My schedule for posting is all mixed up since I missed Friday completely. Posts for last Monday and Tuesday were responses to the sad and tragic murders in Newtown, CN, and now I need to write about something cheerful, especially since it is Christmas Eve.
A few weeks ago I invited a special group of friends over for Christmas Tea. We’ve been friends since our kids were young; In 1993 we became an intentional circle of six, planning to meet at least once a year. Even though we live in the same city our paths don’t cross very often. We started by having a sleepover once a year in a hotel or someone’s home; we’ve been on retreats together, and many times we just meet at a restaurant when our lives get so crazy busy. In March of this year we attended a retreat that used Ann Voxkamp’s book one thousand gifts as its theme, and we are still enjoying the ripple effect of that inspirational time. Four of us gathered at my home on a windy December afternoon last week as a cold front blew in for tea, goodies, and a little crafting.
This Christmas I’ve spent more time decorating, creating, and crafting than I have for a long time. Larry says I’ve gone from “nothing” to “everything”. Last year I only wanted a live Norfolk pine tree with a few butterflies. He puts up with my whims and obsessions with few complaints. Christmas has been a difficult time for me during the 10 years since Jennifer died, and we’ve done a variety of things during this season. I’ll share these coping strategies in another post, but I am very mindful of those who are experiencing the first Christmas without a person they loved. I can only tell you that the pain is not so raw as the years pass, but some years are harder than others. Sometimes it’s too hard to write about this grief or anyone else’s, so I choose to write today about our wonderful time of friendship, good food, and fun.
Getting ready for this tea required making a list of what needed cleaning, organizing, or trashing. I spend a lot of time reading blogs like Funky Junk Interiors, Miss Mustard Seed, and the Nester and always get good ideas. Since I’ve been in this extreme crafty mood I naturally started on making gifts for them to take home. Why start with the cleaning? It’s more fun to create.
I made three paper cones to hang on a Christmas tree out of scrapbook paper. I added some lace and rickrack, stuffed them with shredded paper, two soap snowflakes, some stems from an evergreen bush, and a hand made tag. They looked good and I had all the materials on hand. Fact is, I have more than enough materials from all the different projects I’ve started over the years. It’s time for some serious reorganizing but that can wait a little longer.
I had already purchased a new tablecloth, so I just needed some napkins. Found some at Target, thought I was buying four, but only two! Just cut them in half and hemmed them with a fancy zig-zag stitch. The thing about entertaining for me is that I usually think I need to buy some things. Luckily, a teapot was the only major item missing. I used Mama’s dessert plates that I remember her using when I was about ten years old. I don’t use them often but they were exactly what I needed for Christmas tea.
Holiday parties and meals are like avoiding landmines for people with food allergies. Nearly every dessert that is easy to make or can be purchased in a bakery contains wheat and/or milk — both are not safe for me. Not the gluten — not the lactose, but anything with any form of wheat or milk can send me into hives and lots more distress. So, when I made food for our Christmas Tea I made foods I could eat. Used a shortbread mix from Bob’s Red Mill that made Christmas cookies. I found two or three ways to change them up with powdered sugar and melted chocolate chips (that cannot be found on the bakery aisle of my Kroger store). Since I had some left over chocolate I dipped marshmallows in it and then added pecans. By the way, marshmallows are about the only sweet I can eat with no worries.
Since these cookies provided plenty of sweet along with some chocolate covered pecans, I needed something salty. Chex Mix is another great “safe” item for me IF I leave out the wheat chex and add my wheat-free pretzels from Wal-Mart. So, the only thing on my table that I could not eat was the pimento cheese I bought for the celery. Gotta have a little healthy with all the sweet.
By the time my friends arrived the table looked great and things were tucked away in closets or cupboards since I didn’t get everything put away. But the thing about baking is that I cannot create in the kitchen without a mess. I have to use a blend of flours when I’m baking – sorghum and oat flour, tapioca and potato starch work in most recipes. Love to use this old rolling pin, hand-made for my Grandma Johnson by Grandaddy. I am so thankful for my dishwasher that will take care of most of the mess!
After we ate I herded my friends upstairs to my craft/sewing/guest room. I had promised them I would teach them how to make a prayer cross. Lark found these lovely crosses in a little gift shop in Franklin and after some experimenting, I figured out how to make them with polymer clay. There was some resistance — not everyone shares my love for crafts, but soon all three had fashioned a cross that would fit their hand. I love to hold mine while I pray. It is such an anchor for reminding me that my Savior suffered on a rough wooden cross for me and all the sinners of the world.
Christmas is like the grandaddy of all holidays in America, kids love it for the presents, Santa, treats. Adults pull from Christmas’ past for good memories with family and friends, school plays, trips, special gifts. We have such expectations for Christmas – is this not the holiday with hundreds of “feel-good” movies where everything turns out right? But I don’t know anyone with the perfect memory of Christmas. The Christmas cards of snow covered trees and hills are not scenes from Tennessee. Even the perfect house can hide sadness, grief, or anger. We just want everything to be “fine” and can easily be disappointed when families argue or hearts are broken.
I encourage you to focus on your faith, your hope, your belief that God is still in control of this world. He planned for His son to live among us, die harshly to redeem all of mankind. Did He plan for us to focus so much on His birth? I don’t know, but it is a special time of the year to reflect on all the ironies of this birth of a King. God used the opposite of what most people were expecting of a Messiah – a young teenage girl, a birth in a stable, the babe’s bed a manger, celebrations by common shepherds with no gifts. The music of Christmas is rich with spiritual meaning and yet is known by even those who never enter a church. Pulling memories together from all your past Christmases I hope you can list many joyful gifts God has given you.
May you and all your family be healthy, joyful, and safe during these holidays.
Counting the joys of today:
- friends to share memories and good food
- family to share stories and fun
- children with shining eyes whose excitement is almost impossible to contain
- more than enough to eat and drink
- a warm and dry place to live
- lunch today with best friend and her new “family”
- party food I can eat without worrying about reactions
- sweet potato casserole, baked ham with honey glaze, and cranberry relish
- Christmas ornaments from each year of Jennifer’s life
- Christmas ornaments Mama saved, and we shared after she died
- old Christmas carols that still tell the story of Jesus’ birth
- family pictures that come in the mail this time of year