Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Happiest Christmas of All

I watch Holiday Inn, White Christmas, Miracle on 34th Street, and It's a Wonderful Life every December, like so many of you. I just love these movies and put in one of these DVDs when wrapping presents, or baking, or even scrapping. I think of those four movies, my favorite is Holiday Inn. I enjoy watching Bing Crosby find himself, and his girl, every year while he sings his way through the year in that beautiful farmhouse. 

Of course, one of the cutest scenes in that movie is early in, when the two sisters sing their song in those bright columbian blue gowns with the big feather boa fans. I guess, with having two sisters myself, that scene just resonates with me. "Lord help the mister that comes between me and my sister, and lord help the sister that comes between me and my man" is a little ditty that my sisters and I can break into anytime. 

There are three years between each of us and I am the youngest of the three of us. I was telling the boys the other day that my sisters were both grandmothers already when they were my age. It's funny how you can have such a connection, but also be in such different life phases. I don't have a definition of life without my sisters. They have been there my whole life. As I was scrapping the family photos from our 2008 Christmas gathering, I saw that photo of the three of us. It's one of my favorites.

I think that is part of the magic of Christmas. You just have those deep inner connections with your loved ones and the bond crosses across time and renews itself when you are back together. Life has become only busier for each of us, and we now live in three cities. We see each other less often, but I always treasure the time that we are together.

Being with my sisters, and being with all of my family, is just a part of the Christmas happiness that makes December the most wonderful time of the year. It is crazy loud when we are all together, and it requires a serious amount of work, and it takes a ton of food. But our family gathering, just like Christmas day, only happens once a year, and it does not last very long.

We take as many photos as we can fit in, and then we can look back and remember the fun, long after the day is over. Family Christmas always passes quickly, and before I know it, the time is over and we are headed back home. And if I am lucky, I will hear this song by Michael W. Smith while driving, and it will remind me that the joy of Christmas is in having the ones you love be near you, and that the happiest Christmas is the homecoming Christmas.

Oh the happiest Christmas
Is a homecoming Christmas
With the snow fluttering down 'til the world seems new
Bright candles burning
Old friends returning
The wishes of children coming true
And the happiest wishes are just old fashioned wishes
May your days be merry, your sorrows be small
May the ones you love be near you
That's the happiest Christmas of all

I know there are no guarantees, and I have no way of knowing when and where and what next family Christmas will look like, but I remember and treasure each one of them, just as I remember and treasure each one of my family members in the photos. Yes, the happiest Christmas is the homecoming Christmas.

The Greatest Gift is Family ~ Family Christmas ~ December 2008

Sketch Credit: Scrapbook Generation >> They are masterful at creating Simple Stories (SS) basic "page recipes". When you have lots of family photos, these SS basic SG sketches work so well with the SS grid-like elements. This is another configuration of photo layouts when using the SS blocks and I love how quickly these pages can come together and handle many photos at the same time.
Paper: Simple Stories
Title: Silhouette Cut File

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Decembers Documented

I arrived home this morning around 1 AM, seriously telling myself I am now too old for this. When we moved away from the Houston nucleus of my family in 1997, we settled into a trajectory of Christmases in our own home, and family Christmas trips that I would now make across the state as the solo adult, carrying all of the responsibility of travel, and shepherding two small children, as we traversed "over the river and through the woods" to whomever's house held family Christmas that year. 

So, for 17 years now, I have worked to initiate the family Christmas gathering, managed it around my own working schedule, and shouldered all of the burden of taking the boys to be with my family at Christmas time. It has never been easy. Not ever. But it is something I have always been willing to do because my boys, like their mom, love family gatherings, and because it is important to me to be with family at Christmas. I made sacrifices as needed over the years to be ready for Christmas a week early, and get us to wherever Christmas was held, with all our Christmas regalia packed up and loaded into my vehicle.

Every year a different collection of family members are present, and each year is a very unique and precious memory. Over the years, we have grown from my childhood family of six to a family that now contains five family branches: my parents, and the family branches of me and my three siblings. My oldest sister married and had four children. Her children are all married now, and she has seven grandchildren. Her family totals 17. My older sister married, had three children and adopted four children. One of her children is married and my sister has three grandchildren. Her family totals 13. My family of four is the smallest. My brother is married and has three children. 

So, together, we total 41. 41. There has never been a time when we have all been together at the same time. One of my nephews serves in the Air Force and has been stationed overseas. He is now stationed in the U.S., but I now have a niece teaching English in Thailand. Other then the overseas stints, and my boys presently going to college out of state, we have all always lived in Texas. But getting together is hard. Schedules are crazy busy. The idea of everyone being present is both mind boggling and frightening to this introvert. I do best when there are less than 20 of us together. Not to say I wouldn't love it if we were all together, but I am okay with it being smaller crowds.

Even though I have had to make the trip by myself every year, leaving Steve behind to work his retail magic, even though I don't always do well around lots of children, even though noise is not my thing, even though I crave quiet and my own hearth, I have committed to being present for all of these years for family Christmas. It has sure been something to watch it evolve over all of these years. Admittedly, my sisters and I are photo hounds, so these annual December gatherings are duly documented and in the memory books to be sure.  

The first wave of change, of course, occurred when we (my siblings and I) all married and had our own children. It has been a joy to watch my nephews and nieces grow up, and to see my children and my siblings' children create their cousin bond. Seeing my nieces and nephews married now and parenting their own children is another layer in the generational circle. As I sit and watch them with what I call my greats (my great-nephews and great-nieces, of which I have ten) I am taken back to my own childhood and  memories of my aunts and uncles, and I recall the interactions I had with them and how special they were to me. It does not seem so very long ago that we were gathering at my Aunt Ernestine's house for family Bingo, or having a summer reunion at my Aunt Jeanine's lake house or my Uncle Jimmy Ed's home. I treasure those times, and pray that my nieces and nephews and sons do as well.

2014 brought another fundamental shift. My own sons are in college now and the traditional weekend before Christmas was no longer an option when considering their schedules. All these years, we have worked around my older sister traveling to Kansas on the day after Christmas. She began that annual trek early in their marriage and has never varied in her travel plans. All these years, I have worked to travel home to family Christmas on the weekend that worked for her family, the weekend before Christmas. And this year was the end of that road, for now. In my head I understand that perhaps things can't continue. In my heart I am sad that this year it was just me and my sons, my parents, and my oldest sister and her children gathering on the weekend that worked for me and the boys, the weekend after Christmas. Family Christmas was missing a big branch. But, it was family Christmas nonetheless. I imagine family dynamics will continue only to shift as we all continue to age and schedules continue to change.

But, in my mind I will remember the early days, when all of the kids were school age and younger, when we were all together, when the schedules were simple and the days were jumbled together in a chaotic mix of presents, pajamas, and peanut butter fudge. Every family Christmas has been special, but I think of those early, simpler years with fondness, mainly because we were all together. They seem now, as I look back, to be especially Merry and Bright.

Merry & Bright ~ Family Christmas ~ December 2008

Sketch Credit: Scrapbook Generation >> They are masterful at creating Simple Stories (SS) basic "page recipes". When you have lots of family photos, these SS basic SG sketches work so well with the SS grid-like elements. This page came together very fast and is not complex. But, there is so much going on in the photos it works well that way for me.
Paper: Simple Stories
Title: Heidi Swapp chipboard ABC's

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Wise Men Still Seek Him

For whatever reason, I am into music. And I am into Christmas. And yes, I am into Christmas music. I remember playing the few Christmas LP's we had growing up, placing the special vinyl discs onto the turntable after carefully moving the decorative crystal pieces off the TV console, placing them carefully on the ground, to open the turntable lid. Perry Como "Home for the Holidays" is the Christmas album I recall the most. I guess my mama was trying to program us early to come back home for Christmas. She succeeded for the most part. 

Over time, of course, we have seen the vinyl give way to the unmanageable 8-track tape, which thankfully moved on to the cassette tape, and then has rested for over thirty years on the CD-rom. While my oldest son believes the truest sound quality comes from the CD-rom {it's all about that bass}, you can even buy the MP3 now. I don't know what will be next, since we are already buying invisible music on that MP3. I will tell you, though, there's something about slipping that vinyl from the sleeve with solemn revere, and trying to get that needle to set down just right and proper upon it to begin that sweet flow of melody.

While I have seen the music morph, I have collected it all the while. My college years saw me making cassette tape mixes of holiday music, needing some to call my own since I was 10 hours away from Perry Como. And while I was going to be going home from college for the holidays, I wanted that Christmas music in early December, too. I would imagine that my first year of working after college - you know that first year with a paycheck! - that I purchased some cassette tapes. I recall vividly ordering a 3-pack of Christmas cassettes that Time Life offered on TV. They are nestled down in my music drawer still. Thankfully, though, most of my Christmas music is in CD form. By the time I started working in 1986, and we married in 1987, the CD was well established after its 1982 debut.

I have a Christmas Eve tradition. I get the house all picked up on Christmas Eve Eve, and on the morning of Christmas Eve, while the boys are sleeping, and Steve has crept off to work in the early early pre-dawn hours, I brew my coffee, and sit on my couch with my favored Christmas mug of snickernut coffee, and play my Christmas music, and just sit and enjoy my tree, as it lights up the room long before the sun appears. It is one of my favorite times - to be still and calm and peaceful. To reflect on the gifts in my heart, to ponder, to treasure, to remember the year past, to contemplate the coming year, to just soak in the season as it reaches its culminating peak.

I have wondered for awhile if I could narrow it down to having just one favorite Christmas song. It would be hard. I have memories of singing these songs over my life span with friends, with siblings, with my children, with choirs at various churches, with Steve. My sister Pattie stands out in particular when I hear "Mele Kelikimaka", as she really enjoyed singing that growing up. Karen Carpenter anything reminds me of so many Black Friday escapades with my mom and my two sisters. "Sleigh Ride" finds me playing french horn in the annual high school Christmas concert. I think of Christmas Eve service, and all the luminaries in the sanctuary, when "Silent Night" rolls into the mix. I recall the boys' Christmas programs and cupcake fingers when "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" prances into the speakers. 

51 Albums, 533 Songs, 30 hours, 56 minutes. My Holiday genre in iTunes as it stands today. Love it. I don't think there is a year, though, where I am not buying another album, so it is an organic compendium with a life its own. I start playing it usually the day after Thanksgiving and go until the New Year. I love the variety of the songs and how they span memories of fifty years of my life. One tender moment last August when my oldest child left the nest, "Mom, I need some of your Christmas music, " as he, too, anticipated the wanting of the Christmas carols in his dorm, preceding his own trek home for the holidays.

But, I do have a favorite song. It's "O Holy Night". Luciano Pavarotti, The Carpenters, Sara Groves, Donny Osmond, Nat King Cole, Faith Hill, Selah, Tony Bennett, Josh Groban, Celene Dion, Jackie Evancho all shuffle through my play list and no matter what I am doing, or which one of these artists is singing it, this song always stops me in my tracks and resonates deeply within me. It's a hard song to perform, and so often doesn't make the Christmas Eve service cut which is geared toward congregational participation, but it is the one that encapsulates most clearly to me the Reason for the season.
O Holy Night! The stars are brightly shining,
It is the night of the dear Saviour's birth.
Long lay the world in sin and error pining.
Till He appeared and the Spirit felt its worth.
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.
Fall on your knees! Oh, hear the angel voices!
O night divine, the night when Christ was born;
O night, O Holy Night , O night divine!
O night, O Holy Night , O night divine!

Led by the light of faith serenely beaming,
With glowing hearts by His cradle we stand.
O'er the world a star is sweetly gleaming,
Now come the wisemen from out of the Orient land.
The King of kings lay thus lowly manger;
In all our trials born to be our friends.
He knows our need, our weakness is no stranger,
Behold your King! Before him lowly bend!
Behold your King! Before him lowly bend!

Truly He taught us to love one another,
His law is love and His gospel is peace.
Chains he shall break, for the slave is our brother.
And in his name all oppression shall cease.
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
With all our hearts we praise His holy name.
Christ is the Lord! Then ever, ever praise we,
His power and glory ever more proclaim!
His power and glory ever more proclaim!
I love the related and consequential Christmas sentiment, "Wise men still seek Him." It was one such thought that had us driving south on a dark cold December night to Waxahachie. It's about 65 miles from us. I had heard about a live nativity that a church put on, but it was more than a live nativity - it was a recreation on a small scale of the town of Bethlehem. We are limited on when we can do things in December, and as luck would have it, the night that we could actually go to Waxahachie was one of those rare, windy, bitter cold nights in North Texas. We bundled up as best we could and set out to find the Star over the manger, the little town of Bethlehem.

The photos themselves are not spectacular. I struggle in low light situations still. {Maybe when I grow up I can be a good low light photographer. ;-) } But the night was so special, and we have never repeated this event, so they are all I have. One night, 4 seekers, 3 wise men, 1 manger, 1 star, 1 baby. It was a delight to walk through the stations of the birth, from the religious leaders denunciating the event, to the wise men on real camels with gifts, to the shepherds watching their flocks of real sheep, to the dark hovel with the one bright star, announcing the virgin birth, the Christ child.

It didn't last long. The event was an at-your-leisure tour, so as we ambled our way along the paths, we took it all in and finished up, and headed to search out the nearest Starbucks and a warm drink. I couldn't tell you if the boys really recall this night. I am not sure Steve would ever be willing to drive again to it. But, I remember it still. I wonder what it was really like 2,000+ years ago. I wonder if the Star were to appear today if anyone would really notice it. I think about Mary raising a son she knew was not really hers. I ponder all this in my heart.

And when I sit and stare at my tree and listen to my music, I know in my heart that wise men still seek Him, and the bright Star of shining hope is our beacon in the dark night of our heart, the Light that gives us hope, that makes this truly the most wonderful time of the year.

Oh Little Town of Bethlehem ~ Waxahachie Nativity ~ December 2009

Sketch Credit: Scrapbook Generation
Paper: Authentique
Title: Silhouette cut file

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The True Gift of Christmas

I guess you could say Christmas runs deep in me, embedded down into the very ends of my roots. Not the gifts per se, so much. As a child, Christmas was never all about the gifts. It was, in my heart, about family time, about being together, about specialness - from the foods to the clothes to the decorations. And mostly about treasuring all of that.

We had a family tradition as I was growing up. We would open presents on Christmas Day, promptly clean up and dress, pack up the suitcases, pick ONE thing from the Santa pile, and head north on 45, traveling from Houston to Denton on days that began before the sun appeared. Squishy rides, in our "Christmas dress clothes", sleeping so as not to alter our appearance, and clutching our one thing we had been allowed to bring. 

We made our appearance at my grandmother's always before noon. We would usually be the first ones there, and we would have a grand waiting game to see who arrived next, hoping the car that pulled up contained the cousin that was our age, with a story prepared about all that Santa did bring us, even though we were manifesting only the one gift. Ahhh, memories! By the time dinner was served, and the tree was "opened up and gifted out", there would be probably 40 of us, if I were to guess off the top of my head. My mother was the youngest of nine, and most years, 7 of the 9 children were there with their children, as as time elapsed, grandchildren. Four generations of Christmas love.

As precious and tender to me as those memories are, once I married, Christmas took a different bend to me. The Denton trek passed in its original form in 1979 when my dear granny lost her cancer battle. We would continue to go, but the regularity and constancy of the holiday fundamentally shifted, as if an earthquake had come through, and my mom then began to craft a new Christmas definition for my immediate family. As we all married, the holiday continued to metamorphose, until we are today at a place far, far from where we began as children.

I would say the biggest difference is that Steve is in retail. He loves it, he truly does. And I am always so happy to have a spouse that enjoys his job, and does well with it. But, without a doubt, him having the one day off created another tectonic shift in the plate of family gatherings. For the years we were still living in the Houston area, we managed to limp along and keep up with my sisters' families and how they celebrated with my parents. In 1997, when we moved to San Antonio, we left behind all pretense of keeping traditions the same, and celebrated for the first time Christmas Day all by ourselves - Steve, me, the boys. 

In two days, we will celebrate our 18th Christmas here {alone} in our home. Every few years, my parents will join us, and I believe my husband's parents have joined us for two of those 18 years, and we are grateful for the years our parents can join us. But, for the most part, these Christmases in our house have been just the four of us. Steve will come home early on Christmas Eve, more tired than he will admit, and have 36 hours to revel in the true joy of the season before heading out to after season sales and merry markdowns. But, we take it. It is the Christmas we know, it is the only kind of Christmas my sons know.

We make the most of our time. I will confess that while I sometimes am lonely and blue during the month of December, I do not regret at all that we are given the gift of having Christmas Day in our home. I think, too, that my husband and sons would agree with me. We love our little traditions. We love being together. We love soaking in the season - the ADVENT - the longing for the true Gift.

And because we have always been home for Christmas, I have always strived to make it memorable and fun and have, with the wonderful help of my husband, decorated the house every year, in much the same spirit as my dear granny. A tree in every room. Goodies in tins. Thoughtful gifts, full of love. Stockings on the mantle. This year's morning ritual has me turning on the lights for 9 trees downstairs, and the garland on the stairwell. And one of my trees has ornaments on it that were actually my granny's ornaments, treasured glass balls.

And we begin the season each year for our family with our little tree trimming party. My husband's family was large enough to be their own party, and so he brought with him his little family party gene, and I have loved embracing that tradition. Each of us pick a fun party food, and we have poinsettias to drink {half cranberry juice/half ginger ale or champagne} and we turn on my holiday music mix. Unpacking new ornaments from their Hallmark boxes, pulling previous years' ornaments out of the ornament bins, fluffing up the Christmas tree, turning on the lights, and hanging the beloved ornaments. We work together, trimming the tree until it is finished and lights up the corner of our family room.

We each have our favorite ornaments. We will ooh and aah over different ones, and be excited or dismal over what our assigned ornament bin contains. The Barbies? The boys don't like them so much. I understand. I feel the same way about the trains, trucks, planes, and cars. ;-) My favorites to hang? Hands down, the Nostalgic Houses series. The first one was introduced in 1984 and this year we purchased and hung on our tree the 31st house in the series. I just love them. Over time, we transitioned from buying our Hallmark ornaments at half off after-Christmas sales to buying them premiere weekend in the fall.

At any rate, we have many, many Hallmark ornaments and they each have a story to tell, their own unique identity, much like the tale a Christmas season develops of its own accord each year. They are each treasured in their own way, rotating positions on the tree each year, handled by each of us over time, creating a compendium of memories as we work together to craft a Christmas tree that will be like no other one we ever have. 

And while a tree is just a tree, to me it is a shining symbol of hope, of eternal love, of the truest Gift of the season. I often can hear Linus reciting it, when at the end of Charlie Brown's search for a tree, Linus reminds him that it is never really about the tree. Yes, we kick off the advent season with the tree, and it is the last thing to come down and be put away, but the meaning for the season, the Gift of the season, stays with us all year long.
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. - Isaiah 9:6
As I type this on Merry Christmas Eve Eve, as we look at marking another year together as a family of four, I wish for you each the joy of the season, a Christmas full of wonder and peace - and may you know the true Gift of Christmas. Merry Christmas!

Santa's Elves ~ Tree Trimming ~ Christmas 2008

Sketch Credit: Scrapbook Generation
Paper: Authentique
Title: Silhouette cut file

Monday, December 1, 2014

Color Me Sketchy

Welcome to my blog - a new stop on this quarter's Scrapbook Generation Blog Hop. If this is your first stop, you might like to start at the Scrapbook Generation blog and then hop through each link.

I am excited to be part of the December Scrapbook Generation blog hop! If ever there was a scrappy blessing in my life, it would be SG! Since finding their sketches, and kit clubs, and eBooks, and now one-stop-online-shopping, I have been an SG Sketch Lover and avid fan! I have the original 8 books before their digital days began, and I grab their downloads now and the eBooks! Color me sketchy - I'm hooked on SG!

Below is a layout I made about last Thanksgiving. It was my oldest son's first year at college in Nashville, and he went to Colorado with his roommate for Thanksgiving instead of coming home to Texas. It was an adjustment for this mom, but as I set a table for only 3, I was committed to honoring the holiday, embracing our traditions, and counting my blessings. 

This recent SG sketch I purchased and downloaded was the perfect sketch for the story I wanted to tell and the photos I wanted to use. 

Autumn Blessings ~ Table for Three ~ Thanksgiving 2013

Sketch Credit: Scrapbook Generation
Paper: Carta Bella
Title: Silhouette cut file

You can find the SG sketches in their books and as downloads in the SG store, and there is a free one every month in case you wanted to try it out. Next on the hop is 
Laureen - Leave a comment on each blog and one lucky commenter will receive a free sketch bundle of their choice from the store. The winner will be drawn on Monday, December 8th, which allows you one week to leave your comments. 

In case you get lost at any point, here is the list of all the blogs:
Scrapbook Generation blog -
Ruth -
Steffanie -
Devra -
TinaGale -
Lori - Http://
Lori S -
Cicily -
Pamela -
Katy -
Laura -
Lyne -
Penny - (You are here!)
Laureen -
Casandra -
Sharlene -
Corrina -

Thanks for stopping by! Remember to leave comments on all the blog hop posts for your chance to win a free sketch bundle!