Friday, December 23, 2011

A Mother's Merriment

A Mother’s Merriment

The Man-of-the-House took the Lady-of-the-House shopping. He drove the back way through the farms. A field of winterberries caught their eye.

They are bundled and sold on the roadside. Rose hips are sold further up the road. 

A handsome old brick house is always admired by the Man-of-the-House along the back way. 

On the other side of the road is a farmhouse. The hens are like those that the Lady-of-House once kept and doted over.

A large flock of Canadian Geese rest from their flight. The workhorses are at rest, too.

A brief stop at a yarn store and the Lady-of-the-House spied a rug hooking kit. At home it hung on a doorknob. Each time she passed it anticipation arose within her.

Some weeks later she noticed the little check marks running down her to-do list resembled a column of prim smiles. She took some moments to sit back and enjoy the fruit of her labor; the greenery and berries arrayed, the cookies baked, the gifts wrapped. Now only the supper needed roasting to perfection. What would give her the sweetest satisfaction would be to see the happy smiles on the faces of her family. If some trifling tid-bit managed to be overlooked because it was left off the list, never mind. 

One thing that had no chance of being overlooked was that of playing charades. It is the Lady-of-the-House herself who is the one who (it might be said) most anticipates playing charades at the holidays - a time for mirth and merriment. She is naturally soft-spoken, sometimes given to melancholy, quietly jovial and seldom silly but when playing charades she has a little sparkle of fun in her eyes.

Have you been “all work and no play?” It is easy to see how this can come to be the state of things at this busy time of year. Please consider some Mother’s Merriment.  ‘Tis the season to be jolly.

Charades - an old fashioned “drawing-room amusement” - is the kind of recreation that amuses much but costs little. It calls forth creative imagination and the wearing of a genuine thinking cap – party hat.  Charades puts the biggest smiles of the year upon the faces of those who play. It gives the adult children of the Lady-of-the-House and her husband delight to see Mother so merry. 

Mentioned in literature we know that charades have been around for a couple of centuries. Adults once played charades in corseted holiday attire. Riddles were formidable and demanded a sort of Oscar-Wilde-wit. Today we are more relaxed.

Over the years the game has become simplified. Costumes and scripts to rehearse have been replaced by shorter and shorter riddles for guessing. And yet, it is still a game that amuses successfully. Are you interested in how to play charades? Read on. Otherwise, freely scroll to the closing remarks.

How to Play Charades
Charades is played by a performer who uses mime. Without uttering a word he coaches the audience in guessing a phrase. A title of a book or film is most popular. To start the game with easy phrases or to include younger players the host or hostess can write phrases on scraps of paper. Folded papers with the recent films viewed or of favorite books read, are placed in a winter hat for picking.

If the phrase is a book the presenter’s hands are pressed together with open palms as if holding an open book. If the phrase is a film an old movie camera is held up to the eye and cranked with one hand.

One finger is held up to represent the “First Word” in the phrase. A guesser in the audience can speak out, “First Word.”  For syllables one finger is placed on the forearm – “One Syllable” - two fingers for two syllables, three for three, etc. The syllable or whole word is acted out with gestures or pantomime. Further clues can also be given. With the performer's hand cupped to an ear a guesser will announce, “Sounds Like.” If the guessing comes close the performer waves the guessers on. If they guess correctly he nods or touches his nose when they hit it “on the nose.” If they are far from the mark he puts on a frown and shakes his head “no.” He may wave his hands frantically as if to erase his gestures from the air around him to start again – perhaps with “Second Word.” To indicate a connecting word such as “it, and, the, to,” he puts his thumb and forefinger together to show “Little Word.” If a word needs to be lengthened a he can make a gesture as if stretching a large rubber band.

She opens her palms. Someone calls out, "A book."
She nods yes.
She also cranks her camera.  “A film.”
She nods yes to this, too.
Two fingers up. “Two words.”
One finger up, next. “First word.”
One finger on a forearm. “One syllable.”

With that out of the way she covers her eyes with both hands. “Blind.”
She shakes her head no. 
Yes, she nods enthusiastically.
Two fingers up. “Second word.”
She gestures at brushing her hair with long strokes and then putting on lipstick. Then she gallops across the room with her hands holding a horse’s reigns. “Beauty,” is called out with a giggle. “Black Beauty” is the guess a second later. A wave a laughter follows.  
“Who goes next?”

Some players like to form two teams, use a timer and keep score. But none of these are necessary.

Charades, a game that is in danger of being lost to antiquity, can be rediscovered by a new generation. When family and friends experience how fun it is to play, it is more likely to become a tradition.

To Close
“With most of my to-do list checked  I’ll open my kit again. But this time I’ll relax long enough to read the directions. When I have a little more time I’ll begin. It’s always thrilling to start a new project,” the Lady-of-the-House thought to herself. The project is a chair pad by Yankee Peddler.

The tiny mittens (above) are those she knit with fingering weight yarn. A frugal friend felted the tiny sheep onto pipe cleaners.

In Charles Spurgeon’s sermon “The First Christmas Carol” (text Luke 11:14) he quotes Isaac Watts.

“Religion never was designed
To make our pleasures less.”

Charles Spurgeon goes on to say that, “It is designed to do away with some of our pleasures, but it gives us many more, to make up for what it takes away; so it does not make them less.”

Happy New Year
Karen Andreola

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Angels We Have Heard on High

Angels We Have Heard on High
While adding greenery to the corners of the house I pretend it is freshly cut from outdoors.

My son was hovering around me while I balanced on a chair to arrange some garland and ornaments on the mantel. A favorite CD played instrumental Christmas hymns with flute, guitar, and fiddle. I added to it by humming and singing a chorus or two.

He became talkative. He liked watching his mother tinker. Apparently, he liked seeing her merry. In the same room – at the other end of the kitchen/keeping room  – I’ve been caught wearing a frown in my efforts to get supper on the table - that is - when garrulous family members distract the cook. A slightly furrowed brow is the result of concentrating within a multi-task, time-sensitive setting – especially if I am measuring ingredients for a new recipe and am mentally keeping track of cup and spoonfuls. 

But on that sunny afternoon I wasn’t concentrating. I felt no time-sensitively. I was light-heartedly absorbed. And I was free and relaxed to listen and respond to whatever the current life-observation happened to be. We talked away.

Figures of Mary, Joseph and the Christ child inside the beehive oven are an idea borrowed from one of Tasha Tudor’s storybook illustrations. A donkey rests on folded legs in the shadowy recesses of the oven. The figures of the shepherd and wise men are close by. Perhaps the wise men should be placed at the farthest end of the mantel. It would be sometime before they followed the star and found their king. Most importantly the events or the story are remembered and our Lord is adored. 

Adoration is rarely observed outside the home or church. Only at Christmastime might we hear a “Christian” Christmas song played on the radio or on loud speakers in the marketplace – one or two perhaps. I find the jolly holiday lyrics of the 20th century cheery and amusing, some even touching, but I love the words of the old Christmas hymns. They bring tidings of great joy because “. . . in this world of sin, where meek souls will receive Him still the dear Christ enters in.”*

Caroling is a lovely way to publicly rejoice and proclaim “. . . This, this, is Christ the King whom shepherds watch and angels sing.”* My married daughters and their families and friends did some caroling in their neighborhood. They telephoned to tell me it was a bit chaotic. One neighbor, however, already in her pink fuzzy nightgown, said, “Thank-you. What a beautiful ending to a hard and hectic day.”

Quietly contemplating the words of the hymns of advent can be a source of devotion. Without the profundity of  “God the Incarnate Deity”* where would we find the true meaning of Christmas?

Do you see, among the greenery, the gingerbread cookies made of felt? They are a gift from a friend who is skillful with a needle. The white icing is embroidered in chain stitch. The cookies are stuffed. Felt pieces are held together on the edges with blanket stitch - in ginger-brown.

The angels are an original design painted by a friend who knows I am fond of Pennsylvania folk art.

With her mind on gift giving and her eye on the plain wooden shapes at the craft store, she began seeing them as Pennsylvania Dutch angels. She researched the faces for historical authenticity.

Fractur symbols are incorporated on the front and back. I marvel at her attention to detail, how tiny a paintbrush she must have used, and how she has found time to develop her talent – while raising six children.

Actually, I know how she does it. It is her efficient use of the daily schedule of service to her family that allows her a little creative Mother Culture in the sidelines.  

Becoming warm from all my decorating I hung my cardigan over the back of chair, and then cast aside my knitted scarf.  I rolled it up and placed it on a windowsill for the time being. 

In that instant I couldn't help notice how the scarf's colors blended with the spray of greenery there - especially the faux orange and berries. Thus, the festive feeling of my "fall" scarf (started in July) is being carried over to Christmastime.

*O Little Town of Bethlehem, What Child is This? Hark the Herald Angels Sing.

Thank you for visiting,

Karen Andreola 

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Hands to Work, Hearts to God

Hands to Work – Hearts to God
At Christmastime the Shaker motto “Hands to work, Hearts to God” rings like a tinkling bell to the Lady-of-the-House. She was contemplating this motto when she opened an art print book. “The Girlhood of the Virgin” by the Spanish painter Francisco de Zurbruan (1598-1664) caught her eye. It was her first time seeing it. With the motto still fresh in her mind and with the painting in her gaze, she was drawn into quiet moments of meditation.

What She Was Thinking
“The Virgin Mary looks no older than nine or ten-years-old. Has she been stitching a fine piece of linen? Her needle is threaded, which leads one to believe that it is poised and ready for more work. It rests neatly in its cushion during a peaceful moment of prayer. For an innocent girl so young her face is serious, serene and sad. The artist has illuminated her humanity in natural light. Knowing the most precious aspects of her life from the Gospel of Luke – a certain supernatural light shines into to my mother’s heart. Mary’s hands to work and heart to God are an example to me, especially at Christmastime.”

Any Way You Look at It
Preparing well ahead for Christmas can help the homemaker feel less rushed. Little preparations might be homemade gifts assembled in her leisure. But any way you look at it Christmastime means more work for mother. She has it in her heart to create special memories for her family adding little touches to emphasis the joy of Immanuel. Gifts may be found at odd times in odd places during the year and stored out-of-sight in the Christmas closet. Still, cooking favorite dishes, hanging greenery, wrapping and mailing gifts, hand writing gift tags and cards require heightened attentiveness in the weeks leading up to Christmas. 

Gracious Acts
There is dignity in work when it is done unto God - no matter how lowly the work is. William Tyndale said that if we look externally “there is [a] difference betwixt washing of dishes and preaching the word of God; but as touching to please God, none at all.” * Even the simplest of actions: a mother feeding her baby, sweeping the floor, folding the clothes, running a bath, warmly greeting her husband hello, bottling jam, become “gracious acts.” They are acts of love and obedience that give glory to God.
*Worldly Saints by Leland Ryken, page  25

“Give me love and work – these two only.”  William Morris

The extra work at Christmastime can make a mother bone-tired at the end of the day. Perhaps you are reading this at the end of the day. If so, this statement will hit home. Your visit to this post might mean that you are winding down and finding calm.

There’s No Place Like Home for the Holidays
Grandmothers, even with their prudence in avoiding holiday hub-bub and experience in preparation-by-degrees, will find Christmas secretly overwhelming and hard on the legs when “over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house” they come. It is good to remember that a homemaker’s work, mundane one minute – sweetly satisfying the next, creates a widening circle of blessing – like a pebble dropped in a quiet pool.

The Lady-of-the-House was told by her mother who was told by her grandmother, “A little hard work never hurt anybody.” When coupled with: “Early to bed, Early to rise” she will avoid overwork and make available for herself moments of calm, moments of meditation and prayer, moments of mother culture. 

“The Christ-centered life – even in the midst of work – stays basically simple, nourished, and rested.” Anne Ortlund

Behind the Photographs
A lady tinsmith in town made the cookie cutter. The quilted potholder was sewn locally.

“Can we eat these cookies now that you’ve photographed them?” asks both The Man-of-the-House and his son.
“Yes,” says the Lady-of-the-House remembering just then to pick up a pen. The butter cookies are flavored inside and out with clove and nutmeg. She tells herself privately that it isn't a good time of year to run out of cinnamon and jots it down on her list.
“Mmmm, these are good,” says the Man-of-the-House. “Spicy,” he adds.
“I made them differently this time,” his wife smiles.

No Holly For Miss Quinn

The Lady-of-the-House has been saving a mention of Miss Read’s, No Holly for Miss Quinn for a post closer to Christmas. I hope she hasn’t waited too long for you to check your favorite source for out-of-print books or inter-library loan.

The last book you have read is the best book you’ve ever read. (Who said this?)

Even though the Lady-of-the-House is basking in the “best book” feel, this book boasts a history. She returns to it time and again. Entering her local library in the mid 1990s with her then young children, she spotted a book on the round table display. The cover intrigued her. It was her first Miss Read story and remains a favorite.

Written tenderly and honestly, the story carries the reader into the life a single woman who works orderly and efficiently in an office of a renowned financier who feels secure in placing responsibility on Miss Miriam Quinn’s capable shoulders. Miss Quinn enjoys coming home to a peaceful clutter-free apartment attached to a quaint old house in the countryside of Fairacre. She looks forward to a calming cup of tea and the beautiful view of the garden out her sitting room window. She plans a quiet Christmas. The planting of a thick hedge of holly was the wise forethought of the original owner of the house (decades prior) who knew how the icy winds would blow over the open meadows buffeting a country house on its north side in winter. The holly hedge separates the house from the road and seems to suggest to passers by that those who live behind it relish their privacy. Miss Quinn is happy for the hint.

On page fifty comes a turn of events. It is ushered in by a telephone call from Miss Quinn’s brother. He is the vicar of a parish a half day’s drive north. She tells him that of course she will come and help him with his three children over the holiday while his wife is in the hospital. As you can guess, a very different Christmas is in store for Miss Quinn than she had anticipated.

The theme of this story, and Miss Read’s other Christmas stories: Village Christmas and The Christmas Mouse, is love and work. Although No Holly . .  centers around the life of a single woman the value of motherhood is recognized. Experiencing, first hand, the varied duties that a mother must perform from dawn to dusk – especially at Christmastime – Miss Quinn realizes how self-centered she is in comparison to her sister-in-law. She thinks to herself, “If I’m a working woman what is she?”

The Lady-of-the-House is quite fond of her book friend, Miriam Quinn and thinks you will become fond of her, too.

Recently, over several evenings the Lady-of-the-House tallied the hours of her silent reading of No Holly. . . for you. It was under four hours. During one of the busiest Christmases she can remember, when her children were in their teens and involved hither and thither, she took advantage of some calmer evenings to read the story aloud to her coming-of-age daughter Yolanda. It was a special one-on-one time on the sofa, sandwiched between days of extra shopping, extra cooking, caroling at nursing homes, and lengthy music rehearsals and performances. “I can still hear us giggle,” the Lady-of-the-House says. 

God bless you in your love and work at Christmastime,

Karen Andreola