One angel’s journey from heaven to our house

2014-11-23 12.47.04Angels are spiritual beings, messengers of God, represented in human form with wings and long robes: at the holidays, they grace Christmas cards, nativity scenes, wreaths, and more. Many families top their Christmas trees with stars or angels, and, since we have been married, Roger and I have been searching for just the right one. For a while, we’ve skipped topping the tree with anything.

A second definition of “angel” is an exemplary person, one whose conduct is virtuous.

This is a story of one knitted angel made more beautiful by the many angels who have loved her.

As Jeremy and I were planning our Knit-mas Tree, I recognized that the difference between ordinary and extraordinary was going to be the tree-topper. When my creative and talented–knitting–godmother, Rosalie Hughes, visited Maryland for her high school reunion in October, I seized the opportunity to present her with pictures of all of the knitted ornaments I planned to make and to solicit her advice on our Knit-mas tree.

Buoyed by my enthusiasm about the tree and the Kennedy Krieger event, she impetuously volunteered to knit the angel as a gift for my November birthday. I was thrilled and gave little thought to the commitment she had just made. What’s difficult about knitting an angel—my aunt can knit or crochet anything!

Rosalie returned to Iowa and began to visit every yarn shop in the area (which, if you’ve ever traveled in Iowa, is a considerable distance). She Googled “Tree Toppers” and then settled on ordering a book on Amazon, Angels: A Knitter’s Dozen.

After Rosalie’s commitment to the project, I continued to make items for the tree, confident that the angel was under way, never considering my aunt’s labors. She, meanwhile, had to re-learn how to use double-pointed needles (used to knit round shapes) and to work with Cro-sheen, something she hadn’t done for 50 years. (For us non-knitters, Cro-sheen is the type of yarn/thread used to make tablecloths and doilies. It’s closer to a heavy thread or string.)

At some point, my mother mentioned talking to Rosalie and hearing that the angel was not being “angelic” in the construction phases. Rosalie said to Shirley (who repeated it to me), “If she was not my godchild. . .”

Friends in Rosalie’s prayer shawl knitting group knew about her struggles as she consulted their expertise—they agreed with her that this “labor of love,” this heavenly being, was not all light and air.

Then, one mid-November day, I got an urgent call from Shirley. The angel had arrived—in pieces—with pages of Xeroxed directions for her ultimate assembly. And this would require a brew of cornstarch. Mom said she wasn’t sure she was up for the task.

With the bravado of someone who has no idea what future is in store, I told Mom I’d meet her to exchange the Franken-angel’s body parts. (In the box, Shirley included a token bag of cornstarch for good measure.)

This is where my good friend, Gini (Angel #3, if you are counting) comes into the story. We had invited her for dinner and a movie, but I told her I needed her help with a special holiday project. She agreed, with the same foolish optimism I had exhibited. How hard can this be?  When I unfolded the directions and the delicate white body parts, she reached for her reading glasses and rolled up her proverbial sleeves.

Oh, did I mention, we were just 48 hours from the tree decorating event? We starched our girl and placed her on forms, with Roger (Angel #4) offering vases, pots, bowls and other random shapes on which to let her dry. The dinner and movie were put on hold.

The next day, she was damp and rumpled. I was not hopeful. That’s when I decided she needed a careful blow dry. I put on headphones to listen to a long chapter of a Victorian novel and secluded myself in the bathroom. Hours later, shaping the stiff pieces with needle and thread, she was looking much more heavenly. It wasn’t until I sewed her hands together in prayer holding a pair of knitting needles that she was transformed into the perfect tree topper.

Indeed, everyone who stopped by the tree during the three days it was on display, remarked how the angel was amazing.

2014-11-22 14.34.06

The tree was sold the first day, but the angel story doesn’t end there.

Angels #5, 6, 7, and 8 (my sister Barbara, her husband, and two daughters) decided that the Knit-mas tree could not go home with just anybody. A stranger could not properly appreciate my aunt’s efforts. The angel needed to stay in the family. Secretly, they bought the tree and had it shipped to my mother’s—to surprise me on Christmas Eve.

Nothing is that easy.

My mother’s house is outside of the 40-mile delivery radius. So that required Angel #9 and his family. My Catonsville brother took delivery of the tree and sent it on to Mom’s house, where it spent Christmas with all of us.

The Knit-mas tree has had a second life in Vermont, at my sister’s vacation home. The angel (and tree skirt) came home with me. She perched on our tree (with her head bent a little in prayer because she was mashed against the ceiling) until yesterday, when we filled her nooks and crannies very carefully with tissue paper and packed her away until next year.

My cousin Kathleen asked her mother, Rosalie, if she would be knitting an angel for Kathleen’s tree. Rosalie flexed her fingers (to which feeling is just now returning), and said, “When _____ freezes over.”



Merry Christmas: Sounds of Hawaii

During Christmas season palm trees are decorated with lights in the Normandy Isle neighborhood in Miami Beach, Florida, USAWe checked in this week to find out more about how Christmas happens in Hawaii. One of the topics that came up in our conversation with Siobhan was music.  The same familiar carols, hymns, and holiday songs are heard throughout the islands.  White Christmas drifts out of the speakers right there under the twinkle lit palm trees and Winter Wonderland is heard at the beach side pig roast.  But there are some differences too, like the Hawaiian Twelve Days of Christmas. For most Americans the Hawaiian Christmas song is Mele Kalikimaka.

Hawaiia Santa


This ukulele driven Christmas classic was written in 1949 but Robert Alex Anderson, known for his uniquely Hawaiian sounds.  The song gathered lots of interest and many fans from the start.  The popular 1950 radio recording featured Bing Crosby & the Andrew Sisters.  The song’s name is known as the Hawaiian way to say Merry Christmas.  Not entirely true. It is a translation, of sorts. To get the whole story behind the name we go back to 1778 when Christmas first came to the Islands with the arrival of Captain Cook.  The holiday did not catch on immediately.  It would not become wide-spread until the arrival of New England missionaries in the 1820s.  These missionaries helped to translate the language and to create a written version of the Island tongue.  The words Merry and Christmas were spoken by the Hawaiian natives and due to the differences in language sounded like Mele Kalikimaka.  The terms are a Hawaiian phonetic translation of the English phrase.  Simple.  The lyrics are simple too- basically a repetition of the same two stanzas:
     Mele Kalikimaka is the thing to say
     On a bright Hawaiian Christmas day
     That’s the island greeting that we send to you
     From the land where palm trees sway

     Here we know Christmas will be green & bright
     The sun to shine by day & all the stars at night
     Mele Kalikimaka is Hawaii’s way 
     To say Merry Christmas to you

It really is a happy, cheery little song.  Listen to it’s carefree lilt and imagine a warm breezy holiday picnic on the beach.  This version by Bette Midler should help set the mood.  Aloha!!

HNY HawaiiI learned the Hawaiian phrase for Happy New Year too- Hau’oli Makahiki Hou.  The phrase grew from the period or resting and fasting with 4 months of no war and no conflicts.  The term Makahiki translates to year.  Han’oli translate to Happy, and Makahiki has a track on year.  I will be looking into more foreign language faves in our area for Christmas.

Podcast #48- Only Hours to Go!

merrychristmasPodcast #48- Click here to listen to this week’s podcast- It’s Here!

Today we wrap-up our countdown to Christmas 2012.  It has been 364 days since we set out on our journey to spend every day of the year sharing or learning something about Christmas.  What a great and wonderful journey it has been!  Listen this week as we reflect on our favorites and regrets; the things we still didn’t get to do, and the best parts of the whole experience.  You’ll need to listen carefully to the end to hear about our plans for Christmas 2013 and the Yule Log 365.  While we won’t be doing a full 365 days of posts we will still be bringing a year of Christmas to all our readers.  Thank you to all those who listened in or read a little and to our closest followers for all the support in 2012.  We will be giving it our all for 2013!  MERRY CHRISTMAS!!

Did You Give Yet?

GIvingWith just over two weeks to go until Christmas 2012, this question is asked a lot!  It could have so many meanings too.  Let’s focus on giving to others, as in through a charity.  Wow, again there are so many!  Each of us can find a way to give to others in our community.  The Yule Log has shared and highlighted many of these in the last 11 months.  There are localized and specific seasonal giving and holiday projects.  There is the end-of-year gift to your favorite non-profit or charitable organization.  Thinking of Christmas, we should look to those that specifically try to do more for others at Christmas.  A discovered a couple groups today that I was not familiar with from years past.  The Angel Tree Project is an outreach program of the Prison Fellowship.  The program targets the nearly two million children with at least one parent in prison.  The hope is to provide comfort and hope through support at Christmas.  Visit the Angle Tree website for more details.  I also discovered the Holiday Project.  This program is a national network of local chapters working to provide fellowship and companions to aging Americans.  It centered on visiting those living at institutions for the holidays with no family nearby or remaining to visit.  A visit to the Holiday Project website provides information from 2011.  I’m not sure if they haven’t updated or if the organization is defunct.  A little more searching found the page for the DC Holiday Project Chapter.  It is full of information for 2012.  The most familiar of the large national charities for giving to me is Toys for Tots and the Salvation Army.  You can read all about the Toys for Tots program in the Yule Log 365 post from October 19.  More about the Salvation Army coming soon (maybe tomorrow!).

Gray Thursday, Black Friday and Refrigerators

FNP's photo of us taken at Gaver Tree Farm.

Photo by Bill Green, published in Frederick News Post today.

10:00 p.m.:  Just received a call from Jeremy who is out shopping with Allie.  At the time of the call, they had hit three or four stores, in timed intervals according to the sale fliers, and they were walking into a Walmart–without a cart.  He informed me that carts are too cumbersome on Black Friday.  Allie told me that another of Jeremy’s Black Friday rules is that she can use the restroom only upon entering the store because after that they are carrying all of their purchases. No time for bathroom breaks at the checkout.

I am happy to celebrate this madness–by phone–although I am dismayed to know that my partner in blogging has succumbed to this season’s early shopping frenzy.  In my Thanksgiving manifesto (which I threatened many times but never wrote), there is no shopping until midnight.  This is a long rant that I will save for a future post.

So, while he’s out joyfully joining the shoppers (there were NO parking spaces at the Walmart when he called), I did what?

Cleaned the refrigerator. The kind of cleaning that involves taking apart all of the shelves and scraping off the sticky stuff at the bottom of the fruit bin.

I decided the most excellent kickoff to the holiday season is to prepare space for future party foods and leftovers.  Want to know the truth?  A jar of pickles fell on me when I opened the refrigerator, and the pickles caused a chain reaction that left a bowl of cooked apples spilled throughout the refrigerator.  Roger and the dogs retreated to the bedroom after receiving enough of my ire.

What am I thankful for late on this Thanksgiving evening? Here’s a short list.

  • My husband, despite the fact that he did not help me clean the refrigerator, because he drove to three gas stations to find six copies of today’s Frederick News Post.  The 7-11 employee thought maybe I just wanted six sets of the sale inserts so I would get more coupons?  That thought did not occur to me, but I bet people do this!  Roger took the newspaper apart at the counter to show her my picture.
  • Having such an abundance of food, that I had to clean the fridge to make room for more.
  • Receiving countless congratulatory texts, calls, emails and Facebook posts celebrating the article in the FNP.
  • The reporter, Danielle Gaines, for the time she took to actually read the blog–I mean read it from the beginning. The photographer, Bill Green, who made us look like two civilized people.
  • My family, friends, dogs, chickens (which make for excellent conversation wherever we go–especially today).

I’d have to say that the best part reading the article about us in the FNP today was the opportunity to read in print someone else’s perspective on the whole year of my friendship with Jeremy through our Christmas celebration.  Somehow, we have remained friends through almost 365 days (-32) of our Yule Log blog.  It’s an interesting test.

This Just In…

The Yule Log 365 is officially part of the Christmas season kick-off now.  Check out the article from today’s edition of the Frederick News Post- Yule Log 365 article.  We are both so thankful to share this crazy adventure.  Wishing all our readers, friends, and family a very Happy Thanksgiving!

Wreaths Across America

Podcast listener and long-time Yule Log fan, Denise, lives in Maine.  She contacted me early this morning to ask if I was familiar with the Wreaths Across America?

I’m so glad she shared the website and history of this beautiful tribute to our veterans.  We recently recognized our military forces on Veterans Day, but the Wreaths Across America program is a national effort to give tribute by placing wreaths on military graves throughout the country.

In 1992, Worcester Wreath found themselves with a surplus of wreaths nearing the end of the holiday season. Owner Morrill Worcester, with the help of Maine Senator Olympia Snowe, arranged for the wreaths to be placed at Arlington Cemetery in one of the older sections of the cemetery where there were fewer visitors. As plans were underway, a number of other individuals and organizations stepped up to help. James Prout, owner of local trucking company Blue Bird Ranch, Inc., generously provided transportation all the way to Virginia. Volunteers from the local American Legion and VFW Posts gathered with members of the community to decorate each wreath with traditional red, hand-tied bows. Members of the Maine State Society of Washington, D.C. helped to organize the wreath-laying, which included a special ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

There is  week-long “Veteran’s Parade” between Maine and Virginia where they stop along the way to spread the message about the importance of remembering our fallen heroes, honoring those who serve, and teaching our children about the sacrifices made by veterans and their families to preserve our freedoms. Volunteer truckers and corporate donors support this Christmas miracle.  Denise told me that one of the stops on the parade was her daughter’s school.

This effort continued for many years without recognition or fanfare until 2005, when a photo of Arlington cemetery with the wreaths in the snow began circulating on the internet.  From there, a national effort was born.  Many people began to ask how they could become involved and honor the veterans buried in their local cemeteries.

All 50 states have become involved. There is an interactive map on the website that illustrates the current programs in all 50 states.  You can go on the website and sponsor a single wreath for $15 or get a group together to make a “small business” sponsorship (10) or a “corporate sponsorship” (100).

My description in this post does not capture the significance of this effort, whose motto is “Remember, Honor, Teach.”  It’s not too late for your family, church, organization, or corporation to get involved.  Wreaths Across America Day is Saturday, December 15, 2012.

Podcast #39- 76 Days to Go!

Podcast #39- Click here to listen to this week’s podcast- Giving from afar!

This week our goal was to discuss thoughts and ideas for giving to those we love who are far from us.  We also talk about items from our blogs this week.  We also share some thoughts on giving time and items for charity, including the troops serving abroad.  Oh, and there’s a mention of our Christmas groundhog too!


Holidays for Heroes

Today, Ted Poe, a U.S. Congressman from Texas, launched his annual Christmas card drive for military personnel overseas.  Whether you were on one side or the other during last night’s debates, we are all on the same side when it comes to supporting our troops who sacrifice Christmas with their families.

Poe’s office collects hand-made or purchased cards addressed to “Dear Service Member.”  The cards cannot have glitter or personal information. (See link above for instructions.)

A brief search reveals that his drive is just one of many that begin this month, with collection deadlines ranging from mid-November to early December.

Although there are many ways to send packages to military personnel, the deadline for parcel post is the second week of November.

A variety of groups, including church, scouts, youth, school and others begin drives to collect care packages, but without early planning, the rush to get them packaged and mailed in time can outweigh the joy of preparing the packages.  While we’re just 80 days away from Christmas, it’s more like 50 days or fewer to some of the deadlines mentioned above. As a former Scout leader and PTA president, I remember planning care package collections and events that took place in November (when we’re all thinking about Christmas), but it was already too late to mail the material without significant extra cost.

The Red Cross holds Holiday Mail for Heroes, an annual card drive.  It has not updated its information, but this is the link to last year’s drive.

One struggle can be for a well-meaning group to establish a line of contact that leads to a successful care package or card drive.  I’ve looked through many resources, and what strikes me is that there are  links that date from the early 2000’s, which at first look viable but are no longer accurate.  One excellent clearinghouse of information is Operation We Are Here, a website that offers support services to military personnel and their families.  There is an entire section of the website devoted to cards, letters and care packages, with connections to many  individual groups.  What I appreciate about the website is the focus on many different age groups and interests, so the well-meaning organization can match with the appropriate fundraiser or drive.

Secret #3 for a Perfect Christmas

Remember that on the 25th of each month we will be revealing one of our secrets for the perfect Christmas in 2012.  Today we share Secret #3- Giving Time is More Important Than Giving Things!

One of the most over used sayings at the holidays is “It’s better to give than receive”.  This is often uttered by those trying to justify a less than expected gift or holiday experience.  I wish that we could all try to live this statement more than say it.  We have shared many ideas and thought throughout the year about the extreme joy there is in helping others.  Many ways to prepare and save to be able to help those in need have been written.  With less than 3 months until Christmas it is time to really think about how we can give to others.  So often the best gift of all is time and that is what secret #3 is all about.

Lots of us volunteer time and energy in December in the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas.  This is one of the most volunteer active times of the year.  Plan ahead now to spend some precious time helping others.  Do it as a family and make a new tradition.  Find that special community group or organization to add your energy in the mix or do more with your church.  Start looking for ways to help groups get ready for the holidays.  Help decorate local buildings, set-up the christmas pageant at church, or maybe stop by the hospital or local nursing home to see what is needed.  A great idea I read about was to start visiting a nursing home now.  Get to know some residents and really make a bond that will be so much more special to keep at the holidays and after.  I imagine so many seniors get excited about the rush of holiday volunteers and visitors only to have a depressing January when they are all gone.  Make a difference in someone’s life and be there.

I would guess that, for some, giving your own family the gift of your time would be a fantastic gift.  Plan your days to increase your time at home with the family 30 minutes a day until Halloween, then an hour a day until Thanksgiving, and then do fill that extra time with family interaction and fun!  Giving the gift of you and your time is really the most luxurious gift of them all.