Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Finding the Christmas Spirit: A Gift of Dreams

Christmas Eve, 1944. I was a sailor in the U.S. Navy, on a one-day leave in San Francisco. I had won $300 at poker that ordinarily would have burned a hole in my pocket, but I couldn't shake an over-whelming sadness.

Scuttlebutt had it we'd be pulling out before the New Year for the South Pacific. I'd just received word that another friend had been killed in Europe. And here I was, an 18-year-old alone in a strange city. Nothing seemed to make any kind of sense. What was I going to be fighting for, anyway?
I spent most of the day in a mental fog, wandering aimlessly through crowds of laughing, happy people. Then, late in the afternoon, my vision suddenly focused, and for the first time a scene registered.

There in a department-store window were two electric trains chugging through a miniature, snow-covered town. In front of the window a skinny boy around nine years old, his nose pressed against the glass. He just stood there, fixed on those trains.

Suddenly the boy was me nine short years before, and the store was Macy's in New York City, my hometown. I could see, could feel the same longing, the same desperate hoping. I could hear the sigh of resignation - the frail attempt to hide the disappointment that Dad could not afford those trains. And I saw the reluctant turning away and then the one last look.

Not this time! I don't know what came over me, but I grabbed the boy by the arm, scaring him half to death.

"My name is George," I told him.

"Jeffery Hollis Jr.," he managed to reply.

"Well, Jeff Hollis Jr.," I said in my best grown-up voice, "we are going to get us those trains."

His eyes grew wide, and he let me lead him into the store. I knew it was crazy, but I didn't care. Suddenly I wanted to be nine again and have a kid's dream come true. The salesclerk looked at us suspiciously, a scruffy black boy and a black sailor in ill-fitting dress blues.

"Those trains in the window," I blurted before he could speak. "The whole setup. How much is it?"

His snorting response was interrupted by the arrival of a much older man wearing a warm Christmas smile. "One hundred and sixty-five dollars and sixty-three cents," the elder man replied, "delivery included."

"We'll take it," I said. "Right now, if we can."

"Sailor," he said, "we can! What about the rest of the family?"

I leaned down, and Jeff Jr. whispered that he had two little sisters as well as his mom and pop. I gave him $50.

"I'll have someone help him out," the elder man told me. And he called over a cheerful woman who took Jeff Jr. by the hand.

While the trains and other purchases were being wrapped, the man told me he had two sons of his own in the service. After a lot of "Merry Christmases," a delivery truck was assigned to take us to the boy's home.
Jeff Hollis Sr.'s reaction reminded me of what my own father's would have been if I had shown up with a stranger and a whole lot of gifts. I could see he was a hard-working man, breaking his back to make ends meet and knowing he couldn't give his family all he wanted.

"I'm just a sailor a long way from home, Mr. Hollis," I said respectfully, explaining how I had seen myself in his son's longing gaze at the store display.

"You couldn't have spent the money any other way?" he asked gruffly.
"No sir," I replied.

His face softened, and he welcomed me to share their table. After supper, I read to Jeff Jr. and his sisters until they went off to bed.

"I guess you know we've got a lot to do before morning," Jeff Sr. said. His words startled me for a moment. Then I understood. I was no longer a child; I was a man now, with adult responsibilities. So I joined him at what turned out to be nearly an all-night job of getting the trains put together and set up. His wife, Marge, made sandwiches and coffee and kept me talking about growing up in New York. At midnight we paused to wish each other a Merry Christmas, then went back to the task of making a boy's dream come true.

When we finished, I was bone-tired. Jeff Hollis Sr. looked for a long time at what we had done, then sighed and sat back in a worn easy chair.
"Mine was a bike," he said quietly. "A big two-wheeler with shiny spokes and bright-yellow handlebars. The seat was real leather. I loved that bike. I dreamed about it and wished for it."

"Mine was a Christmas dress I'd seen in a dressmaker's window," Marge said. "I wanted everyone to say, "What a pretty little girl in that fine dress.'"
Dreams, I thought sleepily. Kid dreams. I guess I dozed because the next thing I knew it was five o'clock, and Jeff Jr. was shaking me. He had remembered I had to be back by eight.

"Is it time yet?" one of the little girls inquired.

"It's time," Jeff Sr. said. "Merry Christmas."

"Wow!" Joy mixed with disbelief. We hadn't done as spectacular a job as the window dressers, but we got the trains laid out all right.

"Dad?" Jeff Jr. asked. "George?"

I exchanged glances with his father and nodded my agreement. This was the honored, official first outing. With Jeff Sr. at one control and me at the other, we set the trains on their way. On the second circuit I eased Jeff Jr. into my place. For about five minutes he ran his train. Then abruptly, he stopped and, without a word, left the room. He returned with the presents he had bought, a look of pride on his face. He'd had some help, but he'd made the choices himself.

I thought he was finished when he turned to me with a package in his hand. "Merry Christmas, George" he said quietly.

I was totally surprised. The gift was a comb-and-brush set, along with a case for other toilet articles. He held out his hand, then changed his mind and hugged me warmly. The moment of parting was bittersweet, for I knew I would probably never see the Hollises again. Jeff Sr. and Marge thanked me, but I was the grateful one.

As I made my way to the station to catch the bus back to the base, I realized I had no more nagging doubts. I had found more in this experience than I had received from all the pep talks and patriotic speeches I had ever heard.
For me, it was a revelation. I knew now what this war and the fighting was about. It was something at once wonderful and simple. This country, my country, was a place of dreams.... and of dreamers who had the faith and the will to make dreams come true.

Condensed from Gannett Westchesster Newspapers, George H. Brooks
From December 1990 Reader's Digest, pg. 63

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Christmas Spiders

Along time ago in Germany a mother was busily cleaning for Christmas. The spiders fled upstairs to the attic to escape the broom. When the house became quiet the spiders slowly crept downstairs for a peek. Oh what a beautiful tree! In their excitement they scurried up the trunk and out along each branch. They were filled with happiness as they climbed amongst the glittering beauty.

ALas! By the time they were through climbing, the tree was completely shrouded in their dusty gray spider web. When Santa Claus came with the gifts for the children and saw the tree covered with spider webs, he smiled as he saw how happy the spiders were, yet knew how heartbroken the mother would be if she saw the tree covered with the dusty webs. So he turned the webs to silver and gold. The tree sparkled and shimmered and was even more beautiful than before.

That's why we have tinsel on our tree and every tree should have a Christmas spider in it's branches.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

The Bet

So last Monday at the gym I read that the government agency in charge of deciding how to be healthy came up with a new standard for health. You need to be able to run a mile in under 9 minutes. When Matt got home that night I told him about it. He said that would be so easy, he could run it right now in under 7 minutes. Now, back up a little and let me tell you about Matt's training regimen as of late..... well, he doesn't have one. He plays disc golf a lot! but that's about as close to exercise as he's gotten in months. So, I bet him that he couldn't. If he won then I had to plan our Valentine's Day date (it's his year) and if I won then I got one night to scrapbook and he'd take the kids all night.

The rules:

- the race would take place on Saturday (unless extreme conditions)

- he couldn't start training

- he could pick the time

- it had to be on a track

- I could give him splits for his laps

- I had to keep the kids out of his way while he was running

- He couldn't have anyone else run with him

Saturday morning he stretched for about an hour and we headed to the track. Unfortunately I forgot my camera, but I took an after shot when we got home. He took to the track and ran a 6:55:31. I was AMAZED!!! So, when you start thinking about date ideas for Valentine's day- send 'em my way!

Rudolph that Amazing Reindeer

On a December night in Chicago several years ago, a little girl climbed onto her father's lap and asked a question. It was a simple question, asked in children's curiosity, yet it had a heart-rending effect on Robert May."Daddy," four-year old Barbara asked, "Why isn't my Mommy just like everybody else's mommy?"

Bob May stole a glance across his shabby two room apartment. On a couch lay his young wife, Evelyn, racked with cancer. For two years she had been bedridden; for two years, all Bob's income and smaller savings had gone to pay for treatments and medicines.The terrible ordeal already had shattered two adult lives. Now Bob suddenly realized the happiness of his growing daughter was also in jeopardy. As he ran his fingers through Barbara's hair, he prayed for some satisfactory answer to her question.

Bob May knew only too well what it meant to be "different." As a child he had been weak and delicate. With the innocent cruelty of children, his playmates had continually goaded the stunted, skinny lad to tears. Later at Dartmouth, from which he was graduated in 1926, Bob May was so small that he was always being mistaken for someone's little brother.

Nor was his adult life much happier. Unlike many of his classmates who floated from college into plush jobs, Bob became a lowly copy writer for Montgomery Ward, the big Chicago mail order house. Now at 33 Bob was deep in debt, depressed and sad.

Although Bob did not know it at the time, the answer he gave the tousled haired child on his lap was to bring him to fame and fortune. It was also to bring joy to countless thousands of children like his own Barbara. On that December night in the shabby Chicago apartment, Bob cradled his little girl's head against his shoulder and began to tell a story..."

Once upon a time there was a reindeer named Rudolph, the only reindeer in the world that had a big red nose. Naturally people called him Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer." As Bob went on to tell about Rudolph, he tried desperately to communicate to Barbara the knowledge that, even though some creatures of God are strange and different, they often enjoy the miraculous power to make others happy.

Rudolph, Bob explained, was terribly embarrassed by his unique nose. Other reindeer laughed at him; his mother and father and sister were mortified too. Even Rudolph wallowed in self pity.

"Well," continued Bob, "one Christmas Eve, Santa Claus got his team of husky reindeer - Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, and Vixen ready for their yearly trip around the world. The entire reindeer community assembled to cheer these great heroes on their way. But a terrible fog engulfed the earth that evening, and Santa knew that the mist was so thick he wouldn't be able to find any chimneys.

Suddenly Rudolph appeared, his red nose glowing brighter than ever. Santa sensed at once that here was the answer to his perplexing problem. He led Rudolph to the front of the sleigh, fastened the harness and climbed in. They were off! Rudolph guided Santa safely to every chimney that night. Rain and fog, snow and sleet; nothing bothered Rudolph, for his bright nose penetrated the mist like a beacon.

And so it was that Rudolph became the most famous and beloved of all the reindeer. The huge red nose he once hid in shame was now the envy of every buck and doe in the reindeer world. Santa Claus told everyone that Rudolph had saved the day and from that Christmas, Rudolph has been living serenely and happy."

Little Barbara laughed with glee when her father finished. Every night she begged him to repeat the tale until finally Bob could rattle it off in his sleep. Then, at Christmas time he decided to make the story into a poem like "The Night Before Christmas" and prepare it in bookish form illustrated with pictures, for Barbara's personal gift. Night after night, Bob worked on the verses after Barbara had gone to bed for he was determined his daughter should have a worthwhile gift, even though he could not afford to buy one...

Then as Bob was about to put the finishing touches on Rudolph, tragedy struck. Evelyn May died. Bob, his hopes crushed, turned to Barbara as chief comfort. Yet, despite his grief, he sat at his desk in the quiet, now lonely apartment, and worked on "Rudolph" with tears in his eyes.

Shortly after Barbara had cried with joy over his handmade gift on Christmas morning, Bob was asked to an employee's holiday party at Montgomery Wards. He didn't want to go, but his office associates insisted. When Bob finally agreed, he took with him the poem and read it to the crowd. First the noisy throng listened in laughter and gaiety. Then they became silent, and at the end, broke into spontaneous applause. That was in 1938.

By Christmas of 1947, some 6,000,000 copies of the booklet had been given away or sold, making Rudolph one of the most widely distributed books in the world. The demand for Rudolph sponsored products, increased so much in variety and number that educators and historians predicted Rudolph would come to occupy a permanent place in the Christmas legend.

Through the years of unhappiness, the tragedy of his wife's death and his ultimate success with Rudolph, Bob May has captured a sense of serenity. And as each Christmas rolls around he recalls with thankfulness the night when his daughter, Barbara's questions inspired him to write the story.

Angels, Once in a While

In September 1960, I woke up one morning with six hungry babies and just 75 cents in my pocket. Their father was gone. The boys ranged from three months to seven years; their sister was two.

Their Dad had never been much more than a presence they feared. Whenever they heard his tires crunch on the gravel driveway they would scramble to hide under their beds. He did manage to leave 15 dollars a week to buy groceries. Now that he had decided to leave, there would be no more beatings, but no food either. If there was a welfare system in effect in southern Indiana at that time, I certainly knew nothing about it.

I scrubbed the kids until they looked brand new and then put on my best homemade dress. I loaded them into the rusty old 51 Chevy and drove off to find a job. The seven of us went to every factory, store and restaurant in our small town. No luck. The kids stayed, crammed into the car and tried to be quiet while I tried to convince whomever would listen that I was willing to learn or do anything. I had to have a job. Still no luck.

The last place we went to, just a few miles out of town, was an old Root Beer Barrel drive-in that had been converted to a truck stop. It was called the Big Wheel. An old lady named Granny owned the place and she peeked out of the window from time to time at all those kids. She needed someone on the graveyard shift, 11 at night until seven in the morning. She paid 65 cents an hour and I could start that night.

I raced home and called the teenager down the street that baby-sat for people. I bargained with her to come and sleep on my sofa for a dollar a night. She could arrive with her pajamas on and the kids would already be asleep. This seemed like a good arrangement to her, so we made a deal.

That night when the little ones and I knelt to say our prayers we all thanked God for finding Mommy a job. And so I started at the Big Wheel.
When I got home in the mornings I woke the baby-sitter up and sent her home with one dollar of my tip money - fully half of what I averaged every night. As the weeks went by, heating bills added another strain to my meager wage. The tires on the old Chevy had the consistency of penny balloons and began to leak. I had to fill them with air on the way to work and again every morning before I could go home. One bleak fall morning, I dragged myself to the car to go home and found four tires in the back seat. New tires! There was no note, no nothing, just those beautiful brand new tires. Had angels taken up residence in Indiana? I wondered. I made a deal with the owner of the local service station. In exchange for his mounting the new tires, I would clean up his office. I remember it took me a lot longer to scrub his floor than it did for him to do the tires.

I was now working six nights instead of five and it still wasn't enough. Christmas was coming and I knew there would be no money for toys for the kids. I found a can of red paint and started repairing and painting some old toys. Then I hid them in the basement so there would be something for Santa to deliver on Christmas morning. Clothes were a worry too. I was sewing patches on top of patches on the boys pants and soon they would be too far gone to repair.

On Christmas Eve the usual customers were drinking coffee in the Big Wheel. These were the truckers, Les, Frank, and Jim, and a state trooper named Joe. A few musicians were hanging around after a gig at the Legion and were dropping nickels in the pinball machine. The regulars all just sat around and talked through the wee hours of the morning and then left to get home before the sun came up. When it was time for me to go home at seven o'clock on Christmas morning I hurried to the car. I was hoping the kids wouldn't wake up before I managed to get home and get the presents from the basement and place them under the tree. (We had cut down a small cedar tree by the side of the road down by the dump.)

It was still dark and I couldn't see much, but there appeared to be some dark shadows in the car - or was that just a trick of the night? Something certainly looked different, but it was hard to tell what. When I reached the car I peered warily into one of the side windows. Then my jaw dropped in amazement. My old battered Chevy was full to the top with boxes of all shapes and sizes. I quickly opened the driver's side door, scrambled inside and kneeled in the front facing the back seat. Reaching back, I pulled off the lid of the top box. Inside was a whole case of little blue jeans, sizes 2-10! I looked inside another box: It was full of shirts to go with the jeans. Then I peeked inside some of the other boxes: There were candy and nuts and bananas and bags of groceries. There was an enormous ham for baking, and canned vegetables and potatoes. There was pudding and Jell-O and cookies, pie filling and flour. There was a whole bag of laundry supplies and cleaning items. And there were five toy trucks and one beautiful little doll.

As I drove back through empty streets as the sun slowly rose on the most amazing Christmas Day of my life, I was sobbing with gratitude. And I will never forget the joy on the fac es of my little ones that precious morning.
Yes, there were angels in Indiana that long-ago December.
And they all hung out at the Big Wheel truck stop.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Why the Evergreen Trees Keep their Leaves in Winter

One day, a long, long time ago, it was very cold; winter was coming. And all the birds flew away to the warm south, to wait for the spring. But one little bird had a broken wing and could not fly. He did not know what to do. He looked all round, to see if there was any place where he could keep warm. And he saw the trees of the great forest.

"Perhaps the trees will keep me warm through the winter," he said.
So he went to the edge of the forest, hopping and fluttering with his broken wing. The first tree he came to was a slim silver birch.

"Beautiful birch-tree," he said, "will you let me live in your warm branches until the springtime comes?"

"Dear me!" said the birch-tree, "what a thing to ask! I have to take care of my own leaves through the winter; that is enough for me. Go away."

The little bird hopped and fluttered with his broken wing until he came to the next tree. It was a great, big oak-tree.

"O big oak-tree," said the little bird, "will you let me live in your warm branches until the springtime comes?"

"Dear me," said the oak-tree, "what a thing to ask! If you stay in my branches all winter you will be eating my acorns. Go away."

So the little bird hopped and fluttered with his broken wing till he came to the willow-tree by the edge of the brook.

"O beautiful willow-tree," said the little bird, "will you let me live in your warm branches until the springtime comes?"

"No, indeed," said the willow-tree; "I never speak to strangers. Go away."

The poor little bird did not know where to go; but he hopped and fluttered along with his broken wing. Presently the spruce-tree saw him, and said, "Where are you going, little bird?"

"I do not know," said the bird; "the trees will not let me live with them, and my wing is broken so that I cannot fly."

"You may live on one of my branches," said the spruce; "here is the warmest one of all."

"But may I stay all winter?"

"Yes," said the spruce; "I shall like to have you."
The pine-tree stood beside the spruce, and when he saw the little bird hopping and fluttering with his broken wing, he said, "My branches are not very warm, but I can keep the wind off because I am big and strong."
So the little bird fluttered up into the warm branch of the spruce, and the pine-tree kept the wind off his house; then the juniper-tree saw what was going on, and said that she would give the little bird his dinner all the winter, from her branches. Juniper berries are very good for little birds.
The little bird was very comfortable in his warm nest sheltered from the wind, with juniper berries to eat.

The trees at the edge of the forest remarked upon it to each other:

"I wouldn't take care of a strange bird," said the birch.

"I wouldn't risk my acorns," said the oak.

"I would not speak to strangers," said the willow. And the three trees stood up very tall and proud.

That night the North Wind came to the woods to play. He puffed at the leaves with his icy breath, and every leaf he touched fell to the ground. He wanted to touch every leaf in the forest, for he loved to see the trees bare.

"May I touch every leaf?" he said to his father, the Frost King.

"No," said the Frost King, "the trees which were kind to the bird with the broken wing may keep their leaves."

So North Wind had to leave them alone, and the spruce, the pine, and the juniper-tree kept their leaves through all the winter. And they have done so ever since.

(Adapted from Florence Holbrook's A Book of Nature Myths. (Harrap & Co. 9d.))
All I Need to Know About Life I Learned From a Snowman

It's okay if you're a little bottom heavy.

Hold your ground, even when the heat is on.

Wearing white is always appropriate.

Winter is the best of the four seasons.

It takes a few extra rolls to make a good midsection.

There's nothing better than a foul weather friend.

The key to life is to be a jolly, happy soul.

We're all made up of mostly water.

You know you've made it when they write a song about you.

Accessorize! Accessorize! Accessorize!

Don't get too much sun.

It's embarrassing when you can't look down and see your feet.

It's fun to hang out in your front yard.

There's no stopping you once you're on a roll.

'Twas the night before Christmas and Santa's a wreck...How to live in a world that's politically correct?His workers no longer would answer to "Elves","Vertically Challenged" they were calling themselves.

And labor conditions at the north poleWere alleged by the union to stifle the soul.Four reindeer had vanished, without much propriety,Released to the wilds by the Humane Society.And equal employment had made it quite clearThat Santa had better not use just reindeer.So Dancer and Donner, Comet and Cupid,Were replaced with 4 pigs, and you know that looked stupid!

The runners had been removed from his sleigh;The ruts were termed dangerous by the E.P.A.And people had started to call for the copsWhen they heard sled noises on their roof-tops.Second-hand smoke from his pipe had his workers quite frightened.His fur trimmed red suit was called "Unenlightened."

And to show you the strangeness of life's ebbs and flows,Rudolf was suing over unauthorized use of his noseAnd had gone on Geraldo, in front of the nation,Demanding millions in over-due compensation.

So, half of the reindeer were gone; and his wife,Who suddenly said she'd enough of this life,Joined a self-help group, packed, and left in a whiz,Demanding from now on her title was Ms.

And as for the gifts, why, he'd ne'er had a notionThat making a choice could cause so much commotion.Nothing of leather, nothing of fur,Which meant nothing for him. And nothing for her.

Nothing that might be construed to pollute.Nothing to aim. Nothing to shoot.Nothing that clamored or made lots of noise.Nothing for just girls. Or just for the boys.

Nothing that claimed to be gender specific.Nothing that's warlike or non-pacific.No candy or sweets...they were bad for the tooth.Nothing that seemed to embellish a truth.

And fairy tales, while not yet forbidden,Were like Ken and Barbie, better off hidden.For they raised the hackles of those psychologicalWho claimed the only good gift was one ecological.

No baseball, no football...someone could get hurt;Besides, playing sports exposed kids to dirt.Dolls were said to be sexist, and should be passe;And Nintendo would rot your entire brain away.

So Santa just stood there, disheveled, perplexed;He just could not figure out what to do next.He tried to be merry, tried to be gay,But you've got to be careful with that word today.

His sack was quite empty, limp to the ground;Nothing fully acceptable was to be found.Something special was needed, a gift that he mightGive to all without angering the left or the right.

A gift that would satisfy, with no indecision,Each group of people, every religion;Every ethnicity, every hue,Everyone, everywhere...even you.
So here is that gift, it's price beyond worth..."May you and your loved ones enjoy peace on earth."

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Ok, now that I'm all caught up on my Christmas stories I can write a little about our lives. We had a GREAT weekend. Rock Hill has a HUGE Christmas production every year at the beginning of December. It was this weekend and there were tons of activities to do as a family. On thrusday night we went to the parade and had a lot of fun. It was really long, but the boys did well. I think our favorite "act" was the Shriner's club. There were 10 old men in their funny little hats riding tiny go karts! They would weave in and out of each other. It was really entertaining. Taylor's favorite was the fire engines... (I forgot to take pics)

On Saturday Matt went up to Charlotte to help our friends take down their porch so the boys and I went to story time with Santa in the park. Taylor did not listen to one bit of the story. He was too busy climbing and running around. We did get to sit on Santa's lap, but I had to bribe Taylor with the candy cane they were handing out.

That night we went on a "Journey to Bethlehem." A local church put this on and they did a great job. The costumes and scenery were amazing!

We set up our tree this weekend too. We bought a real tree again this year. (I'm waiting to buy my "amazing" fakey until the after Christmas sales!) On the lot I SWEAR it was not that big! You know how people say "your eyes are bigger than your stomach"- well we have that same problem when we buy Christmas trees. It's a little over ten feet tall and is about 6 1/2 feet across! I had to go get extra strands of lights to cover it. There are 1000 lights on it now- we're still working on getting the ornaments up!

Happy 7 month birthday Brayden. We sure love you. You're a big boy- but we love it! Last week Braydo was sick so we took him to the dr, and he weighs 20 lbs and 7 ounces! We love having him in our family.

A Candy Maker's Witness

A candy maker in Indiana wanted to make a candy that would be a witness, so he made the Christmas Candy Cane. He incorporated several symbols for the birth, ministry, and death of Jesus Christ. He began with a stick of pure white, hard candy. White to symbolize the Virgin Birth and the sinless nature of Jesus, and hard to symbolize the Solid Rock, the foundation of the church, and firmness of the promises of God. The candy maker made the candy in the form of a *J* to represent the precious name of Jesus, who came to earth as our savior. It also represents the staff of the *Good Shepherd* with which He reaches down into the ditches of the world to lift out the fallen lambs who, like all sheep, have gone astray. Thinking that the candy was somewhat plain, the candy maker stained it with red stripes. He used the tree small stripes to show the stripes of the scourging Jesus received by which we are healed. The large red stripe was for the blood shed by Jesus on the Cross so that we could have the promise of eternal life, if only we put our faith and trust in Him. Unfortunately, the candy became known as a Candy cane - a meaningless decoration seen at Christmas time. But the meaning is still there for those who "have eyes to see and ears to hear".
By Dina Donahue

For many years now, whenever Christmas pageants are talked about in a certain little town in the Midwest, someone is sure to mention the name of Wallace Purling. Wally's performance in one annual production of the nativity play has slipped onto the realm of legend. But the old-timers who were in the audience that night never tire of recalling exactly what happened.

Wally was nine that year and in the second grade, though he should have been in the fourth. Most people in town knew that he had difficulty in keeping up. He was big and clumsy, slow in movement and mind. Still, his class, all of whom were smaller than he, had trouble hiding their irritation when Wally would ask to play ball with them or any game, for that matter, in which winning was important. Most often they'd find a way to keep him out but Wally would hang around anyway not sulking, just hoping. He was always a helpful boy, a willing and smiling one, and the natural protector of the underdog. Sometimes if the older boys chased the younger ones away, it would always be Wally who'd say, "can' they stay? They're no bother"

Wally fancied the idea of being a shepherd with a flute in the Christmas pageant that year, but the play's director, Miss Lumbar, assigned him to a more important role. After all, she reasoned, the Innkeeper did not have too many lines and Wally's size would make his refusal of lodging to Joseph more forceful.

And so it happened that the usual large, partisan audience gathered for the town's yearly extravaganza of beard, crown, halos and a whole stage full of squeaky voices. No one on stage or off was more caught up on the magic of the night than Wallace Purling. They said later that he stood in the wings and watched the performance with such fascination that from time to time Miss Lumbar had to make sure he didn't wander on stage before his cue.

Then the time came when Joseph appeared, slowly, tenderly guiding Mary to the door of the Inn. Joseph knocked hard on the wooden door sat into the painted backdrop. Wally the innkeeper was there, waiting. "What do you want?" Wally said, swinging the door open with a brusque gesture. "We seek lodging." "Seek it elsewhere," Wally looked straight ahead but spoke vigorously. "The Inn is filled." "Sir, we have asked everywhere in vain. We have traveled far and are very weary." "There is no room in this Inn for you." Wally looked properly stern. "Please, good Innkeeper, this is my wife, Mary. She is heavy with child hand needs a place to rest. Surely you must have some small corner for her. She is so tired." Now, for the first time, the Innkeeper relaxed his still stance and looked down at Mary. With that, there was a long pause, long enough to make the audience a bit tense with embarrassment. "No! Be gone!" the prompter whispered from the wings. "No!" Wally repeated automatically, "Be gone!" Joseph sadly placed his arm around Mary and Mary laid her head upon her husband"s shoulder and the two of them started to move away.

The Innkeeper did not return inside his Inn, however. Wally stood there in the doorway, watching the forlorn couple. His mouth was open, his brow creased with concern, his eyes filling unmistakable with tears. And suddenly the Christmas pageant became different from all the others. "Don't go, Joseph," Wally called out. "Bring Mary back." And Wallace Purling's face grew into a bright smile. "You can have my room!" Some people in town thought that the pageant had been ruined. Yet there were others....many, many others...who considered it the most Christmasy of all Christmas pageants they had ever seen.

M&M Christmas Story

by Pam Ridenour

As you hold these candies in your hand and turn them, you will see....The M becomes a W, an E, and then a 3.They tell the Christmas story it's one I'm sure you know.It took place in a stable a long, long time ago.The E is for the East where the star shone oh so bright.The M is for the Manger where the baby Jesus slept that night.The 3 is for the Wiseman bearing gifts, they say they came.W is for Worship, Hallelujah Praise to His name. So as you eat these candies or share them with a friend,
Remember the Spirit of Christmas, and let it never end. Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Sorry I'm behind! We've had a hectic but fun-filled weekend. Here's Saturday's story:

Jello Christmas by Sandra Bateman, American Fork, Utah

It was but a few short days until Christmas in 1966. Two young elders of the Mormon church walked the streets of Laredo, Texas, knocking ondoors in search of someone who would listen to their gospel message. No one, it seemed, in the entire city had time to hear the teachings of theSavior, so intent were they that the celebration of His birth should suit their own purposes. Filled with discouragement, the two young men turned their backs to the approaching twilight and began the long walk home. Retracing their steps of the afternoon, they came upon a low, windswept riverbank. Jutting from its brow stood the barest means of a shelter, constructed of weathered wooden slats and large pieces of cardboard. Strangely, they felt moved to go to the door and knock. A small child with tangled black hair and large dark eyes answered. Her mother appeared behind her, a short, thin woman with a tired but warm smile. In her rich Spanish alto, she invited the young men to come in and rest awhile. They were made welcome and seated on the clean-swept floor.

The little one-room shanty seemed to be filled with shy, smiling, dark-eyed children. The mother proudly introduced each of them ---eight in all-- and each in turn quickly bobbed his or her head. The young men were deeply moved at the extreme poverty they saw. No one in the family had shoes, and their clothes were ill-fitting and in condition beyond mending. The walls of the little home showed daylight between the wooden slats, and eight little rolls of bedding were pressed tightly into the cracks to help keep out the draft until they were needed for sleeping. A small round fire pit dug in one corner marked the kitchen. An odd assortment of chipped dishes and pots were stacked beside an old ice chest, and a curtained-off section with a cracked porcelain tub served as the bathing area. Except for these the room was barren. The mother told how her husband had gone north to find employment. He had written that he had found a job of manual labor and that it took most of his small wage to pay his board and room. But, she told the young men, he had managed to save fifty cents to send them for Christmas, with which she had purchased two boxes of fruit gelatin. It was one of the children's favorites and would make a special treat on Christmas day.

The next morning, as soon as the local shops opened, the young men hurried to the dime store and purchased as many crayons, cars, trucks and little inexpensive toys as they could afford. Each was carefully wrapped in brightly colored paper and all were put in a large grocery bag. That evening the two youong men took their gifts to the shanty on the riverbank. When they knocked, the mother swung the door open wide and invited them in. They stepped inside and in halting Spanish explained to the children that they had seen Santa and he had been in such a hurry, he'd asked if they would deliver his gifts to the children for him. With cries of delight the children scrambled for the bag, spilling its contents upon the floor and quickly dividing the treasured packages. Silently the mother's eyes filled with tears of gratitude. She stepped>forward to clasp tightly one of each of the young men's hands in hers. For long moments she was unable to speak. Then, with tears still welling from her eyes, she smiled and said, "no one ever has been so kind.

You have given us a special gift, the kind of love that lights Christmas in the heart. May we also give you a special gift?" From the corner of the room she drew out the two small boxes of fruit gelatin and handed them to the young men. Then all eyes were moist. All knew the true meaning of giving, and none would ever forget that at Christmas, the greatest gift of all was given.

Friday, December 5, 2008

So I wanted to make one of these to hold all of your gorgeous Christmas cards and family pictures... but you haven't sent them to me yet. You still have time, I just hope they're on their way! :) If you don't have our address call me, if you don't have my number, email me, if you don't have my email, comment and I'll send you my address! Taylor and I are anxiously checking the mail, 2-3 times a day.

p.s- I haven't sent mine out yet either... that's the weekend project!
Last night after dinner Matt went to start a bath for Taylor while I was doing the dishes. Brayden was still at the table playing with his spoon, or so I thought. When I turned around to check on him this is what I found:

Somehow he managed to tip over the salad bowl and sneak a few croutons.

Here's your Christmas story for the day:

Dreamers and Doers by: John R. Sisley, Jr

The woman who slouched in the front seat of the bus distressed me. Her hair was matted, her face dirty, and though it was a cold night outside, she was wearing only a flimsy cotton dress and a blanket through which she had torn holes for her arms.What should I do? I wondered. She was so obviously in need, and at Christmas time, too. Wasn't there some shelter I could direct her to, some place where she'd get all the attention she required? No, I finally reasoned, her problems were too much for me.As I pondered - and rejected - possible solutions to the woman's plight, the bus came to a stop. A young man poorly dressed but neat, rose to leave. It was not until he got off, and the bus had started up again, that I noticed what he had done. He had slipped off his black knit gloves and laid them on her lap.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

The Gold Wrapping Paper

The story goes that some time ago a father punished her 5 year old daughter for wasting a roll of expensive gold wrapping paper. Money was tight then and he became even more upset when the child used the gold paper to decorate a box to put under the Christmas tree.

Nevertheless, the little girl brought the gift box to her father the next morning and said, “This is for you, Daddy !”

The father was embarrassed by his earlier over reaction, but his anger flared again when he opened the box and found it was empty. He spoke to her daughter in a harsh manner. “Don’t you know, young lady, when you give someone a present there’s supposed to be something inside the package?”

She had tears in her eyes and said, “Oh, Daddy, it’s not empty! I sweared ……..I blewed kisses into it until it was full.”

The father was crushed. He fell on his knees and put his arms around his little girl, and begged her forgiveness for his thoughtless anger. He kept that gold box by his bedside for years. Whenever he was discouraged or faced difficult problems he would open the box and take out the imaginary kisses and recalling the love of the child who had put it there.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

For the last 10 months or so my picture taking skills have gone done the drain. I never was an amazing photographer (although I REALLY want to be)but the problem is I just haven't taken many pictures... of anyone. So Braydo is kinda getting jipped (and I'm sure my little sister Amy would agree) Matt has been bugging me about taking more pictures and for some reason I just haven't been interested?! That's kinda weird huh? Anyways, that has now changed- at least I'm trying to make it change. Here's what we have done so far today.

The Miracle

The Miracle


The violent grinding of brakes suddenly screamed, and the harsh creaking of skidding wheels gradually died away as the big car came to a stop. Eddie quickly picked himself up from the dusty pavement where he had been thrown, and looked around wildly.

Agnes! Where was his little sister he had been holding by the hand when they had started to cross the street? The next moment he saw her under the big car that had run them down, her eyes closed, a dark stain slowly spreading on her white face.

With one bound the boy was under the car, trying to lift the child.

"You'd better not try, son," said a man gently. "Someone has gone to telephone for an ambulance."

"She's not...dead, is she, Mister?" Eddie begged in a husky voice.

The man stooped and felt the limp little pulse. "No, my boy," he said slowly.

A policeman came up and cleared the collecting crowd, and carried the Agnes into a nearby drug-store. Eddie's folded coat made a pillow for her head until the ambulance arrived. He was permitted to ride with her to the hospital. Something about the sturdy, shabbily dressed boy, who could not be more than ten years old, and his devotion to his little sister, strangely touched the hearts of the hardened hospital apprentices.

"We have to operate at once," said the surgeon after a brief preliminary examination. "She has internal injuries, and has lost a great deal of blood." He turned to Eddie who, stricken with grief, stood by confused. "Where do you live?"

Eddie told him that their father was dead, and that his mother did day work, he did not know where.

"We can't wait to find her," said the surgeon, "Because by that time it might be too late."

Eddie waited in the sitting-room while the surgeons worked over Agnes. After what seemed an eternity a nurse out.

"Eddie," she said kindly, "Your sister is very bad, and the doctor wants to make a transfusion. Do you know what that is?" Eddie shook his head. "She's lost so much blood she can't live unless someone gives her theirs. Will you do it for her?"

Eddie's pale face grew paler, and he gripped the knobs of the chair so hard that his knuckles turned white. For a moment he hesitated; then swallowing back tears, he nodded his head and stood up.

"That's a good lad," said the nurse.

She patted his head, and led the way to the elevator which took them to the operating room-- a very clean but strange smelling room, with pale green walls and lots of shiny instruments in glass cases. No one spoke to Eddie except the nurse who directed him in a low voice how to prepare for the ordeal. The boy bit his quivering lip and silently obeyed.

"Are you ready?" asked a man covered in green from head to foot, turning from the table that he had been working at. For the first time Eddie noticed who it was lying there so still. Little Agnes! And he was going to make her well.

He stepped forward quickly.

Two hours later the surgeon looked up with a smile into the faces of the young interns and nurses. "It went good," he said, "I think she'll pull through."

After the transfusion Eddie had been told to lie quietly on a cot in the corner of the room. In the excitement of the delicate operation he had been entirely forgotten.

"It was wonderful, Doctor!" exclaimed one of the young interns. "A miracle!" Nothing, he felt in his enthusiastic recognition of the marvels of surgery, could be greater than the miracles of science.

"Well, I'm satisfied," said the surgeon with a smile.

There was a tug at his sleeve, but he didn't notice. In a little while there was another tug, this time a little harder and the surgeon glanced down to see Eddie looking up into his face. "Doctor," he said a brave voice, "When do I die?"

The interns laughed and the great surgeon smiled. "Why, what do you mean, my boy?" he asked kindly.

"I thought...when they took a guy's blood...he died," muttered Eddie.

The smiles faded from the lips of doctors and nurses, and the young intern caught his breath suddenly.

This ragged lad had climbed to the very height of nobility and sacrifice, and showed them a glimpse of the greatest miracle of all--a selfless LOVE! The surgeon motioned the others for silence. "I think after all you will get well, Eddie," he said. "You and little Agnes."

Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life…. John 15:13

What a wonderful oppotunity we have to celebrate a season and think about Him. I hope this year I can focus on Him and remember the ultimate sacrifice he made for me.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving! We had a great week last week and are so thankful for a season to think about the blessings we've received. My parents and brother came here for the holiday and while I got my camera out to take pictures, I only took three.

Every Christmas my mother-in-law does an advent calendar with little trinkets for each of us. This year she has printed out Christmas stories for us to read along with a little present that goes along with the story. I think every day in December I'll post the story, or a story that helps me keep in mind the real meaning of Christmas. Here's the first one- enjoy!

A Christmas Story- A true story by Jay Frankston

There's nothing so beautiful as a child's dream of Santa Claus. I know, I often had that dream. But I was Jewish and we didn't celebrate Christmas. It was everyone else's holiday and I felt left out. . . like a big party I wasn't invited to. It wasn't the toys I missed, it was Santa Claus and a Christmas tree.

So when I got married and had kids I decided to make up for it. I started with a seven-foot tree, all decked out with lights and tinsel, and a Star of David on top to soothe those whose Jewish feelings were frayed by the display and, for them, it was a Hanukah bush. And it warmed my heart to see the glitter, because now the party was at my house and everyone was invited.

But something was missing, something big and round and jolly, with jingle bells and a ho! ho! ho! So I bought a bolt of bright red cloth and strips of white fur and my wife made me a costume. Inflatable pillows rounded out my skinny frame, but no amount of makeup could turn my face into merry old Santa.

I went around looking at department store impersonations sitting on their thrones with children on their laps and flash-bulbs going off, and I wasn't satisfied with the way they looked either.

After much effort I located a mask maker and he had just the thing for me, a rubberized Santa mask, complete with whiskers and flowing white hair. It was not the real thing but it looked genuine enough to live up to a child's dream of St. Nick.

When I tried it on something happened. I looked in the mirror and there he was, big as life, the Santa of my childhood. There he was. . . and it was me. I felt like Santa, like I became Santa. My posture changed. I leaned back and pushed out my false stomach. My head tilted to the side and my voice got deeper and richer and a “MERRY CHRISTMAS, EVERYONE."

For two years I played Santa for my children to their mixed feelings of fright and delight and to my total enjoyment. And when the third year rolled around, the Santa in me had grown into a personality of his own and he needed more room than I had given him. So I sought to accommodate him by letting him do his thing for other children. I called up orphanages and children's hospitals and offered his services free. But, “We don't need Santa, we have all sorts of donations from foundations and. . . thank you for calling.“ And the Santa in me felt lonely and useless.

Then, one late November afternoon, I went to the mailbox on the corner of the street to mail a letter and saw this pretty little girl trying to reach for the slot. She was maybe six years old. “Mommy, are you sure Santa will get my letter?“ she asked. “Well, you addressed it to Santa Claus, North Pole, so he should get it,“ the mother said and lifted her little girl so she could stuff the letter into the box. My mind began to whirl. All those thousands of children who wrote to Santa Claus at Christmas time, whatever became of their letters?

One phone call to the main post office answered my question. They told me that, as of the last week of November, an entire floor of the post office was needed to store those letters in huge sacks that came from different sections of the city.

The Santa in me went ho! ho! ho! and we headed down to the post office. And there they were, thousands upon thousands of letters, with or without stamps, addressed to Santi Claus, or St. Nick, or Kris Kringle, scribbled on wrapping paper or neatly written on pretty stationary. And I rummaged through them and laughed. Most of them were gimme, gimme, gimme letters, like “I want a pair of roller skates, and a Nintendo, and a GI Joe, and a personal computer, and a small portable TV, and whatever else you can think of.“ Many of them had the price alongside each item. . . with or without sales tax.

Then there were the funny ones like: “Dear Santa, I've been a good boy all of last year, but if I don't get what I want, I'll be a bad boy all of next.“
And I became a little flustered at the demands and the greed of so many spoiled children. But the Santa in me heard a voice from inside the mail sack and I continued going through the letters, one after the other, until I came upon one which jarred and unsettled me.
It was neatly written on plain white paper and it said: “Dear Santa, I hope you get my letter. I am eleven years old and I have two little brothers and a baby sister. My father died last year and my mother is sick. I know there are many who are poorer than we are and I want nothing for myself, but could you send us a blanket, cause mommy's cold at night.“ It was signed Suzy. And a chill went up my spine and the Santa in me cried, “I hear you Suzy, I hear you.“ And I dug deeper into those sacks and came up with another eight such letters, all of them calling out from the depth of poverty. I took them with me and went straight to the nearest Western Union office and sent each child a telegram: “GOT YOUR LETTER. WILL BE AT YOUR HOUSE ON CHRISTMAS DAY. WAIT FOR ME. SANTA.“ I knew I could not possibly fill the need of all those children and it wasn't my purpose to do so. But if I could bring them hope. If I could make them feel that their cries did not go unheard and that someone out there was listening. . . So I budgeted a sum of money and went out and bought toys. I wasn't content with the five-and-ten cent variety. I wanted something substantial, something these children could only dream of, like an electric train, or a microscope, or a huge doll of the kind they saw advertised on TV.
And on Christmas Day I took out my sleigh and let Santa do his thing. Well, it wasn't exactly a sleigh, it was a car and my wife drove me around because with all those pillows and toys I barely managed to get in the back seat. It had graciously snowed the night before and the streets were thick with fresh powder. My first call took me to the outskirts of the city. The letter had been from a Peter Barsky and all it said was: “Dear Santa, I am ten years old and I am an only child. We've just moved to this house a few months ago and I have no friends yet. I'm not sad because I'm poor but because I'm lonely. I know you have many things to do and people to see and you probably have no time for me. So I don't ask you to come to my house or bring anything. But could you send me a letter so I know you exist.“ My telegram read: “DEAR PETER, NOT ONLY DO I EXIST BUT I'LL BE THERE ON CHRISTMAS DAY. WAIT FOR ME. SANTA."

We spotted the house and drove past it and parked around the corner. Then Santa got out with his big bag of toys slung over his shoulder and tramped through the snow.

The house was wedged in between two tall buildings. The roof was of corrugated metal and it was more of a shack than a house. I walked through the gate, up the front steps and rang the bell. A man opened the door. He was in his undershirt and his stomach bulged out of his pants.

“Boje moy “ he exclaimed in astonishment. That's Polish, by the way, and his hand went to his face. “P-p-please — “ he stuttered, “p-please. . . de boy. . . de boy. . . at mass. . . church. I go get him. Please, please wait.“ And he threw a coat over his bare shoulders and, assured that I would wait, he ran down the street in the snow.

So I stood in front of the house feeling good, and on the opposite side of the street was this other shack, and through the window I could see these shiny little black faces peering at me and waving. Then the door opened shyly and some voices called out to me “Hya Santa“... “Hya Santa“.
And I ho! ho! hoed my way over there and this woman asked if I would come in and I did. And there were these five young kids from one to seven years old. And I sat and spoke to them of Santa and the spirit of love which is the spirit of Christmas.

Then, since they were not on my list, but assuming from the torn Christmas wrappings that they had gotten their presents, I asked if they liked what Santa had brought them during the night. And each in turn thanked me for. . . the woolen socks, and the sweater, and the warm new underwear.

And I looked at them and asked: “Didn't I bring you kids any toys?“ And they shook their heads sadly. “Ho! ho! ho! I slipped up,“ I said “We'll have to fix that.“ I told them to wait, I'd be back in a few minutes, then trudged heavily through the snow to the corner. And when I was out of their sight, I ran as fast as I could to the car. We had extra toys in the trunk and my wife quickly filled up the bag, and I trodded back to the house and gave each child a brand new toy. There was joy and laughter and the woman asked if she could take a picture of Santa with the kids and I said, sure, why not?
And when Santa got ready to leave, I noticed that this five-year-old little girl was crying. She was as cute as a button. I bent down and asked her “What's the matter, child?“ And she sobbed, “Oh! Santa, I'm so happy.“ And the tears rolled from my eyes under the rubber mask.

As I stepped out on the street, “Pan, pan, proche. . . please come. . . come,“ I heard this man Barsky across the way. And Santa crossed and walked into the house. The boy Peter just stood there and looked at me. “You came,“ he said. “I wrote and. . . you came“. He turned to his parents. “I wrote. . . and he came.“ And he repeated it over and over again. “I wrote. . . and he came.“ And when he recovered, I spoke with him about loneliness and friendship, and gave him a chemistry set, which seemed to be what he would go for, and a basketball. And he thanked me profusely. And his mother, a heavy-set Slavic-looking woman, asked something of her husband in Polish. My parents were Polish so I speak a little and understand a lot. “From the North Pole,“ I said in Polish. She looked at me in astonishment. “You speak Polish?“ she asked. “Of course,“ I said. “Santa speaks all languages.“ And I left them in joy and wonder.

And I did this for twelve years, going through the letters to Santa at the post office, listening for the cries of children muffled in unopened envelopes.

In time I learned all that Santa has to know to handle any situation. Like the big kid who would stop Santa on the street and ask: “Hey, Santa, where's your sleigh?“ And I'd say, “How old are you son?“ And he'd say, “Thirteen.“ And I'd say, “Well, you're a big fellow and you ought to know better. Santa used to come in a sleigh many years ago, but these are modern times. I come in a car now.“ And I'd hop in the back seat and my wife would drive off.

Or the kid who would look at me closely and come out with, “That's a mask,“ pointing a finger. And you never lie to children so I'd say, “Sure, son, of course. If everybody knew what Santa really looks like they'd bother me all year long and I couldn't get my things ready for Christmas.“Or the mother who would whisper so her young son couldn't hear, “Where do you come from?“ I'd turn to the child and say, “Your mom wants to know where I come from Willy.“ And he'd say, “From the North Pole, Mommy,“ with absolute certainty. And she'd nudge me and whisper, “You don't understand. Who sent you? I mean, how do you come to this house?“ I'd turn to the boy and say, “Hey, Willy, your mom wants to know why I came to see you.“ And he'd say, “Cause I wrote him a letter, Mommy.“ And I'd pull out the letter and she knows she mailed it, and she's confused and bewildered and I'd leave her like that.

As time went on, the word got out about Santa Claus and me, and I insisted on anonymity, but toy manufacturers would send me huge cartons of toys as a contribution to the Christmas spirit. So I started with 18 or 20 children and wound up with 120, door to door, from one end of the city to the other, from Christmas Eve through Christmas Day.

And on my last call, a number of years ago, I knew there were four children in the family and I came prepared. The house was small and sparsely furnished. The kids had been waiting all day, staring at the telegram and repeating to their skeptical mother, “He'll come, Mommy, he'll come.“ And as I rang the door bell the house lit up with joy and laughter and “He's here. . . he's here!“ And the door swings open and they all reach for my hands and hold on. “Hya, Santa. . . Hya, Santa. We just knew you'd come.“
And these poor kids are all beaming with happiness. And I take each one of them on my lap and speak to them of rainbows and snowflakes, and tell them stories of hope and waiting, and give them each a toy.

And all the while there's this fifth child standing in the corner, a cute little girl with blond hair and blue eyes. And when I'm through with the others, I turn to her and say: “You're not part of this family are you?“ And she shakes her head sadly and whispers, “No.“ — “Come closer, child,“ I say, and she comes a little closer. “What's your name?“ I ask. “Lisa.“ — “How old are you?“ — “Seven.“ — “Come, sit on my lap,“ and she hesitates but she comes over and I lift her up and sit her on my lap. “Did you get any toys for Christmas?“ I ask. “No,“ she says with puckered lips. So I take out this big beautiful doll and, “Here, do you want this doll?“ — “No,“ she says. And she leans over to me and whispers in my ear, “I'm Jewish.“ And I nudge her and whisper in her ear, “I'm Jewish too. Do you want this doll?“ And she's grinning from ear to ear and nods with wanting and desire, and takes the doll and hugs it and runs out.

It's been a long time since I last put on my Santa suit. But I feel that Santa has lived with me and given me a great deal of happiness all those years. And now, when Christmas rolls around, he comes out of hiding long enough to say, “Ho! ho! ho! A Merry Christmas to you, my friend.“