Edition 29-Wednesday’s Word

December 30, 2009 | My Jottings

Faith means believing the unbelievable or it is no faith at all.

G. K. Chesterton

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December 28, 2009 | My Jottings

I hope your Christmas was blessed in some special way. Even if not in the ways that you expected, I hope you were able to detect at least one specific blessing and give thanks for it.

We Americans are spoiled – we forget that if we have something to eat, a roof over our heads, the ability to get out of bed, and at least one person in life who cares about us, then we are more blessed than many on our planet.

Our Christmas was so blessed I almost didn’t know how to contain it. I was missing Sharon, Chris and their three children who were far away in Maryland, but aside from that void, our celebration was wonderful.

First of all, our house now gets decorated in ways it never did before. Since Sara is a floral designer, she took a few branches of cedar and some cast-off, destined-for-the-trash roses, a few yards of my ribbon, and the results were little pockets of beauty all throughout the house.

In the living room

On the kitchen counter

Over the kitchen table

I didn’t take pictures of the tiny arrangements she did for two bathrooms and the den.

Everything started when Jeremy, Carolyn and their four children came over on Christmas Eve day. Unfortunately, Jeremy had to work on Christmas day, so our plan was to spend lots of time together on Christmas Eve, then get up early on Christmas morning so he could be part of the gift opening before he went to work at the hospital. I was thrilled when they decided to spend the night so there wouldn’t have to be any packing up and going home in the cold.

We had carols playing softly all day, the kids were reading and playing with Legos and coloring pictures, and the snow was falling heavily outside.

We ate a late lunch/early dinner around 2:30, and had ham, scalloped potatoes, broccoli and raisin salad, red cabbage slaw, and buttered rolls.

Christmas dinner

After dinner we cleaned up a bit and kept commenting about the weather, which had reached blizzard status with many inches of snow predicted. I felt so sorry for the people who were trying to get home to Minnesota for Christmas; flights were canceled and the roads were so treacherous that driving was almost impossible.

Here’s a photo of our gang, without Elijah and Audrey. He was at the table but somehow isn’t in this picture. She was napping with her glow-worm.

Carolyn, Clara, Vivie, Sara, Jeremy, Julie, Michael

Jeremy and the children had written and planned a Christmas play, and staged it in the third floor guest suite of our house. When it was time, we all went upstairs where the seats for the audience had been placed, where a stage with stage lights had been set up, and all the props and “costumes” made. The play was about a little dog named Shorty (played by Vivienne) and what she learned after she ran away from home for not wanting to wear her new Christmas collar. She had to deal with the dog catcher (played by Elijah), landed in a cage in the pound, and had a change of heart after talking with another dog in the pound named Cocoa (played by Clara) who helped Shorty see how good she really had it.

Jeremy was the director and provided background music

Vivienne and Elijah playing their parts

Vivie, Clara, Elijah

Shorty learning her lesson at the dog pound

Audrey was still too young to take part in a play. Maybe next year.

Later that night we joined together in the living room and sang Christmas carols. I think the highlight for me was when four year-old Vivienne, who was comfortably cuddled on her mama’s lap, decided to sing one of her own carols a capella. She often makes up her own lengthy songs and we sat and listened as she introduced this new one about praising the Lord: “O price the Low-udd, O you’ve got to price the Low-udd, because you should price the Low-udd, yes we price Him…” I wish I had a recording of this because it was so funny and so sweetly heart-wrenching at the same time. I can imagine the Maker of Heaven and Earth smiling at Vivienne’s song.

Jeremy read the Christmas story to us from Luke, and we were reminded about why we were together in the first place. Why we exist, why we are on this planet, why we are a family, all have to do with the coming of Christ to the earth. How amazing that the Creator of everything so willingly limited Himself to show us His love. How humbling that even when we pay no attention to Him, He has His eyes of love on  us. How comforting that when we are His, nothing can touch us without His permission and His good purposes. How wondrous that He left the splendor of Heaven to dwell in whomever would ask Him in.

The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. And He is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because He himself gives all men life and breath and everything else. From one man He made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and He determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek Him and perhaps reach out for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us. ‘For in Him we live and move and have our being.’   Acts 17:24-28

After this, each child got to open one gift before they went to bed.  There have been many times when I have not been as grateful as I should be for this big house, but Christmas Eve 2009 wasn’t one of them. We have enough rooms and beds that each person could have a warm, private place to sleep. Thank you Lord, for your many blessings.

After the kids went to bed, the adults played Whoonu?, a fun game that tests how well you know someone else’s favorites. I learned that Sara does not like baseball caps but loves big cities, that Carolyn isn’t crazy about roller skating but loves birthday parties, and that Jeremy likes museums better than cats.

And the snow continued to fall outside. We checked the weather report and found that over twenty inches of snow was predicted, with blizzard conditions, and hoped that Jeremy could get to work in the morning.

our back yard, early in the storm

Early on Christmas morning when it was still (as Vivienne says) “peach black” outside, we got up to open presents before Jeremy went to work. Carolyn put yummy cinnamon rolls in the oven to bake, and we all sat around and watched the children open their presents. There was a Star Wars sword, some Tinker Toys, some pom-poms, many books, a Teddy bear, a Misty of Chincoteague model, some punch balloons, a doll…we watched them all ooh and aah over their gifts, and I was impressed with their gratitude. Blessings abounded.

Jeremy took one of the four-wheel drive vehicles to work (23 inches of snow would eventually fall in our city) and we enjoyed a leisurely day of quiet music, lots of food, happy children, and the movie Little Women. After lunch Carolyn made Reese’s bars and we found that they, along with cold glasses of milk, were the perfect accompaniment to a game of Yahtzee.

We ended the day not with leftovers from the night before, but with homemade pizza. Two-year old Audrey is rapidly becoming very verbal, and each time we asked her if she wanted another little piece of pizza she would enthusiastically smile and yell, “Shuh!” (sure!)  More blessings.

After dark fell and the snow tapered off a little, Carolyn and I loaded bags of gifts and four children up into Michael’s truck, to take them home, about two miles away. They were all dressed in their winter snowpants and boots and mittens and hats. The side streets were still not plowed, but the main streets had been, leaving chest-high snow banks in front of the driveways on Jeremy and Carolyn’s street. Even with a big four-wheel drive truck, we could not get through into their drive. Carolyn had to climb over the mountain of snow and trudge down the driveway, making trips into the house with the bags of Christmas goodies. Clara, Elijah and Vivienne were able to get through the drifts by walking in Mama’s footprints, while I held on to Audrey until Carolyn came back to carry her in.

When Jeremy was through with work that night, he couldn’t get in to their driveway either, so spent two hours shoveling the piles of wet, heavy snow in order to be able to park the car and go inside for the night. Thankfully it was about twenty-eight degrees out, so bitter cold was not a factor as it so often is for northern Minnesotans this time of year.

When I returned home we watched my favorite HGTV show Divine Design, cleaned up a little bit, talked over the highlights of the holiday we’d spent with our loved ones, and Sara stayed the night with us again, which was another blessing.

I do not know why our Christmas was so blessed.

I know a young woman who just found out she has an aggressive cancer, and she has a husband and three young children. I know a man whose heart is giving out, and he’s aware that he may not see another Christmas with his family. I know a woman whose brilliant, talented, only son is getting ready to go to prison. I know a family who doesn’t know where they will live in 2010, nor how they will make it financially. I know of a family whose father just had a brain hemorrhage and they don’t know if he’ll ever be right again. I know a man who lives in his car and doesn’t know how bound up in chains he is. I’ll bet you know a few people going through their own terrible trials too.

I don’t know why today we are so blessed. And I don’t pretend to think that someday we won’t have more serious trials of our own. We do have some now. And as long as we live, we’ll probably have some more. It’s just the way it is.

But at this moment in time, I want to be found being grateful. And not just anemically grateful. Powerfully and exuberantly grateful! I want the Lord to find me clapping my hands in applause and looking to Him and saying, “Thank you! I have noticed! You have blessed us! We can hardly contain what you’ve done for us, Father! Thank you, thank you! You are so good to us!” And maybe I’ll even sing with Vivie, “O price you Low-udd, O how I price you, my Low-udd!”

What will happen if next year, if I’m still writing away on this little blog, I have bad news to report? Will I still think we’re blessed? Will I still be proclaiming how good God is to anyone who will read? I pray so. I pray I am always able to give thanks to Him no matter what. He is my rightful owner and can do with me what He will. I will always try to praise and thank Him no matter how plenty the blessings or how heavy the burdens. I trust Him, and long to trust Him even more.

In one of my favorite books, At Home in Mitford, the main character, Father Tim, has a moment when he can hardly believe the blessings of God in his life. He quotes Psalm 68:19 aloud as he walks along (“Blessed be the Lord, who daily loadeth us with benefits, even the God of our salvation!”), and then shouts out the verb in the verse that means the most to him…


That’s how I felt this Christmas season. Loaded down with blessings.

And for this I most fervently price the Low-udd…

From our house to yours…

December 25, 2009 | My Jottings

Heaven’s Loss by Ron Dicianni…

For to us a child is born,
to us a Son is given,
and the government will be on His shoulders.
And He will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Michael and I wish you and yours a very Merry Christmas!


Cardinal greeter

December 24, 2009 | My Jottings

I just hung this sweet cardinal candle holder on the wall. It was a Christmas gift from my dear friend Su, and it’s hanging right inside our back door. I put it there on a rather large, blank wall, not only to fill the space, but to once again remind me about the hope that knowing Christ brings.


Su knows the cardinal story and is one of those thoughtful people who takes every opportunity to remind me of the hope that God spoke to my heart on a dark winter morning years ago.

It still amazes me that the majestic and powerful One who hung the billions of galaxies cares enough to speak to us, but He does. I will never get over that.

I’m not the only one He wants to talk to, either.

Edition 28-Wednesday’s Word

December 23, 2009 | My Jottings

“We would worry less if we praised more. Thanksgiving is the enemy of discontent and dissatisfaction.”

Michael W. Smith

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December 17, 2009 | My Jottings

This photograph represents 4/7 of my treasure of grandchildren.

Clara Pearl (almost 8), Elijah David (6), Vivienne Irene (4) and Audrey Elizabeth (2).


This is their 2009 Christmas photo.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if next year I could report that 7/7 of my treasure of grandchildren were living close by? I’m praying about that. One never knows.

Little Audrey is saying so many sweet new things, and if you ask her to repeat some words, she’ll give anything a try. I think the most endearing words she says right now are her own version of “Grandpa and Grandma.”

She calls Michael and me “Bocka and Backa.”  🙂

I’ve heard of grandchildren calling their grandparents Nanny and Pop, Nana and Papa, Opa and Oma, Gramps and Granny, and even Pappaw and Mammaw. But up until now I’ve never heard a grandchild call her grandparents Bocka and Backa. She could be saying Pocka and Packa too – only she knows at this point.

What did you or do you call your grandparents?


Backa Julie

Edition 27-Wednesday’s Word

December 16, 2009 | My Jottings

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket – safe, dark, motionless, airless – it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside of Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is hell.”

C.S. Lewis

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Schnauzer Sentries

December 14, 2009 | My Jottings

We have two dogs — seven year-old Edith Elaine Bubbleloo (we call her Edith, and occasionally, Schmeedith Needle), and three year-old Mildred Virginia Sizzlelorum (we call her Millie.) They’re both Miniature German Schnauzers, and you can read here how different they are from each other, and also how we are pretty much their human slaves.

All the Schnauzer literature says the same things about the traits of these stout little dogs. They’re very bright and inquisitive, very lively, very loyal and attached to their owners, have extremely sensitive noses and were used as “ratters” in Germany, their supposed land of origin, and they are very barky. Veeerrry barky. I just looked up the word barky in my online dictionary and here’s the definition: “the word barky could not be found.” I tried another online dictionary and it said that the word barky means rough and not smooth like the bark on a tree. That is not what I’m referring to when I say Edith and Millie are barky.

Both dogs are hyper-vigilant about anything going on outside. They station themselves near any window to stand motionless for long periods of time, watching carefully for any sign of movement. If leaves blow in the yard, their ears are instantly up and they’re alert to what else might be lurking out there. If squirrels dash up the trees at the back of the yard, the Schnauzers begin to vibrate slightly as they watch. But if a person jogs by in the street, this will finally set them to barking. If someone walks by with a dog on a leash, the canine hysteria begins. But if a trio of deer ambles through the yard, oh my…then the Schnauzer Shrieking commences, and Edith and Millie won’t stop their ear-splitting and barky behavior until all moving objects have disappeared from their fields of vision.

We’ve tried many things to stop them from barking so much. A dog trainer showed us how to try violently jerking back on choke collars in “a quick yet not cruel” motion as soon as they start up. This requires that we be within four inches of them at all times, and tends to hinder us from cooking meals, cleaning house, talking on the phone, driving the car, taking a bath, going to the bathroom, etc.

We’ve also tried throwing small chains at them when they bark. My dear friend Carole learned this from someone and she took me to a hardware store and had the clerk make a circlet of five chandelier chain rings for me. She showed me how when the dogs are looking at something moving outside and start barking, you quickly and accurately throw the chain circle at them and they’re startled, thinking that God Himself has intervened to put a stop to their barking. This method also requires that you be near the dogs at all times, because you certainly can’t run from the second floor of the house as soon as you hear a bark, down the stairs to grab the circle of chain links and hope to toss it so it lands directly between their shoulder blades just as they’re barking. My friend emphasized that for this method to be effective, the dogs can’t know it’s the owner throwing the chain at them. Use your imagination and you can probably tell how often we currently throw chandelier chains at our dogs when they bark.

We have also tried just keeping the den window shades closed so they couldn’t see what was going on outside, but we missed the already scarce daylight and started having symptoms of Vitamin D deficiency and developing huge pupils and amazing night vision. This also didn’t address their views from the kitchen French door that looks out over Birdinal Creek in our back yard, or our bedroom windows on the second floor, or the living room windows, which have no shades.

We have also tried yelling at the dogs. “Be quiet! STOP BARKING!” we holler at them when they start the incessant barking. Or my favorite tactic that Michael uses — when they’re in the back yard shriek-barking across the creek at deer or squirrels — he says loudly to the dogs (from inside the house) “Ssshhh!” You would have to see him do this to get how funny it is.

Yelling at them to knock it off sometimes works for a few seconds, but their Schnauzer instinct dominates and they’re back at it again. Our daughter Sharon nicely reminds us that we’re not the most effective dog owners and that The Dog Whisperer would have much to say about the way we’ve allowed Edith and Millie to behave.

Well, if you’ve read this far in this post, you can congratulate yourself for possessing amazing concentration skills. Nothing really exciting is going on this morning.


But here’s a recent photo of Edith on the back of our living room couch, in stealth mode. She looks relaxed with her legs draped over the sides like that, but she’s really just waiting….waiting for the slightest sign of life outside.

If you watch her when she’s like this, the only thing you’ll see is her quirkily twitching Schnauzer eyebrows as her eyes scan the outside world for something to announce.

Minutes later, a UPS truck pulls up across the street and our little Schnauzer Sentry is ready to tell the world.


In this photo she hasn’t started up yet. She has only lifted her head and a low rumble in her chest has sounded.

But the shrieking and barking and hysteria will most certainly ensue, and we will either be looking for a small circlet of chandelier chain links to throw at her shoulder blades without her noticing it was us, or more likely, we’ll just let her bark. And bark.

Because we know that basically, the Schnauzer Sentries are just trying to protect us from evil. They’re just doing their job.

At least that’s what really bad dog owners like us keep telling ourselves.

“Deck the porch…!”

December 12, 2009 | My Jottings

“Deck the porch with artichokes and oranges! Fa, la, la, la, la, la, la, la la!”

On Wednesday our daughter Sara hung the Christmas wreath she made for us outside on the front porch. She’s a floral designer at a local flower shop and I’m always so thrilled with her unique creations.

When I went outside for eleven seconds on Thursday morning to take this photo, it was four degrees below zero with a slight wind. Even though winter doesn’t officially arrive for several more days, most of the Midwest apparently did not get that memo. Our views are white, our furnace is roaring, our hands are lizard-like and our resolve is firm. We can endure this until spring. At least Michael keeps telling me we can.

Here’s our wreath:


It may not have any boughs of holly, but if you look closely you’ll see a few unusual items in there with all the traditional balsam and cedar. Fresh oranges, pomegranates and artichokes make it interesting to look at. I doubt that anyone will see those from the street as they drive by, though.

What Christmas decoration do you have up/out that you really like? Send me a photo and I’ll put it on the blog so we can all enjoy it together.


December Days and Dreams

December 10, 2009 | My Jottings

Sometimes when a new month begins I like to ask readers what that particular month means in their lives. And since I’ve been a listmaker since the 1980s (but never, ever before that), I like to list the things that certain months mean to me.

To 99% of us, December means Christmas, it means the celebration of the birth of Jesus, it means shopping and carols and too many events to attend, it means spiced cider and Christmas cookie baking, and it means the smell of pine and the emptying of wallets. For many people, Christmas is a lonely season to get through as best they can, a time when good memories are scarce and the dysfunction they’ve grown up in still colors each day.

I’d like to know what a perfect December day would look like for you. What things, activities, people, music, food would be highest on your list? If you could, what would you cut out of your Christmas season? What would you add to it? Please take a moment to share, either one thing or several things in detail. I look forward to reading your thoughts!

For me, a perfect December day would include:

*Softly falling snow – huge fluffy flakes – no wind, and about 28 degrees. None of this hundred degree below zero stuff for which Minnesota is known.

*Tree lights glowing, carols playing softly on the intercom/stereo all throughout the house.

*One small but meaningful present under the tree for each person, with no focus or emphasis on those presents.

*Healing for Michael.

*The knowledge that the ice dam problem was solved once and for all.

*A savory something-or-other baking in the oven, a table set with candles.

*A small, stone neighborhood church within walking distance, where we would go for a candlelight service, carol singing and a message that would make our hearts swell with gratitude for what advent really means.

*The knowledge that something we did or gave or prayed made a difference to someone else in the world.

*A new and unique way to convey love and gratitude and motherly pride to my three precious daughters, Sharon, Carolyn and Sara.

*A flock of cardinals miraculously singing and feeding outside our kitchen window.

*A visit from friends, spiced cider to warm the hands, a fun game played with lots of laughter.

*Kisses and hugs from every grandchild.

*The story I never tire of, read aloud by my sons-in-law Chris and Jeremy, from the book of Luke.

*A knowing look between Michael and me, conveying a thousand memories and a profound, shared gratitude for what Jesus has meant in our marriage.

*Happy sledding near Birdinal Creek.

*Harmony, gentleness, kindness, respect and a deep, abiding love among and between every single family member.

*A lively crackling fire in the hearth.

*A walk in the snow after dinner.

*A short time of quiet prayer as a family, thanking God for giving us to each other, and asking for His help, guidance and strength to walk humbly with Him in the coming year.

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How about you? What would make a perfect December day for you?