open house, open hearts

open-house-2016

On the first Saturday of December we hosted an open house with Santa. It was one of those stars -have-aligned sort of opportunities. First Christmas in our new home. So many people to thank and so many reasons to be thankful. Young grandchildren and great-nieces and wee friends from children’s church experiencing the magical wonder and holy awe of Christmas. New friends in the community. Lots of good reasons to plan a Christmas party.

Most importantly, this will be the first Christmas since our beloved Betty passed over. She loved the Christmas season more than anyone I’ve known. Christmas a la Betty was a sight to behold. She trimmed the tree, the house, the yard, until every nook and cranny was graced by Christmas spirit. She spent an entire year preparing, purchasing gifts well in advance and baking sweets and treats for weeks leading up to the big day.

By the time I entered the scene the family was so large that gifts were exchanged in family groupings over the course of a week leading up to Christmas. Even then, she always exceeded expectations with beautifully wrapped packages spilling into the dining room from under the front room tree. On Christmas Eve, the entire brood gathered at the farm before church services. Santa made an appearance to the delight of the children as adults battled over Betty’s famous dill pickles in a gift exchange. Christmas was a celebration of family as well faith.

On the days leading up to our open house, it was almost as if my mother-in-law was shadowing each step. She felt very near as I was baking spiral hams and dozens of rolls, trimming with lights and baubles and scents of the season, wrapping packages to fill the gap under the mammoth tree that the Hubs, a.k.a. Clark Griswold, couldn’t resist — he carries her Christmas torch. I knew she would be pleased with our preparations for sixty guests. My sisters-in-law and others showed up with helpful contributions just as I knew they would because they also know family matters. Betty’s example and joyful celebrations of family life and Christmas will serve us well in to the future.

In one important way, as the song below so beautifully illustrates, this is her first Christmas. Listen in… and if that doesn’t boost your Christmas spirit, then spend some time with my Christmas playlist!

And it was just (February) past 
She said goodbye, and breathed her last 
And the great-grandchildren miss her so 
But if she could she would let them know … 
This is my first Christmas 

First time to hear the angels sing 
Glory, hallelujah to the risen king 
And a holy night is what this is 
‘Cause this is my first Christmas 
This is my first Christmas

 

 

 

I’m pleased to report the open house with Santa a grand success and a ton of fun. The house was buzzing with conversation among family, friends, and neighbors. Twenty children leaned in one by one, wide-eyed and eager to bend Santa’s ear — except for our three grandgirls, who each preferred to keep their distance! Santa gifted each child with a Little Golden Book retelling the first Christmas story.

I crouched low on the carpet, observing each of the children up close in their moment of joy on Santa’s lap. They were just precious. One of the most memorable was in 3 year-old Henry’s Santa exchange. It was a very short conversation. “I want a bounce house” (trampoline), Henry proclaimed. I prompted him to continue on his sister’s behalf, just as he’d practiced, so Santa would know Anna Bea would like “something that squeaks.” Alas, he’d changed his mind about sharing this detail. “No, GiGi,” he said. “She’s fine. Beasy don’t need nothing.” Well, huh. I sure hope Santa doesn’t forget her!

Long into the eventing we ate, drank and were merry in the making of memories and start of a new Christmas tradition.

 

Merry Christmas!

~ René Morley

no doubt

20130330-201914.jpg I love Easter! And this year, I’ve started a new tradition. More accurately, I’ve adopted one in making Italian Easter bread. It was just too beautiful to resist!

I dyed raw eggs the very first thing this morning. Then I mixed up the dough. I am not much of a bread maker, so I was doubtful about the outcome. The only yeast in the house was probably ten years old. It had been stored in the fridge; it might be worth a try? I doubled what the recipe called for and hoped for the best.

As I went about my day, the dough did its thing. It was supposed to double in an hour or two but six or seven hours later, it was still short of the goal. Stale yeast. I punched it down anyway, separated four equal portions, rolled and braided. Then I took my back up loaf, and did the same. This one had risen fast; a frozen loaf prepared with fresh yeast. It was overflowing the pan!

I covered the mini-wreaths and set them in a warm oven for a boost. After they rose, I applied the egg wash, some sprinkles, and nestled a raw colored egg in the center of each. Twenty minutes in the oven and … delizioso! I feel a celebration coming on.

And that’s the thing about Easter, isn’t it? It’s the most joyful of holidays in the Christian faith. It is a celebration of life, victorious, and of hope, born anew.

I have been reading the book, The Day Christ Died, by Jim Bishop these past few weeks. It is an exacting account, drawn from hundreds of pages of records, both secular and religious. Bishop is a master at casting a story with historical accuracy while weaving believable narrative. It’s a step-back-in-time approach to a sacred series of events.

I’ve read the Biblical account many times but Bishop’s version brings together a lot of loose ends and additional details unearthed through careful research. Background on Jewish faith, traditions, and Romans occupying the land add depth and yield insights. It is fascinating, thought-provoking, and, at points, an extremely disturbing read. I highly recommend it.

One thing becomes clear early on: 20130330-201927.jpg Jesus entered into public ministry somewhat reluctantly. Nonetheless, he quickly gathered a flock of followers. Some were curious, looking for a diversion. Some were needy, looking for a solution. And some were weary of the status quo. The promised land wasn’t all they’d hoped for. There had to be more. They were hungry for more. Seems awful familiar, eh?

Jesus was like fresh yeast to the loaf of Israel. He was unpredictable, uncontainable, and unimaginably powerful. Wherever he went, he made a profound impact. Every step, every word, was significant. Nothing within his sphere of influence was left unchanged. Women were esteemed. The lame, blind, leprous, and sick were healed. The possessed were freed. Even the dead were raised! Sinners were loved and forgiven. Grace reined and rules fell away. Many were inspired. “Surely, he must be the Messiah!”

Except for those who had something to lose in this galactic shift of power. These hardened their hearts, clung tightly to the rules of the law, and schemed a way to undo him.

I’ve wondered where I would have been if I’d lived there and then. Would I have been among those opening home and heart to this Galilean upstart? Would I have cheered disruption of longstanding social, political, and religious norms? Would I have been in the throng following the miracle maker, hanging on his every word? Would I have tried to edge in close for a personal encounter? Would I have urged my family and friends to come and see for themselves? I expect so.

And then, when it all seemed to fall apart, would I have run and hid, wrestling with my newfound faith and rising fear? Would I have been confused, anxious, and saddened? Maybe also angry that my expectations were not met? No doubt.

Those must have been dark, desolate hours as Jesus was crucified and laid to rest, devastating to those who couldn’t know what would be next. But the joy of discovery that resurrection morning was unparalleled. Two thousand years later, we are still celebrating. Neither time nor space will dim this joy!

The difference between then and now is perspective. I’ve read the book. (I mean, the book. The Bible.) I know the end of the story. That doesn’t mean that I am never fearful, my life is perfect, or my faith gleams with a highly polished sheen. It only means that God is faithful. He did what He said He would do. And He continues to prove Himself worthy.

No matter my circumstances, because of what God has done, I have great hope for all that He will do. I trust Him to see it, and me, through. No doubt.

~ René Morley

the best bits

Here we are again; another New Year’s Eve. We are quiet celebrants, the Hubs and I. An evening out sounds great until it comes time to actually go. Then, more often than not, we don’t.

It’s cold outside and we’re comfortable by the fire — a frothy brew or warm glass of red in hand. One of us has several hundred cows to feed at 4:30 a.m. The other of us is happy to cede an early bedtime and nurse a cold — 2012’s parting gift. And besides, a quiet New Year’s Eve is primed for reflection. What noteworthy gifts did she bring?

1. Expanding family. And friendships.

Glambabe1-NOV2012We heard good news and then more good news in 2012: two grand-babes on the way! The first will arrive in January — and looks just like his or her Daddy! Another babe will birth in June. So 2013 is looking to be more than grand. I’m going to be a glam-mama! *

In between the “We’re gonna’ have a baby!” announcements, our firstborn was married in a celebration of steadfast love. With a heartfelt mazel tov! we welcomed another daughter-in-law. This completes my second and final stint as mother-of-the-groom. It completes our family circle.

That this circle was closed in 2012, as the Hubs and I celebrated 30 years of marriage, was especially sweet. There have been a whirlwind of weddings — three in two years — and so much pleasure in celebrating the good stuff with dear ones, near and far. It is truly satisfying to know that all three chids have found their special someone.

k-p2010j-m2011j-p2012

This year brought new and renewed friendships as I transplanted back into the church of my youth. Multigenerational relationships of shared faith bring such joy! It should not surprise me. God always fills the gaps. Whether through “old” friends or new, or those family members who show up, He provides. Authentic relationships are an amazing gift.

2. A lot of travel.

I suspect 2012 ranks among my most-traveled calendar years. I was travel-weary by April, unaccustomed to the business travel grind. The worst was a hair-raising ordeal, alone atop an icy bridge crossing a partially frozen river at one o’clock in the morning. That was some seriously scary stuff. Yet whenever I recall the horror, I also recall the promise of Psalm 139:3: He sees me when I travel. I am exceedingly thankful.

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No matter the circumstances, travel is a gift! My favorite travel moments of 2012 flash by as snapshot memories, strung together like a film strip reel. There were many but the top three are easy:

An Aaaaaah experience came early, with a cabana view of crystal blue seas, silky soft sand underfoot. My sister and I and our misters enjoyed a deep, long sigh in paradise. For a day or two, anyway. Sweetness. And sister time.

A jam packed day in Turkey with my girl, ‘Chelle. Ancient Ephesus and terrace house excavations. The House of Mary and St. John’s Basilica. Warm hospitality of Sirince villagers over lunch and in the markets. Beautiful blue angel eyes. Exquisite Hereke carpets. The haunting muezzin’s call. A day rich with the sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and touch of the middle east. Fantabulous.

IMG_6304And then one long moment that stretched out like our shadows in the Mediterranean sunshine as we stood atop the Acropolis in Athens — my sister, her son, and my girl. I can’t believe we did this! The whole Big. Trip. was quite awesome, in fact.

Except, of course, when I was missing the Hubs. Still, it’s a truly incredible feeling to be in Roma and missing your mister mostly because the last time you stood on that very spot he was right there beside you! But a long weekend in Roma was a slice of awesome as well.

3. A new career trajectory.

It’s rare to have the opportunity to try out a new job before you take the leap — a huge gift of 2012! On leave of absence from the University in 2012, I explored an opportunity with an association in higher education. It fit well. And I stayed on. Leaving the University behind was bittersweet but right, I think. Now I can’t wait to see what 2013 brings!

4. A new season of life. And marriage.

The North Country is a land of four distinct seasons. Seasons are a generous gift! But each requires change and adjustment. The Hubs and I are well into yet another a new season of our marriage, finding our way as a twosome again. It’s good but it can be hard. While my mister does what he does, keeping his promises, I’ve struggled to navigate the new normal brought on by so much change the past year or two.

This year has been a lot about letting go of relationships that don’t or, in some cases stubbornly won’t, work. That’s really hard. It’s also been been about releasing my chids, stepping back, that they may become their best in partnerships for life. That’s harder, still. Admittedly, success varies. (Thank you to my nieces for reminding me why.) But I am finding my way, finding my peace. And in that, finding joy!

***

And this — a contemplative New Year’s holiday — was a gift as well! Taking time to consider two thousand and twelve in review, I realize that it is a messy jigsaw puzzle of lovely, wonderful, painful, and difficult pieces. That’s life, eh? But it’s also clear that

the best bits are irretrievably tangled up with people I love, those who enjoy this journey with me.

Some of them are you and that’s my privilege. Thanks for joining. For encouraging. For praying. And for staying. Happy, happy New Year! I do hope 2013 is gracious and kind to you.

~René Morley

20130119-154134.jpg* Okay. All right. I concede! The chids have finally worn me down. I give up on Glam! Did I mention that — three times over — the name quiz affirmed Glamma? Well, it did. But, regretfully, the chids will not board the Glam train. So their chids are not likely to call me Glam-anything! But I can’t change who I am, down deep. And I am so not sorry about the glam gene! We’ll just wait and see where it shows up next… ;=)

to be with you

So much of the joy of the holiday season is about being with people we love. Or it should be — if we don’t get too caught up in the hustle of commercialism and bustle of command performances. Traditions are key to making time for what really matters. In developing traditions, we prioritize the commitment to be with each other.

christmas-horses pinkchurch yellow-building

We’re never too old and it’s never too late for new traditions. Since our chids have grown we have come to enjoy Alight at Night at Upper Canada Village. Sometimes it’s just the Hubs and I. Most often we are with our chids or others we love. Regardless, it’s a special place and time to enter into the Christmas spirit.

christchurch2 churchst cabin-window

Nothing moves fast here. The scenery unfolds at the speed of a horse and wagon. Or the pace of a man and woman on foot — dodging puddles, if winter has been gentle, and the inevitable horse poo. It’s easy to slow down, breathe deep, and enjoy the moment.

bluewreath bulbs christchurch

Breathing deeply here is sure to be equine enhanced. Other pleasant scents follow us around the park to tempt our taste buds. Our pockets empty as we go. We can’t resist the gingerbread boys, with their gumdrop buttons and sweet icing. The hot chocolate, although watery, warms us through.

Sometimes we eat dinner on site, turkey at the Harvest Barn or ham at Willard’s. Often we take time to enjoy a foamy ale or glass of wine. Later, we wait in line for freshly baked cinnamon rolls and bread to take home. “This bread will make good French toast,” the Hubs nudges. The bread is a bit heavy but cinnamon rolls, sliced sideways, work just fine. ;=)

Like most traditions, this one is a sensory extravaganza perfect for memory making. Caroling at Christ Church is always the highlight of our evening together. ‘Tis the season! Adults and children alike call out requests for round after rousing round. Our chids are embarrassed that I sing loudly but I cannot contain myself! Nor do I want to. But I become quiet to listen to the less familiar carols of French Canadian tradition. I’m a Francophile; a wanna’ be.

Speaking of traditions … have you heard Sara Groves’ To Be With You (O Holy Night, 2009)? It’s a sweet reminder that traditions take time. And time — this moment — is about all we have, isn’t it?

To be with you / To be with you / I love this time of year / it always brings me here / to be with you …

You’ll love it, too! Listen in…

To Be With You (Album Version)

~René Morley

sail-a-bration

IMG_6369Tomorrow morning we embark on our 30th anniversary sail-a-bration. Just him and me and the big, blue sea.

I’m ready to unplug. To decompress. To step away from the concerns crowding in over past months. Thankfully, some have resolved. This is especially good timing, having settled the question of Career, Phase 3, just last week. Exciting! Exhausting. Bittersweet.

Mostly, I’m ready to celebrate us. Thirty years! Like the little engine that could, uphill and down, against all the odds, we’re chug-chugging along. Some might say we’re lucky. We know we’re blessed. But we get so caught up in the challenges of each season, sometimes we forget what we are about. This is our time.

This trip is all the Hubs’ planning, start to finish. (He’s the cruise connoisseur.) I asked him what he’s looking forward to the most. “Relaxing, with you.” It’s been many months since that last happened, together. Last March, if we want to be truthful about it.

Time to set sail.

~René Morley

steadfast love

Well, yes. What a wonderful celebration of my eldest son’s marriage! It was a picture-perfect and poignant weekend, from beginning to end. If you were present, I know you know this. And if you were not, I know you’re just dying for details! So, then, here are a few… and pictures, too. :=)

Late on Saturday morning we settled into a condo with majestic mountain views in this lovely Adirondack lake town. Mid-afternoon, the wedding party and parents rehearsed with Pastor Z. on the resort lawn, for lack of available venue. Who could complain, with sweeping vistas such as these?

Kudos to the bride and groom for assembling such a stellar wedding party. First class folk, all ’round. And what a hoot — this bride was ridin’ herd! But her sis-in-law proved essential in corralling cats down the “isle” formed by a colorful array of bags and shoes. Resort residents, perched on balconies or parked on the lawn, chirped and chimed in a time or two, clearly enjoying the show. ;=)

The rehearsal dinner was a purposefully casual affair. The mother of the bride graciously welcomed folks to her party. My Mister spoke about “forever” to our son and his bride-to-be. Heartfelt does not describe! I don’t know if there was a dry eye in the house as the sun set. A lovely Havdalah ceremony closed the event but conversations and celebrations continued long into the evening.

Sunday morning started off just right, as far as I was concerned. I treasured time with the groom as we shopped for last-minute breakfast food and he polished up his vows. He started a fire in the fireplace to ease the Adk chill. We welcomed just a few guests to the condo for coffee and bagels, yogurt and local granola, fruit and other goodies.

Then it was sweet sister time: boutique shopping and leisurely lunching. It might have been a lonely weekend otherwise, as the Hubs (and younger son) were swamped by farm work and hustling back-‘n-forth to accommodate this destination wedding. I, more or less peripheral to the Big. Event., would have been weekending alone — if not for my sisters. They made all the difference!

It was a full-to-the-brim kind of day. The best! My cup runneth over.

And then, finally, the Big. Event. Theirs was an interfaith marriage — Christian and Jewish. Many elements of Judaism are familiar, as it is foundational to my faith, but matrimonial traditions were not familiar. The ceremony was a wonderful blend of meaningful customs, carefully explained. I am so proud of how well they pulled it all off.

The bride had painstakingly prepared so many special accoutrements — from table favors to isle runner — for their formal affair. Her chuppah, symbolic of the open walls of their home and parents’ support, was exquisite. The ketubah ceremony with Rabbi M. was nothing less than precious.


The wedding ceremony was just perfect. Pastor Z. spoke to becoming one. The bride vowed to grow and build. The groom vowed to cede and love perfectly. Again, I dare say, not a dry eye remained. Rabbi S. spoke to teamwork. The best man and matron of honor spoke to unlikely paths, finding soul mates, and lasting love. I know that I will remember it forever.

The Hubs and I so very much enjoyed reconnecting with family and friends who made the journey to celebrate with us. What a gift! Thank you. And we became friends and family with so many more. Thank you, too. My only regret is for those not present to share in this holy matrimony. You missed something really special — not to mention a great party that lasted well into the night!


On Monday morning, we were in no hurry to leave this lovely place. My sister, my daughter, my son-in-law, and I ascended the highest mountain in the region, just to see what we could see. It was early enough yet to enjoy solitude — a rare privilege, indeed.

In that moment there was perfect peace. How majestic, these mountains. God is so much more and yet He seemed so near! How steadfast, our heavenly Father’s love. He is faithful through the generations.

Psalm 36:5-9, a Psalm of David

Your steadfast love, O Lord, extends to the heavens,
your faithfulness to the clouds.
Your righteousness is like the mountains of God;
your judgments are like the great deep;
man and beast you save, O Lord.

How precious is your steadfast love, O God!
The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings.
They feast on the abundance of your house,
and you give them drink from the river of your delights.
For with you is the fountain of life;
in your light do we see light.

Oh, continue your steadfast love to those who know you,
and your righteousness to the upright of heart!

When you know, you know.

~René Morley