open house, open hearts

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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

journey to bethlehem

We’ve had so much fun with children’s church this fall! The first quarter is drawing to a close with a Journey to Bethlehem. The curriculum was a free download, which is always appreciated. Unfortunately, it wasn’t age-appropriate for our mostly preschool-aged group. So we borrowed weekly themes and customized lessons and crafts for wee ones to follow the star and learn the story of the first Christmas.

Our journey is based on the Christmas story as told in Luke 2:1-20. In week 1, we explore the journey Joseph took in trusting God, a leap of faith that changed the world as he led his new wife to fulfill 500 years of prophecy in Bethlehem. In week 2, we drop in on the lowly shepherds, the first people to learn and act upon the good news of great joy available to everyone. In week 3, we consider the long and expensive journey of the magi, they who were wise in watching the signs and following the star that led them to worship the Christ child. In week 4, we learn about the long journey the baby Jesus took to Bethlehem, giving up heaven to become the ultimate Christmas gift.

The children are learning cute hand motions to familiar carols like Away in the Manger, Drummer Boy, and Silent Night. The favorite, by far, is newcomer, “Oh, What a Special Night.”  You can’t help but sing and move along! I invite you to share the wonder and joy of Christmas with the little ones you love through these fun activities.

TOP LEFT of CENTER and FAR RIGHT: Joseph and family of popsicle sticks and cloth (week 1) TOP FAR LEFT and RIGHT of CENTER: Baby Jesus in popsicle stick and paper manger  (week 4) CENTER: Soft sheep reminder of the shepherds (week 2) BOTTOM  Sparkly clay star; we used this recipe (week 3) Please use comments for craft assembly questions.

As always, Carolyn Arends inspires my advent preparation. Come and See, is a joyous accompaniment to our journey! I guarantee if you like that you won’t want to miss Story of StoriesLong Way to Go, and It Was a Holy Night. Listen in and be inspired by those and many other original, thought-provoking lyrics by launching her delightful Christmas Jukebox. Do you lack Christmas Spirit? Get it here!

 

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Bonus! A sweet reminder of the first Christmas with M&M candies. I wish I knew who to give credit for this clever poem. Please clue me in if you know the original author!

 

Happy happy and merry, merry! May your Christmas be especially blessed.

~ René Morley

cup of kindness

IMG_0525As we turn the corner on Christmas and approach the New Year, I realize that, once again, I didn’t get to Christmas cards. It shouldn’t be a surprise, given my sporadic track record. This year perhaps more than any other I’ve realized that our holidays are overloaded. By Christmas night I was exhausted and dispirited. I am sure that is not God’s intent for the season. Next year I resolve to streamline and simplify all things holiday, including and especially Christmas.

But I am getting ahead of myself, eh? We’ve yet to finish this year. I hoped 2014 would finish more smoothly than 2013, when a barn fell to ice and other calamaties beset us and our extended family. Weeks of unfortunate events occurred from early December and into January. It was a long, slow slog to recovery on farm and home fronts in 2014. We were more than half-way through the year before it felt like we had lift-off.

SONY DSCThe brightest moments of 2014 were in the double blessings of new grandgirls, the first arriving in late February and the second early August. This brought the grandchids count to four: Oliver, Henry, Sadie and Rosie. I cannot express how much these wee ones matter. Just a moment in their presence lifts my heart and fills me with joy.

The next best thing about 2014 was turning fifty. I never thought I would be able to talk about that milestone in those terms! I enjoyed a series of small celebrations with family and friends over the course of a month or more that made for a most pleasant summer. Then a joint fiftieth birthday sailabration, starting and ending in Quebec City, sailing to Saint Pierre & Miquelon, St. Johns, Newfoundland, Halifax, Nova Scotia, and Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island provided wonderful memories and invaluable time together. A few weeks after we returned, I threw a surprise party to close out on fifty.

Soon thereafter, we were into the holiday season. But not before my mom suddenly landed the perfect opportunity to relocate nearby. This has been a big but happy transition for her and another 2014 blessing for my family.

All of those wonderful events notwithstanding, the past few days I’ve been struggling with a very difficult situation and resultant emotions; working toward healing has been hard work. I really didn’t want 2014 to end on a down-note but wasn’t sure how to pull it back up.

If it was entirely up to me, I might hang on to my ugly feelings. On the face of it, that sometimes seems easier if not justified. But in the big scheme, it is neither. Yesterday afternoon I took yet another long, brisk walk to wrestle with my inner spirit.  In that hour, Matthew West’s powerful lyrics in Forgiveness (listen in) spoke deep into my heart and sealed my resolve.


Its the hardest thing to give away
And the last thing on your mind today
It always goes to those that don’t deserve

Its the opposite of how you feel
When the pain they caused is just too real
It takes everything you have just to say the word

Forgiveness…

It flies in the face of all your pride
It moves away the mad inside
It’s always anger’s own worst enemy

Even when the jury and the judge
Say you gotta right to hold a grudge
Its the whisper in your ear saying Set It Free

Forgiveness…

Finally, with God’s help, I began to set it free. And then I received the most amazing gift in an email from another continent from a young woman who I haven’t seen in a few years. Her home country is Zimbabwe, her current home is England, and our paths crossed while she attended the local university. I became her host mother and we became friends. Her loving message and fond remembrance was a balm to my wounded spirit and a gift of grace to treasure.

This morning, I was thinking on the past year, with all of its trials and tribulations when the song Auld Lang Syne (i.e. for old time’s sake) came to mind. That phrase, cup of kindness, struck a chord with me. To share a cup of kindness is to extend goodwill and the most generous fare-thee-well sentiments. A cup of kindness is the essence of right living.

Should auld acquaintance be forgot
And never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot
And auld lang syne

For auld lang syne, my dear
For auld lang syne
We’ll take a cup o’ kindness yet
For auld lang syne
And surely (you’ll buy your pint)
And surely I’ll (buy) mine
And we’ll take a cup o’ kindness yet
For auld lang syne

I wish I had opportunity to share such a cup with each and every one who has impacted my life for good this past year. To you who have honored me with good will and generosity of spirit, I offer a virtual cup. Cheers! Happy, happy New Year. May all of God’s best be extended to you and to yours in 2015.

~ René Morley

P.S. The chids collaborated on a family photo shoot. Sweetness.

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christmas spirit

FullSizeRenderWithout doubt, Christmas music claims top honors in my collection. I collect it like some people collect fine wine, always looking for a fresh take on an old story and ever so grateful when I find it. I have Christmas playlists parsing out all kinds of pop, country, traditional, instrumental, and — my all-time favorite — originals.

It’s sadly ironic that one of our most important holidays can also be one of the loneliest, so overhyped and overproduced. We hope for a classic Christmas, enveloped in the glow of candlelight, surrounded by loving family, enjoying a festive meal and protection of a warm of hearth. We imagine a big pile of presents under the tree — debt free, please. We long to embrace those who’ve left aching holes in our hearts, return them to our perfect Christmas scene. Ah, if only Hollywood made Christmas to order.

But when we think about it, if we think about it, the birth of baby Jesus was anything but a Hallmark moment. It must have been lonely, a young woman delivering her firstborn without the benefit of family or even a midwife alongside. She labored alone, in a foreign town. She gave birth in a dirty and smelly stable. She and her husband were poor newlyweds, soon to become refugees. There wasn’t much to recommend Christmas that first Christmas.

Except, of course, the exceeding joy and gladness expressed from the highest of heavenlies in the good news of the birth of God’s son. Well, yes, there is that! It is just so easy to lose sight of it.

So it’s understandable if your Christmas spirit needs a lift. If you’re feeling lonely or alone, sad or sorrowful … or a bit frazzled, eager to refocus … or wondering, like Cindy Lou, if it’s all become a bit superfluous, then I hope you’ll listen in, my friend.

At the top of my playlist is a new release from a favorite artist, “Story of Stories” (Carolyn Arends, 2014). You’ll enjoy lots of fresh lyrics and melodies on her new album: Story of Stories, and an earlier album, Christmas: An Irrational Season (2004). The second is equally as good as the first, which set the gold standard in Christmas originals. If you like insightful lyrics, earthy acoustics and upbeat melodies, Carolyn Arends is singing your tune.

There’s no one who sings Christmas more directly into my heart. You can listen in on her website; some are also on YouTube: It was a Holy Night, Long Way to GoVacancy (2014); My First Christmas, The Lord’s Servant (2004).

I play Carolyn often but there are others in my originals mix you might enjoy. With apologies for the unavoidably cheesy videos or annoying ads … ;=) I hope you give yourself the gift of a few quiet moments to capture some fresh Christmas spirit.

The spirit of Christmas is as fresh as North Country balsam laden with new fallen snow. I hope you experience it this Christmas.

~ Rene Morley

Bonus! Sharing out our favorite Christmas cartoon: The Small One. That’s 25 minutes of Christmas-like-a-kid in technacolor, circa 1960-something. :=)

alight at night

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This weekend we made our pilgrimage for a fresh infusion of Christmas Spirit. There’s nothing like Alight at Night for that boost each December when Upper Canada Village magically transforms from a living history village into a winter wonderland ablaze with a million lights.

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As it turns out, once each season the park offers the opportunity to prepurchase tickets for Saturday lunch with Santa. What a grand idea! Oliver and Sadie are too small for a full evening of outdoor activities. This was a perfect solution. When we arrived early afternoon the park was not operational but the Harvest Barn was ready. Table activities were set up for the wee ones as we waited for lunch. After hot turkey, french fries, and gravy — which Ollie enjoyed immensely — Santa appeared in all of his Victorian splendor.

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Ollie and Sadie waited patiently in line for their turn with Santa. But when Mama plopped Sadie in Santa’s lap, she let out a piercingly shrill shriek and was quickly rescued from the big man with bountiful beard! At which point, Ollie decided he didn’t need Santa time, either. So we collected their gift bags and headed outside to explore.

The horses and wagons were waiting for Santa’s lunch guests just outside so Ollie and his Dada, Pops, GiGi, and Great-Grandma hopped on for a park tour. It was a beautiful, bright winter day. I’d forgotten how close the park sits to the St. Lawrence River, which is difficult to distinguish on nighttime visits. Night or day, however, you can’t ignore the cold wind cutting across the water and through the wagon. We were fortunate that it was tuned to just a brisk breeze today. Meanwhile, sleepy lady Sadie strolled the grounds with Mama

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From there, we went into the gift shop for souvenir ornaments: polar bears for the boys and felted wool for the girls. The grand finale was a train ride. We were so thankful they were accommodating Santa’s lunch guests by firing up the little choo-choo’s engines early. Ollie absolutely loves trains! It was a joy to experience Oliver’s first train ride with him. His eyes were as big as saucers. We’d never rode the train in daylight and were surprised by how close the tracks sit to the river. A big ship (a laker, presumably?) was clearly visible just offshore. The St. Lawrence is a cold river even in summer and the wind can be fierce in winter. Once again, we were thankful for a relatively mild winter’s day — and a layer of protection over the train car!

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Oliver and Sadie were ready to head home at that point so we helped load them up. Then we returned to the cafe and gift shop to bide our time until nightfall. I had a bit of shopping to do and we had about an hour and a half to kill before the million or more lights would be clearly visible. It was worth the wait!

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The park doesn’t open until 5:00 p.m. and a long line stretched to the parking lot well before then. Fortunately, Santa’s lunch guests are expedited. No need to wait in line! This also meant we we first in line to climb back aboard the horse and wagon for an evening tour. It was like magic, the park literally transformed by nightfall and beautiful Christmas lights. IMG_0748

Then we visited Christ’s Church for a hearty round of carols. We strolled the grounds only briefly before calling it a night. When we departed, a steady stream of guests were entering the park but the admissions line still stretched to the parking lot! Lunch with Santa, with all of its perks, was worth every extra cent

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~ Rene Morley

saint nick time

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As usual, I don’t know where the month of December has gone. This time, it’s not because I’ve been caught up in a mad holiday frenzy. This December was entirely sane.

I shopped almost entirely online. We decorated minimally. We haven’t been out and about socializing. One bitter cold tromp through historic Upper Canada Village, alight for the night, was the memorable exception.

Quiet dinners. Snugly grandboys. Café conversations. Lots of small but solid connections. Some writing. Lots of reading. Not much to prattle on about, perhaps, yet totally satisfying.

I did, however, venture forth in knitting. I wanted something new for the grandboys; enough of the hooded sweaters! I scoured patterns at Free Vintage Knitting, Knitting on the Net and Knitting Pattern Central until I hit upon a Santa hat that seemed just right … with a few modifications. It seems I can’t help but adjust a pattern, as if a recipe. Hmmm.Turns out that cooking is more forgiving of my tweaking than knitting.

My first hat worked up as a tiny elfish touque that shot off Ollie’s head like a rocket launching into space. I hoped against hope that it might fit Henry, five months younger. Nothing doing; it was quite a comical sight. Oh, GiGi! The wide white brim fell well above his ears, pom-pom bouncing jauntily from the stiff peak, as if his head came to a sharp point underneath. It’d be the perfect fit if he was off for the Island of Misfit Toys.

Several modifications later, I managed something almost useful, a bit too large. Finally, I found ear flaps and chin strap on yet another hat pattern and adapted to help snug it up. It’ll do. Now I better get knitting for a grandgirl! (Did you read Ollie’s tee-shirt?)

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Meanwhile, I’d taken up with burlap, thanks to my friend, V. For weeks I was scouting instructions and collecting supplies around the North Country, inspired by Top This, Top That designs. Six weeks, six rolls of wire-rimmed burlap, and six attempts later … Voilà! Three wreaths to enhance our home. Yes, I know the math doesn’t quite work out. Burlap works well if you’re a mussy sort. It took some doing (and undoing) to get comfortable with that.

20131222-190827.jpg Which brings me to the penultimate project: two newly repurposed ornaments, safely nestled on our tree. They are vintage Christmas bulbs that once lit my own family’s holiday. They came in lovely shades back then — sea green, regal blue, gentle gold. There is Christmas red, of course, and an orange unlike any other. I love these light bulbs! I have only a few left.

I salvaged them years ago to create ornaments inscribed with the scriptural names of Jesus. This year I used my gold pen to record grandbabe’s name, birth information and “First Christmas 2013.” Tied off with a gold ribbon, it’s a simple reminder of an important first in a long string of firsts this first year. Oh, how much fun with wee ones!

I have one more small project before yuletide preparations are complete: photo ornaments of the grandboys. It’s a tradition. Every year since our youngest was born I hung a small group photo of our chids on the tree. I also made or purchased four matching ornaments — one for each chid and ourselves — and dated these as well. When each chid left home, it was with aChristmas starter set of ornaments under one arm.

I kept the group photo ornaments chronicling the growth of our family. I kept a matcher to most of those the chids carted off. As a result, putting up our tree is a sweet stroll down memory lane. Nearly every ornament has a story. The Hubs teases me to remind him, ornament by ornament, until the box is empty and the tree is full.

The photo ornaments are a priceless addition to our collection.There is an eclectic assortment of angels, another of birds, from all over the world. There are fragile painted eggs and exquisite blown glass. There are figures of humble felt, plush velvet, and cross-stitched fabrics; of wood, glass, ceramic, paper and plastic.

Some were collected in our travels. Others were gifts from family, friends, even acquaintances. Many are clearly homemade. Few match but, nonetheless, the effect is truly lovely. Most importantly, we can’t help but be thankful, remembering those who matter most through ornament story time.

So. I never did get our Christmas letters ready this year. Or make a photo memory book of Alaska for the Hubs. I’ve not done any wrapping! Or … sigh. But I have no real remorse. What is done is what I needed to do, apparently. The few finishing touches remaining will be done in the nick of time: Saint Nick time!

Merry merry, to you and yours.

~ René Morley