Wednesday, December 31, 2014

It's A New Year

Dear Beautiful Friends,

I type these three little words "Happy New Year" -- such a simple phrase, one that hardly seems to say anything.

Yet, if I were to assure you that I'm offering this well known phrase to you with all the fullness of affection and love that I have in my heart for you at this very moment in time, would your heart feel that I really do want you to have a happy new year? A year in which you'll be healthy and well in every cell of your being, that you'll have joy full and running over, good friends to hug and fuss over you occasionally, and to have not just enough, but more than enough of what you need and truly desire.

I'd also want your heart and mind to be at peace, where fear doesn't make itself to home in your thoughts, but that perfect love, which casts out all fear, will abide there instead.

In our up-side-down world, there certainly are trials and events around the globe that send our peace skittering for cover. But when we glance backward into history, every age and era has had its dark, darker, and darkest moments. Many hardly bear thinking of. Today, alas, is no different.

If you do find yourself fretting -- or looking forward with some anxiety trying to see into this new year -- perhaps you will find a measure of comfort and restored peace as you read this old saying I share below, written by St. Francis de Sales centuries ago.

I find it encouraging, for if people who lived through their dark historical eras can hand down such hopeful thoughts, then surely it's also possible for us, in our world today, to take heart – and hope -- as well.

Do Not Look Forward To What May Happen Tomorrow

The same God who cares for you today
will take care of you tomorrow and every day.
Either God will shield you from suffering,
or God will give you unfailing strength to bear it.
Be at peace, then;
put aside all anxious thoughts and imaginations.

St. Francis de Sales,1567 - 1622 

And so I do wish you with joy and hope --
Happy New Year!

With a gentle kiss atop thy heads,

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Take Joy In Your World

Put your coat on ... and go out into your world today. Take your dog for a walk. Commune with nature a little -- let its restorative beauty bring a sense of peace to your mind and re-connect your heart to the One who designed it all in the first place.

Notice how red the berries look. Or how the ice or snow forms over them. Laugh at the magpies when they lecture from a tree top because you forgot to set out their daily peanut portion.

Watch how the blue shadows shift on piles of snow or how fog patches settle in low places. Greet the cheery snowman. Listen to the wind sough through evergreen boughs. Pay attention to how the evening shadows fall and the way the winter sunset barely tinges the sky that peachy pink.

Go out into your world today. And take joy in it.
Brenda and Snowflake

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

It's Almost Christmas!

Gerard van Honthorst, circa 1620 "Adoration of the Child"


It's almost here! I want to take a moment to wish you and your loved ones a wonder-filled Christmas in which ever way you choose to celebrate!

May there be the sound of joy rustling amongst the leaves of tissue paper and may there be lots of love nestled in every parcel.

With hugs and a gentle kiss atop thy head,
 Brenda and Snowflake

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The Wonder of Christmas

The little spruce tree above, with its simple decorations and single strand of colourful lights, reminds me so much of the Christmas trees of my girlhood. I even counted the lights and, yes, there seems to be about 25 lights, the standard amount on a string in those days. Just imagine having a single strand of lights on a tree, yet in those days it was enough.

How I loved to smell the spruce needles with their clean, pungent fragrance. How I loved to sit in the living room all aglow in the soft light and just stare into that tree. Admiring, first the red lights, then the green ones, the orange, and the blue. Closing my eyes just a little so the lights would transform into twinkly stars. I'd watch how the pretty ornaments would swing ever so slightly on their little hooks. Taking in the details, and tucking them away in my mind as tenderly as one would pack away delicate, glass ornaments for another year.


One memory never ceases to shimmer for me. I was around six or seven or eight years old. It's just a couple days before Christmas, late in the afternoon as my mom's in the kitchen preparing supper. Outside, it's pitch black, which meant I could plug in the tree lights. Oh joy, oh bliss! And don't tip the water basin.

Carefully sitting myself right in the center of the green chesterfield with its rough, nubby fabric, I proposed to bask in the soft glow of the tree lights. No doubt to also surreptitiously study the parcels -- all gaily wrapped and nestled around the tree base. In the stillness of that room, dim in the corners but cozy with the glow from the coloured sugar-glass tree lights, I stared dreamily into the swirling glass balls and glimmering ribbons of tinsel, and my thoughts grew quiet too.

In such a peaceful moment, I wonder if I didn't get dreamy about all those Christmas cards hanging above my head over a string tied to tiny nails in the door frames. I loved to study the cards, mull over who had sent them and take careful note to see if I was included in the salutation Dear D and E and family. If it said 'family' then I knew it was for me too.

I liked the jolly Santa Clauses, the snowmen with shiny top hats, and the old-fashioned sleighs piled high with beribboned parcels or people laughing. But it was those cards with midnight blue skies, studded with stars and pinpricks of light streaming through tiny earthen windows that captured my imagination most often.

I liked those artistic renditions of little towns of Bethlehem fields with shepherds and wooly sheep. I imagined hearing angels singing from the skies. And of course, I wondered about the Baby Jesus as I thought about him sleeping in a manger where cows and sheep ate lunch. There was that song I knew about Him, the one my mom taught me when I was five... Away in a manger, no crib for a bed...Be near me Lord Jesus I ask thee to stay, close by me forever and love me I pray....

In truth, the details of that particular memory and ones like it shaped my ideal of what Christmas should look and feel like, what it was really all about for me. The tree, the lights, the presents, and singing about the Baby Jesus who slept under midnight blue skies with stars twinkling above.

It's years now since that time. I've never been able to create that kind of moment quite like that again, but there have been many times when I'd have the same peaceful, cozy feeling come and hug me. And I'd feel that same wonder of Christmas. And I knew He was close by me, just as I'd prayed in that little song a long time ago.

Wishing you a wonderful day,

Monday, December 22, 2014

Guest Post: Jesus Evicted, A Short Advent Story

Today I am so pleased to welcome my brother, David, as my Guest Blogger. He shares with us a piece he wrote entitled Jesus Evicted: A Short Advent Story.

Jesus Evicted: A Short Advent Story

It was the usual row which came up year after year on town council for the past 10 years straight: Could the crèche be located on the lawn of City Hall or not?

Lines were drawn, as usual, between the “pro” and “con” crowds. Prominent on one side was cranky old Bartholomew (“Bart”) Collins, a part-time Social Studies substitute teacher for Bethel High, who faithfully reminded everyone on council of the principled need to keep “church and state” separated. His position was clear:  City Hall is no place for Baby Jesus! On the other side was Miriam Dominique (or as more commonly known, Sister Mary), well known as the town’s longest-employed and most beloved kindergarten teacher at St. Peter’s Elementary. Not surprisingly, Sister Mary argued consistently and vociferously to “keep Christ in Christmas”!

Every year for the past decade,  Sister Mary’s sensible voice had prevailed, and every year for the past decade, Baby Jesus lay quietly, but prominently, on City Hall lawn. But every year the vote edged closer and closer toward a “secular upset.” Two years ago, the usual 8 to 1 vote had been 6 to 3, and last year, Jesus had only narrowly avoided being ousted with a 5 to 4 vote.

Given this history, the city’s council chamber this year was buzzing with both nervous and gleeful energy. Whether one was nervous or gleeful, depended on which side of the hall one sat: Sister Mary’s “Bible thumpers” occupied stage left and nervously fidgeted and frowned across the aisle toward Bart’s fellow “commies” clustered in strategic spots on the right. But tonight, the Bart-contingent was poised for a well deserved victory. Victory indeed! For rumour had it that Bart had successfully swayed the new-comer and youngest member of council , one Lisbeth Johnson, to the cause. But only time–and a fateful vote–would tell.

“I now moo-ve to the last item of bizness,” the Chair drawled. “We have here a motion on the floor from thuh last meetin’ which reads, “Moved by Councillor Dominique that a Nativity scene be located on the East Lawn of City Hall for the full month of December to commemorate the Christmas holiday.”

As was the custom, various members of council rose, one by one, to speak for or against the motion. The speeches were short and to the point, and civic respect marked both sides of the debate. By now, virtually everyone in the room knew Bart and Mary’s speeches–neither had bothered to change a word in their argument from year to year. Consequently, few really listened to their arguments while they spoke, including the town reporter who momentarily suspended her scribbling to sip her Starbucks and send an SMS message.

Beyond Bart and Mary, everybody else’s position also became clear: three Councillors each supported Bart and Mary, leaving only one more to speak–the newcomer. Now, the commonplace gave way to suspense, as if there were an invisible scoreboard showing a 4 to 4 tied hockey game! Onlookers sat on the edge of their seats, waiting for sudden death overtime to decide the game!
And then, Lisbeth rose to her feet to speak.

Mary looked down with despondency. Word on the street was that the newcomer would come in like an clumsy ox and upset the manger. Sister Mary prayed silently that the onslaught of evil forces pervading the room would be vanquished by the heavenly host, while Bart’s countenance shone brighter than the star in the East as he already sensed victory!

“Most of you are still getting to know me,” young Lisbeth began. “So let me tell you just a bit about myself before I argue for or against this motion.”

“I was raised in a little town, not too far from here, where every Sunday I attended a little white church with my parents. There I heard weekly the stories of the Bible. Of course, you won’t be surprised that I heard the story about Jesus, Mary and Joseph, the angels, the shepherds and the wisemen over and over again. And to be honest, I loved that story and I still love it today. In fact, the Christmas story really gives me a warm feeling inside whenever I hear it. And whenever I see a Nativity scene, I get that same feeling all over again.”

Sister Mary raised her head, pondering these words. Perhaps all was not lost. Perhaps Lisbeth would rise up and support the Christ Child!

Bart, on the hand, nervously nudged his pen back and forth on the desk. Was Lisbeth going to cave in to emotion and nostalgia over against clear-headed rationality and civic principles? Would she give in to the self-righteous duress imposed by those–those–fundamentalists?

Lisbeth continued. “But today, the decision to put a crèche on the lawn of City Hall cannot be decided by memories of days gone past or of personal nostalgia, even my own. Rather, we must decide on the basis of what really is for the good of all us citizens, whether Christian or not. And those of you here today who claim to be Christians, I don’t think I need to remind you that Christmas story itself says something about having ‘peace on earth and good will amongst all the people’.”

Lisbeth paused. Those in attendance held their breath. The clock ticked more slowly than it ought to have.

“I realize that my vote on this issue will likely be a tie-breaker, and that whatever I vote, I will likely be vilified by the other side.

“But today, let it be known here and now that I will vote against my own warm feelings, and therefore, I will vote against the motion to allow the crèche on City Hall Lawn. Not everyone in this town is a Christian and since City Hall is a public space, I declare my conviction that the Nativity does not belong there.” And with this, Lisbeth  sat confidently down.

The room was, momentarily, silent, only to erupt a full 3.5 seconds later with a grand cheer from the right when Lisbeth’s intended vote sank in! Bart and company had finally won! Council had finally seen the light. Time to send Jesus packing!

On the left, Mary’s supporters were sullen. A few even sobbed quietly. Moments later, when the chair called for the vote, the crèche, for the first time in a decade, was prohibited from occupying public space. 5 to 4 against the motion. The motion was defeated!

The next morning, a busy businessman,  having finished his morning newspaper, latte and cigarette, stuffed paper, cup and butt into the garbage can on the corner.

Emerging from the alley, a frail,  straggly-haired, old man, reeking of urine, shuffled toward the receptacle, grabbed the paper, snatched the cup and rescued the smoldering cigarette.  Pausing momentarily, he scanned the paper’s front headline: “Baby Jesus Evicted!

“I know the feelin’,” he muttered as he stuffed the newspaper into his jacket, if only to battle the bitter cold yet one more day.

Previously posted at Theommetary December 14, 2010
David Guretzki teaches theology at Briercrest College & Seminary (Caronport, Saskatchewan, Canada). He's married and has three children. He enjoys reading, star gazing, and ham radios ... (and being Brenda's 'little' brother ... hehe ... he doesn't know I added that part).  

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Love Is Enough

A good reminder this Christmas season.
The best gifts don't always come from a store.

And no matter how slender your purse is this year
if your heart is full of love, you've got enough
to make someone's Christmas merry!

 Wishing you a beautiful new week,
Brenda and Snowflake

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Christmas Thoughts on Giving

“It's not how much we give
but how much love we put into giving.”
~ Mother Teresa

Now there's a good thought as we come nearer to Christmas.  Our gifts may be small but there is no limit, no need for budgeting how much love we can put into our giving. In whatever form that looks like this year... whether it's gifts under the tree, cards in the mailbox, treat bags hanging from door knobs, baking in a beribboned box, serving a sick friend, holding hands with a loved one and having tea, chocolate and socks to a street person, putting stuffing on a plate in a shelter ... it's the loving that counts.

It's dull and overcast today.Which means my twinkle lights stay on ALL day. Woohoo! Wishing you a beautiful day.

Brenda and Snowflake

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Christmas Candy and Sweet Memories

One of my very earliest memories of Christmas is about candy. I must have been about three years old. There's a vague sense that I was on my dad's knee and we were sitting at the kitchen table looking through the Eaton's Christmas catalog. We'd reached the Christmas candy section, as delightful a spot for a child as the toy section.

That's when I saw it. A child's dream come true. A large tin pail on its side with mounds of hard rock candy spilling forth out into the page. More candy than I could eat in day. Wonderful! I knew beyond any shadow of a doubt that I must have it. And it must be right now. I had such a belly deep longing for that pail of candy. I cried, I wailed, for how can one make a child understand it was just a picture; it was not possible to have it right now.

I don't have any remembrance of how I dealt with my utter disappointment -- perhaps that's when my longing for the magical qualities of fairy tale land took root. Or why some years hence I loved that Candy Land game we found under the Christmas tree one year.


While we're on the delicious topic of Christmas candies and treats, what would you choose as the official Christmas candy?

Peppermint candy canes? Old-fashioned ribbon candy -- the kind that makes your tongue hurt if you suck it too much? Rock candy with its myriad shapes and flavors?

What about the big boxes of assorted chocolates nestled in crinkly brown paper cups? Often those boxes would be brought by my grandma or aunty ... and after the big meal would be carefully passed around the room, each person given a chance to examine the little 'map' to select the right center.
I loved the caramels or nut clusters. I never minded the fudge-y softer centres either. But both my little sister and I were in total agreement when it came to the despicable orange cremes -- blech, blech. And, as for those cough-syrup pink ones that pretended to be strawberry -- that was shudder, shudder, shudder.

Except for those, I loved them all.

Yet when it comes to deciding on an official Christmas candy, I'd have to choose the peppermint striped candy canes. As much as I adore the other sweet treats, a person just doesn't think of candy canes any other time of year except at this Christmas season.

Ah, such sweet memories. I feel quite like the kid again.
Now, would you be so kind as to share some of your own?

Sweet hugs,
Brenda and Snowflake

Monday, December 15, 2014

Festive Collection of This And That

1. The Christmas tree is decorated

With white twinkle lights, strings of candle lights, hanging balls and baubles, and frosted silk poinsettias with gold ferny sprigs tucked behind. All that glitters may not be gold, but it sure makes things sparkle and glisten when the lights are turned on. It's a lovely place to sit and 'just be'.

2. We've been playing with PicMonkey photo editor

I took one of my photos of a frosted silk poinsettia and added all manner of festive textures using PicMonkey. In this instance, we used the "Space" texture which creates all the little orbs of lights. I do adore trying out all PicM's framing options too; there is no doubt that a frame takes an ordinary photo and dresses it up so one can take it out on parade.

3. Our final Christmas Giveaway "Tea for Two"

Today we announce our third and final Giveaway this month. It will be a sweet treat bag of goodies that includes such items as would befit a Tea for Two party. Invitations, luncheon serviettes, tea, and sweet treats. The DRAW is now closed.

4. Sharing three links you might like

Something to read link. Should you be looking for some other seasonal reading, I invite you to my  Restoring the Joy At Christmas Advent countdown page. Originally featured on my blog in 2010, this year I took the bits and pieces, sorted them out (much like one would untangle tree lights), updated some, and added new material to create 25 short posts. Each one offers a simple thought about  JOY during this busy time of year. New posts are being added daily December 25th.

Something to decorate link. If you are still looking for ways to add festive touches to your home, you might enjoy reading blogger Heather Preston's list 40 Christmas Decorating Ideas that are meant to bring joy to your home. It's a delightful list with some great photos.

Something to create link.  Do you crochet? If you do, you are bound to enjoy this site by Anna at Outrageous and Wonderful who shows us how to make the sweetest lacy tree ornaments. There are instructions for a tiny star, a tiny tree, and a tiny heart.

Here's wishing you a beautiful day,

Brenda and Snowflake

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Guest Post: Hope in the Midst of Loss

Dear Beautiful Friends,

There are many amongst us who will not see the faces of dear loved ones this Christmas. Gone from our lives through death or separation, hearts will feel the ache ... and chairs will remain empty as families gather around the Christmas dinner table. 

It's now eleven years since my own dear dad left this earth for heaven ... it was just days before Christmas when he slipped away. We miss him still but now it's without that hurting, aching, searing throb of pain of that first Christmas when nothing felt right. Now we think of him with joy and happy remembering that one day we shall be together again where God dwells.

Today I am so pleased to welcome my dear sister, Janet, as my Guest Blogger. She shares from her heart thoughts as she remembers the loss of loved ones in her own life.

  Hope in the Midst of Loss
by Janet Warkentin

Christmas joy is tempered by a touch of sadness for me. My dad died December 15, 2003 and my father-in-law in early February, 2005, and they are especially missed around this time. I’m not depressed or even melancholy, just wistful for times past.

This year when my husband's family gathers with us around the Christmas table, another dear face will be missing... our bright and beautiful sister-in-law. Perhaps that's why an essay I wrote a few months after my dad’s death seems especially poignant this year. I would like to share it with you....

“I GLIMPSED MY DAD in the grocery store the other day. Rationally speaking, I knew it could not be him – he’s passed away. But from the back -- red jacket, height, strong build – it could have been Dad. I turned to look again, but he was gone, and part of me wanted to run to every aisle to find him.

I’ve seen “my dad” a few times since he’s been gone. The first time was about two months after the funeral. There he was, sitting in a chair in a hotel lobby. Strawberry blond hair, gray and brown reading glasses, weathered hands, a quiet manner. I had to stare. I forced myself to look away when the man turned his face toward me – I didn’t want him to feel uncomfortable. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw that the face was not my father’s. My dad looked more gentle, with smile lines at his eyes. And yet, I had to look and look again. He was not my dad, but I wanted to drink in the similar features just the same.

I have Dad’s picture sitting beside my kitchen sink -- a beautiful picture that epitomizes my dad: handsome, dressed in a red (his favorite color) shirt, smiling, a definite twinkle in his eye – a witty line waiting to be said. Dad was extremely quiet and shy, at times almost debilitating so. He didn’t tell a lot of jokes, or talk a lot. But every once in a while his quiet nature would step aside and we’d see who he was deep down. He’d expound on some Biblical principle he’d studied, and we’d be amazed at the passion and knowledge bubbling up like a fountain. Or he’d tell a funny tale that had himself and everyone around belly laughing long before the punch line. That picture tells so much of who Dad was, the real Dennis that many didn’t see.

The last few months of Dad’s life were incredibly hard on him, on Mom, on us all. The physical and mental changes brought on by the cancer and the medication were agony for us to watch. The pain and gradual loss of independence that Dad lived through were agony for him to bear. But prayers answered by a merciful God meant that the last few weeks of his life were less painful and his mind clearer. At times Dad somehow seemed freer and words came easier. Opinions and endearments were spoken more readily; visitors even commented on his great conversations!

In those last few weeks, I think we caught a glimpse of who Dad was going to be ‘on the other side’.” ....

On the other side… Because of the very first Christmas when the Son of God became a baby, destined to die and live again as Saviour of the world, I know I will someday see my dad whose hands gave so freely, my dad-in-law whose hug welcomed me “home” the very first time I met him, and now my sister-in-law Connie whose generous heart (and bottomless bag filled with treasures) will be especially missed this first Christmas without her. Their faith in God was real.

On this side… This Christmas I will see glimpses of Dad in my son who has his Grandpa’s looks and sense of humour -- I think those two would have had great fun watching Youtube fails together! I will see my dad-in-law in my husband, who resembles his dad in character, if not looks -- generous, patient, protective of his family – and only slight less apt to save bits of this and that for possible future use. And I will see my sister (in-law) in her mother, sisters, daughters and nieces: they are all loving, creative, generous…and feisty!

So as I pine a bit for yesterday, missing people who are so dear to my heart, I also look forward to the everlasting tomorrow when I will see their faces again. And as so many pray in this Advent season, I join with them: ‘Even so Lord Jesus, come. I wait for you.'

Janet is an avid reader and very occasional writer, with stories and thoughts in mind to be written someday. For now she is a happy wife and mother of two older teens, herder of a dog and several cats, and joyous beholder of every bit of wildlife that roams over her family's foothills acreage.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Postscript on Baking Cookies With Little Sis, Part Three

 Dear Beautiful Friends,

This really is a postscript from yesterday's post. According to Merriam-Webster Online, the definition of postscript is "a note or series of notes added at the end of a letter, article, or book: an additional fact or piece of information about a story that occurs after the main part."

Since publishing my last post,  I've been pondering why these pictures with my little sister have touched me so poignantly, and I have sort of figured it out. I think. To try and explain....

I have such a tenderness in my heart toward the sweet little one in the photos ... and it pains me to say that I don't always feel that same tenderness in every day living. Not that I intentionally choose to be unlovely. But sometimes I get so wrapped in my own affairs of life, I forget that underneath the skin of the grown woman I know as my sister today, there still beats the very same heart of that little girl with her eagerness and fascination, desires and longings.

And today I feel this same tenderness goes for all my dear family ... and out beyond the steps of my front door ... for every person in my life, people I know, and even those I sit behind at the stop light or zoom past on the freeway. That little child inside all of us whose whole life was once before us -- eager, so eager for life -- the life that God meant for us to have, but in our up-side-down world, we don't always get. For there isn't a-one of us who doesn't carry within our hearts those disappointments, heart breaks, lack of encouragements, or opportunities that we felt sure would come our way.

And my heart breaks -- even yesterday in the car coming back from my visit to Mom's -- for every person whose heart is yanked by unlovely people, who have never been given the Good News that Jesus came into the world -- God with us in the flesh -- to help us find those dreams, desires, hopes, to heal our broken hearts, and to tell us what the deepest part of our soul yearns and needs to hear:

"You I cherish ... You I love."

In this Christmas season, I want my heart tenderized again by His love. I need it tenderized. Where it has hardened as a result of my own pain or disappointment, where I have forgotten that within each of us beats the heart of one who once was -- still is -- that little girl or little lad ... innocent, perfect, beautiful. I want my heart tenderized so I can be tenderhearted, forgiving others ... remembering we all carry scars.

I just really see that, in truth, the beautiful quote I had in yesterday's post might actually be a God Whisper to me for this Christmas Season.  How sweet is that.

Our hearts grow tender with childhood memories and love of kindred,
and we are better throughout the year for having, in spirit,
become a child again at Christmas-time.”
~ Laura Ingalls Wilder

I don't know if I've said what I wanted... or if it makes sense. But I hope that somewhere, between the lines, you will hear my heart and the beat of your own, and together our hearts will grow tender with love of kindred. And we'll go out and love the world. One person at a time. The person standing in front of us. Just like Mother Teresa used to. Like Jesus did and does.

Reach out. Take a hand. Smile. Sing. Laugh. Forgive.

With a gentle kiss atop thy heads,

Friday, December 12, 2014

More Memories From The Kitchen, Part Two

Yes, I know you've already seen this one from yesterday's post, but I wanted to show you a sequence that has since rolled out from beneath that glass rolling pin.

Today I went to visit Mom -- we had coffee and Christmas cookies -- she's farther ahead on her Christmas baking than I am! We sampled spicy candied fruit cookies and ginger snaps.

Being in a rather nostalgic and reminiscent mood -- isn't that what many of us tend to be this time of year -- we dug out the old family albums. Guess what we found? More from the rolling dough session. I was so excited I had to share, with hopes that you'll enjoy with me. By the way, Mom figures we were actually rolling cinnamon bun dough, not cookies. That makes sense the way I'm holding it in this next picture.

Notice how little sis is keeping a keen eye on things? She's moved nearer the action and the baking tin is now in her hands ...  If only I could get my hands on that rolling pin, I know just what to do it.

Finally, it's my turn, she thinks. Hey, this is better than playing with Plasticine. There's such a sweet, contented look -- or is it a calm, confident look on her face as she rolls the glass pin over her portion of dough, and undoubtedly it's one of those 'first time' moments in her tiny life.

I've fallen in love with that little girl ... my little sister. Although I've always loved her (and my other siblings), seeing these photos this year is touching something on the inside. I feel like I have a new appreciation for seeing the current through the old lens of time.

There must be some significance in there, but I haven't quite figured it out ... yet. Maybe it's seeing with fresh eyes -- and being grateful more than ever -- for the simple pleasures and life lessons that we received from our Mom. Pleasures that never grow old and life lessons we hold dear for they continue to keep us in good stead all these decades later.

I hope you haven't minded me musing here a little. 

Brenda and Snowflake

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Baking With Little Sis, Part One

With Christmas on its way, there wafts into the room thoughts of baking cookies. Sugar cookies, ginger cookies, raisin and fruit cookies, log cookies, coconut wrapped snowballs, chocolate swirl cookies ... 

Baking cookies and decorating them with icing and sprinkles are one of those really special memories of one's childhood Christmases. My mom would make sugar cookies and cut them out into stars and trees and round scalloped shapes. And we got to sprinkle the sugar on top, after we washed our hands. 

So, that's me with my tres chic haircut and my cute heart-shaped apron. Learning the art of rolling dough and sprinkling just a wee bit of flour to keep it from sticking.

And dear little sister Kathy looking on. Don't you just love how she's holding her head in her sweet little hands? Why does a person get a pang in the heart? Is it the innocence, the potential we see?

Now, I'm sure she was taking notes even at that most tender age, for at age 10 she made her first poppy seed chiffon cake (from scratch) and then started tackling sweet dough recipes after that. Baking for her is still a joy -- you'll find some of her yummy recipes at Endlessly Delicious. Her Butter Tart post is busy with hits this time of year, and she's recently posted a yummy recipe for PB Chocolate Spiral Cookies.

I haven't gotten started on any Christmas baking yet this year. So now I think I can really, really start to sink into Christmas dreamin' and thinkin' about my wee bit of baking list.

Brenda and Snowflake

 A Little Prezzie for You...
Snowflake wants me to tell you that if you haven't received a beautiful Jacquie Lawson e-card from me yet, and would like one, to please leave a comment here or send me an email (link in sidebar). And, we'll be delighted to select one of Jacquie's charming and utterly enchanting Christmas cards and send it to your inbox.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Gifts From The Heart

There was a time, in my past, when it was so easy to get caught up in the social obligation of gift giving.

Now, I do love giving gifts. Love, love, love it. But, there were times when, instead of feeling a sense of joy and wonder, I'd feel the pressure because it was expected. And then, I'd wonder if my purse would survive the extra weight of it all. Especially when one tried to gauge just how much the other person might spend on you. Oi vey!  Talk about stress.

There is nothing like a sense of obligation to squeeze the joy right out of it! But, hey, wait a minute, I want my gifts to be an expression from my heart.

Because, the essence of gift giving -- whether our gifts are wrapped in shiny paper or come as a note with words of affirmation, an offer to provide some service, or spend time together -- is really a message from the giver to the receiver. And, the message we're are really looking for is...

"You I cherish... you I love."

As we prepare ourselves for this special holiday season, may the gifts we choose be ones that come from hearts filled with affection, esteem and love.

And if there are gifts that still come with tags of obligation, may we change our own hearts about it and give with a different attitude.  Or, if possible, don't participate where the heart cannot follow. 

Brenda and Snowflake

Sunday, December 07, 2014

Guest Post: Celebrating Advent

It's my great delight to invite my dear sister, Kathy, to share a Guest Post about a memory at Christmas that's special to her own family.

Celebrating Advent
by Kathy Hillacre

When my three sons were wee lads, our celebration of Advent centered around the handcrafted felt calendar which would hang on the kitchen door. I took much joy from sharing with my youngsters the ritual of the daily calendar activity. They took turns choosing the decorated felt circle that would represent each passing day.

As they grew, there was always a bit of jockeying for the privilege of starting the calendar and one year, the eldest discovered that if he waited to be third in the ranking, he would be the one to put up the last circle, the large one that depicted the manger scene and marked the day they were most excited about: Christmas Eve, which in our house, meant Presents!!

In between the high excitement of the beginning and the end, there would often come a period the doldrums. If the calendar would have been hanging in a sailing ship, those days would have been marked by a distinct lack of wind; going nowhere fast!

The circles went up one by one, inching closer to the climax, but still there were teeth to brush, school to attend, chores, and homework to do -- the humdrum of daily life. Some days, a feeling of exhaustion and frustration hung in the air, enough already, let’s just skip to the end. But, in its own good time, the end never failed to arrive, with a kind of a great exhalation, a release of all the pent-up energy, a big sigh of relief and happiness.

Suddenly, it was Christmas Eve, with presents to open, new jammies for bedtime, reading of the familiar Gospel account of Luke 2, stockings with treats on Christmas morning, and feasting with extended family.

The calendar would hang, completed, for a few more days, ignored now by the youngsters. But for me, there was a great satisfaction to see it, every circle in its place, twenty-four themes, some grand and some mundane, but all speaking to me, with a thrill, of past, of present, and of the hope of best days yet to come. For after all the excitement had calmed, there remained the contemplation of the abiding reason for our celebrations, epitomized for me by the words of the apostle John (second last sentence in the King James Bible), Even so, come, Lord Jesus!

Now my small boys are all grown men, and the calendar has lost its allure for them -- but not for me. Every year, the calendar grows more cherished; it reminds me with startling poignancy of those early days of family life, of precious, precious times, now just memories made misty by the swirl of time. 

The calendar also serves as a link to my own childhood, as I cannot think of Advent without at least a passing thought of my grade 4 teacher, Miss Grandfield, as it was she who made the season come alive with a deeper, broader meaning than my 8-year-old self had hitherto been aware of. I take the greatest pleasure now in being the one who places the circles each day. And the thrill of the large circle with the nativity scene never palls!

The calendar is almost thirty years old, made of simple things like felt and bits of ribbon and sparkle, the love and care of its creator still evident in the way it has endured through the years. Year after faithful year, it constantly offers me the opportunity to fix my thoughts on the steadfast and eternal messages of joy, of peace, of divine goodwill to all humankind. It seems to relish its symbolic sacred duty as the gatekeeper of this marvelous season of anticipation. And I am grateful!

Kathy enjoys a quiet life of home and family. She occasionally blogs at Endlessly Delicious. Every year, she is grateful to Brenda, her sister, for the idea and the creating of the Advent calendar that has become such a treasure.

Saturday, December 06, 2014

Savour the Story and the Season

It is time ... for the season is upon us to bring forth Jan Karon's treasured Mitford story from the book shelf and put it on our bedside tables.

Although a marathon reader could finish Shepherds Abiding in a few short hours, it is much preferred to read it ever so slowly so that we can s-a-v-o-r this lovely story over the Advent season. For as any Jan Karon fan knows, we never want to cut short a visit to Mitford. We don't want to speed through the pages as though we are flying around the world on Santa's fairy tale sleigh come Christmas Eve.

Rather, we want to savor the unfolding pages -- even if we've read the story a baker's dozen times -- for we want to put off that last chapter much the way a young child might savor her cup of hot cocoa or bowl of cheerios when she's trying to stay the inevitability of bedtime.

As we begin this gentle read, we discover that with the approach of Advent in Mitford, Father Tim has been seen spending a lot of time at Andrew Gregory's antique shop. He's taken on the task of refurbishing an old neglected and derelict Nativity set that comes complete with the Holy Family, shepherds, sheep, camels, and angels---all for the coveted moment of seeing his beloved Cynthia's cornflower blue eyes light up when she opens up his gift on Christmas morning.

But before that happens, Father Tim arrives at a point in the project where he's feeling the pressure building up. For the refurbishing has turned into a much larger, more intricate undertaking than he first surmised. And with so much still to do and the days slipping by like skates on ice, he wonders if he shouldn't choose a larger paintbrush and just get the job done already. Haven't we all be there, done that?

In the end, he decides that, no, this gift must have his best effort, his deepest concentration, and his whole heart. No hurrying through this project like he's the one on those skates. He was not going to "blast through an experience without savoring it or later reflecting upon it. For him, working on the figures had slowed him down, forced him to pay attention and to savor the work of his hands... . "

Too many times have I wanted to hurry my own projects along, wanting to get the thing done already. All the while ruining the opportunity to live in the moment and be present to it. To savor and enjoy the process of what I am working on without pressure. Perhaps that's one reason why I love this story. I'm right there with Father Tim, chewing on my lip as I concentrate, tempted to hurry, but then the magic moment -- when the world that has been too much with me, not to mention those too many demands and too-long lists -- falls and takes me to a place that's peaceful. Purposeful. Timeless.

From the first time I read Shepherds Abiding when it came out in 2003, I felt it was to become a treasured annual event in my life. For me, it creates that place where, along with Father Tim, I take time to savor the wonder of this holy season -- and marvel once again at the story of the Christ Child, Emmanuel, God with Us.  I might not have cornflower blue eyes, but just as surely mine light up at the beauty of such a story. 

With a gentle kiss atop thy heads,
Brenda and Snowflake

Friday, December 05, 2014

Even My Handbag Is Merry

It's true ... even my handbag now has the Christmas spirit and has bedecked herself with ribbons and a sweet little jingle bell. And why not, I ask myself... 'tis the season for being just a little bit silly and fun! Tra-la-la-la-la---la-la-la-la.

We'll have to take our festooned handbag and go out Christmas shopping soon! I have a feeling Snowflake will want in on the action now -- earlier I saw her trying to climb into my bag. Oh well, the more the merrier!

Here's wishing you a fun-filled day!

Brenda and Snowflake