Christmas

The birth of your first child is always an exciting time. Your life is forever changed, because you are no longer just you or just a couple, you are a parent…you are somebody’s parent…forever. December 14, 2017, was that day for my grand nephew, Keifer Balcerzak and his wife, Katie, when their beautiful baby girl, Reece Victoria Renae Balcerzak made her grand, two month early entrance into the world. Little baby Reece was not supposed to arrive until about February 20, 2018, but as babies sometimes do, she got in a bit of a hurry. Nevertheless, the good people at Presbyterian Saint Luke’s Hospital in Denver, Colorado were able to delay her arrival by two weeks to give her a little bit more time to grow. And she did a pretty good job of it, weighing in at just 3 pounds 11 ounces, which I think isn’t too bad for a baby who is two months premature. Reece is 17¾ inches long, and she and her Mommy are doing well.

For Katie and Keifer, the love was instantaneous. In fact, Katie put it in such beautiful words that no others are really necessary, when she said, “And at last I see the light, And it’s like the sky is new. And it’s warm and real and bright and the world has somehow shifted…All at once everything is different, now that I see you. Now that I see you…” I think truly does change your life for ever. It is a wonderful miracle…a precious gift from God, to bless your life.

Little Reece is no bigger than a minute, but she is a fighter, and she is going to do just fine. The nurses tell her parents that she is a “feisty handful” and she keeps them busy. That isn’t a bad thing for a preemie baby. The doctors have said that she will likely be moved out of the Level 1 Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, to the Level 2 Neonatal Intensive Care Unit next week. She won’t be able to be home for her first Christmas, and in reality, her first Christmas was supposed to be next year, but she is a sweet Christmas gift to her mommy, daddy, grandparents, and the rest of her family, all of whom are very excited to meet her. But for now, Reece has some growing to do, because they don’t send babies home when they are no bigger than a minute. So eat hearty baby girl, you have family to meet. Congratulations Keifer and Katie on your tiny bundle of joy.

I was a little girl of three in 1959, when the Barbie doll came out. Every little girl old enough to understand what these dolls were, wanted one…me included. There was one little problem. I just couldn’t seem to get the name right. I told my parents that I wanted a Bride doll. In fact I think I told them that every day for the three months before the arrival of Christmas. Advertisements for the Barbie doll did nothing to deter my quest for a Bride doll. I just didn’t understand that there was going to be a problem.

The Barbie doll made its first appearance on this day, March 9, 1959 at the American Toy Fair in New York City…just like any other supermodel, I suppose. The doll was just stunning, and over the years has been at the center of the self esteem controversy, because some people felt like she gave girls a misguided view of what their bodies should look like. I suppose the doll could have done that, but it certainly did not affect her popularity. In retrospect, I don’t recall that I ever once looked at the doll and decided that I was fat. It was a doll after all, but somewhere along the way, someone must have, so the controversy continues to this day.

At eleven inches tall, Barbie had beautiful blond hair. Barbie was the first mass-produced toy doll in the United States with adult features. It makes sense. A baby doll can’t play the part of the mom, so if girls were to continue to play with dolls, they had to have a mom…reasoned Ruth Handler, who came up with the idea. Ruth co-founded Mattel, Inc with her husband in 1945. She saw that her young daughter, Barbara ignore her baby dolls to play make-believe with paper dolls of adult women, and realized there was a niche in the market for a toy that allowed little girls to imagine the future. The line has grown to include Ken, Midge, and Skipper.

Over the years, Barbie generated huge sales. On the positive side, many women saw Barbie as providing an alternative to traditional 1950s gender roles. She has had a series of different jobs, from airline stewardess, doctor, pilot and astronaut to Olympic athlete and even United States presidential candidate. Despite the criticism, sales of Barbie-related merchandise continued to soar. The line topped 1 billion dollars annually by 1993. Since 1959, more than 800 million dolls in the Barbie family have been sold around the world and Barbie is now a bona fide global icon. Eventually, I did get my Barbie doll, and for some reason, I never told my parents about the mix-up. I guess I couldn’t let them think that my Christmas gift had not been what I wanted. Besides that, the Bride doll was very beautiful, although I never played with it as much as I would have played with the Barbie doll.

trenton-nj-mapThe year was 1776, and it was Christmas Day, but for the men with George Washington, it was not a day of celebration…not exactly anyway. They were in the middle of fighting a war, and the fighting didn’t just stop because it was Christmas, not this year anyway. This was to be an unusual Christmas as far as wartime Christmases went. In 1776, it was difficult to fight a war in the wintertime, because the slower modes of travel. Most times in a war, the armies took the Winter off from warring, but this army was not laying up for the Winter. This war would continue on…no matter what the weather was like.

Things looked bad that year. The Continental Army had suffered a series of defeats in their battle against the British oppression. After some successful maneuvers, Colonel Henry Knox came to the attention of General George Washington who worked to place him in overall command to the Continental Army. Under his command, the Continentals brought 18 cannon over the river…3 washington-crossing-the-delawarePounders, 4 Pounders, some 6 Pounders, horses to pull the carriages, and enough ammunition for the coming battle. The 6 Pounders, weighing as much as 1,750 pounds were the most difficult to transport to the far side of the river. But in the end all the trouble of moving this large artillery train to Trenton proved its worth. Knox would place the bulk of his artillery at the top of the town where its fire commanded the center of Trenton.

The plan devised by Knox and Washington was to conduct a surprise attack upon a Hessian garrison of roughly 1,400 soldiers located in and around Trenton, New Jersey. Washington hoped that a quick victory at Trenton would bolster sagging morale in his army and encourage more men to join the ranks of the Continentals in the coming new year. After several councils of war, General George Washington set the date for the river crossing for Christmas night 1776. It was an unprecedented plan, because the expectation was always that the armies would hold up somewhere for the winter. No one had attacked in winter before, and especially on Christmas. George Washington led 2,400 troops on a daring nighttime crossing of the icy Delaware River. Stealing into New Jersey, on December 26 the Continental forces launched the surprise attack on Trenton.

washington-marches-to-trentonThe gamble paid off. Many of the Hessians were still disoriented from the previous night’s holiday bender, and colonial forces defeated them with minimal bloodshed. While Washington had pulled off a shock victory, his army was unequipped to hold the city and he was forced to re-cross the Delaware that same day…with nearly 1,000 Hessian prisoners in tow. Washington would go on to score successive victories at the Battles of the Assunpink Creek and Princeton, and his audacious crossing of the frozen Delaware served as a crucial rallying cry for the beleaguered Continental Army. The Revolutionary War would be won by the Continental Army of course, and the rules of warfare changed forever.

img_9568img_9553With each passing year, I find myself looking forward more and more to the Byer Family Christmas Party. Sadly, I think that part of the reason is that as time passes, we seem to lose more and more of my aunts and uncles. This year found us with only four aunts and only one uncle at the party. There are other uncles who are still alive, but that aren’t really able to come out for these events any more. It makes each time we get together that much more precious. I always feel sorry for those who didn’t make it to the party, because we always have such a nice time, and we are a family of excellent cooks, so the food is fabulous. And it is a way to keep those who have gone to Heaven just a little closer to the family. Nevertheless, the sadness over missing those who have left us persists, and grows with each new passing.

I think one reason that our grandparents wanted their children to continue the annual Christmas party and annual picnic was so that we would all get to know each other better. As the new generations come along. It would be so easy to lose touch with each other. That would be so sad, because little kids are usually instant img_9583img_9577img_9555friends, and that makes it extra special to watch. The kids had a sparkle in their eyes, and smiles on their faces. They were so excited to have new friends to play with and lots of room to run around, with no one to get upset at them. For kids, Christmas is always a special time of year, and it’s really hard to hold back the excitement. I love watching them bounce around the room. I could say that they ran around the room, but that wouldn’t be right exactly, because they really did bounce with excitement, and after all, it’s all about the kids right.

My grandparents were wise people. They had a vision for their kids and grandkids…for all of the generations that would follow them. They knew how easy it is to get busy in life, and to lose touch with family. It happens img_9552img_9551in so many families, and they didn’t want that for their family. Very wise people indeed. They wanted their kids not only to know their nieces and nephews, but also their grand nieces and nephews, and great grand nieces and nephews, for as long as they lived. What a precious gift that request turned out to be. It was not a burden to be carried or work to be done…it was a gift, and one I am thankful for every single year. It’s a time for family and reconnecting. While we miss all those who are gone now, I know that they would be proud of us for continuing this tradition. We love you all.

Dad and MomMom & Dad on ChristmasMy sisters, Cheryl Masterson, Caryl Reed, Alena Stevens, Allyn Hadlock, and I were group texting yesterday, as we often do. It gives us the chance to be together, without needing to be in the same room. We love those conversations, because we can laugh with, and at, each other, in good fun, of course. It also gives us a chance to share ideas on everything from our faith to politics, and be thankful that we all agree on both. We keep each other informed if we are traveling, just like we did our parents, when they were here on Earth. Those texts are part of what keeps us close. We all work and Caryl lives in Rawlins, while the rest of us are in Casper, so our lives are busy, and we can’t always get together on a regular basis. Texting, especially has become a great way for us to connect, and we all love it, because we love each other very much and always will.

Our family has always been a close one, and our parents, Allen and Collene Spencer instilled values in us about faith, right and wrong, and family. They are values that we will never allow to fade from our lives. Mom has been in Heaven now for almost two years, and Dad for almost nine years, and yet we can still hear their voices in our heads guiding us in love. They taught us to laugh, and not to be upset when we were the one being laughed at, because it’s better to laugh with those who are laughing at you, than to get upset about it. And in the end, you usually have to agree that it was pretty funny anyway. We were taught that laughing at yourself is a good thing, and while we may not always have practiced that, we have learned that it is a true statement. Sometimes the worst thing we can do is to take ourselves too seriously. Laughing at ourselves helps us to remember to put humor in our lives too.

Around the holidays, however, our conversations often turn to our parents, and how much we miss them. Such was the case with our conversation yesterday. My sister, Alena saw an old friend of our parents, and wanted to tell Mom that she had seen him…then reality set in. I mentioned a story I had written about a piece of family history I had found, and how I couldn’t wait to tell Mom…then reality set in. My sister, Cheryl had received a catalog, and saw a glittery top that Mom would have loved, and thought it would make a great Christmas present for Mom…then reality set in. My sister, Allyn has taken Mom Christmas shopping for a number of years, and the thought came to her that she should ask when Mom wanted to go…then reality set in. The conversation Spencer Familycontinued with each of us mentioning times that we instinctively thought of calling Mom and Dad, asking them something, taking them somewhere, or just how much they would love something, only to have reality set in again. All we have now are the sweetest memories of the greatest parents on Earth. We can see them in all the places they were…the house, church, our homes, the drives they loved to take, the front porch where they loved to sit and enjoy the day, camping in the Black Hills, and picnics on Casper Mountain…all the places they loved. All the places where their echo still exists and their memory still lingers. Reality always sets in, and we know they are gone, but they will always live on in our hearts and minds, and they are in our future now, not our past.

imageI think that in many ways, my mom’s family is unique. It all started with Grandma and Grandpa Byer, of course. The family had grown to a size that was far too big to get together at their house, so they came up with the idea of holding a family Christmas party at a central location in town, that would hold all of us. It was truly the only way for all of us to get together at the same time, but I think Grandma and Grandpa had an ulterior motive for doing this. They wanted their growing family to stay close, even though it wasn’t always easy. Most of the family still lives right here in Casper, but we are all very busy people, so getting together on any kind of a consistent basis is really hard, and it gets harder every year as we grow in size. Still, it was Grandma and Grandpa’s dream that we would not stop the get togethers, which has grown to include an annual family picnic in August.image

Every few years, the number of the original siblings seems to dwindle, and of course, each of the original siblings that are left are growing older. For that reason, I feel a strong urging to go to these events, to spend time with them. I’m not saying that everyone can make it, and that’s ok, but I feel the need. My aunts and uncles are getting older, and they have so much information that they can pass on to us…stories of their childhood and stories passed down from their parents. These are stories that will be lost if we don’t hear them now. Since my parents have passed away, I can’t ask them the things I have wondered about since they left. And I won’t say that I would have wondered those things while they were still alive, but I know that I wish that I had asked them many things about their families and their lives while they were still here, because I do wonder now, and now I’m stuck with unanswered questions where my parents are concerned. That is the thing I don’t want to have…those unanswered questions with my aunts and uncles too.
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The Byer family Christmas party and the Byer family picnic are two chances for all of us to spend time with and talk to these precious people before it’s too late. What I have noticed is that the same people come to these events and I suppose that is how it will always be. We always have a wonderful time, and I do look forward to both the picnic and Christmas party. As I said, my mom’s family is unique…especially in that they hold two family reunions a year. We may not get the turnout that reunions that are further apart get, but no one can say that they didn’t have the opportunity…and any unanswered questions are purely the fault of those who would not come and ask.

imageimageMy niece, Chelsea Hadlock joined our family eight years ago, when she married my nephew, Ryan. Chelsea is a beautiful girl, inside and out. Over the years that she has been in our family, we have watched the changes that have taken place in her. Besides the visible changes, such as becoming a mother and the natural momness that comes with being a mom, I have seen a deeper change in her that has endeared her to our whole family…or maybe it isn’t a change in her at all, but rather just us getting to know her more and more. Chelsea has a sweetness about her that really shines through in all she does. She is thoughtful and kind, and totally dedicated to her little family and the rest of our family, as well.

Chelsea has a creative side that colors her home with a variety of looks and love. Chelsea loves the different holidays, and decorates for each one…often using a different theme each year. While most of us put up the Christmas tree and decorations and call it good, Chelsea decides what her decorations will depict that year. She has done things like a red Christmas and Disney, to make it special and unique. Halloween find her not only dressing up her kids in great costumes, but herself too. As I said, she is very creative.

Chelsea loves camping, hiking, and the outdoors in general. I totally get that. She loves to take her children, Ethan and Aurora in little hikes that end in a picnic. They have such a good time. Kids need that in the summer. Too much sitting around the house makes for a boring summer vacation. And of course, Chrlsea takes lots of pictures so that the rest of us can share in her family’s adventures. It is such a treat to open Facebook and see new pictures of the Hadlock family adventures.

Ryan fell in love with Chelsea almost from the moment he laid eyes on her. And she felt the same way about imageimagehim. Theirs has continued to be a fun filled life, and what better thing to have in your marriage. If the marriage is always work, with no play and no teasing, what does it really have. Thsnkfully that laughter and fun decorate their marriage just like Chelsea decorated their home. She is the perfect wife for Ryan, and a great mom to their children. Oh, and did I forget to mention that Chelsea is a pretty fair mechanic too. Brakes are definitely no match for Chelsea, because she got this!! She’s multi-talented!! Today is Chelsea’s birthday. Happy birthday Chelsea!! Have a great day!! We love you!!

Evening in ParisAs I walked in to my bedroom today, my gaze landed on a bottle of perfume that sits on a shelf there. The bottle then took me back to my childhood years, because it always reminds me of the loving things my dad did for my mom. Evening In Paris Perfume by Bourjois, was a beautiful floral fragrance created by Ernest Beaux in 1928. It was reformulated by perfumers Jaques Polge and Francois Demachier, nearly fifty years later. The top notes are bergamot, apricot and peach, green notes and violet. The floral heart is composed of rose damascena, jasmine, heliotrope, ylang-ylang, lily of the valley, and orris. The base includes amber, musk, sandalwood, and vanilla. I have no idea how they managed to put all those ingredients together to come up with such a beautiful perfume, but they did. My mother, Collene Byer Spencer loved it, and my dad, Allen Spencer loved how it smelled on her. Dad would buy Evening in Paris for her on occasions like birthday, Christmas, and anniversaries. It was considered one of the most precious gifts he could give her.

After Mom’s passing on February 22, 2015, as my sisters and I were going through her things, we came across several bottles of the perfume, some were empty, others has a little bit in them, but we each were able to have one of those bottles. It didn’t matter if we wore that perfume or not, we knew that just having the bottle would remind us of our parents, and of the deep love they had for each other. That perfume had such sentimental value, and in fact, I don’t believe that any of us ever took any without permission. Some things are too precious to touch, and even kids understand that. They create a respect of their own, and are given a place of honor in the home and in your heart. That was the case with Evening in Paris perfume. Little girls love to get into their mother’s makeup and perfume, but I really think we understood that Evening in Paris was off limits…and not because we were afraid of the trouble we would get in. It’s like you are in awe of it or something.
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To this day, seeing that bottle of precious Evening in Paris perfume, makes me smile, because of the way my parents looked at each other when the package was opened. Mom always looked at Dad, just a little teary eyed, but with a great big smile on her face, and Dad looked like a little boy who had just brought his girlfriend her first rose. There was such a sense of pride that she loved the gift. He just felt good about it. He knew it was a special thing for her, and he hoped it was a surprise. She always acted like it was, whether she suspected it was coming or not. That was just their way. Theirs was a love without end, and they loved blessing each other with the best things they could give them, with the leader always being their love.

JesusThe presents are purchased, the packages wrapped, all of the commercialized aspects of the day are over now and there is finally time to take a moment to ponder the real reason for the Christmas season…the birth of our Saviour…Jesus. So often, we spend so much time rushing around trying to get ready for the holiday, that we have little time to think about the wonderful thing our Father, God did for us!! We were a world lost, and destined for Hell!! He had no obligation to help us. We got into this predicament by ourselves…and He could have left us there, but God’s love is not like human love. We hold grudges…even with those we love. God does not hold grudges, but rather, He set out to make a plan to turn it all around. He came up with a plan to send Jesus to Earth…and worked it out so that He lived a sinless life, as a human, and then paid the price… the ultimate price. And Jesus agreed to the plan. He gave his life for us so we could live our lives under grace, and receive Heaven and not Hell in the end.

So often, the birth of our Saviour is all but forgotten in the mix of Santa Clause and a big dinner. I find that really sad, especially in light of the sacrifice He made for us. I can’t imagine being God and deciding to take on a human form, much less a baby who is for much of its young life helpless, and forced to rely on others for all your needs. Then, while you had never sinned in any way, you are taken captive, beaten, and nailed to a cross. Then in the only way it could possibly work, Jesus was separated for God, while he took all the sins of the world on himself. It had to be, because the worst result of sin, is separation for God. That would be far worse than Hell could ever be. God’s love is the most important thing we have. It is what saves us from the pit of Hell.

Nativity sceneThere is nothing wrong with the Christmas traditions we cherish so much, and giving has always been what God is all about. The main thing is that in the midst of all of our traditions, we take time to be thankful for the greatest gift ever given. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” John 3:16, one of the most important verses in a book that is the greatest book ever written…the Bible. God is love, and when we sinned, He stepped up and made a way for us to be reconciled to him. He sent a Saviour named Jesus. And that is the real reason for the Christmas season. Merry Christmas everyone!! May God bless you all!!

Amy & Corrie with gifts they made for Jessica Lynn Christmas 1984With Christmas fast approaching, I am reminded of the Christmas of 1984. With their cousin Jessica Hadlock Sawdon, arriving shortly before Christmas, my girls, Corrie Petersen and Amy Royce wanted to do something special for her…even though they didn’t know then if the baby was a boy or a girl. We could have gone and purchased a blanket, an outfit, or a toy, but so could anyone else. The girls wanted their gift to be different from what everyone else was going to give. They were learning to crochet, and so it was decided that Corrie would make a blanket and Amy would make a bonnet. They worked very hard on their gifts, and on Christmas morning, they proved to be a stunning success. My girls beamed with pride at how their gifts were received.

Chris and Allyn Hadlock with blanket made for Jessica by CorrieSo often, these days, Christmas has become so commercialized that it often isn’t about the gift given, but rather about just how much was spent on it, that seems to matter. But, on that Christmas, for my girls, it was about their gift being made with love. Every stitch they put in the blanket and bonnet was a learning experience for them, and they couldn’t wait to see what their Aunt Allyn and Uncle Chris Hadlock thought of the gifts they had worked so hard on. Needless to say, the blanket and bonnet were very happily received. Their gift was a huge success, and no one gave a thought to how much money was or was not spent on it.

There were a lot of gifst given that day, and I’m sure that many were wonderful, and very much appreciated, but I also know that my sister, her husband, and now Jessi all remember the gifts that were made and given with love by two little girls who loved their new cousin very Allyn Hadlock with bonnet made for Jessica by Amymuch, even though they did not know her yet and in fact, didn’t know if she was a boy or a girl. The things we do for people out of love, while not necessarily expensive, are often the most treasured of the many things we receive over the years. They can’t be measured in a monitary way, because they are indeed priceless.

As Christmas approaches, of course, the most important thing to remember is the reason for the season…Jesus…the Saviour of the world. Jesus was the greatest gift, but in today’s world, I think it is always a good idea to remember more than just the gifts we received, but rather the spirit in which they were given. Whenever we act in love, we give the greatest gift we could have given…ourselves. And that is priceless for sure.

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