Thursday, December 31, 2015

Auld Lang Syne

A couple of books sit among a bevy of family photographs in my dining room. They have been part of my decor for nearly 20 years now, and, like most things we become familiar with, I haven't really given them a lot of thought for awhile now.

When we were sorting belongings after my mother-in-law's death, the two little books caught my eye, and, when no one else was clamoring for them, I brought them home.
One is called the Auld Lang Syne Birthday Book. There is no copyright, but it says that Marie Esther Ritts was given the book on June 3, 1942, in Springfield, Ohio, and, in parenthesis, it says, "Conference." I wonder if it was a gift at a Methodist annual conference, since Marie's dad, Alvin, was a Methodist pastor. She would only have been 10 years old at the time.
It's a birthday book with spaces to write down the birthdays of friends and family. Each page has a quote from poet Robert Burns. (Did you realize he wrote the lyrics for Auld Lang Syne? I didn't until I started looking for information about the book!)

The words "Auld Lang Syne' literally translates from old Scottish dialect, meaning, 'Old Long Ago.' It's about love and friendship in times past. The 'Auld Lang Syne' lyrics were first published in 1787, and the song has now become a tradition as we celebrate a new year.
I looked for information about the little book online, but didn't come up with any additional tidbits about it. For me, the value is in seeing important family dates written in Marie's hand. In the back of the book, she also has a Post-It note, where she remembered family collections. (Dana Fritzemeier collected keychains and bookmarks, and Wanda Morrison collected pigs, back when Marie made the notations.)

I wish she had lived long enough to write the names of other family members in the birthday book. She would have loved watching her grandchildren grow up and she would be over the moon with two little great-granddaughters.
The other book is titled, "Forget Me Not," but its purpose was the same. It originally belonged to Marie's mother, Laura Ritts. No copyright gives a clue to its age, but the binding is falling apart and the yellowed pages are fragile. When searching online, I found a copy of it on Worthpoint. The book is by Rev. Hugo W. Hoffman, Brooklyn, N. Y. There are 384 pages with a Bible verse and quote for each day of the year.

Each of the books has the two women's handwriting. Marie's is familiar to me. Laura's is not. By the time I met Laura, she was already fading into dementia, so I didn't have the benefit of knowing her in her prime. But her legacy was there in the family ties with her daughters and her grandchildren.

This poem was in the preface of the book:

... Images on this cold surface traced
Make slight impression and are soon effaced
But we've a page, more glowing and more bright
On which our friendship and our love to write
That these may never from the soul depart
We trust them to the memory of the heart
There is no dimming, no effacement there
Each new pulsation keeps the record clear
Warm, golden letters all the tablet fill
Nor lose their luster till the heart stands still. 
As we turn the page for another year, it's good to remember that legacy but also to look forward to new challenges and blessings and writing new friends and family members in the book of life.

The verse on the January 1 page says: 

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. 
Hebrews 13:8 

And the accompanying verse says,
"The opening year, Thy mercy shows; 
Let mercy crown it, till it close." 

That sounds like a good plan to me. Happy New Year to you and yours!

Monday, December 28, 2015

Christmas for Real

"It is what it is."

My brother and I have discovered that this five-word phrase is good for our mental health. The sentiment definitely applies when attempting to take a photo of eight children, aged 5 and younger. Actually, three of them are 15 months and younger.

But tradition dictates that we attempt to take my Mom's Christmas Eve birthday photo with all the grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Is it sad that this is the best one I got?
"It is what it is."

And it was definitely reflective of a loud and boisterous Christmas Eve/birthday celebration at my parents' house.
Great-Grandma and Holte were ready for their close-up. Holte was also ready to help her blow out her 8-0 candles.
But a few other helpers couldn't be left out of the fun. The candles were blown out more than once this year.
There were a few requests for cake from the other end after several gusts of toddler breath!
The grandchildren have been taking the annual photo for years. They got it in one frame. They've improved since the first one with all seven back in 1994.
From left: Abby, Brian, Blake, Mom holding Madison, Jill, Brent & Paige
At our house, the presents were a hit. But the kitties were an even bigger attraction.
Brooke's squealing didn't seem to scare the cats too much.
Grandpa had been doing his part to make sure the cats were tame enough for two little girls.
Kinley reunited with Cozy, who she first met during Grandpa's birthday weekend. They remained best of friends.
The girls also liked playing Grandma's piano and singing "Jingle Bells" and "Frosty the Snowman." (I liked this better than Brent and his Uncle Kyle figuring out how Brent's retirement account could have been bolstered with the money we spent on his piano lessons.)
Just like the annual Christmas/birthday photo, the scene is constantly changing. Last year, Brooke was just a baby. This year, she is starting to talk and is constantly on the go. Kinley is just as inquisitive as ever. They are starting to be playmates and friends.

It was a very Merry Christmas on the County Line!

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Christmas in a Small Town

Stafford Christmas 2015 - Intersection of Main and Broadway, the "main drag"
With its millions of lights and perfectly-crafted displays, a trip to Botanica is like entering a fairy wonderland of Christmas finery. All the parts and pieces fit together like a symphony orchestra building up to a crescendo. I loved it (as evidenced by the photos I shared earlier this week).

But there is beauty in simplicity, too. Too often, I get distracted by the hubbub and the "noise." The thing that is "squeaking" the loudest captures my attention first. That to-do list with items still not crossed off seems to scream the loudest right now.
Stafford may not have thousands of visitors clamoring to see synchronized light displays. But there is beauty nonetheless. And isn't that the meaning of Christmas? Christ didn't come to Earth in amazing 3D technicolor.

Mary was a young, unwed mother. She had her first baby - not in a well-appointed delivery room - but in a stable with animals all around. She laid Him in a manger filled with straw, not a crib with sheets that matched a nursery theme. It wasn't all that pretty.
How can we, in the midst of our culture's conspicuous consumption and demand for perfection, turn our focus on the Child who was born into poverty as a sign of hope and salvation for a broken world? While it may seem the world demands perfection, the Gospel message demands nothing from us. Rather, God invites us to gather around the manger just as we are: unfinished lists, burnt pies and all. No matter our imperfections, great or small, God invites us to peek into the manger and gaze at the real Christmas message: That Christ came for us all to be a beacon of hope for the hopeless and to bring peace.
Rev. Amy Slater, 
Stafford UMC newsletter, Christmas 2012

When I went to choir practice last week, the Christmas tree in the church foyer was like a beacon in the darkness.
 Through the multi-paned door, I also caught a glimpse of the cross hanging at the front of the church.
Inside, in the dark foyer, it looked perfectly appointed. But I remembered the little hands that hung the ornaments only a few weeks ago at our annual Hanging of the Greens. Without a little creative rearranging by adults, there might have been a "blizzard" of snowflakes on the lower branches of the tree. They guided the helping hands to other parts of the tree. The cooperation and guidance lit a dark night.

O God, prompt me to shine a light on Christ’s coming through my words and actions.
So maybe not every single treat will get made. Perhaps the dusting won't stand the "white glove test." And it will still be OK. It will be better than OK ... 
... especially if I sit in the living room with my glasses off. It's the only time that being really nearsighted is a benefit.

Maybe I should be nearsighted in another way, too. Rather than looking at the big picture, I should remember the central message.
A treasured nativity from friends
"Noel!" Christ is born!
These two photos taken at Stafford United Methodist Church

 Let the list go and enjoy the time with your family! (Now, if only I can take my own advice!)

Monday, December 21, 2015

Christmas Spirit: The Lights of Botanica

I wish we could put up some of the Christmas spirit in jars
and open a jar of it every month.
--Harlan Miller, author
(From my email devotional from Guideposts.)
Every year for the past several years, we'd say we were going to Botanica: The Wichita Gardens to see their Christmas display. This year, we actually did it!
It was worth the wait.
I love going to Botanica during the growing season. (See my posts here and here.)
But seeing Botanica dressed in holiday finery was spectacular, too ... just in a different way.
There are more than a million lights. That's a lot of lights for anybody, but especially for a farm couple who puts up a couple of red and green spotlights to give their farmhouse some holiday cheer. (In our defense, not many people drive by on our county line road!)
We were in Wichita so Randy could attend a co-op board of directors training the next day. It was a perfect night. It was chilly enough to make it feel like the holidays, but not so cold that we wanted to rush through the experience.
Just in case we needed a little taste of home, there was a windmill. All dressed in red, it was just a little bit fancier than our farm ones!
Jill wants to meet us there next year, and I'm ready. I would love to see the lights through the eyes of two little girls.
This big girl was mighty impressed!
Christmas waves a magic wand over this world,
 and behold, everything is softer
 and more beautiful. 
~Norman Vincent Peale

A Christmas candle is a lovely thing;
It makes no noise at all,
But softly gives itself away.

~Eva Logue

Friday, December 18, 2015

Ho, Ho, Holiday Baking!

I had good intentions. I was going to try a new holiday cookie recipe in time to blog about it this week. But I had an all-day meeting in Hutchinson on Tuesday and then finished up my Christmas shopping afterwards.Then I spent the bulk of the day helping with a funeral dinner at church on Wednesday. And even though I multi-tasked at the church by stuffing Christmas letters and cards in envelopes, I still didn't get a new recipe tried.

So, I searched Kim's County Line for some tried and true holiday ideas. Just think of it as the Ghost of Christmases Past ala The Christmas Carol. But these ghosts are yummy - not scary. Click on the links to find the recipes.

Happy Baking! I definitely have that on my weekend to-do list! These just represent a few of the treats I've featured since 2010. You can also search for specific things by typing "cookies," "bar cookies," "quick breads," "snack mixes," etc., into the blog's search bar found near the upper left.
Admittedly, these Lofthouse Sugar Cookie Bars aren't on the same level as the frosted sugar cookies my sister, Lisa, rolls out and turns into Santas, ornaments, stars and stockings each year. On the other hand, these sugar cookie bars take about a 10th of the investment of time. And they still:
1) Taste good.
2) Look pretty on a cookie tray.
Score and score! 
We've all been there: You see a cute idea in a magazine or on Facebook or Pinterest and think, "How hard can that be?" And then your version needs a caption to explain what you were attempting. But, this time, I think the County Line versions turned out pretty cute, though not as perfect as the air-brushed magazine photos.

Thumbprint Cookies
These cookies look fancy. But there's a secret. They use a cookie mix for the base. 


 These always look pretty on a cookie tray and would also work great for a cookie exchange! And you make them in a skillet.

Even though I originally made these with fall-themed sprinkles, they could be easily adapted to Christmas.

These bars are really more candy than cookie. This recipe is one of those "must-make" ones on the holiday baking list.

Bonus! There are links to several snack mixes if you click the link above. (They just aren't decorated for Christmas.)

This is one of those "required" snack mixes at our extended family's Christmas celebration. (That's my problem: There are too many "required" treats. Perhaps that's why I didn't get a new one tried.)

I'm linked today to Weekend Potluck. I was thrilled to see that my blog post from last week, Ham and Cheese Pinwheels, was one of the recipes featured. Click on any of the hostesses' links to see what's cooking for holidays in cooks' kitchen across the U.S.!