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

The Gentle Art of Love Making

In previous posts I’ve mentioned my passion for collecting photos and images that represent bits of days gone by. Postcards are a favorite collectible for me, because:

  • They don’t take up much room,
  • Like old photos, they’re easy to sort and save in boxes,
  • And they’re easy to scan and share.

Just about any topic you can think of has been memorialized on a postcard at some point in time, from old recipes to historic landmarks to fashion styles.

A couple years ago I came across a set of postcards titled “The Gentle Art of Love Making.” Each card in the set illustrates a phase in the courtship process; judging from the clothing depicted, the cards were meant to represent courtship during the late 1860s to 1870s.

The first phase of courtship: A man and a woman get acquainted by going for a walk together:

Phase 2: He gives her a flower. In a very Disney touch, a little bird witnesses the gesture.

Phase 3: She takes the liberty of trimming his hat with roses—a very romantic gesture, don’t you think?

Next, the couple dances together.

Then, they share their first kiss:

AndVoila! — they’re a couple!

Just like real life, right? Actually, the cards are more true to life than they might initially appear.

When Prince Charming and I first met, we sort of followed the same sequence of events; but instead of going for walks, we went for drives in his beat-up old Volvo.

And instead of dancing, we sat together in church. We learned to study God’s Word together and make decisions based on prayer and the lessons Christ taught us.

Another similarity: he gave me flowers. Nothing extravagant, because we couldn’t afford it, but his bouquet of dyed carnations meant more to me than a dozen long-stemmed roses, because I knew they were given in love.

So after I thought about these postcards in that context, I realized they really were a nice representation of the phases of courtship and the “gentle art” of falling in love.

I’d love to know what you think: Do these postcards capture the phases of falling in love? Does your own experience with romance follow the pattern set here?

The Stanley and The Shining

When you think of Colorado, what words come to mind?

Snow?

Mountains?

Hiking trails?

How about “horror?”

For me, horror in Colorado means I forgot to put my gloves on before going outside in below-freezing weather.

For a lot of other people, though, horror in Colorado means The Shining.

The Shining is a 1977 novel by Stephen King. Director Stanley Kubrick made it into an over-the-top movie starring Jack Nicholson and Shelley Duval. It hit theaters in 1980.

Jack Nicholson in a famous scene from the movie version of “The Shining.”

Coloradans have a bit of a love affair with the book and the movie, because our own Stanley Hotel served as the inspiration for Stephen King when he wrote the novel.

The Stanley is a beautiful hotel nestled against the foothills of Estes Park, Colorado.

The Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado.

Guests and visitors are encouraged to wander about the hotel, take in its history and ambiance, and explore the grounds (which you can do on your own or with a guided tour). You can even wander through the hotel’s hedge maze (installed in tribute to a scene from the film).

And since Estes Park is one of my favorite places on Earth, as well as the most beautiful (in my humble opinion), I kind of click with The Stanley’s connection to all things Stephen King.

Last month production closed on a new movie called “Doctor Sleep.” This movie is also based on a Stephen King book by the same name, published in 2013.

And guess what? King wrote Doctor Sleep as a sequel to The Shining.

In the past I’ve enjoyed watching the movie adaptation of The Shining. The film is more campy and fun than scary and horrifying.

But the new movie adaptation of Doctor Sleep is going to be an entirely different animal. The director expects the movie will earn an “R” rating; and since the story involves vampires, I anticipate there will be plenty of graphic scenes involving blood and body parts. Not my cup of tea. But then, I’m a wimp about those kinds of things.

If you’re a Stephen King fan and want to learn more about the movie adaptation of Doctor Sleep, here’s a link.

What about you? Do you like horror movies? How graphic do you like your movies to be?