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Merry Christmas to you and all your loved ones!

Buried deep in my childhood memories are Currier and Ives pictures of Christmas, like the one below.  Subconsciously, I still tend to think of these beautiful scenes when I think of Christmas.

currier and ives christmas 1

That, however, poses  problems. First, Christmas is about Christ, the greatest gift  that has ever or will ever be given.  Second, pictures like that make us (me especially!) tend to want everything to be “perfect” for our family and our loved ones – and that is not reality.

Reality is that God loved the world so much that He sent His son Jesus to be our Savior and our Redeemer, to show us the way to live as God would have us live.  (That’s the famous “John 3:16” verse.)

How much better for everyone if we have a grateful heart, focused on thanking and praising our loving Heavenly Father for loving us so!

nativity

Dear Father in Heaven,

Thank You for sending Your Son Jesus into this broken world, to show by His example how we are to live.  Help me to be a channel of Your love to everyone I see.  Help me please You with the “words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart” on this, the most beautiful day.   Happy birthday, Jesus!  I love You!

Psalm 19:14 “May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in Your sight, O LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer.” (New International Version, 1973)

Unjealous Heart, Chap 5, Post 11 – Thrift Overcame Hard Times

Gratitude Overcomes Again!

The pity party, fortunately, didn’t last long.   All the months trying to be grateful and to stop worrying and focus on the positive had, indeed, become a habit.  I blew my nose and picked up one of the cookie tins we had just made that night.   Sharon had made big curling ribbon bows for each one, and the name tags were carefully lettered in her childish scrawl.   She had added a smilie face  to each one.

I sighed and took a cup of the now lukewarm cocoa.  There really was no cause for worry.  For Sharon, making the cookies was an exciting project, and she was sure people would like them.  She had decorated each cookie with a particular person in mind:  cats for Uncle Ted, dogs for Uncle Larry, the old-fashioned rocking horse for Grandmommy, and dogs for Granddaddy.

(By the way, here is are some great templates for name tags  to print on your computer http://bit.ly/1OCe6jE

While mixing the other batches of cookie dough, I had watched as she carefully, lovingly put the finished cookies into the tins, making sure each person’s tin had their specially decorated cookies and that Uncle Larry and Uncle Ted got plenty of their mutual favorite –  chocolate chip cookies.  She thought the cookies made fine gifts.  I was the one looking at them with critical eyes.

We did not have a Currier and Ives Christmas but our little home was warm and inviting and filled with love.

christmas hearth

 

When Christmas morning finally came and Sharon finally opened the presents, I reminded myself that the same principle applied to the gifts I gave her.  I alone found fault with their price, their quality, and their quantity.  She thought them charming and beautiful, from the one present I always let her open on Christmas Eve (the shower cap this year) down to the last big package she opened, the red and green wrapped mirror lying on its side behind the tree.

She was so excited that she came over and hugged me after opening each one.  Later that morning, before we left to eat Christmas dinner with the relatives, I helped her decide where to keep her shower cap, how to set up a ramp for her matchbox cars out of books and a yard stick, and how to rearrange her what-not shelves to make room for her new ceramics.

opening-christmas-gifts-27795298

            As I observed her during those blessed two weeks we had the whole day together for Christmas holidays, I began to understand that she felt, to the bottom of her heart, that she was well cared for.  She knew she was dearly loved, and she thought we had a good life together.  And that understanding was the best gift ever for me.

nativity

Unjealous Heart, Chap 5, Post 10 – From Grateful to Grinch

Our cookie backing project over, Sharon and I still had more of a wonderful Christmas Eve to enjoy.  As soon as the credits rolled for “The Black Stallion” but before the old  Bing Crosby movie started, I mixed an apple and cinnamon snacking cake.  In that pre-microwave era, a wide variety of quick-bake desserts were marketed.  Snacking cakes consisted of one bag of ingredients, to which only water had to be added, a disposable baking pan, and a foil bag of icing to be applied after slight cooling.

By the time the next movie began, the little cake was in the oven, and I was again snuggled next to Sharon on the old blue blanket on the floor.  “The Bells of Saint Mary’s” was a particularly fine example of good things about old movies.  The story was sweet, the mood sentimental, and the ending happy.  By the second commercial, our perfect little cake for two was ready.  I put two pieces on our small real china plates, and put the plates, paper napkins, forks, and two glasses of milk on top of our green and orange serving tray.

milk-and-cookies-for-santa

            “Oh, Mommy!  That’s so pretty!”  Sharon scooted over and made room on the blanket for me and the tray.  That movie and that little snacking cake were the perfect ending for our  Christmas Eve doings.  Then, we read the Christmas story from the Bible , and I sat on the edge of her bed, speculating with her about the presents might be.”

“Now, Sharon.  How late are you going to let me sleep tomorrow?”

“Oh, maybe until six.”

“What!  You can’t get up that early, you know, if you do. . .”

Finally, though, it really was time for one last good-night kiss.  I stood up and walked to the door.

“I’ll leave the door open just a crack.  I’m going to have one more cup of cocoa, then I’ll come to bed, too.”

“Don’t stay up too late, Mommy.  Santa Claus won’t come if anyone’s awake, you know.” she said with exaggerated seriousness.

In the kitchen, I turned off the overhead light, turned on the stove light, and put one cup of water on to boil.  As I stood by the stove, I inhaled deeply.  The air was rich with the distinctive smells of baking: sweetened dough, chocolate, and peanut butter.  I used the sponge to scoot a stray cookie crumb into the sink, then put the sponge in its assigned resting place, just so, to the right of the faucet.  The smooth surface of the toaster gleamed in the soft light from the stove, and the counter looked strangely empty without cookies and mixing bowl and spoons and spatulas.

“Count your blessings, count your blessings,” I repeated to myself as the hot water made the instant cocoa foam to the top edge of the mug.  But my mental discipline failed me.

I sat on the good end of the love seat, put the cup of cocoa on the floor and turned to look at our tiny tree, twinkling in the semidarkness.

“It is a charming little tree,” I told myself, “and lots of people have tabletop trees because they prefer them.”   But that’s as far as my rationalizing went.  The tears came then, the tears as well as all the feelings and fears that had been bottled up for all the weeks before Christmas.

1small christmas tree

            “Surely,” I thought, “she will soon see all this as it really is.  She’ll understand how really needy we are.  She’ll see how small our homemade gifts and cookies were compared to what other people give us.   She’ll figure out that she did not really have much for Christmas, but that I had just made it appear so.   She’ll find out that her friends’ mothers don’t buy clothes from Goodwill.  She’ll be ashamed of how I look and how our house looks, too.  She’ll see past the department store improvements and start thinking about our threadbare love seat and that wobbly old rocker, and… ”  On and on went my negative spiral of woe-is-me thoughts.

grinch

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Unjealous Heart, Chap 5, Post 9 – Gratitude for Cookies

cookie tins 2

While she was doing the fancy decorating, I mixed up dough for the second kind of cookies we made that year, rolled peanut butter crackles.  These were great to take for kid’s parties and PTA functions because they always turned out just right, with a perfect crack across the top.  They were a homemade cookie that looked like it came from a bakery.  However, making them meant a lot of rolling out as they were a shaped cookie and had to be rolled between the palms of your hands. This rolling out was Sharon claimed as her job.

            “Hey, Mommy!  Don’t you have that peanut butter cookie dough ready yet?  Rolling out is my job, you know, and I’m almost done with these sugar cookies.”

“Hey, yourself, and don’t rush me, please.  I’m almost done and the cookie factory foreman will dock my pay if he finds out you’re ahead of me.”

In spite of her good intentions, by the time she had decorated and packed all those cookies into the right tins and then rolled out one a half batches of peanut butter crackles, Sharon’s pace was visibly slowing.

cookie tins 1

            “Why don’t you lie down in the viewing room while I finish up the cookies.  There isn’t much more to do, and The Black Stallion starts at eight o’clock.”

“Okay, but did you really read the book four times when you were in school?”

“Why, I certainly did!  I loved horses almost as much as you do, sweetie.  I read a lot of other horse books, too.  The library in our town had more of those than any other kind of story.  It wasn’t as big as our libraries in Tampa.”

In five minutes, I had almost finished the peanut butter crackles       “Come on, Mommy!  It’s starting!”

I slid the last sheet of peanut butter crackles into the oven and gratefully flopped onto the blue blanket beside a very excited Sharon.  After the shipwreck, while Alec and the Black were busy surviving on the island, I mixed the third kind of cookie dough—chocolate chip.  Fortunately, this was Sharon’s favorite kind of cookie and I made it often enough so I could mix them on automatic pilot.  From where I stood between the counter and the oven, I was as close to the television anyway as if I were in the room.  Once I had a batch in the oven, I laid down for ten minutes while they baked.    I hardly missed a word as  Henry Daily, played by Mickey Rooney, showed Alec how to “throw him away” when he gave the Black his head on the stretch.  By the time the Black had won his race and he and Alec were back home, our six batches of cookies were baked, cooled, and packed up in those tins.

Unjealous Heart, Chap 5, Post 8

“Are we ready, baby?  Let’s start with the sugar cookies first. They take a bit of concentration, you know and you might get tired by the time we mix up all these batches of cookies.”

“Okay, Mommy, but I won’t get tired.  I promise.”

The two batches of sugar cookie dough I had made earlier in the day were thoroughly chilled, so rolling them out went quickly, at least as quickly as it could with Bran doing most of it.  We had been baking sugar cookies together for years, for Christmas and for no good reason but fun at other times.  We had our method down pat, but it was less than speedy.

I mixed the dough, chilled it, and laid out the rolling pin, flour bin, and sifter.  I sifted the countertop with a thin layer of flour.  It was also my job to knead the dough and roll it part way out.  Then, when it was a manageable size, Sharon took over, with me, of course, offering appropriate compliments on her technique.

Sharon also cut out the cookies, while the task of getting them onto the cookie sheet in one piece fell to me.  I gathered up the scraps from the first cutting, kneading the scraps into a ball and rolling them out for Sharon to cut into more cookies.  After a cookie sheet was filled, I put the cookies into the oven and took them out, but when they were partly cool, Sharon slid the spatula underneath each one and carefully put them on the table, a platter, or whatever clean surface was available so they could finish cooling.

This was the method we followed now, and we soon had the card table covered with cookies to decorate.  The decorating Sharon usually managed by herself, unless she needed an opinion from me, which was understandable as she had an overwhelming assortment of decorating supplies.

In the matter of buying those supplies, I took advantage of the opportunity to be extravagant with several small, inexpensive items.  She had a pack of green-colored sugar, red-colored sugar, chocolate sprinkles, candy crinkles, and a small tube of blue icing.  Each cookie received her special attention.  She put red sugar on the clapper of one bell, green sugar across the top of another, and a blue stripe around the middle of another.  Another bell she covered with chocolate crinkles and white sugar.

“Mommy, do you think the Christmas stars should all have green sugar or could they be other colors, too?”

“Well, let me think.  You know, in the mall they have those big blue and silver trees at the entrance.  And when I was your age, the grocery store always sold little Christmas trees painted white and blue and red.  I think a blue star would be just fine.”

“I agree,” she replied, as she applied candy crinkles as miniature ornaments to the tree she was working on.  “I’ll make the stars blue.”

christmas cookies blue

Unjealous Heart, Chap 5, Post 7

Another part of our Christmas each year was making gifts to give family and friends.  This, too, I managed to have Sharon perceive as fun.   One year, we made latch hook wall hangings for everyone.  That was the year she completed a twelve by fourteen latch hook kit herself and was still enamored with what later proved to be too easy a craft for her high degree of manual dexterity and creativity.  Another year, we wove variegated yarn into plastic squares and gave each person a set of coasters.  For several years, we made cookies.   That first year in the apartment was a cookie year.

Although I had to type during Christmas Eve day, I stopped early in the evening to fix supper so we could begin our baking project.  Although baking six batches of cookies would be quite an undertaking with our limited space, Sharon enjoyed the hubbub and commotion our baking project entailed.  It sharpened her already keen sense of excitement about Christmas in general to turn our kitchen into a bona-fide, functioning cookie factory.

... free downloadable recipe book with 50 different Christmas Cookie

“Okay, baby, supper dishes are done.  Can you help me lay things out for packaging up the cookies?”

“Oh, yes, Mommy!  I know where everything is.  The tins are under the tree and I know where the ribbon and name tags are, too.”

In less than five minutes, my eager, beaming helper had the six cookie tins, which had cost only $1.29 each, on the card table next to our list of names, the name tags, curling ribbon, and tape.  Meanwhile, I had been assembling what we needed for making the cookies and, of course, clearing that tiny countertop.  The contents of the oven (extra cookie sheet, broiler rack, and small mixing bowl) sat on the floor in the corner next to the fan.  The big mixing bowl sat in the left half of the counter surrounded by white sugar, brown sugar, measuring cup, butter, vanilla, and eggs.  The other half of the counter was cleared of everything but a fine dusting of flour, the flour bin with sifter inside, and the rolling pin.

christmas-baking-gingerbread-cookies-food-background-concept-46473895

Unjealous Heart, Chap 5, Post 6

Next, we untangled the cords for the lights and I assisted Sharon as she put them on–“All by myself, Mommy!”  Then came my favorite, the beads — chains of red, blue, gold and silver glitter purchased one strand at a time over the last four years.

“What color beads do you think we should buy this year?”

“How about green?  We don’t have any green ones yet?”

“Should we leave a space for them?”

“No, I don’t think so.  We’ll buy them a little later, when the stores have their really good sales on Christmas decorations, and we’ll use them next year.”

After the beads came the ornaments.   Sharon loved the tiny foil presents and bells and stars while I loved the construction paper and glitter creations she had brought home since first grade, the Dutch girl in her red dress, the gold oval with her second grade picture in its center, the blue spire encircled with gold braid from third grade, and the green bell from last year.

Again, she was all seriousness as she asked my opinion about placement of the ornaments and, again, I responded in kind.

“Can we do the icicles now, Mommy?  And can we throw them, like we did last year?”

Finally, we were ready for the finishing touch.  Our little angel had cost three dollars at the Eagle Army-Navy store five years ago.  Although her cardboard and lace skirt has lost most of its shape, and her angelic head had lost patches of its hair, she topped our tree perfectly.   What her appearance might have lacked in fact, we made up for in fancy.  Likewise with the Alpine village we assembled at the foot of the tree.  The steep pointed roofs, frozen lake, plastic evergreens, and miniature ice-skaters used only half the circle of the fluffy white tree skirt, a mere eighteen inches or so.  But to appreciative eyes, it was as beautiful as the elegant, elaborate displays of Hummel figures we saw in store windows.

On the doorknob, we hung a string of jingle bells.  The walls we festooned with our Twelve Days of Christmas and Noel! Banner, and we draped a four-foot spray of plastic holly over the top of the room divider.  Then, we turned out the lights and stood side by side, arms around each other, giving new depth to the phrase “beaming with joy.”

“Oooooooo!” was all Sharon said for a few moments.

Then, “Ooooooooo!” again.  Those “Oooooos!” and those moments of silence told me she would be happy, and feel proud, every night in the five weeks to come before Christmas when we plugged in the tree each night.

Unjealous Heart, Chap 5, Post 5

 We did have a wonderful Christmas that year, and it included decking our little house, with its one little hall, and trimming our tree.  The tree trimming was a most festive occasion, of course, and little effort was required to make it seem so.  That year, decided to decorate the Tuesday after Thanksgiving.  On Monday afternoon, I tidied up the front room and swept it.  Right before bedtime, we both cleared everything off the maple end table, the designated spot for our three-foot Christmas tree.

“Come on, sweetie, it’s bedtime.  We’ll start decorating tomorrow.”

I sat on the edge of the bed and pulled the blankets up over her chest, folding back the top two inches or so as we talked about how much fun it would be to trim our tree.

“Mommy, can I do the lights all by myself?”

“Of course you can, sweetie.  You have a good eye for where they need to go.  I remember that from last year.”

“And someday can we buy another Alpine village to go with the little one we have already?”

“Sure we will.”

The next night, when the tree trimming and hall decking began, I put on a Christmas tape, made two cups of hot chocolate, and climbed up in the attic to fetch the Christmas decoration boxes, handing them down to Sharon one at a time.  When all five boxes were in the front room, we each took a sip of our now-cool (like Sharon liked it) hot chocolate.  While Bing Crosby and Nat King Cole sang of white Christmases and winter wonderlands, we turned our little house into a Christmas land perfect for the two of us.

We assembled the red and green plastic tree stand, then the tree itself.  As Sharon unfolded the tree’s thinning branches, she carefully arranged them, just so, to hide the bare spots and crooked limbs caused by years of packing and unpacking.

“Mommy, does this branch look better up or down?”

I came over to stand next to her, then inspected the tree from all sides before I answered.  Her little face was intensely serious.  Although I could see only a miniscule difference, I rendered my opinion in a suitably grave tone of voice.

“I think its better slightly to the right, where you have it now.”

After two similar conferences on branch placement, the little tree silhouette was deemed satisfactory