stand up, so we put a nail in the wall and somehow wired the tree to it. Say what you want to, but it worked.



For a little while, the cedar tree glistened with aluminum icicles and construction paper and the living room was absolutely glorious. Visitors were greeted with the smell of the forest as soon as they opened the door. I can still smell it every time someone says Christmas now.



The wood stove had to be roaring for the heat to make it to the kitchen and bedrooms, so the average temperature in that living room hovered around ninety during the day. The little tree held on for about three days before it began to drop its needles, a few here and there at first. By the time Christmas arrived, there were more needles than gifts under the tree, and if you looked carefully, you could see bare branches under the tinsel. We had to take what was left of the tree out as soon as Christmas day was over.



Looking back, I think it may have been a miracle that the little trees didn't spontaneously burst into flames and light up the whole holler. But in their short lifetimes, they made such an impression that they are remembered all these years later.

*Christmas tree image is borrowed; enjoy!






Wednesday, December 28, 2011

On the Fourth Day of Christmas...can we do lunch?


It has been said that when somebody gets married, they are marrying a whole new family. I don't know how accurate that is, but in my case, I got a new brother and two new sisters. The brother was still a teenager, and the sisters, both skinny with long, dark hair, became my new best friends. We are still hanging out together, these forty-two years later.

The oldest rambled some, living in the frozen north and the very Hotlanta for a while. The youngest stayed here, briefly living in Muscle Shoals (which is just across the river), but has never left Alabama. For years, we lived within a ten-mile radius, but somehow managed to never see each other. We talked on the phone regularly, but we might go months without actually being in the same room.

December, 2008. The three of us managed to get together for lunch at Legends Steakhouse. On that cold Wednesday, we made a goal to meet for lunch every month the next year. It was a goal we set together, but none of us really believed it would ever happen. After all, we are busy people. There are jobs and obligations and family and doctors and promises we all have to keep. But we promised to try.

December, 2009. We met for lunch again, celebrating because we had made it a whole year. Dare we try for another year? We decided to go for it. We tried to set the date for every first Wednesday, but the date had to be moved around more often than not. Sometimes, we had to cut it short so somebody could get back to work.

December, 2010. We celebrated two years, and no one had missed a single time! We have never done anything two whole years in our lives! We are pumped up now, thinking we can do anything. We are so proud of ourselves. Bring it on, third year!

December, 2011. Here we are again. This had been a hard year, and one month, we did it on the very last day because we had put it off all month and people do get sick. But we made it! So here we go, starting our fourth year. At this point, no one dares to cancel; no one wants to be the one to break our streak!!!

During these three years and counting, we have been able to check out most of the restaurants in our area, sometimes going to one as soon as it opened. Some we had gone to more than once, sometimes for convenience or we knew we could find a parking place there. Some have been dumps that we will never go to again, but getting that knowledge was always fun.

Dictionary.com explains a habit like this:
1. an acquired behavior pattern regularly followed until it has become almost involuntary: the habit of looking both ways before crossing the street.

2. customary practice or use: Daily bathing is an American habit.

3. a particular practice, custom, or usage: the habit of shaking hands.

4. a dominant or regular disposition or tendency; prevailing character or quality: She has a habit of looking at the bright side of things.

5. addiction, especially to narcotics.

Our monthly lunch meetings have become a habit; one that we love and never want to stop. It is also a commitment, and none of us wants to disappoint the others by not showing up. We have agreed that if one of us moves to heaven (any other move doesn't count) during the year, the other two have to continue.

As we approach a brand new year, a calendar with lots of blank spaces, consider starting some new habits that will make life better for you and others. It's your choice. Yes, it is easier to do nothing, but it is not better. This is a good day to get that calendar out and start planning!


Now listen, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money." Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.
James 4: 13-14


Tuesday, December 27, 2011

On the Third Day of Christmas



Well, the weather outside is frightful. Cold rain and dreary clouds always make me want to start new projects. Any guesses?









Have you ever wondered what would happen if you tried to get the last drop of boiling water out of the kettle to make tea? In my case, the lid fell off and steam attacked my pinkie. Ouch!





I'm amazed that the skin on my little finger would stretch that much. It doesn't hurt, but of course, I can't wash the dishes!

Monday, December 26, 2011

On the Second Day of Christmas





It is still Christmas at our house!





Horses still decked out. . .



A cut-glass ornament that hangs in the entrance. . . .

Christmas quilts still on the wall. . .


There is some mistletoe under there. . . .



Granddaughters can't ride him anymore, but he still comes out at Christmas. . .







Loving those hand made ornaments. . . .



Musical churches with open doors. . . .



. . our 'power off' lantern lighting the wreath. . .




and a frig full of leftovers! No way am I ready to end all of this!

Sunday, December 25, 2011

A Christmas Prayer




Loving Father,

Help us remember the birth of Jesus,

that we may share in the song of the angels,

the gladness of the shepherds

and worship of the wise men.



Close the door of hate

and open the door of love all over the world.

Let kindness come with every gift

and good desires with every greeting..

Deliver us from evil by the blessing

which Christ brings,

And teach us to be merry with clear hearts.



May Christmas morning

make us happy to be thy children,

and Christmas evening bring us to our beds

with grateful thoughts,

forgiving and forgiven,

for Jesus’ sake.

Amen.

~Robert Louis Stevenson

Saturday, December 24, 2011

On the Road to Bethlehem



Did Mary know? Did she wonder?

Surely her back was aching as she rode the donkey; maybe caused by travel weariness, maybe the first contractions, faint at the beginning.

For months she had known she was the chosen one. She had felt and watched the baby grow inside her.

Surely her young skin was riddled with stretch marks, her feet swollen.

As she continued mile after mile, Joseph by her side, leading, did she wonder if there would be a resting place for them tonight, if there would be a place of welcome, a warm place?

Did she know that this was the last day, the last day the Savior, our blessed Jesus, would reside in her womb?

Did she know that by tomorrow, she would be different, the world would be different, all time and eternity would be different because of the baby she carried?

Could her heart and mind comprehend anything so glorious?



For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Isaiah 9:6

Friday, December 23, 2011

O, Beautiful Star!


Is there anyone who hasn't stood in the dark, looking up to the expanse above, and wondered? How I wonder what you are....

The Christmas season reminds us of the star of Bethlehem. The bright, incomparable star that was a map for Magi. The star that led the way for traveling wise men in search of a king. Wise men who had studied the heavens, astronomers, who had seen changes and knew something extraordinary was happening. Intelligent men who plotted the paths of stars when my Anglo ancestors were still nomadic because they had not learned how to store food. Men looking for answers.

There has been rampant speculation for hundreds of years about the source of the star. Some believe an alignment of planets. Others think it was a comet or supernova.

Why is it so hard for some to believe that the star was created specifically for the glorious birth of the Savior?

Could the King of glory become human and live among us without 'stirring up' all creation?


And God said, "Let there be lights in the expanse of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark seasons and days and years, and let them be lights in the expanse of the sky to give light on the earth." Gen 1:14-15.



Psalm 19: 1-4 The heavens declare the glory of God; The skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; Night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Their voice goes out into all the earth, Their words to the ends of the world.



He determines the number of the stars and calls them each by name. Psalm 147:4.





Lift your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these? He who brings out the starry host one by one, and calls them each by name. Because of his great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing. Isaiah 40:26.




After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east come to Jerusalem and asked, "Where is the the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him. Matthew 2:2.

Heaven wasn't surprised when the star appeared. It was no accident of nature, no regular cycle of the universe. The star was for the Child.

*NASA photos

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Home for Christmas

We never forget where we came from.

There is within every living thing an instinct to go home, the place where they began, the place where they belong.

We hear stories of lost dogs returning home, worse for wear, after traveling for miles and miles, across rivers and busy interstates, after weeks of being lost. Banding hummingbirds has proven that some return to the same feeders in the spring, after they have wintered in South America, hundreds of miles from the plastic red feeder that feels like home to them.
Each year, the swallows return to Capistrano. Pacific salmon return to the stream where their life began.

The circle of life sometimes ends where it began, and somehow, we find comfort in that.

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Some terminal patients, knowing that their days on this earth are few, beg to leave their hospital beds and go home, to their place, to spend their final hours. Wounded soldiers on blood-drenched battlefields write of their desire to just make it home, to be surrounded by family, to be buried in familiar soil. Home, where peace and rest can be found, where problems can be handled.




After World War II, many of my relatives moved to the industrial cities of the north, seeking jobs that didn't exist in rural Tennessee farming communities. The north presented opportunities for a better life, but they felt like aliens, strangers in a foreign land. Some prospered and spent their working years there. They never ceased to call Tennessee home. Many returned to live in the Tennessee hills after retirement, their lives iron drawn by a magnet. Things were different when they returned, but it was still home to them, still that place in their hearts where they seemed to belong.

During the time they were in the north, my relatives made every effort to be home at Christmas. Their large families crammed in one car, eating peanut butter sandwiches along the way, they would drive for hours for the privilege of sitting around the dinner table with their kin, people who talked and thought the same way they did. Children loved it, and didn't complain about sleeping on the cold floor on pallets made with quilts. There were never expensive gifts to exchange, but just being together was enough. There was always laughter.

There is something about Christmas that makes us long for home. Not the gifts or even the food there, but just being where you know you are loved in spite of your shortcomings, where its okay if you wear pajamas all day. We long for it enough to sleep in airports and risk being stranded in early blizzards. We long for it enough to give up gifts so the money can be used to buy gas to get to Grandma's house. During the hot, growing months of the year, we are looking forward to Christmas, waiting for the time when we can go home again.


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There is something about Christmas that makes those in the family of God long for home. Home where we are loved in spite of our shortcomings, home where we are surrounded by those who talk and think the same way we do. Home where we are encompassed by the familiar. Home with our loving Father, where we can rest. Home where each day will be a celebration of the Lamb. Home where we will never be lonely again. Home where we belong.



Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God's people and members of God's household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit. Ephesians 2: 19-22

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Unexpected



It is an ancient profession, this job of being a shepherd.

Someone has to tend the sheep.
Someone has to keep the flock together; to chase away the predators.
They have to keep the little lambs from wandering off and getting lost.
They have to keep moving sheep to different pastures, searching for fresh grass.


In the days when believers read Isaiah and waited for the promise, there were many shepherds. The job sometimes fell to single men who had no family responsibilities, who could stay with the sheep day and night. They moved about with the sheep, living in tents or wagons.

Being a shepherd was a cold, lonely job with little to eat and none of the comforts of home.

Throughout time, God has used shepherds for his purpose.
Before he became the Father of Nations, Abraham tended sheep.
Jacob and Isaac were shepherds.
Moses spent his time in exile tending sheep.
David, who had God's heart, was with his flock when he was called to
service.

Then the day came.
The day God had known about since the beginning, the day that would change us forever.
Heaven trembled with excitement.

The angels might have gone to the east, where wise men studied the skies and knew.
The angels might have gone to Herod's castle, or to priests, teachers, or leaders.
The angels went to the shepherds.

The birth announcement that the prophets had yearned for was made to lowly, coarse shepherds....
doing their jobs on a cold night, not expecting this night to be any different,

not expecting to be surrounded by a multitude of angels and the glory of God.An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger." Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men to whom his favor rests." Luke 2:8-14



Monday, December 19, 2011

Easy Recipes

Some of you have asked for these recipes. I'm glad you enjoyed them.

Banana Pudding was a delicious dessert my Mama made, but she had to stir the pudding and beat the meringue for the longest time. This one is much easier.

Creamy Banana Pudding
1 (14 ounce) can condensed milk (not evaporated milk!)
1 1/2 cup cold water
1 (4 serving size) package instant vanilla pudding mix
2 cups whipped cream

1 (12 ounce) box vanilla wafers
3 or 4 bananas

Combine sweetened condensed milk, water, and pudding mix; mix well. Chill 5 minutes. Fold in whipped cream.

Put a layer of vanilla wafers on the bottom of your bowl. Top with a third of the bananas and pudding mix. Repeat vanilla wafers, bananas, and pudding mix layer twice, ending with pudding mix. Garnish with crushed vanilla wafers. Keep refrigerated. Make this several hours or even the day before your guests arrive.

I make this in a trifle bowl and put extra vanilla wafers around the sides just to make it pretty. This dessert will make your guests forget that the roast was a little dry or the rolls slightly too done!

Hot Fudge Pudding Cake
1 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons cocoa
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup milk
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup cocoa
1 3/4 cup hottest tap water
Vanilla ice cream

Heat oven to 350 degrees.
Mix flour, granulated sugar, 2 tablespoons cocoa, the baking powder and salt in an ungreased baking pan, 9x9x2 inches. Mix in milk, oil and vanilla with fork until smooth. Spread in pan. Sprinkle with brown sugar and cocoa. Pour hot water over batter. Bake for 40 minutes.
Let stand at least 15 minutes. Cut into nine squares. Put each square in a dessert dish and spoon ice cream on top. Cover the ice cream with the pudding from the pan.
Enjoy!

The first time I made this more than thirty years ago, I couldn't believe it would turn into something edible. I was so wrong! It has been a family favorite. I have learned to put the baking pan on an aluminum foil covered larger pan, because the pudding will boil over sometimes.

Sorry I don't have photos of the finished desserts. I'm not planning to make them again before Christmas, and I know some of you wanted the recipes before you did your Christmas baking.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Celebrate Saturday: Come, let us adore Him


Two little boys, both abandoned shortly after birth, grew up together in the state orphanage. When they were old enough to understand such matters, they were allowed to select a date to celebrate their birthday, because no one knew when the actual date was. The boys, who were as close as biological brothers, picked the same date to celebrate. It was a day when they were special and the focus was on them.



Every year, as we are privileged and honored to celebrate the birth of Jesus at Christmas, skeptics say it wasn't really His birthday. Perhaps it wasn't, but that is entirely irrelevant. It is a day set aside to focus, to remember, to share in honor of the greatest gift ever given.



I love Christmas. Everything I do during the season, whether it is cooking or wrapping or decorating or visiting, I do because of the gift of that baby, my Savior, who made a feeding trough into a King's throne and changed the world forever. Matthew 25:40 constantly reminds me that whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did it for me.



For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Isaiah 9:6

Friday, December 16, 2011

Folklife Friday: Sacred Harp Singing


The little Baptist congregation in the place I grew up had a loud, out-of-tune upright piano and someone to play it most of the time. Some congregations were not so blessed, and sang their hymns a cappella, whether it was a part of their doctrine or not.

Hymnals were printed with shaped notes to indicate the different voice parts. The most popular hymnal was titled Sacred Harp, and thus it became known as sacred harp singing (sacred harp referred to the human voice as a musical instrument). Some summers, there would be a singing school at the church where children were taught the parts and how to make hand movements to accompany the music.

Sadly, I never attended any of the singing schools, and the first fa so la I learned was in high school chorus. This was in the sixties when The Sound of Music was a popular movie, and one of the songs our choral director selected was Do-Re-Mi. I still haven't learned to move my hands correctly to the music.

Sacred harp music is alive and well in Alabama. There is a singing convention every year, and various meetings throughout the state where this music can be heard and the audience can participate. There are some good links to sacred harp music at AlabamaFolklife.org.


Last Saturday, as Hub and I helped celebrate Christmas Past at Sugarlands Visitor Center, we attended a program of sacred harp singing. Hymnals were passed out, and a song leader led us through several hymns. The theater was almost full with people from all over the country, and we didn't personally know a single person there. Some of us, perhaps most of us, were not trained singers, but the old songs sounded beautiful as we joined together in singing. We sang some standards like Amazing Grace and Leaning on the Everlasting Arms. Beautiful Star of Bethlehem, Silent Night, and some other Christmas songs were included.

There is something so right and special about being able to share a hymnal with a total stranger and blend your voices in praise and thanksgiving. I felt like I had been to a revival meeting when it was over.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Christmas at Sugarlands

Did y'all miss me? I'm always very busy at the end of the semester, and we spent several days in the Smokies last week.



The Sugarlands Visitor Center at the entrance to the Smoky Mountain National Park at Gatlinburg had their Festival of Christmas Past last Saturday. Hub and I spent the day with them. There was so much to do, and all of it was good.


There was a whole building with staff and volunteers teaching how to make traditional Christmas ornaments. Here, I'm learning to make an angel from rags.



This table was full of natural greenery to make wreaths from. There was holly, pine cones, cedar, sumac seed heads, nandina seeds and foliage, ivy, and much, much more. I tied mine together with ivy vines, so everything on my wreath was natural. I plan to go on a scavenger hunt next week to make some fresh ones for Christmas day.



This fellow liked his so much, he decided to wear it for all of us to see!

Isn't this beautiful? I had never thought of using ivy in my Christmas wreath. They showed us how to make those dried apples on the wreath, too.



Outside, there were tools that we don't see anymore, including this apple press. The fellow using it gave recipes and talked about making apple cider, hard cider, and apple cider vinegar.



This blacksmith worked all day showing how to make farm implements and small tools. It was warm around this area on a very cold day.



Smoke from this pot of apple butter was the first thing we saw when we drove into the parking lot. They cooked Winesap apples, sugar, and cinnamon for several hours until the apple butter was done. We had generous samples that were delicious.



Inside the visitor center, there were demonstrations of spinning, quilting, and dyeing yarns. Mountain music and storytelling (yes!) were offered in the theater all day, but I'll blog about that another time.

Between activities, we hiked a trail to an old cabin (Wordless Wednesday yesterday and more later). Both of us were exhausted when we left, but it was a day we will long remember.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Folklife Friday: Recycled Christmas balls



Y'all know I love recycling. I learned to do it when it was a necessity, not a popular 'green' thing to do.




So I'm at my favorite store, the Loaves and Fishes thrift shop, when I see a buggy full of assorted Christmas balls someone had donated. I loved them instantly. I bought four bags full for a grand total of six dollars.




A friend had told me about a Christmas wreath made from these balls, so I went to Pintrest.com and learned how to do them.




I had all those pretty balls and hot glue. I did not have the energy to go to Hobby Lobby or JoAnn's to get the Styrofoam wreath to glue them to. Hub goes to the garage and cuts a 12" square of shipping Styrofoam, then cut the inside out to make a square wreath form.




After spreading newspaper over the card table, I began to glue the largest balls to the outside and inside of the wreath. Then, I glued some on the top. I used smaller balls to fill in so you couldn't see the Styrofoam. This was so fun that I forgot to take pictures during the process.



Here's what it looked like. Now, ain't that just purty??? {If you look close, you can see the reflection of yours truly taking the photo.} I plan to use it for a centerpiece with a tall candle in the middle. It was super easy to make.


There were lots of balls left over, so I plan to make another one. Next time, I will buy the wreath; I don't know if this one would be strong enough if I hung it on the door or somewhere else.



Moral of the story: Don't ever throw anything away.