Saturday, December 31, 2011

Shoeless Christmas

Front porch TODAY

Well, it was not entirely shoeless, but it was a Christmas when shoes took center stage.  Not Cinderella slippers, or ballet flats, or snow boots, just ordinary shoes.

Three years or so ago, my husband and I decided at the very last minute that we should travel to see our families for the holidays.  He was concerned about his parents, they were getting up there in years and had sounded depressed over the phone.  So......we decided to bite the bullet and go.  This was TWO DAYS before Christmas Eve.  We told the kids (they didn't believe us at first), loaded the car with the presents, even purchased and stuffed a cheap artificial Christmas tree into the back (my in-laws had given up putting up a tree several years before, so we took one with us).  We made arrangements for our pets, then all seven of us crammed ourselves into our Suburban (winter traveling is much bulkier due to the coats, etc.) and we left at dawn, the day before Christmas Eve.

Travelling is slower in such a large group, and it's a long drive (18 hours or more), so we spend the night somewhere along the way.  We were hoping to make it to Nashville.  Everything started off well.  The kids dozed off.  About 3 or 4 hours in, we stopped at a gas station to refill the car and stretch our legs.  As we were getting out of the car, youngest son (8 years old or so) informed us that he had NO SHOES.  Not in his suitcase, not in the car, and certainly not on his feet.  I had not realized that shoes were forgettable when going on a long journey.  I had made sure they had packed a toothbrush, undies, etc.  but I did not know that I should have looked at their FEET before they got into the car.

By the front door TODAY

So I had the next brother up go into the gas station and use the facilities and then return to the car, loaning  his pair of sneakers to little brother.  (This brother had only brought one pair of shoes -- the ones he was wearing.)  Little brother took his turn, slipping his socked toes into the borrowed shoes.  Meanwhile, even though we were on the interstate, not near any town that I could see, miraculously there was a Goodwill store next door (Goodwill is a thrift store).  I ran over there to survey their shoe selection:  one pair of sneakers in the appropriate size.  I bought them and brought them back to the car.  Pshew!!  Crisis averted!

Once we crossed the border from Texas into Arkansas the weather took a turn for the worse.  In fact, it poured rain torrentially on us the entire drive across the state -- we must have been moving at the same speed as the storm.  My husband had to drive very carefully, and once it got dark, visibility fell to almost zero, which was very scary because the water was right up to the road's edge and you couldn't see if the road had been flooded or not.  It was EXHAUSTING!

There was no way we could make it to Nashville; we barely made it to Memphis.  My husband had a close friend who lived about an hour away and he and his family invited us to spend the night with them.  So our family of seven descended upon their family of seven!  (A side note here:  people with a lot of kids are better able to handle other people who have lots of kids -- the more the merrier, you might say.  I think that being in a large family may make you by necessity more flexible :) His thoughtful wife made a big pot of spaghetti to warm us up.  We ate, and while we figured out where everyone could sleep, the boys (theirs and ours) went outside to play.  Well, it had been raining there all day too, and number four child (the son who had loaned his only pair of shoes to little brother earlier) slipped in the mud and his shoes were totally ruined!

By the garage door TODAY

The next day -- which was Christmas Eve -- we left our friends' home  and set out, looking for a place to buy some shoes.  Finally we came to a town that had a Payless shoe store visible from the road.  We pulled off, my son walked in with his socked feet, and found a pair of shoes, which we promptly purchased, thanking the store clerk profusely for being open this Christmas Eve.  Second shoe crisis averted (or at least dealt with)!

The rest of the day was a race against the clock since we were several hours behind schedule.  Our goal was to get to my dad's in time for his Christmas Eve gathering, and then to head on to my in-laws'. Once we had gotten on the road I started worrying "What if my mom is planning to surprise visit US for Christmas?"  So I had called my sister to make sure that wasn't happening. She was the only one who knew we were coming.

We pulled into my dad's yard late, but everyone was still there.  We popped out of the car and walked in.  "MERRY CHRISTMAS!!"  The funniest thing was my dad's reaction.  He was sitting at the table eating his Christmas goodies and he did not act a bit surprised.  He took it all in stride, as if I walked into his kitchen and sat down every day of the week.  It was good to see everybody, even though we couldn't linger too long.

After an hour or so, we left for the last 45 minutes of our journey.  We got to my in-laws, knocked on the front door, and began to sing.  I can't remember for sure, but it was probably "We wish you a Merry Christmas!"  My mother-in-law came to the door, and she was so surprised and happy.  My father-in-law's reaction was harder to read:  it was more like "Oh, no!  There goes my peaceful and quiet Christmas!"
Also on front porch TODAY

Anyway, we pulled the tree out, unloaded the presents, and the army tramped into the house.  At this point, Son Number Two (who was about 15 at this time), and whose wardrobe this entire traveling time had consisted of pajama pants and T-shirts and slippers, confessed that he had brought no other shoes with him except for the said slippers!  I was flabbergasted!  Three sons with no shoes?!  We were going to be there a week!  And sometimes it snows!  Lucky for him, this particular trip it did not snow and he just wore his slippers the entire vacation.

As you can see from the photos, there is no shortage of shoes in my house.  They are piled on my front porch, in the garage, in corners, under the beds, some are even in the closets where they actually belong.  This is partly why I could not believe that none of these shoes made it into the car for our trip.  What was in those suitcases, anyway?  There is no real moral to the story.  I just want to remember the Christmas of no shoes......
In the closet TODAY

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas Doings

Brenda at Coffeeteabooksandme had a helpful post on celebrating the holidays -- thinking about what things make them special to you or your family and trying to make sure those things are included in your activities.  I took her advice to heart and have tried to implement it -- not perfectly! -- but to have some intentionality to how we spent our time.  We live very far away from any family, so basically it is up to ME to make sure that there is some holiday spirit going on.  That is a daunting thought because I am not a take charge kind of girl.  But the Lord uses weak vessels, right?  Anyhow, here are a few of this year's holiday doings.

We have a particular tree we love to visit at Christmas time.  It is a single tree in a field, but the whole tree is covered in bluish-white lights.  There are no other lights to distract from its beauty, and it is breath-taking.  The photo does not do it justice.  It truly is magical.

Another thing I did was read A Christmas Carol out loud to my kids, which I thoroughly enjoyed.  I'm not sure if they were as enthusiastic as I was, but all the same they won't forget it -- and it is fun to hear your twelve-year-old discussing what he imagines Mr. Fezziwig looks like :)
I kept my windowsill cheerful:

I think these flowers were called cretonnes (sp?)
We went to our downtown lighting festival so that SOMEONE could slide down the courthouse railings and the grownups could try some wassail.

We indulged in peppermint milkshakes from Chick-fil-A -- mmmmm. We had a cookie decorating party. We watched favorite holiday shows -- Rudolph, the Grinch, Elf plus more obscure ones like The Red Boots.  We'll probably save It's a Wonderful Life or A Christmas Story (two very different movies, but both favorites around here) for Christmas Day.

Is my house perfectly clean?  I wish.  Did I mail Christmas cards? No.  Have I mailed gifts to faraway family? No, in the interest of finances and stress I decided to do that AFTER the holidays.  Does everyone in my house run around with peace in their hearts to their fellow man?  That truly would be a dream.

No perfection here.  BUT.....this year I have decorated a little more, baked a little more, taken more care wrapping the presents, even been a little more thoughtful in present giving.  I have tried to plan some easy good meals and am looking forward to our church's Christmas Eve service.

I am hoping to carry forward some of this intentionality (for want of a better word) into the new year,  so that 2012 might have many small happy memories tucked in amongst the ordinary and even the worse-than-ordinary days.

Merry Christmas!

"And the angel said unto them, Fear not:  for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.  For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord." -- Luke 2:9-10

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Cookie Decorating Party

This past weekend I hosted a Cookie Decorating Party.

I'm usually not one to ice cookies -- normally a little colored sugar is all the decoration I do -- so this was new territory for me.  I got some Christmas cookie cutters from the dollar section at Target and went to town making cookies of various shapes.  All in all, I made over 13 dozen!  (I have to add that this was probably overkill -- all my decorators pooped out before the end, so a couple of dozen cookies had to go "naked".)

I organized them by shape, ready to be handed out at the party.

I found this recipe for the icing, and it worked great!  There were four colors of icing:  white, red (i.e. pink), blue and green.  My husband picked up four piping tips and some disposable bags.  I already had various doodads, sprinkles and such for added decoration.  After covering the table with newspaper and  providing each participant with a plastic placemat (boy, those things are useful!), we were now set.

Ten or so young people -- most, but not all, girls -- showed up.  I thought their cookies turned out so cute!
Love the suspenders!
Abominable snowman?
Making sure to get some chocolate in
These poor cookies had already been taste-tested ;)
A non-traditional look
Nice hair, gingerbread girl!
I like the look of surprise on the snowman

And my not-entirely-successful attempt at making the light above the table festive:

I'm off to wrap some gifts and plan our Christmas menu!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Christmas Tour

These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace.  In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.
-- John 16:33

I have had the above verse on my kitchen windowsill for a little while now, not because I have any particular tribulations at the moment, but because of what Jesus says right in the middle:  BE OF GOOD CHEER, I HAVE OVERCOME THE WORLD.  What an unusual thing for Him to say -- "be of good cheer." But I love that He said it.  And since He DID say it, I am trying to be more intentional about celebrating -- not just Christmas, but life in general.  To that end, I have been decorating and trying to "cheer up" the house.  Have a look-see, if you want.

This wreath is a new purchase.  I love all the red in it, especially against my red front door. I did add the jingle bell, which is peeping out from under the bow.

This is our tree in the daytime.  All the lights are round and multi-colored (multi-sized, too).  While I admire more elegant trees, for myself I always choose the more Grinchy look :)

I made this tree skirt last year (with this tutorial).  The fabrics are probably from the eighties.  At one point my MIL had made a bunch of Christmas sacks and they weren't being used anymore so she gave them to me.  I decided the fabric would be better used in a tree skirt.

A few pics of ornaments:
A ceramic Santa painted by my husband
 Clay Santa and colored angel made by my daughter
Bird in basket was a gift from a Chinese friend in college
One of several crazy gingerbread clay people made by my brother and sister-in-law
This little plastic ornament used to hang on my grandmother's tree
Snowman painted by my husband when he was a child
Here is the mantel.  New this year are the garland and the lights.

Our stockings were all made by my sister and my mother.  My sister did the cross-stitching and my mother did the rest.

Because the mantel is brick I have to use stocking holders.  These are a little modern looking, which I think suits this fireplace.

A Christmasy table runner on the coffee table.

A nativity scene on the dining hutch.

Another nativity scene on the piano.  Unfortunately, Joseph went missing many years ago :(  At least the wise men still come.

This wind-up Santa is in terrible condition, so I put him high up on top of the clock (which I see needs dusting).  I'm sentimental about him because my great-grandfather gave him to me when I was a baby.

Some other Santas on my bookshelves.

This one was painted by my sister

This jolly old elf was knitted  by my daughter
A few other Christmas figures
Snowman (he needs a scarf)
Rustic angel
A thrift store treasure.  He actually stays out year round.
Christmas village on top of the piano
This wreath on the bathroom door was a made years ago by a little niece who is now a grown woman with children of her own.

This ceramic ornament was filled with Hershey's Kisses, but they are long gone. (Don't worry.  I've made lots of candy to replace them.)

May you have good cheer both in your homes and your hearts this Christmas season!