We still use these cheap, plastic manger pieces that Dear Husband and I bought when the kids started arriving. They're sturdy to have survived almost eighteen years and three rough boys! Each piece still has all its parts, except one unfortunate three-legged sheep.

Starting on December 9, one piece goes out each day, until finally, the Savior arrives on Christmas Day. I enjoy watching the way each piece is positioned, as appropriate in the mind of whoever happened to put it out there, and how it gets rearranged to suit the fancy of the latest visitor to our little creche.



*I heard the bells on Christmas day
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet the words repeat
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

And in despair I bowed my head
“There is no peace on earth,” I said,
“For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail
With peace on earth, good will to men.”

Pardon me if I don't blithely blog about Christmas this year. Christmas is hard. I'm at a place to admit it, finally. It's been hard for a while now, but I've been better at pretending. But, maybe it's just better to admit and move on --- Christmas is hard. It wasn't in other years, and I'm hoping for better in years to come. Actually, I'm quite the slow learner, and it's taken a few years like this to pound me down enough to admit the truth and join The Many for whom the season is not all calm nor all bright. Yesterday, thinking about the lack of cheer this season, I remembered that hard times in the past have drawn me closer to the Savior, if I allowed them to do so. I've been trying to overcome adversity and make it The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year on my own steam, and am ready to admit that I can't do it. I'm ready to turn to Him and allow Him to be my Christmas Celebration. It's the only way to gain some real Peace on Earth.


Snow Gifts

The snow visited us during the night, and all the slumbery morning. So kind and considerate, according to the Season, it left gifts!

Snug and wooly white caps,

fluffy clean cushions for outdoor seats,

and crisply pristine tablecloths.

Not least, every fir tree arm generously draped in chilly-warm shawls of snow.


If Portraits Could Speak...

This is worth more than one glance. Old portraits again, I know. But old portraits of women are especially interesting. Consider the fact that these women have their photo taken in the raw, so to speak. No make-up. At all - NONE. I've read in antique novels that modest ladies might pinch their cheeks or bite their lips to bring some color out in their complexions. No hair product. Maybe why a hat was such a good idea, right? Hard times, yes? Well.

This portrait stands on its own, really. There's no hat that could've helped any more than this feathery-floral one. The earrings are a shining distraction, but not enough, I think, to keep us from seeing, even a hundred or so years later, that...

...it's a guy.
Did he lose a bet? Was it a joke - something he did to make his sisters laugh? Could it have been some sort of twisted punishment imposed on a drunken and disorderly cowboy? What???


Kentucky Palm Trees

Kentucky has its palm trees! Right there in Warsaw, within sight of the river, next to the best breakfast buffet place - ever.
I just thought they were noteworthy.
Especially the fact that their coconuts (!) match their branches - fascinating!
Blue with blue... Green with green...



Feeding the Many

Remember the sunflower, the only one we had this year, the one that was so bent from bearing? I cut off its head (Can we indulge in this plant being womanly at this point? No.) and hung it to dry in the greenhouse.

Take note of those Almost-A-Man hands - My Youngest, trying to hold the head steady. He's right on the cusp of adolescence, poor boy. Poor us. His heart is still a little-boy heart, though, and that is a wonderful, saving grace. I'm enjoying the last bit of childish goodness in him - the same that I failed to appreciate as my older boys passed this way. Is that savoring appreciation, that goes out to the youngest of any family, what is mistaken for favoritism by outsiders? "The baby is always spoiled," they say. Maybe just overly, belatedly appreciated? Hmmm...

ANYWAY --- The prickly, bristly stem stayed that way, even after the green had turned to brown.

We forgot about it until tufted titmice busily flying in and out of the greenhouse attracted our attention again. They were already dining on the seed! Nice!

'She' gave everything she had to feed many! This analogy can thread its way, all the way out, in the direction of martyrs, but I'll leave you to follow that one yourself.



On the morning of the first real snow,
The Last Bloom



Puppets are kind of scary, as a general rule, I think. I was always amazed that they seemed to calm and distract the little ones, back in our church-nursery-duty days. How anyone can get through two hours of Sunday morning nursery duty without a bottle of bubbles, playdough, and at least one puppet - way beyond my kid skills.

Remember that Sherry person with the Lamb Chop puppet? I remember watching that in horrified fascination as a kid. We came across some of the Lamb Chop puppets for sale in Hilton Head, and they still have the same effect. On me, at least.

And so, I couldn't pass this Clown Puppet up as a fun photo to pass along. Found on a trip through an antiuqe mall, of course. Really, though - what child, in any decade, would like this clown? Effective, perhaps, in frightening the child into a stunned silence.
I guess that's the important thing, after all.

(I missed an opportunity to have a great gag gift for the Christmas Game, didn't I?)


Broom Skills

In a house full of men and almost-men, it takes a LOT of patience to "train" my sons to have ability in the housekeeping arena. Is it a genetic trait that (most) men consider cleaning to be on the feminine side of the To Do list? I think this problem might be ... inherited. But, with their Future Wives in mind, I crusade ever forward, trying to make them familiar, if not adept, with every household chore. Shouldn't every man have broom skills, at least?
Is that too much to ask?

Maybe it is, since I paid the price on this one - a new broom ...

... mysteriously broken-handled ...

... and bristle-whacked.
Oh, well! It's all for the Future Daughters-In-Law! Lord, bless and keep them!
Brooms are cheap.


Noticeable Style

At a festival, I'm looking at the crafts, at the art, booths-ful of trinkets -scrounging for a bargain, which I'm unlikely to find. But mostly I'm looking at everyone else. And sneaking pictures. Don't find fault - you know you're looking, too! You just don't have your camera handy.
And so, here are some stand-outs from the Chataugua Festival in September:

Amazingly tall man sporting a shocking pink hat. Now, that's self-confidence!

Bald (?) man who found a great way to cover up!
Those hats have velcro, interchangeable ... hair. Found one in Hilton Head, where else, and considered it for the Christmas gift exchange.
Beware, if you're involved in that...

I'm a little bit sorry for this one. Women should not take notice of other women's hair oddities, since that could, certainly will be one of us on another day. But I couldn't resist - she walked in front of me for a long time before I took aim.

Lastly, an add-on from the art museum field trip. I took My Youngest to see the new armor exhibit the Friday before Halloween. We knew there had to be a special event going on, since the parking lot was overflowing with cars full of fussingly-flustered, elderly ladies. As it turned out, there was a posh luncheon being held in the museum restaurant. This dear lady, arriving quite after everyone else was seated (for a grand entrance, no doubt), was dressed for the holiday!
That is a spider fashioned into a hat to compliment her orange outfit.
Quite a statement, I thought. Very much photo-worthy! I tried to explain to The Youngest, who was pulling at my arm, quietly begging me to not take photos of strangers, that a person only dresses like that if they want to be noticed. So why not oblige them and take a few shots?
The server in the background agreed with my son.


Five Packed Boxes

Packing boxes for Samaritan's Purse is always a pre-Christmas project for our family. We used to all go to the $ store, boxes in hand, selecting and packing as we went up and down every aisle, each finding treasures for a faraway child. With our mission accomplished, boxes stuffed with fun for someone else, we'd eat a meal out somewhere as a treat.
Those were good times!

That's not how it goes more recently, and certainly not this year. Since the boxes have to be packed and turned in before Thanksgiving, it's a stretch for me, more and more, to rally the Men and get those boxes packed! This year, with the bigger boys seeming so much older, I ended up with only one willing, store-going boy partner to help pick out box items. So I stuffed some bags full of small goodies, bought and brought them home, and everyone packed their boxes out of the bags, instead of selecting for themselves from the store shelves. Hmmm....

I don't think it's that the bigger boys don't delight in giving anymore ... well, OK, they are self-centered teens right now, so no, they're not at their Empathetic Peak in life. At least, I hope they're not! We hope (is it faith?) that going through the motions of giving may cause it to be one value that will endure through this phase of their lives, emerging and even blooming in their maturity.

Lord, let it be so!


My Reflection

I see myself in his eyes.
If he says, "You're beautiful!", then I feel like it might be true; maybe I do have a bit of beauty all my own.
When he seems to accept something I've said as reliable, even insightful - then I nod to myself as if I am those, even if only an eensy bit more than I had measured myself to be.
Sometimes I see that special look in his Husband Eyes, the one that says I'm desirable.
And that's enough to make me believe it.


Baby Bottom

Some of my old photos don't scan so well. This nude-y photo of My Oldest was a prime choice for an 8x10 blow-up. To post at his 18th b-day party! Shoot - it wouldn't scan in color, or with enough definition to see his sweet, tiny, baby bottom. I couldn't use it for the party, but I like this black-and-white line-only pic anyway!

So, is it different having another "adult" in the house?
Have we crossed a bridge?
He certainly thinks so.
enough said


Scary Junk

We found an antique store to browse on our One Day In Savannah. It's our thing - finding oddities among the antique junk booths. Complete and total enjoyment!
So just for fun on Halloween ... what is the scariest object in this photo?

Without a doubt, it's the Cymbal-Playing Monkey, sitting oh so innocently on the table. Here's what he can really do - it's not pretty.

The button-eyed charcoal child holding a box of chocolate covered cherries for her 'Grammy' is nightmare inspiring, as well. I think it's the shoes that really do it.
Just the right realistic macabre touch to give me the shivers.

And just for chuckles, this liver pill ad cracked us up. Especially placed next to the child's chamber pot - great marketing!


Cemetery Naps

We visit cemeteries. We even visited the graveyard in Charleston, SC, on our honeymoon trip. "Graveyards", the old folks call them. On our One Day In Savannah, the Colonial Park Cemetery in the middle of downtown was on our list of must sees. It's fascinating to be one of the living tiptoeing among the markers, monuments and memorials of the dead. Reading their life dates and their considering their parting words.

And one never knows if that glorious catching away might happen, right there in the cemetery, giving us the best seat in the house to see the "dead in Christ rise first". That would be amazing!
Some of these gravestones were defaced by Union soldiers who had too much time on their hands while occupying the city during the Civil War. I'm sure those up to such wicked mischief must've been teenagers...

Speaking of mischief in the cemetery...
We rounded a bend in the quiet, peacefully lush, consecrated grounds to find this:

Seriously? Really?? Is this the right place for a NAP? Yes, it was hot, and it was the napping time of day, but ... really? Could you? WOULD you lie down among tombstones for a little rest?

And apparently that's what they were doing; and you know I stared and studied them. They had made themselves fair game, after all, reclining in such a tourist stop - it's on the trolley line, after all!

Observe that they were not touching. And they did not jump apart when they (if they) heard us. (Close up lenses rock!) They must've just felt a little noddy. A tiny bit 'sweepy'. So unbearably drowsy.
"Hey, hon - let's just take five on this soft grass here, want to?"
"Yeah, Babe! Great idea - I could really use a power nap!"
"Whoa, there's a bumpy spot right under my hip..."

(There's a southern version of this conversation, but I'll leave that to your imagination. :0)


No Way Bridge

We left our island paradise, just for a day, to visit Savannah. It's only 45 minutes away, and certainly I've complained about missing it every single other time we've traveled to HHI. I thought that it would be making clever use of an awesome history opportunity to take our boys into a great old city like Savannah, but I was the only one who thought so. Now I'm so glad we waited to take this trip until we were on our own. What a great day we had! More photos on that later, but I thought you should see these two pics of an amazing (!) bridge approaching on the horizon as we were almost to the city.

Now I'm not one to be afraid of high places, in amusement park rides, tall buildings or bridges, either. And I did once have a moment on a bridge going into Cincinnati, but it was because of the crazy traffic, not a height issue.
There is that bridge going into Madison, IN, from Milton, KY... that one makes you form an exit plan.
Do you have an exit plan for bridges?

When I saw this one rising in the distance --- I had to start snapping photos from pretty far away. "Is that a BRIDGE?" ... "That CANNOT be a BRIDGE?!" ...
"What in the world were they THINKING ?!?!" ...
"Do we have to GO on it???"
And yes, we did have to go on that bridge. More snapping, LOTS of (panic-y) photos as we got closer and closer.
*are you kidding me*
I did have a PullOverPullOverPullOver reflex, but I kept it to myself.
I thought I needed time to form a new exit strategy for this size bridge - those of you who know my strategy know that it would not work in this situation, right?
Anyway, not good to prove oneself mentally unstable on the anniversary trip, right?
At least not on the third day out.



What I did on 10/10/10 at 10 a.m.
(Missed 10:10:10 a.m. by a few minutes due to a bad clock...)

On a warm and sunny South Carolina beach dock, I kissed a man I met 27 years ago. The one who pledged at an altar with me only me 22 years ago. My other half --- those halves being quite mixed-up together and helplessly inseparable.

He's also the best beach-chair toter around.

The tenth hour on tenth day of the tenth month of the tenth year of this century was pretty wonderful.

AND we had candy corn with peanuts, too!


Bent By Bearing

My one surviving sunflower. Sunflowers are one of my favorites - their size alone makes them fascinating. I wish I could get a whole group of them to crowd in one corner of my garden, but the rabbits must be jealous. These giants stand so straight, straight, then droop almost as soon as they finally bloom out. The bloom head is so heavy!

Bearing all that fruit will bend you over, for sure! Holding up all those kernels to feed the wild things - a worthwhile job. Can you, like me, see a womanliness in this tall thin plant. Don't the petals seem to be bright hair hanging down around a face?

If you really want to, you can still get a good look at her face. Just slide underneath and enjoy the view!


Whispered Wow

Homeschool science turns out right when ...
... you hear your son whispering, "Wow!" to himself.
(seashells dissolving in a vinegar solution and seashells in plain water)