Ten Things I like about Christmas

 1. Christmas mail. I love writing, sending and receiving Christmas cards, pictures and (most of all) letters. I wish it wouldn’t end soon after Christmas is over. I’m actually grateful to those few persevering souls who write a “New Year’s Letter” or send their Christmas greetings after the holidays. Keep ’em coming! A highlight of my Christmas season was when Kellen burst in the door enthusiastically praising my letter about the birds.

2. Christmas projects. I always seem to spend the last few days before Christmas (and sometimes afterwards) finishing up a Christmas project. This year I had three projects that all were finished around the midnight hour: I made two crazy quilt pillows out of my Mom’s wedding dress. I finished a quilt for Laura that I started at Stormy Lake the week we put our Elmhurst house on the market. I also finished a sweater for Olive in time for Christmas. A sweet spontaneous hug from her was another highlight.

3. Christmas baking. I don’t actually do much Christmas baking. This year I spent one day in the kitchen making dinner rolls and  Sweet Rolls. I made some two types of non-Christmas cookies and some UPBC Hot Fudge sauce. Still, it was a pleasant way to spend a day.

4. Gift giving. I’m pretty sure gifts are one of my love languages so I enjoy loving others by giving gifts. Mostly I follow the suggestions given to me, but I especially like coming up with gifts from the heart (or my imagination.) I love to surprise others with thoughtful gifts. Earlier in December (after a gift wrapping session) I thought that others were missing out on so much by not enjoying the process of giving, but later realized that it more than likely has something to do with love languages as we generally love others using our own love language (which may not mean much to them.)

5. Traditions. I’m not big on decorating, but I do like pulling out the same things year after year–Christmas orneryments (John’s term for cute, meaningful ornaments,) my Father Christmas collection, Anne’s Nutcrackers, and lately, my tartan quilts in generally Christmas colors. I also like having Cinnamon Rolls for breakfast and oyster stew (which I never actually partake) on Christmas Eve. This year both Laura and Anne adopted my past tradition of making sweet rolls for their friends and/or neighbors and delivering them on Christmas Eve. That was kind of cool.

6. Family. Our family celebration doesn’t look the way I imagined it would, but I still treasure the time spent with family around the holidays. It was especially fun to have the Birkey family hanging out with us on Christmas Day. We were able to Facetime the Bruce bunch more than usual as they stayed home for the holidays. Since they are a day ahead of us, we called (or were called) on Annie’s NZ and American Birthdays (20th and 21st), NZ Christmas Eve (22nd), Our Christmas Eve/Their Christmas Day (24) and Our Christmas Day and their Boxing Day (25th).

7. Christmas Parties. Joy Peters hosts an annual Christmas gathering at her downtown condo made up of various past and present small group participants. After dinner we walk to a concert nearby and then return for dessert. Everyone brings something to share, but this is definitely not a potluck. Courses are coordinated with the main dish. This year Joy was in the early stages of a kitchen remodel and her oven didn’t work, so we had a pasta bar cooked on the stovetop.  My other party was the annual EMA Christmas Party which is always early on a Friday afternoon. New and old employees are invited so it’s kind of a reunion as well as a fun time of appreciation and laughter. All the docs give speeches and one or two of them usually follow up with a second act, providing further entertainment. It is a lot of fun.

8. Christmas Bonus. I almost always forget this perk and love the surprise of a little extra cash at Christmas. This year I didn’t expect anything since I’d been treated generously at the time of my retirement but when they passed out cards and bonuses, I got one too. I held on to mine through the rest of the shopping season and today bought myself a used Apple Watch (with the help of my tech savvy and resourceful daughter, Laura.) Old folks remember when retirees received a gold watch for their years of service. Mine is a rose gold Apple watch 🙂 It probably won’t last as long as the traditional gold watch.

9. Christmas Legos. I wonder if we’ve ever had a Lego-free Christmas? We probably have, but Johnny has maintained a life long interest in Legos which stretched our Lego years much longer than normal. The grandkids are well into their Lego years. Last year everyone got a small set of classic Legos and we had a contest to see who made the best creation. This year Johnny bought the family a group gift of a 1969-piece Saturn V rocket that is almost 3 feet tall. Johnny, Papa John and Kellen spent several hours completing it. (Taylor helped his littles complete their Legos.)

10. The Hallelujah Chorus. When Kellen was three he loved hearing the Mannheim Steamroller version of the Hallelujah Chorus, asking us to play it every time we got in the car, over and over and over again. This year John sang a shortened version of the Messiah at our Elmhurst church and later that same day we heard the Moody Church choir sing it again. My favorite parts are when everyone rises to their feet as the song begins and that last pause before the final Hallelujah. Someday “every knee shall bow” and I can imagine that better when I watch an audience (especially a secular audience) rise at the first strains of the music.

When I started writing this blog, I didn’t know if I could come up with ten things that I liked about Christmas. I thought I might get to four or five and then would end with saying that the best part was when Christmas was over. I still breathe a big sigh of relief when it is over, but in writing this I found that there is more to like about Christmas than I thought.

Make Room

I started the month of November and retirement with a list of goals and dreams. Retirement coincided with the beginning of my annual NaNoMo project, which seemed like a good place to begin. I thought maybe I’d complete a first draft of the story I’ve been writing–off and on–for several years, the story of my grandmother’s life.

I didn’t come close.

Mostly, I got bogged down in research and writing about writing. I completed my 50,000 words but didn’t write my story.

I also didn’t get my Christmas letter written, a normal task for the month of November. I struggled to find a theme that pulled together the events of 2018 and still was positive enough for a Christmas letter format. Here is the “blog” version of my Christmas letter. (The official Christmas letter will be quite a bit different.) 

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At the beginning of 2018, our pastors at The Edge encouraged us to Make Room for God, for ministry, and for miracles. I asked God for a miracle that day, beginning the year with high hopes for dramatic change in the life of our family.

Soon after, John, Lizi and I left the Chicago’s winter to experience our first New Zealand summer. We tried to prepare well for our absence, leaving a freezer full of organized meals, a morning dog-watcher for Luna, and a support system in place for John2. I even left my smart phone home with him to make calls easier. (We didn’t need three phones in NZ anyways.)

It didn’t go well in spite of all our preparations. We came home to holes in our walls, a broken bar stool, and a very unhappy son. Frustrated with the smart phone, he threw it out into knee deep snow and it was never found again. Only much later did I find out that he had invited two guys from Wayside to live here for three of the weeks that we were gone. We had a great time in New Zealand but coming home was pretty discouraging.

Life went on, as it always does. In March and April, our pastors preached on Fasting and I began a period of regular fasting. In April I decided to do a 21-day partial fast called the Daniel Fast. On the very last day I had an encouraging conversation about it with a patient/pastor during my work day. As I prepared to head home I got a text message about Johnny “freaking out” over something. I came home and began my usual calming measures but things escalated through the night and in the morning we called 911 for help. Johnny was taken to a nearby ER and much later to a local psych unit in Aurora, where he unhappily spent the next ten days, agreeing to do an outpatient program as a requirement for coming home. I got the “dramatic” that I asked for without the positive change I hoped to see. It did begin a process of change that is continuing, very slowly, but the results are still uncertain.

After that I struggled with my plans to go to New Zealand for the birth of a new grandchild. I was torn between the “needs” of my oldest and youngest. The timing didn’t seem right, but in the end I purchased my ticket and stepped forward in faith, leaving a week after Johnny completed the outpatient program, leaving John and Johnny home to work out the details of life together. Simea Areli was born at the end of my first week. I had a wonderful time caring for Charlee while her parents were away and the even sweeter experience of sitting around holding Simee for hours on end during the next three weeks.  

Soon it was Papa John’s turn at grandparenting. He visited James, Anne and the girls for five weeks, mid September to the end of October, when he could help Anne during the beginning of ABS and also help with spring clean up and garden prep. He, too, had a wonderful time with Charlee and Simee. 

While Papa John enjoyed his time in New Zealand, I worked a bit more than normal and finished up my 13-year late-life “career” in nursing on November 2nd. I started retirement with–as I said–lots of goals and dreams. It seemed especially important for Johnny and Lizi to find work. I had writing goals, exercise goals, and so on. I wrote “Au Revoir Octobre” in that flushed mood and as the month progressed, I kept thinking that my next blog should be “No, No, November,” reflecting my discouragement at the lack of progress.

This morning I spent time thinking about the year, again looking for a Christmas letter theme. Make Room?  I remembered a Christmas carol that ended with the refrain, “O Come to my heart Lord Jesus. There is room in my heart for Thee.” When I googled it, I found another song by Matt Redman of Casting Crowns simply called Make Room. Hmmm. Its refrain is a bit different, asking the question, “Is there room in your heart? Is there room in your heart for God to write His story?”

“No, no November” is ending differently than I hoped. 2018 looks like it will also end without the miracle I hoped for. So here’s the question: Can I make room in my heart for God to write His story? Not my story or even my grandmother’s story.

His story.

Au revoir Octobre

I have a love-hate relationship with the month of October. I love all the October birthdays (including mine), Indian summer, and brilliant fall colors. I hate the end of summer, cold windy days, and Halloween. (It’s fine as a fun day for children but adults have wrecked it with ridiculous decorations, adult parties, and gruesome lawn displays. Can’t we just leave it simple for small children?)

But this October was a bit more love than hate.

1. On the first of the month I became eligible for Medicare, ending a two year period of paying for expensive COBRA coverage. Woohoo!

2. Turning 65 a few days later was kind of fun.

3. I also reunited with some of my West Sub classmates for a mini-reunion near Witchita, Kansas. It was really sweet to spend a couple of days with a fun group of friends, nurses, and believers while we laughed over memories and shared our current stories. Some of the women who came had either not been to a reunion for quite some time or ever. It was really fun to reconnect with each one. My friend and neighbor, Cheryl, and I took an extra day to road trip to the reunion, stopping at the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and the Amana Colonies enroute.

The Willow Tree Angel is carrying a lamp similar to the ones we carried down the aisle at graduation. This was a gift from one of our classmates at the reunion. I officially hung up my stethoscope today!

4. And last but not least, I officially retired at the end of the month. My last day was actually November 2nd (today) because I signed up to spend one last work day with Dr. Cheff, my main doc for the first 9 years at Elmhurst Medical Associates. He spent the day teasing me about how awful retirement will be* and predicting that I will be back in 3-6 months. A lunch time potluck and lovely gifts and cards made it a special day. I came home with a full heart.

I chose the french spelling of Octobre to emphasize the “re” in both reunion (back or again+union = back together again) and retirement (back + draw (tirer) = to retreat or withdraw.) I like the play of words that defined this October for me.

* Dr. Cheff’s description of what I can expect in retirement is a huge, cold, dark, windowless and damp room with a slow sound of dripping water. Inside there would be absolutely nothing, complete emptiness except for John and I looking at one another. I insisted the room would be full of light, fabric, sewing machines, a loom, books, my computer and my grandchildren. (He did come back and say that maybe he was being overly negative 😉

Little Lambs

One more New Zealand story:

Near the end of our summer visit, James took their lone sheep down the road to another farm “to get knocked up.” When I returned in winter, Merida still was living down the road, but one afternoon James and a neighbor brought her home, looking very pregnant. She spent the first hour or so in the paddock bleating loudly, as she missed her mates. Soon afterwards, I noticed James and the neighbor backing the trailer into the yard again with a second, smaller sheep.The bleating stopped.

I was really hoping Merida’s lamb would be born before I left. Our “little lamb” Simee was born six days into my visit and we purchased seven chickens and three ducks in the weeks that followed. I thought a lamb would make a perfect ending. It didn’t happen.

A few days ago, James found not one but two black lambs, a boy and a girl, that had been born during the early morning hours. Anne skyped me when they all went out to meet the lambs, a call I took sitting outdoors at a nice restaurant in Geneva, having dinner with a friend. It was a short, but fun call as I shared in the excitement. I got to watch Charlee hold one of the lambs (briefly).

 

 

 

Simee’s baby quilt has a “sheep” theme. Ever since my first trip to New Zealand, when we visited the Bruce family sheep farm, I’ve been drawn to sheep motifs.

I made Charlee a big girl bed quilt in a safari pattern to go along with the elephants and giraffes that decorated her room

and decided to make the baby quilt in sheep fabric with similar, though muted, colors. Here is her quilt, with Merida and Maudie in the background. (Maudie is also “with child” but probably wont have her lamb until October.

Here are the new lambs:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And some pictures of our other lambs (on Simee’s quilt, wearing hats I knitted for the girls and Charlee’s baby doll.)

(Sorry not sorry for all the pictures 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Peepo!

Here’s a little grandbaby
One, two, three,
Cuddled in her gramma’s arms
What does she see?

PEEPO!

She sees Gramma’s crepey neck
and a great big smile.
She sees her sister Charlee,
but only for awhile.

She sees her Daddy watching
eyes pleased and shining bright
She sees her Mommy resting
from the long, long night.

Here’s a little grandbaby
One, Two, Three
Laying in her basket
What does she see?

PEEPO!

She sees the blanket Granny made
Hats and sweaters knit
She sees the soft warm lining
And tiny little mitts.

She sees the sheep quilt
made with loving care
She sees the soft warm sheepskin
Fuzzy as a bear.

Here’s a little grandbaby
One, two, three
Snuggled in her Mama’s arms
What does she see?

PEEPO!

She sees loved ones gathered round
On Skype, Facetime, and here,
She surely will be blessed with friends
And family that will care.

She hears them say her name
Sim-e-a A-re-li
You can call her Simee if her
name’s too hard to try!

I thought I would adapt my favorite New Zealand childrens’ book (PEEPO! by Jan and Allan Ahlberg) to announce the arrival of Simea Areli Bruce, born at 1:15 a.m. on Monday, June 25th weighing 6 lb 7 oz (or 2.91 kg). It’s full of UK-isms like “grandma pegging washing on the clothes-line to be dried” and references to cots and pushchairs. The gramma in the book also looks a bit like my Gramma Christie.

She was born after a long night and day–and second night of labor, moments before they were going to go for a c-section. At the last minute, they checked once more and found her ready to deliver! Simea was born fifteen minutes later–naturally. This has been a huge blessing for Anne as she enjoys recovering from a normal birth.

Dad, Mum, and baby are home and doing well. 

Fathers’ Day Gifts

It’s been a really long time since I last wrote a blog—an interval much longer than I usually go between posting. It hasn’t been for want of raw material.

When I last wrote John2 was coming home as our “guest”. He wasn’t thrilled with the concept, but was relieved to be home and accepted our conditions. One of those conditions was participation in an IOP (Intensive Outpatient Program) 9:00-3:00 Monday through Friday. We chose a program in Hinsdale which required early wake up times, almost an hour commute in rush hour traffic. He and I figured out how to make all this happen: a wake-up smoothie.

Overall, the program gave some structure to his days and helped him look forward to the next treatment phase, which is a DBT program involving individual and group counseling, as well as continuing work with his life coach. It also will include our participation in his counseling on a regular basis. (Previously he avoided groups and didn’t want us involved.)

I have had a couple of good conversations with his therapist. In one session, he recommended that I read two books: Anatomy of an Epidemic and Saving Normal. Both deal with the way we have over-diagnosed and over-medicated mental illness in America over the last few decades. They were scary books to read—and yet, hopeful too. Emotional Management, LLC, has worked with many people, helping them learn to manage their emotions successfully and in some cases, decreasing or getting off medications (a long, slow process.) I wonder if this is the “abundantly more” than I have been able to ask or think (Ephesians 3:20?)

The last six weeks have been difficult and tiring. John has been fairly cooperative, but his moods still went up and down based on circumstances, relationships and car troubles. I stayed up late and got up early, monitoring moods and medications. I also worked a bit more than usual as our staffing is really short at the moment.

I was also preparing for another trip to New Zealand. Knitting, sewing, shopping, and planning to be gone from home for a month. I finished quilts for Charlee and the new baby, diaper inserts, and a baby carrier for Charlee’s doll. I collected items on Anne’s wish list: Annie’s Fruit Roll-ups, Swiss Miss, REI socks, etc.

I am on my way—finishing up the first leg of my journey as I write; preparing for the long flight to Auckland. I’m traveling alone this time (which makes meeting weight limits on luggage harder!) and also traveling to winter (warmer clothes weigh more.) I dread the cold nights, but can’t wait to be there to help with Charlee and welcome a new grand baby. Anne had two due dates—ten days apart. I am arriving on the first one, hoping that the baby is born sometime in the middle.

I also left on Fathers’ Day leaving John with the “gift” of Johnny, whose name actually means “God’s gracious gift.” I’m sorry-not-sorry to be leaving home at this time. I really do want to support and help John2 in this transition, but respite is appealing as well. Please pray for John these next four weeks as he steps into a somewhat different role in the home.

Of course, I also want to help Anne and James. I’m not indispensable in either place and my heart is very much in both places. I’m so glad that my heavenly Father is present in both locations, caring for my family across continents and time zones.

As we were singing worship this morning in church, I was reminded of my Dad who in his later years would sit (not stand) in the pew and raise both arms to the Lord in praise. That was not his style until much later in life but I loved to see these glimpses into his heart and relationship with the Lord. Such memories are a wonderful gift. Happy Fathers Day, Dad. I’m so glad I got to watch you grow sweeter and kinder as you aged.

 

Glow Worms

We just got home from an adventure: a middle-of the night visit to the glow worm caves in Waitamo.

ABS (Adventure Bible School) has been gone for 4 days: hiking, camping and abseiling. Tomorrow they will go caving. We joined them yesterday for a late night hike.

I’ve actually seen glow worms on at least four occasions. The first time I met James, he took Anne and I in a night-time kayak trip down the river so see glow worms hanging on the overhanging trees. During the wedding trip, James and Anne led us across the field near the ABS lodge and down into a ravine. We walked up and down and through a foot of water (where eels lurked in the dark!) to a small cave with a waterfall, open sky and hundreds of glow worms. I’ve been back there twice: once when Anne led Marilyn and I to the caves and again, the night before Anne went into labor.

For all these years, and all these visits, we’ve wanted to go to the bigger glow worm caves at Waitamo. We heard stories about the ABS adventure, including a worship service inside the caves. It never worked out–until this trip.

We met the group around 9:30 p.m. after negotiating miles of curvy switchbacks as the sun went down. By the time we started our hike, it was totally dark. We basically bushwacked for about 40 minutes, up and down, on a rough trail. When we neared the caves, we turned off our headlamps, joined arms and side-stepped our way into the cave. We found seats on a narrow ledge of rock and sat in silence for awhile, taking it all in.

At first, glow worms look like a dark sky full of specks of iridescent light, kind of like the night sky full of bright stars. Looking up at them, I started to see a bright light surrounded by a kind of halo. Viewing them at eye level looked like hundreds of silver/white ornaments in huge clusters, each with a bright center.

In reality, they are simply the excretion of ATP from the bum of a maggot-like larvae, the lights designed to attract flying adults at the end of their life cycle, to be used as food/fuel for the mating and reproduction process of arachnocampo luminosa. They really are quite ugly in daylight.

Still we marvelled at God’s extravagant creation. All this beauty–for what? I’m guessing He just loves creating beauty, even hiding it for hardy hikers (and paying customers who can see it by boat or other means. That’s what I’m planning for my next glow worm experience!)

After midnight, John and I left the group at the trailhead and headed back to town to stay in the Huhu Chalet, a tiny tower AirBnB, with a second floor bedroom with a 30ft ceiling, a steep stairway to the first floor kitchen/bathroom. In spite a comfortable bed, we didn’t sleep well–aching joints and muscles reminded us of our advancing age.

There are no pictures with this post, as there is no way our phone/camera could do justice to the beauty of the glow worms. Instead, here are some interesting links to glow worm pictures and information. Actually, I don’t think the pictures–even the best ones I could find on the Internet–really capture what glow worms are like in real life. Guess you have to come to New Zealand to see them.

Christmas al fresco

We celebrated Christmas today. We had cinnamon rolls with fresh eggs; read the Christmas story from Luke 2;  enjoyed watching Charlee open her presents and played the new game that was James’ gift, King of Tokyo. James and Anne gardened and clipped the chickens’ wings. We went swimming.

 

And then we had a lovely dinner of roasted chicken, roasted vegetables and pavlova–outdoors.

 

Its been overcast and rainy since we arrived but we haven’t minded. We needed time to get over jet lag and enjoy little Charlee.

 

She is a busy little girl with a beautiful one-dimple smile, white-blond curls, and a solid, strong body. She inherited agility from both James and Anne: climbs confidently, wanders freely, and handles the animals with ease.

Her Christmas presents were a bike, a baby doll (w/cradle, quilt and baby paraphernalia), a stuffed singing elephant, and a coffee-maker wooden toy. The bike was from her parents and later that day, James made a ramp for her! John made the cradle and I made the quilt. She is a busy little mama, caring for the baby. Good practice for the real baby coming in June.

Anne and James are now away on a two-day vacation, the first time they’ve both been away from Charlee overnight. The three of us are managing to keep up with one busy little girl.

 

 

 

 

 

Merry Christmas! (It’s finally over :-)!

 

 

Sew Organized!

We are continuing to settle into our new home–and getting ourselves organized.

I started with my sewing area in the basement. I bought an Ikea Kallax 8-bin unit to define my space and set up a boundary with the kids’ play area. Bins organized toys and fabric and an attached table made a nice home for my new sewing machine. I returned to Ikea for another table for my serger and a cutting board, and an even bigger–16 bin–unit to store my fabric. A re-covered design board, a new ironing board cover, and a table skirt to hide more bins of stuff, completed my sewing room by mid-July.

 

With Lizi moving back home, I organized the closet in her room to compactly hold–and organiez–her clothes and my (non-sewing) hobbies.

 

I needed to cram a lot of books and files into a small space. Back to Ikea (several times) to pick up pieces of the Algot system and figure out how to use the space well. I finished our new, organized closet by the end of August.

 

 

 

 

 

Last, but certainly not least, we were able to get our garage organized by the end of September. Another Kallax system and more bins, a massive workbench and pegboard, and numerous shelves. Our bikes are stored up high on pulleys for easy access and sports bins hold the balls, discs, and skates. A rail system holds gardening tools, etc. Plus we either stored (garage attic) or threw out the rest of our junk.

Best of all, we are able to park two cars in the garage for the first time since we left our Bellwood home in 1980! We are so excited to be able to pull in and out of the garage,
away from the elements. And yes, I have ball hanging from a rope to guide me into my space 🙂

 

One more thing: My threads for weaving are finally “organized” after what seems like months of stops and starts. Before we left Elmhurst I laid out 400+ threads on the warping board and tied them neatly. In August, I managed to get all the threads onto the loom, but didn’t finish dressing it until this week. For me, that means going over and over it to get it right: the pattern, the threading of the heddles, the sleying of the reed and then, the tension. I love how it looks when it is all done, though I have to say the process of getting to this point is more than tedious. Now I’m ready for the fun of weaving 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

 

Really, sew organized!

 

Meandering

I am a meanderer.

I’m not sure if that is a word or not, but I rarely take the direct route when driving. My last trip to Detroit took seven hours (without any stops at quilt stores.) It took even longer coming home. When I travel home from work, it always seems to take a couple hours. Fortunately, even if I work two days in a week, I only make one return trip home because my normal routine is to stay overnight in Elmhurst to avoid the long commute. (I think I just meandered through that paragraph!)

Today was one of those days. I left work early and decided to stop at a quilt store and Ikea, “on my way” home. On the spur of the moment, I stopped to visit a friend near Ikea. And then I set my GPS for home. I meandered through a bit of what I call “suburban hell,” curvy roads through the suburbs that catch you in their tangled webs. I meandered past a lot of fields and industry.

Before I knew it, my GPS had me meandering right past the farm where Laura and Taylor pick up their CSA vegetables every Friday. A light went on: We were supposed to do the pick up today. I called John to see if he had remembered (he didn’t) so I pulled in and was able to get our weekly supply, just moments past the regular closing time.

And then I meandered home. Right, left, left, right. Farm fields and housing developments. And then, I was on Hafenrichter, one of the streets bordering our subdivision. Home–with a smile on my face. What a lovely commute.

P.S. The sun was shining and the top was down on my convertible. I’m sure that had something to do with my happy feeling.