Christmas

scan0110New TVsLet’s face it…we all love getting presents. Maybe it’s the excitement of finally seeing what it is, or maybe we kind of knew what we were getting anyway, but now we actually have it. Whatever the excitement is for you, you have to admit that you love getting presents. I think it all starts about the time that you are old enough to realize what those things in that toy box are used for, and then suddenly to connect that with the fact that once you tear off the paper on that box you are given, you will find a toy to add to your collection. For a kid that is among the greatest things that could possibly happen to you. I mean, toys are the best…right?

Then, came the day when you were give the inevitable gift of…clothes, for your birthday or Christmas!!! Your first thought was, “How lame is this!!” You might have even got a little bit annoyed, sad, or just downright mad. Of course, I seriously doubt if your parents were very happy with you…especially if you opened the gift in front a bunch of friends or family members, and then got mad. Parents tend to think your rudeness is not so special. Still, for many kids, getting clothes is the ultimate bummer. They know they need them, and really they like the clothes they get, but clothes just don’t qualify as a present!! It should be the number one rule of gift buying and giving. Don’t parents know this? I mean, they were kids once too…right? And if the kids are little enough, suddenly, the reality completely sinks in…their parents were never kids!!! Otherwise, they would know that you never buy clothes for a gift for a kid…never!!

Now, I know that as adults many of us have even requested clothes as a gift, but even then, you have to admit that the thrill of getting a gift can be lacking…just a little bit, when the gift is clothes. It doesn’t mean that you Wow!! Clothesscan0129don’t like the clothes. And I’m sure my girls and dad really did like them. In fact, I know that they all really liked the clothes they got!! Could it have been just a bad picture that revealed a face that was lacking in joy…you know, that, “wait!! I wasn’t ready” moment. At the very least, in the case of my dad, who would never have made mom think he didn’t like her gift, and as I said, he did. I know he did, because he wore that suit a lot. We all remember him in that one. So at least for him, I suspect it was a poorly timed picture. Nevertheless, the look on his face still strongly resembles that “clothes…really!!” look.

Cheryl and CarynWhile going through our parents things the other day, we came across a note that I had written to my parents. The note, I don’t recall writing, but the event surrounding the need for the note, will be forever, vividly burned into my memory files. In fact, every time I think about it, and the possible outcome of that event, I cringe. It was no one’s fault really, it was just two intertwined moments that collided in a terrifying way. And I know that my parents reacted, as every parent would have to a potentially deadly situation. They yelled, and I was the target of their yelling. Looking back now, I totally understand why they yelled at me. It was because the whole thing scared them really badly, but had they known the facts that they couldn’t have known at that time, they might have reacted differently. I suppose that was why I wrote the letter. It just seemed very important to me to explain the full details, which they had missed. I felt like they needed to know that I wasn’t such a horribly mean person, who would do such a horrific thing.

I suppose I am getting ahead of myself here, so I’ll fill in the blanks for you. It was Christmas time, and around our family, that was one of the most special times of the year. We all loved Christmas. We loved everything from the shopping to the decorations. Which brings me to the whole problem. We not only loved the decorations, but we all felt like the Christmas lights needed to be turned on as much as possible. On this Out treeparticular day, it was me who decided to turn on the Christmas lights, although it could have been anyone who found themselves in this unfortunate position. Our lights were plugged into an outlet that allowed us to simply flip a switch by the front door to turn on the Christmas lights on both tree and window. It required no crawling under the tree or behind the furniture to get to the outlet. Just flip the switch by the door. So that was what I did.

It was a totally normal thing to do, but the seconds that followed were anything but normal. Suddenly there was a flash, a sizzling sound, screaming, and a rush of activity. The lights were switched off, but the screaming continued. Unbeknownst to me, my older sister, Cheryl had decided at that very moment to stick her finger into one of the colored light bulbs that had somehow been broken, and as I flipped the switch, her finger proceeded to get a significant zap. I had no way of knowing she was sitting there behind the curtains, in front of the window, touching that light, and she had no way of knowing that I would pick that exact moment to turn on the lights. Nevertheless, that was exactly what happened.

I suppose that if it hadn’t been such a serious situation, my parents would have realized that I would never I'm Sorryhave purposely tried to electrocute my sister, whom I loved dearly, but in that moment who could think clearly. It happened, I flipped the switch, therefore, I got yelled at. As a parent, I know they were more scared than anything, but as a kid, I felt unjustifiably blamed. I guess I didn’t want to risk getting yelled at again, so I wrote the note to tell them that I really hadn’t done it on purpose. As I said, I don’t remember writing the note, and in looking at the spelling, I can tell you can tell I was pretty young, but I will never forget the moment when I almost electrocuted my sister, and I thank God that she was alright.

Corrie, Barry, & Amy in new pjsKids at ChristmasAs Christmas arrives, I am reminded of so many Christmases from the past. As a kid, I think the earliest memory I have of Christmas was the big celebration we always had when decorating the tree. The day we decorated the tree became a family party. We made snacks and played Christmas music. We sang Christmas carols, laughed, and munched. We always had a real tree in those days, because artificial trees didn’t exist, as far as I know. That meant that the first part of the evening was spent with my dad cutting the trunk of the tree to remove any unneeded height. The fragrance of the spruce tree filled the air. It was an incredible scent, and one that I still love to this day. The real tree lives in the past for my family now, and I can’t say that I’m totally sorry about that, because they are messy, and a fire hazard. I will take the trade off, and the fragrance of the spruce tree will have to live in my memory files.

Christmas eve was another family night, with singing, and of course, the one gift that we Alaskan ornament 2Alaskan ornament 1got to open that night…our new pajamas. I’m sure that was to add a nice fresh touch to the Christmas morning pictures, but it didn’t matter, because we loved getting those pajamas…and the excitement if opening just one gift on Christmas Eve was what it was all about anyway. These days with my children grown up, I’m not the one to give pajamas, although, we did it when our girls were little. Now they always know that at Grandma’s house, they will receive an ornament, so what is the mystery in that. Well, it is what kind of ornament, of course. I try very hard to be creative with those, and I think I did great this year. We had gone to Alaska on a cruise this past summer, and the kids all received an Alaskan ornament. I was so excited about those, that I had to get one of my own.

Christmas day always brought excitement and awe. It didn’t matter what you got, it was just so exciting to open the long anticipated gifts to see what you got. It always seemed that at this time of year, people were listening carefully so they could hear what you wanted, and then they headed out to get it and surprise you with it. 000_0016000_0031My favorite years were the ones where we got something extra special for my parents. It was amazing to surprise them with something they never expected that we could afford…like the toaster we got them when I was the only one with a job. The rest of the gifts were hand made. They were so shocked. Then there was the year that we were sending them on an Alaskan cruise for their 50th wedding anniversary. We got them a video camera for the trip. They were so excited. Yep, I think the best Christmases are the ones where you give amazing gifts. It is about giving rather than receiving. I guess that was how God felt too. After all, He gave us the greatest gift of all…Jesus. And that is the greatest Throwback Christmas of them all. Merry Christmas everyone and may the greatest blessings God has to offer be yours this Christmas and all year long.

Baby GirlThis time of year, everything is so exciting for the little ones in our lives…and even for the not so little ones. The littlest ones especially find the lights, gifts, candy, and the excitement of it all to be almost more than they can believe. Their eyes light up as brightly as the Christmas tree, and keeping their little hands away from the tree and gifts can prove to be really difficult. On Thursday nights, I spend the evening with my mom, Collene Spencer and my sister, Cheryl Masterson. With school activities and Christmas shopping to do, my niece Jenny Spethman often drops her daughter, Aleesia off at my mom’s so she can spend a little time with her grandma and great grandma. That means I get to see quite a bit of her too, and she is so much fun to be around at this age. She is such a goofy little girl anyway, and I don’t know if it’s the candy or the season, but she becomes even more goofy.

I have had a chance to hear Aleesia say a lot of things, and believe me they are all just as cute as they can be. She always calls the movie Despicable Me, Spicable Me and the Minis. She calls my mom, her great grandma, GeeGee. She loves to say Paaaaleese with her grandma. These are common mispronunciations among little kids to be sure, but such fun to hear the kids say. And as we all know, kids grow up so fast that before you know it they can say all their words without mispronunciation, and those cute little sayings days are gone.

This last week, while my niece, Jenny was shopping, Aleesia and her brother Zack were at Mom’s house and we were watching kid movies. It’s funny how easily you can get used to those kid shows, when there is a little one around trying to say all the words they aren’t sure how to pronounce. That night though, Aleesia was having a lot of trouble concentrating on the movie. She kept touching the tree and pointing to the tree. Then she got up on the couch and looked out the window and saw the lights on the other houses and said, “Moo Lights!!” I laughed in spite of myself. I knew that she was trying to say “more lights”, but in my head I pictured cow-shaped lights. It was such a funny thought, that I could not keep a straight face.

Of course, what would Christmas be without candy. Christmas especially seems to be filled with baking of cakes, pies, cookies, and candy. By the time the holiday is over, the kids have had so much candy that is takes a couple of weeks to bring them back to earth. My sister, Cheryl had a really difficult time limiting the amount Decorating the treeof candy Aleesia had. Aleesia kept coming back for more, saying, “Chocoleet!” She placed a strong emphasis on the “leet” part, and her high little voice just made it sound so cute. Of course, it was chocolate, but any candy would have been just fine.

I know that these days are very short, at least for Aleesia mispronouncing word, so I am very thankful that I have had the opportunity to be around to hear her funny little sayings. They will most likely be said only this year, and then next year, she will either not mispronounce words, or the mispronunciations will be entirely different words. Either way, I think I will always smile when I look at Christmas lights, because the thought of cow-shaped lights called Moo Lights will always be in my memory files.

Corrie & KevinWhen a child goes away to college, there are so many emotions that both the parents and the child feel. The child goes through homesickness, and the parents are trying really hard to adjust to this new independence that their child suddenly has. Those things are really hard, but I think that the hardest thing to deal with is that empty room in the house, that empty place at the table, and that missing face and voice that they are so used to. The first month is probably the hardest, but don’t let anyone fool you into thinking that it gets easier, because it doesn’t, at least not for a long time. Eventually almost all kids grow up get married and move out, so it is something that you have to get used to, because anything else is not normal. But when they are fresh out of high school, and in their first year of college, all you can think about is the next time they will get to come home.

With the Christmas season upon us, having my grandson Chris home from college is very much on our minds. I am reminded of that old song, “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” which is a kind of sad song, because the person in that song doesn’t really get to come home for Christmas…except in their dreams. I know that lots of families have loved ones who aren’t able to come home for the holidays, and I find that very sad. I know that life takes people in different directions, and sometimes that means holidays away from family, but I like spending the holidays with my family the best. Which brings me to the fact that as of today, Chris is home for Christmas!! We are all very excited to have him home, and very excited about the fact that he will be here for a little over a month. That is one nice thing about college…long Christmas breaks.

Oh, I know that all too soon, January 20th will arrive, and he will be heading back to Sheridan for his next semester. And we will be looking forward to every weekend he can come home, and most especially to summer Chris senior picturebreak. Having a kid away at college is hard, as is having any loved one who lives away from home. Nevertheless, it is a fact of life, and one we will live through. No one knows where the future will take each person, and the main thing is that they remember the way home, because there are those who miss them and love them very much.

For today, and this year at this time of year, I am thankful that Chris is home and we will all be together. I can’t think of anything that is more important to me than my family, and I love spending time with them, so the holidays are extra special. Family is such a blessing. I thank God for each and every one of them, and I am so glad that we have everyone, and especially this year, Chris, home for Christmas.

Andrea Renae Beach editedWhen my niece, Andrea was a little girl, she was so cheerful. She loved to laugh and joke. She loved it when her grandparents and other family members came to visit her family in Washington. She would always get so excited when company was there. When my sisters and I went to visit Caryl and her family one year, when Warren, Andrea’s dad was on sea duty in the Navy, the house became wall to wall beds, and Andrea was so excited to come out in the mornings and greet everyone. The day seemed perfect to her, because there were so many aunts in the house. I suppose having a lot of aunts in your house at one time might mean lots of attention, and really, what kid doesn’t want lots of attention. And what better kind of attention is there than the special attention of having four aunts in your house at one time. Of course, Andrea did have to go to school for part of that visit, but she did get to spend a lot of time with us. We all had such a good time.

It was always hard for Andrea when family had to leave to go home. She didn’t get to see any of us much, and that was really hard. Of course, we knew how she felt, because we felt the same way every time Andrea’s family had to go home after a visit. It is a tearing situation. Loving family members from afar creates a lonely kind of a feeling. Holidays are smaller affairs, because you live too far away to be there with the rest of the family very much. That was hard for Andrea, because she heard about all the fun the rest of the cousins had at the big gatherings. Of course, she knew that it could not be helped, and that her family loves her, but it is still hard for a little girl to understand why they can’t come for Christmas every year. Still, her parents made their holidays fun too, and made their own traditions. That’s how it works when you live far away from family. And those traditions are just as fun as the ones the rest of the family has, just different…just your own.

I think living far away from family, can often bring you very close to your siblings. Andrea and Andrea & Topherher younger brother, Allen have always been good friends. Oh they had their little tiffs, just like any other siblings, but they grew close over the years. With Allen in the Navy and stationed in Japan now, I’m sure that Andrea feels a twinge of loneliness whenever her brother comes to mind, but she will always know that no matter how far apart they are, he will always be her brother, and he will always love her. New traditions are always a part of life, and now with her son, Topher to think about, I’m sure Andrea is making her own traditions to build memories for him. Today is Andrea’s birthday. Though she is still a ways away I hope that she knows that we are thinking of her today and hoping it is a great day. Happy birthday Andrea!! We love you!!

Grandma Hein as we knew herAs I was looking through some old pictures, I came across one of a house. It was old, with it’s windows and doors boarded up. At first I thought that it was sad that so many houses around our country are left to fall apart, right in a town where people are using the homes all around it. I couldn’t figure out why this house had some significance, when so many others don’t. Then I looked at the back of the picture and I was surprised at what I found. First of all, so many of the pictures I have looked at, were not written on at all, leaving so much of the family history to the imagination…frustrating to say the least, and I know too that I have been guilty of that myself. We think that we will know the people in the picture, and we will, but what of the people in years to come…our children and grandchildren or even, great grandchildren…what will they know of the people or places in the picture.

So, what of the house in the picture I found…well, it was the house that Bob’s grandmother, Vina Nona Leary Schulenberg Hein was born in, 105 years ago today. It’s strange to think that you are looking at a house that was the specific location of a specific event over a century earlier, but that is exactly the case. Most births took place in the home back then, and this one was no different, in fact, it was probably completely routine…to them. To most of us today, that seems incredible, even though home births are making a comeback.

Grandma Hein’s birthday was always easy for me to remember, because it came on Groundhog’s Day. I’m sure that was always something her whole family thought was a cool thing too. Having a birthday on a special day or holiday can be fun, with the possible exception of Christmas. I have heard that a Christmas birthday, or even close to it, can be a real bummer with the whole gift thing and all, but any other special day is a cool thing. Grandma’s birthday being on Groundhogs Day, marked the day of either the promise of an early spring or 6 more weeks of a dreary winter. I don’t know, that one might depend on the House where Vina Nona Leary Schulenberg Hein was born - croppedoutcome, as to whether it was a cool birthday or not. Nevertheless, being able to look at the very house that was aflutter with activity on this Groundhog’s Day 105 years ago is a cool thing to me. I have to wonder what the walls of this old house could tell us of that day. Quite a bit I expect. It’s a bit sad to think that no little children run and play in it’s rooms, no wonderful smells fill it’s rooms, no family enjoys the warmth of it’s rooms, but rather it has become a sad empty structure left to fall apart. Still, it was an important place in it’s day…Grandma’s day of birth 105 years ago today. Happy birthday Grandma!! We love and miss you very much.

Homemade GiftsChristmas has become so commercialized that we stress for weeks and even months over what gift to buy this one or that one, not to mention all the planning for dinner and places we need to go. Christmas wasn’t always this commercialized, but it still could have been pretty stressful in days gone by. People didn’t necessarily run out and crazily shop all over town, but if money was tight, they tried their best to figure out a way to give a gift of some kind. Even if money was not tight, some people came up with ideas all year long…because some gifts take a little bit of time. Those are the homemade gifts, and usually some of the most awesome gifts a person will ever get. Some people think that a gift that is homemade isn’t as good as a gift that is store bought, but I say they are very wrong.

When my Great Uncle Dennis Dunahee, who always went by Burt, and his son, my cousin Old Fashioned ChristmasRaymon, decided to make Christmas gifts, they did it in grand style. The gifts they made reminded me of the kind of gifts you might see the people on “Little House on the Prairie” and “The Waltons” make. Were the Dunahee gifts homemade with love…absolutely!! Were they stunning…absolutely!! It occurs to me that there are a number of carpenters in the Spencer family who are capable of making beautiful furniture. It’s strange the things you never knew about your family. It turns out that one of this family’s best kept secrets is something quite beautiful indeed.

Christmas in times past was not only less focused on time spent in the mall, it was more focused on the true meaning Jesusof Christmas. It’s not that we don’t think about the real meaning of Christmas in today’s world, because we do, but sometimes it is easier to get distracted, by the rush to get our shopping done, gifts wrapped, and dinner planned. By the time the day arrives, we can easily be too exhausted to give thought to what this day is all about…the birth of our Saviour!! The reason we give gifts is to remind us of the greatest gift ever given, but in all our giving, we need to remember that the greatest gift ever given…Jesus, is far more important on this day that the gifts we give and receive. Today, I wish all of you a very Merry Christmas, and I pray that you take time to be thankful to God for the gift of His precious Son…Jesus!!

Bob's TrainOnce again, it is here…that big shopping day that always arrives on the Friday after Thanksgiving…Black Friday. Not everyone wants to get up in the wee hours of the morning…ok, the middle of the night…to hit the stores hoping to find the best prices for that special gift you want to buy for those people on your shopping list. It does take a special kind of crazy to do that, and thanks to my sister, Allyn, who got us started on this a number of years ago, Bob and I definitely fit into that category. Allyn’s husband Chris, quite going a long time ago, but Bob likes to go. Hey, don’t laugh…I’m not out there by myself, like a lot of women are…thanks Bob!!

We spend as much time as we can spare combing through the ads, to see what stores we need to go to, and how early, so that we don’t miss out on that perfect item. We try to go to bed early so we can get up about 3:00am, hoping to be at the stores, preferably with a nice hot cup of Cappuccino from Loaf and Jug to wake us up and keep us warm. I don’t ever get all my shopping done on Black Friday, partly because I don’t always have lists from my family, and partly because around 9:00, we are all done with the whole Black Friday Shopping thing, and ready for breakfast. So off we go to hit up Johnny J’s Diner for a real cup of coffee, and a nice hot breakfast.

After breakfast, the day generally finds me taking a nap, because while I am crazy enough to Christmas Pastgo shopping at 4:00 in the morning, I still need my sleep. Bob usually winds up in the garage working on someone’s car, which is nothing unusual for him…and that is another kind of crazy on Black Friday, but whatever he wants to do us fine by me, as long as I get my nap.

Whether you choose to shop at the stores on Black Friday, and the rest of the next month until all your Christmas shopping is done, or get online on Cyber Monday, and have it shipped right to your home, the fact remains that the Christmas season is once again upon us, and time waits for no man. So, I ask you…”Do you Black?”

Brenda by the Christmas treeAs I was helping my sister-in-law, Brenda and my daughter, Corrie with some projects around Brenda’s house today, we started talking about Christmas Eve, which is always held at Brenda’s house. The talk was really about planning for the upcoming holiday, but my thoughts drifted back to Christmas Eve celebrations, as well as other holiday celebrations, of years gone by. This is a year of firsts for our family. Since my father-in-law’s passing on May 5th, we are facing the first Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years, and every other holiday without his presence. My mother-in-law is still with us, but with Alzheimer’s Disease, she cannot live alone, so she is in a nursing home. She is quite happy there, but since she hasn’t walked since March, bringing her over to celebrate with us is just not feasible. She doesn’t know what day it is anyway, so she doesn’t miss the holidays. The sad thing about our situation is that with her in the nursing home, and my father-in-law in Barbeque at Brenda'sHeaven, we are almost going through that year of firsts with both of them at the same time.

As I took the trash out when we were finished with our project, I looked at Brenda’s patio, which had often been the place for family barbeques in the summertime, the sad and lonely feeling that had been there throughout our conversation, persisted. Anyone who has lost a parent understands quite well just how hard that year of firsts is. The traditions that had been a part of life for so long that they were taken for granted, must now be completely re-worked to reflect the changed family unit, and no matter what you do, there is always and will always be a hole in them…that empty place that belongs to that loved one who is now gone. Yes, you move on and make new traditions, be they never really feel quite right, somehow. You keep thinking that maybe next year it will feel normal, or at least not feel like something is missing, Mom & Dad Schulenberg_editedbut it just doesn’t. The subsequent years of holidays are joyous, just like before, but with a little hint of loneliness, that never goes away.

As a look at the old pictures of holidays from years gone by, I can’t help but shed a tear, because those days are gone forever. I think one of the hardest things about the circle of life is the changing face of tradition. I love tradition…families gathering to celebrate holidays in the way that their families did, and the way their children’s families probably will. Unfortunately, change is inevitable, and traditions will change…as loved ones pass, children marry, and babies arrive, but some changes feel good, while others feel forced…and laden with a hint of loneliness.

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