Blogging from A-Z – Easter … everlasting life

Today’s post is brought to you by the letter “E.” (I’m blogging the alphabet in April. Read the details at Suzy & Spice here or the Blogging from A-Z page here.)

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It seems wrong to be in the middle of a monthlong blogging challenge that excludes Sundays … when one of those Sundays is Easter.

And, if I had planned ahead, you would be reading this on Easter Sunday instead of the day after.

But, come to think of it, Easter is all about what happened After.

“He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead! Remember what he told you back in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be betrayed into the hands of sinful men and be crucified, and that he would rise again on the third day” (Luke 24:6-7, NLT).

In fact, the central theme of the Christian faith is about what happened after Jesus was crucified.

In his Easter sermon, my pastor quoted a favorite pastor and author, Tim Keller:

“If Jesus rose from the dead, then you have to accept all that he said; if he didn’t rise from the dead, then why worry about any of what he said? The issue on which everything hangs is not whether or not you like his teaching but whether or not he rose from the dead.”

There’s not much more to say than that. It sums it up. If Jesus had stayed in the grave, there would be nothing to hope for, nothing to live for, nothing to die for.

Nothing to talk about.

What you can hope for – trust in – is eternal life with Jesus Christ:

“If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9, English Standard Version).

If you would like to know more about having an everlasting relationship with Jesus and need to talk to someone about it, feel free to email me here:

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I want to leave you with two things:

 

Rejoice with me today, for …

HE IS RISEN!

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Follow me on twitter: OakleySuzyT

Tomorrow: F is for ??? (I don’t remember – I thought of the topic at work and left my list there!). Stay tuned.

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What’s the big deal about Presidents Day?

Maybe I’m just becoming a curmudgeon (a distinction typically reserved for old men).

I’ve long decried the commercialism of Christmas. Then came Valentine’s Day (the ultimate made-up “holiday” – fortunately we do not get an extra day off work for it), Halloween lights, Easter eggstravaganzas and all manner of merchandise hawking.

There has long been a Presidents Day White Sale each year – get your towels and bed linens at a discount. (It was probably a Washington’s Day Sale a few years ago, but I don’t remember.) Typically, this hasn’t bothered me. It was just background noise.

But, for some reason, this year it really bothers me.

I just did a quick search for “presidents day history” – not on Google, but on a search engine that doesn’t archive and helpfully “remember” my searches – and the first result wasn’t a summary, or even a list, of how we can remember our nation’s chief executives, show respect for them or pray for them. It was this:

4 Days Only: Presidents’ Day Sale At Best Buy®, Fri–Mon. Shop Now!

The first result.

And in my inbox, where I receive various newsletters:

PRESIDENTIAL savings so big, I have to keep it a secret!

And …

CheeseConey_WashingtonApproves
Which “Washington” approves? Is it the dead president? Do they mean our nation’s capital?

And then …

FINAL DAY! Save 25% Honoring Your Presidents, VIP!

I had already been pondering this post for about a week, but the ad for the the sale mentioned above, in my inbox from a retailer where I buy some of my running shoes, rubbed my patriotic hide raw …

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Especially when the PRESIDENTS you’re saving and “honoring” are DOLLARS, not PEOPLE.

… and I couldn’t fight the urge to rant, just a little. (Bruce and I even need new running shoes, but we’re not falling for this presidential deal.)

I realize that retail is tough, marketing and sales are tough, and each slice of the American pie is getting smaller all the time. We have an endless buffet at which to spend our consumer dollars. And I believe in capitalism. But this is a prime example of capitalism run amok.

However, in the interests of saving myself from curmudgeonhood, I’ve decided that full-blown rant isn’t what I want. (You’re welcome.)

I’d prefer to write a remembrance, a bit of U.S. history. (Disclaimer: I’m not a historian, just a U.S. citizen with an Internet connection and an interest in honoring our forebears. I’m choosing tidbits that are interesting and/or meaningful to me.)

  • For starters, even though we’ve come to know it as Presidents Day – the combining of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln’s birthdays (Feb. 22 and 12th, respectively) – the holiday is still officially Washington’s Birthday. “Contrary to popular belief, neither Congress nor the President has ever stipulated that the name of the holiday observed as Washington’s Birthday be changed to ‘President’s Day.’ ”
  • In 1879, Rutherford B. Hayes (1877–81) signed the Act to Relieve Certain Legal Disabilities of Women, which cleared the way for female attorneys to argue cases in any U.S. federal court. In 1880, Belva Lockwood became the first female lawyer to argue a case before the U.S. Supreme Court. … Hayes was elected Ohio governor for the third time in 1875 on a platform focused on the procurement of voting rights for blacks and on economic plans calling for a strong gold-backed currency. … After leaving the White House, Hayes and his wife Lucy returned to their estate, Spiegel Grove, in Fremont, Ohio, and the former president devoted himself to educational issues and prison reform, among other humanitarian causes. (Source: History Channel)
  • A century later, Jimmy Carter (1977-81), my favorite former president, is also known for his humanitarian efforts, most of which have happened since he left office. He and his wife, Rosalynn, have been involved with Habitat for Humanity for more than 30 years. (I became aware of Habitat in 1988, when I was in college, and I volunteered with Habitat for several years.) The Carters have been major supporters of Habitat and have built many houses with the charity over the years. While I don’t always agree with President Carter, I admire him (Source: me). Previously, as governor of Georgia, “he publicly called for an end to segregation, increased the number of black officials in state government by 25 percent and promoted education and prison reform.” As president, “he suspended economic and military aid to Chile, El Salvador and Nicaragua in protest of those regimes’ human rights abuses. But Carter’s most notable foreign policy achievement was his successful mediation of the Camp David Accords between Israel and Egypt, leading to a historic peace treaty in which Israel withdrew from the Sinai and the two sides officially recognized each other’s governments” (Source: Bio). We won’t talk about the Panama Canal or the Iran hostage crisis.
  • I had never (to my recollection) heard the story of James A. Garfield’s 1881 assassination, less than four months after he took office. Read this fascinating account of his brilliant life – and his death – from CBS News’ “How doctors killed President Garfield.” An ironic detail:

On the scene at the train station: Cabinet member Robert Todd Lincoln. Present at his father’s death 16 years before, he would also witness the murder of McKinley 20 years later. “Of the four presidential assassinations, he was there for three of them … a pretty ghoulish distinction!”

  • Finally, our 44th president, Barack Obama (2009-present). While I disagree with much of is ideas and ideology, I don’t believe President Obama is the devil, and, if our nation is going to hell in a hand-basket, it’s not solely his fault, nor is it solely the fault of one political party (it’s the fault of all of us, individually and collectively). Today’s post isn’t about politics or finger-pointing; it’s about remembering and honoring our nation’s chief executives through the ages. No matter what political party you’re affiliated with – or if you’re anti-political – pray for President Obama and show respect for him; he has a tough job.

Today’s post is to help us all pause to remember that this day is not just a day off work (although I am grateful for that); it’s not just a day to buy new sheets and towels or $1 hot dogs. It’s a day to remember and honor. Let us do it together, as a nation.


Sidebar: I’ve found most of these histories by using ixquick and Google. Ixquick is somewhat of a bare-bones search engine: Just the facts, ma’am. Not a lot of fancy footwork. Google, on the other hand, tends to celebrate milestones, birthdays and historic events a little more flamboyantly – usually including a clever piece of art on its sparse homepage. Which makes it interesting that today Google’s home page graphic looks like it does on most regular days:

Google Screen Shot 2015-02-16 at 10.29.04 AM

No dancing, prancing presidents, no cherry tree in place of the L, no stovepipe hat on the G. Nothing. Am I the only one who thinks that’s … unGoogly?

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It’s been fun reading up on some of our nation’s presidents, and I hope these brief glimpses have whet your appetite for more. Take a little time this “Presidents Day” to do some of your own presidential reading. And if you find a fun or interesting fact that you didn’t find here, share it with the rest of us!

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Songs to make your heart happy

It’s no secret that I love Christmas music. Heck, I just love music, period. I listen to everything from country to rap (if it has positive lyrics) to opera. Just about anything can get me singing along, tapping my toes or even dancing around the room.

I’ve been listening to Michael W. Smith’s new Christmas album since it came out several weeks ago. It features duets with country and other artists, including his longtime pal Amy Grant (and even one with her husband, Vince Gill).

I have Michael’s first Christmas album, which is 25 years old, and all three of Amy’s Christmas albums. (I totally missed Michael’s 1998 and 2007 albums. Where was I??? The only thing I can remember is that those are the years of Bruce’s two biggest Crohn’s flare-ups, including the year we got married. I guess I was a bit distracted.)

The thing I like about Michael and Amy’s Christmas albums is that they include not only traditional songs (with their own unique spin) but original or lesser-known music that makes my heart soar (orchestras, full choirs and instrument solos are plentiful). There are tender songs such as Amy’s “Breath of Heaven” and the hauntingly beautiful “Gabriel’s Oboe” (a version of this song was featured in one of my favorite movies, The Mission); Michael’s “Lux Venit” (co-written with Amy) and “Christ the Messiah,” both with choirs; and the gentle “Welcome to Our World” (both artists).

At least one album from each artist includes a song with bagpipes, which I personally love, although my dad always considered them noise (like listening to a “mashed duck”): Amy has “Highland Cathedral,” and Michael includes “A Highland Carol.” Beautiful, both.

But enough going on about Amy and Smitty. To the songs I wanted to share with you today:

The first two are from Michael’s 2014 album, “The Spirit of Christmas.” These are “lyric videos” – the only versions I could include here legally – although I do find the lyrics on screen distracting from the beauty of the music. To get the full force, close your eyes and listen to the soaring music. (Don’t worry – you’ll be able to understand the words; this isn’t Bob Dylan.) And if you want to go back and catch the lyrics visually as you listen, click and listen a second time. This particular album features mostly country singers, with the exception of Audrey Smith (Smitty’s granddaughter), Michael McDonald (the Doobie Brothers) and U2 lead singer Bono (another of my favorites), with a whispered take on “The Darkest Night.”

It’s all good!

This one, “All is Well,” features Carrie Underwood. Close those eyes and listen (after you click, of course).

And this one, “Almost There” – about Mary’s long journey to give birth to our Lord and Savior – features Amy Grant.

Switching gears a bit, I thought I’d throw in a third one, which is not a Christmas song at all, but I received a link to it (and two others by Crowder) in an email today from Capitol Christian Music Group. Called “This I Know,” it’s really good, especially if you like hillbilly music! And if you don’t, still give it a try. You don’t even have to close your eyes.

I had trouble deciding which of the three Crowder songs to share here. Seriously, I went back and forth for a few minutes before deciding to share the above video on this page. They’re all good in different ways. So if you visit YouTube, also listen to the inviting “Come as You Are” and the toe-tapping “Ain’t No Grave.” You won’t be sorry.

Finally, I’m giving a shout-out to my friend Lois over at Waxing Gibbous, who more or less inspired this little sing-a-long with her Song of the Month feature. Her latest is a song by The Martins, “This is the Promise” (also not a Christmas song), and it’s beautiful.

Which of these did you like best? Leave us a comment below.

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These boots are made for talkin’ – or ‘A Practical Girl’s Guide to Having Some Fun’

SuzysNewBoots12-13-14I’ve lived in Arkansas umpteen years and never had a pair of cowboy boots – never even tried on a pair, never really wanted any. But now I have a pair, y’all! (You’ll have to keep reading to find out which ones I chose.)

Why the turnaround? For one thing, cowboy boots have become quite a fashion item in the past couple of years, and I’ve seen some really cute boots lately – the variety of designs has really exploded. Some of my blogger friends got free pairs a couple of years ago by promoting a particular Arkansas-based retailer with a giveaway on their blogs, but even then I wasn’t that interested, except that I liked the idea of helping a local business.

Given enough time, however, I have been known to come around and get on a particular fashion bandwagon. (Remember stonewashed jeans in the 1980s? It took me years to own a pair [why would you want to buy something brand new that looks worn out?]. Platform shoes? A couple of years.) Often, by the time I’ve come around the trendy item is no longer “the” thing to wear. I just don’t want to be known as someone who does something just because everyone else is.

But cowboy boots are different. Cowboy boots, which started as more function than fashion, have been around for ages. Click here for a bit of boot history, which even mentions red boots! (Yeah, leave it to me to turn a happy Christmas tale into a history lesson about boots and those lovable Huns.)

My dad wore cowboy boots and always considered them the most comfortable shoes he owned. I never understood that – I always thought they would be stiff and hot – but he owned several pairs in his lifetime, and since he had back problems dating to before I was born, I figured there must be something to it.

Dad died in 1997 (Dec. 23, to be exact), and cowboy boot styles have evolved quite a bit since his day. So my mind started to open just a bit on the topic of girls (this girl, in particular) wearing cowboy boots.

DSC02819In October this year, I went to my cousin Nathan’s wedding, and the entire wedding party (from the bride on down the tiny little girls in their frilly dresses and denim vests and jackets) was wearing cowboy boots. It was an outdoor wedding (sort of – the weather was cool and drizzly, so they put up a big tent), and it was kinda country. Classy country, though. Not ritzy but cozy, homey and fun. Tiny white lights, handmade quilts, homemade soups, cornbread, pies. (Someone in our party may have had two pieces of the pecan pie, but I’m not telling.)

SONY DSCI was totally caught up in the beauty and fun of that day (probably the most beautiful wedding I’ve ever had the privilege of attending), and before it was over I said to Bruce, “I know what I want for my birthday: a pair of red cowboy boots.” (To my recollection, there were no red boots in the wedding party, but I just really like red.)

My birthday was in late November (Black Friday this year), but I didn’t get the boots. (Don’t blame Bruce – this wasn’t a gift he could just surprise me with, and I’m way too practical to spend that kind of money on a birthday gift for myself.) I had more or less talked myself out of boots, mainly because of the price tag.

All my life I’ve been accused of being “too practical.” (I’m thinking of you, Southern California car salesman who tried to sell me a red Mazda Miata when I was shopping for my first post-college vehicle.)

I’m originally a California girl, and I still consider that my home state. But, really, I have two homes. I refer to myself as a CalifArkansan (don’t try to say that too fast). I’m somewhat of a city girl but do enjoy me some country music, a mess of fried catfish (that one took me years) and a good dog (or two). I’m what Donny and Marie would refer to as “a little bit country, a little bit rock ‘n’ roll.”

So I just couldn’t stop thinking about cowboy boots (specifically, red cowboy boots), and I knew this wasn’t going to be just an impulse purchase. Maybe not a practical purchase, but, hey, a girl’s gotta go off the rails every once in a while, right?

Fast forward to Saturday morning, Dec. 13. I woke up thinking I didn’t want to spend the day catching up on Quicken and other household necessities. No, reconciling bank statements would not be the order of the day. I’ve been working a lot of overtime lately, and weekends have been for catching up at home – I always feel behind. But OT = a little extra cash, right? It was time for a day off.

Cue the red-boot fantasy.

I called Mom and said, “Hey, I’ve always wanted to stop by Western Trails, but we’re always too busy getting to or from Little Rock to drop in. Wanna go?” (There was no mention of boots – only the thought of getting out and visiting a store from which I had seen some neat jewelry and cute outfits.)

Mom, who is always in favor of shaking me out of practical mode, was game. So by midday, she and I – with Bruce as our chauffeur – set out for Pleasant Plains, about 15 miles south of Batesville.

The experience couldn’t have been more fun. (And for a gal who hates to shop, that’s saying a lot.)

When we entered the store, we had to take a moment to browse the pretty silver jewelry, which is the first thing that catches your eye when you walk in. Then we checked out the clothing section for about two minutes. But that wasn’t why I came. I was a girl on a mission:

To the boots!

The sales clerk showed me a few red pairs, and a few non-red boots also caught my eye. I tried on three pairs of red, but then someone, maybe Bruce, pointed out a pair of light brown boots with red accents. Red stitching and red crosses. I really liked them, but hadn’t I come for all-red boots. Nevertheless, they were worth a try, as they were really great-looking boots. I was still wearing one red boot on the left, so I tried the brown boot on the right.

Now, here’s a thing I love about a small-town store: As I walked around in two unmatched boots, everyone in the store gave an opinion – even folks I didn’t ask!

A guy near the dressing room, where his wife was trying on clothes, pointed and said, “That one. Definitely that one.” (Not the red one.)

Eight or nine people gave their opinions, and not a single one voted for red.

When I protested to each one that I came for RED boots, several folks (including the store owner) said, “Get both!”

Ha! Don’t I wish?

So … can you guess which ones I left with?

I left wearing the brown ones with the red crosses. No, they aren’t the red boots I set out on a mission to buy, but they are beautiful boots. And my mission is much bigger than red cowboy boots.

You see, crosses have a special meaning for me.

MrSmith_imageBruce and I don’t spend a lot on Christmas gifts. We give his son cash, my mom Mary Kay (I sell it, she wears it, so she insists that’s all she needs), my brother’s family small gifts of appreciation and affection, and each other some small token of what our life together is like. Last year (or maybe year before last), our gift to one another was a $6.99 DVD of one of our favorite movies starring a favorite actor: “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” with Jimmy Stewart. (Not a Christmas movie, FYI, but one with plenty of heart.)

Even though we’re from different faith backgrounds, we both understand that the meaning of Christmas is not in obtaining stuff. We give charitably throughout the year – a lot less than we would like, but nevertheless with hearts that want to help those less fortunate. And we make Christmas a time in which we keep in mind that it’s about giving rather than accumulating.

So, for me, it’s hard to justify spending $200-plus on a pair of boots that I don’t need but merely want.

Having a new pair of cowboy boots won’t give me eternal happiness. But it’s OK to have them. And the red crosses are my reminder never to take my blessings for granted. They came at a cost.

Having red crosses on my boots is a symbol of what Christ did for us. He left the privileges of heaven to become human. Messy, exhausting, hard. Humanity.

Jesus came to save us from our own messes, our self-centeredness, our difficult moments … seasons … of humanity. He came to show us what humanity really could be, even in the smallest of moments. That handful of brown-boot-voting folks in Western Trails showed me a small glimpse of what humanity was meant to be: Giving. Connecting. Family, even – if only for a few moments. I may never see most of those instant friends again, but in those few minutes in the store, they gave me their own brand of Christmas spirit.

As we remember my dad’s home-going on Dec. 23, 1997, I get more sentimental each year. I miss him. But he’s exactly where he belongs: with his Savior and King.

After we left the store Saturday, I said to Mom, “I wish my daddy could see me in my new cowboy boots – I think he’d like them.”

She agreed.

“I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” John 10:10 (NIV)

If you would like to know more about Jesus and His purpose for your one and only life, please contact me. You can post in the comments and I’ll follow up with you privately. Or click here.

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Friday Five: Favorite Holiday TV Shows

Normally, I read Tara’s Friday Five around 5 a.m., and I kick myself for not having one ready: There is no way I can come up with a Friday Five and post something by the end of the day. And who wants to wake up to a Friday Five on Saturday?

I’m still in AWE of Tara’s ability to get so much done; she consistently posts a Friday Five, a Weekend Update, a Marathon Training summary (she’s a half-marathon veteran but is training for her first full marathon), book reviews and all kinds of other neat stuff. I want to be her when I grow up, and we haven’t even met!

But last week’s Friday Five was an easy one for me, so I got ’er done quickly and then, because I’m a fan of the Christmas season in general (movies, songs, food, decorations, TV shows and, of course, Jesus) – and, people, I just needed a break – I decided to do my own Friday Five spinoff so I wouldn’t be caught off guard this Friday. (I’m writing this Wednesday night – so there!) Despite the fact that I’m supposed to be balancing my checkbook right now, I’m taking a writing break to have some more holiday fun. I am way overdue.

I give you my Five Favorite Holiday TV Shows, in reverse order of preference:

  1. Frosty the Snowman (1969).

FrostyTheSnowman_imageFor starters, Jimmy Durante! (Kids, ask your parents.) This popular comedian and actor had a distinctive voice, a distinctive schnoz (a big nose) and the once-mysterious parting line, “Good night, Mrs. Calabash, wherever you are” at the end of his radio show. Mr. Durante narrates this tale of good (Frosty) vs. evil (the magician who tries to steal Frosty’s silk hat, which, as we all know, is “how he came to life one day”).

Then there is Frosty, himself – a happy, friendly and self-sacrificing snowman. He allows himself to melt inside a warm building to save little Karen from freezing to death. (Maybe I liked this show so much when I was a kid because Karen is my first name.) There’s the flippity-floppity bunny rabbit, Hocus Pocus (he may be the evil magician’s sidekick, but he’s really a good bunny at heart – plus he’s really good at Charades), as well as those other animated kids, whose names I do not recall.

And, even though Gene Autry and countless others have recorded this song over the decades, I can’t imagine anyone other than Jimmy Durante singing “Frosty the Snowman” during the closing credits of this happy TV special.

QUOTE: “HAPPY BIRTHDAY!” (Frosty)

TRIVIA from imdb: Frosty the TV show came after the song became a hit for Gene Autry, who also recorded “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.”

  1. It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown (1966).

GreatPumpkin_image(You thought all of these faves were going to be Christmas shows and I was using the politically correct term “holiday” instead of “Christmas,” didn’t you? Didn’t you? Ha! I threw this in to throw you off.)

So … to our plot:

Poor Linus. He thinks this will be the year he gets a visit from the Great Pumpkin. As the rest of the Peanuts gang trick-or-treats, Linus and his blue blanket wait and wait in his pumpkin patch until … well, you wouldn’t want me to spoil the ending, now, would you?

One thing I can tell you: This is classic Peanuts, with the whole gang – Charlie Brown, Lucy, Sally, Pigpen, Peppermint Patty, Schroeder, Violet and, of course, Snoopy (aka WWI Flying Ace) – joining in the festivities.

QUOTE: “Everyone tells me you are a fake, but I believe in you. P.S.: If you really are a fake, don’t tell me. I don’t want to know.” (Linus)

TRIVIA from imdb: “After the special originally aired, children all over the country sent candy to Charlie Brown out of sympathy.” (All Charlie Brown had gotten during trick-or-treating was a bag of rocks.)

  1. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964).

Rudolph_imageFirst, there’s Burl Ives. He plays the narrator, Sam the Snowman. Not only does Burl narrate – he sings! (I have a sing-along Burl Ives album of Disney songs from when I was a kid. It’s an LP. I still listen to it. In fact I’m listening to it now, as I write.)

And then there is the sweet, sweet story of a little reindeer with the “blinkin’ beacon” who is ostracized by all the other reindeer – except, of course, Clarice, who thinks he’s cuuuuude! But the cast of characters also includes Yukon Cornelius, the Abominable Snowmonster (aka Bumble) and Rudolph’s fellow “misfit” Hermey the elf/wannabe dentist. Lots of wonderful songs in this one, including “We are Santa’s Elves,” “I am Old Kris Kringle” and “There’s Always Tomorrow.”

QUOTES: “Didn’t I ever tell you about Bumbles? Bumbles bounce!” (Yukon Cornelius)

“How do you like that? Even among misfits you’re a misfit.” (Yukon)

“Whoever heard of a skinny Santa? Eat. Eat!” (Mrs. Claus)

“How can I eat? That silly elf song is driving me crazy!” (Santa Claus)

“She thinks I’m cuuuuude!” (Rudolph)

Wahooooo!” (Yukon Cornelius)

TRIVIA from imdb: “Why is Dolly for Sue, who is apparently a perfectly ordinary doll, living on the Island of Misfit Toys? This gripping debate raged on for decades, until official word from Rankin-Bass recently decided the issue: Dolly for Sue is a ‘misfit’ because she has psychological problems – she feels unloved.” (Oh, good grief.)

  1. A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965).

CharlieBrownChristmas_imagePretty much anything the Peanuts Gang does is OK by me. I like this one the best, though. I don’t even know where to start, so I’ll just start.

My favorite things about this special:

Linus. Especially his soliloquy, in which he tells part of the Christmas story from Luke 2 (King James Version). He stands onstage in the spotlight, accompanied by his ever-present blue blanket, and in his sweet young voice he begins, “And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night…” Notice that when he comes to the part that says, “Fear not,” Linus lets go of his security blanket.

The scrawny little tree. Sure, Lucy and the rest of the gang make fun of Charlie Brown’s pick for a tree for their Christmas pageant, but to me the tree symbolizes Hope. No one is ever beyond the reach of God, and out of His tender love we become beautiful. Isn’t that why Jesus came – to give us hope?

The music. Ever since I got a smart phone three years ago, I’ve had as my default ring tone the song that everyone recognizes as the Charlie Brown Christmas song, called “Linus & Lucy.” Also, “Christmastime is Here” and “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” by those sweet little voices, and “O Tannenbaum” (I actually learned the words in German in fourth grade, and I do not know the English version, “O Christmas Tree”).

Snoopy. Well, because he’s Snoopy.

QUOTE: “Gee, do they still make wooden Christmas trees?” (Linus)

TRIVIA from imdb: “[Director] Bill Melendez tried to talk Charles M. Schulz out of using Biblical references (especially Linus’ speech) in this special. Schulz reportedly won him over by saying, ‘If we don’t do it, who will?’ As it turned out, Linus’ recitation was hailed as one of the most powerful moments in the highly acclaimed special.”

The special “broke many of the rules prevalent for animated holiday specials during the 1960s: it didn’t make use of a laugh track; real children were used for the character voices instead of adult actors imitating children’s voices; and Biblical references were used to illustrate the true meaning of Christmas.”

  1. Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (1966).

HowTheGrinchStoleChristmas_imageNo, not the Jim Carrey version. Please. (Although I’m sure it was lovely, as it was directed by the multitalented Ron Howard. But, no.)

The 1966, animated version of How the Grinch Stole Christmas! has been my favorite Christmas show for as long as I can remember. When I was a kid, I simply enjoyed it; I couldn’t tell you why. Now that I’m grown (but not really), I can tell you these reasons:

Dr. Seuss. I think Theodor Geisel (aka Dr. Seuss) was one of the most brilliant poets ever to live. I could read or listen to his books all day long. He had a sense of whimsy and fun, he was clever as the dickens, and he had a social conscience.

Boris Karloff, star of countless horror movies in the early days of film, as narrator. His deep voice is just perfect.

The music (of course). Music, even if it’s just part of the background, is a huge part of any movie or TV show. It sets the mood of any scene. In this show, the highlights, for me, are “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch”; the lively music as the sled gains speed; and “Fahoo Foraze,” which the Whos sing while standing hand in hand as the story ends.

The Whos down in Whoville. Those Whos are so happy, ain’t nothin’ gonna steal their Christmas cheer. Even when the Grinch (disguised as Santy Claus) steals all their food, their presents, their tree and even the log from their fire, plus the last crumb of food that was even too small for a mouse(!) … well, you can still hear them singing joyfully for miles around. (They must have taken a cue from Buddy the Elf.)

Cindy Lou Who, in particular. She is just too stinkin’ cute, with those big, innocent blue eyes and that adorable little sticking-up ponytail.

Max the dog. Ever year when I watch this show – and I see that greedy old Grinch strap those sawed-off antlers to Max’s head and make him pull that sleigh with all the Whos’ stolen Christmas presents up that snow-covered mountain – I say out loud, “Poor Max.” Out loud. Every year. But I love the excited, tongue-hanging-out expression on Max’s face when the sleigh gains momentum as it careens down the mountain and Max jumps on, thinking he’s gonna get a free ride. He’s happy for a moment, but … poor Max.

A big heart. The Grinch starts out with a heart that’s “two sizes too small.” But who can stay a grinch while listening to all those little Whos singing their hearts out on Christmas Day, when all their presents and decorations have been stolen? No one, that’s Who!

The message that Christmas isn’t about material things.

“Maybe Christmas,” he thought, “doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more!”

QUOTE: “I got hung up getting the Grinch out of the mess. I got into a situation where I sounded like a second-rate preacher or some biblical truism. … Finally in desperation … without making any statement whatever, I showed the Grinch and the Whos together at the table, and made a pun of the Grinch carving the ‘roast beast.’ … I had gone through thousands of religious choices, and then after three months it came out like that.” (Theodor Geisel)

TRIVIA from imdb: “The lyrics to the song ‘Fahoo Foraze’ were made to imitate classical Latin. After the special aired, the studio received letters asking for a translation from people who believed them to be real Latin.”

“Dr. Seuss disputed casting Boris Karloff for fear that he would make the Grinch too scary.”

“Thurl Ravenscroft received no screen credit for his singing, an oversight Dr. Seuss attempted to rectify by sending letters to every major columnist in America identifying Ravenscroft as the singer on ‘You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch.’ He is also part of the chorus on the other two songs.”

As you can tell, I’m a sucker for a happy ending. There aren’t any sad stories on this list of holiday specials. Well, as far as I know, Linus has never seen the Great Pumpkin, so his ending could be a bit happier. But he still has hope.

And that’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.

What are your favorite holiday TV shows?

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Friday Five: Favorite Holiday Movies

It has been an exhausting and difficult few weeks, so when I saw my blogging friend Tara’s Friday Five this morning, I knew that it was time to put my long to-do list away for a few minutes and spend some time having fun.

And, if you know me, you know that talking about Christmas movies and singing Christmas songs are my idea of having F-U-N!

(Confession: I break out my Amy Grant Christmas albums – all three of them – around July every year. I’m sure Bruce loves them just as much as I do. Right, Honey? I’m waiting for someone to challenge me to a Christmas Song Trivia Contest. I would totally win. Any takers?)

I “met” Tara of Running ‘N’ Reading when she followed me on Twitter a few months ago, and I recently realized that we probably came face to face in August when she traveled to Batesville to run the White River 4 Mile Classic (she ran; I handed out cups of water along the route). We’ve gotten to know each other a little bit through our blogs, social media and the Arkansas running community, and we share a love of good books, too. Tara posts a Friday Five every single week (I don’t know how she keeps up with all her blogging, marathon training, book reviews and what-not and also finds time for work and sleep!), and it’s not often that I get to join in, but this is my way of saying, publicly: Tara, you rock!

Here are my Favorite Holiday Movies, and stay tuned for my Favorite Christmas TV Specials. (There are so many to love, I have to separate the movies and TV shows into different categories!) But don’t expect a Favorite Holiday Songs post, because the list would go to infinity and beyond.

In no particular order (mostly because I can’t decide for sure on No. 1):

  1. It’s a Wonderful Life  (1946).

ItsAWonderfulLife_image

Even before I began working at a bank that gives back to the community in so many ways, both large and small (I personally have been a recipient of donations to my “causes” from both the corporate entity and employee support), I loved the themes in this movie: generosity, community spirit, personal accountability, angels watching our backs (“Attaboy, Clarence! Attaboy!”), love (family, spouse, friends, neighbors) esprit de’ corps, buddies (remember Ernie and Bert, the cops?) and forgiveness. Mr. Potter, eat your heart out.

And then there’s Jimmy Stewart. Could you imagine anyone else, ever, as George Bailey? If anyone ever attempts to remake this movie (I sure hope no one has), the casting director would have a heckuva time finding a replacement for the incomparable James Stewart.

  • 2. Elf (2003).

Elf_imageThe first time I saw this story of a 6-foot-3 human who was raised by elves, I went to the theater thinking it was going to be dumb but I decided to give it a try. And the first time I watched it, I thought, “Yeah, it’s dumb but I kinda liked it.” Now it’s a can’t-miss movie every year, and I pop it into the DVD player several times a season (starting in … October?) while I’m puttering around the house on Saturdays. For sure, there are dumb moments, but maybe the adolescent in me chooses to embrace them (I still laugh out loud during the long-and-loud-belch scene).

But I love Buddy’s childlike innocence and enthusiasm. Can you imagine being happy and bringing holiday cheer every day, all year, to everyone you meet? As they teach in elf school: “The best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear.” There are so many great one-liners in this movie, especially from Buddy: “I just like to smile. Smiling’s my favorite.” And to the fake Santa: “You sit on a throne of lies.”

(This was also the first time I became aware of the awesome Zooey Deschanel, who played Jovie. Love her.)

  1. Miracle on 34th Street (1947 and 1994).

MiracleOn34thStreet-1947This is one of those rare cases in which I enjoy the sequel as much as (well, nearly as much as) the original. (Notable non-holiday examples: Sabrina and True Grit, although my brother would challenge me on that last one.)

Natalie Wood is wonderful as the 6-year-old Susan, but little Mara Wilson is equally precocious; she steals every scene she’s in, because she’s just so stinkin’ cute. And the Santas (Edmund Gwenn, 1947, and Richard Attenborough, 1994) are both engaging and delightful. If I had to pick the main character love-interests, though, I’d choose the always wonderful Maureen O’Hara from the original and good-guy Dylan McDermott from the sequel (although John Payne is not bad on the eyes).

For me, the 1994 version is eye candy. The costume designer chose classic wardrobes for all the characters, and the scenery takes you back to days gone by. New York is stunning and nostalgic in this film. I have no doubt the visuals in this version are a nod to the 1947 classic.

That being said, notice that the piece of art I picked for the 1947 version is in color. Weeellllll, the original was in black and white, and that was just fine with me. Why do they have to go messing with the classics? (It sounds like I’m contradicting myself because of the above comments about sequels, but I’m talking Colorizing here, people. In the 1980s, Ted Turner turned a bunch of black and white classics into color versions for what purpose? Money? I guess I’d better stop here, because sequels are about money, too, no? Except I have to say this: “It’s a Wonderful Life” was a black-and-white movie too, although the movie poster above is also in color.)

  1. National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1983).

ChristmasVacation_imageThere are just too many quotable, laugh-out-loud and now-classic moments to list here. I live for the scene where Clark receives what he anticipates is the usual generous Christmas bonus (he has already made a sizable down-payment on the swimming pool he plans to build) and instead gets a subscription to the Jelly of the Month Club. His rant/rave is over the top and classic Chevy Chase. (Wouldn’t anyone have a meltdown after suffering through a Christmas week like he’s had?) But Uncle Lewis and Aunt Bethany have their own hilarious moments … and should I admit here that I, too, have a cousin Eddie? Fortunately, my cousin does not have a dog named Snots.

(Note to Tara: Yes, I have had “Mele Kalikimaka” running through my head for hours now, but I forgive you. It’s such a great song.)

This movie is sentimental, well-acted and funny. If you need to laugh until you cry, check it out.

Where’s the Tylenol?

  1. Christmas in Connecticut (1945).

ChristmasInConnecticut_imageI’ve long counted this as my favorite Christmas movie, so I saved it for last. (I said I couldn’t decide on No. 1, but when it comes down to it, this still reigns.) This one is a bit hard to find in stores or online, but it’s worth the effort. Barbara Stanwyck is always outstanding, and here she gets support from Dennis Morgan as the lonely sailor, Sydney Greenstreet as her overbearing boss, and the delightful S.Z. Sakall as her “Uncle Felix.”

Premise: Stanwyck, as Elizabeth Lane, is a columnist for “Smart Housekeeping” magazine and writes ad nauseam about her wonderful husband, baby and house in the country, as well as all the yummy food she loves to cook for her family. Trouble is, in reality she’s single and childless, lives in a flat in New York City and doesn’t know a flapjack from a latke. When her boss invites the poor lonely (single) sailor to spend Christmas with her family in their Connecticut farmhouse – and then invites himself along – hilarity ensues. She has to come up with a husband, a baby and a farmhouse (no problem, right?) and learn to cook, pronto. Or, wait. Maybe “Uncle Felix,” who works at the NYC restaurant she frequents, wouldn’t mind tagging along to cook the meals. At least she’s got that part covered, eh?

When they arrive in Connecticut, secrets, borrowed babies (yes, babies, plural), hasty wedding attempts and, of course, a love story are the order of the day. This classic is in black and white, but I believe a colorized version is available (but who wants that?).

If you attempt to find this movie, do not make the mistake of renting the 1992 TV version directed by Arnold Schwarzenegger and starring Dyan Cannon and Kris Kristofferson. Do I really need to explain why? Lord, help us all.

What are your favorite Christmas movies? Let us know in the comment section below.

NEXT FRIDAY: Stay tuned for my five favorite holiday TV shows.

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Seen, heard and liked (or loved)

December has been a month of busyness, but not of the Christmas variety, exactly.

Last weekend we shot the commercial for Baptist Health. That took several hours Friday and most of Saturday. We froze our frannies off in the windy 30s on Saturday by the White River. But it was SO MUCH FUN, and I do plan to write more about it. (Didn’t get much in the way of photos, though.) We had several wardrobe changes because they plan to run the campaign throughout the next two years (starting with the Super Bowl), so even though it was shot in December, it is supposed to depict several seasons.

This weekend was our alternate date for the White River Christmas Half Marathon & Relay. Sure, it happens at Christmastime, but it’s more indirectly related to Christmas than the typical holiday festivities – shopping, cookie baking, gift-giving – unless you consider that our half-marathon elves (race co-founder Sara and her helper elf, Becky) shop for the families that benefit from the race proceeds. And then the gifts are given to families chosen by a tenderhearted woman at a local agency.

We postponed the race on its original date (Dec. 7) because of ice storms. Makeup date: Dec. 21. Again, dangerous weather intervened. We got up this morning and decided that the threat of lightning and the flash flood warnings made it too risky – so we called, texted, emailed and Facebooked all those who had preregistered, telling them we would try again next year.

It was a huge disappointment, but we raised a good amount of money for needy families (entry to the race is free, but we encourage donations and most people do give).

Disappointing, but also, for the Oakleys, a day of much-needed rest. After we had contacted everyone and Bruce put a sign on the church door for any potential race-day registrants, it was under the electric blanket for Pepper and me and onto the sofa for Bruce and Salsa. After rest time we went to Mom’s to watch Hallmark Christmas movies (even Bruce likes them), and we veg’d for several hours.

Back home again, and I want to write about deep and thought-provoking topics, but the best I can come up with tonight is a roundup of some of the things I’ve been reading and listening to in the past week or so. I’ve been planning to do this regularly – these favorite-pick posts – but we’ve been half-marathoning and Christmas-partying and otherwise running ourselves ragged for several weeks. (Can I tell you I skipped a free yoga class Thursday night at our church because of race planning? That’s some kind of irony.)

So, without further delay, here are some randomly ordered but thoughtfully collected links for you to ponder:

First up, you’ll be thankful that I condensed what was going to be an entire post about the pitfalls of Christmas spending (I tend to get preachy) to a mere reference to some wise words from my favorite debt-proof-living guru, Mary Hunt. Read about Mr. Diderot and His Red Robe – good advice for any time of year.

And while we’re getting introspective about our habits and thought processes, here’s a little C.S. Lewis to get you thinking. From a letter on “the slow process of being more in Christ; and on doing one’s duty, especially the duty to enjoy.”

I get an email each morning with a C.S. Lewis reading excerpted from his books, letters, essays and other writings. To subscribe, visit Bible Gateway by clicking here.

I have long loved the books and sermons of Chuck Swindoll. So when my friend and fellow runner Betsy forwarded this link to me with a reference to Olympian Wilma Rudolph, I took notice. (When I was in high school, I wrote a book report on Ms. Rudolph. I wasn’t a runner then, so all I can remember about the book was that her story was inspirational.) As soon as I listened to the sermon, “What’s Necessary for Victory?” I logged onto the Independence County Library’s website and looked up the books on this woman; I plan to check one out soon. The entire sermon on Christian victory is good, but if you want to skip ahead to Wilma’s story, start at 9:30 minutes.

Next up – because it’s the perfect season for recipes and inspiring food stories – a couple of shout-outs to my friends.

I’ve linked to Alison’s blog a few times over the years, but today I was catching up and read a reposted story about her sister’s new-ish restaurant outside Chicago. I’ve long known that Anna was an awesome baker and cook, but now she is celebrating a year as a restaurateur with her husband, Bob. They opened in December 2012, and you’ll have to read Alison’s description of the cafe and her sister. And if I’m ever in Glen Ellyn, Ill., I’m making a point to stop in at Blackberry Market.

One more food-related link: A friend tagged me in a Facebook post this morning, and I clicked through to discover a conversation about a food blog, and then a reference to my childhood friend Liz’s very own food blog – a site I immediately clicked to and which I love! Light and fresh recipes made from the heart – who could resist? (Plus, I’m a little jealous of how great it looks, especially the food photos, which I’m terrible at.) I love food blogs, but the bonus here is that this one is by someone I know; that makes it extra-special. So come delight with me at Elsie’s Kitchen 101 (read the About section to find out where it got its name).

This list barely scratches the surface of the interesting things I’ve been reading, listening to and watching, but I think it’s enough for now. Except this one last link.

In the spirit of Christmas, I’m going to leave you with a schedule of the aforementioned Hallmark Channel Christmas movies (they’re showing all December long!). Go ahead and watch a few. I won’t tell.

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A simple Christmas

“I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” – John 10:10, NASB

Christmases in the Oakley house are pretty simple. I would characterize them as more sentimental than material, and for that I’m grateful. Being “poor” in worldly wealth (but not in spirit) has its advantages!

These are some of the things that have allowed me to feel abundantly blessed this Christmas:

SHOPPING

Heavenly Treasures global market at our church. I bought gifts for all the women on the Taylor side of our family (immediately family, that is). All the proceeds go to small-business owners (which may simply mean one artisan struggling to feed her family somewhere in Cambodia, Vietnam or another area where poverty is the norm). Blessings: 1) We bought these gifts for a fraction of what we would have paid in stores; 2) they are handcrafted; 3) most of all, we helped someone who’s hurting in another part of the world.

I also took advantage of a clearance sale online and bought seven copies of a book I read years ago – a book I wish I could give to every woman I know: $5 apiece, one for each woman in the Taylor-Oakley clan.

My stepson, Courtney, who lives in Oklahoma, was blessed recently with a promotion and a good raise, and because one of my main missions in life is to help people be good stewards of their God-given blessings, instead of buying him a gift he doesn’t necessarily need, or writing him a check like we often do at Christmastime, we put money into his savings account at the bank where I work.

When I turned 50 last month, Bruce pooled his money with birthday money from my mom, and he took me to the jewelry store. (This is the type of splurge I rarely indulge in, but I figured a half-century was a special enough occasion.) He helped me pick out a beautiful opal ring. I’ve always loved opal, and this ring is so special to me.

So because we splurged at birthday time, we kept it simple for Christmas, although keeping it simple has always been our norm. We have such abundant blessings throughout the year, we don’t buy much for each other at Christmastime. We also have our anniversary coming up next week, so Bruce suggested we combine the occasions and buy a house gift for ourselves. We really don’t know what that might be, but while we were shopping Saturday for my brother and his stepson, we ran across a DVD copy of “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.” (Bruce is a mixture of realist and sentimentalist, and often the sentimental side wins – he loves the idealism of this movie, and so do I, although I fall closer to the realist side of the fence. And we both love old movies and the great Jimmy Stewart.) So here’s a recap of our conversation in the store when I picked up the movie:

Me: “Do we have this on DVD?”
Bruce: “I don’t think we have it on DVD or anything else.”
Me: “Household gift. Ten dollars.”
Bruce: “Great.”

End of conversation. End of Christmas shopping for Bruzy. Simple.

This type of Christmas spirit allows me to breathe during the holidays, because I hate shopping. It’s a little easier at Christmas because then I’m shopping for others, but I still would rather sit near a sunny window with a good book than fight the crowds at the shopping center.

MUSIC

I could listen to Amy Grant’s Christmas albums year-round. Oh, what am I saying – I do listen to Amy Grant’s Christmas albums year-round. You might hear “Tennessee Christmas,” “Breath of Heaven” or “Welcome to our World” in my car during the blazing heat of July. To me, these songs and albums are timeless and always a breath of fresh air. Each album is better than the last, and she includes some incredibly beautiful pieces in the mix. The last album, “A Christmas to Remember,” is especially full of pieces that cause me to stop what I’m doing (unless I’m driving), close my eyes and savor every note. I also tend to wear out my Christmas albums by: Collin Raye, Andrea Bocelli, The Carpenters, and John Denver & the Muppets. Heck, even the classically trained Bocelli sings with Miss Piggy on his album. My favorite Christmas song? “Oh Holy Night,” especially Martina McBride’s beautiful rendition. Bruce’s favorite? “Silent Night” – and John and the Muppets do a pretty good job of that, singing it first in German (the language it was written in), then English. Bocelli sings it in three languages.

MOVIES/TV SPECIALS

Since we canceled our satellite service in August, I didn’t get to watch wall-to-wall Food Network like I love to do between October and December, and I didn’t get to OD on the sappy movies on Hallmark Channel, but we still have the good ol’ standbys on VHS (taped from TV in the mid-1980s) and a few on DVD. Another challenge this year: Bruce and I had about four weeks to pull together the White River Christmas Half-Marathon & Relay (long story), and my only Christmas-special “viewing” would fall more into the category of background noise. Nevertheless, I got to listen to these as I did my half-marathon work or cooked for family: Rudolph, Frosty, Charlie Brown (I love Linus’ soliloquy on “what Christmas is all about”), and my favorite, the Grinch (another lesson on the true meaning of Christmas, plus it rhymes!). I also had these movies in the VCR: “Christmas in Connecticut” (my favorite Christmas movie, but only the Barbara Stanwyck version) and “White Christmas” – “snow, snow, snow, snow!” I think I even listened to “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” early in the season. Oh, I almost forgot: I did get to sit and watch an entire movie, start to finish, when Bruce and I spent Dec. 23 with Mom watching the remake of “Miracle on 34th Street.” (The 1994 version isn’t quite as good as the original, but the cute little girl and the beautiful scenery [and wardrobe] make up for it.) Movies I didn’t get to watch: “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “A Christmas Story.” (There’s still time, right?)

FAMILY (FURRY AND FOUR-LEGGED)

Our two fur-babies are … well, my babies. I have a stepson, but I never gave birth to children of my own, and Salsa and Pepper warm my heart every day, even 30 seconds after they’ve infuriated me by wetting the carpet, barking incessantly or begging for snacks. We call our girls The Spice Dogs, and when I created this blog in 2007, they were part of the inspiration for the name (I was also baking spice cookies that evening). They’re good help around the kitchen, too: When I drop a bit of food while chopping, mincing or mixing, they rush to help me clean it up.

FAMILY (HUMAN)

I’m writing this on Christmas morning, 10 a.m. (savoring a steamy and wonderful cup of coffee with my favorite flavored creamer). We’ve spoken to some family members by phone today but haven’t gathered for the big celebration yet. We’ll go to Mom’s later for a feast of food and fellowship (more on the food below). I look forward to seeing those I rarely see throughout the year because of busyness, physical distance or, dare I say, apathy (on my part as much as anyone’s).

Bruce has been sick the past couple of weeks, and I’ve been trying to figure out why this cold/sinus junk has caused me more worry than other recent minor ailments. And why I might have seemed to overreact yesterday when he wanted to run a longer distance than I thought he should. Could it be that we’re “overdue” for a Crohn’s flare-up? The average for Crohn’s patients is 5 years, and his latest flare-up started in 2007 (and I did not marry an “average” guy!). I realize that it’s insane to worry – God has us covered. I suppose it’s just an opportunity to flex my trust muscles; after all, He is the Great Physician.

On Christmas Eve, Bruce got an opportunity to be the social guy that he is. We started with an afternoon run with some dear friends, the Tuckers; a family member, Bill, from out of town whom we had never had the opportunity to run with before; an awesome running buddy, Rita – who is growing to be a great running partner for me because, even though she’s a lot faster, she is sweetly willing to hang back with me, the slow one. She and I have had some great conversations, and she’s really fun (yesterday, we conspired to pretend we ran up a crazy hill when we saw Bruce and Shane – and I swear it was her idea! Unfortunately, we topped the hill and the guys hadn’t paid a bit of attention to us!).

I should have a separate category called Family (Running), because our running family is really precious to us. No space today to count all the ways, but in the spirit of Christmas, I’ll mention the great run last Tuesday night before our Roadrunners club Christmas party. Again, the speedsters took off without Slow Suzy, but Rita stayed behind with me. (She has a good heart.) On another note, I loved being able to attend a Christmas party in my sweaty leggings, running shirt and sports watch. (That’s just the way we roll!) This was only three days after my work Christmas party, which was beautiful and wonderful (except for the slightly inebriated Santa), but for which I made a most unfortunate choice of shoes, one of which had to come off before the party was over because my left foot was killing me!

But back to the main topic: Family (Human). After our run, I rushed to get clean and start the pecan pies, which needed to be out of the oven by 4:45 so we could attend the Christmas Eve service at Mom’s church. This church service has become a bit of a tradition for Bruce and me, starting even before we moved here in 2010. West Baptist always has a beautiful Christmas Eve service (which could also fall under the Music category). As I was whipping up the filling for the pies, I realized that someone had put the vanilla extract bottle into the cupboard with about three drops of extract remaining. (Seriously, who would do that?) Mom – on speed dial – to the rescue. Fortunately she’s less than a mile away. I sent Bruce over there, told him not to stop by our church to make sure the bathrooms were clean (part of his job), not to pass Go, not to collect $200. Just get back here with the vanilla. And he did.

The pies? Well, let’s just say the jury’s still out. I had to leave them in the oven (turned off) and put them back on to bake after all the evening’s festivities. I’m still not sure they’re quite right. But I’m also pretty sure no one will leave the table hungry this afternoon, pecan pies or no.

But wait! There’s more! (Isn’t there always?)

After the service at West, we went to my Aunt Pat’s across the street from our house. Her son-in-law, the aforementioned Bill (running buddy from out of town), had requested a family get-together in the spirit of the old days (the old days of our family, that is). Aunt Pat’s relatives from both sides gathered in her kitchen, which is only cramped when lots of relatives visit. Strange, she noted, we have all this space in the rest of the house, but everyone congregates in the kitchen and dining room. Not strange to me at all – Aunt Pat makes some of the best holiday treats west of the Mississippi. Can you say peanut butter fudge?

And then … we left that party to go to our church, Fellowship Bible Church in the old Landers Theater on Main Street. Whereas the West Baptist celebration was bright, colorful and upbeat, the Fellowship service was quiet, candlelit and reverent. Both services were full of beautiful music, and each was unique and meaningful in its own way. Each service fed my spirit and focused light on the One whose birth we celebrate, and whose Light takes away the darkness.

The Oakleys ended the evening together quietly – mama in her kerchief (OK, a red plaid flannel PJ shirt) and papa in his cap (his ubiquitous hooded sweatshirt), with one of the fur-children nestled under her bed down the hall and the other one begging for belly rubs. Both two-legged Oakleys spent the next hour reading, growing sleepy and sipping … okay, people, I’m not gonna lie. I wasn’t sipping a picture-perfect mug of steamy hot chocolate. I was indulging in a 10 p.m. glass of diet Coke, which I rarely drink after 3 p.m. And Bruce was sipping apple juice or water or something.

Now back to our fantasy.

FOOD

Three things I almost insist on having at Thanksgiving and Christmas are pecan pie, Cranberry Salad (made with red gelatin, apples, oranges, pineapple and pecans) and Aunt Pearl’s Potatoes. (As I’ve mentioned before, we don’t have an Aunt Pearl and have no idea who she is, but we loooove her hash-brown casserole!) And because I’m the one who has a strong need for these three dishes, I’ve become the designated maker of them. How else am I going to be sure it happens? The pies … we’ll see. (Dec. 29 update: Let’s just call them “pie soup” and be done with it.) The cranberry stuff is ready, and the potatoes will go into the oven soon.

I also have a year-round craving to bake, but my schedule doesn’t allow it very often anymore, so the holidays are when I get to indulge in that. Even when I’m tired, baking sweet treats, breads, even pizza dough, makes me very, very happy.

And then there are the dirty dishes. But since this is a post about counting blessings, being with family and remembering our Savior’s birth, we’ll skip over that part.

Post-script: leftovers (lots of them)

Have you ever eaten mashed potatoes for breakfast? Yeah, me, too.

REMEMBRANCES

My dad died 15 years ago this week. Every Dec. 23, I think about the day he died. That was a day full of pain and sadness, but knowing that my dad knew Jesus makes it so much easier. Even on that day, we had a measure of indescribable peace knowing he was no longer in pain (the pain my brother and I had known him to have our entire lives) and he is with Jesus now. Dad had told a relative just that morning that he was ready to go and was not afraid to die. None of us knew then that this would be his last day on earth. But we have the hope that surpasses all human ability to understand, and that’s because we know the Savior he rests with now.

Dad died 11 days before my wedding. In the ICU, when we weren’t sure whether he could hear us or not, as I held his hand I told him he needed to stick around and give me away next week, that I wasn’t ready to let go of him. But the Father had other plans, and Dad was gone within a couple of hours. That’s OK. My plans aren’t necessarily God’s plans, and His ways are not always my ways. He is sovereign, He is wise and He is, above all, GOOD. He takes care of us, even when we don’t always like how He goes about it. But even amid the not-liking, we had blessings: My Uncle Charles and Aunt Pat, who had just arrived at their daughter Kathy’s house in South Carolina when they got the news of Dad’s death in the evening, turned right around the next morning and drove back to Arkansas. They were here in time for his funeral. Now, that’s family.

God has blessed me with good family, good friends, a good job, an abundance of physical comforts (too much sometimes) and an ever-increasing awareness of just how good He really is. I thank Him for everyone He has put into my life, whether it’s to teach me, to reach me or just to bless me with caring and warmth.

As we celebrate His incarnate presence on the earth, may each of you feel His love, remember His sacrifice and give your life to Him.

For unto us a Child is born,
Unto us a Son is given;
And the government will be upon His shoulder.
And His name will be called
Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Isaiah 9:6, NKJV

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Aunt Pearl’s Potatoes

This morning, someone at church asked me about our Thanksgiving plans, and naturally our conversation turned to food (I’m sure I was the one to bring it up). She was intrigued by my talk of “hash brown casserole,” and I told her I’d publish the recipe here.

Several years ago the recipe for Aunt Pearl’s Potatoes came into our family. We don’t have an Aunt Pearl, and no one really knows who the heck she is or was. But, boy, do we love her potato casserole! It’s a treat to make this because we reserve it for Thanksgiving and Christmas. It has become my job to make it because I’ll be the one with the biggest serving on my plate (turkey? who needs turkey?), and I’m the one who would complain the loudest if this dish wasn’t on the table. (And being the designated maker of this dish, I can make as much as I want and save some aside in my own fridge – who’s gonna know?)

We’re probably going to eat our main Thanksgiving meal at a restaurant this year, but do you think I’m going to miss an opportunity to make these potatoes? Well, do you? (I didn’t think so.)

So here it is, Aunt Pearl’s Potatoes. And for anyone looking for the nutritional content of this dish, just forget it. Even if we knew, we wouldn’t burden you with that here. It’s Thanksgiving – a time of year we forget we’re supposed to be sensible about food!

I’m giving you the recipe 1) below and 2) as a downloadable PDF. There are two identical recipes on the PDF (I hate to waste paper, so there’s one for you and one to share.) To download the PDF, click the link below, then click the icon; it will download to your computer.

Aunt Pearl’s Potatoes

2 12-oz. bags hash browns, thawed
2 cups shredded Cheddar cheese
16 oz. sour cream or Greek yogurt
1 can cream of chicken soup
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 tsp. salt
2 sticks melted butter (divided use)
2 cups crushed corn flakes

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

In large casserole dish, mix first 6 ingredients (hash browns through salt) with 1 stick of butter. Sprinkle with corn flakes and drizzle with 2nd stick of butter. Bake for 1 hour.

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Merry Christmas to all

“For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” – John 3:16 (New Living Translation)

Today is a day for families … and for celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ, the Savior of all mankind.

If you don’t know Jesus as your Savior, please get in touch with me (at stoakley [at] swbell [dot] net) or someone you know who can tell you how you may invite Him into your life, or click here and read how and why you should make this most important decision.

Or if you already understand your need, you may simply pray this prayer:

“Lord Jesus, I need You. Thank You for dying on the cross for my sins. I open the door of my life and receive You as my Savior and Lord. Thank You for forgiving my sins and giving me eternal life. Take control of the throne of my life. Make me the kind of person You want me to be.”

If you just prayed that prayer, know that heaven is having a party in your honor! And I would like to know about it, too. Please post a comment or e-mail me privately to let me know.

Merry Christmas, and welcome to the family.

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