Protecting Your Child from Abuse

When we see the word ‘abuse’, most of us will think of horrible pictures of children or adults who have been beaten by some cruel, hateful, deranged person. The scenes are all too familiar. Abuse and neglect happen every day. Any abuse is too much.

Protecting children from abuse goes beyond just keeping them away from someone who may harm them physically, sexually, or emotionally. There is a different kind of abuse that happens in loving homes all across America and around the world. This abuse is disregarded, but serious.

Obviously, this is a matter of opinion, and many will disagree. The definition of abuse I refer to happens when we allow our children to watch programs or movies filled with violence, horror, sexuality, and other scenes not intended for young eyes and ears. When a child sees and hears things that are beyond their natural maturity, they are bombarded with images and sounds for which they lack the mental and emotional structure to understand.

Through the years, I have heard many young students talk about movies they have seen, describing scenes of terrible violence and gore. Others speak of horror movies that make the long-gone Friday night “Creature Features” look like an episode of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. These films are doing exactly what they are designed to do, scare viewers almost out of their minds. Millions love them.

We can tell our kids it’s not real, and they may understand the difference between real life and a movie. However, the things they see do not go through a filter in their mind that places make-believe items in one pile and things that are real in another. The fear they feel when they watch horror movies is real. The impact on the brain and emotions from exposure to those kinds of scenes is real, and lasting. The images will remain a part of their memory. Why would we choose to expose our children’s minds, calling it entertainment, to things we would give our own lives to protect them from in real life?

Okay, enough about television and movies. How can you keep your child safe from abuse? Every parent must be aware and awake. With whom is your child spending time? Does your child have opportunities to be alone with an adult you do not know very well? Do you know all of the people your child is communicating with on the internet? Do you know the passwords to all of your child’s accounts on their iphone, ipad, computer, and smart TV? Do you know who they are friends with on Facebook, SnapChat, TikTok, Twitter, Instagram, and any other new apps that come out almost every day? Do you allow your child to have internet access in their bedroom?

During the years I had the privilege of being a middle school counselor, I often witnessed heart-broken and teary students betrayed by someone, maybe a former BFF, posting unflattering photos, or spreading rumors and lies about them. My response was always the same. “Close your accounts and don’t go back on social media.” They wouldn’t do it. The price of being excluded from the social media noise was greater than the heartbreak they felt. I often said, “If I had my way, no student sixteen or younger would have a cell phone or have access to social media.” I know it’s unrealistic, I understand this is the era we’re living in. But parents are not required, no matter how their own children may complain, to allow them the capacity to be exposed to things they may never be able to overcome. Social media access is not required for healthy emotional, psychological, and social development!

We’re living in a different world than we were just ten years ago. No parent can be too careful, too suspicious. Do you know the leaders of the community or church groups your child attends? Do you ask questions? Do the groups do background checks on all of their volunteers? Does this sound paranoid? Not today, not for a minute!

Protecting children is not just the parents’ responsibility, but it is the parents’ job to be sure those adults who are around their children will actually do everything they can to protect them.

If you are beginning to wonder if abuse is taking place. Talk to someone! Get help immediately! Don’t assume anything! Don’t allow your own trusting, non-suspicious, perhaps non-believing nature to blind you. Don’t doubt yourself! The cost is too high if your trust in others is misplaced! Over-reacting or being mistaken is far better than discovering too late you were right.

Florida Sun to the Rescue!

I think it’s been three months since I wrote my last post about Christmas. I finally took our lights down and removed every last reminder of the holidays a few weeks ago. When it’s sixty degrees in March, folks in Michigan have to take every opportunity we can to do things that will be impossible again the next day.

I have to admit, this winter has not been that bad. And you don’t know how hard it is for me to say that. I would rather hold on to my “winter is full of crap no matter what anyone says” attitude. I only did some serious plowing with the tractor one time and even pushed a few piles out of neighbors’ driveways, just because it seemed a waste to put the plow away after only thirty minutes of work.

The other snow events were nothing. Literally. The most I shoveled was an inch of wet slop. Good riddance. I have a very strong preference for the “white stuff”, as some silly Michigan meteorologists call snow, that is white sand. All people who grudgingly endure snow should be rewarded with a long period of white sand. Lovely.

I am presently perched at a high-top table, warmed by beautiful sun, listening to a constant symphony of waves rolling in, twelve floors above the beach. Bare feet, shorts, sun glasses, a hat, coffee cup close by. Heaven.

Harv waits patiently near an unsuspecting fisherman who doesn’t realize the only catch he is going to reel in will be devoured immediately without even a thank you or a dip of tartar sauce.

I often wonder what possesses people to live in places where it’s cold nine months out of the year. Understand, cold is anything less than seventy degrees. Some people love winter. I like winter from the living room where it’s warm and my coffee is not turning to ice.

I am happy to say however, that our home is a place I would want to stay if I was visiting there. I’m sure you know that feeling. You’re visiting somewhere and the thought, “I could live here” floats through your mind. You look around and think, “I wonder what people who live here do for a living. I could do that.” Then the next thought is, “Why do I live where I do? Why didn’t I think of coming here?” Most of the time when I think things like that, the weather is better than in Michigan.

I wonder if the people who are fishing off the shore know what they’re doing. You can tell the ones who fish all the time, they have a cool wagon with the big rubber tires and all kinds of stuff piled inside they actually know how to use. If a vacation-time fisherman caught a ray or a shark, would they panic? Throw their pole in the ocean and run? I think they probably would.

These are the ones who really know what Florida fishing is. They have a huge boat with a flying bridge, lots of fancy poles, live bait, lots of drinks, and their hands are rough, scaly, and always smell like fish even after scrubbing with Lysol.

I wonder if there’s a name that real fishermen call the vacation-time fishermen. (Has fishermen been changed to fisher-people? I don’t even know. These days you can’t be too careful about PC language. It’s almost impossible to say anything with offending someone). Let me explain. When anyone visits Mackinac Island, Michigan, they are referred to as “Fudgies” unless they are in residence on the Island for more than just a few days. It’s like this, someone parks their bike, put the stand down, the bike immediately falls over and knocks ten more bikes down and scares a horse pulling a dray close by. The real residents shake their heads and say, “Fudgies.” (In case you are unaware, Mackinac Island is THE place for homemade fudge. Not just in Michigan, but anywhere in the world. Every other place that offers fudge, anywhere, is copying Mackinac Island fudge. Poorly.)

So, I wonder if real fishermen have a name for vacation fishermen. “Posers.” “Line flingers.” “Bait slingers.” Probably not “hookers”, or maybe that really is the one! Hahahaha! “Pole busters.” They probably say things like, “Reel fishermen don’t fish on vacation.”

So, there you have it. My first post of the new year. From very sunny Florida. I wonder what people do who live here. I could live here. Maybe I could be one of those guys who sets up beach chairs and umbrellas for condo residents. Maybe I could be a bait slinger. Maybe I could open a fudge shop and call it, “Mackinac’s Finest Fudge.”

Christmas Is: Delightful!

Delightful is really the only way to describe Christmas. Whether everything happened the way it was supposed to or not, the beautiful holiday came and went, and it was and is delightful.

Today, I chose again to not only look closely at the Christmas tree which is still lighting our living room, but to take pictures. I do it because, as I wrote previously, it is so easy to forget how special each ornament is and how each contributes to the beauty of the tree.

I’m thankful for artificial Christmas trees. There are no needles on the floor, the tree didn’t stop soaking up water two weeks ago. We bought a new tree this year. It’s 7 1/2 feet tall, but it’s more narrow than the old one. We also bought new lights, the LED type. We weren’t sure whether we liked the new lights, but after a few days we were used to them.

We have candles in every window I’m still turning on each night. The twinkle lights on the house will be on longer than normal to show support for all of our great first-responders and front-line workers in the fight against the virus.

The small tree is our Jesse tree. Each of the handmade ornaments relates to a Scripture and devotional about the lineage of Jesus back to King David and his father, Jesse. In anticipation of Christmas, each day we do the reading and place an ornament on the tree.

In one church I was privileged to pastor, there was an older couple who loved Christmas, I think more than anyone I had ever met. They had no children of their own but were young at heart and loved everything Christmas represents. Each year, they began decorating their home in September. In literally every room of the house there was a beautiful Christmas tree. Every year they provided a beautiful dinner at their house for the staff and volunteers of the church. It was amazing.

The couple’s appreciation of beautiful Christmas decorations extended to the church building as well. They provided beautiful garlands and floral decorations. They insisted on using real Christmas trees. Big ones. Two were fifteen feet tall, the middle tree was twenty, all were decorated with lights and ornaments. The trees were on the stage and had to be wired to the walls to keep them standing. They were beautiful, but what a mess.

Being the never-ask-for-help kind of person I am, and I don’t say that proudly, it’s a terribly uncaring trait, after Christmas I took the trees down myself. All fifty feet of them. I somehow pulled them out the side door and in so doing, removed the few remaining short Douglas Fir needles left on the well-dried and brittle branches. Luckily, I avoided impaling the beautiful grand piano and didn’t break any of the specially-made stained glass windows. I spent an hour literally shoveling pine needles off the floor. The next year I insisted on artificial trees. I was surprised when they agreed.

What is it about cats and boxes? Yellow kitty was willing to suffer the indignity of having bows stuck to her fur as long as we didn’t take her tiny little gift box that wasn’t much bigger than her front legs.

One of the highlights of Christmas this year was having an opportunity to show my grandson the Maple Valley Short Line Railroad. He was impressed. Last year we gave him a collection of O gauge trains and helped him get it running. O gauge trains are much better for small hands than the HO (Half-O) that I model.

I still have a lot of work to do, but I now have the outer main line in full operation. I was excited to see the trains running across my scratch-built bridges for the first time.

Probably during the next week we will begin thinking about returning all of the Christmas decorations to the closet. It’s sad but also brings a sense of accomplishment when everything is returned to a pre-holiday appearance. It is also easier when there aren’t a lot of lights to turn off before going to bed. But for today, and surely tomorrow, the decorations are still around us and the lights are still beautiful.

The Peanuts Gang bulb was hand-painted for me by a friend. Amazing. The candle salt-and-pepper shakers belonged to my grandparents. My aunt made the snowman when she was a school girl. She is now in her eighties. My wife’s mother made the lighted ceramic church for us many years ago. All of the Christmas decorations have their special place and each helps make the holiday special.

It’s a Michigan Thing

I have mentioned my lovely wife many times and have also written about her Up North shirts. We have a lot of fun looking for flannel shirts to repurpose. She sells the shirts in a couple of stores and we have sold them in a local farmers’ market. She recently wrote the following.

“Michigan! Michigan’s geography is known through some common descriptors such as, ‘The Land of Many Waters,’ a ‘Winter Wonderland’ or a ‘Pleasant Peninsula.’ Michigan has four distinct seasons, which all have unique characteristics! And, it may be the only state where you use your hand to show people where you are from. ‘I live in the thumb,’ I say, and people look back with a confused expression. So, I then resort to the ‘one hundred miles north of Detroit’ reference and they knowingly nod.

“Michigan folks have the opportunity to enjoy vacationing year round if they wish. Every Michigander knows the term ‘Up North.’ Up North might be an hour’s drive to a destination in the thumb on the shoreline of Lake Huron or Saginaw Bay. It might be 200 miles north to the Straits of Mackinac or to the west, to the shores of Lake Michigan. There are numerous campgrounds and resorts sprinkled all over the state, and activities that we can enjoy through every season.

“It is upon this concept, which I chose to name my repurposed flannels ‘Up North Shirts.’ My ‘Up North Shirts’ are perfect for sitting around a campfire in the North woods or taking in the sunrise on your deck as you sip your morning coffee. It’s something you can throw on, on a chilly day as you dash out to get the mail or run to the grocery store. Each is versatile, cozy and soft, and feels comfortable against your skin. I never leave home without mine!”

Who doesn’t love a great flannel shirt? We had great fun this Christmas as my wife selected Up North shirts for everyone in our family.

It’s obvious she is the real writer of the family. She is a certified elementary English teacher, and even though the majority of her career was teaching Social Studies to middle school students, she taught English as well. It’s very similar to the years of music we performed together, and still do, once in a while. She is the real singer. My favorite, as a matter of fact.

Whether you are a Michigander, or you’re reading this in the UK, or Alaska, or Ireland, it’s important to find a great flannel shirt. (No, we don’t sell them online, or do mail-order, we don’t have a website – we’re not interested in starting down that road.) It’s just fun for us, and several people have been happy to find our Up North Flannels.

Here’s to many enjoyable nights around a crackling fire, snug in a flannel shirt while you sip your coffee.

Christmas Is: Emmanuel

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men.” John 1:1-4

“He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. He came unto his own, and his own received him not. But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name:” John 1:10-12

“And in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth, to a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary.

“And the angel came in unto her, and said, ‘Hail, thou that art highly favored, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women.’ And when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be.

“And the angel said unto her, ‘Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favor with God. And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name Jesus. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end.’

”Then said Mary unto the angel, ‘How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?’ And the angel answered and said unto her, ‘The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.’

”And Mary said, ‘Behold the handmaiden of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word.’ And the angel departed from her.” Luke 1:26-35, 38

“And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.” John 1:14

“For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The Mighty God, The Everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.” Isaiah 9:6-7

“And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed. (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria). And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city.

”And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:) to be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.

“And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.

“And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them,

”’Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you: Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.’

“And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.’” Luke 2:1-14

Above presents, lights, trees, decorations, memories, movies, plays and programs, music, and food, Christmas is Emmanuel. Emmanuel is God with us.

”God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” John 3:16

”For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” Romans 3:23

”For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Romans 6:23

”…If you will confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus, and believe in your heart God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart we believe and are made righteous, but with our mouths, confession is made bringing salvation.” Romans 10:9-10

God gave the greatest, most valuable gift of all. Our life cost Him His Son.

We are offered an opportunity to know God. Not just know about Him, but really know Him. Romans 10:17 says, “Faith comes by hearing the Word of God.” When we hear God’s Word, faith rises in our hearts and we have the privilege of responding. If we confess we are sinners, and believe on Jesus Christ for our salvation, we are saved. We are brought from death in sin to life in Christ.

Coming to Christ, becoming a believer, is not a few special words, or ceremony, or magic actions. Coming to Christ is simply believing.

I John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

Just as an example, you might pray, “Dear God, I confess I am a sinner. Please come into my life. I want Jesus Christ to be my Lord.”

Emmanuel. God with us, now and forever. Undeserved. Unearned. Yet God gave Jesus to us anyway. God became like us, so we could be like Him.

From our family to yours, Merry Christmas.

Emmanuel.

Christmas Is: Trains!

What would Christmas be without trains? Many kids dream about waking on Christmas morning and finding a Lionel model train running under the tree.

Almost everyone loves the story “The Polar Express”, and for good reason. The movie contains everything of childhood dreams, especially discovering Santa is real! What could be better than riding an old-fashioned steam passenger train to the North Pole?

Trains have been a part of Christmas since the beginning of rail travel. My favorite part in the movie “White Christmas” is the scene on the Santa Fe train heading from Florida to Pine Tree, Vermont. Some day we would like to take a cross-country trip by train and enjoy sleeping and eating on board. We have taken a few train trips that were several hours but never overnight.

I have been working hard on the Maple Valley Short Line. I wanted to have at least a line running when Christmas came, but I’m not sure it’s going to happen. One of my major challenges is the depth of the two ends of the layout. It’s a bench design with a depth of thirty-six inches in the middle areas but the ends are forty-eight inches. That means I’ve made it impossible to reach all the way across the layout to lay the track. So, here I am, on top of the layout, laying track on the outside curves. I’m kneeling on 3/4” plywood, supported underneath by thinner plywood placed between the cork roadbed on the branch lines.

A big step of progress was securing my two scratch-built bridges. The trestle over the river is rock solid and I can’t wait to see trains running over it.

I’m using 36 inch flex track for the entire layout. I have a lot left over from my two previous layouts but I discovered not much of it is usable. I fasten the track using white glue, then pins through the ties as provided in the flex track. I then use jars of coins to weigh the track down until the glue is dried. It works great. (I’m the reason the government is running short on coins.)

Every HO modeler knows the challenge of curves when you’re using flex track. How do you join the rails in such a way that there is no kink at the joint? Here’s what I do. I’m sure it’s no secret, and nothing many others don’t do as well.

Rather than squaring off the rails, I leave the ends distant from each other as shown in the picture. For the joining piece of flex track, I cut the number of ties off necessary to make the extending rails reach the rails of the glued section. I then carefully trim off the plastic “spikes”, one on each side of the rail ends. I slide a rail joiner onto the rails of the glued section. I thread the new rails through the empty plastic spikes until the rails slide into the rail joiners.

After making sure the fit is tight, I put white glue on the cork roadbed for the new flex track. I pin the track and add the jar weights. On to the next! The pins in the ties are a perfect distance so the jars of coins fit between them.

This photo shows the completed joint without any noticeable kink between the rail ends. Smooth operation without the cars wobbling every time they cross a rail joint is important. My strategy works pretty well.

Another challenge I’m anticipating is pouring epoxy on the riverbed. I’m excited about doing it, but I’m concerned about the odor from mixing the epoxy. I should probably mix a little bit in the garage so I can see how strong the smell is before I do it in the basement.

I actually have a few cars on the rails now so I can check for smooth rolling. I love the sounds of metal wheels clicking over the rail joints.

It is time now to begin wiring the layout and making block separations. I may have to pick up a few new turnouts because, for some reason, most of the ones I have are right-hand, and my layout has many more left turnouts than previous plans.

After I am finished laying all the track and completing the wiring, I will begin working on ballast. At this point, my plan is to pour it by hand and spread it with a paint brush. I will then spray it with some white glue solution to set it permanently.

I’m looking forward to working more on scenery. I have lots of trees I made from floral wire to finish with latex, paint, and foliage.

Christmas is trains. Whether it is Lionel O gauge, N gauge, S gauge as in the old American Flyer line, or, my favorite, HO, every train looks better in the glow of a beautifully decorated Christmas tree.

Where’s my eggnog?

Christmas Is: Memories!

It’s a thousand million things. Things that you haven’t thought about in years come floating back because you saw a twinkling light and heard a song at just the right moment. You smelled that beautiful aroma of a favorite dish baking in preparation for your Christmas dinner and scenes from a Christmas long ago suddenly take over your thoughts.

Christmas doesn’t end just because December 26th finally intrudes. Christmas is a presence available to us all year round. We just don’t often take advantage of it after the middle of January when we are neck deep in trying to survive the dark, cold, blustery days of endless winter.

I love hearing the stories about Christmas my wife shares with me. She grew up in a wonderful family of eight children, five sisters and two brothers. She was number 7. Her dad loved Christmas and worked hard to make each one special. He often had to work on Christmas Day so opening presents was postponed until he returned, which just made the day even more special because it lasted longer than just an explosion of presents in the morning. Her older brother and married sisters arrived throughout the day with their families. Everyone pitched in to make dinner which was served after her dad arrived from work.

On Christmas Eve, after the children went to bed, my wife’s dad filled a large bowl with fruit, nuts, and candy and put it on the dining room table. Each child had a stocking, which was their dad’s white cotton work socks. Each had an orange, hard candies, and chocolate creams. Her dad decorated the outside of their house with blue lights, his favorite.

My mother was the light of Christmas when I was growing up. She made everything special. In those days, baking the turkey was an all night event, literally. She used to simmer the giblets with celery leaves and onion on Christmas Eve, which made the entire house smell of turkey. It was my job to break the dried bread apart for the stuffing. She mixed the bread pieces with egg, onion, sage, thyme, rosemary, celery, pepper and salt, then literally stuffed the turkey. I guess people don’t do that anymore because it’s “dangerous”. It’s a wonder any of us are still alive. The turkey baked all night and on Christmas day we had an amazing dinner. To this day, I remember the taste and that the turkey was always dry. But that’s why there was lots of gravy, right?

We always had fresh cranberry relish. I helped with that too. I turned the crank on the grinder that clamped to the edge of the table while my mom fed cranberries, orange, and apple into the hopper. Juice always leaked all over the floor. I never liked the relish when I was a kid, but I make it now and I love it. Another irreplaceable dish was a green-jello-cottage cheese-pineapple-I-don’t-know-what-else salad. It was great. Then there was cranberry jello (different than cranberry relish, but necessary), sweet potatoes I never liked but love now, mashed potatoes and gravy, stuffing (that roasted INSIDE the turkey all night and we all lived), pickles, black olives (which we never had at any other time), and rolls.

Christmas dessert was different than any other holiday, even Easter. My mom made Christmas cookies that were decorated beautifully and tasted amazing. Never saw them again for a year. There were several kinds of pies including pecan, which I never liked, but I love now. Pecan pie is a food group on its own. Just looking at it can make you gain weight. Three minutes of looking at pecan pie is 275 calories. No kidding!

How do you pronounce pecan? One time I was having dinner at a restaurant with a friend who grew up in Russia. The waitress asked if we wanted dessert and I asked for pecan pie, properly pronounced “pee-can.” My friend looked at me in shock and with his heavy Russian accent said, “Pee can? I don’t want pee can. Pee can is what you use for bathroom!” We had a good laugh and the waitress thought we were crazy. I guess the right way to say it is “pa-kahn.” Whatever. I still say pee-can pie.

Would you agree that the best part of Christmas dinner is turkey sandwiches the next day? A couple slices of white meat, Miracle Whip, lots of pepper and salt, more Miracle Whip (and not that low-cal-sugar-free stuff, either.) Spread the Miracle Whip on like you’re frosting a cake. And white bread is best. You have to have white bread because whole wheat or nut loaf won’t stick to the roof of your mouth like a good white bread turkey sandwich will.

To go with your white bread turkey sandwich, cold stuffing, jello salad, and a bowl of microwave heated mashed potatoes and gravy, and finally some of that fresh cranberry relish my mom used to make will set you up right. And to go with all of that, you have to have Vernor’s. Not Canada Dry, not Sprite, not Sierra Mist. Vernor’s. And that’s that.

It wasn’t our tradition to have a huge load of guests for dinner. Grandparents, an aunt, uncle, and cousin. That’s it. Maybe it’s because we had a small dining room which was really just part of the kitchen. I only remember going to someone else’s house for Christmas dinner one time.

One of my favorite memories was getting Christmas candy at church every year. The Sunday before Christmas everyone received a small box of candy. They were always the same, hard candies with awful filling, ribbon candy, a few peanuts, and chocolate creams. The chocolate creams and peanuts were my favorite. I still don’t like those hard candies.

When our children were young, one year my dear wife gave me a compact video camera for Christmas. I was so surprised! I still have all the video tapes and I plan to transfer them to digital format. The next Christmas I started a tradition that lasted until our boys went to college. I snuck into the kids’ rooms on Christmas Eve and taped them sleeping. I always videoed the Christmas decorations, the tree, the village, and the kids. Some of the tapes include my grandmother, who was in her nineties, sitting in a rocking chair wrapped up in blankets and a babushka.

When the boys came home from college for Christmas break I planned to video them again. They expected it and one of the boys set a booby trap in his room that scared the crap out of me.

I wish I could remember every single Christmas as our children were growing up. Thank God for pictures. We now have the joy of watching our children and their families making their own memories. We don’t make Christmas dinner anymore, we’re privileged to have our daughter and her family close by so we go to their house for Christmas. Oh we still make cranberry relish, jello, and coffee cake. But our kids host dinner. It’s always wonderful.

We now share our three boys and their families with their wives’ families. We’re happy for them, just sad for us when the in-between years come.

Christmas is three days away. It always comes and goes too fast. I have walked through the decoration displays at the stores as many times as I could. We’ve been to Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland twice, (and I hope to go again while our kids are home this week), we’ve driven to look at Christmas lights three times, we’re almost through our Christmas movie Advent calendar. We have found several great Christmas movies on Netflix and Amazon. The ongoing challenge is to make Christmas last, long, long after December 25th.

Merry Christmas to you and your family.

Christmas Is: Shopping!

Don’t you love shopping for Christmas presents? Shopping is exciting as we prepare for the great day of sharing gifts with our loved ones.

Let’s be real. The most important question that must be answered as the “shopping days ‘til Christmas” wind down and anticipation continues to grow, is, “Where are we going to eat?” The choice of a place to eat while Christmas shopping can either enhance the experience or bring a cloud.

Christmas shopping at the Somerset Mall was always great fun. The decorations are beautiful, the stores are abundant, and they have The California Pizza Kitchen. The barbecue chicken pizza is amazing! I’m always ready to spend more after eating barbecue chicken pizza. Delicious!

Another place we loved shopping was The Village in Rochester. It was in Rochester while Christmas shopping that my five-year-old grandson said, “Papa, you’re going the wrong way.” I said, “No, I’m not.” He said, “Yes, you are. There’s the McDonald’s we just passed.” He was right. He didn’t get any Christmas presents from me. Just kidding.

The Village always has a beautiful Christmas display. Lights hanging over the walks and drives surround shoppers with a wonderful glow. It’s always fun to go to Pottery Barn at The Village. There is such a wide selection of stuff too expensive to buy, its fun imagining what it would be like to buy them. They usually have hot chocolate available for shoppers, but, obviously, since the pandemic changed everything, hot chocolate at the store is a thing of the past. Sad.

I love the smaller, locally owned, shops. Cottage Outfitters in Caseville, Michigan, is a wonderful place to go. Owner, Jonathan, always does an amazing job staging and decorating. There is always such a welcoming and warm atmosphere, shoppers want to slow down and stay a while.

I think the hallmark of any great store is its ability to create a desire to linger and shop slowly. During Christmas it’s easier for stores to do that, I think, but there are shops that have that natural ability to invite folks in and invite them to stay.

Another wonderful place is The Pineberry Shop in Brown City, Michigan. Loving Christmas and everything that goes with it is an open invitation to be pulled in and The Pineberry does it well. I love walking slowly through the store, taking in all the lights and decorations.

I would love both of these stores, even if my wife did not have a display of her “Up North Flannels” at each of them. For a couple of years now, my wife has been repurposing flannel shirts. She washes and irons them, then I sew on her “Up North” label near the left pocket. They are a wonderful way to be comfortable on those cold days, either outside when a coat is too much, or inside when you feel chilled. The shirts come in a wide variety of colors, all various types of plaid. We don’t have a website and we don’t sell the shirts online. You’ll have to visit Cottage Outfitters, or, The Pineberry Shop!

In my last post, I included many photos of the red truck with a Christmas tree in the back. Here are more! I found these all in one store!

If only I had realized how popular a red truck with a Christmas tree in the back would be, I can’t imagine where we would be right now. I might be sitting in a comfortable chair, surrounded by people I love, listening to wonderful Christmas music, enjoying the glow of a beautifully decorated Christmas tree. Wait. That’s where I am right now, and I didn’t imagine the red truck with a Christmas tree in the back. I guess we’re doing just fine.

Christmas shopping isn’t about stuff. It’s about lingering in the atmosphere of a desire to give and be with those you love. The smallest item can mean the world when it is given and received with love. Dollar amounts never made Christmas gifts more meaningful. To any mom, dad, or grandparent, it will be that little ornament made at school, covered with spots of white glue, that will last forever and mean the most.

Merry Christmas.

To others, Happy Hanukkah.

To others, Happy Kwanzaa.

To everyone, enjoy.

Christmas Is: Presents! Presents! And More Presents!

Several years ago it bothered me when the big box stores started stacking cheap buy-me-quick stuff almost to the ceiling long before Christmas. I know that Christmas is too commercial, as Linus says, but that’s just the way it is. No matter what, there is still something wonderful about Christmas that seems to catch almost everyone in its grip. Many many people, young and old, are touched by the desire to give. No matter how ornery we might be at other times, most of us still enjoy seeing the joy on someone’s face when they unwrap a gift from us.

The Bible says it is a bigger blessing to give than to receive. That really is true. Opening gifts is fun, but the joy of buying, or making, and giving gifts to loved ones brings a warmer feeling.

One Christmas when I had a particularly grievous streak of ornery, I told our boys to go find all the gifts we gave them the year before. What a stupid stunt. The previous Christmas we gave each of our boys a GI Joe with all the fixings that made them look tough. That might have also been the same year they each got a new bike. I don’t remember. Luckily, my wife was standing right there when I told the boys to go find their gifts and she objected. Strenuously. In fact, she told me I was acting like my dad. That did it. I told the boys to forget it.

I love getting gifts. But not as much now as I did when I was younger. I tease my young grandsons every year reminding them all the presents under the tree are for me but I promise they can help me open them. They think I’m crazy.

I don’t remember opening a gift on Christmas Eve every year as some people do. We always had to wait until Christmas morning, which just made it better. But one Christmas Eve we were allowed to open a gift of our choice. I had been begging for a pop gun and I was sure Santa had brought one early. When the time came, I picked up a present I decided was a pop gun that could be broken down into the size of a shoe box. I breathlessly opened the box and found a pair of slippers. Slippers wrapped in a shoe box. My wife’s family traditionally opened one gift on Christmas Eve, she said it was usually a new pair of pajamas.

I love Christmas and I love presents. I really love those big boxes of chocolates, even though we don’t ever buy them. I love those big goodie assortments all wrapped individually, like little cheese-cake bites, brownies, chocolate-covered pretzels, and M&Ms stuck together with chocolate. I remember nearly forty years ago we received a big flat gift-wrapped box in the mail. It was the biggest assortment of all kinds of great treats I had ever seen. It came from a cousin and I’ve never forgotten it.

Don’t you absolutely love these gift packages? They’re a candy-coffee-chocolate-cookie-pretzel lovers dream! They’re so pretty! They’re almost too great to open.

If you don’t care for the previous choices, here are some more. They’re everywhere! Some of them even have a mug to use when you brew the coffee to drink while you’re eating the chocolate.

If you prefer the brand name items, these could be for you. Starbucks is always a winner, and you can’t go wrong with the Peanuts Gang. Ever.

Here’s a question for you. Be honest, this is just between us. Don’t you wish you owned the copyright on the “Christmas tree in the red vintage truck”? Oh, my word, I do! They’re everywhere. We have one hanging on our front door in the middle of our wreath. There is another one in the cubby collection. Still another one sits on a shelf in the kitchen. We love them! But I wish I owned the idea and copyright, or whatever it is. Whoever came up with this is a genius.

Someone knew a Christmas tree in the back of a red truck would be irresistible. What a great idea! They don’t have to be exactly the same. If you change it just a little, there are several different renditions and you can get every one of them. In fact, you could do a search during Christmas and see how many different Christmas trees in the red truck you can find. I’m joking, but seriously, we do love the Christmas tree in the red truck. If I had more money than I knew what to do with, I would buy an antique red Ford truck and drive it around with a Christmas tree in the back.

The most fun present is the surprise present. You’re thinking, “Aren’t they all a surprise?” Of course not. Kids ask for what they want, and sometimes they get at least one or two things they asked for. Lots of parents surprise their kids with a gift that is entirely unexpected. As in the movie, “Christmas Vacation”, when Clark Griswold, after finally receiving his bonus from work, said, “With this bonus check, I’m putting in a swimming pool!” which brought screams of excitement from the family, and Clark said, “That’s it! That’s the big one!” The surprise gift.

However you choose to share gifts with your loved ones, anything from the heart is a good gift.

I hope your Christmas is filled with heart gifts.

Christmas Is: Music!

There are lots of things people say about Christmas of the excitement or dread, the fun or the stress, of family, friends, trees, decorations, lights, cookies, and feasts. But it is the music of the season that constantly surrounds us with a special presence that saturates our lives at this special time. Music is incredibly powerful and influences us in ways nothing else can. Music brings the light and color of wonderful memories and fresh awakening to new experiences.

Music is skillfully used to help us relax at the dentist’s office, endure waiting rooms, and to annoy us when we’re placed on hold. Music can create a pleasant emotional response and even inspire us to spend more freely while Christmas shopping.

In the early 1960s, my parents began buying the Goodyear Christmas albums released each year. The one I loved the most through the years began with Barbara Streisand singing “Silent Night”, followed by Andy Williams and “Do You Hear What I Hear?”, and then Johnny Mathis singing, “The Christmas Song”. But it was the King Family singing “Holiday of Love” that changed everything. The tremendous sound of the orchestra and harmonies of beautiful voices was amazing. I have been trying to recreate that sound with choirs ever since.

The New Christy Minstrels singing “We Need a Little Christmas” and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir singing “Still, Still, Still” and the Ray Conniff Singers on “Frosty the Snowman” were the highlights on side two of the 1965 Great Songs of Christmas album.

What would Christmas music be without these great artists? Nat King Cole’s “The Christmas Song” is the standard. The orchestra introduction sets a holiday mood immediately. Andy Williams singing “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year” is a classic! Many remember the television Christmas specials hosted by Perry Como and his rendition of “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas”. The most iconic song of the season has to be “White Christmas” performed by the master himself, Bing Crosby. Just two nights ago, we watched the movie, White Christmas, again for the first time.

Thankfully, we still have these two great singers with us. Tony Bennett’s “The Christmas Album” featuring “Snowfall” is fantastic. My favorites are “Christmasland”, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”, and especially “I’ll Be Home for Christmas”. The last song is my favorite because it features the great jazz pianist Ralph Sharon, who was Tony Bennett’s accompanist for many years. Sadly, Ralph Sharon passed away in 2015 at the age of 91. When I was in junior high school I had a piano teacher named, Art Galonska, who could play exactly like Ralph Sharon. I loved watching and listening to him play. He was an amazing jazz pianist. Mr. Galonska played at local night clubs when he wasn’t teaching piano, organ, and guitar.

The cartoon special, “A Charlie Brown Christmas”, first aired on CBS in December of 1965 and has been on television every year since. It was written by Charles M. Schulz, the creator of the Peanuts characters and comics, produced by Lee Mendelson and directed by Bill Melendez. The music was written and performed by the Vince Guaraldi Trio. I don’t know of any single instrumental song that is as easily recognizable as “Linus and Lucy”, the song played by Schroeder when the Peanuts gang is rehearsing for the Christmas play directed by Charlie Brown. I love that song! Charlie Brown becomes upset and asks if anyone really knows what Christmas is about. Linus saves the day by quoting the Gospel of Luke 2:8-14, and says, “That’s the real meaning of Christmas, Charlie Brown.”

Several years ago we were introduced to the music of Mannheim Steamroller and director, Chip Davis. These two CDs have become part of our regular rotation of Christmas music. They feature a combination of classical choral music as well as creative instrumentals. Mannheim Steamroller’s rendition of “Silent Night” is absolutely beautiful.

While my wife was a student at University of Michigan-Flint, she was privileged to sing with the University Chorale under the direction of the legendary Carolyn Mauby. When the chorale presented Christmas concerts our family attended each night. It was during those concerts we heard the music of conductor John Rutter and The Cambridge Singers for the first time. I was immediately smitten and from that moment, John Rutter Christmas music has been front and center in our home.

This is the perfect music for quiet listening while you are enjoying the glow of Christmas lights in your home. These are not the kind of CDs you will want to put away on December 26th. The music of The Cambridge Singers will fill your soul and help you enjoy to the wonder of Christmas long after the day has passed.

One of our absolute favorite artists of all time is James Taylor. We were pleased when his Christmas album was released in 2004 and it remains in our music list to enjoy each year. If you love James Taylor you know his style of guitar playing and vocals that make him great. Our favorite song on the album is “In the Bleak Midwinter”. It’s a wonderful song.

Another CD we love is Kathy Mattea’s “Good News”. Two songs on the album, “There’s a New Kid in Town”, and “Mary Did You Know” we have performed ourselves using accompaniment tracks available online.

And lastly, we return once again to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Beyond a doubt, the most beautiful song I have ever heard performed by a choir is “Once in Royal David’s City”. This song is incredibly heart-filling, and breath-taking. The harmonies of this wonderful music will leave you feeling like you have been touched by the Divine. And maybe you have.

Whatever your choices may be for Christmas music, our hope is that you will enjoy it fully and allow everything that music can do, to bring you joy, rest, peace, encouragement, and that unmistakable Christmas feeling. Merry Christmas.