Monthly Archives: December 2015

38 feels great!

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Sunday marked the 38th anniversary of my grand entrance into the world, and while I remember very little of that day and the days following it, it was a good day because it was the start of a very good life.

I won the parent lottery by being born into the family Heavenly Father placed me in. I feel as though I started life at an advantage based solely on the family I was born into. It was the first of many blessings.

As I reflect back on my life so far I am humbled by the many graces God has bestowed upon me, especially because I am so unworthy of His many graces. I count my blessings and among them are:

My amazing parents as well as their parents who showed them through example how to be good parents. While I feel strongly that chains of abuse, neglect and poor parenting influences can be broken I recognize that my life started at a great advantage by having such incredible role models from birth on.

I’m grateful for my siblings, who from early on became my best friends and most constant playmates. Being raised an Army brat meant frequent moves, and with every move there was a period of adjustment when we moved into a new area and knew no one. We quickly learned that those siblings that made the move with you every 3 years were inevitably your only playmates for a while and your only constant playmates over years of many moves.

I am grateful for my faith…those truths that remain my anchor when the winds of life are blowing me to and fro. It is a seed of a  testimony that was planted in early childhood as I learned at the knee of my parents about my Savior Jesus Christ, and that seed has only grown and matured and expanded as the years have passed.

I am grateful for Toby, my eternal companion and best friend. I firmly believe, and often express to my children, that one of the most important decisions you will ever make to determine the course of your life and ultimately the quality of your life, is the decision of who you will marry. Once again I felt like I won the husband lottery when I married Toby. I am grateful for the example he is to my children. I pray my boys will learn from his example how to be men…real men. Men that are kind and selfless, hardworking and honest. I pray my girls will look at their Daddy and the standard he has set for them about how a real man loves a woman and marry a man who treats them as well as their Daddy treats their mother.

I am grateful for the talents the Lord has given me. Any good thing I have, any good thing I am, any good thing I do,  is not from me but from God. I am grateful for the talents He gave me and I pray that I might use those talents to be a blessing to others.

But even more than my talents I am grateful for my weaknesses. I am grateful for those things that I struggle with, that humble me, that keep me falling to my knees and turning to my God. I am grateful for the trials and struggles he has blessed me with in my married life with Toby, those illnesses, losses, hard times that drew us together as a couple, helped us be more Christ-like and kept our focus on the eternal rather than the temporal. I am especially grateful for a Lord that takes weak things and makes them strong…”For when I am weak, He is strong!”

I am grateful for the calling of motherhood. There is no calling in my life, no task or duty that brings me more joy and fulfillment than raising our children. It is a bloody hard task. It is tiring, heart breaking, and defeating work at times. I have cried more tears over my mantle of responsibility as a mother than any other role in my life. And yet it is my greatest joy as well. The Lord uses my children to work on me, to teach me, to mold me, to humble me, and to stretch me. Parenting truly is a refiner’s fire and I am grateful for the work the Lord is doing on me through my children.

I am grateful for my health. Often I find it takes a health scare to remind us of the incredible blessing good health is. There was a time in my life when by body didn’t work. When tasks as simple as brushing my own hair, or walking to the mailbox were impossible. I am grateful for those years of struggle because it taught me to value the great blessing of muscles that work. It is a blessing I no longer take for granted.

 This time of my life also taught me compassion and empathy. I remember a day when my muscles were so weak that I worried I was not going to be able to make it into the grocery store and back out with the gallon of milk I needed for my young children. I knew that if I was going to make it through the store before my legs gave out then I needed to park as close to the store as possible. I pulled into the handicap parking space, put my handicap parking tag on my rearview mirror, and got out. I was struggling to unload three children under the age of 5 from the car when a man approached me, screaming and scolding at what he viewed as the abuse of a handicap parking tag. He saw a young mom with children. I looked healthy. I wasn’t in a wheelchair or visibly handicapped so he felt justified in his words. My disease was invisible…my struggles unseen. He had no idea that I had Myasthenia Gravis. He had no clue how huge the task of walking in the store and getting milk was for me. It was my Mt. Everest. He judged a situation he didn’t understand. I never did get my milk that day. The confrontation left me so drained that I didn’t have the strength to go inside, but I am forever grateful for that experience. I learned an important lesson that day. We have no idea. We look at each other’s lives, and children, and choices, and make judgments. We have no idea the hidden struggles and the silent burdens others carry. It taught me to be kinder in my assessment of others and to judge not.

I am grateful for all the tender mercies in my life. I feel the Lord’s hand in my life daily and I feel His love for me through the loving acts of those around me. It isn’t by chance I am where I am. The friends He has placed in my life are not by chance. Each is a great blessing to me. I learn from their examples and feel their love through their words and actions. They enhance my life and make life sweeter!

I’m grateful for the joy of animals. I am grateful that I was raised in a home of animal lovers and was taught early how to love and care for animals. I am grateful for a mother who is a tender heart. I have so many early memories of her coming home with stray dogs and cats, unable and unwilling to risk letting them roam homeless, determined to find them a loving home. Now grown up I appreciate the extra work and burden she placed on her already loaded shoulders to take in, clean up and care for the lost and needy. There was nothing in it for her other than peace of mind knowing that that animal was now safe and ok. I married a tender heart much like my mother in the sense that he too quickly, willingly, and with open heart takes in the strays of the world. He too is an animal lover and gets as much joy from raising animals, as I do. Never in my life did I expect to be so lucky as to marry a man that would give me a baby goat or a puppy for Mother’s Day. He knows the key to my heart is not diamonds or riches, but rather something furry and four legged. 🙂

I could go on and on.

As I lay in bed on my birthday morning I was humbled by the list of blessings I could rattle off in my head.

I am so grateful for the last 38 years of life and look forward to what God has in store for the next 38. 🙂

Sunday was a delightfully perfect day. After church in the morning we came home, put on our PJs, and enjoyed a quiet family day at home. It is just what I wanted for my birthday.

The kids made me a favorite lunch of sticky bun sandwiches with ice cream cake for dessert.

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The kids all had made or purchased gifts for my birthday, putting a lot of thought into their gifts: my favorite gum from Tyler, a new candle from Rusty (He smelled each one he store and thought I’d like the cranberry orange scent the best), scrapbooking papers and stickers from Molly, a CD case from Ozzie (“so we quit scratching your cd’s,” he said), and a painting by Grace for my living room.

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Toby had his gift delivered on Saturday. A dumpster rental for a week! Next to furry, four legged gifts this is my second favorite! I am looking forward to a week off school to clean, organize, sort and toss. We don’t have garbage pick up on my road so purging requires burning, or bagging and taking things to the dump, so the novelty of having a dumpster just outside my door that I can fill this week is so exciting! I am looking forward to cleaning out the basement!

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(Ok, I know many of you can’t relate, especially if you have a garbage truck that picks up the stuff you don’t want each week, but for me this is a luxury. 🙂  I love purging. It makes me so happy. Toby just smiled when I told him it was the best gift ever!)

In the afternoon we watched The Martian. What a great movie! I highly recommend it!

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Molly did my hair, we played games as a family, napped and just relaxed.

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Best birthday ever!

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38 feels great!

A Chinese Fire Drill

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Do you remember that old favorite car game…a Chinese Fire Drill? It was played with a car full of occupants who all simultaneously would jump out of the car, at the same time, while stopped at a red light, and would run around and jump into a new seat in the car. Everyone had to switch places before the light turned green.

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I have fond teenage memories of this foolish but fun rite of passage.

Just the other day I was walking downtown Beaver Falls on my way to an appointment when I saw a four door sedan stop at the traffic light. All of a sudden all four doors flew open at once and the occupants, all dressed conservatively in suits and ties, jumped from the car, raced around the vehicle laughing, and jumped into new seats.

It made me laugh see this childhood memory come to life by middle-aged business men, and I continued on to my appointment with a smile on my face.

On December 26th we had our own Chinese Fire Drill of sorts, except it was bedrooms that were shuffled rather than car seats,

and it was more work than fun. 🙂

Tyler has been struggling a lot lately with nighttime anxiety. Bedtimes have been a nightly struggle as he fights going to his room. This newly manifested anxiety comes from the therapy work he is doing and the past memories that are being stirred up.

Tyler has a great fear of being alone, particularly being alone in closed rooms or dark rooms. This fear comes from early childhood abuse when he spent long periods of time locked in a dark closet.

Night time anxiety has increased more recently. Buster is partly to blame but the root of his nighttime fears go much deeper than a certain elf on a shelf. 🙂

And his already existent fears are made worse by being so far away from the family at night.

Tyler has an upstairs bedroom next to Gracie’s bedroom. The rest of the family has bedrooms on the ground floor. Every night we battle to get Tyler to bed and to get him to stay in bed. He really doesn’t settle down until Grace finally goes up to bed and he is no longer alone upstairs.

We have been working with Tina on coping strategies for his anxiety and solutions to make bedtime less traumatic. We put longer curtains on the window so he couldn’t see the dark outside. We put a lamp in his room that he could keep on all night. We put a radio in his room to bring soothing sounds, but none were effective long term solutions.

Finally the solution came to us (after much prayer) as we were driving out to the Homestead on Christmas Eve…

The solution:

Switch Ozzie and Tyler’s rooms.

We broached the idea with Oz to see what he thought. Well, he was thrilled! Ozzie is most comfortable and happiest when he is alone in a quiet room, so the idea of being tucked away upstairs sounded great to him.  (Just the opposite of Tyler!) So we made a plan to switch their rooms on December 26th.

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It was an all day project moving Ozzie’s furniture, clothing and toys upstairs and Tyler’s things downstairs since we used this project as an excuse to do some deep cleaning, sorting, purging and organizing.

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We finally finished the big switcheroo and moved the boys’ new Christmas gifts into their new rooms.

The final result:

Two cute rooms and two happy little boys.

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Ozzie’s new upstairs room

 

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Tyler’s downstairs bedroom.

 

Hopefully the work will result in less anxiety and more peace for both our sons.

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Now…

3…2…1…Chinese Fire Drill!

At Christmas all roads lead home

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“Christmas! The very word brings joy to our hearts. No matter how we may dread the rush, the long Christmas lists for gifts and cards to be bought and given–when Christmas Day comes there is still the same warm feeling we had as children, the same warmth that enfolds our hearts and our homes.”  – Joan Winmill Brown

Christmas at the Homestead begins in the wee hours of the morning with little boys waking before dawn, eager to know if Santa visited. Then begins the challenge of keeping them quiet until the rest of the house wakes.

Then Toby and I head downstairs to peek in the living room and check to see  if the rest of the house is awake and ready for the wild rumpus to begin.

With camera in hand the kids are called down the stairs.

It’s with shouts of joy and perhaps a little relief, at least on the part of the boys, they see that Santa did indeed stop at the Homestead. The plate of cookies is examined and the kids take note of which cookies are missing and whether the carrot was eaten by Rudolph.

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Tyler was especially thrilled to see the number one item on his letter to Santa was delivered… a giant stuffed animal to help him not feel so scared at night.

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Stockings were passed out next. This seems to be everyone’s favorite part of Christmas morning. It is fun to watch everyone empty their stocking item by item. Stockings are filled with a mixture of practical and fun gifts. The Lifesaver Candy Storybooks are among the favorites.

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Then it was time to start opening gifts. Rusty played Santa this year, handing out gifts to be opened one at a time. The kids were all thrilled with the surprises waiting for them under the tree.

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Then halfway through the fun we stopped and took a break to eat breakfast, and then it was back to unwrapping.

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After the beautiful mess of Christmas morning was cleaned up the kids sprawled around the house enjoying their new gifts…

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We played games and enjoyed the unseasonably warm weather.

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For dinner we feasted on  a delicious ham and side dishes, with pumpkin pie and Christmas cookies for dessert. At our places around the table sat Christmas crackers. At the end of the meal everyone picked up their cracker and with the help of the person sitting next to them pulled either end until it cracked open revealing the paper crown and prize inside. This year’s crackers held whistles. Each whistle was a different number so that together, with the help of the included song book, we could make music.

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It was fun but suffice it to say we are not ready to take our show on the road! 🙂

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Then all too soon it was time for us to pack up the van and head back to Patchwork Farm.

 Christmas–that magic blanket that wraps itself about us, that something so intangible that it is like a fragrance. It may weave a spell of nostalgia. Christmas may be a day of feasting, or of prayer, but always it will be a day of remembrance–a day in which we think of everything we have ever loved.”
~ Augusta E. Rundell

‘Twas the Night Before Christmas

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On Christmas Eve we left to spend the night at my parents’ house in Ohio. My father’s mother (G.G.) and my brother (Travis) were already there. Christmas Eve is so much fun and has been since childhood. We now celebrate Christmas Eve at my parents’ house, as opposed to G.G.’s house where we celebrated Christmas when I was a child. We now celebrate in Ohio as opposed to my parents’ house in McKeesport where we celebrated Christmas up until a few years ago when they retired to Ohio,

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but regardless of the change of venue and the passing of time, our Christmas traditions remain pretty much the same. For Christmas Eve dinner we always feast on appetizers as opposed to a traditional sit-down meal.

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During dinner Ozzie asked where Santa might be in his travels. We decided to look and see. We searched and discovered Santa Tracker through google maps that tells you where he is, how many presents he has already delivered, where he is heading next and when he will arrive at your home. Well, needless to say, Ozzie was enamored! It combined the magic of Christmas with his obsession for maps and he just couldn’t get enough! It was a really cool site!

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We always have a talent show of some sort. This tradition began when I was small. The kids were always expected to perform on Christmas Eve. Sometimes it was a funny parody of a classic Christmas story, sometimes a more thoughtful touching story or song. This tradition has continued on with my own children. This year instead doing a skit the girls decided to perform on behalf of the kids. They spent the last two months learning the American Sign Language interpretation of the song, “Mary, did you know?”

Their performance was beautiful and moving.

Then there is always the funny gift exchange. It is, in essence, a white elephant gift exchange that I am in charge of. It sole purpose is for laughs and we all have a fun time with this part of Christmas Eve. I purchase 12 funny/tacky gifts (mainly from the Dollar Store) and wrap them. We then take turns picking gifts and stealing from each other until everyone has a gift in their lap, and then we open them one by one. Here’s a peek into the source of much laughter…

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Then it is time to head outside. This part of our Christmas Eve is a new tradition that began when my parents moved to the Homestead. (And it is now my favorite part of Christmas Eve!) We walk out to the barn, decorated with lanterns and a small tree. In the darkness of the barn, surrounded by animals, we sit on bales of hay and listen as my Dad opens his Bible and reads to us the story of Christ’s birth.

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Even the animals gather around and listen.

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And the Spirit of Christmas is felt in the silence of the stable.

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Then it is time to get ready for bed. The kids all get to open their packages of new Christmas PJs. As a child this was such a treat. I loved the feeling of new, soft pajamas on my skin as I snuggled under the covers and tried to will myself to sleep before Santa passed over our house.

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Once the kids are all nestled snug in their beds the magic of Christmas begins. The adults enjoy sitting and visiting while waiting for little people to fall asleep so that Santa can sneak presents into the house. Once the children have fallen asleep the men carry in all the presents and place them under the tree while the “Mrs. Clauses” fill the stockings. It is a fun time with my mother and grandmother as we gather on my parents’ bed and talk while we fill stocking after stocking.

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Then the stockings are carried into the living room, ready for the magic of Christmas morning.

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It is then time to go to bed where we don’t sleep most of the night. We share a room with the three boys. Rusty sleeps on the couch in the guest room and Tyler and Ozzie each sleep on either side of our bed…and by sleep I mean wake up every 30 minutes through the night and ask if it is time to get up yet. 🙂

When we came up to bed this is where we found Tyler:

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We moved him off our bed and onto the floor. By morning he had moved again. In the middle of the night he climbed into my Mom’s decorative, antique cradle and fell asleep…so cute!

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As I lay in bed…not sleeping…I counted my many blessings. My heart was full as I lay in the dark listening for the pitter patter of tiny reindeer hooves.

“But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight,

Happy Christmas to all, and to all a Good Night!”

“But First and Forever There was Just a Little Family.”

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A friend of mine recently shared this quote and I  LOVED it. That first Christmas was so beautiful in its simplicity. There were no fancy decorations, no trimmed tree, no plates of cookies, or piles of wrap and bows. In the darkness of the night it was just a family. It was a husband, and a wife, and a child. In the darkness of the stable they celebrated the birth of their child…the birth of the Savior of the world.

And all was well.

Tonight it was just our little family. Mother, and Father, and children… children sent to us by different means, in different ways, to earth…to us.

Tonight we celebrated our little family. Blanketed in love and holiday cheer, overcome with gratitude for our blessings, we celebrated the birth of our Savior.

Tomorrow we will drive to the Homestead to celebrate Christmas with my family. This has been our tradition since we married and it is a tradition we treasure. At my parents’ house we will celebrate Christmas with my parents, my brother, and my grandmother. It is always magical.

Because of this tradition, December 23rd has become our little family’s night to celebrate with our immediate family. After a busy month with a lot of fun get-togethers with friends, little visitors, and lots of running, it was delightful to sit in the living room surrounded by my little brood and the love of my life.

The 23rd is when we give the kids their new yearly ornaments and Toby and I exchange with each other. Here is what everyone received:

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The 23rd is also when the kids exchange gifts with each other and when they give Toby and I our gifts. It is a smaller and simpler version of what happens Christmas morning and I love it for that reason. Many of the kids’ gifts for us are homemade and heart-made with a lot of love. I love to see the thought and creativity they put into their gift giving and the joy they receive from giving. It makes this Momma want to cry.

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Here is a peek into the wonderful gifts that were exchanged and the love that was shown this evening:

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Tyler sewed and decorated scarves for Toby and I (with Gracie’s help.)  Each picture told a story that was entertaining and delightful as the gift itself.

 

The night ended with singing Christmas carols around the Christmas tree and watching the nativity movie in a darkened living room, lit only by the twinkle of the tree’s lights.

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As the quote says,

Later would come the shepherds, and the wise men,

and later yet… Santa and Rudolph,

“But first and forever there was just a little family.”

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Merry Christmas from our family to yours!

A Christmas Tree for the Birds

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Today we took Christmas outside and decorated a tree for the birds and woodland critters to enjoy. Not only will it be their Christmas tree but also their Christmas feast.

This is a tradition we started when the kids were young and we lived in the apartment next door to Toby’s parents. One evening near Christmas we would make birdseed ornaments, string popcorn and cranberries, hang suet and birdseed bells for the birds to enjoy. We would decorate the tree outside my in-laws’ kitchen window, thus turning it into a treat for the birds but also the bird watchers.

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Since then we have some years we decorate a Christmas tree for the forest animals, and some years we don’t, depending on how quickly the month gets away from us. This year the kids expressed a desire to make time for this sweet tradition.

The kids chose a tree that grows beside  Brownie’s grave. It seemed a fitting way to honor her and all the other animal friends we have loved over the years.

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The kids enjoyed getting messy with peanut butter and birdseed and it didn’t take long until we were ready to go out and trim the tree.

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The weather continues to look and feel like fall with, 60 degree temperatures, so I had kids out trimming the forest tree in bare feet and short sleeves. This weather is crazy!

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When they were done they stepped back to admire their work and waited expectantly for the first feathered visitor to land. After waiting and seeing no sign of birds, squirrels, or deer, I suggested they perhaps… just maybe… might be waiting for our noisy crew to exit the scene. I suspect the noise and movement created by a certain little boy and two noisy dogs might be making our Christmas tree feast look more like a dysfunctional family supper.

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So we took our leave and said good-bye and Merry Christmas to the critters watching us from the safety of the branches high above our heads. Feast well, little friends, may your Christmas be Merry and Bright!

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Christmas Recital

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 I can’t believe it is now the night before, the night before, Christmas. I am not sure where December went and while I’d love an extra week to accomplish those Christmas tasks that I haven’t found time for, I am resigning myself to the fact that Christmas has arrived and “it is what it is.!”

The kids are buzzing with excitement and energy as everyone goes about the last of their Christmas preparations. There is a lot of secretive running about as the kids wrap gifts they have made and as they sneakily work to prepare a musical number to perform for the adults on Christmas Eve.

I too have spent the day in preparation for leaving in the morning to spend Christmas at the Homestead. Stocking stuffers have been sorted, bags have been packed, and cookies are baking as the little boys watch The Santa Clause on TV.

Tonight we will have our family celebration with just our kids. We will exchange gifts among siblings and the kids with give the parents the gifts they have made or bought. We will sit around the glowing tree in the dark and read the Christmas story, and then we will open our new Christmas ornaments and after some oooing and awwing, will hang them on the tree.

Then Toby will stay up half the night wrapping the gifts he just purchased today, while I am locked away in our bedroom watching White Christmas…

it’s a tradition! 😉

Yesterday was our last “running sort of day” before the holiday break. We had school in the morning and then some shopping, a bridal shower, and a Christmas piano recital later in the day.

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The kids have spent the last month working on Christmas pieces for their recital which was held in their piano teacher’s home. In addition to my four kids that take lessons she also has three other students.

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Her piano room was set up for the performance and all the kids did a wonderful job performing for each other and the families.

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In addition to their solos my kids also had a musical piece that involved all of them. Their teacher found a Christmas number that had three piano parts for the three older kids and then had Ozzie play the bells and even included Tyler by having him play the triangle.

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At the end of the recital everyone received their new  music pieces to work on for January and a plate of Christmas cookies from their teacher.

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Grace had a gift for her teacher as well. She had painted an oil painting of a Christmas scene for her teacher.

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It was a wonderful way to end our month of “holiday running.” Now my favorite part of Christmas begins…time home with family.

The loss of a furry friend

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On Sunday we said goodbye to Brownie, Rusty’s beagle.  Toby went outside and called her. She wasn’t moving from the dog bed. When he walked over he discovered that she had died in her sleep

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Needless to say there were many tears shed. Every time a beloved pet dies, hearts break. It is so hard, so devastating, to hold your children as they weep over the loss of a dear friend. I sometimes wonder if the heartbreak is worth it and then I consider all the joy and love and companionship our furry family members bring to our lives and I know it is.

Brownie, in particular, had a profound and powerful impact on Rusty’s life. Brownie was his dog. On his 6th birthday, 5 months after moving to Patchwork Farm, we surprised Rusty with a dog for his birthday. It was during a time in his life when Rusty was dealing with severe anxiety that was manifesting itself in the form of Selective Mutism. My little boy couldn’t speak out loud to anyone except his Mom and Dad and two sisters. He was mute and as a result couldn’t talk and laugh with friends. We prayed about how to help meet his need to talk and share and confide in someone other than his family, while his therapist worked with him to address the underlying anxiety.

Brownie was the answer to that prayer. She became his best friend, his confidant, his support. He could whisper secrets in her floppy hound ears and squeeze her when he was feeling overwhelmed with anxiety. She was an amazing blessing to Rusty during a time when he needed an unconditional friend.

When we walked into the Humane Society that Saturday so many years ago we had a vision in our minds of what we were looking for . We thought we wanted a big lab of some sort. A dog Rusty could lay on and squeeze. A dog that could handle the loving of a six year old boy…

That’s what we thought we wanted and then we saw her:

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She was standing, and smiling, and begging to be chosen. We knew she was the one.

We brought her home and Rusty was in love. It was probably his best birthday ever. As I look back on pictures from that special day I find myself tearing up over the loss of times past…tears over my sweet, quiet six year old boy who now towers above us all, the loss of animals who have passed on and loved ones, like my Grandpa Parmley in this picture, who now watch down on us from heaven.

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The passage of time is bittersweet. Saying goodbye to a friend is hard. Saying goodbye to a season of life is hard. Saying goodbye to a pet, who was so much more than a pet, is hard.

That evening Toby went out to dig a grave under the giving tree where other beloved pets have been laid to rest over the years. There were tears shed as we prayed a prayer of thanks for Brownie’s loving and generous spirit and for the important role she played in the life of one little boy. She was more than a pet, she was a best friend.

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And one day they will be reunited in the sweetest reunion ever!

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Keeping Christ in Christmas

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(Gracie was asked to speak for our Christmas service at church this Sunday. She was asked to prepare and share thoughts on how to keep Christ in Christmas. She did a beautiful job and her words, in combination with the beautiful musical numbers, left me feeling uplifted and touched by the Spirit. Here are the words she prepared and shared with our congregation.)

I was asked to speak to you today on Keeping Christ in Christmas. As most of you know I love Christmas, so when I was asked to speak about Christmas I was excited. I hope all of you feel the spirit of Christmas, or rather the spirit of Christ, today.

First let me begin with a quote from one of my favorite Christmas movies, The Grinch Who Stole Christmas. It says, “ Maybe Christmas,” He thought, “ doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas perhaps means a little bit more!”

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Christmas does mean a little bit more. It more than just the gifts, and lights, and snow!

I want to share some of  Dieter F. Uchtdorf’s talk titled:

“The Real Meaning of Christmas.”

In it he says, “When we prepare for Christmas by pondering its real meaning, we prepare to experience the Christ and His message. May I suggest three things we may want to study, ponder, and apply in this season of preparation.

First, rejoice in the birth of our Savior. We celebrate the birth of the Son of God, the Creator, our Messiah. We rejoice that the King of kings came to earth, was born in a manger, and lived a perfect life. “When Jesus was born, the joy in heaven was so great it could not be contained.”

I will continue with Dieter F. Uchtdorf’s thoughts in a moment.

Christmas is a time of joy and happiness. We spend time with family through Christmas traditions. Christ is our family, our brother, our friend. We need to celebrate our Savior’s birth.

Remember that :”The magic of Christmas is not in the presents, but in His presence.”

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Next Dieter F. Uchtdorf goes on to say, “Second, ponder His influence in our lives today. Christmas is a time for remembering the Son of God and renewing our determination to take upon us His name. It is a time to reassess our lives and examine our thoughts, feelings, and actions. Let this be a time of remembrance, of gratitude, and a time of forgiveness. Let it be a time to ponder the Atonement of Jesus Christ and its meaning for each of us personally. Let it especially be a time of renewal and recommitment to live by the word of God and to obey His commandments. By doing this, we honor Him far more than we ever could with lights, gifts, or parties.”

 Dale Evans once said, “ Christmas, my child, is love in action. Everytime we love, everytime we give, it’s Christmas.”

I would love to share a story that is a great example of Christ’s love at Christmas.

It is called, The Christmas I Remember Best, by Rheuama A. West:

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It should have been the worst, the bleakest of Christmases. It turned out
to be the loveliest of all my life. I was nine years old, one of seven
children, and we lived in a little farming town in Utah. It had been a
tragic year for all of us. But we still had our father, and that made all
the difference. Every year in our town a Christmas Eve Social was held at
the church. How well I remember Dad buttoning our coats, placing us all on
our long, homemade sleigh and pulling us to the church about a mile away. It
was snowing. How cold and good it felt on our faces. We held tight to one
another, and above the crunch of snow beneath Dad’s feet we could hear him
softly whistling “Silent Night.”

Mama had died that previous summer. She had been confined to bed for three
years, so Dad had assumed all mother and father responsibilities. I
remember him standing me on a stool by our big round kitchen table and
teaching me to mix bread. But my main task was being Mama’s hand and feet
until that day in June, her own birthday, when she died.
Two months later came the big fire. Our barns, sheds, haystacks and
livestock were destroyed. It was a calamity, but dad stood between us and
the disaster. We weren’t even aware of how poor we were.

We had no money at all. I don’t remember much about the Christmas Eve Social. I just remember
Dad pulling us there and pulling us back. Later, in the front room around
our pot bellied stove, he served us our warm milk and bread. Our Christmas
tree, topped by a worn cardboard angel, had been brought from the nearby
hills. Strings of our home-grown popcorn made it the most beautiful tree I
had ever seen–or smelled.

After supper, Dad made all seven of us sit in a half circle by the tree. I
remember I wore a long flannel nightgown. He sat on the floor facing us and
told us that he was ready to give us our Christmas gift. We waited, puzzled
because we thought Christmas presents were for Christmas morning. Dad looked
at our expectant faces. “Long ago,” he said, “on a night like this, some
poor shepherds were watching their sheep on a lonely hillside, when all of a
sudden…”

His quiet voice went on and on, telling the story of the Christ Child in his
own simple words, and I’ll never forget how love and gratitude seemed to
fill the room. There was light from the oil lamp and warmth from the stove,
but somehow it was more than that. We felt Mama’s presence.
We learned that loving someone was far more important than having
something. We were filled with peace and happiness and joy. When the story
was ended Dad had us all kneel for family prayer. Then he said, “Try to
remember, when everything else seems to be lost, the greatest thing of all
remains: “God’s love for us. That’s what Christmas means. That’s the gift
that can never be taken away.”

The next morning we found that Dad had whittled little presents for each of
us and hung them on the tree, dolls for the girls, whistles for the boys.
But he was right; he had given us our real gift the night before. All this
happened long ago, but to this day it all comes back to me whenever I hear
“Silent Night” or feel snowflakes on my face, or–best of all–when I get an
occasional glimpse of Christ shining in my 90-year-old father’s face.”

We witness God’s love for us because He sent his son. We should try to show this same love that God showed and Christ showed, to all. We should be examples of Him, no matter the season.

Lastly Dieter F. Uchtdorf says, “Third, look steadfastly for His coming. While the Christmas season is typically a time for looking back and celebrating the birth of our Lord, it seems to me that it should also be a time of looking to the future. Let us look forward. Let us prepare for that blessed day when He will come again.”

It is great remembering Christ’s birth  but like Uchtdorf said we need to look forward and prepare for Him to come again. We need to make sure that we are following His commandments and doing all we can to be like Jesus Christ.

Lastly I would like to share a story. This story explains how to truly keep Christ in Christmas.

It is titled:  “The Three Levels of Christmas”
by William B. Smart

Christmas is a beautiful time of the year. We love the excitement, the giving spirit, the special awareness of and appreciation for family and friends, the feelings of love and brotherhood that bless our gatherings at Christmastime.

In all of the joyousness it is well to reflect that Christmas comes at three levels.

Let’s call the first the Santa Claus level.

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It’s the level of Christmas trees and holly, of whispered secrets and colorful packages, of candlelight and rich food and warm open houses. It’s carolers in the shopping malls, excited children, and weary but loving parents. It’s a lovely time of special warmth and caring and giving. It’s the level at which we eat too much and spend too much and do too much – and enjoy every minute of it. We love the Santa Claus level of Christmas.

But there’s a higher, more beautiful level. Let’s call it the Silent Night level.

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It’s the level of all our glorious Christmas carols, of that beloved, familiar story: “Now in those days there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus….” It’s the level of the crowded inn and the silent, holy moment in a dark stable when the Son of Man came to earth. It’s the shepherds on steep, bare hills near Bethlehem, angels with their glad tidings, the new star in the East, wise men traveling far in search of the Holy One. How beautiful and meaningful it is; how infinitely poorer we would be without this sacred second level of Christmas.

The trouble is, these two levels don’t last. They can’t. Twelve days of Christmas, at the first level, is about all most of us can stand. It’s too intense, too extravagant. The tree dies out and needles fall. The candles burn down. The beautiful wrappings go out with the trash, the carolers are up on the ski slopes, the toys break, and the biggest day in the stores for the entire year is exchange day, December 26th. The feast is over and the dieting begins. But the lonely and the hungry are with us still, perhaps lonelier and hungrier than before.

Lovely and joyous as the first level of Christmas is, there will come day, very soon, when Mother will put away the decorations and vacuum the living room and think, “Thank goodness that this over for another year.”

Even the second level, the level of the Baby Jesus, can’t last. How many times this season can you sing, “Silent Night?” The angels and the star, and the shepherd, even the silent, sacred mystery of the holy night itself, can’t long satisfy humanity’s basic need. The man who keeps Christ in the manger will, in the end, be disappointed and empty.

No, for Christmas to last all year long, for it to grow in beauty and meaning and purpose, for it to have the power to change lives, we must celebrate it at the third level, that of the adult Christ.

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It is at this level—not as an infant—that our Savior brings his gifts of lasting joy, lasting peace, lasting hope. It was the adult Christ who reached out and touched the untouchable, who loved the unlovable, who so loved us all that even in his agony on the cross, he prayed forgiveness for his enemies.

This is Christ, who wept because so many of us lack affection and hate each other – and then who willingly gave his life for all of us, including those for whom he wept. This is the Christ, the adult Christ, who gave us the perfect example, and asked us to follow him.

Accepting that invitation is the way – the only way – that all mankind can celebrate Christmas all year and all life long.”

I would like to conclude with a quote by David O. McKay which says, “In short, the Christmas spirit is the Christ spirit, that makes our hearts glow in brotherly love and friendship and prompts us to kind deeds of service.”

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May we all feel the Spirit of Christ this Christmas season.