My cousin, her husband and family are visiting from the southern part of the state. Our house is full of three little girls in dresses. They hauled out the pretend food and little plastic table and chairs to feed their babies, and they played dress-up in bonnets and aprons. Watching them reminded my cousin and me of playing "Little House on the Prairie" on Grandma's front porch. We dressed up in aprons and bonnets. Sometimes Aaron played with us--he got to be Pa and wear boots and smoke the bubble pipe.
My brother and his family followed miles of expressway through Pennsylvania, across Ohio, to Michigan, and arrived at Grammy's (Rhoda's) house early in the morning of Christmas Eve. All of the grandparents, aunts and uncles agree that Kaelyn is one of the cutest babies we've ever seen, and we are thoroughly enjoying their visit. I've espeically missed Judith since they moved to Pennsylvania in November, and am cherishing time with my friend.
It warmed up enough yesterday afternoon to melt the ice on the expressway, and we were able to meet our truck driving uncle at a truck stop near Ann Arbor. In search of a place to sit and talk, we drove to the mall, which reminded me of a zoo. Betsy and Julie did find a couple of good-looking guys, though. It was too noisy and busy for visiting, so we ended up sitting in our fifteen passenger van, eating cookies and listening to Uncle Keith's morbid "I had a friend..." stories. It was dark when we returned to the truck stop, but we still were able to climb in and over Uncle Keith's bobtail (without a trailer) truck before we headed north again.
As we walked through Macys, Uncle Keith said he could hear his Mom saying, "Now Keith, don't touch anything. Keep your hands in your pockets."
Betsy and a good-looking guy
Julie and her friend
Libby and Betsy on the back of Uncle Keith's truck
My grandparents created this wooden nativity set for our family when Aaron and I were young. My Mom wanted a nativity set that we could play with without breaking. So Grandpa cut the figures from wood and Grandma stained and burned them.
We had a Mother-Daughter Christmas Tea yesterday morning. We invited our friend Arlene Faulhaber, but a winter storm kept her from venturing out. Since Judith and Kaelyn are in Pennsylvania, it was just us girls and Mom. But we had a delightful time, nibbling at treats, sipping tea, and playing party games. We've begun a new tradition for the ladies of the family.
The walls are now "Veradale" and the the trim is "Ornamental Grass" in a Sunday School room at our church building. The classrooms desperately needed paint and yesterday Betsy, Libby and I tackled the smaller one. The previous paint job bothered me ever since we began attending our church nine years ago. Finally Christmas break and the sanction of the trustees allowed us to apply a new coat. The job took us about four hours from ceiling to floor (we painted the ceiling and walls, and tried to keep the paint drops off the floor). Betsy wielded the roller, I used a paint brush and Libby ended up with the roll of tape.
Betsy and Libby eating frozen chocolate pudding while I finish the trim
The scholars explain the Scriptures to Andre, while the innkeeper listens and in the house on the far side of the stage, a mother rocks her baby son.
Our church presented its annual Christmas program last night, despite the wind and drifting snow that threatened to close the road. Bruce Byler wrote and directed "A Baby's Cry." He was assisted by his daughter Kendra, and most of the congregation was involved.
The rendition of the Christmas story centered on Andre, the fictional Roman soldier who guarded the Bethlehem gate and collected Caesar's taxes. As lines of people drop coins into Andre's outstretched hand, a young man and his pregnant wife also make their way through the ancient gates. There is no room for them in the inn, and that night a baby is born and placed in a manger.
Andre watches the story unfold as first a pair of young shepherds disturb the night with their tale of angels on the hillside. Then scholars following a star appear at the gate seeking the Jewish King and Savior. These wisemen show Andre from the Scripture that the promise is not just for the Jews, but for the Gentiles--for scholars and soldiers. In the final scene, a special detachment from Herod arrives in Bethlehem to find and kill all the boy babies. This time Andre refuses to participate, despite the soldier's threats. Andre declares that his allegiance is no longer to Rome, but to a baby.
Phillip, one of the shepherds, insisted that he and his friend Aquila did see angels over the Bethlehem fields.
Andre guarding the Bethlehem gate during the third watch of the night.
A young shepherd waits for the program to begin.
Mary, with her baby cradled in her arms, hurries past a mirror in the Sunday school room turned dressing room, before the program begins.
After witnessing the miraculous birth of a baby and the faith of the shepherds, scholars and Joseph and Mary, Andre realizes his allegiance no longer belongs to Caesar and Rome.
"Who's crazy idea was this anyway?" I asked, clumps of snow dropping onto the rug as I stomped my feet. I'd ventured outside far enough to shoot a few photos before stumbling back inside looking a little like a snowman. The snow is exciting and beautiful, but I think I'll wait to go outside again until it stops falling.
We are in the midst of a snow storm that the weather man predicts will dump six to ten inches of snow on Mid-Michigan over the next few hours. Dad listened to a long list of school and college cancellations on the radio this morning. Betsy finished her last exam yesterday afternoon, so we are ready to be stuck at home. Mom offered the school children the choice of their afternoon activity--either a Spanish class or baking cookies.
Chocolate covered pretzels, strawberries and grapes
While we were in Indiana visiting friends, we attending a "Pounding." It was an Old German Baptist"Young Folks" meeting at our friends' grandparent's house. Contrary to what anyone who has survived middle school may think, it did not involve physical violence. The event received its name because each participant brings a pound of food--pretzels, flour, chocolate, cheese--to be prepared for dinner.
After everyone arrived, we spread the food on tables in the garage and divided into four teams. Then we took turns choosing a pound of food from the table. My team acquired Velveeta cheese, tortilla chips, cheddar cheese, canned chicken, noodles, a loaf of bread and black beans, which we transformed into a noodle casserole, cheesy-bean dip and chips, and garlic bread (The hostess was generous with extras such as butter and garlic powder, and we traded another group some Velveeta cheese for an onion).
There were two kitchens in the house, and we prepared our food in the basement. When the cooking was completed, we gathered in the garage to sample our creations. There were several noodle casserole dishes and even a peach cobbler, but the most original was the chocolate covered grapes.
Snapping pictures is the fun part--sorting, organizing and labeling them isn't always so fun. Every couple of days I transfer my pictures to the computer and sort them. I delete most of the pictures. At the end of the month I burn a photo back-up CD and then upload a month's worth of photos (200-500 shots) to Shutterfly, an online photo processing service. I type a label to be printed on the back of each photo and order pictures for our family album.
In a few days the photos arrive in the mail, and they sit on the end table in the livingroom until I feel ambitious. Then I sort the photos into piles. Most of the photos are for our family album, but I also sort stacks of photos for each of us (the schoolchildren put their photos in their portfolios to document their schooling). I also label and sort the photos that were printed and developed from our film camera. It's a mess organizing pictures from three different cameras and I spread piles across the living room floor. In the final step I stuff the pictures into the album. By the time the album is full, I feel dizzy and I wonder why I would ever want to take another picture.
Yesterday afternoon I stuffed photos in my personal photo album. Recently I divided my Grandma's photos among us grandchildren. I put my siblings' photos in albums for them, but mine are still sitting in a shoe box in my room. Yesterday afternoon I transfered a stack of pictures from the shoe box to an album. By the time I was done, I was stressed. And when I'm stressed...I take pictures. So after I shoved the album in a corner of my room, I grabbed my camera.
Brian and Libby loaded seven goats into the stock-trailer before Aaron and I joined them for the forty-five minute drive to the livestock auction. Brian used his newly acquired shepherd's crook to catch the animals.
The digital numbers on the bank sign in Clare blinked ten degrees yesterday afternoon, but it felt much colder at the stockyard, even with the extra socks, skirts and scarves I'd layered on before we left the house. Sheep, goats, swine and cattle are sold every Monday afternoon at the Clare County Livestock Auction. Yesterday seven of Brian's goats were among the first of the line of animals prodded along the sawdust walkways into the ring. Most of Brian's goats are expecting kids this spring, and Brian needed to cull the "no-good-goats" from his herd. He acquired the two oldest goats, a Nubian and a Nubian-Alpine, when the owner included them in a tractor deal. The remaining five goats were born on our farm in 2007 and 2008.
Not much has changed in the livestock barns in the past fifty years. The two-story frame building contains an upstairs eatery, simply known as "Restaurant," where patrons can purchase a piece of pie or a cup of coffee.
The goats recognized our voices when we stopped beside their pen. Our goats are even-tempered and friendly and didn't seem to be distressed by their unusual surroundings.
Animals sold in the auction are sold by the hundred weight. The animals are weighed before they enter the ring and bidders pledge the amount they will pay based on weight. If a goat weighed 90 lbs. and sold for $45/hundred weight, the buyer would pay $40.50.
Last Monday Kendra Byler hauled her sewing machine and bags of black, red and silver material to our house. Libby retrieved her machine and they spread the fabric on the diningroom table. Libby, Naomi and Kendra cut and sewed all afternoon, through the evening and into the night, constructing soldier costumes for the Christmas program. Brother Byler included three Roman soldiers in "A Baby's Cry." The Bylers were able to borrow one costume from their relatives in Pennsylvania, and the girls volunteered to create two more.
Last night our church participated in the 25th annual Dow Gardens Christmas Walk. Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights hundreds of visitors stroll candle lit walks and pause to listen to carolers and musicians perform throughout the gardens. Our group sang traditional Christmas carols, including "Joy to the World" and "Silent Night," on the porch of the Dow house midway through the gardens. It was a beautiful evening, and after we were done with our caroling, we were able to enjoy the lights and sounds of the gardens ourselves while another group took our place on the steps.