Kind Words and Christmas Gifts

Have you finished your Christmas shopping yet? Have you even begun?

I finished my shopping this week, and except for baking up batches of my family’s favorite goodies, my holiday preparations are almost complete.

Every year at this time when I do my shopping, I always have in the back of my mind an article I read many years ago about how much money people spend on Christmas presents.

Written by Helen Anderson, the article appeared in a Christian magazine in 1892. It made such an impression on me the first time I read it, I saved it so I could re-read every year. It’s pretty frayed and fragile now, so I don’t handle it like I used to. Still, I always think of it when it’s time to buy a gift for a family member or friend, and I’d like to share the article with you.

As you read this, please keep in mind that when Helen Anderson wrote these words in 1892, fifty cents was the equivalent of $13.80 in today’s money. Ten collars then is now worth $275.

I am going to talk about Christmas presents. I believe in them; I hope the beautiful custom of giving and receiving at this season will never go out. But really and truly I am afraid it will have to, if some of us do not get educated to better ideas. Actually there are some girls, and perhaps some boys, who think that the value of a gift depends upon the amount of money it has cost. You think that shows ill-breeding? So do I, yet people whose mothers have tried to bring them up very carefully seem to be guilty of it.

I spent last Christmas week with some distant cousins, one of whom confided to me her anxiety lest she should not have a present that would be worth showing to the girls when the school term opened.

“You know we don’t have much money to spend nowadays,” she said, “and I am so afraid I shall get just some poky book, or something useful; and the girls at school do have such elegant presents, I shall be afraid to show anything that isn’t really nice.”

She has the dearest father and mother in the world, and I asked her if she really thought they would give her anything which was not “nice.”

“Oh, it will be something which I shall like well enough, of course,” she said, “but then, you know, I want something which I can show.”

The more I listened to the talk of that houseful of cousins, the more convinced was I that the sweet spirit which was intended to be fostered by these gift days was being lost in a wild desire to outshine one another, to give and receive the costliest, and at the same time apparently the most useless gifts which could be contrived.

I knew of a young miss of thirteen who cried for an hour, one evening, because her father could afford her only fifty cents with which to buy a Christmas offering for a friend of about the same age.

“What can I buy with fifty cents, I should like to know?” she said, with pouting lips. All the other girls will give her elegant presents, and I shall be ashamed to send mine.”

“Does she love her so very dearly?” I asked, when this conversation was reported to me.

“Love her?” was the answer. “Why, she dislikes her; but she belongs to our class, you see, and we all exchange presents, and of course she doesn’t want to give her something that will be made fun of.”

The cousin who was explaining things to me is responsible for the mixing of pronouns in that sentence. However, she and I knew what she meant, and I hope you will.

With my eyes and ears opened in this way I saw and heard a great deal.

“Only think,” said Nellie, on Christmas morning, “Ada Parson’s father gave her nothing in the world but a box of note-paper; it couldn’t have cost over twenty cents! Shouldn’t you think he would be ashamed?”

“Yes, indeed!” said her young caller, “I would rather have had nothing than such a mean little present as that. Why, my father spent as much as ten dollars, just for us children.”

I may have been unfortunate in my selection of a place to spend Christmas week, for I certainly heard a great deal of this kind of talk. Just what this thing cost, and how mean that thing was, and what fun Alice Jennings made of Bessie Clark’s presents, and how elegant Laura Burton’s gifts were, which must have cost more than those of any of the other girls. I assure you I was sick at heart before the week was done.

I wanted to call them all together and say, “Oh, girls, dear girls! What are you thinking about? Have you forgotten why we celebrate this day? Don’t you remember that it is a Christ-mass? Don’t you remember the spirit of the blessed Christ, how he gives freely, fully, gladly, because he so loves? How he receives from us even a cup of cold water, if we offer it because we love?”

Oh, the smallness and meanness of measuring a gift by the number of dollars or of pennies that it cost. Oh, the falseness of offering a gift at all, unless the heart’s best love and wishes go with it. Can it be that there are many who so disgrace Christmas Day?

I am afraid, so afraid that there are, because the air has been full of Christmas all around me for the past few weeks; and I have overheard many groans about the burden of making offerings because “it will be expected” of them; and about the amount of money necessary in these days in order to satisfy the demands of those exacting creatures, “the girls.”

It may have just happened so, but I have heard more about the girls than the boys.

“Anything will do for Harry,” a mother said to me; “he doesn’t care much for Christmas presents, anyway, and is always satisfied with whatever he gets; but the girls expect more each year.”

Dear, sweet girls, look to it, every one, will you not, that no such words can be said of you this Christmas-time? Look to it that your spirit of both giving and receiving glorifies the day, and the One for whom the day was named. What if you or I should put Him to shame on the anniversary of his birthday!

HELEN ANDERSON.

I still think of this little essay every year when I compile my list of gifts to purchase for loved ones. It’s a gentle reminder to me of the true meaning of Christmas, and of the gifts we give and receive.

What about you? Is there a guideline you follow when you shop for Christmas gifts?

When is a Good Time to Start a Book?

Thomas Jefferson famously said (among other things), “I cannot live without books.”

I’m the same way. Thanks to my cell phone and Kindle, which fit nicely in my purse or pocket, I never have to go anywhere without a book to read.

With everything that’s been going on with my Mom in the last few months, I wasn’t able to do much reading. I still had my phone and Kindle with me, and I even packed a few paperbacks in my suitcase, feeling certain I’d have plenty of down time when I could relax with a book.

But that down time didn’t materialize all that frequently; and when it did, I had a hard time concentrating on the book I was trying to read. As my mother’s health showed signs of failing and we moved ever closer to the moment she would leave this life and take her place in the presence of her Lord and Saviour, the thought of spending precious quiet moments reading a a novel never really crossed my mind. My attention was only on her.

Since my mother’s passing I’ve read very little beyond my Bible and my daily devotionals. I didn’t consciously cut fiction and biographies and history books from my daily reading routine; it just happened naturally. Matthew 6:8 says “God, who is your Father, knows your needs before you ask him.” And God knew better than I did when I packed those books, that my needs during the time of my mother’s final days would be met by immersing myself in His Word.

I’ve just passed the two-month mark since my mother’s passing, and yesterday—for the first time in I-can’t-remember-when—I picked up a novel I meant to read a few months ago.

I picked it up, but I didn’t open it. I admired the cover art and read the blurb and reviewer praises on the back cover, but I didn’t open it. Still, it was a nice feeling to hold the book in my hand; kind of like sitting on a bicycle after a long absence but knowing it wasn’t the right time to start pedaling.

So I put the book back on the shelf. One day I’ll take it down again and actually open the cover and start reading. But not today.

I’m still not quite ready to resume my old reading habits, but I think I’m getting close. In the meantime, I’ll keep relying on my Heavenly Father to point me in the direction of what I should be reading today. After all, He knows my needs before I do.

 

Ready to Fall into Autumn?

It’s finally Fall, and here in Colorado we’re at the peak viewing period to see our trees and foliage change colors.

Watching and appreciating the changing season is a tradition for me and my family. It’s something I grew up with and never get tired of seeing.

The leaves are changing color in my neighborhood.

Another enduring symbol of the changing season: pumpkins.

They’re everywhere at this time of year (are you tired of hearing the words “pumpkin spice latte” yet?).

Many years ago (long before Starbucks was even an idea) we celebrated the advent of Fall by going to local pumpkin parades.

From days gone by: A pumpkin pie day parade float in Longmont, Colorado.

In addition to parades, some local communities awarded ribbons and prizes to residents who grew the biggest pumpkins. Newspaper reporters snapped their pictures and printed them in the evening edition of the paper. It was a proud moment for people.

A blue ribbon for the 111 pound pumpkin on the right.

Another tradition: Without fail we watched “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” on television with the same avid attention as if we’d never seen the show dozens of times before.

The best part about pumpkins—the thing we looked forward to the most every year—was carving them up (under adult supervision, of course).

Like clockwork on October 30, my sisters and I would lay newspapers all over the top of the kitchen breakfast table, and carefully dig out the seeds and pumpkin meat; then we carved faces into our pumpkins.

Then we’d proudly display them on our front porch, lit with candles, and looking as scary as possible.

Today I live in a neighborhood where there are no young children to trick-or-treat on Halloween night (they’ve all grown up and moved away to neighborhoods of their own). So I really miss those traditions we had as kids that marked the change of season.

What about you? Do you have any Fall traditions you grew up with and still carry on with your family? I’d love to hear about them!

My Blog, My Way

It’s been so long since I last posted on my blog, I had to go back and review my previous posts, just to get my bearings a little. It was a good exercise, because looking at past posts helped me decide if I want to go in a new direction, or keep posting on the same topics I’ve dealt with in the past.

When I started this blog, my purpose was share my thoughts about, and my love for books. I think I’ll continue on in the same vein.

There are some bloggers who write book reviews, which I love to read. But I don’t want to write book reviews (although I sometimes leave reviews on book retailers’ sites).

There are some bloggers who participate in book promo tours, and kudos to them. I love reading about new titles from my favorite authors, as well as learning about authors who are new to me. But I prefer to leave book promotion to the professionals, so you probably won’t see any future blog posts from me on the subject.

What do I like to blog about? Books (which I love to read), Colorado (my home state; please visit, if you can), and stuff that happens in my life. And since that’s what I like, that’s what I’ll blog about—unless I run out of things to say, or stop reading books worth talking about. And, seriously, what are the chances of that happening?

 

Thank you!

I am slowly getting back into the rhythm of my “regular” life.

But before I dive back into blogs and social media posts, I want to take a moment to thank everyone who sent me cards and DMs about my mother. I am grateful and so very thankful for your prayers and well wishes.

The last few months have been both difficult and a blessing. It’s never easy to hear the words “It’s time to talk about putting your mother on hospice care.” But on the other hand, I was uniquely prepared for it, because with only a little effort, I was able to rearrange my life in Denver so I could travel to spend time with Mom. I’m comforted when I think back on the time I got to spend with her. I know she is now at peace and happy in His presence, and I have the best and most loving memories of our time together.

I appreciate your understanding of my absence in the last few months, and I’m thankful for your loving and prayerful support

A New Tracie Peterson Series!

I have been a fan of Tracie Peterson’s books since—Well, for as long as I can remember! Her first novels were published by Barbour’s Heartsong line in the 1990s. Each title was short (about 170 pages) and centered around a budding romance between a man and a woman who grow in faith by the story’s end.

In those days I was a Heartsong subscriber, so Tracie’s books automatically arrived my doorstep. She quickly became one of my favorite authors. I’ve been a constant reader of her stories ever since; in fact, six of her novels figure prominently on my keeper shelf.

Fast forward twenty years later, and I’m still an avid reader of Tracie’s books.

Her latest series is “Brookstone Brides,” about a traveling Wild West show comprised of all-female performers. I love the premise!

The first book in the series, When You are Near, released earlier this month, and automatically appeared on my Kindle (we’ve come a long way since the 90s!).

You can click on the cover to read the book description.

When You are Near had everything I’ve come to expect from a Tracie Peterson book: strong characters, a complex story, surprise twists, and an historical setting so well written you think you’re living the time period.

As soon as I finished reading it, I wanted more, and began searching for information about the next book in the series.

The good news is, I don’t have long to wait long to read it. Wherever You Go (Book 2) comes out in June.

It’s already available for pre-order on Amazon. Here’s a link, if you’d like to read the book description. 

Breaking News!

I just found out that Book 3 in the series, What Comes My Way, will release in October.

You can click on the cover to read the description.

By the way, aren’t the covers beautiful? They really capture all the little details that help make the time period come to life.

If you love reading about strong, determined women, the old west, and vulnerable hearts learning to trust God and His Will, then Tracie’s new series just might be for you! I hope you’ll check it out.

Enjoy!

To All the Men I’ve Loved Before

In the early 1980s singers Willie Nelson and Julio Iglesias recorded “To All the Girls I’ve Loved Before,” a song that paid homage to the many, many women they loved and lost (or dumped) over the courses of their lives.

I’ll say straight up, I’m not a fan of the song; but for some reason, it’s been stuck in my head for the last 48 hours. So I decided, if I can’t get the song out of my mind, I might as well repurpose it in a way that makes sense to me.

So, I’m taking a page from Willie and Julio’s book, and presenting to you a list all the book heart-throbs I once loved.

My First Love was Bert Bobbsey, oldest of the two sets of twins in the Bobbsey family household.

 

Now that I think back on it, Bert was really more of an admired older brother than a crush, but I thoroughly hero-worshipped him until I found . . .

My second crush, Frank Hardy. Level-headed, smart, and brave, he was the hero of more than one thrilling book adventure in my grade-school years.

Plus, he was handsome and a sharp dresser. I’ve loved pull-over sweaters on men ever since.

Then, in more or less chronological order, there was:

Laurie from Little Women. Theodore “Laurie” Laurence set the standard for me when it came to the man I thought I’d like to fall in love with.

Laurie and Amy March in an illustration from my 1939 edition of Little Women.

He was smart, rich, playful, good at keeping secrets, and heart-throbbingly loyal. I was a little troubled to see how quickly he transferred his affections from Jo to Amy, but since everyone in the book ended up happy (with the sad exception of Beth, of course), I was willing to overlook Laurie’s change of allegiance.

Gilbert Blythe.
I have the full collection of Anne of Green Gables books, as well as the beautifully filmed mini-series by Sullivan Productions (I never get tired of watching it!). One reason I love the series so much is Gilbert Blythe.

Gilbert was introduced in the book as a . . .

Tall boy with curly brown hair, roguish hazel eyes and a mouth twisted into a teasing smile.

From the moment he first set eyes on Anne, and he winked at her, you knew he liked her. He really liked her.

For me, the entire Anne series is as much about Anne and Gilbert growing up together and recognizing their feelings for each other, as it is about Anne Shirley coming of age. Yes, she’s the main character in the books, but I still get misty-eyed when I read the scene where Gilbert—after receiving Anne’s rejections again and again—proposes marriage to her for a second time:

“I have a dream,” he said, slowly. “I persist in dreaming it, although it has often seemed to me that it could never come true. I dream of a home with a hearth-fire in it, a cat and dog, the footsteps of friends—and you!”

Anne wanted to speak but she could find no words. Happiness was breaking over her like a wave. It almost frightened her.

“I asked you a question over two years ago, Anne. If I ask it again today, will you give me a different answer?”

Merddyn Gryffydd.
Richard Llewellyn’s 1939 novel How Green was My Valley chronicled the life of Huw Morgan as he grew to manhood in a Welsh mining town. It’s been my all-time favorite novel since I first read it when I was 12. There are many memorable scenes in the book, but for me, some of the most poignant and beautifully written moments are between Huw’s older sister Angharad (pronounced an-HAR-ad) and the Reverend Mr. Gruffydd (pronounced Griffith).

It’s clear that Angharad is in love with him, but does he love her in return?

Mr. Gruffydd is a gentle, well-spoken, man of God, who daily demonstrates his high ideals. When he discovers that a rich young man has been courting Angharad, the woman he loves, he decides to put his own feelings aside so she can have a better life than the one he can offer:

“I am afraid that you will go threadbare all your life. That you and me will have to depend upon the charity of others for most of our good meals, and on my living for enough to exist. Do you think I want to see the white come into your hair twenty years before its time? Shall we see our children growing up in the cast-off clothing of others? Shall we thank God for parenthood in a house full of bits and presents that had outlived their use to the givers? No, Angharad. I am a man. I can bear with such a life for the sake of my work. But I think I would start to kill if I saw it having an effect on you.”

I loved Mr. Gruffydd for trying so hard to do the right thing by the woman he loved, yet getting it so wrong.

Those weren’t all my book boyfriends, but they were the ones that made impressions on me at a young age. As I grew older, I fell in love with Gabriel Oak (Far from the Madding Crowd), Sidney Carton (A Tale of Two Cities), and Fitzwilliam Darcy (Pride and Prejudice).

But Bert, Frank, Laurie, Gilbert and Mr. Gryffydd have a very special place in my heart.

How about you? Did you ever have a crush on a fictional character? I’d love to know who!