Opening our home and hearts

blogIMG_4799 (2)They ‘met’ over a decade ago on an online blogging circle but they really didn’t meet until recently.

My oldest daughter wrote her own blog on a now defunct site back all those years ago and she and another blogger became friends (sound familiar?).  My daughter lives here in the United States; the other young lady lives across the world. 

Over the years they transitioned from their blogs to becoming Facebook friends and kept up with each other’s lives through photos and comments.  And a very special friendship flourished.

Fast forward to 2014.  One of those lovely young women planned an adventure with her handsome boyfriend to visit the United States on a long holiday from their home in Australia.  And that’s when something took flight besides their lengthy trip via airplane.  The two toured several interesting cities here in the Northeast from New York City to Boston to Philadelphia to Washington, DC with a little side trip to Amish country in Lancaster, PA.

But they planned another special trip to a city many wouldn’t consider a tourist spot – Pittsburgh.  The reason?  To finally meet my daughter in person.  Months before, messages flew back and forth through the internet to make plans for the meeting.  Daughter and son-in-law would travel north from their home to spend an entire day with her friend and beau in our nearby city. 

They hit it off famously.  The two gentlemen had much in common, including a wacky sense of humor, and became instant friends.  The two young women cemented their friendship by conversing in person instead of via computer.

They relished an American breakfast at Pamela’s and a Pittsburgh style lunch at Primanti Brothers.  After a day-long sightseeing excursion, the four of them left the city lights behind and traveled to our country home.  Daughter wanted her new (yet old) friends to experience an evening in a typical American home and enjoy a home-cooked meal with us.

Papa and I are always happy to welcome new friends and we wanted to give the two travelers a taste of life outside of our country’s big cities and tourist spots.    Just an evening in an average American home with average everyday people like us.

Since this gathering took place the first weekend of December, we scurried to get the house Christmas ready with decorations and the tree dressed in its finery.   I planned a hearty American-style dinner with chicken and stuffing casserole, fresh green beans, baked yams with cinnamon butter, dinner rolls with a choice of our homemade strawberry or blueberry jam, and of course, apple pie with a scoop of vanilla ice cream to top it off.

blogIMG_4798From the minute the two Aussies stepped inside our house, we loved them!  Their warmth and sweet personalities won us over immediately and we thoroughly enjoyed sharing our hospitality with these delightful young adults.   We swapped stories and relished hearing about their homeland, their lives, their work, and their customs. 

They taught us some Australian words we hadn’t heard before and we even taught our new young friends some ‘Pittsburghese’ (words like yinz and redd up and slippy that many folks in our neck of the woods use).

They graciously brought us a basket of goodies from their homeland (including Tasmania where the young lady hails from) and later when we sampled all of the lollies (candy) they were oh, so tasty. While they were here we put on our brave faces and tried the vegemite (a staple in Australia which is a dark brown food paste made from leftover brewers’ yeast extract with various vegetable and spices). 

As we spread it on crackers, they couldn’t wait to see our reactions when we tasted it.  Some of us thought it was horrible.  I actually didn’t think it was that bad.  Papa thought it was too salty and tasted like soy sauce.  We had lots of fun later when we introduced the vegemite to the rest of our family during our early Christmas.  The faces were priceless.

We introduced Hershey’s peppermint kisses – they were a big hit – and Ghirardelli chocolates to our new friends and gave them a jar of my homemade strawberry jam.

Our time seemed short even though we stayed up to 2 a.m. enjoying our company.  When our guests departed to drive back to the city for the night, I snapped the photo above as the two girls hugged goodbye.  I suspect there will be a trip to Australia planned in the future for oldest daughter and son-in-law.

It was an evening we’ll never forget filled with the things that make sweet memories and that heartwarming feeling of sharing time and our home with new friends.

Ornament  from Tasmania

Ornament from Tasmania

There’s a new ornament hanging on our Christmas tree gifted to us from our Australian friends. It’s a carved wooden, three-dimensional tree made of Tasmanian Huon Pine, a creamy yellow wood with a very distinct aroma – to me it smells like wood smoke.

And each time I look at the Christmas tree or catch a whiff of that scent, I will remember Susannah and Mat and our time together and my heart will be full. 

“Christmas is the season for kindling the fire of hospitality in the hall, the genial flame of charity in the heart.”   ~Washington Irving


Early Christmas present

blogIMG_4845Santa came early this year.

He brought a bright red sack full of Christmas stockings filled with goodies for our children who, of course, are actually adults.  

Mama had to kick it into high gear and get the decorating completed and the gift shopping finished and she readily admits online browsing for gifts surely did help.  That and a one night get it all done or bust shopping excursion with Papa.

But despite the whirlwind and flurry of getting an early Christmas ready and waiting, we succeeded.  Shiny lights and wreaths adorned the exterior of the house.  Garlands and candles and festive decorations bedecked the inside.

The Christmas tree flaunted its finery and stacked beneath it gaily wrapped packages awaited opening. The once empty bedrooms were ready for nestling in beds with visions of sugarplums dancing through heads.  The pantry and fridge stood stocked and equipped for good eats and despite fighting off some sinus crud for a few days this week, Mama, with the help of Papa, prepared for a weekend of celebration.

One by one and two by two they arrived to celebrate an early family Christmas because of work schedules for the medical duo and travel schedules for the adventuring twosome and crazy busyness of new job and new home for the other couple.

First to arrive on Friday night was son driving all the way from a brand new home in the state on the other side of us with the grandpuppy in tow.  Daughter-in-law would be picked up at the airport Saturday morning as she flew in from a business trip.

The second homecoming brought oldest daughter and son-in-law, tired from a long week at work and a long drive here yet excited to be together with the family before they leave on their grand adventure to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro and sightsee in Africa.

We snuggled with puppy, we chatted, we ate, and we howled with laughter all over again at the crazy holiday movie, Christmas Vacation.  And we enjoyed each other’s company as we waited for the last couple, middle daughter and son-in-law, who arrived Sunday morning since daughter was in a friend’s wedding on Saturday.

Mama rose early on celebration Sunday to whip together a most yummy crock pot version of hot chocolate for breakfast and begin Christmas dinner preparations when the door opened and the last of my loved ones finally arrived.

There was much hugging and laughing and talking and it was one of the most relaxed Christmas celebrations I can remember for quite some time.  We opened our gifts with exclamations of surprise and gratefulness, gathered around the dining room table for a simple but filling Christmas dinner, and topped it off with singing the birthday song to oldest son-in-law as it was his special day. 

And all too soon, time came for departure.

We joined hands full circle and prayed for safety and well-being during the grand adventure taking place this month and for safe travels for all as two by two they left the homestead.  Again we embraced and even shed a few tears this time.

As the door closed after the last couple departed, Papa and I gravitated to our usual spots in the family room.  The quiet enveloped us once again here in the empty nest.  For us, the family Christmas is over.  Oh, we’ll still celebrate some more by attending Christmas Eve church service and taking time to contemplate the wonder of the most amazing Gift ever given to mankind on Christmas Day.

But for now, I’m left with a sink full of dirty dishes, loads of towels and sheets to launder, Christmas gifts to put away, torn and crumpled wrapping paper to dispose of, leftover food to eat…and memories.  And for that early Christmas gift, I am most thankful.

“The best of all gifts around any Christmas tree:  the presence of a happy family all wrapped up in each other.” ~ Burton Hillis



Catch a falling star

bloggraphicstarsChristmas songs from the radio filled the silence as we drove along enveloped in darkness only broken by headlights of sparse oncoming traffic on the four-lane highway and the occasional red brake lights of vehicles far ahead of us.

Last night on our way back home after accomplishing some Christmas shopping at a nearby mall, we were tired and ready to call it a night.  Traveling along a blank stretch of highway from the more populated area to our rural place, there wasn’t much to see. 

Cloud cover even obscured the brightness of the moon and its supporting cast of shining stars.  Suddenly, ahead of us a burst of brilliance filled the dark firmament then left a trail of luminescence downward toward the ground.

We both exclaimed, “Did you see THAT?” at the same time. 

A falling star.  A shooting star.  A radiant spot of brightness in an otherwise dull and mundane night. Despite the song emanating from the radio – that “just hear those sleigh bells jingling, ring-ting-tingling too” – my mind immediately launched into an old Perry Como song from the ‘50’s.

“Catch a falling star and put it in your pocket, never let it fade away.”

Back once more in our own reveries, I mulled over what I had just witnessed.  Catch a falling star.  Catch a falling star.  Put it in your pocket, save it for a rainy day.  The lyrics to that song kept playing in my mind drowning out the secular Christmas songs still coming from the car radio.

And I thought of that one star.  That star unlike any other.  The one that suddenly appeared in the sky over 2000 years ago to show that something remarkable had occurred.  Something that would totally change our world.  The birth of a baby boy named Jesus.  That boy who became Savior, God in the flesh of mankind:   “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” ~ John 1:14-15 (NIV)

And I pondered how fitting that I should see this shooting star to remind me what Christmas is really about, celebrating the birth of my Savior – the Messiah, Emmanuel, the long-awaited One.  The very One we sing about during this Advent season in “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.”

O come, Thou Day-Spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

One shooting star blazing across the night sky reminded me of all of this. 

Yes, I’ll catch a falling star and put it in my pocket to keep.  And then every time I get caught up in the Christmas madness of shopping for gifts and decorating, of Christmas dinner menus and seasonal songs about everything but Jesus, of tinsel and mistletoe, of sleigh bells and chestnuts roasting on an open fire, I’ll pull that star out of my pocket to remind me of the true meaning of Christmas and I won’t let it fade away.

“Christmas in Bethlehem. The ancient dream: a cold, clear night made brilliant by a glorious star, the smell of incense, shepherds and wise men falling to their knees in adoration of the sweet baby, the incarnation of perfect love.” ~Lucinda Franks



Cold shower, warm hearts

blogIMG_4630Baby, it’s cold outside.  That was the theme my oldest daughter chose while honoring her sister – my expecting middle daughter – with a lovely baby shower.

We gleaned Pinterest for weeks before the shower pinning more ideas for decorations, favors, and food than we could possibly manage but in the end, we found some adorable aspects that we incorporated into the event. 

The evening party was held at my house the day after Thanksgiving and we had a bit of snow which certainly added to the wintry theme.  Since baby is a girl, we decided to deck everything out in pink and white.

blogIMG_4599A few days before, my friend Pam helped me craft a cutie patootie snow girl made out of newborn diapers.  We thought she turned out great!  She graced the gift table which sported a background of white and pink tulle with snowflakes and icicles hanging from it with fishing line. 

Oldest daughter and I constructed a garland for the fireplace by stringing cord and attaching baby socks with tiny clothespins.  Then we added Epsom salts to Mason jars to look like snow and inserted white votive candles inside the jars.  Daughter also created a festive Baby, It’s Cold Outside sign on a canvas covered with chalkboard paint to be the focal point on the mantle.

blogIMG_4652Since it was an evening party, we kept our refreshments simple:  chicken dip with crackers (Ritz ones had snowflakes imprinted on them), French vanilla cupcakes with pink icing flavored peppermint and snowflake sprinkles, veggies and dip, white chocolate covered pretzel rods, white cheddar snow ball snacks, meringue cookies, and an assortment of pink and white candies. 

blogIMG_4763We set up a hot chocolate bar with an amazing, rich crock pot recipe.  Toppings included whipped cream, mini marshmallows, cinnamon, mini chocolate, toffee,  and crème de menthe chips,  sea salt caramel and chocolate fudge syrups, crushed peppermint candy, and pink, white, and chocolate sprinkles.  Oldest daughter made cute snowflake stirrers to add to the festivity.  We also served a pretty pink cold punch as well.

We played two short games – trivia questions about pregnancy and babies and guessing the top 10 most popular names for baby girls in the current decade when baby will be born, the 80’s when my daughter was born, and the 50’s when baby’s grandmothers were born. 

Game prizes were usable items for winter (tube of hand lotion, lip balm, packet of hot chocolate, a glass jar candle with holiday scent, and a snowflake ornament) all dressed up in cute gift bags we decorated.

blogIMG_4627Favors were tea lights wrapped in pink tulle circles with ribbon and a tag which read:  

“Burn this tea light on the night, once the stork has made its flight. With a flicker of the flame, please say a prayer with baby’s name.”

Blessed by the generosity of family and friends while opening their presents for baby,  I think this gift of life that will join our family this winter became even more of a reality for my daughter.  But the most moving moment of all was when she opened the last gift. 

My mother, my children’s grandma, loved making handcrafts and quilted, sewed, knitted, and crocheted.  She passed away 15 years ago after a battle with cancer and of course, we miss her still especially during family gatherings.

Before Mom died, she crocheted a few baby afghans for future babies that would join our family.  I tucked my share of them away for such a day.   So I wrapped one of those lovingly made afghans in a box and added a note explaining that Grandma made this before she left us to wrap her future great-grandchild in her love.  

blogIMG_4692 (2)As soon as daughter saw that, she began to cry.  It was a sweet moment even if it was heart-wrenching and I know my daughter treasures this gift from her Grandma in heaven.

It may have been cold outside for this baby shower, but love warmed us all during the party. 

 “Winter must be cold for those with no warm memories.” ~ Unknown


Thanks Giving: for musical reminders

blogthanksIt’s the last day of November and my 30 days of thanks giving have come to a close.  During this time, I’ve realized how very much of life I take for granted and my hope is that I will appreciate even the small aspects more as a result of contemplating gratitude for an entire month.

Christmas is coming and even though Thanksgiving is now past, thanks giving is not really over.  Not by a long shot.  I won’t blog every day about my gratefulness, but I’m certain I will continue to write about aspects I’m thankful for.  I do know I plan to take a few moments each day and express my thanks to my God since He is the Giver of my life and the One I turn to when circumstances aren’t exactly what I’d hoped.  He’s taught me so much through the passage of scripture that I call my guiding verses (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18) and I am so thankful.

As my attention turns to the upcoming Christmas season and preparation for our family celebration, I find myself thankful today for musical reminders.  I love Christmas music, I love the old Christmas movies, I love the decorations.  So it seems fitting on this last day of November before I transition from Thanksgiving to celebrating the birth of my Savior that I share a song from one of my favorite movies – Holiday Inn.  Bing Crosby sang it well when he sang “I’ve Got Plenty to Be Thankful For.”  

Click on the link below to listen to that song and join me in being thankful for the plenty in our lives.

“Reflect upon your present blessings of which every man has plenty, not on your misfortune, of which all men have some.” ~ Charles Dickens

I’ve Got Plenty To Be Thankful For


Thanks Giving: for showering

blogIMG_4625Thanksgiving Day 2014 may have been relegated to our memory banks, but my 30 days of thanks giving continues until tomorrow – the last day in November.

I’m pretty worn out from all the celebration at our house but every minute was oh, so worth it.  We consumed a feast at our Thanksgiving table and all of us seated there made mention of the blessings for which we are grateful.

As soon as we cleaned up and cleared away the remnants of our gathering, oldest daughter and I switched into high gear and prepared for the baby shower we hosted for my expecting middle daughter.  In honor of the new baby girl that will join our family in February, we ‘painted’ the house pink!

Family and a few of daughter’s friends and mine all congregated at our house last evening for a “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” shower complete with hot chocolate bar and a wintry theme.  (More pictures later.) The weather even cooperated by providing snow-covered scenery around our house but thankfully, the roads were clear for travel.

Daughter and the new little life she carries were immensely showered by the outpouring of love and gifts.  And today, how can I be anything but grateful?

“If the only prayer you said in your whole life was, “thank you,” that would suffice.” ~Meister Eckhart


Thanks Giving: for this life

bloggraphicNovBlack Friday.  I’m going to come right out there and say I don’t do Black Friday.  Actually, this day when there is a frenzy to be the ultimate consumer and spend, spend, spend on supposed bargains bothers the heck out of me.

I do not shop on this day — I stay as far away as I can from the maddening crowd.  I think it brings out the worst in us humans – greed, rudeness, gluttony, overindulgence, call it whatever, and the fact that stores opened on Thanksgiving to accommodate this craziness and fill their own coffers with more money makes it even more offensive to me.

So, no, I am not thankful for Black Friday itself, but that verse that fuels my life,  that one that says be thankful in all circumstances prompts me to express gratitude on this day.  Yes today, Black Friday, a day that leaves a bad taste in my mouth.  Why?  Because the consumerism of Black Friday reminds me that I already have what I need in this life and so do the ones I might Christmas shop for.  It’s called life.  And we here in America have it abundantly. 

Please take a moment to be grateful for your life, no matter how difficult your circumstances may be, and watch the video below.  I think it puts it all into perspective.

“No matter how good or bad you think your life is.  Wake up each day and be thankful for life.  Someone somewhere else is fighting to survive.” ~ Unknown