Dec 31, 2011

Simply Christmas: ♫ 'tis a gift to be simple, 'tis a gift to be free ♫

I'm pondering the past month and thinking about what I did differently this year, what I enjoyed, and what I missed from the way things have been in the past.  Because of all the care-giving and the lack of extra funds, I did miss some of the "magic" of the preparations for Christmas.  I love to have time to bring out all the decorations and make my home look beautiful and special for the holidays.  I also love attending parties and concerts and baking,  entertaining and doing fun things with the grandchildren.  I enjoy the shopping and wrapping and seeing tons of gifts under the tree.  All of that was kept to a minimum this year.  

So what did it look like?  Well, I didn't spend a dime on any new decorations.  And I didn't bring out everything and take a week to arrange and rearrange things.  

Instead one evening shortly after Thanksgiving, Ethan and Elylah came over and decorated the tree for me.  I sat and watched and my heart was full of joy to see them taking such pride in their work.  A couple days later I did some finishing touches so there would be some ornaments on the top half of the tree!  The garlands on the bannisters I had made several years ago.  They only took a few minutes to tie on. 

This is something new I had hanging on our tree... Well, not exactly NEW...these flashbulbs were decorated by my hubby about 55 years ago when he was a cub scout!  His mom gave them to us this year!

 Last year I had made new bows for our window wreaths, and hubby hung those for me.  It took no time at all to place  garland on the mantle and hang the stockings...

Other than getting out the nativity set and a few Santas and trees, that was the extent of my decorating this year.  

You might be wondering how that is different from any other year.  Often I like to pick a "theme" and decorate every room in the house to tie in with it.  I try to use things I already have, but often it does involve purchasing some new decorations as well.  None of that this year...

By joining a couple local on-line "Swap, Shop and Give" groups this year, I was able to barter or purchase things inexpensively to use for gifts.  I also sold and gave away things from my home to help others do the same.  I parted with a nice old tea cart for only $35 and even took a post-dated check for it to help a stranger out.  She originally wanted it for herself, but instead decided to give it to her friend who had just lost her grandmother and had inherited her tea pot.  Another girl was looking for a juicer for her mother who has cancer.  I gladly gave her ours as we rarely used it and it took up precious cupboard space.  A friend of a friend sold me a one year old Keurig coffee maker for $35 that I used for a gift, and included about $20 worth of coffee for free. (This gift went to our son Sam, who very much appreciated it!)  I made up several gift baskets by using a small devotional book our pastor wrote, and added coffee mugs and other small items like tea, coffee, and candy and small gifts.  The examples could go on and on...but all to say that not only was I able to find nice used things at a fraction of their retail value, I was also able to bless others and in the process I've made some new friends! 

 This basket, wrapping, ribbon and decoration were all recycled from last year...

Here are a couple of the gifts that were fun and inexpensive to give:

Andy, a lover of anything vintage and especially if it reminds him of his grandpa Sam, inherited this circa 1940-1942 Royal portable typewriter that was my father's. 

Hubby scored a vintage (1976 ~ the year we were married) oak shoe shine kit box which I acquired at a good price from someone in the Swap group.   

Our South Carolina family was able to be here for Christmas this year, and it was wonderful to spend lots of family time with four generations.

My mom provided these home made gingerbread (graham cracker) houses and the candy for the SC boys to decorate since they had missed the family party the week before.

I re-discovered some Christmas plates and green glasses in the basement, and made a simple lasagna for our dinner.  I let go of some pride and used sauce from a jar to save time.  A friend sold me some home made artisan bread and we had a simple tossed salad.  My mother-in-law donated several dozen of her home made cookies since she knew I had no time for baking this year.  It was the easiest holiday dinner I ever made, and it was delicious.  There were 14 of us.

Before opening gifts, Ellie led the singing of Up on the House Top and The Twelve Days of Christmas!

Andy, Ellie, and Sam took the three oldest kids ice skating and sled riding downtown Akron...

Four adults and the six kids went to the hands-on Children's Museum in Cleveland one afternoon...

Our granddaughter wanted a birthday tea with a rainbow theme for her family party on Christmas Eve day.  We made our own decorations and I kept things as simple as possible by buying deli potato salad, chicken salad & croissants, and some sweets to go with our tea.  Even though it cost little more to buy the food ready-made, it saved a whole lot of time and stress.

After the tea, we switched into the Christmas Eve mode and eight of us attended our church service together.The four generations ranged in age from 9 months to 85 years!

Above all else this Christmas, I have experienced peace, love, and joy that transcends all the other blessings because...

A Christmas miracle has come to our family and heartache has turned to hope.  Just a few weeks ago my brother was spending most of his time on the hospital bed in their family room, taking morphine by the hour, and hooked up to an oxygen tank.  He was in excruciating pain from a vertebrae crushed by a cancerous tumor.  This 59 year old marathon runner couldn't even walk more than a few steps.  They were wondering if they should tell their out-of-state family not to come for the holidays.  On December 14th he had surgery to bolster up the crushed vertebrae.  He has finished two rounds of chemotherapy.  A few days after Christmas he came over to visit us and walked unassisted, sat in the chair without pain, and even got down on the floor and up again.  He was able to enjoy Christmas with his kids and grandkids.  We don't know the long term outcome and he has a long road ahead with more treatments and potentially a bone marrow transplant coming up.  But I'm so glad I wasn't too busy to witness the miracle!  So glad I have been able to walk this journey with him from the valley to the mountaintop.  So eternally grateful that Emanuel has come to us and that we have seen His mighty works. Because without HIM, none of this makes any sense.  No amount of celebrating, decorating, family time...none of it means anything if you can't see Jesus in it all.  Jobs, health, name it.  It can all be here today and gone tomorrow.  Keep that in mind friend.  And hold on to the Solid Rock because life can bring some strong storms.  God bless us everyone in the New Year!

My brother Don with his five grandchildren Olivia, Abraham, Aslan, Isaac, and Caleb.

Dec 20, 2011

Simply Christmas: Let your heart be light!

Years ago one of my sisters made a Santa outfit for use at our family Christmas parties. Dozens of men have worn this costume and countless children and adults alike have smiled at the sight. 

This year, my brother Bob played Santa at our party the other night...

Some years back my hubby and I decided we would make a practice of choosing a couple families each year and bring a few minutes of Christmas joy to unsuspecting children.  We line it up ahead of time with the parents, then Santa makes a quick stop and gives a small gift.  I'm his reinDEAR who drives quickly from house to house...

This year we stopped at four different houses and Santa saw 12 children in less than two hours.  He handed out $5 McDonald's cards...other years he has brought small gifts in his big red bag...I write out a little cheat sheet for each house we visit with the names and ages of the children so he can play the game easier...

Here are some of the kids he visited this year...

But to tell the truth... we may be the ones who get the most joy...

These last three photos are from last year...we really haven't had our snow this year yet.  (I'm NOT complaining.) My hubby is such a great guy to go along with my wild and crazy ideas. Really, it is such a simple thing to do and doesn't take up too much time right before Christmas...Three of the four families we visited the other night were new friends that I have made this year!

So what have you done in December just for fun that didn't require any stress?

"...whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God..." I Cor. 10:31

Dec 15, 2011

Simply Christmas: love more

What is God asking you to do?  That question was posed to us last Sunday in our sermon, followed by this statement:  "When God asks you to do something difficult, He is giving you an invitation to show your love for Him."  God asked something difficult of Joseph.  He asked him to marry the young girl he was already engaged to, all the while knowing that she was pregnant though they had never been intimate.  He asked him to believe that she was a virgin. He asked him to trust that the child would be the promised Messiah.  He asked him not to fear.  

God has asked me to do a few difficult things this Christmas season.  Most important of all, He has asked me to show my love for Him by loving others more.  He's asked me to give up some self-indulgence to show love to friends and family.  He's asked me to party less and pray spend less and give worship Him more and things less.

I haven't washed anybody's feet lately...but I did wash my brother's hair.  The visiting physical therapist showed me how to wheel him over to the kitchen sink so I could do it.  It was mechanically an easy thing to do. Emotionally, it was very difficult.  I struggled to keep my composure.  How could this really be happening?  Outwardly I smiled, but inwardly my heart was breaking. 

But the funny thing about love is you never have to run out.  Because the more of it you give, the more you get back and the fuller your tank gets.  So don't be afraid to love more this Christmas.  Joseph was able to connect the dots.  He took Mary to be his wife.  And he gained a Savior.  All because of God's love.  What about you?  Are you loving more this Christmas?

Dec 7, 2011

Simply Christmas: simplifying is more than just a word...

This month finds me care-giving 5 days a week. Three days I watch three grandchildren, and the other two days are spent helping my brother who is having cancer treatments.  Hubby is still unemployed.  I've not yet been to a single store to do any kind of Christmas shopping.  I haven't had time to bake, and only a few decorations are in place, intermingled with the remnants of Thanksgiving stuff, which I haven't had time or energy to pack away. A few boxes and tissue paper have been strewn around the house for over a week. Most have remained in the basement. The month is looking very different from other years...

And doesn't matter.  Because not only am I not doing the things I normally would be doing, I am finding peace in staying out of the frenzy.  I'm sure there will be a present of one form or another for everyone to open on Christmas Day.  But  I have no desire for pretenses or for spending money we don't have.  I've actually been making a little game out of buying some used items from the on line swap group I'm in.  Next week I am hoping to have a couple of days to get my creative juices flowing and see what I can come up with. 

If there is anything I have learned from the experiences of the past year, it is that nothing in life can be taken for granted.  Every moment of every day is a gift from God.  What we do with those moments is our gift to Him.  

Today I pulled out a gingerbread train kit that I had purchased last year at an after-Christmas sale for $5.  Elylah (almost 6) and Ethan (just turned 3) had a great time putting it together and decorating it.  So glad I remembered to bring my camera...

"Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts...and be thankful...And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him."  Colossians 3:15-17