Sunday, December 31, 2006

Laying Down the Old Man 2006

I'm far behind in listing my 1000 Gifts. One of them that probably takes up at least 100 places is that my oldest son's friend, Tyler, fixed my computer problem. See I could not open Word, and to a writer/editor, that is like the worst thing ever to happen. Turns out there was some sort of "corruption" in the program. He can fix stuff even the professional geeks couldn't fix. Tyler, I'm sure, is headed to the top in his field. He is amazing.

My four boys have good friends. They are wise in choosing such people as those they hang out with. Each one has friends who have gifted us over and over with their manners, friendliness, humor and just being one of "us." That is such a great gift.

As we close out the year 2006, our country is mourning a president whom we did not ask for--we didn't vote for him--but in God's grace to us, we were given a great gift for our country. Gerald Ford brought qualities of steadiness, friendliness, humor, and strength when we teetered on losing our faith. Pat Oliphant had a great story on Gerald Ford in his political cartoon he published after they announced Gerald Ford's death. It is a story that I suspect was typical. Ford took much criticism in the days following his step into office, but he took it in stride. He had to face many things within his family as well as with an entire nation. I have admiration for a man who still could laugh at himself when things were very tough. It is something I probably admire most when I see it.

Now, I have to go get ready for all the family coming to my house tonight! I can hardly wait, but I need to finish some preparations! In the coming days, I will be praying and thinking about my goals for this year--and for once accomplishing a few of them. Since giving up teaching, I have been flying by the seat of my pants on "goals" each year. This year I get back to lesson plans--for a classroom populated by me.

Take care and see you next year! And if I don't see you here--I hope to see you THERE.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

The First Noel

Not everyone knows the story of the first Christmas. Some refuse to listen to this story. Some have never been told. I live in a community where most have heard it. Most celebrate Christmas in some fashion. Christmas lights, trees,church, carols,wreaths, poinsettias, candy,cookies,dinners, gifts--everything you know about Christmas is here where I live. One lady in church told me she didn't think she knew anyone who didn't know about the true meaning of Christmas. But yet, I know people who know very little about the Bible, and about what it really says. I know a lot of people who don't "believe," too. It is more amazing to me that people know, than don't know.

This year for my birthday, exactly two weeks before Christmas, my mother-in-law, niece and sister-in-law went together to get me this Nativity set you see in the photo. I have admired it since it came out. The artist, Susan Lodi, made it for a company that also produces many angel figures and family figures. I am a very kinesthetic person and what pleases me about these figures is how they "feel." I like picking them up and touching them, thinking about the story they tell. My friend, Sabrina, also gave to me an ornament made by this same artist.(I love it.) My tree holds many ornaments--collected over 26 years. I can tell you the story behind most of them. I've had to throw away some over the years--the bread ornament made by my son, Jordan in grade school. It finally disinegrated and was beginning to "mold." (Euwww.)

Christmas is a messy time. It is not perfect with perfect conditions. It is filled with disappointments. Just like the very first Christmas. This is what I'm reminded of as I look and hold the figures for my new Nativity set. I have another Nativity set that is 25 years old. It, too, was given to us by my sister-in-law, who made it in a ceramics class. Beautiful, but the many years and four rambunctious boys (plus, 6 moves) has taken a toll on it. Thank goodness for Super Glue!

Anyway, if I haven't told you, Merry Christ*mas, well, then, I meant to. I meant to say to my friends and family that I think of you often, and pray for your health and well-being. That even if you don't believe like I do, about Jesus being Messiah, well, I still care about you. There are a lot of people who don't like me, who don't care about my well-being or desires--but that doesn't mean I don't care about what happens with you and that I don't pray for you. I know that in the first Christmas that there were people who wanted Jesus dead. There were those who were treating Mary and Joseph mean, and even their own family who were not happy with them. The world goes on like this, despite that God reaches out to us each day if only we see with eyes wide open.

Merry Christ*mas.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

A Christmas Wonderland...

Two days before Christmas and all through the house...well, we have a repairman fixing our bathroom fan and light (it needs to be done before all the guests come this week for our dinner/tournament--family.) Then, my stupid computer continues to plague me. Then, well, you don't want to hear this, do you? No. You have your own little things that are irritating you.

But there are many, many things to be thankful for. If I start naming them all, I will run out of internet. God, in His infinite mercy and grace, sent His Son to save us. He tarries awhile longer to bring in all He is wooing. That is something I believe. While we are here and not THERE, check out my friend, Lee Warren's, contribution to this Christmas book, Christmas Wonderland.

But anyway. I was checking something on the internet and "accidently" found this recipe for Swedish Melting Moments. I am not kidding you! Some of you may remember my whine about my friend never giving me her recipe. (And lest you think I don't love this friend, you don't know me.) I'm giving you this recipe. If you make them, let me know if you think they are good. This looks good and like it may be close to her recipe. I have to get some of the ingredients and I'm going to try them this week.

This is from the Ashley Bed and Breakfast Inn in Charleston, SC:
1 cup butter or margarine
1/4 cup plus 1-1/2 Tablespoons powdered sugar
1-1/4 cups flour
1/2 cup cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
1/4 teaspoon orange extract
Cookie Glaze:
1 cup powdered sugar
1 Tablespoon melted butter
1 Tablespoon lemon juice
1 Tablespoon orange juice
Cookie Glaze: Combine ingredients; whisk until smooth.

Cream butter in a large mixing bowl; gradually add sugar, beating until light and fluffy. Sift in flour and cornstarch; mix well. Add flavorings, blending well. Chill 1 hour.

Shape dough into 1-inch balls and place 3 inches apart on greased cookie sheet. Flatten each cookie with the bottom of a small glass dipped in water. Bake in a preheated oven at 350 degrees for 10 minutes. (Cookies do not brown, but should be cooked through to center). Carefully remove to wire cooling rack (cookies are very fragile). Spread cookie glaze evenly over each while still warm. Cool and store in airtight containers.

Yields: 2 dozen

~~~~~~~~WHAT TO WRITE??~~~~~~~~~

Oh, and a couple days ago I was lamenting again about which story I'm sending out this year. (I'm in genre angst.) I was told that I should write "my passion." That's funny. I have a lot of passions. Not really very practical or helpful in helping me to get my best voice out there. Anyway, I took this quiz on that Cool Things for Your Blog site and here's what they told me:

You Should Be a Film Writer

You don't just create compelling stories, you see them as clearly as a movie in your mind.
You have a knack for details and dialogue. You can really make a character come to life.
Chances are, you enjoy creating all types of stories. The joy is in the storytelling.
And nothing would please you more than millions of people seeing your story on the big screen!

Well, I don't know that I'm a film writer, but I was thinking about this seriously, because what it says here about the kind of writer I am is what I believe about myself in the description.

If you are a writer sometimes they tell you to imagine your book on the shelf with other writers. Each time I try and imagine my book on the shelf, I had a hard time. Where do I fit in? But then, when I thought about stories/books that were eventually moved to film, it was a little easier for me.

That is what James Scott Bell also says to do in his book, Plot and Structure (get this book, if you don't have it and you are writing fiction.) Imagine your story as a film. I can do that. It sure was a practical step for me. And then after taking this silly little quiz, I saw some truth for me in it.

I took another quiz, this time on how I communicate. I should've figured this one out, too. My strength lies partially in kinesthetic learning, so this makes sense to me, too. My stories should be "action" or "physical." So, wherever this story is headed, it is going to have to have these elements: action, thriller, history, romance.

You Communicate With Your Body

This isn't as bad as it sounds, it just means that you're a "touchy-feely" person.
You need a lot of affection in your life. And for you, this means both giving and receiving little touches.
Warm hearted, you bond with people easily. In fact, you often feel a little sad when you're not in the company of others.
A little moody, you tend to be controlled by your emotions. But a bit hug always comforts you!

So see? I think there is truth in the results of both of these quizzes and it really helped me to figure out why some stories I've written bore me, and why some won't let me go--even though I wasn't sure what to do with them. Now, I think I can put in a few more pieces of the puzzle because I was missing some elements when I tried too hard to adhere to what I thought about genre.

Can you think of a film that has 1.historical elements 2. romance 3. action/thriller 4.contemporary setting 5. touches of humor? I did. Immediately. Think of the movie National Treasure. So, this is the exercise I am doing now. When you tell a story, you have threads that are being pulled through the story. They remain strong throughout and you tie them all up at the end (well, I do, because I like a story where the threads tie up at the end.)

That really pleased me. I am now thinking along these lines(and those five elements.) If I can have these elements in the story I'm writing, I am more likely to be happy with it. It's great,if an agent or editor would also like a story that I'm pleased with, too. But it is a great relief to finally find the elements, which make ME happy.

I may get my greatest Christmas wish, after all.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Five Jerks in the Bible

By Crystal Warren Miller

As a society we have lost our ability to spot a jerk and acknowledge that he is, indeed, a jerk. If I had a missile-launcher on my car, soon I would single-handedly take care of all the minor jerks on the highway. (This is why we should never install dashboard missiles.) But oh, yeah, I can say I know what a jerk looks like when I'm behind the wheel of my car, and Mr. Jerk Number One (it says "Number One" on his license plate--my first clue) just turned in front in me without using his fancy turn signal that was factory-installed by one of the Detroit car manufacturers at no charge. No, I'm talking about a genuine personality flaw that screams JERK ALERT--STAY BACK.

Indeed, God withheld His missile-launcher on the dashboard of His Super-Powered God-Car many a-time, just because the poor soul didn't have a clue--and his heart was still with God. The Jewish People are to be admired. They have no problem telling us all about their jerkiest ancestors. There's a lesson in this for all of us. No matter how much of a Jerk we've been, God suffers long the fools and jerks. Here are five jerks pulled out of the Old Testament.

Jerk Number Five: Manoah, of the Danite Tribe of Israel, husband to a sterile and childless wife, Mrs. Manoah. (Find his story in Judges 13.)

Manoah is good guy. He has a wife, who can't get pregnant--and back in the day, this was not good for the wife, no matter what the reason--but Manoah stays with her. The Israelites (children of, a long line of jerks) had been really stupid and evil, so God zapped them for forty years into the hands of the Philistines.

But, the Angel of the Lord was sent to Manoah with a message--his wife was going to have a baby--a son! This son wasn't just going to be any little boy, either. He was going to grow up to be Samson, the strongest man in the world, who would put the Philistines in their place.

Suddenly, despite the good news, Manoah moans, "Oh my God, I've seen my God! We are doomed to die! We have seen God!" (Duh, the Angel of God has just told the jerk that He is going to save the nation of Israel, and now [Manoah] is worried God will kill him!)

The only sensible one in the whole story is Mrs. Manoah. She rolls her eyes, sighs, and tells Chicken Little, "If the Lord had meant to kill us, he would not have accepted a burnt offering and a grain offering from our hands, nor shown us all these things or now told us this."

Jerk Number Four: Samson, son of Manoah of the tribe of Dan, who couldn't even blame alcohol for his jerk-ism. (See his story in Judges 14-16.)

Mr. and Mrs. Manoah were obeying the no haircut and no booze deal for their Miracle Baby, but they just couldn't say no to the now-manly (and spoiled) Samson. Samson goes into the town of Timnah and gets an eyeful of a pretty little Philistine woman. His mom and dad do the proper parental whining, "Can't you find some nice girl among our relatives?"--but to no avail. Samson stomps his size 18's and says, "But I want that babe, dad!"

Even when a lion comes out and nearly mauls them on the way to get the woman for Samson, Samson and his dad still don't have a clue. So he marries the woman in spite of his parents' whining. They let him. They could've told the big brute "No," but they don't.

While Samson destroys most of the Philistines single-handedly, he is a real jerk when it comes to women. You know the story. Samson tells Delilah the truth about his secret powers of strength. He is such a jerk! He's so self-centered, it's not until he's had his eyes poked out after that haircut and is tied up to a couple of columns, while Philistines walk by and laugh and poke him with sticks that he finally gives in to God and asks for one more chance.

God allows him to kill himself (along with about three thousand Philistine Dagon worshippers loaded into the temple,) because even though God knew Samson was a jerk when it came to women, He is gracious and gives him the last jerk of the columns and a laugh to the death.

Jerk Number Three: Abram, Father of the Entire Jewish Nation, later called Abraham, husband to Sarai, later called Sarah, father to Isaac. (His story is in Genesis 12-25.)

God comes to Abram and tells him to leave his home in Haran and head out for a land God Himself would give to him. He makes the awesome promise to Abram that He is going to make Abram into a great nation, that He'll bless those who bless him and curse those who curse him. All the people of the world would be blessed through Abram. Wow. Heady stuff!

So, Abram packs his camels and away they go, never mind that he's 75 years old. Sarai must have been some woman to just say, "Ok, honey, whatever you think." Anyway, because of a famine, they all slipped into Egypt because things began to look bleak. This is where Abram loses it and becomes a total jerk.

Against what I am sure was Sarai's better judgment, she allows her husband of a too many moons ago to convince her to tell the Pharoah that she's just Abram's sister (which was true, but only half-true.) Sarai was gorgeous for an old lady and the Pharoah is thinking she is a real babe.

Of course, it gets worse. Abram never says a thing to stop it when Pharoah sends a whole bunch of livestock in exchange for Abram's Sister Sarai to be taken into his palace, supposedly to be his new woman! Abram still doesn't say anything, so God being God, rolls His Holy Eyeballs to the Heavenly Ceiling and zaps all those Egyptians with afflictions and diseases.

The Egyptians figure it out that it's all because of Sarai, "You, jerk Abram! Why didn't you tell me she was your wife? Now get outta here before your God kills us all!" It's no wonder Sarai was 90 before she had a son. She probably didn't speak to him for all that time.

Jerk Number Two: Abram, once again. (See this particular story in Genesis 16)

Abram also gets the number two slot of jerks of the Old Testament because Sarai gets an Egyptian servant probably out of that fiasco back in Egypt. She's sitting there figuring God must've somehow got the whole deal wrong--that it wasn't really her whom Abram was supposed to have this promised child by, but maybe they better do something before one of them croaks off.

So, Sarai, who obviously was having either a bad hair day or else PMS and her without her chocolate in the burning hot desert, comes up with a plan to get the promised son and the bijillions and gadzillions of Star Search Potential Family whom none would be told by Simon that they are the "worst."(Well, we could debate this point.) Hagar was young and cute and Sarai thought, "Surely God must mean for her to have this baby, not me!" And then she probably asked Abram if she looked fat, and would he like, instead, to have Hagar to get a baby.

Abram is a total, complete jerk. He totally forgets God, forgets poor Sarai and all the stuff he put her through by dragging her away from their family. He forgets how he left her to the Pharoah and the Egyptians because he was such a coward and didn't trust God. He just says, "Well! If you insist!"

This time both Sarai and Abram went too far--but not so far that God doesn't honor his promise in spite of Abram, who could've said, "No, Sarai, your butt doesn't look fat in that robe and we'll just wait and see what God wants to do. Now, sweetie, go have a nice chocolate-covered beetle and everything will look better tomorrow." God still gave them a better tomorrow--and us, too!

Number One Jerk in the World: Adam, First Guy of the World, husband to Eve, Father to Cain and Abel, Namer of Everything on Earth. (See his story in Genesis 2-5.)

Adam gets to be number one jerk, because frankly, he started it all amongst us humans. He didn't stand up to Eve at the Tree. He let her wander off and let her talk to strangers. (This is the main reason your mom always told you never to talk to strangers. It's because the First Mom passed this lecture down through the generations to you. She knew. She knew talking to strangers would get you into trouble--big trouble!)

So God said, "Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, 'You must not eat of it,' Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life." He said it'd produce thorns and poisonous mushrooms by the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you're fat as a pig and get Mad Cow disease from eating hamburgers. From dust you were taken and to dust you will return.

With that, God killed animals to make them clothes and later PETA persons would throw paint on them. Then, He kicked them out of the best location on earth and none of us have enough money to buy our way back into it. (God is the originator of "Location, location, location.")

+ + +

You may have noticed I didn't include in this jerk lineup anyone who was totally evil or that God wiped off the face of the earth with the flick of His eyebrows. No, in fact, all of these guys might even have been some of the people God calls the "apple of His Eye." These are all guys who should've trusted and known better. Guys whom God loved and was merciful to and gave the benefit of the doubt to after they showed God how they wished they would've made better choices.

Some guys like King Ahab, or Prince Absalom, or King Saul--well, they just never really showed God that they were truly sorry. They didn't try to do better. They were Jerks and stayed Jerks.

This list shows that even if we do a thing to qualify us for "Jerk of the Year," there is hope. There's a God who is merciful and good--truly good--Who really cares about us. He is longing for us to say to Him, "I'm the biggest jerk in the world, God. I'm sorry. I accept Your Gift of Your Son to cover my total jerk-ism, and I will now focus on You instead of myself. I'll read about all the jerks of the Bible and figure out how to be more like Jesus instead of copying the jerks."

My favorite line in the whole Bible says:

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5: 8 NIV)

When someone does something, which labels him in my book as "Total Jerk of the World," I try to remember, "While we were still jerks, Christ died for us."

Then I pray God gets to the heart of that Jerk before I launch my dashboard cruise missile.

© Crystal Miller. All text and graphics, unless otherwise noted, are copyrighted © in her name, Crystal Miller, and are protected by United States copyright law and international copyright law under the Berne Convention.

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Watch This Spot

Since the end of July I have been writing on this blog, experimenting with format and words. Who am I as a writer? Where am I going with my writing? Those were questions to be answered. This is my 75th blog. I have met a few people on the way. I got lots of help from experienced bloggers and I also helped a few others get started on their own great blogs.

I started writing for publication for the first time as a freshman in high school. I fell in love with various authors then. My passions were on my sleeve. Now, I just turned old. I mean, I have been feeling really old. It's time to write my stories and send them out.

My day job has always been teaching. If I could, I'd tell you my war stories--about students who were murdered, children who triumphed, muddy days, hard fought days, and days when I wondered just what was I doing. I hold back on telling those stories. They are still raw in my heart. But I broke through some barriers just telling you about my own life and past.

Stories need to be told. As a Christian, my whole soul and passion for life has been about sharing The Story of God in Old and New Testaments and The Gospel. And God urges us to tell our own stories--to give testimony in this life. But how do you do it? Different people do this in different ways. When you die, what was your story? Who will know it? You don't have to be a writer to do this. Sometimes it is merely by the way you live. I am a writer and even if I didn't write, I can't change that. I must find ways to tell my stories. I have been looking for my format and the way to convey this thing inside of me by doing this blog.

For many years I got away from fiction. I still resisted even as I "doctored" others' fiction. I knew how to fix it. Some of those people are now published. Some are still working on it, but I believe they will get there--just some time and more work. I believe in writers. I help them as I am able.

Now, I want to do my own fiction, my own stories. I am not resisting any longer. I have studied it inside and out. The final puzzle piece for me was to choose my genre. I thought it would be historical as I blogged. It may still be. I love reading historicals. I cut my teeth on James Michener sagas. But the historicals seem to be "on hold." Instead, I have other stories, which elbowed their way to the front.

These other genres won't leave me alone, and yesterday I was looking over some exercises in fiction I did at a conference under Robin Lee Hatcher's direction. She called it automatic writing. We wrote four assignments in less than an hour. I'll show you the uncensored, unedited versions. You tell me if any one of these four stories you would read. I know they are stories that are on my mind.

1. Creativity: key word--rotting figs
(by Crystal Miller)

When I was asked to come home to write a column for the hometown newspaper, reviewing restaurants no less, it was about as attractive of an offer as rotting figs.I spent the whole time I was growing up in that town plotting to get away--and now to review restaurants there--well, make me gag. I had just lost 50 pounds. This would blow everything. So the whole thing of my life's ambitions had just decayed into this slimy mess of rotting figs. But I couldn't say no.

I was flat broke and my dad was offering me the job.

Thanks, Dad.

Exercise 2--Robin played music for us. She said the music suggested and/or enhanced the mood. (Play music with no words.)
By Crystal Miller

The wedding march was strongly absent. In its place was a surreal, soothing piano tune, playing almost like a music box--melodical. Although the music was peaceful, soothing my raw nerves, comforting, saying "trust, trust," my mind still screamed, "Stop! No! Wait!"

But yet my daughter greeted her soon-to-be husband at the altar to embark on a new journey in her life. One I did not approve of and felt certain was wrong, doomed. But as her father I said to her, "I'm here. I made it."

Tara gave me a quick smile. "It'll be ok, dad. Trust."

I didn't think so. Your daughter quickly marrying her sweetheart with just a handful of people there, and then being shipped across an ocean in fatigues and combat boots was not what I envisioned for my little girl for whom I'd read Little Women.If I'd had a son, well, yeah, maybe I would've seen him sent to "Operation Freedom." But not my only daughter, my only blood tie in the whole world.

Exercise 3--Unrelated phrases
Harrison Ford
Civil War
Oh, go jump in the lake!
Died May 10, 1776

By Crystal Miller

He shoved his fedora back on his head and shot me a look that reminded me of Harrison Ford in the Raiders movie. I put my hands on my hips and widened my stance.
"Ok, want to start the next Civil War, honey? Want to see what will happen when you fire the shot at my Fort Sumpter? Fine. Great. I'd sooner go jump in a lake than back down now."
He challenged my genealogy, my dates, and the fact that my ancestor had died on May 10, 1776, just before he was set to meet to sign that sacred American document, The Declaration of Independence. Indications were that he'd been murdered. I lacked the smoking gun.
"Blast your hide," I said.
"Katherine Elizabeth Throgmorton, you are ceremoniously expelled from this club."
I was sure my grandmother turned in her grave at that moment.

Exercise 4: automatic writing
By Crystal Miller

"I thought you were my wife."
"No," I said,"I don't think so."
"Well, you look just like her from behind, and really, from the front, too."
He stared at me.
"But I'm not her. I'm me. Mary Elizabeth Riley and I'm not married to anyone."
His face drained of color, and carried that cliched, "deer in the headlights" glaze.
"Have you lost your wife in this group?" I asked.
He paused, searching for words.
"She's dead."

Anyway. One thing I've figured out--I always start any story in first person. This POV pops up even when I have strangled it and gone to 3rd person.

Do any of the four exercises show promise? Historical? Romance? Suspense? Contemporary? Romantic comedy? (Just who am I, anyway?) I have stacks of manuscripts. They don't resemble each other. Being branded is not happening.

So,since blogger is wanting us to change over to the new format,it's really close to Christmas, and I am going to be spending time working on my fiction daily (committed, that is,)this blog will change dramatically. My writing has changed in the writing of this blog.I have changed. I've listened to readers. I've listened to my closest advisors in my writing. It is time.

So if you have anything to add, advise, direct about my type of writing--now is the time. I'm ready. It's happening.

(Gifts to be added daily in separate blog entries until I'm to 1000.)

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Getting into the Spirit at CHRISTMAS

When I was a little girl, I anticipated Christmas with mixed feelings. For one, my tiny Christian school frowned on Christmas celebration, though we usually had a small gift exchange. Mostly, Christmas was ignored (definitely no Santas or Ho-ho-ho,)and really, just a little bit about the baby Jesus. I think I was in first grade when I learned about King Herod killing all those babies when Jesus was born. It was just a bit scary to think about. I didn't need Halloween to be scared out of my mind. It made a tenderheart like me cry.

My mother was usually depressed at Christmas. (She had plenty of reasons why.)I was a Nervous Nelly, and picked up on all the scary things going on in my own house, too. I tried to be extra good, because if I were "good enough" maybe nothing scary would happen around Christmas time.

We had a small aluminum silver tree and some glass ornaments and the best part was this color wheel that made different colors glow on the silver needles.(Wish we still HAD THAT. It's now worth quite a lot--ha.) We had a Chipmunk Christmas album, Bing Crosby and of course, watched all the holiday specials. Mom made a white Christmas tree cake and frosted it with green icing and Red Hot candies. It was beautiful. And she also made this fruit cocktail cake, which was yummy. She would make egg nog (the nonalcoholic kind) and I loved that. (Just the right amount of nutmeg.)We always had a school program and I always had a major role to memorize.

One year my teacher made me memorize a 2-page poem about a Raggedy Ann doll and recite before our play. I loved that Raggedy Ann doll, but had to give it back to the person who lent it to us for my part. Then,immediately afterwards I had the major part in presenting the Gospel about Jesus to "Grandpa" in a play called "Christmas Comes to Grandpa." It was a little funny because Robbie Foss, who played Grandpa, wasn't that much older than me and they had him all grayed up and with glasses on. But I didn't giggle once during the play, despite giggling quite a lot in practice.

My family didn't usually spend Christmas at "home." We would pack up almost as soon as we hit the door for Christmas vacation and head to Tennessee. Now, the group, Alabama, and Amy Grant both sing this song that always makes me cry called "Tennessee Christmas" because it reminds me of going to Tennessee to be with our family there.

We didn't really have "Christmas morning" but usually I didn't care. I wanted to go so much, that I would've given away any present I had just to go. I think my mom used to worry about going to Tennessee and us not really having a traditional Christmas morning, but frankly, it taught us to treasure the people more than the gifts, I think.

My dad, who was very poor growing up, always made sure we had an orange in our stockings. That was very important to him. He would tell us how he was so poor, but somehow, someone always made sure they had an orange for Christmas--a real treat. He would turn up his nose when talking about the candy, though. His grandmother, it seems, always thought the only kind of candy he should get was "horehound" candy. If you have never tried it, just imagine the worst tasting medicine, and that's it! He bought some one time so we could try it. I don't know why they even bothered to call it "candy."

So, I still love to have oranges at Christmas--and to include some orange goodies. My dad liked the soft peppermint sticks, so we always had that, too. But we would have all of these things before taking off to Tennessee. My parents married at
12 noon on December 22, so that was another thing--they had their anniversary just three days before Christmas. If for some reason we couldn't go to Tennessee, then Dad would always make sure he stopped his truck wherever he was so he could call my mother at exactly 12 noon. I get a little weepy thinking about that. While their marriage of nearly 50 years was extremely trying and sometimes tragic, he really did care about her. When she died in April of 1997, he had a "silent" heart attack. He died just two years later. I think he regretted all the trouble he gave her, and he tried to make it up to us until he died.

I still feel a bit "blue" at Christmas not going to Tennessee, and many times my husband is scheduled to work on Christmas. But my boys seem to love being "at home." So, we make our own traditions and my boys have grown up without the fears I had at Christmas time. They simply are joyous and peaceful. What a gift.

So, I put on a Christmas recording, think of my parents who are both dead now, and the many trips we made to Tennessee. I try to block out some of the bad memories at Christmas (there were many...) and just concentrate on the good times now. And I pick up a good book with warm, tender stories, watch how other people celebrate Christmas, as my husband and I recall our own Christmas celebrations with our boys, which usually makes us laugh. Like how Max (our youngest of four) always seemed to pull over the Christmas tree. Or how Jordan would tear Christmas presents open with a huge pile of ripped paper, while Jared meticulously opened his slowly, folding each paper neatly. And how Bryce always seemed to get the "deep" spiritual meanings in all of the stories. And us always participating in Angel Tree.

If you need some ideas for good, Christmas-themed books to read at Christmas time, try looking at this list at

Or check out my friends' books, Lee Warren and Robin Lee Hatcher.

And eat an orange for my dad while you're reading.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Happy Birthday, Crystal Snow Baby

Welcome to my party today. When I was teaching first grade, those kids wanted to know how old I was. Even though I was only 23 and fresh out of college, they viewed me as "old." They also were quite concrete in their learning, so your age was supposed to reflect in your size and shoe size. Let's just say that with my current age, I could stuff Shaq into a basketball basket--no problem--if that were true. Paul Bunyan, move over.

My mother often told of the day I was born. It was December. Exactly two weeks before Christmas. My father was "on the road" as he had just started a long haul trucking job just a month before. They lived in a trailer down a steep incline. My dad had told my mother to stay with her sister in town(who had four kids, so her house was wild with three boys and a girl--her youngest, later to be my best friend, wasn't born yet,) but she refused. She wanted to be home and I wasn't supposed to come just yet.

Then, the blizzard started.

Of course, the labor pains began. It would appear that I was going to be born at home with my mom by herself (well, I'd be there soon to keep her company.) She got to the hospital, being a hardy sort. Despite snow, a slippery hill she didn't think they were going to make it up and her husband "out" where she couldn't contact him (this was a long time before cell phones and pagers. Come to think of it, I don't think mom even had a phone. She had to use a neighbor's,) she made it with time to spare. I wish I could ask details now, but my dad, my aunt and my mom are now all gone, as well as the doctor. (They were the only ones who might remember.) It seems that I have more questions now that I'm older. If your mom is still around, now is the time to ask about all of those details. (And if you have kids, tell or write them all the details of how they came to be with you.)

The doctor decided it was going to be awhile. He left instructions with the nurse to "yell out the window" at him when it was time, because he suited up in his hunting duds and went rabbit hunting on the grounds outside the hospital. The snow had slowed and it was going to be awhile."First baby" and all. When the time came, they gave mom something called "Twilight" which didn't exactly put you out, but made pain less and sort of threw you for a "loop." Having had four babies myself, I tried to imagine this on top of trying to grab a tiger by the tail. Phew.

The nurse yelled out the window, probably just as the doc (Dr. Dillon) was drawing a bead on his supper (or part of Mrs. Dillon's new fur coat--he was a practical sort, you see.) I was born and my dad arrived a short time later, as his company had found him and sent him home. Mom cried (she claimed it was her drug-induced state,) "It's a girrrrrrrrrrrrrrrl," like Dad would be disappointed. My Dad told her, "That's ok. I love her, anyway."

So, this is my fifth birthday in the photo, and as you can see, my stubborn mother also finally had her boy--and she only having one lobe of one lung left. She had him by C-section. Her doctor (same guy) had ordered a therapeutic abortion because with her delicate health after surviving TB and losing all but that one lobe of lung, plus with Wild Thang 1 (me) to look after, he was convinced that she could not carry a baby without killing her. Having lost so many babies, and then getting the "disappointing" girl, well, she couldn't possibly even consider this procedure. While the doctor was on the phone with the surgeon, Mom calmly got up, got dressed and slipped out of the office. As she was leaving, she looked him in the eye and said,"I'm having this baby." Tough lady. She didn't say he smiled, but having heard a lot of stories about Dr. Dillon, I like to think that he did.

Every birthday Mom made me a special cake. I was Queen for the Day. Since it was always cold, perhaps snowing, and only 2 weeks before Christmas, it was tough to make my birthday too much of a celebration. A few of my birthday photos were taken outside as that was before the arrival of flash cameras. As you can see at the bottom of the photograph, our milk delivery box was from Hoosier Dairy company.

I can also remember presents I received(yeah, still got my memory.) One year I got a Swiss chalet jewelry/music box that played "The Blue Danube" and had a ballerina that popped up. I got a blue zircon birthstone ring from my Grandparents that was stolen by a neighbor girl. I got a complete "gold" flatware set and tea set one year complete with a little table. Oh, yeah, and one year I got a set of tires on the car that my dad let me drive. (Boy, howdy.) I still have the note from that birthday, informing me of what he had done. Dad was especially proud of that gift. I can laugh now (and understand better.) One year I got a guitar. My oldest son learned to play on that guitar, too.

For my first birthday, mom said they commemorated the special day by purchasing a record player stereo. It was portable, but even when I grew up, I couldn't lift it alone. It automatically played a whole stack of albums and 45's. We listened to a lot of country (Johnny Cash,) The Green Onion, Nancy Sinatra's "Boots are Made for Walking," Patsy Cline, and many, many others. It sat on top of a washstand that my dad eventually refinished.

My Mom had five miscarriages before I was born. The last baby, though dead, didn't deliver. Mom insisted the baby "was not dead" and carried it nearly a week after the doctor wanted to do the procedure to deliver my sibling. She would be depressed for some time after that. That was when a new drug was discovered that they believed would prevent miscarriages.

My mother took the drug diethylstilbestrol, or commonly referred to as DES for over 7 months. Mostly, it was given in the first trimester, but since my mother had miscarried in the second trimester, she took it well into the last trimester. I got the full whammy. Well, it turns out that not only did this drug not help in preventing miscarriages, later it was discovered to cause a rare form cancer in the daughters. Mom carried horrendous guilt over that, but I always told her that she was doing what, at the time, was supposed to save my life. Lots of people get cancer and no one even knows why. So, I have never worried about it.

Also, supposedly, daughters exposed to this drug would miscarry or wouldn't be able to conceive. God must've laughed over that one. I did have one miscarriage, but carried four boys to term. You can see them doing their typical "bunny ears" behind me on one of my past birthdays. My mother wasn't at this celebration, and my mother-in-law took over the special cake-making. This happens to be a specially homemade angel food cake with her super-light fluffy frosting. I particularly like her cinnamon-laced angel food cakes. This was my first birthday without my mother on earth. She had died in April, and my birthday is in December.

All I can say is that I'm really happy someone finally invented a flash camera so I didn't have to stand outside in the Indiana weather for my annual photo. Yeah, progress is good. (And now we have GPS and cell phones, and can even see the baby before it is born and put their ultrasound image on cookies...)


1000 Gifts....

Today I can put down a few tangible gifts, too. (smile)

267. My email box filled with birthday greetings from all over (Thanks!)and even an IM from far away
268. Fun memories from my roommate from college
269. a nice leather and sherpa-lined jacket (warm and chic)
270. funniest email card I have ever seen (thank you, W)I laughed and laughed! (and I didn't think I felt like laughing...)
271. a box filled with custom-made ceramic stoneware from Linda's kiln (LOVE IT)
272. my 92-year-old grandmother remembering my birthday and sending a card
273. coffee in my new rose mug
274. a mild day for December--no snow in sight
275. Melba, Imy, Tina and the BEAUTIFUL Nativity set (Willow Tree)
276. Bringing it by my house special so I could set it up for Christmas
277. Deep conversations with my oldest son about family stories
278. healthy kids
279. bright and cheery kids
280. celebration of another birth a long time ago--Jesus
281. Hark, the Harold Comer Sings (an old familiar carol from my youth and Harold sings in heaven's choir now)
282. Christmas lights in town
283. the river and its sounds
284. my Rod Frederick moose print that I look at every day
285. crushed ice and water with lime slices (love lime)
286. cute Christmas card photo from the Joey Summitts' house
287. a computer that is still running (where to, I don't know)
288. my comfy Mackinac Shoreline Division (45' North by 84' West) hooded sweatshirt I put on almost every morning to take my dog out in the dark
289. Cutey-pie Kaylee's school picture (now up above my desk)
290. the photo of my favorite house ripped from the newspaper pinned up above my computer that I look at every day
291. casual photos of all my guys tacked up above my computer
292. motorcycle jacket--it is so cooool
293. thinking about goals and realizing that maybe I can accomplish them
294. the last birthday card from my dad tacked up on my bulletin board with words to cherish for a lifetime
295. lots of good birthday memories
296. Sheryl Root's birthday yesterday! (Glad you're here!)
297. spaghetti for supper last night
298. feeling hunger and knowing I can eat any time
299. turning on a faucet and fresh, clean water coming out
300. indoor "facilities" (yes, I do remember the outside kind...)
301. flash on cameras
302. insulation in houses
303. favorite Levi's jeans
304. cool earrings
305. my special "name" purse in red I got last year's birthday (looks new)
306. how special I feel when I see some of these things
307. my new goals for this year's writing
308. the hope of accomplishing them
309. Hanna's note
310. another year to mark

Thursday, December 07, 2006

December 7 in America

This is my husband's Uncle John. He lives not far from us and we've enjoyed a lot of good times with him (trapshooting, playing euchre.) My husband worked with him on his farm when my husband was a teen.

He has 3 children, 4 grandchildren and 2 great-grandchildren. And yes, he served in World War II. If he had not come home, we wouldn't have the great guitar player, Phil, his son, in our band because John wasn't even married when at 18 he went off to war. His grandson has also served in the military as a tank driver.

My mother-in-law's cousin was at Pearl Harbor on that day. It's hard to imagine such an attack today--we are friends with Japan. What a difference a generation makes. It is important to remember the events, the times and the pulling together. Uncle John is of the best people I know. If you asked him, he would say he didn't do anything extraordinary--he just did the best that he could. He had good family and friends to come home to.

On this web site is the authenticated speech that President Franklin D. Roosevelt made the day after the attack. It starts like this:

"Mr. Vice President, Mr. Speaker, Members of the Senate, and of the House of Representatives:

Yesterday, December 7th, 1941 -- a date which will live in infamy -- the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan."

If you read the entire speech, you will notice that Americans were not the only ones attacked. There is a long list of places attacked. If only it had not happened. But it did.

One of my favorite historical fiction writers, Tricia Goyer, wrote a book called Dawn of a Thousand Nights. Set during this time in American history, Tricia did her homework--she interviewed WWII vets about the events, their feelings at the time. It is an amazing book (as are all of her books.)

Here is a taste of that book from Tricia's site:

"Daniel Lukens has two great loves: combat flying for the Army Air Corps and Libby Conners, a female pilot he met while stationed in Hawaii. Libby is a flight instructor, and their budding romance is put to the test when Dan is transferred to the Philippines.

Mere months after their parting, Pearl Harbor is bombed by the Japanese. Eight hours later, Clark Field on the Philippines is also bombed, propelling the Americans into the war and forcing the U.S. military forces on the island to fight with limited food, weapons, and supplies. Dan and the other soldiers bravely fight, only to soon find themselves prisoners of the Japanese.

With the United States at war, Libby is one of the first female flyers called up for the new Women's Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron, WAFS. Yet, just when Libby feels she's making a contribution to the war effort, her new friendship with Sam Struthers and a freak accident leave her world spinning. Can Libby's new found faith in God keep her strong?

Natsuo Hidki is an interpreter in the Imperial Japanese Army who thinks of honor above all else. Honor to his homeland, to his emperor. Yet once schooled in the United States, Natsuo is conflicted by the memories of his American friends. When Natuso is confronted by a ghost of the past, he questions the code of honor he's swore to live-and die by.

A thousand nights of darkness pass between the embrace of lovers and friends. Will they survive to witness the dawn?"

Tricia has a gift for bringing those events and those people into the focus of God's love for all people. If you're looking for insights into those events, I highly recommend reading this book. (I love reading historical fiction.)


1000 Gifts Continued....

251. Holly berry Christmas lights
252. Card from my Grandmother with sentiments of love and photos (she lives in Tennessee)
253. a special package in the mail from my Aunt Linda! Love it!
254. Being remembered from far away
255. gift of freedom thanks to men and women like Uncle John and many others
256. time spent with my oldest son running errands and shopping--good conversation
257. warm hat, gloves, scarf in my favorite olive green
258. warm sherpa and leather coat
259. electricity and a warm house and a warm car in our subzero weather
260. medical personnel who do jobs in this weather
261. smiles from people you don't even know
262. Robin Lee Hatcher's Coming to America Series (am reading Dear Lady)
263. Fun quiz on your accent from Robin Lee Hatcher's and Tricia Goyer's blogs
What American accent do you have?
Your Result: The Midland

"You have a Midland accent" is just another way of saying "you don't have an accent." You probably are from the Midland (Pennsylvania, southern Ohio, southern Indiana, southern Illinois, and Missouri) but then for all we know you could be from Florida or Charleston or one of those big southern cities like Atlanta or Dallas. You have a good voice for TV and radio.

The West
North Central
The South
The Inland North
The Northeast
What American accent do you have?
Quiz Created on GoToQuiz

264.Finding out that I have a good voice for radio (probably a good face for radio, too...)
265. Blogs like Mrs. Joseph's and being included on her "eye-catching" list (Cool!)
266. Funny cartoon sites like Dave's

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Coming to America: Port of Entry

Coming to America: Port of Entry
and Turn on the Oven

It is always interesting to me how people got to this country. I like to hear the stories. Around here where I live, most people's ancestors end at Grandma and Grandpa and they'll say, "Wahl, I thank my people came from North Carolina, but we been on this here land since 1832.You ain't from around here, arya?"

Now with genealogy being a hobby, some of those people have traced themselves back to the Mayflower and they belong to an exclusive Mayflower society. Wahl, I have some ancestors who met them when they got off the boat. Doesn't seem to have the same prestige. Go figure. (and my maiden name is Warren--there were Warrens on the Mayflower.)

But on my mother's side, here's the story. My grandfather, Jons Persson, lived in Skane, Sweden (Southern Sweden, so I'm Southern on both sides of the family) and was a fancy baker by trade (oh, yeah, the baking is in the "blood." Boo-ya!)

There was this guy named William Widgery Thomas who was the American Ambassador to Sweden. He turns out to be well-documented in Portland, Maine and supposedly said for his reason for bringing the Swedes over, "Besides all other reasons, I believe these honest, pious, plodding Swedes would form an excellent balance to the fickle, merry, light-hearted Irish, who are now crowding in such goodly numbers to our shores."

I don't know about you'ins, but I'm part Irish, too. I'd hate to be just be a "plodding" sort. And that sounds a little politically incorrect to me, but alas, he was a well-respected man, whose family boasts of being the first whites in their area.Hally-lew-yah. Can I get an "Amen?" No? (But don't think I'm not grateful for him, Mr. Thomas, because I am. I figure God used Mr. Thomas to get us here.)

Thomas commissioned a special boat to bring 51 special tradesmen to America and settle them in a settlement called New Sweden, Maine. My great-grandfather above was one of those guys (around 1870.)

No wonder I couldn't find him on any of the lists that have become public. Hannah was from Smaland, Sweden and they lived in New Sweden until 1882 before taking off (those wild and crazy kids!) for Minnesota. Why they would head for Minnesota just shows they wanted land. Land was for the taking after the Homestead Act. If any of you live in Minnesota, you know about the "state bird"(called mosquitos) and how it took a special breed of people to stick it out on those homesteads. My people did it.

At this time of year, I really appreciate my Swedish and Norwegian roots because those people liked food and loved Christmas. And I like food. Which proves that I have just enough Swede for food abundance appreciation with a good cuppa coffee (and enough Irish to enjoy it!) Gotta love our backgrounds. Many of the Swedes left because they were starving. And America had plenty of food. We get smorgasbord from the Swedes--and I have the recipes to prove it.

However, my favorite story from Sweden is called Godnatt, jord (Goodnight, Earth) and this isn't from my family, but hey. Some writer named Ivar Lo-Johansson (and I'm related to some Johanssons.) The character, Mikael, knew there was some glowing life out there and his hunger for it, drove him to steal money for books. This family was direly starving and he's stealing money for books. So, the Swedes were a hardy bunch, literate and had the ability to keep a buoyant spirit while being worked to death. Maybe Jons just didn't know any better.

Christmas traditions abound with the Swedes. A lot of the traditions swirl around light. It is so dark during this time of year, that even Lucia celebration (Dec. 13th) has lights. I refuse to wear candles in my hair, even if I am the oldest girl. Hot wax and the hair on my skull--not a nice combo.

Another favorite tradition at Christmas is the baking of Christmas bread. There were baskets of bread for poor, a supply for the winter months, and everyone got their own stash of bread. When they got to America where food was plenty, they didn't forget their days of scarce eating, so they baked up all kinds of breads and sampled it at will!In Sweden you were urged to eat a bite of bread with each bite of food because it was the very core of life. If you dropped your bread piece, you had to pick it up and eat it, even if someone stepped on it. This is why Hans Christian Anderson (though Danish, loved the heart of Sweden) had ol' Hansel and Gretel dropping bread crumbs like mad--it was sort of defiance.

Where Hannah was from (Smaland) they shaped their breads like birds. Oh,and you have to have seven kinds of cookies. Now, I'm going to tell you this really mean story that happened to me.

I used to participate in a cookie swap at Christmas (in another place where I lived.) I love recipes, and I loved the cookie swap! One lady there (my age) had a particularly tasty recipe for Swedish Melting Moments cookies. She was praised far and wide, and she would bake for a solid week, and freeze her cookies, getting them out for various social events. I wanted that recipe. Even though I probably had 10 recipes (and continue to search) for Swedish Melting Moments, those were really good. I'd get about one a year.

So, I asked her if I could have the recipe. I promised to only bake them for family. She said, "No problem! I'd love for you to have it." But she conveniently never gave it to me. (Believe me, I asked several times.)Now, she lives far away and I live the other far away--and I still don't have that recipe.

I still consider it annoying when people horde their recipes. I mean, I can understand it if you have a special recipe and you have a bakery or restaurant and you continue to pass it in your own family. But if you're not a "professional" making a living at it--just share it!

I've given my recipes even to bed and breakfast places who did use it for their reputation of their inn. If you die, and you die with your recipe, for which you are famous--what good were you? Now, to be fair, my mother-in-law, Imy, who is one of the best bakers ever, has tried to teach me about the fine art of pie crust--and I have her recipe. I have tried, without success to make it as good as she does. Maybe it has to do with enjoyment or the "sharing" of the delicious baked item, but I will never be able to replicate her recipe. I think it may even have to do with her hands--the size or something or maybe with her patience (which I don't always have so much of.)

I come from a baker who was brought to this country special because of his great skill at baking--and yet I haven't a single recipe from him.

Share your stories this holiday season with your families--but also share the uniqueness of the foods of your family.

(And if you have a most excellent recipe for Swedish Melting Moments, I'd love to see it...)


1000 Gifts....

212. enjoying "Miracle on 34th Street" with my boys
213. excitment of the season
214. secret packages being shuffled around and the anticipation
215. great beef in the freezer from Cousin Larry's farm
216. My Aunt Mayme for writing down so many family stories and for her accuracy
217. Florida fruit orders are in! (Thanks to the high school band) We're eating "sunshine" on dark days (yum)
218. the splash of orange on my tongue when I bite into a freshly peeled section
219. the crunching sound of apples when I bite them
220. my long-suffering mailman bringing me yet another book
221. My Aunt Linda for always thinking of me
222. the thought of meeting Michelle for coffee
223. the fun discussions with the Christian Humor Writers
224. people who make me laugh
225. people sharing with me their daily strides
226. warm sunshine peeking out to keep me going during the dark days of winter
227. Christmas cards!
228. My copy of Torah, Grace and Truth: Messiah Magazine
229. The Hanukkah story in this magazine ("Shining Lights into a Kingdom of Darkness" by Michael and Sharra Badgley)
231. Photos
232. my Robert Bateman print of the Bald Eagle
233. having passions
234. my boys and their humor
235. hugs
236. Home Sweet Home candle scent
237. the glow of candles in the dark
238. the light of the world, Jesus
239. Christmas music
240. Celtic Christmas music
241. the color sapphire blue
242. poinsettia from Melba
243. Taylor accoustic guitars
244. hearing Bryce, Max, Jordan and Tyler laughing downstairs
245. Goofy Tyler's laugh and his twinkling eyes and freckles
246. my husband's gruff beard
247. my little dog, Lizzie, doing tricks for a "cookie"
248. Folk art
249. Uncle Grant's saw painting of wood ducks
250. Uncle Grant's painting of a mill done in blues (for Millers--get it?)

Monday, December 04, 2006

Coming to America: The Perssons and Thompsons

The Perssons

On With the Story of Coming to America...

A couple days ago I revealed my mother's family's dark secret--that her grandfather was a harsh man who never mourned his children he had put into harm's way, drove his wife to shamefully filing for divorce at the turn of the century by his cruelty to her (that wasn't a common occurance where the woman left the man and divorced him,) and one other daughter being committed to one of the first mental institutions, which sprang up after Dorothea Dix campaigned for better conditions for mental patients.

This family portrait is missing a couple people--Oscar, who died in the barn fire, and Esther who died when she was overworked by lifting pails of sand from the well and died from a ruptured spleen the next day. The one lone son on the back row is my grandfather, Aaron. The daughter who would have a breakdown not long after this, Ellen, is directly behind her father. The portrait even looks as if there are missing people.

I have a similar photo of my grandmother's family. While these photographs are posed and they would have to hold still for a while, there is a stark contrast in the two families. No one is smiling in the Persson family portrait. When I study their faces, knowing what their family was going through, I see pain and sadness. Maybe bitterness, in the Persson family.

The Thompsons

On the other side, I have been told lots of sad stories from my grandmother's side, but they were a happy, giving family with many people bearing witness to their many kindnesses to people--with even many stories of kindness/neighborliness to the Indians on a nearby reservation,(the people who were despised by many, especially the ones who remembered the uprisings.) I can tell you more about them later, but look at my Great-grandfather's face, Bernt Thompson.(He the one with sparkling, friendly eyes on the front row.) I want to know him immediately.

The smallest child, and only blonde in this family, is my grandmother, Anna Thompson, who was "stolen" for a day by the local Chippewa medicine man, Mickinock, when she was just a few days old so he could show his friend's blonde-headed baby off to his people. Notice how her mother lovingly cradles her hand and leans in. This was the family who helped young Aaron Pierson when his first wife died. These are the people who tucked him safely into their family and cared for his five children, as he struggled to hang onto his farm in those mournful days after his wife's death. And their youngest daughter,Anna, two years later, is whom he fell in love with, married, had five more children with, and cherished, until her dying day ( my mother was only 5 years old when Anna died from tuberculosis.)Anna allowed Aaron's children from his first marriage to name their youngest daughter(my mother.) They picked their dead baby sister's name, Lillian Arlene. (My mother would say with a smile later that it was tough to see her own name on that baby's tombstone.)

What stories are being told in your family? In our family we love to tell stories. We laugh about the funny things that have happened, and miss the people who are gone. My kids know about Great-grandfather Aaron and the wolf thrown over his shoulder, the time the bull charged him and he flipped him over his head, and a whole bunch of stories displaying his sense of humor. (For another time.) It is important for us to tell stories. It is the best gift you can give to those around you.

Maybe you are grasping for hope right now. Maybe you are like Aaron, bitter and angry at someone in your family. Many of Aaron's sisters died, his first wife died from a tubular pregnancy just a year after they had lost a baby. He was left alone with five small children. Just when he was desperate and didn't know what to do with his children, along came the Thompsons. Did Aaron pray to God to help him? I think he probably did, as he was known as a man of God in his church and community. I'm sure things seemed pretty desperate before they got better.

You have to tell your stories. Garrison Keillor says,"We need to write, otherwise nobody will know who we are." If someone had not written down these stories that passed on to me, and if my mother had not told the stories to me as a small child, I would've never known. I wouldn't know that I came from people who had come through hard times, and could go on. These are more precious to me than anything. If you don't know your ancestors' stories, that is ok. Tell YOUR stories, the things that you have come through, the things that make you smile and cry.


More 1000 Gifts.....
182. Cheeseburgers from McDonald's (yeah, they are a weakness, but tasty and quick when you are hungry and out.)
183. shared laughter with Bryce and Max (my two youngest)
184. Melba, who loves us
185. the internet
186. "God-moments"--those special moments that God shares with you a thread of hope
187. seeing my "flower girl" from our wedding Saturday evening and chatting about writing! (and her precious gift--her daughter)
188. feeling the "beat" of the music on drums
189. radio--music that comes from "somewhere" and we don't even think about it, but just enjoy it
190. cute little bird ornaments I found on sale in the Hallmark shoppe while my boys were taking guitar lessons
191. chatting with the owner of the Hallmark shop about mutual friends and our families--leaving with a smile of connection
192. the great guys at the music shop who can fix any instrument and love it as much as you do
193. downtown Christmas lights
194. the quiet of the country in the early morning hours
195. email--instantly connecting with people I can't always call
196. praying for a friend I've only seen a few times who lives across the country in her moment of need
197. My Heartsong Presents historical books I got in the mail
199. My gold sweater that makes me feel almost elegant (even though I'm not!)
200. Max whistling (I know he's home and happily baking)
201. Speartoons!
202. American humor
203. Jim Watkins and his humor (Even when life gives him lemons, he knows to pray what to do with them)
204. My gold cameo ring that feels smooth on my finger
205. Healthy Hoof Treatment (a hand treatment just when I was giving up hope that my cracked, dry hands would heal and I'd tried EVERYTHING) (Oh, yeah. Figures that it is a treatment for horses' hooves...)
206. Sheryl leaving a comment and sharing joys with me
207. other people who leave comments
208. Ramona's joy over her new book
209. Cranberry-orange bread
210. smell of freshly baked cookies while I write (Max is baking again...)
211. the aroma of Christmas Punch scented candle by Yankee

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Take Me to the Movies

When I was a kid, I remember bossing my cousins and brother around to reenact movies or stories. Sometimes if I had seen a movie, I would go into long-drawn out storytelling if someone else had not seen it. The bad part was that the religion I was raised in and spent five school years being indoctrinated into, frowned on movie-going and even on watching TV. Believe me, this was not an easy thing for me. I loved something that made me feel guilty. And I certainly couldn't share it at church or in school! But now that I have grace, I no longer have this as a "shame" (a shame that I felt because I loved movies so much)and I've seen quite a few movies now--and talk about them freely.

The movie, The Nativity, is out and I would love to go see it. I don't get out to see movies very often, but I do have Pay Per View satellite and watch a lot of movies at home. But this movie is special and I do want to go see it in the theater. One of my favorite authors, Angela Hunt, wrote the novel that goes along with the movie. Nothing is better than a movie, based on a true story, with a book! (See Crosswalk's review of The Nativity here.)

Recently, an AOL news feed listed the Top Ten Faith-Based Movies put out since 1980. I hope that Hollywood is paying attention because they also listed what each of the films grossed. It is no small thing that people love a good story that gives them a hope and a future. They should be paying attention to what we want to go see.

Here are the Top Ten grossing Faith-based movies since 1980. Have you seen any of them? Maybe you want to put one or two on your Christmas Wish List:

10. China Cry
9. Left Behind
8. The Other Side of Heaven
7. Luther
6. Megiddo: The Omega Code II
5. End of the Spear
4. The Omega Code
3. Jonah: A Veggie Tales Movie
2. The Witch, The Lion, and The Wardrobe (grossed $291,710,957.00)

and number one, grossing in at $370,782,930.00 (whoa!) is one of my favorite movies that I went with friends and family to see:
1. The Passion of the Christ

I will admit to you that because The Passion of the Christ is such an intense and physical movie, not everyone will want to see it. I know the images haunted me for a long time, but see, I also have an intense personal commitment to the subject of that film, Jesus Christ of Nazareth. It is not a film that you need to see over and over again, either. Once will stay with you for a long time.

(This is not an endorsement of all of the movies on this list. This is NOT MY TOP TEN, but the TOP TEN HIGHEST GROSSING FAITH-BASED FILMS since 1980.)

The thing is, when I go to see a movie, I want the good guys to win, a story to be told, and something I can take away--either a smile (laughter,) a warm feeling, or something that wants me to tell a story, too. Watching a movie is not a passive event for me. I want to be engaged and I want to come away with something for my own storytelling or for my life.

Tell me a story (and share with me some of your favorite movies to see.)


1000 Gifts Continued....

151. a warm sweatshirt with a hood
152. hot brewed coffee
153. family who cares
154. My friend, Marti, who cares about others before herself
155. the ability to read and discern
156. coconut yogurt with raisins
157. friends who comment on my blog
158. fascinating topics on other blogs
159. time that friends and family invest in me
160. my Indiana ACFW writer friends!
161. a weather report that didn't come true (no snow!)
162. winds that died down and no damage on our home (others had damage)
163. Christmas traditions
164. the reason for Christmas--Jesus
165. sunshine today when it was soooo dark yesterday (I feel better already)
166. hot green tea with lemon and honey (my throat is a little raspy and I have to SING tonight. Eeek! Please pray.)
167. praying friends even if they don't know what I'm talking about
168. family and friends I feel privileged to bring to the Lord in prayer
169. Max and Bryce respecting my wishes, even when they want to go
170. stores!
171. plenty of food (oooh, maybe too much...)
172. plenty of clean water
173. frost patterns on the window and on leaves (artwork without the price!)
174. the smooth feel of the needles on our white pine trees outside
175. the soothing sound of rippling water down in our creek
176. sparkly things that delight me
177. Tammy Alexander and her books
178. my mother--for sharing so many stories with me and leaving the notes and records, and photos for me
179. My Aunt Mayme who still calls me and gathered much of our family stories
180. My Aunt Linda who gathered stories for my other side of the family
181. Good memories that get better with time

Friday, December 01, 2006

The Story of Coming to America

See any family resemblance? Me, neither. But yet, the guy on the left is my mother's father, Aaron, and the young man on the right is his brother, Oscar. They were born in Sweden. They came to America with their father, mother and six sisters in the late 1800s.

Their father, Jons Persson, was a fancy baker by trade and came to work for the American ambassador to Sweden in the late 1800s, who then made sure they came to America. They first came to New Sweden, Maine, but many of the family ended up in Minnesota and the San Joaquin Valley in California. Jons was hot-tempered and harsh in nearly every story told by people who knew him, or who were in the family. He was hardworking, but most times was cruel to his own family. There are many stories about him, and eventually, my great-grandmother, Hannah, divorced him in 1903. It is a story of heartbreak and hardship, and part of my family's fabric. Part of what has shaped all their descendents.

In 1899 Oscar was 19-years-old and living on his father's farm. One of the worst things that could happen on a farm happened. A barn fire. Jons, my great-grandfather, sent Oscar into the burning barn to retrieve the horses stabled there. Oscar dutifully ran into the burning barn to pull out the magnificent horses that my great-grandfather took great pride in. On his second time into the raging fire, a post fell, and knocked him unconscious. Neighbors had arrived by this time, but left him in the burning building, trying to put out the fire. When the neighbors finally got the fire under control, they came back in to get Oscar. He was burned and dead. My grandfather, Aaron, was not there that day, and was forever bitter about it. He regretted not being there that day. He was sure that things would've been different, if only he had been there. He was two years older than Oscar. This photo shows the two boys about the age of two of my four boys.

The story goes that Jons said over and over again after Oscar's death and the fire, "My horses! My beautiful horses! Oh, my horses!" mourning the ones that Oscar was unable to get out of the barn. He never spoke a single word, or shed a single tear, about Oscar. It was the beginning of many events that shattered and scattered a family who had come together to America. Oscar was not the only child to die from Jons' cruel ways. One daughter, Esther Elizabeth, 14-years-old, was lifting heavy buckets of sand over and over, when they were digging a well. Her father made her continue, even when she apparently had overworked, and the doctor said her spleen ruptured. She died the following day.

Another daughter, Ellen Amelia, died from tuberculosis in 1901, only 2 years after the fire and Oscar's death. Immediately after Oscar died, she had a nervous breakdown. She was cared for at Fergus Falls Mental Institution before her death. Her father never asked about her. Finally, in 1903, Hannah, with her 14-year-old daughter, Mayme, left Jons, obtained a divorce and traveled to where most of her remaining children had now scattered.

Stories of families and even the bad things that happen are important. God's mercy and love for a family wasn't really that far away from the Piersons despite the hard times and difficult choices that were made. Today, our own families are strong, legion in number, and nearly all of them became servants of the Lord. Instead of being bitter, or turning a cruel streak, I have found that few descendents of Jons Persson are anything like him. And Aaron Pierson (who changed the spelling of his name from his father's) was the most influential person on generations of our family. His sense of humor, intelligence and kindnesses are legendary. I was never privileged to meet him, but heard many stories about him, especially from the one who called him "Papa"--my mother who was his youngest daughter. He died in 1953, years before I was born.

Things that seem to be a waste or a terrible tragedy can be used for good, and the saving of many lives, when filtered through the mercy and grace of God, who made sure that we all knew about Him and His love. It is quite appreciated by me and my family at this time of year.


1000 Gifts Continued...

131. strong roof and house (we are having hurricane-gale winds that blew the hardware store down)
132. a warm, tight house
133. electricity is still on!
134. no snow (missed us so far)
135. a deep ravine to contain the raging river, flooded by recent rain
136. Claritan (warm weather kicked up my allergies)
137. 3 black cats on my porch who seem to have adopted us
138. limes in my ice water (yum!)
139. crockpots and my yummy Mexican round steak
140. beautiful Christmas music
141. garlic-artichoke salsa
142. A Real Coca-Cola (ah, "the pause that refreshes")
143. antibiotics for my friends and family who have been sick
144. ibuprofen
145. careful records and photos of family that I uncovered after having them tucked away in a trunk
146. the gifts of story
147. guitars
148. friends who pray
149. the verse: Philippians 4: 6-7 "Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything , by prayer and petition with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Jesus Christ." It is true.
150. Max's cooking


My industrious friend, Teena Stewart, has a new blog to help in writing suspense fiction. It is called "Whispers in the Dark" and she offers a unique opportunity for suspense writers to join her critique group. Also, if you are in the ministry, be sure to check out her web site, Ministry in Motion, where those engaged in ministry can receive support and tips. It's a wonderful web site, rich in much information.