"" Writer's Wanderings: 2017

Friday, December 29, 2017

Cruising The Danube – Concert At The Belvedere Palace

An afternoon walking tour was on our agenda after settling in to the new upgraded suite aboard the Mozart. A bus took us into the old historic area and we saw many of the same buildings we’d seen while on our three day pre-cruise visit only now we were able to have a name to put to the buildings. We walked past the Belvedere Palace that was to be the site of our concert after dinner the next day. 

Then we spent a lovely evening being entertained and dined on board our wonderful riverboat.
The four of us had agreed we’d had all the Vienna Christmas markets we wanted to see so we passed on the tours that were included on that day and my sister-in-law and I spent the day reading and getting nails done while the boys decided they really wanted to get a special sausage sandwich they’d seen near St. Stephen’s Cathedral. The sandwich was made first with a large roll that was threaded down a long spiked metal rube that was heated and toasted the inside of the roll. Then they put a sausage down through the center along with any condiments like sauerkraut and mustard that you might want. They had a great time getting there and back and enjoyed their lunch.

Crystal is always planning special events for their cruisers and the concert at the Belvedere Palace was no exception. The buses lined up after dinner and took most, if not all, to the Belvedere Palace. We enjoyed a welcome with liquid refreshments and then a tour of the art gallery where the famous painting, The Kiss by Gustav Klimt, is displayed. There are several other works of art that are significant but this one is kin to the Lady In Gold which was the center of quite a lawsuit to get it returned to its original owner family who were Jews during the Hitler regime when artworks owned by Jews were confiscated.

After our guided tour through the gallery, we were led into the Marble Hall and found a seat. I was in awe looking around. Huge crystal chandeliers that we had only seen through the windows as we had toured the grounds now hung above us shimmering with light. The ceiling was an amazing piece of art topping off beautiful moldings and walls of wood and perhaps marble. I never got close enough to decide if it was faux and just painted to look like marble. Soon the Schloss Schoenbrunn Orchestra of Vienna entered followed by the conductor and the music began.

There were of course several pieces from Mozart and Strauss and the orchestra was joined by the Ballet Club Wiener Volksoper. (Loosely translated, it was the Vienna Ballet and Opera). Two dancers and two opera singer performed a few pieces and it all blended into quite an evening of entertainment. I was impressed with their acknowledgement that not all in the audience might be fans of classical music so it was lightened with a little humor. Much appreciated and applauded.

 After our return our riverboat began its passage on the Danube. Next stop would be Melk, Austria.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Cruising The Danube - The Crystal Mozart

The three days on our own in Vienna ended and we checked out of the motel and made our way to the riverboat. We hired an Uber who got us to the river but the address that Crystal Cruises had given us was a restaurant. What we didn’t realize was that the boat was on the river on the other side of the restaurant.

Our driver, whose English was a bit confusing, had no idea where to go. We spotted some Crystal tour buses parked a bit down the road and we had him drop us off there. Once over the other side of the levee, we could see the riverboat. It was a bit of a trek with us dragging luggage (thank goodness for wheeled bags). When we arrived, we were greeted by staff who asked if we’d walked. When we said Uber, they chuckled. “None of them know how to get here. Just the taxis.”

But all was well. We were at our destination and were ready to settle in for ten days. We were shown to our room which was ready however Bob’s brother and sister-in-law had to wait a bit for theirs. The room was on the small side but expected and we had a window with a view of the dock wall just above the water level. It was a nice room and we went about unpacking our things and settling in. We had no sooner finished when we received a call from the front desk that the hotel manager would like to speak to us.

Like two chastised kids wondering what we’d done to be called to the principal’s office, we walked up to the reception desk. We were greeted by a charming lady who introduced herself and said that we had been given an upgrade to a penthouse suite. (The boat only had three decks plus the top sundeck so I wondered what that could mean.) She took us around the corner and opened a door to a much larger room with a double sink bathroom, shower and tub, a walk-in closet and a French balcony (sliding glass doors that open to the outside but with no place to sit). It was beautiful.
“So,” she asked, “If it is acceptable you may have it.”

Acceptable?! I had a hard time keeping my feet from jumping up and down. “Oh, we would never turn down a lovely gift like this,” I said hoping that I sounded sophisticated and polite and I wasn’t salivating as I said it. “We just finished unpacking though.”

“No problem,” she said. “The butler will move your things.”
Oh, no he won’t, I thought. I hate the thought of someone else touching my more personal items. We agreed that we would pack the things from the drawers and bathroom back into the suitcases and then they would move the things on hangers for us. After lunch we made the move. We wondered if our travel companions had been moved to the old room but it turned out there was a single lady who didn’t like the room she had who was moved into the one we vacated.

This trip was getting better already. Wow!

Oh, and the rest of the riverboat was beautiful with a nice restaurant, café and lounge where we enjoyed music before and after dinner as well as several special performances from local entertainers. The boat was also decorated extensively for Christmas and the holidays. Again, all was beautiful and certainly beyond our expectations even for Crystal. By the way, I think our World Cruise gave us the upgrade. It turned out we were the third longest experienced cruisers with Crystal aboard the Mozart.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Will The Christ Child Come?

[This is a story that has circulated and been enjoyed by many all over the world. It came to me in an email from friends we had made on board the Queen Mary 2 this past year. Curious, I searched for the "unknown author" online and connected with her finally. Her name is Gaye Willis and she lives in Alaska. The story was written in 1998 and published at LDS World's Countdown to Christmas. Gaye claims she's not a writer but even in telling how she has received feedback from so many all over the world, I think the Lord has blessed her with the gift of words. Here's her story.]

One Christmas we had an interesting experience that I would like to share. Halfway through December we were doing the regular evening things when there was a knock at the door. We opened it to find a small package with a beautiful ceramic lamb inside. We looked at the calendar and realized that the 12 days of Christmas were beginning! We waited excitedly for the next night's surprise and only then, with the gift of a matching shepherd, did we realized that the lamb was part of a nativity set.

Each night we grew more excited to see what piece we would receive. Each was exquisitely beautiful. The kids kept trying to catch the givers as we slowing built the scene at the manager and began to focus on Christ's birth.

On Christmas Eve, all the pieces were in place, but the baby Jesus. My 12 year-old son really wanted to catch our benefactors and began to devise all kinds of ways to trap them. He ate his dinner in the mini-van watching and waiting, but no one came.

Finally we called him in to go through our family's Christmas Eve traditions. But before the kids went to bed we checked the front step -- No Baby Jesus! We began to worry that my son had scared them off.

My husband suggested that maybe they dropped the Jesus and there wouldn't be anything coming. Somehow something was missing that Christmas Eve. There was a feeling that things weren't complete. The kids went to bed and I put out Christmas, but before I went to bed I again checked to see if the Jesus had come -- no, the doorstep was empty.

In our family the kids can open their stockings when they want to, but they have to wait to open any presents until Dad wakes up. So one by one they woke up very early and I also woke up to watch them. Even before they opened their stockings, each child checked to see if perhaps during the night the baby Jesus had come. Missing that piece of the set seemed to have an odd effect. At least it changed my focus. I knew there were presents under the tree for me and I was excited to watch the children open their gifts, but first on my mind was the feeling of waiting for the ceramic Christ Child.

We had opened just about all of the presents when one of the children found one more for me buried deep beneath the limbs of the tree. He handed me a small package from my former visiting teaching companion. This sister was somewhat less-active in the church. I had been her visiting teacher for a couple of years and then, when she was asked to be a visiting teacher, she requested to go with me. I had learned over time they didn't have much for Christmas, so that their focus was the children. It sounded like she didn't get many gifts to open, so I had always given her a small package--new dish towels, the next year's Relief Society lesson manual--not much, but something for her to open. I was touched when at Church on the day before Christmas, she had given me this small package, saying it was just a token of her love and appreciation.

As I took off the bow, I remembered my friendship with her and was filled with gratitude for knowing her and for her kindness and sacrifice In this year giving me a gift. But as the paper fell away, I began to tremble and cry. There in the small brown box was the baby Jesus. He had come! I realized on that Christmas Day that Christ will come into our lives in ways that we don't expect. The spirit of Christ comes into our hearts as we serve one another. We had waited and watched for him to come, expecting the dramatic "knock at the door and scurrying of feet" but he came in a small, simple package that represented service friendship, gratitude, and love.

This experience taught me that the beginning of the true spirit of Christmas comes as we open our hearts and actively focus on the Savior. But we will most likely find him in the small and simple acts of love, friendship and service that we give to each other. This Christmas I want to feel again the joy of knowing that Christ is in our home. I want to focus on loving and serving. More than that I want to open my heart to him all year that I may see him again.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Cruising The Danube - The Lipizzans

Vienna is the home of the famous Lipizzan hoses and the Spanish Riding School. We were fortunate to be in Vienna at a time when they had scheduled performances. We bought our tickets far in advance in order to get seats. On Saturday morning we headed to the Imperial Palace to stroll around the grounds and take a peek at the stables.

The practice court was being cleaned but the stall doors were half opened and we could see some of the horses inside. One of the younger horses stuck his head out and posed nicely for me. The younger horses are a gray color. They don’t become their famous white color until they have matured.
After exploring a bit, we went into the café that was right by the ticket office and grabbed some coffee while we waited for our appointed time to enter the theater.

A little background on the horses: The Lipizzans were developed by the Hapsburgs over 400 years ago to be used in times of war and peace. Their unusual abilities apparently helped their riders during battles and carried over into the performance arena providing wonderful entertainment for the royalty.
Dressage is a word that until a young lady I know introduced me to was completely unknown to me. The term applies to the fancy stepping a horse is taught to do. The Lipizzans are a special breed when it comes to dressage. I’m sure you have seen pictures or videos of them actually rearing back and jumping into the air. While that is impressive, they also do intricate steps side ways and in sync with the other horses around them led of course by their trainers and riders of the Spanish Riding School.

When the time came for us to go in we were ushered into a magnificent and fancy riding ring. Our balcony seats overlooked one end of a large oval area covered in some sort of soil. Huge chandeliers hung from the ceiling low over the riding area. They were lit in blue. Once everyone who purchased a seat was in, they let in the standing room only people who filled in large spaces along the sides where there were no seats. We discovered later that the standing room only tickets were 28 Euros as opposed to the 146 Euros we paid to sit (sitting was worth it for me).

Finally the chandeliers began to rise and they sparkled with white lights as the announcer gave the opening remarks about what we were to see—in several languages. With much ceremony and even more precision, we watched first the younger horses go through their program. Then as the performance progressed, they were replaced by the more mature horses and finally the highly trained group who did their famous leap. In between we witnessed a ballet of sorts and choreography that reminded me of synchronized swimming.

Beautiful horses, smartly dressed riders, all worked together in a performance that left the crowd cheering and exiting in amazement. 

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Cruising The Danube - The Rathaus Market

A rathaus is a town hall. The old Vienna Rathaus has one of the most spectacular Christmas Markets in the city. We took the subway to the Rathaus and arrived in time for dinner. The Christmas Markets have food but we were looking for a place out of the cold where we could sit down and eat. Surrounding the Rathaus are a lot of theaters and as we looked across the street the guys saw a sign that said restaurant and we headed for it.

We didn't know at the time that it was one of the nicest restaurants in Vienna, Das Landtmann. We were pleased to find white tablecloths and crystal chandeliers. The food was delicious including the goulash that the guys indulged in.

After dinner we crossed the street once again and entered the Christmas Market. It was full of people truly enjoying themselves as they indulged in holiday treats, punch and activities like ice skating and a few amusement rides.

The ice skating rink included a smaller one for learners and little ones who are just getting started. They had darling little penguins with handles on the backs of them that the learners could hold on to and skate around without the danger of falling.

Strolling around the market we saw a lot of the same merchandise with the occasional more interesting creations. One of them sold paper stars that folded flat and then extended to a three dimensional star with designs cut into them. They were illuminated from within by a small light.

This market was definitely more decorated than the others we'd visited and included a lighted giant snow globe. I didn't think the mugs they were serving punch in were as clever as the Christmas boots at St. Stephen's. There were some giant soft pretzels that looked tempting but dinner had filled me up and I'd already had a big pretzel at another market--so good!

At night the Rathaus which dates back to the late 1800s, is nicely illuminated and made a beautiful backdrop to the Christmas Market. During the day you can tour the town hall but we never made it back to do that. You have to save some things for a second visit.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Cruising The Danube - Vienna's Schonbrunn Palace

Somewhere during my history studies I remember hearing about the Habsburgs. Unfortunately I had very little interest in history during high school and not much more during my college history requirements. In our visit to Schonbrunn Palace I was to learn a little more--at least about their summer home.

Schonbrunn began as a hunting lodge called Katterburg when the Habsburgs purchased it, it began a transition from a mansion to a palace. During the mid 1700s the palace was built and refurbished during the reign of Maria Theresa who received the estate as a wedding gift. Franz Joseph, Austria's longest reigning monarch was born there and lived there most of his life, dying in the palace at the age of 86 in 1916.

While the palace is a beautiful place inside and out, the gardens are quite spectacular as well extending almost a mile in one direction and over a half mile in the other. As we were visiting in the winter, there was nothing blooming but the gardens were still amazing to see.

We purchased a Grand Tour ticket that gave us an extended look into 40 rooms rather than the 22 offered in the Imperial Tour. The first part of the tour takes you through the state rooms and private apartments of Franz Joseph and his wife, Empress Elizabeth or Sisi as she is affectionately called. Sisi was quite beautiful and had extremely long hair. She was also a health nut and it was said that was why the gardens were so large because she walked them each day for her exercise.

No pictures were allowed inside the palace so you will have to take my word that it was quite nice and obviously made a lovely summer home. Meanwhile, as we waited for our turn to tour the palace, we walked around the courtyard where the Christmas Market was set up. This market was a lot bigger than the one in Stephensplatz but still had much the same type of merchandise and of course lots of sausage and Christmas punch and soup in a bowl which looked very tempting.

The sun was shining and we took some time later to sit at the outdoor cafe and have a coffee. Being warmed by the sun for a little while made the chill of the previous day wear off for a bit.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Cruising The Danube - Vienna

St. Stephen's Cathedral is said to be the symbol of Vienna. Our hotel was right around the corner from it. Our first few hours after arriving in Vienna was spent exploring the cathedral and the square, or platz as it is called, around the cathedral where one of the many Christmas Markets of Vienna is located.

Lots of booths featured food and it didn't take us long to find some tasty sausage sandwiches and a cup of warm Christmas punch (Weinachtspunsch). The punch came in a small ceramic boot which was unique to this market. You buy the punch and put a deposit on the mug. If you don't want to keep the mug you can return it to get your deposit back. A lot of people collect them as they are different in each market area you visit.

As we wandered the market area we noticed that a lot of the booths were selling similar items. There was very little that looked homemade and we began to joke that it might say "made in China" on the bottom. Don't get me wrong, the items for sale were very nice for the most part but we had expected more hand crafted items and a little more variety.

The later it got in the afternoon, the larger the crowd grew, gathering around the food and drink booths mostly. We opted to spend some time warming up in our rooms before setting out again in the cold for dinner. The weather was such that the wind blew right through your coat and the dampness chilled the bones.

Dinner was something we had all waited for in anticipation of this trip--weiner schnitzel, the real deal. It was perfect. Almost filling the plate was the tenderest veal I've ever had with a thin crispy breading. Lots of sighs.

After dinner we walked around the market a bit and enjoyed the now lighted decorations of the area. Suddenly the bells of St. Stephen's began to fill the air. It was a beautiful moment. Maybe this cold weather was worth putting up with.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Cruising The Danube - Getting There

This trip was going to be a challenge from the beginning. We had scheduled a Danube River cruise for just after Thanksgiving but we also had two Caribbean Cruises scheduled to begin just after the river cruise and then we'd have our snowbird season in Key Largo after that. A packing nightmare to say the least. Winter clothes plus warm weather clothes plus dressy clothes for the holiday cruise and added to all of that just regular clothes for our Key Largo time along with the usual odds and ends that we both enjoy having at hand while we're there (Bob's radio for one, my crock pot for another).

We set off to drive to Miami the Sunday after Thanksgiving. We always make it a three day drive with our usual stops in North Carolina and North Florida. Every inch of the car was packed tightly. After one more night in Fort Lauderdale, we drove to Miami and boarded our Austrian Airline flight to Vienna.

The flight from Miami was direct so we had no connections to worry with. The temperature was a sunny 80 degrees as we checked our luggage full of sweaters and winter coats. For once I was able to sleep on the plane and as we were wakened for "breakfast" I felt pretty good. Breakfast was a large muffin that looked more like a small dry cake but the coffee was good.

The plane descended for landing. The closer we got to the ground the more it was obvious we were landing in the middle of heavy snow. I closed my eyes. Miami - 80 degrees and sun. Vienna - 34 degrees and snow. This was crazy.

We collected our luggage and found our way through the subway system to our hotel in the heart of Vienna. The hotel was near a beautiful cathedral and a Christmas market--which was why we were there, to see what the Christmas Markets were like. Luggage deposited in our room which was luckily ready for us, we set out into the cold and now rainy weather to explore.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

For A Woman (Or Man) Your Age

[Another look back at a post from 2005. I'm a little better getting my checkups now. At my age, I have to be.]

My husband's very faithful about getting his yearly checkup with the doctor. I'm not as good. After skipping a couple of years, I decided to bite the bullet and make the appointment. Part of the problem was that the doctor I was really beginning to feel comfortable with moved out of town. (Hope it wasn't because of me.)

I found another doctor much closer to home and covered under our insurance policy (gotta love those insurance agencies). The appointment went well. I gave blood at the lab and signed up for the mammogram and, at the suggestion of the doctor, a bone density test. The bone density is so that we will have a base line to judge whether or not my bones are thinning or I'm just shrinking from drying out in the hot sun (I wish--we have 12" of snow today).

When Bob comes home from the doctor's office, he's usually a little agitated because the doctor uses the phrase, "...for a man your age."

"What is that supposed to mean," he rants. "For a man your age. You just don't want to hear 'for a man your age'."

I generally humor him and soothe the bear in him with some chocolate chip cookies.

So, the other day, I finally get my report on my bone density test and what does it say? "You have normal bone density FOR A WOMAN YOUR AGE."

Where are those chocolate chip cookies?

Monday, December 11, 2017

Remembering My Modern Dance Moment

It will be more than 50 years this June since I graduated from high school. Somewhere in my freshman year (that would have been the first year in high school--before the middle school concept), the Phys Ed. teacher decided to have a unit on modern dance. To this day, I still do not understand what that had to do with my physical education. It should have taken place in a music class--one that I'd never take.

I don't want to appear to brag, but I was good in gym class. I played a good game of basketball, could hit well in softball, and would have loved to have gone on to Olympic training in gymnastics--I even made the cheerleading squad in junior high. I was too shy to make it in high school. And then she threw this modern dance unit at us. We had to pick out a piece of music and interpret it in some kind of physcial movements. Not all of us had dance lessons. I'd had them but that was when I was 4 or 5 years old. Obviously no one saw anything in me then to encourage my mother to continue with them.

There was a piece of music on one of my LPs that sounded like a busy person so I decided to imagine a secretary at work. I bustled around on an excercise mat, did a couple somersaults, squated as though I were sitting at a typerwriter, and, in general, felt like I had made a real fool of myself. I can't remember my grade. I didn't care what it was. I just wanted it over with.

We went to see Movin' Out, the musical, a few years ago. It is Billy Joel's music arranged into a story about coming of age during the 60s-80s. While the musicians sit above the stage in the background, there is a troupe of extremely talented and energetic dancers who, through dance only, portray the action. It didn't take but a minute for me to recognize that there before me, in much better looking costumes than yellow gym suits, was the modern dance unit from my past. There were a few elements of ballet thrown in, but other than that, the physical movements, the gymnastics, the portrayal of anger, grief, etc., through the movements on stage, were right out of that gym class.

So, 50+ years later, I finally get it. I wasn't so far off back then. I should go back and get take a look at that grade. I'm sure it should have been better than it was.

Friday, December 08, 2017

Heroes In Mouse World

[Anticipating another trip to Disney, I thought I would repost this memory from 2005]

We just spent the week visiting the Mouse in Orlando. There were 15 family members on the last leg of the trip aboard the Disney Cruise ship the Wonder. Our niece is one of the entertainment crew members and we were there to support, cajole, and generally let her know she's loved as well as enjoy our granddaughter's first trip to the World and the Wonder.

Throughout the World and the Wonder little girls of all ages are addressed as "princess" and most wear the costumes of Snow White, Cinderella, Belle, Sleepting Beauty, etc. They stand in line with their parents (or are carried if they don't walk yet) to garner a signature from the Disney characters. The Princess characters, however, are the main attraction. What little girl doesn't dream of being a princess?

All of this seems a little one sided to me. Where are the male heroes? The ones who rescued all those princesses? Why aren't we promoting them with costumes and signature books? Well upon examination, I realized that most little boys would not dress to look like Peter Pan, Prince Charming, or even Mr. Incredible (that would require tights). Moreover, their fathers would not let them dress that way.

Finally, in my search for heros and heroines, I found they wore costumes made of everyday stuff--jeans, shorts, T-shirts. They were the ones who took a vacation with the family and found themselves exhausted from giving their kids the best time they could in a world of fantasy and dreams. One father commented on the bus to the airport, "It was great. I'm tired. But it was worth it."

And it is.

We watched our child play with his child and become a child again. He exchanged memories with his brother of long-ago vacations as children. Who would have imagined that what we did in the moment to entertain and please them as children would have lasted as fond remembrances of shared experiences? It almost made me feel like a princess again as I walked next to Mr. Incredible (in jeans, not tights).

Thursday, December 07, 2017

The Lone Sneaker

There it was in the middle of four lanes of traffic--the lone sneaker--sitting forlornly on the cold pavement waiting to tell its story. How does one sneaker find itself in the middle of a street separated from its mate?
  • It was tossed out the window as a joke by a passing car full of teens
  • It held on to the roof of the car where someone had rested it while they opened the door and then finally fell off exhausted, bouncing across the asphalt until finally coming to rest against the median strip (the mate fell off earlier)
  • A dog, thinking it great fun to tease his master, ran off with it in his mouth only to become confused by the traffic and dropped his prize in the middle of the street
So many possibilities stream through the mind when you wonder how one lone sneaker can end up in the middle of the street. But wait--perhaps the sneaker chose to sit there and watch life fly by speculating on where all the cars are going.

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

Musical Sound Bites

[While this was written 12 years ago, the trend has not changed. I still crave holding a hymnal in my hand and seeing notes on a page as well as words. Oh well, the world will move on without me I guess.]

There's a new trend in worship music today. It has moved away from the old hymns and into the realm of what seems like "musical sound bites". They are choruses made up of phrases that for the most part don't tell any story. They are meant to praise or invite God into your life. They don't say a lot about how or why. I'm sure they are meant to be simple but I've never found it easy to read the words on a projection screen and follow someone's voice instead of following musical notes. Even if you don't know how to read music, you would at least know when your voice is supposed to go up or down according to the arrangement of notes on a page.

In today's hurried and media blitzed world we have learned to compartmentalize and extract only that which we think will influence. The sound bite is the tool of the spin doctor. We're told that this is how the new generation receives their information. We used to call something like that Cliffs Notes. The sound bite is even shorter. Can you imagine reducing Moby Dick to a couple of sound bites? Or how about Gone With The Wind? The Bible?

A friend of ours calls the new choruses the 7-11 songs--seven words repeated eleven times. Not too unlike the convenient store chain, we can pop into church and pick up just the needed items and be out in a jiffy rather than shopping through the larger grocery store and seeing what else might satisfy the hunger.

Monday, December 04, 2017

Surviving Winter

[It's fun to go back and read old posts from years ago. This one I wrote in January of 2005. Since then we have become snowbirds. No more winter blues. I wonder, was this prophetic?]

The snow is falling slower today. The flakes are a little bigger and I can almost say it's pretty. Almost. You guessed it. I am not a winter-fun-in-the-cold-and-snow person.

The bears have a good way of passing the winter. Find a cozy cave, curl up, and go to sleep. When the first signs of spring begin to warm the earth again, you stretch, open your eyes, and come out into the warmth of the sun.

But maybe the birds do it better--at least the smart ones. They fly south for the winter. Warm breezes, plenty of berries, the sound of the surf, steel drum music...Oh! Excuse me, I was daydreaming.

Unfortunately I am neither bird nor bear. Time for another cup of hot chocolate and some garden catalogs to pour over. Please, Spring, don't be late!!

Friday, December 01, 2017

A Treasured Christmas Memory

That first Christmas with all five kids was very special. The twins were 12 and Andy was 9. Our newest additions, Cheryl, 6, and Don, 5, had arrived at our home permanently in October. The three older boys were still getting used to this "sister stuff". They knew how to relate to Don--he was a boy--but they gave Cheryl space, not ignoring her, just allowing her to do her thing until they could figure out what that "thing" was. I don't know that they ever have.

We had moved Christmas up a day to Saturday. That morning, Andy awoke early as usual (his record time was around 4:30 a.m.). He waited a decent amount of time, opening his stocking gifts while the rest slept, then began the process of getting the rest of the household up by waking Don. It didn't take long for the rest of us to be up and into the family room.

We have an orderly process of unwrapping gifts one at a time starting with the youngest. Don opened his and was immediately enthralled. Cheryl opened hers next and the enthusiasm and excitement has yet to be matched by anything I've ever seen. As they each played with their gift, I looked to the older boys to watch them scurry to the tree for theirs. To my amazement they sat in awe of Cheryl and Don, mesmerized by their expressions of joy over Santa's gifts to them.

I heard a sniffle and turned in the direction of the sound. Ron (one of the twins) wiped his nose on his sleeve. I chose not to correct his behavior. It was better left unnoticed at that age that he had been so touched emotionally. A moment later, composure regained, he observed, "Wow, this really is their first real Christmas."

Moments later, paper flew and boxes spilled their contents of goodies as the rest of the treasure was discovered under the tree. But that one moment in time when love became the focus of Christmas will always be treasured in my heart.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

More Christmas Decorating Challenges

[Years ago when I had more energy and drive, my Christmas decorating included, in addition to Williamsburg style decorating, the traditional route of a red and green color scheme. Here's a post farom 2004 that tells one of my favorite memories.]

Sticking with the traditional, the colors I chose each year to decorate our home were always red and green. We had green and red stockings for each of our three boys thanks to my mother's new found interest in knitting Christmas stockings on her knitting machine. She was using the extra money she made selling them to pad the Christmas account she used for the grandkids.

When Cheryl and Don joined the family, it was time for two new stockings. Don still wasn't speaking well but nodded when Grandma pointed to green for his stocking. Cheryl, never one to lack decisiveness, blurted out her choice immediately. "Purple!"

"Mom," I pleaded, "you can't be serious. Not purple."

"Purple is what she wants. Purple is what she gets." It was spoken with the authority of a grandmother/mother.

For many years Cheryl's stocking was the centerpiece of our mantel hanging amidst all the greenery and fruit and, of course, the red and green stockings of the boys. I was writing an essay about our first Christmas one day and looking for a lesson in it all. It came as God's answers always do, quietly and with great impact.

Purple, Karen, is the color of royalty. Every year you hang that purple stocking, you celebrate the birth of a king.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Williamsburg Decorating Memories

[Another post from 2004 when I was reminiscing about Christmases past and some of my challenges with Williamsburg decorations.]

My wonderful husband got into the Williamsburg Christmas decorating craze too. He used the pattern in the Colonial Williamsburg Decorates for Christmas by Libby Hodges Oliver to make a board that fit above the front door for me to cover in fruit and greens. The best way to describe it is to think of an oval cut in half lengthwise, then covered with nail brads every 2-3 inches. You wire the greens flat against the back, stick a pineapple on the nails in the middle and surround it with apples (and sometimes lemons). It looks beautiful when finished and was always a point of conversation when we had guests.

The problem with the beautiful display came during the season that our weather fluctuated between near spring temperatures and freezing wintry days. The fruit took a beating from all the temperature changes. On the night of our Sunday School Christmas party it was a little warmer and as I began to greet guests, I noticed they were wiping something from their heads as they entered. It wasn't raining or snowing, I thought curiously. Then about the fourth set of guests to arrive were closer friends who were willing to admit that they were getting "juiced" waiting for me to answer the door.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Williamsburg Decorating

[This week I thought I would look back at some of my posts from previous years. This one is from December of 2004]

Last night I spoke to a group of Home Economics teachers about creating Williamsburg Christmas decorations with fresh greens, fruit, and dried materials. As I demonstrated, I recounted some of my experiences with my own Williamsburg decorations from years past.

The year we adopted our two youngest children who were five and six at the time, I made my usual arrangement of fresh greens and fruit on the dining room table. The greens formed a gentle S shape radiating from a grouping of candles in the center. Along the greens I had placed apples, pears, oranges, pinecones, and mixed nuts. Halfway through the Christmas season, I would replace the fruit with fresh and use the old in a fruit salad. (We always ate healthy during the Christmas season to keep my decorations looking fresh.)

One night we were expecting guests for dinner. As I began to set the table. I noticed something different about the fruit in my arrangement. I blinked. Sure enough, someone had taken a bite out of each piece and placed it back on the table again. There was no time to replace the fruit so I just turned it over and hoped my guests wouldn't examine it later.

I was pretty sure I knew who the culprits were although there's no telling if my other three boys might have done it to be funny. Whoever did it created a wonderful Christmas memory that makes me smile to this day. Actually, I remember smiling a lot that evening every time I thought about the little teeth marks hidden in the underside of the fruit before me.

Friday, November 24, 2017

One More Memory

One more grandma post. This comes from another grandchild who always has gems of wisdom to share. This is from several years ago and I often use it when I'm speaking to groups.

Once in a while it is good to see the world from a different perspective. Here's what I learned this week from my four (almost five) year old grandson (Caleb):

1. Always color dolphins blue.

2. Chocolate chip cookies will get stale if you only eat half of one and save the other half for after dinner.

3. Watching only 3 minutes of Home Alone will elicit 30 minutes or more of questions about strangers.

4. The countdown for a shuttle launching goes like this: 4. . .3. . .2. . .1. . .Admission!. . .Blastoff!

5. When a tropical storm gives you lots of puddles, make paper boats to float in them.

6. Wisdom: If you want to be smart, eat Smarties!

7. If you snap your fingers you can think faster.

[The older I get the more I snap my fingers.]

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Not So Wordless Wednesday

As long as I'm on a grandmother kick in remembering sweet times with grands, here's one more. My favorite picture for Thanksgiving. TJ had a brand new sister the year this picture was taken. We were visiting and helping out with the new arrival as well as fixing Thanksgiving dinner. TJ wanted to watch the turkey cook. He did give up when he figured out it was a regular oven, not a microwave, and would take a few hours. I smile every time it comes to mind.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Through The Woods. . .

Another grandmother story. I still love this one. It was written in 2007.

My Grandparents Bought Me This T-Shirt

We have all seen them. They hang in the souvenir shops of every tourist stop. “My grandparents visited [you name the place] and all I got was this T-shirt.” I don’t usually buy a lot of souvenirs for my grandkids when we are traveling. There’s not a lot of room in the suitcase that many trinkets. But on occasion I do try to bring back something that will satisfy their curiosity when they express an interest in where Grandma and Grandpa are going.
On our “once in a lifetime” cruise to Antarctica, I tried to find something that was symbolic or educational to bring home to our young grandchildren. Tyler, the oldest, was four years old at the time and was the only one who had a little understanding of where we were going.
“How cold are the icebergs? Can you walk on them? Does it snow all the time?”
I was desperate to find something that would peak his interest and lend to his education. Trust me. There are not a lot of souvenir shops in Antarctica and bringing back a baby penguin was out of the question. In the ship’s gift shop, I found fleece vests with Antarctica embroidered on the back. The girls, I knew, would enjoy the clothes, but no so Tyler. I bought one for him anyway just to have something to give him.
Back home, as I unpacked the vests, I remembered all his questions about icebergs and snow. I stared out the window at the heavy snow that was falling as I anticipated our visit with him and his sister. Like an avalanche, the idea struck me. Why not give him an iceberg for his souvenir—a mini-iceberg!
Wading out into the snow, I packed a large plastic container with the white stuff, snapped a lid on it and set it in the freezer for our visit.
At Tyler’s house that weekend, the fleece vest got tossed over his head as I anticipated. (His father always did the same thing with gifts that were clothes.) Then I pulled out my special souvenir. His eyes widened and he took the mini-iceberg from me and set it on the floor in front of him. “It’s so cool, Grandma!”
He and Danielle took little penguins from one of their toy collections and played with them on the iceberg and before he went to bed that night, he had to float it in the bathtub with him. He was careful not to let it melt too much (already he was learning about global warming) and it went back into the freezer for another day.
Souvenirs don’t mean a whole lot to others, especially children, if they haven’t experienced the place they came from. When the souvenir is something that will impart a little knowledge or understanding of another place, it becomes much more valuable.
What is it you can whet your grandchild’s appetite for learning with when you look for a souvenir to bring back from vacation? It doesn’t have to cost a whole lot. Save a couple coins from a foreign country. Make a recipe from that country or region for them to taste. Find story books unique to where you visited that you can read with them. And be sure to send them a postcard!

T-shirts are usually three for ten dollars and don’t last past the second washing but a memory shared through a unique souvenir will last a lifetime. 

Monday, November 20, 2017

Over The River

This is an article I wrote quite some time ago--at least 12 years since we have been married 49 years now. My mother-in-law passed on a few years ago but the stories still remain and many more are being told. Golden stories will circulate at everyone's Thanksgiving table. Cherish them.


 “Over the river and through the woods…” begins to play in my head about this time of year. Actually, it is more like “over the interstate and through the town,” and it’s not always to Grandmother’s house we go.
For more than thirty-seven years now, we have attended the Robbins’ Family Thanksgiving. Over the years the number in attendance has fluctuated between 25 and 40. Many of those are overnight guests who arrive at the host home on Wednesday evening. Six or eight cooks stay up most of the night to make two turkeys, stuffing, and gravy. It takes that many because there is always the debate to stuff or not to stuff. Then sentry duty to be sure the losing side doesn’t attempt any covert operations. Oh, the stories I could tell about those late nights.
The rest of the meal is brought in by assignment. My assignment for thirty-six years has been the relish tray. Everyone has a special dish, most of which have been handed down through the generations. My husband inherited the onion casserole from his uncle, and his brother whips up a broccoli casserole from an aunt’s recipe. These are very important assignments. They keep a family legacy alive.
Great Grandma Robbins (my mother-in-law) inspects each dish as it arrives—not to see if it’s made correctly, but rather to honor the memory of the family member it represents. As each dish arrives, the stories begin to flow. Helen used to teach literature…Dave was quite a woodcrafter…Arch was stationed at Okinawa… The stories are rich in history as well as genealogy. They give a glimpse of times past and a connection to the present that promises hope for the future.
“Storytelling is a monumental act. In its finest hour it becomes a psalm of praise and thanksgiving for the love and connection of family,” says Eileen Silva Kindig in her book, Remember the Time…? Whether people gather around campfires or kitchen tables, stories passed on through generations become the thread that binds relationships and preserves history. Family stories give us a sense of who we are and where we come from. They give our grandchildren inspiration, a sense of humor, courage, and confidence.
Children can see pictures or visit museums full of old cars that need a crank to start them up, but a story about Uncle Henry who fell on his face in the mud while cranking up the old Ford captures their imagination—especially if Uncle Henry was on a first date with his new lady friend.
Family stories are more than just history. They can teach morals and ethics as well. They tell about patience, inner strength, hope, facing fears, and heroism. They instill pride and pique curiosity.
My two-year-old granddaughter already knows how to operate a simple computer. Someday I hope to tell her stories about life before computers. Those days when we had to use pen and paper, envelopes and stamps. I will tell her about the computer that her Grandpa put together in our basement, how it sprawled across half of the unfinished room, and had huge tapes that spun around as it “thought.” All of that now fits into a device you can hold in your hand, use to talk with someone, and instantly send photographs of the Thanksgiving Day turkey.
I can hear her in a few years exclaim, “You didn’t have a computer when you went to school, Grandma? How did you survive?”
And Grandma, the storyteller, will just smile and say: “We managed. Pass me some more turkey and I’ll tell you how.”

(Published at Inspired Parenting.Net, November 31, 2005)

Friday, November 17, 2017

Cruising - Pool Deck Etiquette

Unfortunately, the most popular place on a day at sea is the pool. Not necessarily that everyone wants in the pool. No, you'll find few actually getting wet. What you will find though is are plenty of loungers. They will grab their lounge chair as early as possible and spend the day there. I don't mind their spending the day in a lounge chair. I do mind that they place their books, bags and towels on a chair and then go off to who knows where and not return to the lounge chair until much later.

You will find that there are notices to say that any unattended lounge chair for more than thirty minutes will be vacated by the pool attendant and you will come back to find your things removed to somewhere else where you will have to collect them. I have yet to see this actually happen. And who can blame the pool attendants. They run the risk of facing the ire of those who feel ownership of their lounge chair.

It's an age old cruising problem that has yet to be solved. One of those things in this world that will not change until the hearts of people change. Territorial disputes have started plenty of wars and the cruise ship pool deck could be a microcosm of that very thing. I think I missed the boat (or in this case the ship) with the plot in my mystery, Death Among The Deckchairs. I should have had the reason for the murder involve a lounge chair dispute. Oh well, maybe I'll write another one- Death Among The Deckchairs 2.

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