Friday, December 14, 2012

A Dickens of a Christmas

A Dickens of a Christmas

     At a gathering my mother met the great-grandson of Charles Dickens. Cedric Dickens is his name. He was selling his book, Christmas with Dickens. My mother bought a copy for me and Cedric Dickens autographed it. Isn’t this neat? That was ten years ago or so. 

Faux mistletoe is in the middle jar.
     The book is a framework of ideas on how to create A Christmas Carol evening. Cedric Dickens and his cousin edited the Carol to 28 minutes of reading aloud. The host or hostess acts as the master of ceremonies. Recipes are provided in the book for a banquet.

     Filling the house with greenery is suggested. Period clothing and period music are optional. Between the courses selections of the Carol are read (with feeling, it is emphasized). Later come parlor games and punch. Although never as elaborate, I have adapted some of the ideas within our family and over the years we have extended the hand of hospitality to friends and neighbors.   

     Traditions were formed by degrees. Several Christmases stand out. Looking at our little tree this year, I recall the simplest Christmas of all. It was in 1986.

     In 1986 we spent Christmas in London, England. Joining the volunteer efforts of a Christian literature mission Dean and I had come for the year with two suitcases each – and our two daughters - then age 2 and 4. We were prepared to live simply. But how appreciative we were when we were able to move from a tiny third-floor flat into a semi-detached house. We thoroughly enjoyed its back garden.
The glass and plastic ornaments, most from the 1960s, remind me of my childhood.

     Along the edges of the narrow, fenced-in lawn, were plants that took turns blooming through the months. The largest was an overgrown holly. I trimmed a branch, brought it indoors, propped it up on a table, and decorated it with popcorn and paper chains. I cut a star out of cardboard, covered it with (you guessed it) silver foil. The star balanced on the top of our crooked little “tree.” Secretly, I thought it drab. But in the eyes of my children it was fine and dandy – and so – for their sake - I thought it fine and dandy, too.

     A month prior a fellow American had handed me a bag of puzzles, plastic toys and picture books that her children had long outgrown. She was, “just now getting around to cleaning out their closets and would your girls like them?” I thanked her and hid the things away to be wrapped for Christmas.

     I remember my girls sitting cross-legged in the middle of the carpet listening to a cassette. They played it again and again. Sometimes I sat with them. Other times I took advantage of the moment to start supper. At the sound of the beep the eldest knew to turn the pages of the accompanying book. With heads together they gazed at the pictures of Joseph and Mary and the lowly stable. They were quite taken up with the Christmas story – even if the incarnation – one of the most marvelous and important doctrines of the Christian faith – was something they would grow to understand better, later – and yet it is too wonderful to comprehend this side of heaven, really. I can still hum the melody of the sweet song that came at the beginning and end of story. I wonder what ever happened to that cassette – narrated beautifully in the King’s English.  

I like sewing pinwheels. Sophia's homemade teddy wears his holiday bowtie.

     One Saturday in December Dad took us to the missionary closet. We could choose what we wished from what had been donated. After an hour of rummaging, trying on things in a curtained corner - elbowroom only and no mirror - we each settled upon a piece of clothing. I’ll never forget the beautiful wool skirt that fit me perfectly – except that I was in denial of it being rather snug at the waist. It was moth eaten in an inconspicuous spot and easily mended. This soft, black skirt, with its ruffle along the hem, had a nice drape. Add a white blouse with a red ornament on its collar, and it looked smart for Christmas Eve service. Wool provided necessary warmth for sitting in the chilly pews of the ancient stone church – Christ Church Bromely.

Relaxing with a needle at Christmastime

     With our new used things and a couple tiny treats for the girl’s stockings, (literary their socks) Christmas Day arrived with smiles all around. After dinner (a meal that Dad relished) we put on our coats and took a walk around the block. The brick houses sat close to the sidewalk and I couldn’t help notice, through the windows of the front parlors, people sitting in chairs arranged in a circle. I found it odd that they were wearing brightly colored paper hats. I learned later that they were waiting for parlor games to start.

A homemade ornament resting on my new plaid skirt. I need to get better at sewing corners.

     Parlor games on Christmas Day became a tradition much later in our lives. With all the years we spent reading A Christmas Carol, listening to it on audio, and watching it on films, it eventually caught on. Perhaps you play them, too.

"There was first a game of blindman’s buff." A Christmas Carol

     It was our Yolanda who initiated Charades, which I explained in a post last year, “Name That Hymn” is one that I started and it stuck. It is a way to give closer attention to lyrics – some of the most precious in all of Christendom. It is fun to include lines from  contemporary songs, too.

     After the main course is cleared the game is played. One by one, each person seated around the table, unfolds his slip of paper and reads it aloud. He then guesses the hymn title. Although my family is pretty good at answers, lines from a third verse can be a challenge. The guesser is permitted to choose one person to assist. A sudden remark blurted out from across the table of  “Ohh, I know,” identifies a willing assistant.
    But Mom urges, “Give him a minute first, please.”

"There is nothing in the world so irresistibly contagious as laughter and good humor." A Christmas Carol.

     I typed out some examples. A hostess will enjoy choosing her own lines.

Christmas morning muffins - orange cranberry

1) A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices, For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn. 
2) Bless all the dear children in Thy tender care, And fit us for heaven, to live with Thee there.
3) Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing.
4) Where meek souls will receive Him still, The dear Christ enters in.
5) On the sixth day of Christmas my true love gave to me (what is it?).
6) Where the treetops glisten and children listen to hear sleigh bells in the snow.

     The hostess keeps the corresponding answers handy.

1) O Holy Night
2) Away in the Manger
3) O Come all Ye Faithful
4) O Little Town of Bethlehem
5) six geese a laying
6) White Christmas

I've been meaning to decorate with pineapple on the fireplace mantel for some years. The apples are editble, too.


     My children aren’t little any longer. “Time has stolen them from me” – as one Victorian poem sentimentally refers. While children are with us we work to give them a foundation of pleasant memories – especially because the details of this world are not all fine and dandy. 

     Mom and Dad share the memories. The children grew up and grew into making a memorable Christmas for others. They’ve learned that the advent season is less about material gifts. It is the giving of oneself in various ways and celebrating the joy and true meaning of Christmas.

“. . . apples and oranges were put upon the table, and a shovel-full of chestnuts on the fire. Then all the Crachit family drew round the hearth . . . “ A Christmas Carol

In Fellowship assembled here
We thank thee Lord for food and cheer
And through our Saviour, thy dear Son,
We pray “God bless us everyone.”

Prayer [for the table] discovered by Alan S. Watts, President of the Dickens Fellowship, during research for his book, Dickens at Gad’s Hill. 


  Peace and Good Will,
     Karen Andreola

Friday, November 30, 2012

I Need You

I Need You

     Helen is wearing her new shawl. I had to put on a thinking-cap (a knitted one of course) while it took me some days to formulate a pattern with size 0 needles. Knitting for Helen is the most frivolous thing I’ve done in a long time. 

     As this china doll was a housewarming gift from my sister-in-law I telephoned her with news of my frivolity. I thought she’d be pleased with the attention I was giving Helen.

antique china doll with knitted shawl

     At first she didn’t like the sound of it. “Don’t dress and redress her,” was my sister-in-law’s authoritative remark. “She’s wearing her original muslin gown, remember? It’s fragile and more than 100 years old.” This came from a serious antique doll collector who knows her stuff, so I took heed.

     “Yes, I’ll be careful,” I said contritely. I won’t handle her too much.” 

     She laughed when her stern warning was over, glad after-all that I was enjoying the company of a fanciful member of the family – even if Helen, regrettably, must be admired mostly from behind glass.  

tiny wool shawl with lace edge

Seal Morning
     The craving to knit the shawl came after watching a favorite film (again.)  (My men folk found other things to do that evening.) In an early scene of “Seal Morning” Aunt Miriam is wearing a delicate swallow tale edged lace shawl.

Molly's Lace
I chose "Molly's Lace" from Nicky Epstein's book "Knitting on the Edge." 

     Seal Morning” takes place in the 1930s on a seacoast of England. Rowena is orphaned when her parents die in a car accident. She is sent to live with Aunt Miriam. They meet for the first time – awkwardly. The cottage is tiny. Aunt Miriam’s income is slight. She works at painting china at her kitchen table, while at the same table Rowena works through her lifeless schoolbooks. The cottage is some distance from the nearest town by pony cart, but Miriam is comfortable living independent of friendship and welcomes the isolation. She prefers the company of animals to people.

     The seal pup Rowena rescues brings a bright spot into the dull days of Miriam and Rowena. Although we enjoy seeing the beautiful round-eyed seal I think the story really is about Miriam. She is a plain woman that has some pretty feminine ways about her in spite of how carefully she guards her emotions. Not naturally affectionate she softens up a little and grows in her love for Rowena, eventually confiding in Rowena a piece of her past. A fiancé broke the engagement. Miriam plans never to be so deeply hurt again.

     While walking along the sandy beach and through the lonely marshes, Rowena meets a biologist who is there to study a species of geese. She invites him back to the cottage. The biologist, Bernard, has gentlemanly manners. He and Miriam find that they share common interests. Their love of nature brings their souls together into a quiet (but very guarded) communion.

The family room where we watch films

      I couldn’t help but notice Miriam’s domesticity. With meager means she keeps her primitive cottage neat and tidy. Her hands are busy serving with punctuality and care. Linen conceals the rough table at mealtimes. For tea, little cakes are baked. While balancing a pie on one hand she trims the crust effortlessly with the other. Either the actress had practiced insanely much off-camera to make it appear natural, or pies are second nature to her. 

patchwork pillow cover for Christmas
Christmastime Pillow Cover - I like to make triangles. 

     Will Miriam decide that it is okay to need people? Some women resist giving into the soft side of their feminine natures – especially women today. Although they have remarkable gifts, talents and strengths, rather than lean on a man, they stubbornly rely on their own resources and resist giving into their soft side. None of us, however, is meant to live autonomously.  

The pillow cover is enveloped and tied on the back.

A Little Boy Lost
     Another favorite film of mine is “A Little Boy Lost” with Bing Crosby. If you like hearing his velvet voice singing “White Christmas” this time of year as much as I do, you will also enjoy the few songs in this film. But more so you will be absorbed in the story – that is - once you get passed the flashbacks that take up a good portion of the first scenes. They provide important foreshadowing.

     This is another story about relationships, lingering hurt, and about admitting to oneself, “I need you.” When I feel like a good cry I watch this touching film. It is an instant play on line.

British Evacuees
     Mr. Wainwright is an American radio journalist living in France who meets a French woman, Lisa. They marry. Soon WWII breaks out and Mr. Wainwright becomes a war correspondent. Just after Lisa gives birth Mr. Wainwright is sent on assignment to Dunkirk. Enemy invasion keeps the couple apart. While he works in England Mr. Wainwright learns that Lisa is killed. The baby – now a little boy - is lost in the shuffle - like so many children during wartime.

     Carrying the dull-ache of his sorrow around with him for years, he fools himself that he doesn’t need anyone – not even his true friend, whom he resents for acting as his conscience. Will Mr. Wainwright love, and trust again? Will he find his son when he travels to an orphanage in France or will he give up the search when he meets with discouragement?  

The Story of Holly & Ivy
     The Story of Holly & Ivy by Rumer Godden is a tale that melts my heart at Christmastime. It is a beautiful book and a beautiful story. You may already know I am fond of Barbara Cooney’s nostalgic, folk-art illustrations. Although this children’s story is a bit fanciful to be realistic fiction this is precisely what makes it so endearing for those of us who believe in miracles.

     Ivy is a little orphan girl with a keen imagination and a longing for a doll of her own for Christmas. She also wishes to live in a quaint town in a family of her own. Holly is the doll in the red dress displayed in the shop window wishing for a little girl to play with her (not to be admired behind glass like my Helen). Childless Mrs. Jones, the policeman’s wife, wishes her Christmas gift could be a little girl. Reading how all these wishes come true may bring a tear to your eye. 

“However motherhood [or fatherhood] comes to you, it’s a miracle.” Valerie Harper – adoptive parent

Part of the Family
     Although the book, Part of the Family is meant to be an encouragement to foster and adopted children the book quite unexpectedly brought healing to my heart.

     Some remarkable people in the Bible were separated from their biological families. God used their foster care and adoptive families for His purposes. In these short chapters children will read the story of Moses, Joseph, Samuel, Esther, Daniel, the Israelite maid in Naaman’s household, Jesus (who had a stepfather) and others, in a new light.

      Loses in our lives can make us feel gloomy, forgotten, unimportant, but God can use loses for blessing. Trusting in His sovereignty we can rise above the seeming injustice in this fallen world with trust and gratitude. It is clear to me that author Merle Burkholder (who has cared for foster children) has compassion for young people struggling with this sensitive topic.

A light snow fell the day I decorated the parlor windowsill.

      I believe Part of the Family will comfort adults, too, with lingering hurt, adults - though not fostered or adopted - were perhaps raised with an unaffectionate stepparent or absentee parent that they need to forgive - or were brought up in an unbelieving household. All Christians, young and old, can take joy that they’ve been adopted into God’s family.     

“’Well, now, I’d rather have you than a dozen boys, Anne,’ said Mathew patting her hand. ‘Just mind you that – rather than a dozen boys.’”  From Anne of Green Gables
china doll with hand knit shawl

     A few Sundays back, in church service, I curiously found these words in the Prayer of Confession. “Dear Heavenly Father, forgive us for living as orphans . . .”
(Romans 8:16)

     With courage and humility we can say, “I need you.” In loving God, serving, trusting, needing Him - and one another - there resides our source of joy.

     Blessings at Christmastime

     Comments are welcome,

     Karen Andreola

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Autumn Optimism

Autumn Optimism

     Crawling out of its hiding place into the sunshine a woolly bear posed itself on a pot of thyme just outside the kitchen door of the Lady-of-the-House. It came and went in early autumn, sunbathing regularly at this same spot. The Lady-of-the-House started thinking of it as her pet of the patio. She only disturbed it once to cradle it in her hand and watch it curl up into a ball of bristles. 

     Then she came into the house and opened to page 82 in Lessons at Blackberry Inn to refresh herself with the folklore of the Isabella Tiger moth. In its caterpillar stage it is said to have the ability to predict the weather.

     “As we walked I shared some New England folklore. . . . It is believed that the severity of winter can be predicted by the amount of black on the caterpillar. “If you see more black than brown on the woolly bear,” I told my children, “it will be a stormy winter. If the woolly bear is mostly brown, we can expect a mild winter.”

     A few weeks after observing her “mostly brown” optimistic caterpillar, the enormously expansive storm Sandy approached the east coast. The Lady-of-the-House was busy preparing and serving. She started by baking a big batch of molasses muffins and then kept her kitchen simmering and her washing machine spinning.

     For days all her thoughts were passing thoughts. Full of care she urgently focused on doing the “next thing.” At bedtime she found that she could concentrate on not one paragraph of her novel. She closed the book.

     The storm hit in the night. In nervous wakefulness she heard the wind roar in the trees and the rain pelt at the window glass. But in the morning little damage was found in the neighborhood. How very thankful she was. Calm was restored. But she couldn’t help thinking, “There might be something to the woolly bear’s ability to predict winter weather but when it comes to autumn it is far from the mark,” she nearly said out loud. 

     During the storm rigmarole, the Lady-of-the-House appreciated the autumn decorations out of the corner of her eye. And does so now.   

     What a funny crooked handle this brass candle pan has. It seems to have been made in haste or by an amateur. It is an antique find of the Man-of-the-House. He thinks it unpretentiously reflects the everyday wears of the everyday man at a time when electricity was unavailable for lighting hallways.

     Resting inside its pan is a tiny autumn ornament - a squirrel minutely cross-stitched on linen, a gift reflecting friendship afar.

     Also on the family room windowsill sits her newest pincushion. A circular sprig of faux autumn berries surrounds it. This gift to her was sewn from the wool fabric of a cast-off skirt purchased at a charity shop. Deft fingers turned it magically into a pumpkin. The leaves are to hold the needles so they won’t get lost inside the pincushion. Has this ever happened to you? 

     Potpourri lends its spiced autumn fragrance to the air. “Mmm, it smells good in here,” says the son of the Lady-of-the-House when he enters the room where his mother sits writing you on her laptop. She points to her bowl. He nods. She smiles.

     The Lady-of-the-House has a friend who is frugal in the most creative ways – ways that enable her to provide frugal niceties as well as frugal necessities for her family. The potpourri is a nicety from this friend who used resources close at hand, such as dried sage and bay leaves from the garden, orange peel, and spice balls made with cinnamon dough studded with cloves. How fun. 

     This hand-quilted square was pieced with naturally dyed cotton. It is a souvenir of a living history museum. A paper pinned to the back reads that that the brown came from acorns, the orange from madder, and the tan from tea. I think Blackberry Inn’s Dora would be charmed by its primitive handiwork.

     An antique wooden kneading bowl brightens the low shelf of the kitchen’s farm table with a faux harvest.

  Speaking of kneading, with evacuees staying over during the storm, the Lady-of-the-House prepared some comfort food. 

     She rolled out whole-wheat bread dough for cinnamon buns. 

     Conscientiously, she halves the quantity of brown sugar and butter listed lavishly in most recipes - using coconut oil in place of some of the butter. 

     Less “sticky” than most, they are still very much of a treat for the Man-of-the-House. 


     But one doesn’t need an approaching storm to make them.

     Thanks for stopping by,
     Karen Andreola


Friday, October 26, 2012

A Patchwork of Pleasant Words

A Patchwork of Pleasant Words

     This post is decorated with my progress in patchwork pillow making, photographs of the Petersheim’s quilts in Bird-in-Hand, Pennsylvania and two sleepy grandchildren.

  Piecing fabric together for pillows made me think of piecing together pleasant words at bedtime.  

     It was four o’clock in the afternoon. Soon super needed to be on the table and I was frazzled. My husband, Dean, was away for the week, out-of-state on business. My children were all very young, the youngest was six weeks old, and I was still relatively new to this thing called home education.

     “Mommy, what are you doing,” my child asked.
     “I’m sitting on the calm-down-stair,” I said. The woe-is-me look on my face softened to a smile when I saw her quizzical brow.
     She smiled too and said, “Oh.”  Then she flitted off to find (or instigate) her little sister.

     This fidgety, curious daughter, who was learning self-control, knew where I was sitting. She must have thought it odd that Mommy should be there, not her. She, of all the children, was the one most familiar with that spot – where we had our little conversations. It occurred to me that I could try using the time-out tactics on myself – for a few purposeful minutes of calm reflection.

     Reading Miss Charlotte Mason’s advice I had learned to keep my verbal commands of dos and don’ts to a minimum. My authority was “felt” by my children while we, together, followed a rhythm of activity. Lessons were accomplished in far less time than in a classroom. Therefore the children enjoyed the freedom to be playful and child-like at a short distance from me – more freedom than classroom children have – while I used the eyes in the back of my head when working in the kitchen, or taking care of the baby.  

     I sought to meet the needs of my children. At the same time, by gentle discipline, I sought to establish good habits baby step by baby step – so that they would follow my lead in what was expected of them. 

     Still, some days were especially humbling. These were days of interruptions. Some days seemed too busy, too demanding of my care and attention. “This is too hard for me,” I prayed on the calm-down-stair. Dear Lord Jesus, I want to be a good mother but I can only do this with your help – please.” 

     And He did help. I would recall something I had read in His word or some lines I had memorized from a beloved hymn or an idea out of a trusted book. When the words came to mind so did the impressions and encouragement of the ideas behind them. With thankfulness I arose and faced what was left of the day with renewed courage, and renewed humor.

     When a child is naughty or forgetful, when admonishments are given, when its been “that-sort-of-day” where a child sits on the calm-down stair, if the day has brought disappointment or a small privilege withheld from a child’s enjoyment, bedtime should not reflect a parent’s exasperation. Let corrections be dealt with at the time of the misdeed. The longer a correction is put off  “until Father gets home” or later, the greater a mother’s fatigue and the less likely she is to discipline and “restore such a one gently” and with clear-headedness.

     If ever good habits are needed to help carry the day they are those of the bedtime routine. This is when a parent’s “stock of patience is at its lowest,” says Henry Clay Trumble in Hints on Child Training. He adds, “If the children are not as quiet and orderly and prompt as they should be, the parents rebuke them more sharply than they would for similar offenses earlier in the day.” 

Between the dark and the daylight,
When the night is beginning to lower.
Comes a pause in the day’s occupations,
That is known as the Children’s Hour.
   (There are further stanzas to the poem.)

     Bedtime or the “Children’s Hour” -  as it is so sweetly referred to in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s playful poem written about his own energetic little girls - requires just that – the space of a patient hour.

     After the supper dishes are washed, teeth are brushed directly and the day winds down. Baths are taken, PJ’s go on, rooms are straightened, a picture book or two or three is read aloud, earnest prayers are offered. Now is the time that a patchwork of pleasant words are readily absorbed by the children – perhaps never more closely attended to than at this dark and lonely parting hour – as the light is turned off and the child receives his good-night kiss.

     No one ever outgrows an affectionate good-night however grown-up he is. 

     I will lie down and sleep in peace, for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety. Psalm 4:8

     Bedtime should never be a time to remind a child (or teen) of his shortcomings and misdeeds or critique them. We may, instead, hold up a standard by showing appreciation for good attitudes or good deeds. Or share “whatsoever things” are lovely or of good report.

     “What were you and your brother making with those shoe boxes? I liked seeing you play together and share the boxes so nicely today,” I might say - while silently thinking, “even if it did mean using up every roll of tape in the house.”

     “The sky was as blue as blue can be today while we raked the leaves wasn’t it? Thanks for your help. Oh, there’s a piece of a leaf in your hair.”

     “Dad liked the birthday card you made him. Did you see his face when he bit into the delicious cake we iced?

     “Tomorrow is a new day,” is something I would say brightly when I could think of nothing else.  

     Doesn’t Mr. Trumble, father of ten, say it beautifully?

     “A wise parent will prize and will rightly use the hour of the children’s bedtime. That is the golden hour for good impressions on the children’s hearts. That is the parent’s choicest opportunity of holy influence. . . . every word spoken should be a word of gentleness and affection. The words which are most likely to be borne in the mind by the children, in all their later years, as best illustrating the spirit and influence of their parents, are the good-night words of those parents."

     Karen Andreola

          A quotation sent to me from a reader:
 “No pillow so soft as a divine promise, no coverlet so warm as an assured interest in Christ.”  Charles Spurgeon

     Passages are borrowed from the chapter, “Good-night Words” in Hints on Child Training  by Henry Clay Trumble, originally published in 1890. I linked the book title to Amazon.