Thursday, December 25, 2008

Thankful Thursday ~ Christmas Past

This year Thankful Thursday is on Christmas Day. And what better day to be thankful. Iris took a poll to see how many people would be willing to blog on Christmas Day and since I voted YES, here's my post. I hope you'll also head over to Grace Alone to visit other thankful blog posts. Our thankful topic for today is Christmas past.

My family heritage is Norwegian. Both my mother and father's parents came from Norway. So many of their Norwegian Christmas traditions became part of our family's Christmas celebrations.

I remember Christmas Eve was a special evening. We went to my grandparent's house for dinner. The tree was decorated beautifully. My grandfather took pride in the miniature village he set up under that tree. He had a train that circled around and there were little houses, a church and even a skating rink with little people.

There were always lots of wrapped gifts underneath the tree. My Nana told us that we just missed Santa. He had dropped off the gifts but had to leave so he could visit other children's homes.

We were permitted to open our presents on Christmas Eve but only ...after dinner and the dishes were washed, dried and put away. As kids, we didn't mind helping since it meant we could get to the presents faster.

During our dinner, my grandfather always took out his worn leather Bible and read the Christmas story from Luke 2 and then he prayed. Then the rest of the family would join together and say this Norwegian prayer:

I Jesu navn går vi til bordså spise, drikke på ditt ord. Deg, Gud til ære, oss til gavn, Så får vi mat i Jesu navn. Amen.

The English translation is something like this: In Jesus' name to the table we go. To eat and drink according to His word. To God the honor, us the gain. So we have food in Jesus' name. Amen.

I remember all of the Norwegian cookes, cakes and other goodies we ate for dessert. I think my Nana must have baked for weeks. I loved the spritz cookies, the rice cram with chopped nuts, rosettes, the thin waffle type cookies that were rolled into a cone shape. Some of my Norwegian blogger friends may have to write down the names of the traditional sweets that I love so much.

I remember when I was little I used to love baby dolls. At the risk of really dating myself, here's a picture of me with my new doll and carriage one Christmas. Notice the tinsel on the tree. Most people don't decorate with tinsel now but at that time it was quite common.

My mom continued many of the family traditions through the years since my grandparents are no longer with us.

And now since my mom died, my sister Christine works hard to keep those traditions alive. She inherited my mother's love for cooking and uses the Norwegian American Christmas recipes to make it special and keep the memories alive.

I'm the only one who lives on the opposite side of the country so I have to work at integrating some of our family traditions with my husband's.

I'm so glad that our common theme is celebrate the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ.

I wish you all a blessed and a Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Who Is Santa Claus?

Who is Santa Claus? Is he a made up character to entertain children? Or was he a real person?

I just watched the remake of the movie "Miracle on 34th Street" for the upteenth time. Each time I view it, I find myself smiling just like a little kid! If you've never had the opportunity to watch it ...I highly recommend it. Kris Kringle is on trial. He claims that he's really Santa Claus but he doesn't have evidence. You must have faith to believe.

I began to think about Santa. I remember as a child getting so excited about Christmas. I wanted to be sure that I was good so I would get presents under the tree.

My dad dressed up as Santa Claus and he sure fooled me. This is an old black and white picture and the little girl is me and Santa is my dad. Little did I know!

But I was also taught that Christmas was the day we celebrated Jesus' birth.

So, how do you reconcile Santa Claus and Jesus?

I have a book called "The Adventure of Christmas". It was written by Lisa Whelchel for moms to help them teach their children about Christmas. It really focuses on helping the children find Jesus in those traditions.

Since I learn best as a child, I unpack this book every year and reread it. I mentioned it in a previous blog post. I'm glad that one of the chapters Lisa covers is about Santa Claus.

Lisa told the true story of a young man name Nicholas who lived about the time of the third century in what is now modern day Turkey. He loved God very much. His family was quite wealthy and when Nicholas received his inheritance, he began to give it away to the poor and needy people. He would often give the gifts secretly and ...he especially enjoyed giving to children.

You'll have to read the rest of the story for yourself, but hundreds of years later, Nicholas was declared Saint Nicholas. It was pronounced Sinter Klaas by the Dutch. Another word used to refer to him was Kris Kringle which comes from the Dutch word 'Christkinkl', meaning "Christ child". The name was originally created to help refocus people's attention on Jesus ...who is the true gift giver.

So, what does Santa Claus, Saint Nicholas and Kris Kringle tell us? Although Nicholas gave gifts, God is the best gift giver of all.

God has such a loving giving heart that He chose to send His only Son into this world to save us.

Jesus is the real gift of Christmas. But in order to receive this gift, we must choose to appropriate it for ourselves. Otherwise, it's just another gift we hear about but never experience for ourselves.

May you experience the true meaning of Christmas this year!

Monday, December 22, 2008

The Impact of a Life ~ Remembering Georgia

It's with much sadness that I write this post about my friend. Georgia had been sick for some time and on Wednesday she died.

Although I will miss her, it's comforting to know that she's no longer in pain and can breathe easy. And I am so grateful for the impact that Georgia had on my life.

Sometimes people don't realize that a seemingly small act can have a ripple effect. This is what happened with Georgia.

I met Georgia about 16 years ago while I was working as a nurse in a cardiology practice. We bonded quickly as we discovered that we were both born with the same congenital heart defect. The difference was that mine was discovered when I was a child. Open heart surgery was performed to correct the defect early enough before any irreversible changes occurred within my heart. I was able to lead a normal active lifestyle.

But Georgia wasn't so fortunate. Her heart problem wasn't identified until after she was an adult and so the changes in her heart were much more challenging. She had surgery but the results weren't as good as had been hoped. She was evaluated at several medical centers and given experimental medications but eventually had to realistically acknowledge that her time was limited along with her activities.

I owe Georgia a debt of gratitude. She knew that I had begun to read my Bible and encouraged me to begin to attend Bible Study Fellowship. I had never even heard of this worldwide organization but Georgia thought this was the training that I needed to learn. She kept talking about homiletics and at that time, I didn't understand what she was talking about. But the very first time I attended, Georgia was sitting right beside me. And I was hooked. I had been so hungry to learn and this was just what I needed. Georgia was so right!

I think about all of the blessings I would have missed if Georgia hadn't taken the time to reach out and invite me to BSF.

I had the wonderful opportunity to become a children's leader for almost 8 years. Since I was unable to have children of my own, this was very special for me. The first time I told the children the Bible story, they ran up and gave me a big group hug. I remember feeling God's love like never before as I felt Him whisper that He never forgot my desire for children. And what better privilege than sharing God's Word with the little ones? It brings tears to my eyes when I think about that.

I met so many of my lifelong friends at BSF. If you click on the link to BSF, there's a short video in the lower left corner titled "Experience a class". The teaching leader of that men's class is my friend Todd and he is my good friend Jamie's husband.

Although this family has since moved to San Antonio, we continue to remain good friends. I initially met them through their daughter Ellie, when I was her BSF children's leader. She was only two years old when she was in my class. Ellie is now 10 years old and very smart and mature. And she still attends BSF in Texas.

I think of my special group of 12 women. For several years now, we get together once a month for lunch, laughter and prayer. I met each one of these women in BSF. All of us at one point were in leadership. And a few continue to serve as teaching leaders or discussion leaders. These women are friends for life. We hold each other up when we're going through the challenges of life and we laugh through good times. Through it all, we pray for one another. And because of Georgia, I had the opportunity to be mentored by Susie, a woman I greatly admire.

If you ever feel like you can't make a difference ... remember Georgia. Here was a woman who had previously taught Bible studies but had to adapt to a more sedentary life. But in the midst of her challenging circumstances, she chose to be content. And I believe she was greatly used of God. Georgia was a prayer warrior for so many people. She and her prayer partner Lori continued to meet on a weekly basis.

Psalm 116:15 says "Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints."

Georgia, I'm so glad to have the assurance that you're being welcomed into our Lord's arms. And one day I will see you again. Thank you for the gift of your precious friendship.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Christmas Breakfast Fun

This morning, I attended a Christmas breakfast. Our Life Group Bible study decided to have the breakfast in place of our normal weekly gathering since it's Christmas week.

This is a new class for all of us. Since we're still just getting to know one another, the breakfast was a fun way to gather in a more informal and casual setting.

Katherine and Dave generously opened up their beautiful home to our group. Between the egg casseroles Katherine had prepared and the extra sides everyone brought ... we had plenty to eat. Nobody left hungry, that's for sure.

Katherine and Dave

Steve and Marcia; former missionaries

Richard and Theresa, my long time friends

Christine; you should hear her sing!

Mickie; another great singer

Andy, Meredith and little Quinn

The girls in frontof the Christmas tree: Marcia, Debbie, Theresa, Christine, Katherine and Meredith

There's something very special about making the choice to share good times with new and old friends. It's really good for your heart and health.

We had such a good time talking, laughing, eating and even praying.

This sign for the leftover pop tart was a joke since Meredith and Andy were going to be late. Mickie told them that pop tarts were all he knew how to make.

Dave and his very special friend served us and ... they did a great job.

Thank you Katherine and Dave for hosting our breakfast.

Thank you to all of the members of our Life Group Bible study.

Merry Christmas to all!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Michael W Smith - Welcome to Our World

Michael W. Smith is one of my favorite Christian music artists. I fell in love with this song when I first heard Michael sing this on Direct TV Christmas show. The words are so meaningful. I hope you enjoy it too.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Christmas Tea at the Phoenician

The Phoenician is one of the loveliest resorts in Arizona.

Each year, I've been so thankful to receive an invitation to the Christmas tea at the Phoenician from my good friend Terri. Because it's so popular, Terri has to make the reservations in early October.

Our annual tradition began about 12 years ago. Terri's mother Eileen was a patient in a cardiology practice where I worked. I always looked forward to their appointments. No matter how Eileen was feeling ... she was always such a bright spot in my day. Eileen had the most beautiful smile and Terri looks just like her mom.

It was easy to become good friends. And Eileen always told Terri and I that she was so glad we were friends. Although Eileen has since died, we always remember her smiling face as Terri and I reminisce about the fun times we had with her mom.

I want to share some of the photos I took this year. The Phoenician resort and grounds are simply beautiful.

This is the view when I first drove up the winding drive to the front entrance. The flowers were so colorful and pretty.

As I walked into the hotel, the lobby was decorated with a huge Christmas tree. The sound of the fountain is so soothing and peaceful. This place is so elegant.

Live piano music was being played and I recognized some of my favorite Christmas carols.

Terri and her cousin Janet were waiting for me when I arrived. They were already having a good time.

Take a look at the cute little sandwiches. The china tea set was so beautiful and just sets such an elegant mood to the whole affair.

We were so excited to have Wanda as our server. She's been with us for the past two years and is so efficient and kind. We were so touched when she told us that she had prayed to God just that morning that He would give her kind people to serve that day. She said He answered her prayer. And that touched our hearts.

This is the huge edible gingerbread house. The culinary staff had been in a local competition.

We stepped out on the veranda to take a few photos of the view.

The bottom of the pool is mother-of-pearl. Can you believe it? This resort was built by Charles Keating and he spared no expense.

This was the view as we were waiting for our cars.

If you ever come to the Phoenix area, be sure to take time to stop at this resort. I'm sure it would be a treat to stay here as a guest, but if not, come by to take a few pictures. The views are fantastic. The weather yesterday was in the low 60's but the sun came out so it was pleasant.

I'm glad I could share our Christmas tea at the Phoenician with you. Thank you Terri!

Do you have any favorite traditions that you'd like to share? I'd love to hear from you.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Thankful Thursday ~ Random

The theme for this week's Thankful Thursday is random. First of all, I want to thank Iris of Grace Alone, who is the host of Thankful Thursday's. It's been a blessing to participate each week, especially since this has been a very challenging time in my life.

Making the choice to focus my attention on all the things for which I can be grateful has been so helpful.

It's all a matter of perspective. How do you view life? Do you see the glass as half emtpy or it actually half full?

My desire is to view my life through a lens of gratefulness. And it starts with a simple choice.

The Bible says in Philippians 4:8 "...whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable - if anything is excellent or praiseworthy - think about such things."

So, instead of thinking about all the bad things that could possibly happen, what if instead begin to focus on what is praiseworthy?

May I suggest that you consider keeping a thankful journal? This is a great way to focus your attention on what is good, right and lovely in your life.

And then if you have a difficult and challenging day, you can open your thankful journal and remember how good God has been to you in the past. And that will give you hope for today.

I am thankful that I had a day to spend with my friends from San Antonio, Texas. I had been sad when this family moved away from Arizona. But, I'm thankful for the times when they come to visit their family and that they take the time in their busy schedule to spend with me. Thank you Todd and Jamie!

I'm also excited and thankful that today I am going to the Phoenician resort for Christmas tea. My friend Terri has invited me each year and it's become an annual event that I look forward to with great anticipation. I will take pictures and blog about it tomorrow. The Phoenician is always so beautifully decorated for the holidays. With good food and great friends, what's not to like? And it's one more thing I can write about in my thankful journal.

How about you? Do you see the glass as half empty or half full? Will you make the choice to focus on all you have to be thankful for today? I want to hear from you.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Decorating for Christmas

Decorating for Christmas can be such fun. I've enjoyed touring so many of your homes through your blogs. And I have to say, many of you go all out and are quite creative. You've given me some fresh new ideas for next year.

This is my tree fully decorated. We place it in our family room and most of the decorations have been accumulated over the years. Some were gifts from friends. Whenever we travel, I always look for a Christmas ornament to bring home and hang on the tree.

A close up of a few of the decorations.

This is our great room. The kitchen table is decorated with a Norwegian tablecloth that I got from my mom.

This is a close up picture of the tablecloth.

I guess I've combined American items with Norwegian. Bullwinkle seems to like the little Jule Nissen.

This is a book that I bring out each Christmas to read and reread. Lisa Whelchel does a great job writing about the meaning behind many of the traditions of Christmas, including caroling, lighting the tree and the meaning of Advent. It's written for children but I guess I'm still a big kid. I enjoy reading this one over and over.

I'm glad you came to visit me through my blog this Christmas season. Thank you for stopping by.

Holiday Weight Gain

Gaining weight during the holidays seems to be a problem for many people. After all, it's a time of year to celebrate and rejoice.

With so many parties and all the family get togethers, who can say no to the traditional holiday foods and especially those sweets? Just take one look at that fantastic spread of yummies in the photograph from Food Network.

So, we give in and indulge. And then we justify our choices with a decision that after the new year ... weight loss will be a priority.

After all, isn't that what New Year's resolutions are for?

I recently read a Wall Street Journal Health blog post written by Jacob Goldstein. He cited studies that indicate that people gain on average only one pound during the holiday season.

Frankly, that surprised me. I thought the average weight gain would be higher. Even though one pound doesn't sound like much, it's the accumulation of one pound per year that adds up. If you gained only one pound a year, in 10 years you would be 10 pounds heavier. And your clothes wouldn't fit.

Before you think I'm going to recommend that you just say no; I won't. But I have a few tips to share that may help you survive and ...even thrive in this time of temptation.
  • Exercise: There's no getting around it. If you take in more calories than you're burning, you'll gain weight. During this season, if you know that you won't be able to resist some of the higher calorie treats, schedule in a time of exercise at least 4-5 times a week. Go for a walk, work out at the gym or at least ...park a distance from the stores so you have no choice but to walk.
  • Limit portion sizes: Instead of eating the whole bag of candied nuts, portion out a handful and then put the rest away. Are you planning a Christmas dinner menu with full courses of your family favorites? Take smaller portion sizes for yourself and don't forget that the calories consumed while tasting actually count.
  • Food bank your calories: This is a different kind of food bank than you might be thinking. When I first moved to Phoenix 25 years ago, I was single and my roommate was a dietician at the Arizona Heart Institute. Jayne used to teach the patients that food banking was a fun way to splurge while staying on a diet. She told them that if they knew they were going to a special dinner or party a week in advance, they could save up 100 calories a day and at the end of the week they'd have an extra 700 calories to splurge. Something to consider with all those temptations?
  • Eat slowly: This is a major challenge for me because I tend to eat very fast. By the time I realize I'm full, I've already overeaten. One of my goals is to be mindful of what I'm eating and to enjoy each bite, instead of devouring it and not actually tasting the food. Remember, it takes about twenty minutes for the brain to register fullness.
  • Fill up on fruits and vegetables: By eating five or more servings of fruits and vegetables, you can fill your stomach up without consuming loads of calories. If you compare them to chips, cookies and candy, those fruits and veggies contain less calories and are healthier for you. And the fiber in fruits and vegetables fills you up faster than tradional snacks.
  • Focus on people: Instead of consuming yourself with food during this season, focus on spending time with people. If you're at a party, instead of standing by the table laden with yummy treats, why not walk around and engage others in conversation? This is the time to celebrate. Remember the reason for Christmas is to celebrate the birth of Christ Jesus. So, share that love with others.

This list is far from complete but then again, I love to ask you to add your thoughts. I love to read your comments.

So, do you have any tips to add to the list? What's worked for you? Or maybe what gets you tripped up during this season?

Am I a kid or what?

Am I a kid or what?

I love this place...Carmel, CA

I love this place...Carmel, CA