A Big Gift!

It’s Christmas Eve, and in the spirit of the day, I thought I’d share with you a Christmas-themed selection from my postcard card collection.

In 1951 a chapter of the V.F.W. (Veterans of Foreign Wars) Massachusetts participated in their city’s Christmas Wonderland Exposition. The V.F.W.’s contribution was a six-room model “gift home,” completely furnished and valued at $30,000. That’s a $300,000 house in today’s money!

To help promote tours of the house and to entice people to enter the drawing, members of the V.F.W. printed and mailed postcards. The front of the card features an artist’s rendering of the house (pictured above). Here’s the back of the postcard, which, in 1951, cost only a one penny stamp to mail:

This “model gift home” looks like such a charming house, I’d like to live in it myself! And the good news is that it’s still standing today.

From The Boston Globe, Sunday, November 25, 1951.

I searched old newspapers to see if I could discover the name of the person who won the property, but I didn’t’ have any luck. I hope the family that moved in had many happy years there.

I guess it’s true that some of the best gifts we can receive (or give) don’t always fit under the Christmas tree!

Christmas with Signed, Sealed, Delivered

Last year at this time I did a post about my favorite Christmas-themed movies. This year I thought I’d share with you one of my favorite television series that never fails to warm my heart at Christmas-time.

“Signed, Sealed, Delivered” first aired on the Hallmark Channel as a two-hour movie in 2013. In 2014 ten episodes aired as a series. Then, ten more individual two-hour made-for-TV movies aired over the following years through 2018.

I can tell you, I was hooked on this series from the opening credits of Episode 1. For me, it was a special show with unique characters and story lines that never failed to catch and hold my attention. Here’s why:

“Signed, Sealed, Delivered” was set in Denver, Colorado, my home town. The opening credits usually feature an aerial shot of downtown Denver streets, or some nearby location that I instantly recognize.

The downtown Denver skyline in the opening scene of an episode of Signed, Sealed, Delivered.

The show’s premise: a team of U.S. Post Office employees in the Dead Letter Office use their exceptional skills to unite misdirected and undeliverable mail with the intended recipients.

The team at work in the Dead Letter Office.

Sound boring? It’s not! In fact, “Signed, Sealed, Delivered” is one of the most heart-felt, charming, and meaningful shows I’ve ever watched. It was also a ratings success.

Here’s the promo video for the first episode, which aired in 2014:

Each episode is, at its core, about hope and healing and the difference one person can make in the life of someone in need.

Another thing I love about the series is the quiet faith exhibited by Oliver O’Toole, the leader of the Post Office team, played by Eric Mabius.

Eric Mabius as Oliver O’Toole, the leader of “The Postables” team in the Dead Letter Office

In every episode Oliver’s faith in God is quietly on display, but never in-your-face. Oliver’s faith is simply “there.” When Shane, one of his team members, and someone who resists anything related to religion, is struggling in her life, Oliver tells her:

“I’m not perfect, but through it all, I have learned how to hold firm in a storm, not by holding on to whatever I can find for as long as I can, but by trusting that the one thing that matters in this world will never let go of me. And, Shane … That’s what perfect love is. Perfect love casts out all that pain, all that fear, and replaces it with hope. And hope is what you were asking for in that letter. And every Christmas since, hope is what you have been given. Don’t you see it? It’s right here for you.”

Crystal Lowe, Geoff Gustafson, Kristin Booth and Eric Mabius play the quirky team at the Dead Letter Office.

I have to confess, there’s a point in every episode where I tear up a little, but that’s because the show’s gentle messages of love, faith, forgiveness and redemption never fail to touch my heart. At the same time, I can tell you that each episode leaves me feeling hopeful and satisfied; and there’s always a lesson to be found about honor and doing your best to help others.

The team selects their next project.

So, this weekend, I’m firing up the DVD player and watching “Signed, Sealed, Delivered for Christmas.”

And if I make popcorn, I might even binge watch all the other episodes, too!

Have you ever watched “Signed, Sealed, Delivered”? I’d love to hear what you think of the show!

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!