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Hand-Me-Down Christmas

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Hand-me-downs-Handed down to one person after being used and discarded by another.  – thefreedictionary.com

Many of us grew up wearing hand-me-downs.  I was the only girl in my family but was lucky enough to have a fashionable aunt who was not much older and would pass her very cool clothes to me.

When my daughter was about two and a half, she said to me one day, “No more blue jammies, mama.  I want pink jammies.”  And that was the end of her wearing her older brothers’ hand-me-down one piece zip up pajamas.  Yes, I went out and bought pink ones for her from then on.

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But as a friend of mine pointed out recently, not all hand-me-downs are clothing.  There are many kinds of  hand-me-downs including cars and furniture…usually from parents to children, hand-me-down plants, recipes, books, board games, clocks, button boxes, tools, pictures, linens, toys, dishes, jewelry, family traditions, decorations, …and even attitudes, and pets.

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As my youngest brother was preparing to leave for college, he asked if he could hand down his pet goldfish to my children.  I had two little boys and he thought they might think it cool to adopt their uncle’s pet.  “Besides,” he said, “Gus is about a year old and goldfish don’t live very long.”  Well…four years later I was still cleaning hand-me-down Gus’s goldfish bowl once a week.  Good old Gus lived for five or six years and when he died, we were sad to see him go.

My husband lost his dad when he was a young child, and some of his most treasured possessions are his dad’s tools that his mom handed down to him.  He says they are the only tools he cares about.

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Some of my favorite hand-me-downs are recipes from my mom, my grandmothers, and other friends and family.  Their names are at the top of the cards and I think of them whenever I make their recipes.  I see many names of loved ones whenever I cook during the holidays.

This past week, I asked my friend, Sandy, for a recipe and she scanned and emailed the original recipe card which was written in the hand of her sister and my friend, Jan, who died in July.  I didn’t realize it was Jan’s recipe and now I treasure that hand-me-down even more.

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If I had to choose my favorite hand-me-downs though, they would be my hand-me-down Christmas decorations.  They are hands down my favorite…pun intended.

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My great-grandfather was a machine parts inventor.  He also liked to create things for his home.  About 100 years ago, he built a Christmas church scene with a wood board as the base.  The fence around the churchyard is made from small tree limbs that were painted white.  A wind up music box plays “Silent Night” and there is a bulb inside which illuminates the “stained glass” windows.  The church was a part of each Christmas season during my childhood, and as a girl I was mesmerized by it.  Today when I look at it, I think of my great-grandfather so lovingly and meticulously building it for his family to enjoy at Christmas.

Christmas church 003 Many of the ornaments on my tree were passed down two generations from my grandparents to my mother and then to me.  The glass is so old and thin that I am almost afraid to breathe when I hold some of them.  And then there are the plastic icicles that were yellowed with age when my mom passed them to me.  Soaking in soapy bleach water for an hour made them white again and now they too, hang on my tree.

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My mom used to put out an old, ceramic Santa every Christmas.  When I had my own home and began collecting Santa’s, she gave him to me.  He is still my favorite.

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I also have the stable from the old family nativity scene from my childhood.  The people and the animals were very old and fragile and had to be replaced a couple of years ago, but the stable is still beautiful.

This Christmas, my parents gifted me a ceramic Christmas tree made for them by my grandmother almost 50 years ago.  It is yet another hand-me-down gift and decoration I will cherish.

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When we give our treasures to others, we leave a part of ourselves and our memory behind.  As we celebrate this Christmas with decorations and gifts from our past as well as from our present, we remember God’s gift to us when he handed down his only son that holy night so long ago.

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Author’s note:  Those who follow my blog know that I will be lighting candles outside tonight in my grandmother’s hand-me-down Mason Jars.  It’s a tradition I look forward to every Christmas.


Tying Up Those Loose Ends

As we near the end of 2014 and round the bend toward 2015, what do you need to finish?

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We all have those voices and words from our past in our heads.  Mine is my father’s voice saying “Finish what you start” and “If you’re going to do something, do it right the first time.”  For me, that playlist is still running and it’s still powerful.


I have a couple of lingering projects I’d like to finish before the year is over.  Projects I’ve worked on during the past year, but can’t seem to build enough momentum on to get all the way across the finish line.

One is getting all of my family pictures organized…a project I’ve worked on sporadically for the past 10 years.  I’m very close to completing this project now but it will require an entire day commitment to get there.

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The other project is to finish a sweep of my house for unwanted and dusty unused items to donate somewhere.  The motivation here is the tax deduction if I can get that task finished before the end of the year.  Apparently, December 31st is the biggest and busiest donation day of the year…so I am not alone in this project.

It would feel good to begin the new year with these projects completed so I can think about other things and move on to other projects.

When my children were growing up and felt overwhelmed by big school projects or even small projects they weren’t sure how to do, I used to say, “Break it down into manageable pieces.”  What I meant by this, was to work on a project a little each day or perhaps, do one section at a time because then the goal of finishing didn’t feel so big and impossible to achieve.

But why it is important to finish things?  Besides the obvious I mean.  If we don’t finish our homework, we get a bad grade.  If we don’t finish our work projects, we don’t get paid or we might lose our job.  If other people are depending on us to finish something, we might let them down or worse, keep them from finishing their part.

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It feels good to finish things and to finish well.  It gives us a sense of pride in accomplishment and closure about the project, whether big or small.  Finishing something also helps us gain momentum that we can funnel into our next project.

This past weekend, one of our daughters finished college.  What a wonderful way to end the year and begin the new year and her future, with infinite possibilities before her.


So, what do you need to finish?  Counting today, there are 15 days left in 2014.

Blue Christmas

I have a Christmas home video (yes, as in VHS) from 1985.  What strikes me whenever I watch it, besides the poorly lit and grainy quality of the tape, is how many of the family members in the video are gone now.  It’s bittersweet to watch, but I also find it oddly comforting to see my loved ones and hear their voices and their laughter again.

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For most of us, Christmas is an exciting time of year filled with family and friends and fun events.  For others, however, Christmas is a time of sorrow and longing for loved ones missing because of death, divorce, geography, or even broken relationships within the family.

The stress and anxiety of the holiday season, especially during the months of November and December, may cause even those who are usually content, to experience loneliness and depression. It doesn’t help that we are bombarded by the media with happy holiday images of smiling families and friends.  If we are without our loved ones, Christmas may remind us of how things once were and add to our distress.

Whether this is our first or 15th Christmas without a beloved family member or friend, we still miss having them physically with us.  For this reason, my church and others have a “Christmas Hope Service” to help those who are experiencing loneliness and heartbreak during this holiday season.

Readers of my blog may remember my post called “Proximity Rule” where I wrote about my family’s difficult first holiday season after the passing of my brother in July of 2006.


That first Christmas, it was important for my family to find a way to honor his memory, so during the holidays we did several things.  We…my parents, me, my other brother and Jeff’s daughter…all hung ornaments in his memory on our Christmas Trees.  We also decided to establish a college scholarship in his name at the high school where he had worked.  And, we cooked all the foods that he had loved at Christmas and remembered him in our prayer before dinner.

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Families handle Christmases without loved ones in different ways.  Some families will set a place at the table for their missing family members or will establish some new holiday tradition.  Others will plan a family vacation instead of staying home, or will volunteer in their communities or simply help a neighbor.

I learned to play video games that first holiday season after my brother died.  I needed alone time to process the pain and alone time to figure out the new configuration of my family and my life without him in it.  Video games were something I could do to help me cope that didn’t hurt me or anyone else.

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I started with Dr. Mario on the N-64 system because that’s what was in front of the TV the day I picked up that first controller.  I played video games for months and it was cathartic for me.  It gave me something to focus on instead of the searing pain in my heart. That was eight years ago.  I still play video games on occasion, but only on the days when I really, miss Jeff and I don’t know where to put the pain.  I think he would chuckle…no he would have a full out big belly laugh, at the thought of his oh so serious older sister knowing how to play video games.

About 10 years ago, Jeff, gave me a singing, dancing Homer Simpson Santa for Christmas.  No offense to Matt Groening but I am not a fan.  I collect beautiful Santa figurines to put out during the Christmas holidays, not silly cartoon ones.

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Oh how my brother laughed at the look of horror on my face when I opened his gift.  “Push the button” he said with a giant smile on his face.  When I did, Homer began singing the most obnoxious version of “Jingle Bells” you could ever imagine, and dancing.  I was not amused.  My teenage sons thought it was the greatest thing ever and even suggested we give “Homer” the position of honor in the center of the fireplace mantel.  I went along with it because after all the Homer Santa was from my brother and it was Christmas and because everyone in the room (except me) was enjoying the joke so much.

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The next year, Jeff was with his wife’s family and I let Homer spend the holidays in the box in the attic alone.  I felt a tiny bit guilty but not enough to do anything about it.  And then, the following Christmas, Jeff was gone.

Now, my Homer Santa will be with me every Christmas for the rest of my life.  I’m stuck with him.  Not only does he help me remember my brother and his great sense of humor and fun, he also reminds me to “lighten up” when I get too serious about the minutiae of life.  Perhaps I will put my Homer Santa in the center of the fireplace mantel again this year!

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Author’s note:  For those of you in the North Texas area, Faith United Methodist Church is having a Christmas Hope Service tonight, December 10th at 7:00 p.m.  The address is 6060 Teasley Lane, Denton, TX 76210 and the web address is:  tryfaith.org

I’ll Be Home For Christmas

2014 has been so busy and it seems like we just packed up the Christmas decorations from last year…but here it is time to get everything out again.  Opening the Christmas boxes is always exciting for me.  It feels like I’m unpacking old friends, some of whom have been with me since my childhood.

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Getting out the decorations makes me think of all the Christmases and people in my past and of all the holiday traditions I’ve enjoyed and cherished for so many years.  Having holiday traditions to expect and look forward to each year, make holidays more fun and create something special and meaningful for those who mean the most to us.

When I was young, we always went to my farm grandmother’s house on Christmas Eve.  The whole family would show up and sometimes there might be a neighbor who was alone that year, who would join us.  And for the years that family members were serving in the military, or could not get home for some other reason, there would be that special long distance phone call and everyone would take turns getting on the corded, rotary phone to say “hello” and “Merry Christmas!”


The house was not big and it would be packed to the brim with family members talking and laughing and eating and catching up with the latest news in one another’s lives.  Remember, this was in the days before computers and Facebook where everyone knows what you’re doing while you do it.  It was also before cell phones when long distance calls cost money.

My favorite part was getting to be with all of my cousins at the same time.  And if there was snow, as there usually was in Northern Indiana, we would escape the house and the adults to the white winter wonderland outside.  We would build snowmen or have snowball fights or pull one another around on sleds in the crisp, cold night with a sky full of stars above us to illuminate our fun.

We had certain traditions we could count on during those Christmas Eves of long ago.  Grandma always made a country ham that she baked in apple juice.  There would be a turkey too, and there was always my mom’s signature homemade banana pudding.  Grandma would make her homemade chocolate pies and sometimes a second banana pudding.  Everyone would bring their holiday favorites and special dishes, and our family would have a wonderful feast after a prayer led by an older family member…and in more recent years, by my preacher cousin, Bobby.

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There would be a warm fire in the fireplace and later the wood stove, and as the hours passed and the house was warmed from the fire and all the people, sweaters would be peeled off and shirt sleeves rolled up.  Young and old family members would be sitting around the various tables visiting and there would be a Euchre card game with player rotations, a couple of people playing Backgammon, and a Chess game between my Uncle Kenny and anyone who wanted to challenge the reigning master.

It seemed like there was always a new baby in the family to admire and welcome to our Christmas Eve gatherings, and occasionally, a new pet might join the party.

Aunt Edie would lead the kids and any adults who wanted to join in singing Christmas carols, and then Santa would make a visit after a few songs.  He would  come through the front door in a flurry of “Ho Ho Ho’s” and excited squeals, with a bag of presents to the delight of all of the children, including me.

My grandmother’s Christmas tree would be decorated with her old ornaments that looked like flying saucers and the whole tree would be covered with silver tinsel.  Does anyone put tinsel on trees anymore?  I have one of those old ornaments that belonged to my grandma.  It is rusty now and not so shiny silver like it is in my memory, but it still hangs proudly on my tree each year.

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Wrapped presents filled the bottom of the tree, sometimes extending out toward the center of the room.  Beginning when he was a teenager, my brother, Jeff, would put on the Santa hat and pass the gifts out to the excited children and hopeful adults.  Of course, if someone would receive quite a few, he would tease them about not being good enough that year to deserve so many presents!


The evening would often stretch on until 10:00 or 11:00 then everyone would search for their coats in the giant pile on my grandmother’s bed and carry sleepy children to their cars.  As they made their way out the door, there would be many hugs and cries of “I love you” and “Merry Christmas” echoing in the cold night.

Later, the family grew so big with four and five generations and we had to move the annual Christmas gathering to a local park building where we had a kitchen, bathrooms, a wood burning fireplace and an old upright piano.  Even in the new location, we continued all the same traditions.


As a teenager, one of my favorite Christmas traditions was attending the midnight candlelight Christmas Eve service at my church.  I remember feeling such a sense of peace and love as my congregation held candles and sang “Silent Night” together on that holy night.

When I became a parent, I continued many of the family traditions I grew up with and added new ones from my husband’s family.  We also created our own which included a Christmas Eve night visit to the almost life size nativity scene in Bronson Park in Kalamazoo, Michigan where we lived at the time.

This year, my two sons will be celebrating their first married Christmas with their new wives.  In their homes they will (hopefully) carry on some of the traditions they each grew up with and also create new ones for their own families.

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At our house, we came up with a new tradition this year.  Our children are all grown so we thought it would be fun to put up a second “college” Christmas tree in the colors of the colleges that we all attended.  So now we have the Purdue University, University of Michigan, University of Arkansas Monticello, Depauw University and University of North Texas Christmas Tree!

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