Saturday, December 20, 2014

Christmas Season In Italy 2009-2010~Precepe Vivente

Precepe Vivente ~ A Christmas Past

 I enjoy remembering Christmases Past.  One of the things that makes Christmas such a great time for most of us is the cultural traditions that unify us as believers in Christ.  Although some of the traditions vary from home to home, there is a common thread that runs through out.  I like that.  Our traditions are the times in our lives that are marked by special days.  Life would be pretty monotonous without these special times with family and friends.  We have spent two Christmases out of the country.  Once in Scotland and once in Italy.  Both of them were precious highlights, never to be forgotten in our lives.   Here is an edited and updated post from my Italian Blog that I am reposting here to give you the flavor of Christmas in Italy 2009-2010.  It was a joyful, enriching and inspiring time.  This experience really stands out vividly.

The hills and valleys of Italy are filled with The Nativity. It is such a beautiful sight and it has made me realize that here in America, with all of our 'political correctness,' we are doing our citizens a terrible disservice. Not to be able to display the symbols of Christ at Christmas would never fly in Italy. For this alone, I love their country.

People need visual reminders and not a soul in Italy can miss the Christ in Christmas. No matter what their religious beliefs, the degree of activity in their church or the lives they are living~at Christmas time they are reminded over and over again what their compass should be. 

We need this here in America. I like the term 'political correctness' because that is exactly what it is. Political! It isn't ethical, or spiritual correctness and it has nothing to do with what is right or true or good for us, most of the time. In denying the public displaying of the Nativity, we as Americans are shooting ourselves in the foot.  Big time!

That being said and climbing down off my soapbox, I want to share the experience we had on the day after Christmas. In Italy they savor Christmas. They start early and end late with their celebrations. (Whoops, back on the box for a minute.) Often times I have noticed the day after Christmas, all evidence of the money we have $pent during the holidays is removed visually from the malls and market places. Poof, it is gone, and that way it is hoped we will continue to $pend, $pend, $pend some more.  And someone is working Christmas night to make it happened by opening time the next morning. It is all about the retail over here. Not so in Italy. The world should take a lesson.

So we planned to go to a tiny mountain town called Maranola, near Gaeta to see the Living Nativity the day after Christmas. While Christmas had already vanished in the US, this was their opening day. We arrived early so we could stroll around Gaeta a bit.


The harbor walkway of Gaeta



One of the ships Robert had been to sea on while living here.
When JIm and I stayed here for a few days, a window in our hotel room
o
pened to a full view straight on of the back of the ship.
(Bow, stern, port? I never do remember these!)

The kids arranged a tour for us through the military services to go to see the Presepe and we all bundled up, drove to Gaeta, jumped on a bus and off we went. We didn't have much of an idea of what to expect~except rain. Rain, rain, continual rain. We had pretty much acclimated to that, but had no idea what it would mean to have it raining on this particular night. Can I just say flat out, I didn't like it one bit? At least not when it was happening.


This is a (blue hour, it is actually dark out here) 
view from the head of the line, 
it goes down a few flight of stairs
 to the bottom of the hill.

When we arrived at the ancient little town we saw a big line of umbrellas trailing up to the entrance to the little village. They only allowed so many people up into the village at one time. Crowding under the mass of umbrellas, we waited and wondered what was ahead. Huddling under umbrellas that are overlapping and touching each other is a curious thing. I think you actually get wetter from the run off of the umbrellas around you. Arrrgh! Can we say... grumpy?


Then the music started playing and that soothed me somewhat, even though we were already getting drenched and pretty cold. A man was playing some bagpipes for all to enjoy. It was nice. We looked up and saw little children looking out of their upstairs windows at this phenomenal line of people snaking through their village.  Moving as a crowd we made our way through the tiny streets. In spite of the physical challenges of old, uneven, wet and slippery stairs and walkways, it was wonderful to see the little vignettes they had created to represent the life of the people of Bethlehem at the time of Christ's birth.  It seemed we climbed halfway to heaven peering into these little transformed shops, tasting little goodies they had made and listening to them chatter with arms flying everywhere, and singing and playing music.  Everyone in the village participated and it was really an amazing sight. The ruggedness of the venue made it seem so authentic.  It felt like we were truly in Bethlehem!


I had to laugh at the clothes hanging out to dry!
We were drenched to the bone! Seriously my hair
looked like I had just stepped out of the shower.
(No photos, thank you very much!)

The thought of staying in those wet clothes 
for a bus ride and then a 90 minute trip
 to Teverola was not very appealing.
So we tried to push those thoughts
 away and enjoy the evening.  

"It is what it is,"
 went through my mind several times.

We came across a little chapel
near the top of the mountain.


Jim was in his glory with this adventure 
 and even more so when he met some
bonified, Italian boys scouts!


We climbed some more and came across
another ancient place of worship.
Check out the carving behind
Jim on the walls and the 3-D
fresco wall/sculpture below.


Wet kidlets!
The boys look so little here!


At last...drumroll...

What we came for, at the very top of the mountain.
They had even brought a huge ox up here. 
 I don't remember ever seeing a real ox before.
Do you?

Precepe Vivente~The Living Nativity
with the youngest baby of the village
as the baby Jesus
and his parents as Mary and Joseph.


Once down we had our dinner while
waiting for our tour bus to pick us up.
If you haven't tried a picnic on a mountain,
at night, soaked to the gills,
in December, in Italy...you should!
It is a relief to say, "Been there, done that,"
and then to move on!


Looking back from a nice, warm, dry perspective,
it was a great experience.  This love for Italy is forever!
They really know how to live life, 
enjoy everything and  honor their traditions.
We were so sad to even think about leaving.

La Dolce Vita...
Even when we were wet and cold and shivering.
This memory will bond us as a family for years to come.
We had four generation participating 
with Jim's mom there too.

Traditions, Bonding, Family
are all major components of  a 
Christ-Centered Christmas.

Hope you enjoyed this armchair visit to Italia!
Buon Natale!

Thursday, December 11, 2014

The Continuing Celebration of Christmas


Even before our written languages, man has been keeping a record of life.  We see this in cave art and in ancient traditions passed down from generation to generation.  Archaeologists continually uncover ancient artifacts that tell stories of the ancients that created them.  As Christians we know that historically, genealogies have been important through our study of the scriptures.  Exactly why is it so important to know who begat who back in those days?  Or even now for that matter? 

This is something I have been pondering for a long time and I have learned some things that are significant to our family in researching and discovering who we truly are.  If we pay attention to the history of who we come from, we learn valuable life lessons and get a grander perspective of life and spiritual matters. We understand who we are in deeper ways and it fortifies our gratitude as we learn of the lives of our forbearers.

If we think of our lives as just our own existence and the family members we actually know while they are alive our view is quite myopic.  It is a bit like living in one place all our lives and never seeing what goes on outside of that little triangle of home, school and work in that tiny community. Traveling outside of our tiny village and seeing life in a bigger wayspatially is very broadening and educational.  In the same way, looking beyond our living generations is too.  Both time and space are great teachers when it comes to a more comprehensive perspective of who we really are.


Our family has a heritage of being Christians that spans a period of nearly 500 years that I know of so far.  Not just our American ancestors but our Italians, our Swedes and our English and our Welsh born family members as well.  It includes our pioneers, our soldiers, our statesmen and our farmers. There are also our teachers, doctors and nurses and adventurers and our parents and grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins.  This Christian Heritage is as much a part of who we are as a family as our DNA. 

If we knew more of our ancestors and their descendants we would know that every major war has affected our family personally.  We have ancestors and family members that fought, were maimed or killed in the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, WW I and II and every conflict since.  We have lots of family that crossed that terrifying sea in the hopes and faith of a better life in America. Imagine for a moment the courage that took and the hardships endured which lead to blessings in our own lives.  That type of bravery can only be developed through faith in God and the hope of a good outcome.

As we come to know them we recognize that they had serious trials and they overcame them often with sheer grit and fervent prayers.  Their faith in God sustained them and brought them peace along the way.  Faith eased their fears as they moved forward in their struggles.  Because they chose faith in God they benefited from it.  God does not insist we believe, He invites us to develop a desire to come unto Christ and find rest in him.

Imagine how the Mayflower passengers felt when their companion ship, the Speedwell, sprung some leaks just out of the harbor and had to turn back! Had they not had that enduring faith in their God they would have truly been alone on the voyage at that point. Our ancestor was the only passenger to have made this voyage before, and his faith was important to them when times and waters got rough.

Many of our ancestors accepted that invitation to have faith in Christ.  Many found Him in their own time and in their own way.  We have found evidence of members of many sects in our family, Catholics, Baptists, Methodists, Congregationalists, Lutherans, Anglicans, Episcopalians, Seventh-Day Adventists, Pentecostals, and Mormons.

The compelling component in all of these religions 
is Jesus Christ born in that humble stable in Bethlehem of Judea.  

Their testimonies are reminders to us in times of trials and they have reassured us of who we are. People who have chosen faith.  Christians.  The sense of gratitude our ancestors had over the smallest things is humbling and a constant reminder of the Giver of every good thing. 

So it is uplifting and edifying to know we are a family that over centuries has chosen to believe.  Of course not everyone, as we all have our agency to choose, but many have had faith in Christ.  An understanding of that brings hope into our lives everyday.  We are a part of something bigger than a little nuclear family.  Our faith is something that is steadfast and not caught up in every wind of current affairs or doctrine, pop culture or politics sculpted by the media.  Holding fast to the iron rod of God's word has blessed us richly.

The earliest known baptism in our family was into The Church of England indicating faith in Jesus Christ.  It occurred in England on 30 April 1581 at Upper Clatford, Hampshire, England.  Stephen Hopkins was the infant son of John Hopkins and Elizabeth Williams.  I would suppose this indicates also that his parents were believers since it was an infant baptism.  That same Stephen Hopkins, one day found his way to the Mayflower.

Stephen Hopkins was a strong and faithful Christian.  He relied on his faith in God through a frightening shipwreck on his first journey to America, he suffered persecution for his thoughts of breaking from the rule of the Crown on that first trip to America while being marooned for months in Barbados.  On his return to America on the Mayflower, he was instrumental in resolving Native American conflicts, and turning them into an enduring friendship with the Wampagnog people on the shores of America.  He endured extreme poverty, deprivation and near starvation and the loss of his little son, Oceanus, the only child born on the Mayflower voyage, when he was but seven years of age.  Life was painfully hard in the early years of the colonization.  Through his faith Stephen prevailed.

That one thing is more significant to me than any notoriety regarding being on the Mayflower.  The greatest thing about all of that is that much is known and written about these early pilgrims.  That is the gem in finding them in our family tree. 

The significant thing here is that Christ and Christmas were important to our ancestors for many many generations.  And that it is central to our lives still today.  The message of faith and hope in Christ and the agency to chose for ourselves, is one of God's greatest gifts to us.  No one is forced, only invited.

Another of our ancestor's with a beautiful faith was, Lillie Briggs,  my paternal great-grandmother.


Lillie Briggs and Martin Allen Godfrey her husband.

Lillie came across the plains in a cover wagon with her parents, siblings and two other families when she was 13 years old; our own Julia's age.   They stopped each Sabbath Day to honor it, on their journey to North Dakota and to study and talk about the Gospel and to give thanks.  Sometimes they would pull up to a church building and listen to the sermons though the open windows from their wagons.  She wrote to her children shortly before she died and she bore testimony to them that she had prayed for them daily since she had come to know Christ and that they should do the same. 


Lillie left her testimony in this Bible 
she gave to her son Martin Willie Godfrey.

My Maternal Great Grandmother, Mary Davies, left her testimony in a little Welsh Bible that I have: She wrote on the covers the following in 1866:



The Translation of the little poem that is written
 on both the front and back covers of this Bible
is transcribed below. 
There is one missing page so I'm filling in contextually.

Mary Davies is my name
Troedywrair, Cilycum is my nation.
Penrhuviar is my dwelling place.
 Jesus Christ is my Salvation.
When I'm gone and in my grave
And all my bones be wroten (rotten)
In this Bible you'll find my name
So I'll not be quite forgotten.

**Place names spellings yet to be verified.


Here in St. Matthew, Mary learned of the mission of Jesus Christ in this tiny Welsh Bible.  It is such a blessing to have this one thing that testifies of who she really was. 

Obituary after obituary of our ancestors state what upstanding Christian people they were.  I know they were flowery back then when it came to obituaries, but they didn't have to say anything about a person's religion.  The description of their character was enough.  No matter how humble their lives were, they served others and lived good lives based on Christian principles. 


This Cape Cod church is a place we visited on our trip east this year.  This is the first church on the Cape and my ninth Great-Grandfather, Thomas Newcomb, was the minister here in Truro, Massachusetts.  He baptized six of his children in 1717 here in the original building built on this exact footprint.  The replica built in the early 1800s now stands on this place. Many ancestors are buried just to the viewer's right.  The spirit was very strong here for us when we visited.

Our Swedish ancestors were baptized and confirmed a member of their Lutheran churches on all of our lines and kept that faith long after they came to America.  Because of them my brothers and I were raised as Lutherans by our parents. 

Jim's Italian family brought their Catholic heritage from the old country to the new.  Some of them remained Catholic while others deferred to other sects like the Episcopalian faith and The Church of Christ.

 Some of our ancestors from England cared enough about their Christian faith and worshipping according to the dictates of their own hearts, to leave England and come to America where they could worship as they chose. 

The important thing to us is that they chose faith in Christ and it was central to them.  That gives us comfort to know they were blessed because of their faith as we have been.  It is wonderful to know Christianity has long been a life-changing tradition in our family.

So this season we celebrate Christmas with different cultural traditions than our forefathers did, but with the same intent.  We celebrate the Savior's birth in that stable in Bethlehem, but more importantly His life, teachings and example and above all, His Atonement for all of us.  If there cannot be peace on earth just yet, we can still find it in our faith in Christ.

After working with lots of people on their family history these past four years I would venture a guess your story is not that different than ours in many respects.  Your heritage, no matter what it may be, is a big part of who you have become.  May you find joy in who you are because of who they were.  Merry Christmas!


Sunday, November 30, 2014

Inspiration for Handel's Messiah

Google Images

The Christmas Season is here!  Ready or not here it comes.  There will be rushing and hustle and bustle.  This post is about stopping to enjoy this wonderful time of year.  It is not for anyone in a hurry.  It is for anyone who loves the Messiah, the most beautiful Oratorio ever written about the Prince of Peace.  This is not a performance of the Oratorio but the history of the people who came together by divine providence to create this most beautiful work.  This is not only something to watch and listen to but something to be experienced from beginning to end uninterrupted.  I have a feeling each of us is going to need it at some point when the exhaustive traditions get the better of us.  This will refresh and uplift and renew your spirit.  Enjoy!

http://byutv.org/watch/c981eb70-3199-4d1f-8a65-8fa6b70d6946/handels-messiah-handels-messiah#ooid=cyYmR4cTpzjcI1mI5PQOLQtapPJyw9sE




Friday, November 28, 2014

Christmas Cheese Ball~Reprise


There is just no good name for a cheese ball. If you can think of one for this recipe~let me know. It is made with Blue Cheese and Blue Cheese Cheese Ball doesn't cut it, in the best of all worlds. Instead of 'name that tune' we can play 'name that cheese ball!' Wanna play?

I have concocted this recipe over the years and we do make it a lot for various gatherings over the holidays. Even people that are not crazy about blue cheese love this. We were looking for a cheese ball that was colorful and Christmasy and delicious. You know how they are normally boring looking with no color and just rolled in nuts? Not this one, it just screams Christmas!

We think we have a winner here. Some people even invite us to their gatherings on the condition we bring this! It takes a little time (especially if you are photographing it) but is easy and I like that part. I am not into a bunch of labor intensive cooking. What I do love is cooking with my hubby, he is a natural in the kitchen. Lucky me! He says food talks to him...OK, so he is a little wacko!

Tomorrow is our big family dinner for our relatives that live in our area, so Jim and I are cooking up a storm. Speaking of wacko, it's Official~ I am totally wacko about blogging! I have discovered it is fun to cook, photograph and to stage the food. It is 10 times more fun that just cooking! Multi-tasking lives on!

Hmmm, people do not always sell their houses but...everybody eats. Maybe I can dabble in a new facet of design for me to supplement the mad money. Actually I am pretty much kidding because these photos need much improvement but we had a lot of fun cooking and shooting the process.  



Chop up some scallions or if you prefer,
some chives or a little finely chopped parsley for color.




Chop up some Craisins or 
dried cranberries
if you prefer calling them that.



Chop up some Walnuts



This is enough for four cheese balls.
Four bricks of softened cream cheese,
a bunch
 of blue cheese,
(I am not into exact measurements, sorry!)
Craisins, green onions, nuts 
and some garlic salt~
because everything
 that isn't sweet need garlic!

I put it in a big mixing bowl and start mixing it together.
Every time I start with a big spoon but soon
find it works
 best to mix it all by hand and 
shape into balls. Thus the name...cheese balls.
 Brilliant!


Here are the 4 cheese balls I varied 
the sizes for different purposes;
parties, gifts, or whatever.


I put my wedding rings on the cutting board
to remind you to remove them
as it is no fun getting the cheese 
out of 
the rings if you forget.

Stab it with a cute Christmas Spreader
~Fini~


Here I staged the food for you..
I had to put all these crackers back 
in the box afterwards!
A little Pomegranate Sparkling Cider 
is nice with it!

Try It, You'll Like It!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

When Little Things Mean A Lot!



For several years I have been writing posts about things I love and that I am grateful for in my life. Many of them are the big things in life, the gospel of Jesus Christ, our family, our friends, our health, having enough of what is needed, etc.  But many things on my lists are the little things.  The little things that add the nicities of life in small measure.   The ones that synergistically create a larger, more wonderful and abundant life.

As an example, look at the photo above.  I was browsing through my downloads in my electronic files and ran across this gorgeous photo of the sea.   I don't know where it came from  or who took this photo but there it was.  Just breathtaking!  As I clicked on that link I felt grateful for it, it lifted me up and brought me joy.  Part of being grateful in the small things is recognizing them and paying attention to our surroundings.  Part of being grateful is being able to relate something like this gorgeous photo to past memories or future dreams.  And then when we experience something like what I did out of the blue, we take that moment to appreciate it.  To see the beauty in it and to be grateful.    Gratitude is often found in the details of our lives.

So here are a few of the little things I love:

Texting and emails to and from people I care about very much.

Christmas lights when you first plug them in and rediscover the magic in them.

Hearing the rain hit the windows and trickle down while under the covers~all warm and cozy.

Working and playing with Jim.  We had a fun time setting up our Christmas tree last night.

The feeling of pushing through something difficult and coming through it!

I like reading our Guest Book, kept in our Guest Room and remembering the great times we've had.

Lunch out with friends.  I love being able to talk with them and just enjoying each other's company without an agenda or a schedule!  It is so nice.

Thinking about the lyrics of our hymns as we sing them on Sundays.  They are beautiful poems really.  Psalms.

Putting the last of the clean fresh laundry away.  Such a great feeling.

Reading through my blogs and remembering what a beautiful, full and blessed life we lead.

Being grateful, in general, because you can not be unhappy and grateful at the same time.  They are opposites.

Knowing that Thanksgiving Day is every day, not just a day in November when we eat turkey and think about pilgrims. Although that is great too!

How about you?  What are some of your favorite little things that mean a lot to you?

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

In the Midst Of An Ongoing Miracle


Hazel sitting up nice and tall.
This picture was taken 8 days post op.  

Some of you readers have known of Hazel's story since before she was born.  For those of you that are new you can read it here if so inclined.  Hazel's Story    The post from 2009 has some cute photos of her when she was very little.

Nine days ago she had the first of her surgeries to improve her posture due to severe curvature of the spine caused by Spina Bifada.  The surgery is called a VEPTR surgery (Vertical Expandable Prosthetic Titanium Rib).  This device is used over time to separate and lift her ribs and straighten her up.  It is in some ways comparable to Orthodontics.  In six months she will have another surgery to crank her ribs open a little more.  This will be repeated as necessary every six months until the desired effect is achieved and she no longer has undue pressure on her right lung.  From the days I worked in surgery I know that titanium is the only metal that does not cause scar tissue to form at the connection between the metal and the bone.  Thus it has the least likely chance of rejection.  It is a rare surgery but the hospital has a surgeon who specializes in the procedure.  That in itself is a miracle.  It helps to live within a few minutes now of the one of the best Children's Hospitals in the nation.

This is an x-ray of another patient who has had this procedure done.



This was a very serious and invasive surgery for a little girl weighing 32 pounds as of today. She's just barely seven years old.  Jen said they haven't actually measured her yet but we know she's a couple of inches taller already.  She was around 33 inches tall before the surgery last week. Maybe she'll hit three feet!


When her sisters and Grampa got to visit on day three,  
she was one happy little girl. 
Grampa snapped this picture.

Of course her Mom or Dad was with her all the time both day and night. Grampa was going to take a night shift on Friday but she got to come home that afternoon.   So he was spared from "sleeping" on those unlovely hospital chairs that supposedly convert into a "bed".  Oh, Jim just corrected that for me.  They actually had a better bed than the last time I was there.  Still it is nearly impossible to sleep with all the commotion.


This is day 4 and Hazel is beginning to look like herself again.  They let the kids order their own meals.  She got to call the kitchen and tell them what she wanted for breakfast.  Her choice was bacon and...not eggs or oatmeal, but mac and cheese!  She thought that was pretty fantastic.  Grampa was there that morning and said,  "Hazel don't you want something that is more like a breakfast food?" 
"OK Grampa I'll order an apple then too!"  I've never seen Hazel eat any fruit but I'm pretty sure I do know who did eat it.  Grrrraaammppa?


Julia and Hazie

Hazie was quite perplexed by waking up with a newly reconstructed body.  The first few days she did not want to move and getting her to want to get in the wheelchair wasn't easy.  We all felt like the changes were much more drastic than expected.  No one felt prepared and so days of adjusting and learning began on day two.  Learning how to hold her and even pick her up were needed.  Grampa said she felt heavier and with a different center of gravity and balance.  Coupling that with medications, etc. one might only imagine how she felt.

I was so happy that Grampa was there to help them with all the extra work and cooking and transporting of the other girls and doing the laundry.  I stayed here and fulfilled our duties and responsibilities and helped with a wedding that I had happily committed to long ago.  Dividing and conquering sometimes is needed to get it all done.  I'm glad he is such a great helper to them.  As for me if I had been there, I'd be the hugger and chatter with the girls.  The white tornado leaves very little room in his wake for an assistant.  He can run circles around most people.  He runs a pretty tight ship but he does allow Chloe to help him cook!  Now that is another sweet story for another day.


So yesterday Hazie had her first outing with Mom and things started to begin to look a little more like normal for them.  Her poor Mommy had a five day migraine almost immediately following the surgery.  There had to be so much stress and concern over this whole thing for her as one might imagine.  Thank heavens everything is going better now.  Slowly but surely the new things will become the new normal. 

Here at the park Hazel wanted to swing but it was too soon.  So her little doll, Ruby, is going for a ride.  Hazel is learning for the first time that she can use both her arms together more without tipping over or having to use her right arm for support while sitting up.  Miracle!


I like this quote but it doesn't fit Hazel exactly.  She is the farthest things from an ordinary individual I've ever known.  She is angelic, happy, determined and adaptable and full of love.  She loves her life and everyone she meets.  She does find strength to persevere and endure and progress in spite of overwhelming obstacles and she is a teacher to us all.  She is adored by all of us in our family.  Having her as our beautiful granddaughter does, indeed, place us squarely in the midst of an ongoing miracle.  Thanksgiving is everyday for us!