Putting the Tree Up


Dearest John,

Just a note that I should have written several days ago. I’m busy as a bee and still a lot is going undone. I can’t remember what we decided about your folks’ gifts. I got the things off for Washington (her relatives) and Wheaton (his relatives) and sent a check to Harold’s.

Mrs. Grif. told me that Gertrude was operated on and they found a malignant tumor and just had to sew her up again, and in their tests they also found that she has Hodgkin’s disease. She doesn’t know all this. I took time to write her a letter.

We got our tree and put and lights on this a.m. Changed furniture around some. Danny is so happy — children will put other decorations on tonight.

Don’t stop to buy groceries on the way home. I bought considerable to stock up and we’ll need the money. I’ve been paying bills and getting gifts—goes so quickly. Afraid the Lord will not get His rightful share of this Christmas.

Now I must close. The mailman comes early. What shall we get David? He wants a horn or a watch. I have got most of the other children’s gifts. Clothes from us and trucks, etc. from what Grandma gave us.

Lovingly, Nellie

P.S. I’m busy but want to tell you again how much I enjoyed the banquet and appreciated you bringing me home. Hope you get back O.K. and get ready for Monday’s classes. The banquet was such a treat – from beginning to end.


The Stress of Christmas


Tuesday, 12-17-1957

My Dearest,

How good it was to hear your voice on Sunday night. I should keep a notebook by the phone so if you call I can refer to it and ask the things I always forget in the excitement of getting a call.

Mrs. Wolcott heard from Daddy [I only know one or two people who call their father-in-law Daddy. Was this a common habit?] that they would probably be through here on Tuesday or Wednesday. So I’m trying to hustle around and get things ready in case they come today. If they don’t, I’ll have to do it all over tomorrow — you know our house. I’m washing. Yesterday I fixed up a Christmas lesson for Mrs. Rose and in the afternoon took the children to the chapel for a combined CEF (Child Evangelism Fellowship) class where Miss Beverly Saunders spoke. She is going out to Venezuela soon. Then in the evening I took David into the chapel for basketball and practice for their part in the Christmas program. Randy promised them a malt if they would all come to practice. They got it at Fenners. I took Dorothy to Sunnyfield Road for a 4H meeting or party. Hesper went after the girls then.

Danny has learned the art of using scissors. He sits on the floor and cuts everything available. Have to teach him how to pick it up!

The coal bin is empty and I don’t want to order more when two tons are not paid for as yet. So I’m asking the Lord to send in money for these bills before I make any more. I added it up last night and we need $200 to pay bills and take the Lord’s money out of, i.e. $160 for bills and $40 for the Lord’s portion. That doesn’t include anything but due bills and no groceries. That is the doctor and dentist, too. I haven’t heard from the Red Cross yet so I don’t know if it will be more than $50 or not. I would like to pay it ourselves as the chapel is low on money, too. I think that is one reason that they have been having local brethren do the ministering lately.

I don’t imagine that you have been able to do anything about Christmas gifts for the folks since you haven’t had any money either. Should the Lord see fit to send in some gifts this week, I’ll send down things for Bob and Ruth with Nita when she comes down on Friday. Marion called me last night to see if I would have anything I would like to send down to you with her. I may also send some clothes to the PGM (Pacific Garden Mission) if she doesn’t mind taking them. She could give them to you and you could deliver them on your way home next week.

If we get out any cards this year I’ll be surprised. I don’t think that I can get around to it — at least the way things look now. Part of my trouble is that I’m disappointed about not getting any pictures taken and I just don’t feel like sending out the same old things that I have sent out for two years. And I don’t feel like buying new cards when there are so many of the old ones upstairs yet. Wonder what folks would think if we didn’t send any?

Well, Carol is waking so I’ll close. She isn’t much good as an alarm any more – sleeps too long. I got up at five this morning to check the time and was afraid to go to sleep again as I knew I would oversleep then. It is almost dark when the bus comes now so I can’t wait until it gets light to wake up.

I’m praying for the banquet and for the speaker. I have to ask the Lord to keep me from being jealous of Nita and Ruthie as I would so much like to be there. But I am happy that they can be there. I’d just like to be there, too! May it be more than just a good time: a real blessing to all, the speaker included! Would love to hear you…

Carol is being insistent, so I’ll run.
Love all of us, me especially,

Lovingly, Nellie 12/11/56

[Typewritten, with handwritten sentence at bottom. I tried to copy the letters exactly, typos and misspellings included.]


Dearest John,

I can’t write much tonight but do want to send a couple of letters your way and get them in the mail.

I mailed a package to Grace and Harold today. And have one about ready to the cousins in Washington. Renewed their subs. to Moody Monthly for the adults. We are averaging about a dollar for each one — certainly not going overboard. Looking around and getting the best we can for that. Even though the Lord has been so gracious to us I certainly don’t feel free to spend more. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could put as much out for the Lord as we do for gifts? Remember when Mickey Dowden did that?

Called on Beckwiths today. They haven’t been out for several sundays. Busy redecorating a house on week ends. Of course, Walt hasn’t been coming for a long time.

Paid some bills and the Lord is answering again as we will have everything all paid off as soon as I get to the places to do it.

I sent $20 each to Cathers, LaBuff’s and Betty. I sent to Betty for Christmas as we did not mail her anything. Did you want me to send to Norbies? I thought it sounded as though you wanted to write to them and send them a check. I’ll keep a balance above $20 in the bank so you can do that or when you next write me just mentioned for me to do it. It should be getting in the mail. What about Joan and Mark?

I ordered some clothes for me, namely a girdle ( so you’ll think I’ve lost weight – I’ve outgrown the other!) No, I’m really trying to come down.

Jimmy was sick last night. Woke up with a 102 temp. He had complained of a headache and stomach ache before taking his nap. So we stayed home and he stayed down. This morning he woke up and everything was normal. He has felt good all day. I’m sure I don’t know what caused it.

I have an appointment at Arnold’s and Don’s for the 27th, but perhaps I will call tomorrow and make it the 28th. In case we got snowbound at Wheaton we would have alittle more leeway to get home.

Now I’ll sign off. Sure miss you – but it won’t be too llong until vacation. Sounds like we’ll come for Christmas eve, so you would be ahead to stay their and get a day or two to work on you studies. Mother will stop in here first and we can travel down with her on Monday. We especially miss you and your record player during this season. But I couldn’t handle it by myself, so I’m glad you have it there.


Pray concerning the noon hour situation. Pilkenton is in charge and he and David have their troubles. David is on his chair by the locker most of the time I guess. They say that P. is hot tempered and always changing his mind about rules. And we know David’s shortcomings.

Saying Thank You Before Opening Gifts

William-Adolphe_Bouguereau_(1825-1905)_-_A_Little_Coaxing_(1890)I read a passage from The Approaching Storm in September which has taken up residence in my thoughts. It describes a Czech Christmas in 1937.

This was a feudal Christmas. Castle and estate people joined in its celebration, as has always been the custom here. They were all Czech. They came to the tree gorgeously dressed in silk and satin of lovely colors, finely embroidered. The men and boys were as handsomely garbed as the girls and women. There was no servility in these people. I liked their quiet self-assurance.

The celebrations were opened by the children going up to their parents and thanking them for their love and care since last Christmas. The eldest, a son of fifteen, spoke first. He was followed by his brother and sister. This is an annual custom.  […] Then we had the presents.

My first instinct on reading this was to clap my hands together and plan a new custom in our family. Then I paused. This Czech annual custom was rooted in generations of thankful attitudes. Can we turn that around with a simple prelude to opening gifts? No, I debate myself, that is not the way to change a culture. Just another band aid fix.  It’s hard enough to get some of our kiddos to say “thank you” after they’ve opened gifts!

I’ve mulled this over. Thankfulness has to be inculcated in kids from the get go. I’ve seen parents teach thankful habits in tiny tots using Baby Sign Language. Long before they can talk, they sign “Please” and “Thank you”, the cornerstones of good manners.

I’m still pondering, still admiring this custom. Wanting the heart felt version, not the formulaic one. Thoughts, anyone?

Unexpectedly Amusing

41UwXfZZFJLIt started with a Klutz Pop Bead Critters Activity Book that I got for visiting kids to play with. Seldom is there a toy, game, book or activity that has universal appeal. But every kid that has crossed our threshold has had a blast putting the beads together. They find the different textures, sizes and colors appealing.

When I saw the small success of the beads that came with the book, I got this bucket of B. Pop-Arty Beads. Gracious! I now know what it feels to be a rock star! My husband and I try hard to buy toys without batteries. Especially fun toys without batteries. And this fits the ticket.

Because I am in essence a second-grader whose hand flies up when the teacher asks who wants to be first at show-and-tell, I am compelled to share this with you. I don’t think I’ve ever before written a blog post about a toy.

Two things:

1)  For folks without children in the home, it always helps to have a space for things that interest kids. In my growing up years there it was the bottom drawer of a sideboard in our dining room. It can be a bag, a tote, a box, a basket or a bin. Something for the kids says “You are welcome!” in a language they can understand.

2) Christmas is 12 weeks away. Just sayin’.

Satisfied with Small



Growing up in a large family with a dad who invited students over, my idea of a holiday meal is a groaning board laden with food, tables jammed up against each other with tablecloths dressing the wound between the two, good plates for company with everyday plates tucked in less conspicuous spots, windows steamed, a procession of mounded bowls, a continuous buzz of conversation, singing Doxology, and hours of clean-up for the poor souls whose names on the calendar rotation indicated dish washer and dish dryer. That was my normal.

Early in our marriage we continued the tradition and gathered friends like you would wildflowers: always room for a few more in the bunch.

As our family grows we have the possibility of expanding to 29, as we did for Thanksgiving, or contracting to a table for four. My preference is for big and boisterous. But—shock!—there are others to consider. 

As silly as it sounds, the first time we had one of our small holiday meals, I had a personal crisis. I was smiling and saying It’ll be great!, but the real me inside was stomping, banging pots, and feeding my misery. All sorts of traitorous thoughts ran through my head, the foremost being “Why go to all this trouble for a meal for five?”

A shaft of light, a tiny thought, was the game-changer. What if Mom could come, if she were your only guest? Would you do all you could to make it a special meal?

Serious? If I could have my mom at my table just once, I would plan for weeks to have the most splendid menu. I get all throat-lumpy just imagining the privilege of serving Mom a meal in my home.

The light shaft widened to a illuminating column: What if the Lord Jesus came to your little dinner? Would you be crabbing about all the work for a small meal? My Lord at my table? I would buy the best ingredients, take pains to make things lovely, be thrilled to my tippie-toes! I’d be nervous choosing the wine, but we’d figure it out.

Oh child, I tell myself, numbers-schnumbers. Cherish each celebration, great or small.


What We Remember

Lingering after a meal is an important part of our family’s culture. We love to exhale a contented sigh, pour another cuppa, perhaps clear a few dishes out of the way, talk, laugh, tell stories, and delay—as long as possible—the end of the meal. A friend told me years ago that the German language had a word for lingering at table for which there was no English equivalent.  If anyone knows that German word, please leave a comment. I’d love to have it in my possession.

As we lingered, we talked about Christmas memories. And it struck me that the Christmases where everything goes right, where good things abound, must be remembered through gauzy nostalgia instead of distinct memories. Because the stories we heard were the disasters, the years of want, when times were hard.  The Christmases where we got what we needed rather than what we wanted. (Aside: This year a friend’s child exclaimed: Wow, Mommy! New boots just like you needed me to want!) The year everyone was too sick to get out of bed. The year the family had just moved and were completely on their own. Moments of comfort and joy amidst misery and pain.

Does this resonate with you? When you think of Christmases past, what comes to mind?

In the spirit of providing stories for future Christmases, we made some memories this year. It was the year of the Great Yorkshire Pudding Overflow. My daughter-in-law and I thought it would be fun to make Yorkshire Pudding, something I’ve never before tried. We poured the batter into a tray of muffin cups and slid it in the 400° oven. Ten minutes later hot grease covered the bottom of the oven, the smoke alarm was going off (while the babies slept) and the kitchen filled with smoke. When guests arrived, my son Carson was holding a box fan in the window trying to exhaust the smoke.  The Yorkshire Pudding was delicious, but the residue was A Mess. 

While I’m bound to remember the Year of the Smoke—if only through my husband’s groans—, the kids surely won’t. If they remember anything, it will be the fun playing games and running around. It was a minor catastrophe, laughable even while it was happening. And we take pictures of the beautiful parts to keep the myth of perfect Christmases alive!

Don’t Mess With My Carols

(from the archives)


I had a hissy fit on Christmas Eve.  In  the candlelight service.  Fortunately, my husband was the only observer and he managed to keep me under control.

We were at our folks’ church, singing from their hymnal, the New and Improved one.  I was already mildly miffed at the alterations in the lyrics when we started singing O Come All Ye Faithful.  When the second verse began “Highest of highest” instead of “God of God” I just stopped singing, now indignant. 

Someone had ruined my favorite verse!  I started jabbing at the hymnal, thumping the spot where in tiny letters were the letters alt.  My husband, who missed my meaning but understood my emotion, shrugged and in a sign of solidarity started poking his finger at the hymnal too, but not in the right places. Which made me snort but didn’t diminish my disgust. 

“Alt!” I hissed. 

“Alt.”  he echoed.  Whatever alt. meant, he was together with me on it. He didn’t ask “Alt?”.  He firmly said Alt. but the required passion was missing; there was no corresponding hiss.

“They ALTERED the text.” I further hissed. “It’s as if Athanasius never lived.”   


We went back to singing choirs of angels.

At the next carol, he jabbed the alt. before the organ had finished the introduction. Good Christian Men were not rejoicing; Good Christian Friends Rejoice.  In protest, I cheerfully sang “Good Christian men“, all three verses.  I have no patience with gender neutral humankind nonsense.  Please.

With each new carol it became a race between us to see who would thump the alt. first.

We heard the tune of Lo, How a Rose Eer Blooming, without noticing the title was, Lo, How a Rose is Growing

This was no alt.: this was a completely new translation. 

I’m sure that Gracia Grindal’s translation has much to recommend it, but you know–you know!– how hard it is to sing or recite a verse in a different translation than the one you memorized as a child, the one firmly lodged in your brain.  There was a sense of disorientation.

Away in the Manger came through unscathed: evidently the Little Lord Jesus (my nephew–decades ago–said Yittle Yord Yesus) could sleep on his bed.  We ended with lovely unaltered carols Silent Night and Joy to the World

In the Bleak Midwinter

Winner of Carol’s Best Christmas Music – Category: Mellow
The Gift by Liz Story
Windham Hill.
Solo piano.
Recommended first by sister Dorothy.
New to me this year.

(This post is from the archives.)

One of my favorites is In the Bleak Midwinter, a piece that James Taylor also does very well.

I know you are very, very busy.  You should be wrapping gifts instead of reading blogs.

May I tell you a story?  Why this song means so very much to me?

It is a family story that I only know from the telling, because, sadly, I was not present.  Twenty-one years ago, my father received a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer from Mayo Clinic on Christmas Eve.  The following weekend, those of my siblings who could, gathered at my dad’s place in Dubuque. That Sunday Dan sang  In The Bleak Midwinter at the chapel.  A Capella.  He’s a professional, my brother.  But when he came to the last verse, (What shall I bring him, poor as I am?) he broke down and wept.  Unable to continue. My father walked up to him, put his arms around him, and held him.  No words.

So this piece, which has a mournful tone already (and that is not a criticism), always  takes me to that Sunday, to a sad family, a very brave brother, and a father who was a father in a most public act of comforting his son; to my Father who gave His Son, to his mother who worshiped him with a kiss, and mostly to the poverty of the writer who offers what she can give–her heart.

In the Bleak Midwinter.

Snippet of James Taylor singing it (scroll down).
30 seconds of Liz Story playing it.
Better yet, Glouster Cathedral Choir singing it: