Finding the Beauty

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The other morning my sister sent a photo to our “Cruise 2018” group; of her feet in the snow.  Her caption was, “This doesn’t look like sand!”  Her photo was in response to the snowfall that we had just had in our area.

Yesterday it started snowing here and snowed through the night. Schools were started two hours late to give the road crews a chance to clear the blacktops, highways and gravel roads that buses needed to travel.

It was a jolt back into the reality of winter in the Midwest.  Once again, I had to tend to the girls and shovel trails through the snow so they would be able to get here and there outside.  The sun was shining brightly and it was quietly beautiful…..but oh so cold. The world was brilliantly white…so white it almost hurt your eyes to look.

I am finding it hard to wrap my mind around the fact that just one week ago I was basking in temperatures of 80 degrees and sitting on beautiful sandy beaches. It seems a long time ago and yet it also seems as if it was just yesterday. I am not quite sure how that can be…but it just is.

 

I love the fact that this world holds such a variety of beautiful things. Pristine snowfalls, days so cold you can see your breath, shells that come in all shapes, colors and sizes and the sound of waves rushing up on the beach with gulls swirling overhead.

The pure whiteness of a new snowfall is a totally different kind of beauty than last week where waves washed the beach and deposited sea shells at our feet. I did take some beach sand and shells home with me from Mexico and have them drying on a tray in my kitchen.

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It is a wonderful reminder of our week in the sun. It is a great reminder of the time spent with some of the women in my family…….a time spent catching up with each others’ lives.  (The eight of us represented five different states – Iowa, Missouri, Nebraska, Kansas and Texas.)

Those shells and that sand are a reminder that the simple things in life matter so much and mean so much. They are a reminder not to overlook the joy of time spent with those you love…..to open your eyes to what God has put before you…whether it is cold, pure white snow or the warmth of sun-kissed sand.

Take the time this weekend to let your soul soak in the beauty around you and bask in the warmth of friends and family. You may have to look closely to find the beauty…..it might look more like snow than sand….but it is hiding there somewhere!

 

“Earth’s crammed with heaven.”
– Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Aurora Leigh

Everybody needs beauty as well as bread,
places to play in and pray in,
where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul.
John Muir

Read more at: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/john_muir_104245

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Lessons Learned From Vacation

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Two steps forward and one step back…..that phrase seems to really explain the last couple days. I had the wonderful experience of escaping the cold of an Iowa winter the last week. The upside…it was so much fun. The down side……I am now playing catch up on everything from housework and laundry to writing and reading blogs!

Last week, along with a daughter-in-law, 1 sister, 2 sisters-in-law, 2 nieces and 1 cousin, I was able to cross an item off my “bucket list”. I went on a cruise. The planning for this event started last summer already, after these same family members read one of my posts where I mentioned that if you really wanted; you could start down the road and end up anywhere.

One sister in law quizzed me as to where I would go……my answer was someplace warm with water and a beach. Another sister in law immediately began researching things like cruises as they were all inclusive and would fit our budgets. Our husbands seemed to have zero desire to go on a cruise so we invited all the women in our family. Eight of us chose to go and this past week we sailed from New Orleans, LA.

We had stops at Cozumel and Progresso (Yucatan Peninsula). We had opportunities to shop, spend time on the beach and just have a great time together. I did learn and relearn some things on this vacation…

I learned that it is good to laugh till you can’t breathe. It is good to smile at everyone you meet and be open to learning about those who serve your meals, clean your rooms and answer your many questions. People are people no matter what color or religion and generally will reciprocate when treated with respect.

I learned that most of us have the same fears, hopes and dreams. I learned (from watching some groups) that drinking to much will turn you into idiots and make you obnoxious.(It might also make you toss your lunch on the beach..it puzzled me to think a person would do that to themselves!) I found that playing Bingo, while fun, will not make you rich.

I learned that caramelized cheesecake is included on the breakfast menu and does, indeed taste delicious at that time of morning. I found that trying the “rare and interesting” appetizers on the menu should sometimes just be something you keep wondering about instead of ordering.

Another thing, I found was the non-drowsy Dramamine is indeed your friend on a cruise….especially when going through a storm. The storm, while making for a bumpy ride, was also amazing.  I also learned that sunrises and sunsets are some of the most beautiful sights that God has gifted us with.

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I found that the simple pleasure of wading in the surf and searching for sea shells is truly one of the great pleasures in life. I learned that the warmth of the sun, combined with a good book and the company of people you love is really all you need most of the time.

I also found that getting back home to the rest of those you love is a wonderful thing. It is a joyful thing to know someone is there waiting for you.

We came back to single digits for temperatures, snowstorms and all the things that make up day to day living in the Midwest…… some good and some not so fun.

I cannot speak for the rest of the gals that went, but I came back with a great appreciation for the relaxation of vacation and a greater appreciation for all those things that make up my day to day life here at home. It is good to go…but it is even better to come back.

A man travels the world over in search of what he needs
and returns home to find it.
George A. Moore

Read more at: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/george_a_moore_205186?src=t_travel

 

 

 

Packing up the Tree

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We finally did it….we finally took down the Christmas tree and packed up the ornaments. Yes….I know that Christmas was what…….three weeks ago? The only excuse I have is that this is how we roll over at our place.

It has always been this way in our home. We have never gotten the tree and all it’s ornaments up the day after Thanksgiving. It has always been a week or so later. I am not sure why….it is just the way it is around here.

Due to the fact we get our Christmas decorations up later than most people; I am thinking it is only fair we also take them down later than most people. Our festive decorations probably stay up the same length of time as other peoples’…..we just start later and finish later.

I only recall one year when the tree came down before New Year’s Eve. The reason for that was because we were entertaining and hosting a party at our home that year and the tree just took up way to much room in the living room.

For some reason it seems to take way less time to take those decorations down and pack them away than it does to put them all up. Makes me wonder if I spend too much time with ornament placement on my tree? Or, maybe it could be the fact you really don’t have to check the lights when taking them OFF the tree?

My frontroom does look a lot larger now than it did yesterday when the tree was taking up an entire corner….the downside is…it doesn’t look as festive and warm either! I have heard of people leaving their tree up and decorating it for other holidays, like Valentines or Easter.  I am not quite ready to do that as I really want my couch back in the room.

I kind of think my husband and I have a tough time letting go of the Christmas tree because Christmas is such a great time of family gatherings. For us it is the time our kids come home and we get to spend some time with them and the grandkids.

During the Christmas season we see friends and family that aren’t around other times of the year. We play games, open gifts, eat lots of great food and we get to celebrate that our Savior was born.

Maybe it kind of feels like when we pack up the tree, we pack up all those good things. Instead of looking at it that way, maybe I need to be looking at it from another angle. I think I need to be remembering that it isn’t the tree or the decorations that made the season so special…..it is the people we shared it with and the reason for that sharing.

Perhaps that is why New Years follows so closely….so we realize we get to have another year of joy…another year of sharing…another year of celebrating what makes life worth living. May you be blessed in the sharing, the celebrating and the living!

Some Christmas tree ornaments
do more than glitter and glow,
they represent a gift of love given a long time ago.
Tom Baker

 

 

Cousins

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My husband and I were commenting the other day and wondering why it seems to take a funeral; to get together with cousins that you have not seen in a long time. Another observation we made was how much laughter there could be at funerals.

It doesn’t seem like laughter and funerals go together but I must confess, around here they do seem to end up that way. This past week an aunt on my mom’s side passed away. She “went home” on Christmas day and her family knew she had the best Christmas ever.

We will be gathering to lay her to rest….and we will be gathering to remember the life she lived. I have a feeling there will be a lot of reminiscing with all the cousins that will be there. I also have a feeling that there will be lots of grins and laughter.

I think that at some points it will resemble a celebration of sorts. A celebration of life lived, a celebration of family gathering, a celebration of what makes family…family.

We will realize that family isn’t perfect and that is okay. We will remember the childhood nights spent at cousins’ homes and games played in those home. For those of us who grew up in our small town….we loved to go to the farm homes of our cousins.

There was always something exciting to do there. You could ride the pigs (when your uncles were not looking), you could stand on top of the cab of an old pickup in the grove and launch yourself onto a gunny sack swing and soar high into the air. There were board games to be played, games of Kick The Can and Moonlight Starlight Hope To See The Ghost Tonight.

You just knew it was a successful time when you went home in the back seat of your parents’ car feeling tired, having a cut on your shin from running into the cistern in the dark and feeling slightly sick from to much running in the heat and too much really sweet Kool-aid.

It was a carefree time to be a kid. There didn’t seem to be any big worries that we had. Some of our biggest concerns were, if we would be able to talk our folks into letting us stay overnight so we could have more time together. We also did our best to talk our folks into letting us each take a chicken home. (Even then I wanted chickens! …. and yes…we were successful on that one.)

There are so many wonderful memories of times spent with cousins on both sides of the family. I was fortunate to have a girl cousin my age on both sides. I went to school with them and spent my childhood years surrounded by cousins of all ages.

I can only hope that in the future my grandchildren will have those same close ties and connections with their cousins. I know they will be miles apart, instead of town blocks apart, but my prayer is that family ties stretch across those many miles.

I hope that someday when those future cousins meet to celebrate my “home-going” there is lots of laughter, lots of love and so many good stories to be told of time spent together at Grandpa and Grandma’s house. Time where they played games, got into a little (only a little) mischief, and made memories that will bond them together for a lifetime.

 

 

A cousin is a little bit of childhood that can never be lost.
Marion C. Garretty

Cousins are those rare people who ask how we are and then wait to hear the answer.
Ed Cunningham

Sticking Close

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I have spent the day finding my house back. By that I mean….clearing off the counters, putting away dishes used for Christmas, storing away bedding till the next time the family comes and picking up small Lego pieces from some of the oddest places.

When I got to the crate that held the nativity set I had to grin. This year we chose to let the grand-kids help set up the nativity set…..not because it was in the original plan, but because I had run out of time to get all my Christmas decorations put up this year.

As I read Luke 2, my husband handed out the pieces as they were mentioned. The virgin Mary was placed gently, by small hands, on the crate, followed by the donkey and Joseph. As the story unfolded the pieces found their way to their places. (We did realize that the wise men were not mentioned in that chapter but we gave them a spot anyway.)

For me, reading that chapter was a time I will always cherish. I got to see the events of that miraculous night, through the eyes of a child in all its’ wonder and joy. They did wonder why my set did not have the angels and the heavenly host or camels for the wise men……and I had no answer for that one. (I later headed over to Amazon and E bay to see if I could find some, but obviously my set has been long discontinued.)

The thing I noticed about the placement of those involved in the Christmas story was how very close my grandchildren had placed them together. They were all huddled as close as they could get to the baby Jesus.

Their closeness made me grin but it also made me stop and think. What if we all huddled and stuck that close to Jesus? What if we lived life with the wonder of a child and the simple faith they display? I have a feeling this world would be a much more peaceful place if that were the case.

I love all the little reminders, in my home, that my family has been here…..candy canes have disappeared off the tree.  I love the fact we had a few hours to spend all together….all at the same time. I am humbled by the grace displayed by my children and by their willingness to make this day special when we gather.

May we all “stick close” this coming year. May we all be blessed with grace and all the little reminders of those we love. Blessings to you all!

 

“While we try to teach our children all about life,
our children teach us what life is all about.” 
― Angela Schwindt

 

“You can kiss your family and friends good-bye and put miles between you,
but at the same time you carry them with you in your heart, your mind,
your stomach, because you do not just live in a world but a world lives in you.” 

― Frederick Buechner

 

Winter Has Arrived on Time

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This year winter seems to have actually taken a look at the calendar and agreed to abide by what it says. We had unseasonably warm weather right up until December 21. On that day, the first day of winter, the temperature dropped, the wind picked up and it started to snow.

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I really like my seasons to work out in such a tidy fashion…..usually they do not. I will have to confess that I really did hope for a white Christmas. A gentle white Christmas snow….not the horizontal type that sometimes seems to visit our part of the country….and this snow totally fit my idea of a Christmas season snowfall.

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There is beauty in the still, whiteness that snow seems to bring. There is an odd excitement in the “bite” that is in the air as I go outside to take care of the girls. Maybe it is just a primitive reaction to the elements…I am not totally sure what it is, but at this point in the year I am okay with it. I have a feeling that come the middle of February that excitement is going to be long gone!

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I enjoy looking out my patio door and seeing the smoke rise from the chimney on the old milk house. My husband hangs out there in the winter and gets it cozy warm by stoking up a wood stove. I think that milk house is his version of a man cave.

A few years ago my husband took our grandson out to the milk house with him. At that time our grandson was 3. My husband offered him peanuts in the shell. James politely refused. My husband shelled the peanuts for him thinking that might be the issue. Again….a polite refusal. My husband tried one more time and finally James told him that he did not like peanuts…..monkeys ate peanuts.

Later that year our son was out for a walk with James and they were finding acorns. My son asked him where they came from and was told from trees.  Then our son asked him where peanuts came from…..he received a very enthusiastic answer on that one. He was told, “Peanuts come from Grandpa!”

I begin to wonder if I love those first snowfalls because they bring back those fun memories of holidays with the family. Time spent with loved ones can be some of the best times. Family is truly a gift.

Those first snowfalls bring a quietness and stillness to the end of a busy day. Standing outside after locking the girls in for the night, feeling the sting of the cold on my face, and smelling the fresh winter air brings a calm to my soul.

There is a hush in that space of time in between day and night…..a silence broken only by the call of a screech owl in the grove, the lonely sounding cry of geese, the rustle of my chickens settling in for the night,  and the distant sound of a train whistle.

It is a wonderful time for reflection. It is a time to realize that there is an order to this life and to the seasons. They arrive at the perfect time every year. There is comfort in that fact and it brings a contentment to the soul to know that someone bigger than me orchestrates this life.

May you be blessed this Christmas season and may you be a blessing to those around you. May your soul find stillness and contentment in the busyness and may you have time to stand outside and let the beauty seep deep into your bones.

Winter, a lingering season, is a time to gather golden moments,
embark upon a sentimental journey, and enjoy every idle hour.
John Boswell

 

 

 

Five Days Till Christmas??

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I am having a very hard time realizing that Christmas is a short 5 days away. I am not sure if it is the lack of snow (though I hear that should change tomorrow) or just too much other “stuff” going on right now.

I do know that even if I can’t quite wrap my head around the fact that Christmas is almost here….it will most surely arrive on time. Soooooo…..I had best be picking up the pace and getting ready for all the gatherings that will be happening.

Some things are just a tradition around our house. Things like buffalo and pig cut out cookies (see previous post) and the way I tag our wrapped Christmas presents.

Ever since our boys were small I have tagged the presents….I have just not tagged them with their names! When our children were young they had trouble keeping their hands off the presents that they knew were theirs. (How many parents can relate to that problem?) To correct that issue I started out using numbers instead of their names.

In later years I moved on from using numbers; to using my card making rubber stamps. I would make a bunch of tags and stamp them with a variety of images. The images were everything from Christmas trees to penguins, to fish to fruit etc.

To make sure I knew who went with what image I had the “Notebook”. In it were the stamped images that were on the tags of the packages. Each image had a name by it and what was in the package. I made sure to hide that notebook in a good place ….. but not to good that I couldn’t find it!

This year I tried a different type of tag…..I used my new Cricut Explore One to cut out tags. The tags are not my own creation. I found them on Pinterest.  (If you want to make the set of six tags just follow the Pinterest link and they are a free downloadable svg file.) I also don’t make a cent promoting Cricut or Pinterest….I just want to share my sources because I thought they were really neat. And yes….I realize that I only pictured five of the six tags…The last one was already stuck on a package!

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I thought that when my sons grew up and got married I would probably start putting the names on packages. When I mentioned doing that some years back I was told, “No!  this is our tradition.”  I would love to know what some of your traditions are. I have a feeling that everyone has something totally unique to their families.

Tags, with or without names, seem like such a small thing at Christmas time and yet they have become part of the fabric of our holiday. Sometimes it is the small things that people remember the most. For me that is a good reminder to do those small things.

In all the busyness of the season, the shopping, the wrapping of gifts, the planning of parties, the food preparation the small things remind me to slow down and take a step back. To step back and realize that all that stuff could go away and the reason for the season would remain…..Faith, Hope and Love….and the birth of the Child who makes a difference. Blessings to you all as Christmas draws near!

Three things will last forever–faith, hope, and love
–and the greatest of these is love.
New Living Translation