Monday, December 31, 2012

Books I Have Read in 2012



I have managed to read a lot of good books this year.  One hundred and twenty-four, just one short of last year's total, and I still have all day so maybe I'll have time to finish the one I have started.



Some were biographies (Every Day in the Sun by Dean Faulkner Wells), some were classics (T.S. Stribling's trilogy The Lodge, The Store, and Unfinished Cathedral), and some were historical (Shelby Foote's Shiloh).

Some books were required reading from the library book club: What it is Like to Go to War by Karl Marlantes, Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen, Nafertiti by Michelle Moran, plus nine others.

Many, many more were books I read just because they made me happy.


With so many books and so little time to read them all, a book has to be extra special for me to reread it. This year, I reread A Year Down Yonder by Richard Peck, Isaac's Storm by Erik Larson, Twilight by William Gay, and All Over but the Shoutin' by Rick Bragg. It was time well spent.


Some of the books I enjoyed more than others.  Here's some that I highly recommend.

Unbroken by Laura Hillabrand
Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse
The Heart Mender by Andy Andrews
Oral History by Lee Smith
The Last Girls by Lee Smith
One Thousand White Women by Jim Fergus
Man in the Blue Moon by Michael Morris

I challenge all of you to read at least fifty books in 2013, a little less than one a week. Keep a list, and this time next year, you can look back and be proud.  It will change you, I promise.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Just Hanging On


The autumn, with its Indian summer and varying temperatures, is long gone.  The winter solstice was eight days ago, and we are getting ready to put up a new, empty calendar as the earth just keeps right on spinning.

But still, some of the leaves hang on, stubborn, unwilling to give up whatever it is that keeps them clinging to the tree.  Even the strong winds that came though with last week's cold front wasn't able to tear all the fragile stems loose.  Some may be able to hold on all winter, just to pushed away when spring sends out new leaves.  

Such tenacity, when we see the futility of it from our lofty perches, seems misplaced, wasted.

Could it be that it is just hanging there for an example for all of us?

Real courage is when you know you're licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what. 
       ~Harper Lee in To Kill a Mockingbird.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Christmas Popcorn


One of my favorite Christmas foods is popcorn; the fancy popcorn in the fancy tins.  They are so pretty, they can be left out on the counter top,  making it extremely convenient to grab a handful every time you walk by.


Local stores almost always have them on sale on Black Friday.  They are great last-minute hostess gifts or nice to have on hand if some unexpected guests drop in.  One needs to buy enough to insure that there is some left for personal use.

 
I love the sweet and salty tastes combined, so I eat on all three sections at once.  Sometimes, when it is almost empty, I go completely wild and take out the cardboard partition and mix it all together.  Heavenly!!


If you look closely, you will see that this one hasn't been opened yet.  I'm thinking it will last until late January.

Life is good.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Well, kiss my grits!


These cold mornings, a body needs to start off with something a little warmer than Raisin Bran.  I love those eggs, bacon, and pancake specials at Mel's Diner.  The hot coffee and friendly staff help in getting me warmed up for the day. 


Of course, it is even better if you have a friend to share breakfast with.

This Mel's Diner is in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, and they didn't pay me to write this. They probably should as much as I advertise for them.  A gift certificate would be just fine, thank you.





Now, I'm hungry!

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Christmas Cards




 For my Grandma, Christmas cards were the best part of Christmas. People knew how much she loved them, and sent her one every year. Sometimes, the card to Grandma was the only one they sent out. She would put a heavy string across one wall, and hang her cards like clothes on a line. On good years, she had to make two lines.


 Christmas cards may become a thing of the past, along with most other correspondence that is not digital. I still send them out, and love it when I go to the mailbox and it is full of cards. The first year I sent cards out after we were married, the postage was six cents. Yes, it is much more now, but I think it is worth forty-five cents to brighten some one's day and maybe cause them to smile.

Every year when Christmas is past, I bundle the cards up and save them until the next year. One year, I made paper cones from them, then filled them with buttons for my quilting friends. I use them most for gift tags.


This card is from my friend, Lucy, who loves dogs more than any one I know.  Her card has a dog every year, and I love getting them.


My beautiful friend, Deidre, knows how much I love red birds!  Next year, I will cut the bird off the card to use as a gift tag.

JoAnn always finds the most unique cards.  Using these dangling stockings next year will be so easy.

I love them all, and can't bear to throw them away.  When I unpack them next year, it will be almost as fun as getting them the first time!

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

God's Gift

 



Little baby on the hay,

soon there'll be another day

when nails shall pierce Your hands and feet

as You provide our sin's defeat..

Risen Jesus on the throne,

we lift our praise to You alone -

for You're the gift that we receive

the moment that our hearts believe.
                                              ~Roy Lessin

Monday, December 24, 2012

Going Home



There is within all of us an instinct to go home, the place where we began, the place where we 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.



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 left their homes to move 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 those hardworking Tennesseans 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 those rolling hills after retirement, their lives drawn there like iron to 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. Even during the hot, growing months of the year, we are looking forward to Christmas, waiting for the time when we can go home again.

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

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Finding Christmas

 
 

Christmas
                                        can't be found under the tree,

 unless it is first found in the heart.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Celebrating Christmas with a Bang!


Generally, I don't enjoy things that make loud noises and produce nothing, except the loud noise, of course.  I've never been a fan of fireworks. I'm not talking about those fabulous displays we see on Independence Day or at midnight on December 31st, or the nightly shows at the Disney parks.  I'm talking about firecrackers.

 My Grandma Gean loved firecrackers, and she never grew tired of them.  She couldn't afford to give all her grandchildren great gifts for Christmas, so she gave us all a small package of firecrackers.  She would wrap them in Christmas paper, and the little rectangular packages didn't vary much from year to year.

 
 
We celebrated Christmas with Grandma on the 24th, because in addition to being Christmas eve, it was an uncle's birthday. While Mama and Grandma and some others were busy getting the meal ready, they got us out of the house by giving us our gifts and a pack of matches.

Every year, someone trying to be brave would have a firecracker explode in his/her hand, then ended up crying like a baby in front of all of us. It never happened to me, because I always put mine on the ground before I lit it and ran away. It was not that I was a darling child that obeyed my parents, but I just didn't like firecrackers in my hands. I pretended to have fun but I was always so glad when all of them had been used up. Sorry, Grandma, I would have much preferred some fingernail polish or a little blue bottle of Evening in Paris cologne.


The little church in our neighborhood always had a Christmas pageant where all the children got to wear bathrobes and exchange gifts. One year, some immature 'heathen' teenage boys lit a whole package of firecrackers and threw them in the back door of the church house. After they had all exploded, everyone there except Grandma was horrified that this had happened. Grandma thought it was hilarious and added great depth to the Christmas festivities.

 

Usually, I am in bed asleep when the clocks and calendars roll over to a new year. I always know when it happens, however, thanks to my neighbors who set off boxes of firecrackers when midnight arrives. Grandma would have loved to live in this neighborhood. 

Friday, December 21, 2012

Winter Solstice


It's here. The shortest, darkest day of the year, the beginning of winter. I know there is good in everything, but it is really hard for me to get excited about winter. The winters are usually mild in North Alabama, but those few cold, biting days are enough to turn me against it.


Winter helps to refine us.  If it wasn't for winter, would we thankful for warm houses and good coats?  Would we ever know the joy of sitting in front of a fireplace as the cold and the day melts off?  Would we ever get to wear our fabulous knitted scarves?


For the next few weeks, we will be celebrating the holidays and basically ignoring the bad weather, unless it is so bad that it interferes with driving.  Winter is still too new to be aggravating. About mid-January, reality sets in, and I start counting the weeks until spring.  I don't think I could live someone where winter lasts for six months or more. Blame it on my Southern blood.

 
One thing I know: the more harsh the winter, the more we appreciate the spring when it comes.

 
I wonder if the snow loves the trees and fields, that it kisses them so gently? And then it covers them up snug, you know, with a white quilt; and perhaps it says "Go to sleep, darlings, till the summer comes again. 
― Lewis Carroll

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Joy to the World


The coming of Jesus at Bethlehem brought joy to the
                            world and to every human heart.  May His coming this Christmas bring to each one 
of us that peace and joy that He desires to give.
                                                 ~Mother Teresa

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Millionaires and Me



From 1955 to 1960, there was a television show called "The Millionaire." The rich man the show centered around gave one million dollars (worth about eight million today) to some poor soul the millionaire deemed to be deserving. We were always jealous of the person who got the money, knowing good and well we deserved it much more.

We dreamed the star of the show would show up at our door. We talked about what we were going to do with our riches when he did. In retrospect, it seems we had some major fantasy/reality separation issues.

Wouldn't it be fine if we could bless people like that? The people in my circle can't, but we do what we can. I fear we miss many opportunities to help because we are not paying attention of the life around us.
 


One Saturday morning not long past, I was at the grocery store a couple of minutes before it opened at nine. This particular grocery store rents shopping carts for a quarter; this way, they know you will put them back in the rack when you are done. That morning, I had prayed that Father would open my eyes to the people he puts in my path that I can help.

I opened the car door and instantly saw a little old woman coming toward me at a high rate of speed for anyone, much less someone who is well advanced in age. Breathlessly, she asked, "Honey, have you got change for a twenty?"
"No," I told her, "but here's a quarter for your cart." I may not be able to hand out millions, but I'm good for a quarter almost any day.

"I'll pay you back," she panted.

"No need. You just go and have a great day." I was feeling particularly spiritual about then, being able to bless someone without making much of a sacrifice.
 


The store doors opened, and the groceries started flying off the shelves into our carts. Several minutes later, I was looking for some granola (you might be surprised how much better yogurt tastes if you put a lot of sweet, crunchy granola in it) when a sweet voice said, "Well, here it is."

Yes, it was the little woman, returning my quarter. She had gone through the checkout lane just to get change so she could pay me back.

Despite my best efforts, I was not able to give away a quarter. This leaves me wondering, if I had an extra million, would it be hard to give away? Pretty sure I'll never know the answer. At least, not in this lifetime.
 

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Shepherds

It is an ancient profession, perhaps one of the oldest.  It was the most undesired job, left for those who couldn't find a better way; the poor, the prisoners, the ones who had given up,  the ugly.

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



The job sometimes fell on single men who had no family responsibilities, who could stay with the sheep day and night, who had accepted the stink and the cold and the monotony.
They moved about with the sheep, living in tents or wagons. sleeping on the cold ground.
Being a shepherd was a unforgiving, lonely job with little to eat and none of the comforts of home.




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

I wonder if the shepherds sat around a fire as the night deepened, commiserating about their lot in life, knowing that tomorrow and the day after and forever they would be looking at sheep.  I wonder if even one of them wished, just for one time,  something exciting would happen.

The angel might have gone to the east, where wise men studied the skies and knew.
The angel might have gone to Herod's castle, or to priests,teachers, or leaders.
God chose the shepherds, the hopeless, for the greatest announcement of all eternity.

The birth announcement that the prophets had yearned for was made to lowly, coarse shepherds....
doing their jobs on just another 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 17, 2012

Wonder

Dear Lord, grant me the grace of wonder.


Surprise me,


amaze me,
 

awe me in every crevice of your universe...


Each day enrapture me with your marvelous things without number.


I do not ask to see the reason for it all;



 
 
    
I ask only to share the wonder of it all. ~Abraham Joshus Heschel