Category Archives: Christmas

Crusty Morning

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The Porch At ChristmasI awoke after another restless night’s sleep.  A combination of a urinary tract infection and my SI joint giving me troubles.  I would rather stay in my warm bed to try for some more shut-eye.  But job duties call despite how I feel.  I am doing all my doctor has recommended. Need let the antibiotics do their job, think on positive thoughts, trust God, and just to rest.  For me “just rest” is the hardest order to follow.

I move out the front door with purse and lunch tote in my gloved hands.  A crusty morning, a crunch under my boots as I walked to the car.  Yes, a thin sheet of ice under snow covered the sidewalk and car.  I turn and see the winter porch decor dazzled with ice, too.  Oh, the festive mood I wanted to be in for this holiday season.  And the ice-capped snowman’s morning greeting did it.  Just the simple things in life.  I am ready to get through my day.

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Back When

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The “Christmas Trees For Sale” sign in the store front window caught my attention.  Fresh pine scent, the friendly “howdy” greeting, footsteps on the squeaky wood-planked floor, and the jingle of the door bells as I enter and close the door into the little gift shop … each liven my senses … bring me to back when.  A little pony-tailed blonde-haired girl.  Cannot wait for the holiday season, Thanksgiving, Christmas Day, and New Years.  But all the events leading to those wonder-filled holidays.  Baking, decorating, crafting, wrapping, and for me living on a tree farm, setting up the pine trees to sell.  Always Thanksgiving weekend my Dad and Grandpa brought in a truck and trailer overflowed with fresh cut Christmas trees.  Scotch pine, white pine, and spruce trees planted, trimmed, and cared for by Dad, and any family members looking for some extra $$ pitched in.  My siblings and I included.  We would play hide-n-seek in the pile of cut trees until there were no more to set-up.  Snow, ice, or rain, it did not matter. Wholesome fun. We had the time of our lives back when.

 

A weekend away in Branson, Missouri for early Christmas shopping and a membership inquiry with a vacation club for more of these empty nest long weekends and longer week dream vacations.  Dean and I are local shoppers, whether in our home town of St. Charles, Missouri or while on vacation.  There is something down-to-earth about brick & mortar and mom & pop shops.  Branson has the downtown landing and tourist attractions, but take us where the locals shop, eat, and play, please!  Nostalgic Dicks 5 & 10, Main Street Flea Market, the Classy Flea, and the Farmhouse Restaurant … Back when the Nativity was in every shop, home, and city hall.  The holidays included real pine rope trimmings with bright red velvet bow wreaths and pine cones.  Back when that fresh field-cut Charlie Brown tree was dressed with hand-sewn ornaments, Shiny Brite glass balls, and a collection of heirloom from Germany or England, wherever your family originated from.  Back when home-baked breads were served at every meal with a home-jarred fruit preserves, and your favorite sugar cookies piled on a plate or in a large jar for the eating any time.  But not too close to your mother’s or grandmother’s home-cooked dinner, “not to spoil your appetite”.  The house smelled of a fresh pot of chicken & dumplings.  I imagine my father’s Christmases in the 1940’s.  Filled with joy to have his father, my Grandpa Earl back home from the war.  Grandma Anna doting over the menu preparations.  Two or three simply wrapped presents with his name “Marty” on the tags under the tinseled Christmas tree.  Back when is close to my heart at this present moment in the guest bedroom of our 1940’s house.  My family has been blessed with fond memories and we will make more.

 

Any Room At Your House?

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Tis the season of busyness and preparations for the holidays.  Presents bought and wrapped.  Baking.  A surprise visit and present from my son.  It is Dean and I’s heart to get these holiday greetings sent via postage mail long before Christmas week. Please know that you are in our hearts year round. Christmas joy has filled our home, peace with God and grace to all people despite any differences.  This snowy Christmas Eve is the slow-down to reflect on His Gift, Jesus, lessons from 2017 and what is hoped for 2018. The 4 Advent Sundays reminded us of this moment. Father Peter shared at Mass tonight the Christmas story, how there was no room for Joseph, Mother Mary, and the birth of baby Jesus.  A meager manger would be the chosen place of His birth. It was asked how many of us would say the same “no room at our house”? “What would you do if Joseph and Mary came knocking on your door tonight?  Do you have time to deal with this?  Can you make space in your house without resentment or casting judgment?  Would you empty the tool shed or a spot in the garage?  Would you charge high $$ to profit from this situation?  Or worst yet, steal their possessions, what little the guests have?  Scriptures tell us “What you do to the least of my brothers, you do unto Me.”

“Family” would summarize our year of 2017.  As a reminder, Dean and I have 6 children, 5 in-law children, 6 grandchildren, 3 parents, 5 siblings and their families, and we cannot forget our dog, Midnight and cat, Celine, the 7 grand dogs, and 3 grand cats.  Dean and I began 2017 in Key West, Florida with his parents and siblings, an 80th birthday celebration for Dean’s mother.  Such a while ago, but lovely memories of the beach breezes, discovering new sites, and time with family.  We still have our greeting card boxes that niece Amelia made each of us.  After the hurricanes there, I suppose the scenery is quite different.  In a couple of days warmth awaits us in San Antonio, where we will meet up with Dean’s son, AJ, Nancy, Elise, and  Nancy’s family there.  Spiced rum eggnog, homemade chicken soup, Christmas carols, and having each other will keep us warm tonight …

In February my daughter, 33-year old Elisabeth was diagnosed with 2 types of breast cancer, stage 1 and stage 2. Elisabeth went through a strict regimen of chemo treatments, hair loss, zapped energy and strength. She had a double mastectomy and reconstruction this summer. We are so very thankful to our Father as she has been given a cancer-free diagnosis in July.  Elisabeth is regaining her strength and hair while under hormone therapy and low-dose chemo.  Her husband, children, family, friends, and all the supportive, praying communities continue to surround her. Her bravery and fighter personality helped Elisabeth stay above.  I reached out for prayers by many women, visited church 1-block from my office to take part in many noontime prayer vigils, and Dean and I together continue to provide a quiet and calm home while she heals.

Refreshing spring brought us to the completion of our 2-room addition.  It took a whole year, but it is beautiful and has provided the much needed space to our home.  At this season of our lives we share our home with my daughter and her family.  More warmth with the woodwork, a set of barn doors matching the stained doors in the rest of the house as well as a high ceiling to heighten the spacious floor layout.  We use the 2 rooms as a family room/dining area and an extra bedroom that Elisabeth and Mark can rest their heads in. In May Dean and I spent almost a week in the Smoky Mountain region of our beautiful states.  Experienced the AirBnB hospitality for this vacation. We loved Gatlinburg, TN and Asheville, NC.  Antiques, the arts, and foodie places were our hangouts. Of course, a few walks in the woods. There was a sign warning us, and you know the saying “hindsight is 20/20”. Dean drove the Dragon’s Tail Highway with all its hairpin turns, not understanding what we were in for.  I was very close to losing lunch during that ride. We tried the glamper scene one night in the middle of nowhere land. And we stopped in Nashville for a night. Love the nightlife there with all the honky-tonks and country music.

Weekend trips to Lee’s Summit and Farmington keep us on the road at least once a month visiting with children, grandchildren, and Dean’s parents.  When we are home we read, write, catch a music venue or new foodie joint in St. Louis.  And there is always those weekend chores.  We garden and mow at the greenhouse site on Boone Hollow Farm near Defiance 7 or 8 months out of the year. This year’s gardening included a voluntary cherry tomato plant that literally took over the whole vegetable bed from July until the October frost killed it.  We dubbed this plant as “Audrey” from the play/movie Little Shoppe of Horror. We made a delicious green tomato marmalade from the abundance of fruit left after the killing frost.  Our perennials are inside now, and our bird of paradise is about to bloom again under the plant lights in the garage.  Autumn brought Dean and I a steal-away weekend to Pella, Iowa.  We loved this Dutch town so much, we are planning a Mother’s Day weekend there with our mothers.

My occupation as the employee wellness coordinator of St. Louis County is the work God called me to this season of my life.  We had our Billion Steps Challenge using Fitbits and a web portal called One Community.  With two 8-week walking challenges this spring and summer, we cleared the 1 billion steps goal and went well over 2 billion steps amongst 2800 participating employees and spouses.  I have been asked to speak along with a panel at the St. Louis area American Heart Association’s Wellness Forum in February discussing employer wellness budgets on a shoestring.  Personally, my biometric numbers were improved substantially with the walking challenges, and my primary care physician is thrilled.  The walking culture continues through winter.  Dean, Midnight, and I still take an evening constitutional almost every night.  At 20 degree temps, I declined tonight. Hives or worse a visit to the emergency room would not be good.  Dean’s occupation with the National Archives keeps him going, and work he was called to as well.  He loves the hunt for military records especially for his family and friends.

Our youngest granddaughter, Elise has captured her Grandpa Dean’s heart.  I think he counts the days until he can see her again.  This Father’s Day was a wonderful gathering of Dean’s children and their families with us at our home. The red children’s swing in our sweet gum tree remind us of that special weekend.  We had a Gall Family Thanksgiving  at Rainer and Erica’s newly bought house in St. Louis City, and a birthday gathering for Dean the following day at a local bakery cafe. Another day that weekend we celebrated my oldest grandchild, Hannah’s 16th birthday.  Church every Sunday and occasional birthday celebrations and plays keeps us in touch with my mother and family. While celebrations and victories punctuate our year, so does illness and death. Dean’s extended family lost a cousin recently. Cancer, this wicked stuff.  Keep Mike’s wife, Terri and 2 daughters in your prayers please.  Another extended family member is undergoing treatments ; please say a prayer for Marion, our son-in-law’s father.  My oldest daughter, Rachel has multiple medical conditions, her conditions declining, which cause severe pain.   In 2018 I plan to take more time off from work each month to help Rachel with the kids and house.  Please bathe Rachel in your prayers.

What room do you have in your heart, home, and life for the least of these My brothers?  What has God prepared you for this very night, or the 365 days in 2018?  Blessings to you this eve of Jesus Christ’s birth.  As the carols sing … “Christ was born to save!  Christ was born to save!”… “He rules the world with truth and grace and makes the nations prove the glories of His righteousness and wonders of His love, and wonders of His love, and wonders, wonders of His love.” Joy to the world!

First Snow

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Is that Santa peering at us from the tree?  Or an angel? Maybe an angel in the form of Santa in the first snow!  Angels are amongst us, and I believe in miracles.  Perform Your miracles through me and Your People, Lord God.  We need Your Peace.  Let us be an instrument of Your Peace this Christmas and each day of the New Year …

Warming Spirits And Hearts

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In my Missouri town my furry  hat and leather gloves are needed when I get out and about this week. Winter’s chill is here to stay for a few months. It came before the winter solstice and Christmas this year.  A fire in a wood stove or fireplace is welcomed, but the chillest of December days seem to warm up with good food, drink, and fellowship.  Holiday celebrations are underway.  The inner chef in me loves the holidays. With last week’s office party I made a traditional tiramisu to go with the Italian luncheon of pasta con broccoli and lettuce salad.  For the extended family gathering last weekend, I prepared a 11-lb ham with a Bavarian-style glaze of brandy, brown sugar, and Dijon mustard with each family member pitching in with a homemade side dish or dessert.  A cheese platter like this photo from Cabot will be designed for another celebration, with spirits served at each gathering. I want to connect with those I love, and those I need to love more … warming spirits and hearts.  Tis the season, reason for the season.  Hibernation will come later.  Curling under a blanket with a book, writing, and dreaming. Ham and green beans in my evening rice, with a glass of that good blackcherry wine on the side.  Hibernation is a fine art!” ~David J. Beard.

Red Geraniums

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This time of year the work day is eased into analyzing aggregate reports, research on other wellness programs, event planning, and networking for the year.  I like the slower pace which last about 4 – 6 weeks in December into January.  It is when I finally have the employee wellness events booked on the calendar.  Yes, forecasting  at least 9 months ahead.  It is much like a teacher and his/hers curriculum planning during the summer for the next school year.  It will be another busy year at St. Louis County, the busyness starting next week with several meetings and a health fair.

Much the same as with the farmer, his/hers planning for the spring and autumn crops is done during the frigid cold months.  My father was a tree farmer, and the winter was filled with book work and ordering of a new stock of plant liners.  My siblings and I would plant 100’s of plant saplings through the spring; lots of hoeing, weeding, and watering in the summer; and  autumn a few more plantings and prepping the pines for the holiday harvest.

I cannot say Deanna Greens And Garden Art has quite the planning of a full-time farmer.  The greenhouse is a hobby of Dean and I’s while we work full-time. Our part-time organic herb and vegetable growing is fragrantly and deliciously rewarding while the beautiful geranium blossoms are pleasing to the eyes.  During Dean and I’s Nashville mini-vacation in December, we toured the Belle Meade Plantation.  Each room in the historic house was festively decorated with period Christmas ware, with the kitchen set in the 20’s.  The kitchen is my favorite room. And there set a terra cotta pot of red geraniums in the windowsill, again another favorite of mine. A vintage flower.

The subzero wind chill has me hibernating today.  I wanted snow, but not this frigid cold stuff. God forgives my absence in church, and He knows my severe allergy to the cold.  Early morn I went outdoors in my pjs, robe, socks, and slippers to let our Labrador into the fenced yard, not realizing just how cold it had gotten over night.  It dropped 30 degrees in less than 12 hours.  My joints have been screaming about it since 7:00am.  The daily antihistamine did not take much of an edge off the symptoms, so I took an extra dosage this afternoon.  Drinking lots of hot herbal tea while I watch cooking and gardening shows, write, and read …

“RED GERANIUMS”

Geranium

Life did not bring me silken gowns,
Nor jewels for my hair,
Nor signs of gabled foreign towns
In distant countries fair,
But I can glimpse, beyond my pane, a green and friendly hill,
And red geraniums aflame upon my window sill.

The brambled cares of everyday,
The tiny humdrum things,
May bind my feet when they would stray,
But still my heart has wings

While red geraniums are bloomed against my window glass,
And low above my green-sweet hill the gypsy wind-clouds pass.

And if my dreamings ne’er come true,
The brightest and the best,
But leave me lone my journey through,
I’ll set my heart at rest,

And thank God for home-sweet things, a green and friendly hill,
And red geraniums aflame upon my window sill.

by Martha Haskell Clark

 

Holiest Of All Holidays

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Oh, Christmas morn early enough before the busyness of unwrapping gifts and brunch making … The dazzle of the tree lights, church bells chime, and then silence.  My most favorite moment of the year!  And this moment came despite the strangeness of being displaced from my physical home. Home is where the heart is.  And my heart is here.  Poet, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote these beautiful verses in his poem, Holiday:

The holiest of all holidays are those

Kept by ourselves in silence and apart;

The secret anniversaries of the heart,

When the full river of feeling overflows; –

The happy days unclouded to their close;

The sudden joys that out of darkness start

As flames from ashes; swift desires that dart

Swallows singing down each wind that blows!

White as the gleam of receding sail;

White as a cloud that floats and fades in air,

White as the whitest lily on a stream,

These tender memories are; – a Fairy Tale

Of some enchanted land we know not where,

But lovely as a landscape in a dream.

Believe!  Merry Christmas from Dean and Anna!

Critter Corral

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Some days the pets as well as neighborhood squirrels and birds watch us as if we are their entertainment. Most other days, it is the reverse. The household and outside critters are our entertainment. Our pets, Midnight, Celine, Jonas, and Pennylane will greet us at the front door after a long day at work. The dog with a wagging tail and panting smile, and the feline friends with purrs and nudges to be petted. The birds and squirrels gather at the dogwood tree to feed on seeds at the feeder or underneath where the seed remnants lie on the leaf-mulched earth.
When asked what my new year’s resolution is, the word is “repurpose”. Repurpose items already obtained. Rejuvenate, repair, renovate, recycle, all to mean the same as repurpose. Utilize an item for a purpose or meaning once again. To go with this year’s theme of “repurpose”, this weekend I had purposed to wash all the stuffed animals and characters that have residence in our home. We have quite the collection of teddies, rabbits, chicks, dolls, doggies, and even a Tazmanian devil from my children and grandchildren. These toys provded hours of entertainment and occupied a hammock hung in the back bedroom or sit on the bay window seat. One basket situated in the living room was bed to some favorites, ready at a moment’s notice to be gathered into the arms of a visiting child. Since my daughter moved in, more space is needed in the back bedroom. We placed these critters in plastic bags until after the holiday madness simmered down. To the local laudromat we went with 3 large plastic bags, filled 2 front loading machines. Dean and I watched as the soapy faces plastered against the door windows, as if they muttered “help!” from their foaming mouths. After the wash cycle we dried the freshly washed critters for just a few minutes in a gigantic-sized dryer. We brought home the damp stuffed animals, lined them on the trundle bed to air dry. Dean captured this photo of their greeting smiles. A bath always makes you feel better! Later we turned the critters on their heads, with their backsides up to air dry. We waited for our Labrador, Midnight to land himself atop the stuffed critters as the trundle bed is one of his favorite spots to nap. But the stuffed critters remained undisturbed. Critter Corral
Toy DonationMaybe there were too many of the critters, slightly overwhelming? We think so. Two of these toys date back to 32 years ago, my oldest daughter’s 1st Christmas teddy and 1st birthday Hush Puppy. The Care Bear with a band-aid on his leg was given to my oldest when she recovered from appendicitis at age 5. Another doggy belonged to my other daughter, and a teddy with a blue beret belonged to my artsy son. Others are a handmade rabbit and doll from a special grandmother. So the other purpose for the communal bath and animal reunion was to donate the less familar clean, germ-free critters to Goodwill. Some other children to love on their cuteness, softness. Tote to a tea party, wagon ride, or bedtime. We filled 2 bags to repurpose. And the other special animals and dolls sit in the living room inside the white wicker basket with a pink-gingham cloth lining. These await another child’s love, maybe more grandbabies?

A Dizzy Daze or Simply Sacred Season

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My best Christmas was the year my son, Ben was born. He came to this earth the Saturday after Thanksgiving 22 years ago. Ben was my “oops baby”. Not planned for, but dearly wanted and loved. My son acquired pneumonia immediately after birth from a strep B virus I carried, which I did not know I had. A scary time, but Ben quickly recovered with hospital care his first 10 days. Within a few days I had my energy and strength back, made daily visits to see my son sometimes twice a day to cuddle and nurse.
I knew I would not have the energy or time to enter into the stores those first 3 or 4 weeks after my son’s birth. So I planned ahead, and had all the Christmas shopping completed before Thanksgiving. In those 28 days after Ben’s birth leading to Christmas I adjusted my sleep to his feeding and napping schedule. It had been 9 years before that when my middle child was a baby. I worked from home as the bookkeeper for our church, and was graciously given the month off from those responsibilities. Instead, I meandered into the advent season, wrapped gifts between naps and feedings. The silver pine was decorated one evening after my daughters’ homework was completed. Cookie baking with my mother during the Saturday just before Christmas was done with ease. I meditated on scripture and sang “O Holy Night” with feeling. Joy. Celebrated the miracle of my baby. It was a simply sacred season.
Since that year of 1992, I have yet to have all my holiday shopping completed by Thanksgiving. For many years, I am well into Christmas Eve almost into the wee hours of Christmas Day wrapping gifts to put under the tree. A dizzy daze the Christmas season can be. And how did it get that way? Too many parties, gifts, food, family, and expectations. Advent is lost, sometimes found again in those wee hours of Christmas Day before the pitter-patter of children’s feet as they hit the floor running to see what presents have been placed under the glowing tree.
“Advent” means “coming”. Jesus, the King and our Messiah is coming. I pray you and I have a simply sacred season this holiday. Less shopping, baking, eating, and doing. Just be in His Presence. Come, Jesus. God’s gift.

Bleak Mid-Winter

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the bleak mid-winter / Frosty wind made moan, / Earth stood hard as iron, / Water like a stone;/ Snow had fallen, snow on snow,/ Snow on snow, / In the bleak mid-winter / Long ago.
Our God, Heaven cannot hold Him / Nor earth sustain; / Heaven and earth shall flee away / When He comes to reign: / In the bleak mid-winter / A stable-place sufficed / The Lord God Almighty, / Jesus Christ.
Enough for Him, whom cherubim / Worship night and day, / A breastful of milk / And a mangerful of hay; / Enough for Him, whom angels / Fall down before, / The ox and ass and camel / Which adore.
Angels and archangels / May have gathered there, / Cherubim and seraphim / Thronged the air, / But only His mother / In her maiden bliss, / Worshipped the Beloved / With a kiss.
What can I give Him, / Poor as I am? / If I were a shepherd / I would bring a lamb, / If I were a wise man / I would do my part, / Yet what I can I give Him, / Give my heart.
These are the words from the poem In The Bleak Midwinter by poet Christina Rossetti, which her lyrics have made a lovely Christmas carol since the early 1900’s.
Work, work, work, and then rest. Warm, cold, warm, cold, cold … the seasons of life, some shorter than others.
The calendar says it is 3 days into winter, though the freezing cold has been around for weeks now. This week I have experienced some brief moments for reflection and observance to the reason for this Christmas season. This Sunday church attendance had picked up and we arrived just as the bells chimed, to find the pews filled. The 4th Sunday of Advent, Dean and I seated ourselves in the balcony of our 190-year old gothic-style church near the choir. The view was like of a bird’s-eye, watching as other late comers found a space or two to join the congregation while the purple vestments of the priest and deacon glittered at the altar. The most touching was the worshippers coming forth for communion, with Dean and I to join by the grace of God to commune with Him.
The song above Bleak Mid-Winter played overhead while sitting at a large novelty store. This is our last chance for shopping before Christmas gatherings. My tired feet and I awaited while my Dean was in search of the right gift for my son and son-in-law. My feet ached after standing for 7-8 hours at the spice shoppe, so I found a bit of solace in a quiet corner surrounded by books, novelities, and shoppers. Reflections of the lyrics brought me to Him. Whether it be the pure white snow, a shining star on a clear winter night, sharing intimate communion with others, or sitting in a store quietly, all and many more opportunities draw us to our Heavenly Father and His Son, Jesus Christ. He dwells amongst us. Merry Christmas to you, and may you know the gift of love and peace through Jesus Christ.