Saturday, December 24, 2011

Advent Again: and the Time of Waiting is Over!

           Not many of us are good at waiting (especially in this age of drive-thrus and fast food), no more today than in Bible times.  For years the prophets had reiterated God’s promises of a Messiah; for years the people had asked “When?” over and over again.

          Just as the eager child has his own visions of what might be in that brightly wrapped package, the people had their own visions of what the “conqueror,” the “mighty,” the “savior” would be.  That’s easy to understand after so many years of oppression, of disappointment, of waiting……someone would come and “even up the score”, “make things right,” and “life would be good again!”

          There had been signs of hope and joyful anticipation through the years as well...much like the gaily wrapped big package that looks like it might hold a wanted toy.   None had proved to be the Promised One…the disappointment was great, the waiting began again, and the anticipation would slowly grow…again and again.

          Unlike the happy child who knows from the calendar when Christmas has come, the people were caught unawares when the gift finally arrived.  With no fancy wrappings, with no fanfare, it was difficult to believe the waiting was over.  Sometimes the very best gifts are simple…and what you are least expecting…..

 *   *   *
     Much is said about the “silence” of that holy night.  I find it hard to believe that with that many people who had come to Bethlehem that there wasn’t noise somewhere!  If human nature was true to form, there might have been comings and goings from the inn, or soldiers patrolling the streets; I’m sure there were sounds of passing hoof beats, passing voices.  There was much going on with that many people “in town.”  The stable was probably quieter than a lot of other places.
         The hillside where the shepherds were was probably quiet except for animal noises, a quiet murmur from a ewe to soothe a wayward lamb, the rustling of a sheep or two finding a more comfortable spot.   When the angels appeared it must have been spectacular!  What an announcement!  What glorious music for that small audience.  What a surprise factor!
         Did all the shepherds go?  Did they have to decide who would stay with the flock?  Whatever they did, I doubt that they went to Bethlehem in total silence.  They must have been stunned by what they had witnessed; you would think they discussed this excitedly as they hurried down from the hills!  It would have been easy to hear them coming….
         The quiet came in God’s presentation of His gift.  The quiet would have come when the shepherds arrived.  The total awesomeness of that “surprise” factor…the gift presented in such a simple way…from God’s heart…offered to mankind in that moment, must have surrounded the shepherds in stunning awesome silence as they became the first witnesses to the perfect gift.  
           No mighty general with conquering armies…but with a power far greater than the world has ever known; no avenging one to “teach the others a lesson”…but one who taught profound lessons of love that would be farther reaching than they could ever know; no mighty hand to smite…but a tiny hand curled in his mother’s, which would bear the pain that would touch the world…a simple picture…and in this moment…came the silence.
          It is the simple gift that touches our hearts; it is quite often the most impressive.  The thoughtfulness and understanding that goes into it is so simple, so quiet, that we can often miss it…if we’re not looking within.  It’s when it enters our hearts that the silence is profound, awesome; it’s when our hearts are touched that we realize how much we are loved. 

         When we realize that….the waiting is over…and for all of us Christmas is, indeed, not the rest of the story, but the beginning of the rest of our lives.

         Thank you, God, for that simply perfect gift!         

Advent: A Time of Waiting

          On the first Sunday of Advent the reader was giving an explanation of its meaning…a time of preparation, of waiting, of anticipation.  For some reason my memory picked up on the words “waiting” and “anticipation” and took me back to the years when my brother and I shared the excitement of waiting…not in the liturgical sense, but in the ways that children have gladly embraced the adventure of Christmas with such glee.

           By the time my younger brother was old enough to be both a companion and a bit of an ornery sibling (six years’ difference), my parents had finally been able to buy a home…the first time they could call one theirs, a half acre of fertile bottom land close to the Arkansas River in between Tulsa and Sand Springs.  It had a wonderful yard and trees, but one of the attractions for us as children was the basement.  In bad weather it was a playroom; its concrete floor allowed roller skating (in tight circles).  It was Daddy’s workshop and Mother’s laundry area and storage for canning.

            Immediately after Thanksgiving, however, we were banned unceremoniously from the basement…Daddy went to work on secret projects and no one was allowed downstairs thereafter (although we would volunteer enthusiastically day after day to tote laundry down, retrieve canned goods for supper, etc.)  Daddy would retire to the basement after supper and we would listen for sounds that might give us a clue as to what he might be up to.  

           One of our looked-forward-to times was when the Montgomery Ward Christmas catalog arrived.  None of the endless supplements that fill the Sunday newspapers or the mindless jingles on TV today can hold a candle to the joy of the festive cover and exciting pages of those catalogs.  Since each of us wanted to peruse it first a truce had to be declared and we would ensconce ourselves flat in the middle of the floor, each armed with a different colored pencil, to make our marks on each and every delightful toy that we felt we could not possibly live without!

            Once through the catalog was not enough of course; something this important required several trips in case we had missed something.  We would then deliver our carefully notated “wish lists” to our parents in the utter faith that all those wonderful things would materialize under our tree.
            As soon as that was done we would start asking when we could put the tree up.  Nebulous answers were never good enough (I think Mother got wiser as time went on and hid the catalog when it arrived just to keep the clamoring down).  Finally a target date would be agreed upon…usually a weekend…and the excitement began.  From then on we offered to stop at every Christmas tree lot, or to go through every tree at grocery stores…our services were dutifully noted….and ignored.

          All would come together of course, we would pick out a tree, gather the decorations and spend hours deciding where each thing should go…I think our parents just closed their ears and let us do it…all but the lights of course…that was Daddy’s job.  (Oh, the wonder of the year we finally got bubble lights!)  At long last the tree would be finished, we would sigh in total admiration for a moment, then begin asking when the presents would appear. 

           We could hardly wait until after school to “attack” the setting, armed with our trusty pencils, shake, smell, and weigh each package (trying to figure out if it matched something on our lists), then number them in the order we planned to open them Christmas morning.
It must have been such fun for our parents to watch the seriousness with which we went through this drill…knowing full well that we would do it all over again the next day when another one or two appeared!
          Some of our packages had their numbers marked out so many times as they lost favor to a newer more exciting one that it became difficult to keep track of!  Finally we would begin the clamor of “could we open just ONE on Christmas Eve?”  That became a tradition along with hanging our stockings.
               The worst part about that morning was that we HAD to eat breakfast first; we viewed that as totally unnecessary.  When we finally managed to get a few required bites down, we were allowed our unbridled attack on Christmas.   We would see everything complete…first of all what Daddy had been making for us in the basement, and then a few last minute presents that would throw all our carefully orchestrated numbering out the proverbial window.  

           I don’t think we ever got very many of the things we had so faithfully marked in the catalog…I don’t think we were ever disappointed about it.  It was years before I realized how carefully our parents had to budget in order to have Christmas for us; that’s one reason the basement became the Santa’s workshop at Bruner Station. 

          One year they built me a doll house complete with electric lights (Christmas tree lights);

my brother got a wooden adaptation of the metal service station that was so popular for boys.   Another year my brother got his train set mounted on a frame that could slide under his bed without taking the train apart.  When I became a teenager Daddy built me a desk, wide enough to work on, study on, and pile endless treasures on.   What thought and planning went along with their budgeting.  

          We might have been quite taken by a new “this” or “that” in the catalog, or in the store windows downtown, but a carefully chosen jigsaw puzzle with the admonishment that they hoped we MIGHT be old enough to work it would send us to the kitchen table to prove we could.

         The magic of Christmas so often seems to get lost in the latest electronic frenzy or the hope of designer labels, of overloading the credit cards to make sure everything on the want list is provided.  I wish somehow that my parents had thought to write a “how-to” book on giving children a memorable Christmas, from time lines to the right gifts…and how to do it without losing sleep!

         I realize now how hard they worked to do what they did; I realize now that they had just as much fun “playing” us along by doling out simple gifts to whet our anticipation.  We never did figure out where they hid the presents…oh, we tried, we looked, we connived!  To this day I have no idea where they kept them!

         I realize now how they must have gone over our lists and discussed what they COULD do to make those childish wishes come true (as much as possible).   I realize now how much I didn’t realize how lucky we were!

         It was the anticipation…it was the waiting…it was the exuberance of our youth…it was a lot of cleverness on their part…it was a time of joy always (well…except for maybe the year my brother got an Erector set, left a lot of the little screws on the floor and Daddy walked through his room in the dark barefooted!).

        Most of all though, it was a time of love!  What more could we ask!


Saturday, December 17, 2011

Made in America - It's Not Just for Christmas!

     I've loved looking forward to each installment of the "Made in America" series on the ABC Evening News.  It's been a bit shocking, if not entirely unexpected, to find that most of us are surrounded by "Made Everywhere Else" items in our homes, even to our clothing and grocery items.  The challenge to Americans to buy at least some of their Christmas gifts with an American label has spurred lots of "guess what I've found' ideas.  It's wonderful!
      Anyone who knows me knows I have had a long standing love affair with things from the past, from vintage clothing and jewelry to collectibles, and that is what is primarily carried in all the Galleria stores.  Without doing an inventory, I think I could safely say that the vast majority of the items there will proudly carry labels that are definitely made in America.  The quality and workmanship of our couturiers' designs of the past are evident in the fact that so many of these dresses are still quite wearable today.   There was, as Americans designers came into their own, the same standards of quality that had long been associated with those in Europe.
      Actually, a great many of the early jewelry designers fled to America at the threat of war and were responsible for creating some of the masterpieces, as well as the design standards, that make so many names in vintage jewelry highly collectible today.

      The American dream walked hand in hand with American built products and ingenuity for a good many years.  It's a shame that things changed as they did.   What's been eye-opening has been finding out how many companies, both large and small, are still operating....and are thrilled to find this new spotlight.  Some have been around for years (did you know Crayolas and the venerable Slinky are still manufactured here?)  Others are companies with new and innovative ideas that are quietly (until now) letting us know that they believe in America.

       The Facebook page for the Evening News was filled with requests for lists of American-made goods and the answers have been plentiful.  One that I spent a good while last evening pouring over is  You'll be surprised how many familiar names you'll see...and how many you'll want to bookmark to visit!  (I was delighted to see some familiar Oklahoma names there!)  Try also  

       Most of us are familiar with food specialty companies: fruit and cheese, candies, jams and jellies that have beautiful color catalogs to shop from...but I was surprised to see a lot of unique creations too from syrups and honey, to salsas and sauces...even a Montana company that uses their native huckleberries in a variety of products!  (My husband has assured me that there is nothing quite like the Montana huckleberry...we'll be ordering!)     

        I really loved the Green Toys website although I'm not in the toy buying stage.  They make their colorful children's playthings from recycled plastic (bravo!) that is promised to be BPA/PVC free.   Another company makes a clever item called the "bobble"....dedicated to giving you a"carry with you" permanent water bottle with the reusable filter that lets you purify your own tap water.  (Think of the landfill space that can be saved!!) 

       I've already ordered a couple of things...including our very first pairs of socks from Creekwater, a company in Georgia, made from organic alpaca fleece.   They are said to be comfortable, 3 times warmer than wool (after our Oklahoma ice storms and the 30" deep snow we had last year, that part sounds divine!), and keep your feet dry.   I won't know until we try them how marvelous they are...but I'm willing to simply because I think alpacas are adorable!

      Some of the viewers' ideas are even more thoughtful...supporting your local businesses by giving a local gift.  A gift certificate for a haircut or beauty salon visit...think even a dinner oil change..or a bit of lawn care would be so appreciated by someone who is really stretching a budget!  I was a local business in a small town for a number of years; that type of thinking would have been welcomed by merchants and neighbors alike!

     I was actually getting ready to write an entry reminiscing about some Christmas' past...and started reading about bubble lights.  Although they actually began in Europe, they have been manufactured in the USA ever since the 1940's...there's a track record!  I also read all the printing on some boxes of vintage Shiny Brite and other round glass ornaments that I've been trying to find time to list.  Each and every one of the four boxes was manufactured in America!  Love it!   Maybe I'll get to the bubble lights story after the first of the week....

      Americans are going through some difficult times...a lot of the news stories are enough to break your heart, others that show our innate kindness to others give us hope.  I have a lot of faith in "us"...we're made of "the right stuff" to borrow that phrase.  Tough times will usually bring us together, bring out the best in us...maybe that's just exactly what the "Made in America" message is all about...reminding us to care and help...and we'll survive!

      It's also one of the profound messages of Christmas...touching others with caring and kindness.  After all...the most overwhelming Gift of all times came to us at Christmas.  It's the perfect time of the year!