• "Oh, if I could only put things into words as I see them! Mr. Carpenter says, 'Strive, strive -- keep on. Words are your medium -- make them your slaves -- until they will say for you what you want them to say.' That is true, and I do try, but it seems to me there is something beyond words -- any words -- all words -- something that always escapes you when you try to grasp it -- yet leaves something in your hand which you wouldn't have had if you hadn't reached for it. ... I have written myself out for tonight, and am going to bed."
    - Lucy Maud Montgomery, Emily Climbs

    This is my place to "write myself out" -- sharing both my day-by-day thoughts and my artistic output. Thank you for visiting! - Carmen Pauls Orthner
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Ornament swap!

Filed under Challenges,Christmas • Written by Carmen @ November 8, 2011

I am so excited — I have decided to participate in a homemade Christmas ornament swap, “Secret Santa” style (ie. one piece sent anonymously). It is being organized by Nathalie (“Nat”) Kalbach, and this is the fifth year of the swap, so I know it’s got some “street cred” behind it. (The picture in the logo above is one of last year’s ornaments.) I have committed to making and mailing an ornament by Dec. 1, and I should receive one in the mail some time after that.

If you are interested too, here is the post on Nat’s blog. :) She is taking new participants until Nov. 15.

Now to start brainstorming ornament ideas…!

Fresh baked numbers, anyone?

Filed under Christmas,Fresh on Fridays,Projects • Written by Carmen @ November 5, 2011

So sorry about not being timely with my weekly post — instead of writing for my blog yesterday during Sara’s nap, I was in the midst of glue and paper scraps and buttons and glitter. As a result, though, this week’s content is about as fresh as it gets!

I’m starting work on my December Daily (an album project started by Ali Edwards a few years ago, and since adopted by legions of her fans ;) ), as this year I’m determined to make an actual, physical album instead of simply recording the season here on my blog. So, I’m following Ali’s lead in creating my “foundation pages” for the album, well in advance. It’s been a treat getting into the “Christmas spirit” so early — hopefully I’ll still be excited by the time December actually arrives.

I haven’t actually constructed the album pages yet, as I decided to start with the numbering for my pages. These are a combination of “cake mix” and “from scratch” — I picked up a hybrid (printable digital images) kit from Elle’s Studio, which was intended for making an advent calendar, and adapted it to work for December Daily. I think the only ones that I made exactly “by the recipe” were the silhouetted “12″ and the very glittery “9″ — I used almost an entire bottle of glitter, and pressed it down with a brayer, so that sparkly stuff isn’t coming off the snowflake. (It’s not coming off the brayer, either! — though I’ve mostly removed it from my desk, the sink, etc.). The others that are from the kit I added bits to, such as word stickers, inking, buttons and “bling”, or took elements away/added replacements.

I made a couple of the numbers out of “scraps” from other pieces, including the “14″ (a bit of the pink music paper from the kit’s “16″, the “celebrate” from another piece, and some green Thickers numbers), “16″ (foam number stickers, black pen and a piece of the patterned paper from “13″), and the “21″ (a tag from the kit’s “1″, and elements from my stash).

I am rather pleased with my “from scratch” numbers, and the ones that I changed the most. “1″ was made with a piece of translucent ribbon and a piece of cardstock to which I added black number stickers as a mask, then sprayed with several colours of ink, and peeled off the stickers, then edged with black ink. I kind of like the spots where the ink “bled” under the stickers, giving the letters a funky edge. The gingerbread man (“23″) was originally #14, and I kept his recipe and basic shape, but gave him a new number with some fuzzy Doodlebug numbers, some black mini-brad eyes and some extra “browning” with ink. I also added a punched out piece of a Saskatchewan map showing the city where my parents live, as we will be arriving there that day.

For “22″, I found a 7Gypsies vintage ephemera card, with a poster for the movie “Gypsy Girl”, as that’s the day we’ll be on the road to my parents’ home. “10″ uses the basic structure of the kit sample, but I made the little vertical pocket out of a piece of pinked fabric (from K and Company, I believe) and a ribbon that was on a gift I received a while back, so it was already nicely tied. I think Dec. 10 is the day we are having a gift exchange with Bryan’s siblings, so that should work nicely in the album. And then for “24″ — we have a stack of funny “parenting flashcards”, and I found the word “swaddle” in the box. I had the Scripture about the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger in mind, and Dec. 24 in Regina always includes a beautiful evening worship service at my parents’ church, so I decided to go with that.

So that’s what I’ve been working on. This post is rather long already, so since Corrie has posted my last two layouts on her blog and done a nice job with it, I will just link you up to it. You might like to see my guest designer feature on the Burlap & Buttercups blog as well.

Thanks for stopping by. :)

Edited to add: You may have noticed that there is no “19″ in the photos above. I have finally finished that one, as of nearly midnight — as you will see, it involves an accordion flower, and between my troubles with that and my difficulties with the tissue paper flower I tried to make during the Crop and Create event I went to in September, I’m starting to think I have as much of a black thumb with paper flora as I do with the real kind! Bryan and I finally got it figured out, although we got the accordion too tight and I had to make a few modifications to the piece as a result. Here it is. :)

On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…

Filed under Christmas • Written by Carmen @ December 26, 2010

… a baby who took her very first independent steps! Talk about timing it for maximum impact — right in the middle of the gift unwrapping chaos, I glanced to the side and said, “Oh my gosh!” as I saw Sara take a step toward me, toddling forward in her little snowman sleeper. I startled several people, who thought something awful had happened to Sara and wondered for a second why I wasn’t dashing to rescue her, but then they realized what was happening before she flopped on her bottom — and then she repeated the trick several times over the next hour or so. Angie caught the whole scene on video, which is wonderful — how often does that happen, that you have a camera recording a big milestone for posterity?! Janelle and I had been talking not long before that in the living room, and she predicted that with Sara being so confident pulling herself to a standing position, “it” would happen within the next two weeks. Both of the Sengas’ kids walked between 10 and 11 months, and here is Sara, just three days past her 10-month birthday, taking her first steps. I was also amused by the fact that maybe five minutes before this, she and Bryan had opened a gift from Grandma and Grandpa (Papa) Orthner — a pink child-sized “Baby Princesses” car, which she had been examining with great interest ever since the wrap came off — and the tag said, “Once you learn to walk, next you’ll be wanting to drive” (or something to that effect). She’s always been one to rise to a challenge — when she was brand-new, every time we’d wonder aloud if she was done with her bottle, she’d start sucking more vigorously than before, and she’s pursued every developmental step with almost obsessive determination. And just maybe, that card gave her the incentive she needed today! ;)
… voluminous amounts of presents — seriously, it took 3 hours to open the gifts for 11 people, and we came home with (way) more than we went with.
… a “Big Bang Theory” marathon on the “Space” channel — I am so going to have to start watching that show. And I love the commercials for the “Space-Mas” specials, with Darth Vader opening (much to his disgust) a pair of fuzzy slippers from The Emperor.
… more food than I should have eaten, with round 3 set for after church on Boxing Day.
… a lovely time of relaxed adult conversation while Theo had his post-lunch nap and Quinn watched a movie on her DVD player — we don’t often take the time for that at family gatherings, going straight from dinner and dishes to the board/card games.
… fabulous photo-ops — we even got Dad to take a few shots of the three of us, which we get so rarely (thus the “twosomes” as our Christmas card photos).
… a chance to sleep in — I told Bryan this is probably the last Christmas we’ll have for many years when we’ll be the ones getting the baby up, instead of the other way around!
… word that our gifts to Curtis and his family in B.C. were both received, and well-received (including happy squeals from Haven in the background of the call), and they were brewing up a pot of the Bolivian coffee for breakfast and appreciating the art for decorating their new home.

There is much more I could write, but Sara is already back to sleep in her crib (she cried and/or fussed remarkably little today, even with an accidental tumble off the bed in Mom and Dad’s spare room), and Bryan and I should get to bed, if I can pull him away from playing with his new iPod Touch for a few hours of sleep….

Ahh… the Eve has come and gone…

Filed under Christmas • Written by Carmen @ December 25, 2010

… and my heart is full, as is my belly! Bryan is in the kitchen finishing up the last of the dishes from our celebration tonight with the Prokopchuks and our last minute additions, Audrey Mark (whom we ran into while getting sub sandwiches Thursday night) and Cole Paproski (who was at the worship service earlier this evening). It wasn’t really planned, but I guess we’ve honoured my mom’s “Christmas orphan” tradition after all! I’m feeling pleased with myself — as I’m determined not to let the house get back to such a desperate state as it was in pre-celebration, I’ve already straightened up the couch cushions, cleaned up the toys and dishes and vacuumed both the living room and the hallway, and we’ve tackled all the mess in the kitchen except the floor, which I decided to leave until after Bryan makes the veggie casserole and we finish up the gift wrapping for the Orthners’ celebration. We need to be there by 12:30 p.m., and it’s currently 12:30 a.m., so hopefully we’ll have enough time for everything. If not, at least we’re the guests this time and no one will see the house for a few days! :)

Sara is sound asleep, after the two youngest Prokopchuks, Nadia (6) and Naomi (8), “adopted” her as their playmate for the evening — they are always eager to hold her, and entertain her with stuffed animals and toys, and after they (with our permission) took her to her room, I was happy to just let them be. :) She was happily babbling (“lodolodolo…”) and having a grand time, and after a small meal, went to bed with minimal fuss, and we didn’t even hear a peep out of her during the rather raucous game of “The Last Word”, which had us, in teams, attempting to be the first to get our category established as the one dictating the words shouted out, and the last to be giving a valid (though that was sometimes debatable!) answer when the buzzer went off at random intervals.

Before the game, we all feasted on Bryan’s homemade cinnamon rolls (I had, um, 4…), apple cider, spinach dip with artichokes in sourdough bread, and skewers of meatballs, mushrooms and peppers. There were visits to our “library” downstairs, and a lot of discussion about Saudi Arabia and Alaska (both places the Prokopchuks have lived), dual citizenship and cross-cultural reflections, books and libraries (including La Ronge Public’s current expansion), and hunting and fishing trips. I need to remember to e-mail Audrey — who is the director of Pahkisimon Nuye?ah Library System, whose board I chaired for two years — a copy of my “Biblioholism” layout. :)

The candlelit service was wonderful — I always love seeing the dots of light throughout the darkened sanctuary and hundreds of voices singing “Silent Night”, and the “Did you see him” reflections from Joseph, Mary, the shepherd, the innkeeper and the magi (each in costume) were really striking. I will remember Joseph’s desperation and frustration over the rejection he and Mary experienced because of her “shameful” pregnancy and his full embrace of his role as Jesus’ (adopted) father; Mary’s desire to protect her son from the suffering predicted for Him in Isaiah; the young shepherd working alongside his father the night of Jesus’ birth; the innkeeper dealing with greed and neediness in her inn, and assisting as midwife for Mary; and the magi apprenticed to a man who had been studying the stars for decades, and tasked with giving the gift of myrrh, a spice used for burial. Sara was a bit fussy (she squealed quite loudly at one poit), and Bryan ended up taking her out to the foyer, but George Searson (who was ushering) took her near the end so Bryan could join me for the candlelighting. Oh, and we had the YouTube video of “Where’s the Line for Jesus” during the offering, which will go again to Scattered Sites for their outreach to the homeless.

We spent a good bit of the day getting the rest of the housecleaning done, though I did take some time to play with Sara and to breathe a bit, and while it didn’t look quite like I’d hoped, it was all right for what we needed — all the public spaces were clean. :) And we got the tree decorated, at long last, and I got some pictures with Sara examining the ornaments (she loved chewing on the Precious Moments one!) and got her new angel ornament labeled (“Sara 2010 – our new little angel”, in honour of my own precious “little angel” ornament that I got when I was 3). I went out mid-afternoon in hopes of finding some bread to make some sandwiches for a bit of lunch, and found the trees all coated with a gorgeous layer of hoarfrost — the world seemed bleached of colour, which is perhaps why Christmas trees are traditionally ablaze with colour, eh? It was only 3:30, but the grocery stores I checked were all closed already — I went to Co-op first, out on the highway, then downtown to see if NorthMart was open. I saw a lone snowmobiler out on the lake, but La Ronge Avenue was very quiet — I saw the candy canes and stars the Town puts up on the power poles, and a “Merry Christmas and Happy New Year” sign at Wayne’s Lumber, but very few people or even cars. The only “crowd” I saw was at the Shell gas station, where I ran into James Eninew (got a firm handshake) and Colleen Klassen (I asked if she was getting a few last thing, and she said she was just getting fuel — the very last thing, as they were heading south to her mom’s), and bought some white bread and cooked ham (my options were limited…). I overheard Cora Leung, the owner, talking about plans to travel, so I asked her and she and Kevin (her husband) are going to a resort in Cuba. I told her a bit about Bryan’s trip there and warned her about the rental vehicles — she said she thought maybe they’d stick to chartered tours! She wants to do a tour of Havana — “while old Fidel is still in charge,” she said. :)

Anyhow — a bit of a backwards look at my Christmas Eve! I should get to bed, as it’s already 1 a.m. and tomorrow will be full too. I hope Sara doesn’t eat too much of the wrapping paper, and I don’t eat too much of everything else…

The wheels keep turning…

Filed under Christmas • Written by Carmen @ December 21, 2010

… but I think I may have fallen under them. ;) Just kidding — I’m feeling a little worn out at the moment, but I’ll get through it all. The Dec. 22 prompt for Shimelle’s Journal Your Christmas participants is an update on your task list, and I’ve got commitments tomorrow morning, so I figured I’d just get this done tonight. So here is my list, with an update on how I’m feeling at the moment….

I’m feeling a little “bah humbug”-ish today, as I look at the remainder of my “to do” list. Bryan is off work as of today (although he did get called in to fix a problem, as something technical always goes wrong when he’s away), and he should be off until he’s needed back for the Headwaters Tech store inventory starting on Jan. 3. I wish I could be “off” with him, too.

He’s on childcare duty today, and he’s planning to take Sara to the church with him to play in the sanctuary while he practices music for Sunday, and then (so they’re out of the house) to play in the church nursery while he works on updating the church’s financial records on his laptop. That’s nice in a way, because sometimes Sara being (literally) underfoot gets old – but I miss her being around, too. I just wish their absence wasn’t because I’m going to have a day to relax, but because the house is a mess, the paperwork is piled up, and to top it off, there’s Christmas prep work to do.

I don’t mind the Christmas stuff at all, and it’s not like we’re going to have so much company here that I need to have the house in tip-top shape. But there will be visitors sooner than I expected, as we have now invited Kathy and John Prokopchuk and their four kids and my friend Audrey Mark over for Christmas Eve snacks and games, and even if they weren’t coming (in just — eeks — two days!), I just have a hard time relaxing and enjoying myself when the house is in shambles, even if I’m the only one who thinks it looks that bad.

Sigh –- I thought it would be easier to get ready this year, but here it is Dec. 22, we’ve had the tree for over a week, and it’s still just standing bare and forlorn behind Sara’s baby gate, sucking up jugs full of water, and there is so much else to do besides….

So here is my remaining list, tucked away for posterity….

Urgent pre-Christmas preparation tasks and regular life commitments:
1. upload and process Nancy and Robert McKenzie’s wedding photos, burn CD and bring CD over to Timea DONE
2. HOUSECLEANING (and all that entails…) DONE
3. get caught up on my Christmas journal entries GETTING THERE…
4. Weight Watchers meeting DONE
5. finish up paperwork for maternity leave income statement and talk to Service Canada rep
6. find out about donations and volunteering with Scattered Site project for the homeless DONE
7. finish wrapping gifts for Bryan’s side of the family DONE
8. edit, print photos and assemble brag books

Enjoying the season:
1. continue with my Advent Bible studies
2. continue taking photos, writing daily thoughts and answering prompts for this journal GETTING THERE…
3. read Mousekin’s Christmas Eve, A Visit from St. Nicholas and Nativity story from children’s Bible to Sara
4. read The Northerner‘s Christmas edition
5. decorate our tree (and get photo of me and Sara hanging up our angel ornaments) DONE
6. decorate house
7. set up nativity DONE
8. attend Christmas Eve service at church DONE
9. get house ready for and host Christmas Eve get-together with Prokopchuks and Audrey DONE
10. enjoy gift openings with family HALF DONE
11. enjoy Christmas feasts DONE
12. help lead music for long-term care Boxing Day worship service
13. munch on Bryan’s homemade cinnamon rolls and butterhorns

After Christmas Day:
1. get library area cleaned up and ready for Mom and Dad to sleep during their visit
2. Sara’s pre-op appointment for her CT scan (get paperwork signed for neurosurgeon)
3. Weight Watchers meeting
4. mail out remaining Christmas cards once they arrive
5. meet with Kelly and Timea to work on church vision document
6. finish and mail baby thank you cards
7. finish dealing with or filing remaining household paperwork
8. write letter to our sponsor child in Indonesia
9. continue taking daily photos for Project 365 (and start work on actually compiling them)
10. wrap gifts for each other, Sara and my parents
11. get stocking stuffers for Sara
12. set up savings account for Sara
13. set up Registered Education Savings Plan
14. invite Kandis Riese and Munsons over
15. sign up for “One Little Word” class at Big Picture
16. work on income tax revisions to include medical trips and home renovations
17. massage appointment for my back issues
18. wrap up on-line commitments (postcard swap and month-long challenge)

Maybe next year…
1. make gingerbread house
2. finish my homemade wreath
3. get some sleep!

Grace for the solstice

Filed under Christmas • Written by Carmen @

“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.” – Isaiah 9:2

After lunch today, I was in a foul mood. The Christmas tree was still “naked”, and the only decoration up was a wreath on the front door (not even hung by me); I felt it advisable to cancel plans to have my mother-in-law babysit after I called to confirm and heard how worn out she was feeling, and I concluded that with the baby here, I wouldn’t get to do any of the “catch up” cleaning or paperwork I had planned for today; my “time of the month” arrived on this cold, soon-to-be-dark day (the shortest of the year, and right after a total lunar eclipse, no less — the first to occur in conjunction with the winter solstice since the year 1638!); we got up late and I had no time for a shower or a proper breakfast, and found myself eating way too many cookies at the Parents and Tots Christmas festivities; and the baby was cranky — oy vey, was she cranky — so exhausted that she couldn’t even keep her balance, but there she was standing up in her crib every time we tried to put her down for her afternoon nap, rubbing her eyes, crying great fat tears and wailing like a banshee.

But Bryan had to do some at-home testing of the office’s virtual private network (VPN), so he was home long enough for me to call about some potential contract work for January, which sounds promising, and he got our dental appointments booked in Prince Albert at Bouverie Dental for the day after Sara’s CT scan, which will save us making an extra trip and also have a legitimate excuse not to drive back all the way from Saskatoon the night before. And he got Sara bundled up into her fuzzy orange Tigger jacket and into her carseat, and she was nearly asleep before we even left to go get the mail (a flyer for Princess Cruise Lines’ Caribbean vacations (sigh), an “O” magazine for me, and a “Bloomberg Business Week” for Bryan). She snoozed through our stop at the post office, and gave me a chance to rest and drink a peppermint chai latte downtown at the Java Shack, and she was still asleep when I got her back in the van. And as I looked through my windshield toward Lac la Ronge, I noticed how the frost had made lovely, intricate patterns on the glass, and outside, the clouds were streaked with pink and gold, in sharp contrast to the ghostly sculptures that hoarfrost had made of the trees on Kitsaki Island. I could still feel the tightness in my neck and the weariness in my limbs, and on the spur of the moment, I decided to do something I used to do when I had had a rough day at the newspaper office and it was nearing sunset like this (yes, at 4 p.m. — this being the winter solstice and all): head to Big Stone Lake.

So I turned the van out to the highway, turned off again by the First Nations-owned gas station, Kathy’s Korner, and drove toward the lake. There is something about driving down the gravel-lined road through that forest corridor, the Montreal River glimpsed in flashes through the trees, that always fills up the depleted parts of me, but particularly so today — maybe because it had been a few months, maybe just because God knew I needed it — and as I got toward the bend where you can see the river most clearly, I rolled down the window and just had to breathe in with amazement as I heard the music of the water rushing over the river rocks, and saw the mist rising up and the trees silhouetted against the radiant pink sky. I will go back tomorrow with my camera and see it again, because it is hard even an hour or so later to believe it was beautiful as that. After a few minutes, I put my foot to the gas pedal again, and listened, as I drove, to the crunch of the snow-coated gravel until I reached the end of the road and the lake spread out before me. I saw the wreath on the small red cross someone put on the shoreline years ago, and the vast sky and the golden sun, low on the horizon, and the trees, and I got out of the van — leaving Sara still asleep in her car seat and the window rolled down — to lift my hands up and breathe a short prayer of thanks.

Surprised by joy

Filed under Christmas • Written by Carmen @ December 20, 2010

This is an excerpt from my journal, written Dec. 1, 2009. (I am including it here in response to the Dec. 20 prompt from Journal Your Christmas, about “unexpected surprises”.)

“Come on, ring those bells / light the Christmas tree / Jesus is the king / born for you and me / Come on, ring those bells / Everybody say, / Jesus, we remember / this your birthday.” – Evie Tornquist

“Ring the bells that still can ring / forget your perfect offering / There’s a crack in everything / that’s how the light gets in.” – Leonard Cohen

As I’ve been reflecting on why I’m so determined to document my thoughts on Christmas – past, present and future – these two lines keep coming back to me, with their curious similarities.

I remember setting up our old record player, with its needle that had to be carefully placed on the right groove, and then sitting (or, more likely, dancing around on the carpet in front of the record player) in my parents’ living room, and the fire crackling in the fireplace and the lights of the tree reflecting off the picture windows as Evie’s clear, sweet voice filled the room with “Come on, ring those bells.”

Cohen’s poem, “Anthem”, is a more recent discovery – and it speaks of brokenness and lost trust, and how signs were sought, and how “every heart to love will come, but like a refugee.” It’s a strange and difficult poem that I don’t understand, but I find that some things in it resonate with me.

This November has been a very difficult one for both of us, dominated by the Sunday night just over a week ago when we came home and discovered that our basement window had been forced open, my office and our bedrooms rifled through, and the keys to both our cars – and my car – had been stolen.

The sense of violation, loss and anger ran very deep, especially as we learned that over 50 break-ins had been committed over the last two months with no public notice, and that the thief (who was eventually caught on Friday, with our keys still in his possession) has likely committed most of them. I have wept many hot tears in my husband’s arms, spent a lot of time both raging and in searching prayer, talked to many friends and family members, and eventually come to terms with the fact that the car I had taken such good care of since I bought it brand-new eight years ago is irrevocably gone, despite the fact that it has been physically recovered.

The rollercoaster of emotions has been horrible, as we heard through the week about the car being involved in two high-speed chases with police, likely used as a getaway car for several out-of-town break-ins, and then it being found on Tuesday and, by the time we got back out there with the officer, taken again. Attending the 17-year-old accused’s first court appearance didn’t help much either, as he preened himself, fixing his hair, throwing his head back and looking alternately bored or pleased with himself as the charges were read, and then, during breaks, bragging to his friends about his use of the stolen cars (at least three, including ours) and how he was going to get a light sentence.

But then, on Sunday – the first Sunday of Advent – we had a chance to share about our experience and ask for prayer during the worship service. And after the service, 11-year-old Jessica Tonn came up to Bryan and pressed a folded piece of paper into his hands. Inside (and yes, my eyes are welling up again writing this) was a handwritten note that said, “I hope you get enough money for another car! May the Lord be with you!” And attached was a loonie – a one-dollar coin. I couldn’t help thinking of the reflecting I had done on the “widow’s mite” during my retreat at Queen’s House the previous weekend, and how her gift to the temple, while small, had worth far greater than its face value.

A witness of true grace and generosity in the midst of brokenness and defeat, a small package worth so much more than its “face value”, an offering of sacrificial love – isn’t that what Christmas is truly about, in God’s giving of His Son?

As I think about this Christmas, seven months into my first pregnancy, I feel a closer identification with Jesus’ mother Mary than I ever have. Carrying God’s promise in her womb, she nonetheless must have been worn, even exhausted, cranky perhaps, as she travelled those rutted dirt roads, jolting along on the back of a donkey. Perhaps her faith even wavered a little, wondering if she would be a capable mother to God incarnate in the flesh of a squirming baby boy. Fear, uncertainty, and definitely a strong sense of anticipation and amazement over the miracle of this child – I can’t even imagine what she must have felt, but now, I can more easily guess.

Our baby is very much a gift of God, not of medical science – I shouldn’t even be pregnant, if logic and reason were the sole determinants. And yet, here he or she is, growing strong in my womb. On the night our house was broken into, we slept at Bryan’s parents’ home, in his old bedroom – tried to sleep, at least. And baby chose that occasion to kick hard enough that Bryan was able to feel it for the first time, like he or she was saying, “Hello, I’m here.”

That’s the meaning of Christmas – God with us. “Hello,” He says to us. “I’m here.” And we are here, together, attempting to connect with one another, to show our love for one another, imperfect though our offerings may be.

Last night, we attended a recitation of “A Christmas Carol” by actor John Huston at the La Ronge United Church. Not only did he know it by heart, he played all the characters – complete with mannerisms and accents – but with only a velvet-covered lectern as a prop, and he did it dressed as (and speaking as) Charles Dickens himself.

I had never realized just how funny the actual story can be, at least when interpreted by a superb performer, and while I’ve seen countless take-offs on Scrooge’s story, I realized afresh how complex and relevant a story it is. It’s not the sacred story, and it’s not the Santa and reindeer fantasy story, either – it’s something else entirely.

And that’s what struck me so profoundly, in the context of everything we’ve been going through over these last few weeks: it’s a story about becoming aware of what paths you’ve taken in your life, and how your choices have affected both you and the people you’ve encountered. It’s about (quite literally) becoming aware of the past, the present and the future. It’s about generosity, compassion, and self-awareness – as well as their dark opposites, want and ignorance (the twisted children the Ghost of Christmas Present has hiding beneath his robes) and realizing that how we relate to one another is central to the quality of our lives. That’s what it means, I think, when Scrooge says, “I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.”

Albert Einstein once said, “Only a life lived for others is worth living,” and Christ, the God who chose to be with us, and who ultimately sacrificed Himself for us, is the ultimate example of that. But we can try to model it too, as Scrooge learned, in giving ourselves as “imperfect offerings” and ringing what bells we can to gladden other hearts.

Our thief didn’t understand that, but little Jessica did – and as Dickens put it, “it’s good to be children sometimes and never better than at Christmas, when its mighty Founder was a child Himself.” I don’t think he was just talking chronological age, but an attitude of joy, of anticipation, of generosity of spirit.

I want to be reminded of these lessons, and this journal seems like a very good place to start. And so, “as Tiny Tim observed, ‘God bless us, every one.’”

That’s a wrap…

Filed under Christmas • Written by Carmen @ December 19, 2010

No, no, I’m not caught up — I’m just finished with another entry for the journal, this time in response to the Dec. 10 prompt, about wrapping paper, and I’m feeling relieved that I can post it, after dealing with some weird technical glitch that was sending me to another site when I tried to access my blog. It seemed appropriate to write this entry tonight, after we’ve been working today on getting some of our gifts wrapped in order to mail them tomorrow to my brother and his family in British Columbia — perhaps I will shuffle the pages in the journal around to put this entry alongside today’s “daily notes”. Anyhow, here are my thoughts on wrapping paper:

Every year at the start of the Christmas season, I have visions of what my wrapped gifts will look like.

Sometimes I dream of beautifully packages, resplendent with real fabric ribbon and done up in gorgeous reds, or gold and silver (an ideal planted in my head by an article that appeared in the Dec. 1982 issue of Canadian Living – our copy was very dog-eared thanks to my many re-readings), and lovely gift tags handmade with my stash of craft supplies, like the ones featured in all the scrapbooking magazines and blogs.

Sometimes I imagine wonderfully quirky packages, reminiscent of some of the gifts we made when I was a child, which were wrapped with old architectural blueprints from my dad’s office, or with paper decorated by carving Christmasy shapes into cut potatoes, and then coating them in paint for stamping. The gifts would then be adorned with tags crafted by my brother and me out of images cut from old Christmas cards.

But every year, either practicality or a lack of time prevails, and we come back to the same box of wrapping paper, with rolls decorated with Santa Claus or snowman designs, and the pre-made tags, paper ribbon and clear “gift wrap” tape.

Bryan wraps (his logical mind and careful nature being perfect for the task), and I write book inscriptions, match gifts that should be wrapped together, do the “decorating” with ribbon (using my mom’s scissor trick to curl the ends) and other doodads, and write the tags. I enjoy giving little hints with my tag messages, and let the gift recipient know that while the paper and ribbon may be generic, the gift is given with intention and love.

Have you any room?

Filed under Christmas • Written by Carmen @ December 18, 2010

Here is my response to Shimelle’s Dec. 15 prompt, about visitors.

A flashback to Mom and Dad’s living room, flames crackling merrily in the fireplace, the Christmas tree aglow, and Evie’s “Come on Ring Those Bells” playing on the record player:

No room, only a manger of hay;
No room, He is a stranger today.
No room, here in His world turned away,
No room, no room

Angels in Heaven up yonder
Watch with amazement and wonder
To see the Son of the Highest treated so.

No room, here in the hearts of mankind,
No room, no cheery welcome to find.
No room, surely the world is blind,
No room, no room.

Have you any room for Jesus
He who bore your load of sin
As He knocks and asks admission,
Sinner, won’t you let Him in?

Room for Jesus, King of Glory,
Hasten now His word obey.
Swing your heart’s door widely open,
Bid Him enter while you may.

When I stop to think about it, not one player in the original Christmas story was anywhere near their home when those events occurred. The shepherds were out in the cold, damp fields outside of Bethlehem, the angels had descended from heaven to speak the message of good news, the magi had travelled “from the east” by starlight to find the promised king, and Mary and Joseph had left their home in Nazareth days earlier, travelling most likely by donkey to Joseph’s ancestral home, to be counted in the Roman census. And Jesus, of course – well, of all of them, He was both the closest and farthest from “home”.

This year, for the first time that I can remember, I won’t be travelling any more than a 10-minute drive from my house during the Christmas season – so I will be the one playing host to the visitors. We’ve already had Kathy Prokopchuk and Klara Epp here a couple of times for our prayer triplet meeting, and Klara and her husband Alden and Royal Atton here for a Sunday lunch, and Megan Schreiner for crafting (she worked on Christmas cards for her colleagues, while I made some progress on my journal). Angie will be here tomorrow to babysit Sara while Bryan and I go to Weight Watchers, and Debbie from ECIP will be dropping by as well.

And then, on Dec. 30, my parents will be arriving to celebrate the season with us, after they get back from B.C., so I’ve got lots of cleaning to do in the basement – now that Sara’s moved into the “guest room”, our pull-out couch in the library/office/TV room will have to serve, and it’s still pretty cluttered since our renovations earlier this year. I want to be a good host, and do my mom proud – I’ve always been so impressed with her ability to make everyone feel so comfortable and cared for.

A tradition she established years ago is that of the “Christmas orphan” – on Christmas Day, our feast was always shared with one or more people who didn’t have anywhere else to go for the holiday. It makes around-the-table conversations much richer and livelier, and we enjoy learning about other people and encompassing others in the circle of our family, even if it is only for that day.

One of my favourite times was the year that Curtis had spent the summer co-leading a team from Briercrest Bible College as they paddled down the Mackenzie River in the Northwest Territories, and stopping at small First Nations communities along the way to set up a rock climbing wall for the local kids to try out. That Christmas, Mom had invited a young couple from China, an older couple (both retired professors) who had worked with the Commonwealth Secretariat in Papua New Guinea, and one of her students, a young man who had left the Hutterite colony he grew up in and moved to the city. And there we all were, in Mom and Dad’s living room, watching slides from Curtis’ trip. A multicultural Christmas indeed! It’s a tradition I would really like to establish with Sara, and a very do-able one, I think, especially once we are either in Toronto or overseas.

Attitude of gratitude

Filed under Christmas • Written by Carmen @

This is in response to Shimelle’s Dec. 16 prompt, about gratitude.

I had a plan for 2010 –- a great, glorious plan to record, every week, something I was grateful for. I managed it for two weeks, and then “life” got in the way. I regret that, and I want to give it another go in 2011. Too often this year I lost sight of the need for an “attitude of gratitude” and got angry, or whiny, or just emotionally worn out and careless about myself and other people. I hope that by being intentional about writing down what I am grateful for, I will carry that awareness into my day-to-day life. And that can’t help but improve things, both for me and for those I love. So consider this, not a definitive list, but a starting point.

Today, I am grateful.
I am grateful for love.
I am grateful for hot apple cider.
I am grateful for three-way giggle fests with my husband and my baby girl.
I am grateful for the stark beauty of leafless trees against a dark blue evening sky.
I am grateful for my fuzzy white blanket.
I am grateful for community sentences instead of prison time, so that a man convicted of a crime can be back at home this Christmas.
I am grateful for books.
I am grateful for Willow Traders, my on-line home.
I am grateful for safety on the highway, in a van that works.
I am grateful for cozy moccasins.
I am grateful for colour printers.
I am grateful for medications that curb depression symptoms.
I am grateful for solid marriages.
I am grateful for baby soothers, bibs, exersaucers and infant formula.
I am grateful for mandarin oranges and Danish butter cookies.
I am grateful for friendship.
I am grateful for the One who came, and lived and died and lives today, and makes everything worthwhile.

“The unthankful heart discovers no mercies; but let the thankful heart sweep through the day and, as the magnet finds the iron, so it will find, in every hour, some heavenly blessings.”
- Henry Ward Beecher

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