Blogmas 2018: Christmas in the City, Part 1

selective focus red baubles

Photo by Deena on Pexels.com

Well, it was bound to happen. I looked at the clock and it was 11:30 pm and I hadn’t yet written a blog post. So here is a slap-dash bit about my day.

Tomorrow morning my brother Matt is leaving for Oregon for Christmas. I’m not going home until January 4, because cheaper tickets. And also, my sister Amy is in Thailand over Christmas, so our family Christmas won’t be until Three King’s Day anyway.

So Matt said I could stay in his apartment over the holiday.

Well it turns out that Angie, my Delaware roommate, didn’t really have Christmas plans. Her siblings were hanging out with their in-laws, and her parents weren’t coming until After Christmas. So we’re going to have Christmas together in the city.

So yeah, today I went out for tea with a friend in the morning, and then lazily packed everything up in the afternoon, and then said goodbye-but-not-goodbye to Angie and drove over to the city and spent the evening with Matt. (Angie’s not coming until Christmas Eve.)

I should start Googling fun stuff to do in the city, so that I’ll have a more interesting blog post on Saturday.

Blogmas 2018: The Lowly Manger Scene (Guest Post)

shallow focus photography of religious figurines

Photo by Jessica Lewis on Pexels.com

Today, I’m sharing a guest post by author Rebecca Greenfield. I met Rebecca when we sat next to each other at a book signing in Ohio. She arrived prepared, and I arrived without even business cards to hand out. When I went looking for post-it-notes to write my contact information on, she said, “I have extra!” magically producing them from her bag and handing them over.

She also provided me with hand sanitizer when I needed it. And now, she’s providing me with a lovely Christmas-themed devotional musing for me to guest post on my blog. Enjoy!

The Lowly Manger Scene

Mary, Joseph and a sweet little baby sleeping on a patch of straw. There is something so humble, yet inviting, about this scene. So often our best laid plans are thwarted. Sometimes the failed expectations can be heartbreaking, but that is where we must trust that God is behind it. He is working, and He can bring purpose out of senselessness. When we find ourselves in our own lowly manger scene, we must recount His goodness and muster up a sacrifice of thanksgiving.

-We thank God for the manger– how utter pure, simple, organic it was, but yet the Son of God was protected, safe and sheltered. The prophesies of the long awaited Messiah were finally fulfilled.

-We thank God for the journey to the manger– how rough, long and exhausting it was, but it stripped away the pride of the heart and created an interdependence on the Father.

-We thank God for the closed doors at the inn– the “no” seemed so harsh, ungenerous, and selfish but yet in the “no,” Mary and Joseph found themselves together with ox and lamb privately and so intimately welcoming the Creator of the Universe into His creation.

This is the Christmas Story– so simple, so unassuming, so raw, so unannounced- but in it we see that God uses all things for His glory and purpose. In it we find that thwarted plans and ordinary moments are exactly where God likes to place His fingerprint of divinity. And in it, we see that God does not need the lime light, power, prestige, or popularity to make Himself known. He is not limited by Inn Keeper “no’s” or “Caesar Decrees” or flawed individuals. His good and perfect will transcends the false, earthly presuppositions because He is faithful, trustworthy and capable of finishing the good work He has begun.

May you find comfort this Christmas in the meek and mild.
May you find peace in ordinary simplicity.
And may you find hope in the One who came over 2000 years ago to save you and love you forever.
“God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.”
2 Corinthians 9:8

www.Rebecca-Greenfield.com
@greenfieldmills
Follow at https://millsmanna.wordpress.com/

Blogmas 2018: Christmas Parties in Delaware

Friendsgivingmas

I’m part of a friend group in Delaware, which is quite nice. It’s a way to get social interaction without the stress of feeling like you have fifteen people you should call up and schedule a time to hang out with.

My first week here they hosted a Thanksgiving dinner/$5 gift exchange, which they dubbed “Friendsgivingmas.”

For some reason I always struggle with these white elephant type gift exchanges, feeling like I should get something cool and impressive. And in the end I always buy something tea related, which I guess means tea is my love language, but that’s a little silly because lots of people don’t even like tea.

So this time I showed up with a funny mug I’d bought at a thrift store and some Oregon Chai chai latte mix. I thought it was fitting, you know, since i’m from Oregon.

I don’t know why I stress about things like this. There is always, always, something worse. Like this time, Matt opened the gift that Mike had brought. It was a hat.

“Hey!” said Matt. “This came from the dollar store!”

Matt knew this because his own present had also come from the dollar store, though he had actually spent the required $5 on it. Within the heavy box, tied up in duct tape and decorated with sharpie snowmen, were five jars of pickles and a pair of robot socks.

Noah ended up with a red Christmas mug in a clear plastic gift box. “You can give it to Dad and tell him you got it at The Branch ten years ago!” joked his brother Nate.

“What’s The Branch?” I asked.

“A Christian bookstore that closed down ten years ago,” said Nate.

“So…where did this mug come from?”

The other Nate, who had brought the gift, piped up. “I bought it back then, and have saved it ever since. You know, for something like this.”

A Christmas Carol

One evening we all went to see A Christmas Carol at a nearby church. I was excited, hoping for some nostalgia, as I haven’t seen the play since I was in it in 2011.

The nostalgia didn’t exactly come, because it was a different version. A musical version. I kept waiting for the Cratchit children to march around the table chanting “The goose! The goose! Yeah, the goose!” but it didn’t happen.

Still, I mean, I love musicals. So I wasn’t exactly disappointed.

The Christmas Mystery Supper

This was technically a youth group event, but most of the friend group members were there. We had a “mystery supper,” where you choose menu items based on funny, misleading names. You might think, for instance, that “Christmas cheer” would make a good appetizer, but when it arrives you find that it is nothing but some sprinkles.

My enjoyment of mystery suppers, I’ve noticed, has decreased drastically with age.

There was a gift exchange this time too, only it was for a $5-$10 gift.

Now, when you have to pack up everything you own once a month and shove it into your car, you become a big less enthusiastic about receiving gifts. At Friendsgivingmas I’d had the good fortune to snag a large bag of peanut m&m’s, which of course didn’t last very long. But at the mystery supper I deliberately chose a very small bag, hoping for something useful and portable, like a gift card.

Imagine my surprise when it turned out to be…nine chapsticks. With a festive note attached.

20181212_232046

I was delighted.

See, there are certain things that I tell myself I will have when I am rich. Like pretty pajamas that match each other. Or a really nice, precise pair of tweezers. And one of the things I dream about is having enough chapstick that I never run out of chapstick. So that I can literally have a stick in every purse, every coat pocket, my sewing basket, and beside my bed.

(Yes, I grew up poor. And put myself through college without any debt. Hence the poor-person-you-can’t-treat-yourself-like-ever mentality, LOL.)

I was terrified that someone was going to steal those nine precious chapsticks away from me. But round after round passed, and I kept them each time. I wasn’t in much danger. No one really seemed to want chapstick. But I suppose if it had come down to chapstick or the Tupperware container of coal, the chapstick would have been stolen.

So now I feel quite wealthy. I even had an extra chapstick to give away to Angie one evening when she needed chapstick.

The funniest moment of the whole exchange, though, was when someone opened a square-ish packing and, what do you know! There was the red mug from The Branch again! Noah had re-gifted it from Friendsgivingmas.

We played several games, some sillier than others, and ended with musical chairs. The first and second place winners were promised a cash prize. Oh my!

Goodness, it had been years since I played musical chairs. Like, probably eighteen years. But eighteen years ago I was really good at musical chairs. Would my talent hold up?

We marched around the circle of chairs, stepping in time to the music, scrambling to our seats whenever the music stopped. Slowly the circle grew smaller and smaller. And I discovered that musical chairs is the opposite of mystery suppers. The delight of it does not diminish with age.

Then there were six of us, five of us, four of us, three of us. “You’re all crowding so close to the chairs!” One boy complained, watching us.

It was two of us, now. “This time, you have to stay an arm’s length away from the chairs,” said Johnny, who was organizing the game. “Actually, you have to hold out your arms like this. And you have to skip.”

So the two of us remaining, me and a girl in white I didn’t know, skipped around the chair holding out our arms like airplanes. All strategy was out the window at that point. If I was on the far side of the chair when the music stopped, I would lose. So I just had fun skipping.

And lost.

Or rather, got second place, and a $10 prize. The girl in white got $20.

The Ugly Sweater Christmas Party.

Nate declared that it was an “ugly sweater Christmas party,” not an “ugly Christmas sweater party.” This mattered because the 5 lb wool monstrosity he wore was not Christmas-related at all. It was purple, with giant mismatched buttons and a tag that read “made with love by granny.”

I took my ugliest sweater and added a $0.25 bow from the thrift store.

20181214_175700

This party was full of adults, so there was no mystery to the meal, and no one played musical chairs. There were, however, plenty of silly games. Like, one where we drew pictures on paper plates that we held on top of our heads. And one where we shoved balloons into pantyhose to make reindeer horns.

For the last game, we split into three teams and played a quiz game called “Family Feud.” We could discuss ideas as a team before guessing, but some people’s ideas were getting lost in the frantic shuffle. So I, utilizing my Prestigious Bachelor’s Degree in Communication, started writing down people’s ideas as they tossed them out, using the other side of a paper plate we’d used for the first game.

For the last round, we had to list the five worst gifts from “The 12 Days of Christmas.” I started frantically listing them. “Maids a milking!” “Lords a leaping!”

We won the game. No prize, but someone shouted “no fair, they have a writer on their team!” and that was a prize in and of itself.

The Progressive Christmas Supper

Finally, tonight there’s a progressive Christmas supper, where church members go over to each other’s houses to eat Christmas food together. One place serves dinner. One desert. One soup. Etc.

My landlord Rachel, who lives upstairs, hosted the soup course. So the whole friend group came here last, and ended up down in my and Angie’s quarters in the basement.

Fun times.

I’m going to be leaving Delaware in less than a week, so I won’t spend Christmas here. But the Delaware Christmas parties so far have been second to none.

Blogmas 2018: Christmas Songs that Don’t Make Sense

people standing inside church

Photo by Blue Ox Studio on Pexels.com

A reader suggested that I do a blog post about my favorite Christmas songs. Instead, I decided to post about Christmas songs that don’t make sense. Does that make me a cynic? Perhaps.

But seriously, as a writer, lyrics matter to me. And Christmas songs are in a category of their own as far as weirdness goes. This isn’t even a comprehensive list, just the ones that occurred to me.

Category A: Songs with Extremely Confusing Grammar

1. How Should a King Come

He shall dine upon summer straw, berries and, milk.

What the bunnyslipper is summer straw, and why is a king eating it?? I wondered this for years. Even though I eventually learned that it’s supposed to be “summer strawberries,” it still annoys me. If you put a pause between two halves of a compound word, it becomes two words. That’s the rule.

2. Hark the Herald Angels Sing

This lyric is so grammatically bad that it could have so many different meanings:

“Hark!” sang all the herald angels.
You should hark, because the herald angels are singing!
“Hark the herald!” sing the angels.
You should hark, because the angels are singing a herald.

You could probably think of more. For my part, I always imagine herald angels yelling “hark!” What is a herald angel, you might ask? I have no idea. There are all sorts of angels, why not herald angels? Maybe they’re the angels that give heralds. Maybe they’re all named “Herald.” Maybe they’re all guardian angels of guys named “Herald.”

Again. Countless interpretations.

3. We Three Kings

We, three kings, of Orientar

Where is Orientar, you might ask? Why, it’s where the wise men came from! Duh!

“Orientar” has the opposite problem of “summer straw, berries and, milk.” If you smash two words together, it sounds like one word.

And it’s much, much worse if you use a grammar structure that literally no one uses in real life.

“Hey Emily, where are you from?”

“I from Oregon am.”

“Huh?”

“Well I from Canada was, but I to Oregon moved when I was four, and then I around did moved for awhile, and now I in Delaware am.”

“Okay…”

Category B: Songs With Extremely Dubious Messages

4. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

I always though Rudolph’s story was kind of cute. I mean, this poor reindeer was an outcast, but then he found his place in the world!

But a few years ago I read a blog post that dug into it a bit more. I wish I remembered were it was so I could give them credit, but anyway, look closely at these lyrics:

All of the other reindeer, used to laugh and call him names
They never let poor Rudolph, play in any reindeer games
Then one foggy Christmas eve, Santa came to say
Rudolph with your nose so bright, won’t you guide my sleigh tonight?
Then all the reindeer loved him, as they shouted out with glee
“Rudolph the red nosed reindeer, you’ll go down in history!”

So let me get this right. The other reindeer bullied him for being different. Then, as soon as they saw that he was useful/would go down in history, they suddenly loved him.

What sort of message is that? Become useful or noteworthy, and people will stop bullying you?

If it’s supposed to be an anti-bullying message, like, we should appreciate the unique talents of those who are different than us, then why didn’t the other reindeer receive any consequences, or experience any remorse?

5. I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus

I still remember my mom explaining this song to me when I was a child. “The Daddy was dressed up like Santa Claus, so the Mommy was kissing him. But the boy didn’t know it was really his Daddy, not Santa.”

As a child, I accepted this explanation. As an adult, I am very dubious. In what world it is cute and funny that a child legitimately thinks his mom is kissing and tickling someone who’s not his Daddy? Ew.

Honorable Mentions: “Santa Baby.” “Baby it’s Cold Outside.” (Can we just not use the word “baby” in Christmas songs unless we’re talking about the actual Baby Jesus?) “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.” (He sees you when you’re sleeping???)

Category C: Wait…What??

6. Silent Night

Round, yon virgin, mother and child

What does this line even mean?

My best guess is that “round yon” means “around yonder…” but isn’t that an odd thing to put in a song? And it makes me think of a round, pregnant belly. (I’ll give this one a gracious pass, though, because I’m sure translating a song is all sorts of difficult.)

(ETA: I have more clarity on this thanks to a reader who says:
In “Silent Night” it is simply an issue of how we hear the separation of the phrases. It means that all is calm and bright around the virgin mother and her Child.

Makes so much more sense now. Thanks!)

7. It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas
Soon the bells will start
And the thing that will make them ring, is the carol that you sing
Right within your heart

Huh? Where are these bells that will “start?” And if I sing a carol in my heart, they’ll ring? How is that different than “starting?” And why are we singing carols in our heart to make some bells ring? I’m so confused!

8. Frosty the Snowman

So, there’s obviously a lot of weirdness in this song. Why is there a magic hat that makes a snowman come alive? Should we be worried that the children are following him? Why will he be back again someday?

However, this stanza takes the cake:

He led them down the streets of town
Right to the traffic cop
And he only paused a moment when
He heard him holler stop

Am I hearing this right? Did Frosty the Snowman cross a street when the traffic cop told him to stop? Just…why???

9. Here Comes Santa Claus

Most Christmas songs can be neatly divided into Christian Christmas songs, about baby Jesus and Mary and Bethlehem, and secular Christmas songs, about Santa and Frosty and snow.

However, “Here Comes Santa Claus” weirdly mixes the two genres. So it has lines like

Santa Claus knows we’re all Gods children
That makes everything right

And

Peace on earth will come to all
If we just follow the light
So lets give thanks to the lord above
That Santa Claus comes tonight!

Maybe if you have Christian parents who also told you Santa was real, this makes sense to you. But as someone who was always told that Santa was just a story, this genre mixing seems very bizarre to me.

Honorable mention: “The 12 Days of Christmas.” Too much oddness to even unpack.

That is the end of my list. And listen. I can happily sing “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” while Christmas caroling, or feel warm Christmas fuzzies as “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas” plays on the radio as I Christmas shop.

But let’s be real. When I think “Christmas music,” I don’t think of lovely songs I listen to over and over. I think of the bizarre lyrics that permeate the genre.

I’m not usually a Grinch when it comes to Christmas related things, but I guess in this one area I am, haha.

Blogmas 2018: Seven Affordable Gift Ideas for Single Brothers

man in red crew neck sweatshirt photography

Photo by bruce mars on Pexels.com

Buying gifts for your single brothers is tough. Trust me I know…I have three of them (although before you single ladies rush to befriend me,  you should know that two of them have girlfriends this year). As a general rule, single brothers don’t sit around dreaming of pottery tea pots and vintage books. If they need something, they go out and buy it. Their “wish list” consists of expensive gadgets which you might not be able to afford.

Your job, as a sister, is to get them the things they don’t realize they need. Visit them at their bachelor pad, or sneak into their room if they still live at home, and poke around a bit. What’s missing?

1. Plants

Plants are a great way to decorate a manspace without it looking too feminine. Also, some plants act as air fresheners. Yes please!

2. Guest Towels

If your brother has his own place, he’ll most certainly have everything he needs, but does he have everything his guests might need?

3. Cosmetics

Guys are often of a practical bent, buying only the most basic cosmetics for themselves. They often won’t splurge on the good-quality nice-smelling stuff, but if you pick some out for them they’ll appreciate it!

4. Clothing

Sometimes, as a girl, you have a better sense of what colors and styles look great on him, and what’s missing from his wardrobe.

5. Books

In my mind, books always work as a gift. Whatever your brother is interested in, get him a book on the subject. It might be a book about business, or a hiking guide. It might be a biography about one of his heroes, or a juicy mystery  novel. Or, if he’s the kind of guy that doesn’t have time to read much, get him an audio book! He can read on his way to work.

6. Food

Food is another thing that everyone appreciates, always. If your brother has a bachelor pad, cook him some meals or baked goods that can be popped in the freezer. He’ll appreciate it, and you’ll have saved some dough (no pun intended).

And finally, while we’re still on the food theme…

7. Kitchen gadgets

Take a peek at what your brother does and doesn’t have in his kitchen. Does he have a crock pot? A rice cooker? A George Foreman? Buy him one at Goodwill and show him how to use it. If he can use it to get food in his system faster, he’ll like it.

Note: I realize, reading back over this, that I may have stereotyped guys as smelly unfashionable folks who don’t enjoy cooking. Sorry! Not my intention! Etc. Brothers are great. And if they want to stereotype me right back and fix my car as a Christmas gift, I won’t complain!

Second note: This marks the first post of my Blogmas series. Get ready for a month of posts every other day!

Third note: In my last post, I talked about adding ads back into my posts. After some helpful feedback from you, I deleted about half of them. Thanks for your input!

Sorry for all the exclamation points!!! I always tend to overuse exclamation points when I’m hungry and tired of writing. I have a Christmas banquet to get to tonight, so I’m trying to hurry and finish this post, haha.

Merry Christmas!

From Ohio to Delaware

20181125_161336

I came to Delaware because I missed the ocean.

The morning I left Ohio, I woke up to find another layer of snow on the ground, and wistful flakes drifting from the sky. It was beautiful, but I was terrified to drive in it. So I lazily packed up the rest of my things, drinking tea in front of the fireplace at intervals, and just waited.

The snow stopped, but my driveway was still slippery with slush. My landlord, who lived upstairs while Carita and I lived downstairs, pushed some of the slush off with his little lawnmower-sized snow plow, and then drove my car up the steep driveway for me. “You know,” he said, as I prepared to leave, “our boy’s camp needs a secretary.”

I thought this was the sweetest thing to say. Even though, at this point in my life, I don’t want to be a secretary, I understood the statement as “we wouldn’t mind if you stuck around longer.”

The roads weren’t slippery but there was snow beside the road. When I stopped to get gas, the snow began in earnest again. I bought donuts and a cheeseburger and terrible gas station tea. And then I just stood in the snow with my head tilted back and looked. It was the most magical event. The huge flakes floated down but I didn’t feel cold, or like it would get in my eyes. Space and time felt warped. Like how it feels when a train goes by and suddenly you feel like you’re the one who’s moving, zooming along at an impossible speed.

It was a lovely drive. Snowy, but it never stuck enough to get slick. I was tense and nervous, though.

Over the mountains. The snow made a haze which caused each individual mountain to stand out from the one behind it, stretching away from me in pale and paler lavender. It was twilight, so the whole world was purple, with black tree skeletons silhouetted against the sky.

My cousin Annette lives in Lancaster PA, and I decided to spend Thanksgiving week with her and her family. Justice, her oldest, became friends with me as soon as I went down to the basement and played basketball with him, but her younger daughters were a bit shy of me at first.

That evening, Liberty, the 4-year-old, stuck a cloth basket upside down on her head.

“What a beautiful hat!” I said. “May I try it on?”

She let me.

“Oh, I’m so fancy, in this beautiful hat!” I said in my own interpretation of a fancy accent.

Liberty was delighted. “The queen! The queen!” she said.

So for the rest of the week I was The Queen. “Where’s my queen?” Liberty would ask her mom, when she wanted to play with me.

Matt came up from DC on Wednesday evening, so that was nice, seeing him again.

The drive from Lancaster Pennsylvania to Dover Delaware only takes a few hours, so I spent Saturday morning with my relations, before zipping down the Delmarva Peninsula. It began to rain. The hills of Pennsylvania flattened out. It almost felt like Oregon.

Arriving in Dover, I stopped at a coffee shop, where I planned to meet my new roommate Angie and our mutual friend Janessa. They hadn’t arrived yet, so I went ahead and ordered my tea.

“That’ll be 2:50,” said the cashier.

“Oh!” I exclaimed, happily handing over a $5 bill and two quarters and getting three neat bills of change. “Do you guys not have sales tax here?”

“No, we don’t,” said the cashier.

“It feels just like Oregon! We don’t have sales tax either!”

She smiled politely.

Angie and Janessa arrived, and I had a fun afternoon of meeting my new roommate and hanging out with an old friend.

I’ve been in Delaware less than a week, but it oddly reminds me of home. The weather has been more mild and Oregon-like, and I’ve already driven to the ocean twice. And the Mennonite community is just much smaller, more Oregon-sized.

But it’s like the teeny tiny quaint version. The entire state is smaller than my county back home. And Dover feels like a small town even though it’s the capital of Delaware.

Even the ocean seems little to me. Which is a bit weird. Obviously I can’t see with my naked eye that Japan is further away than Europe. But maybe it’s because the beach isn’t as extensive, or because there aren’t as many waves. Or maybe because it’s so much quieter.

A few ending notes:

  1. If you’ve noticed something different about my blog, I did turn ads back on. But I’d like feedback from you…so if you see sketchy ads, or if it makes your page run slow or weird, please let me know. My email is Jemilys@gmail.com. (Also, remember that you can always install an ad blocker. If I didn’t mention this, someone would be sure to point it out in the comments, haha.)
  2. I have a fun holiday-related blog series coming up. I’d like to blog every other day from December 12 to January 9. So if you have any fun holiday related blog post ideas, let me know! My ideas so far include:
    1. Gift guide for single brothers (or uncles, nephews, etc)
    2. Guide to prepping a guest room for holiday guests
    3. Maybe some fun fiction
    4. Cozy winter/Christmas themed books/stories
    5. My own holiday adventures

Let me know if there are any winter/Christmas/New Years/Holiday posts you’d love to see!

Giveaway Winner/Life Update

And the winner of my extra copy of I Capture the Castle is…Rachelle Zook.

Congrats, Rachelle! I sent you a Facebook message with the details.

As far as a life update, I have less than a week left in Ohio. I’m planning to drive over to Lancaster PA on Monday, where I’ll spend Thanksgiving week before heading on to Delaware.

I just hope the roads will be safe when I need to drive them. Yesterday we had a bit of an ice storm that left a glassy coating on the trees. Carita got the day off, and we carefully drove to a local coffee shop where we shared a pot of tea and watched giant chunks of snow fall. I worked on a writing project. She graded papers.

“This is perfect,” I said wistfully. “I’ll get a good month of winter and snow, and then just when I’m getting tired of it I’ll go to Florida and experience sunshine.”

“We don’t usually get snow until January though,” said Carita.

“Um, it’s snowing right now. And we already had snow, last week,” I said.

“That’s not real snow,” said Carita.

I could see her point. Outside, the flakes melted when they hit the ground. And last week it had just been the smallest dusting on the concrete, with both road and grass looking untouched.

But then last night, we got a REAL real snow. Everything is coated, though the grass still pokes through like it needs a good shave. But mostly it looks like a magical wonderland, and at 2 pm, it still hasn’t melted away.

As long as the roads are clear by Monday, I’m loving it.