Christmas Songs We Know: A Review

“Mary Did You Know?:17 Inspirational Christmas Songs From Today’s Top Country Artists;” 2007; Word Entertainment (Warner/Curb)

This CD, with just over one hour of traditional sacred music, wouldn’t have been my first choice. However, because it boasts such a variety of artists, I couldn’t resist. While not a fan of country music, I still found this offering enjoyable.

Most of us have favorite singers or musicians. Most of us are on the lookout for a CD by that person. In this instance, I was in the mood for variety so when I saw it in the library display, I gathered it up.

Overall, the songs provide as much variety as the selection of artists. And, for the most part, they’re songs we know. Or at least have heard over the years playing in elevators or while shopping at the mall. It’s called inspirational music because the songs included are about the Christ child, Jesus. Only a couple of them hint at something other than Jesus’s birth and the event of Christmas and the night he was born.

My Favorites are “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” by Diamond Rio; “Breath of Heaven (Mary’s Song)” by Vince Gill; “What Child is This?” by Jo Dee Messina; and “The Christ (A Song For Joseph)” by Billy Dean. And while no one sings “Mary, Did You Know?” like the song’s author, Mark Lowry, Kenny Rogers and Wynonna did a more than respectable job.

The only track I didn’t care for was Leann Rimes’ rendition of “O Holy Night.” That’s a difficult song to sing, for sure. But her arrangement sounded to me more like someone wringing every note of the (USA’s) National Anthem up and down the scale. Perhaps Leann is an acquired taste, but I like to be able to sing along. Especially with Christmas music.

Rather astonishing to see how many of these songs are in the public domain.

The mix on each track is great. No one’s voice – no matter how much I may have disliked it – was overpowered by the background music. Nice blending of voice to music. My ear detected violins (or does ‘country’ music make that fiddles?) a couple of times and that added to my enjoyment. I’m partial to violins/fiddles.

If you’re a country music fan and enjoy sacred Christmas music, I recommend you listen to this one. You’ll hear the traditional favorites and maybe even learn a new one.

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“I Know You!”

The phone rang first thing in the morning and I didn’t want to answer it. I was still stumbling around with my coffee and hadn’t yet revved myself up for the day. I picked up the receiver and said, “Hello.”

The woman on the other end of the line introduced herself and explained why she’d called. She read a devotion I’d written and wanted to let me know she enjoyed it. Since the city in which I live was noted at the end of the devotion, she looked me up in her phone book. I knew exactly who she was; I had caller ID, after all.

She kept talking and I decided to let her. Her words were encouraging, and it was obvious from what she said that she’d been blessed by what she read. I was glad to hear it, especially from her, a woman I respected.

I decided I better introduce myself and let her know we weren’t strangers. We’d been going to the same church for almost twenty years. I knew she knew me because for a short time we’d both worked in children’s ministry.

Finally, I said, “I’m glad you liked the devotion, Carol. That means a lot to me. But I’m surprised you didn’t recognize my name.” Then I told her that on the previous Sunday, she and her husband had been sitting next to me in church.

People say all the time, “What a small world.” To some extent, I disagree. I’ve discovered that, with Christ is in my life, he’s opened it up and made it larger in ways I would never have conceived.

“You have heard of this hope before in the word of truth, the gospel that has come to you. Just as it is bearing fruit and growing in the whole world, so it has been bearing fruit among yourselves from the day you heard it and truly comprehended the grace of God” (Colossians 1:5-6).

Twas the Evening of Christmas: Book Review

  • Twas the Evening of Christmas
  • By Glenys Nellist
  • Illustrated by Elena Selivanova
  • Published by Zonderkidz
  • Copyright 2017, 32 pages; ages 4-8

With its scripture reference being Luke 2:10-11, “Twas the Evening of Christmas” blends the over-2,000-year-old story of Jesus’s birth with the poetic cadence of the poem by Clement C. Moore, “A Visit From St. Nicholas,” originally published in 1823.

One is an endearing rhyme about a fictional Christmas event. In this book, however, families can gather and read the true story of Christmas and why we even celebrate.

Nellist’s poem keeps the rhythm of Moore’s work intact while being true to the story of Joseph and Mary in Bethlehem.

No one is left out here. The animals in the stable; the angels; the shepherds; and the wise men all make their respective appearances.

A couple of things about this poem/story give it high marks in my book. While license is taken a couple of times, that’s okay. We can read between the lines and figure out some things about that night. For instance, the baby has been born and offered up his newborn cry.

“Up jumped the cows, and the oxen and sheep.

Up popped the pigeons, aroused from their sleep.

They all came to gaze at the small baby boy,

As his mama and papa hugged him with joy.”

Scripture doesn’t mention Joseph and Mary hugging their baby. But what new parents don’t want to put their hands around their infant and hold him close?

In addition, the author and illustrator seemingly desire to share the stories of God and about God in a way that glorifies God with their respective gifts. Kids in the intended audience will probably want to touch the pages because the illustrations aren’t too intricate, but aren’t too simplistic. The word ‘soft’ comes to mind. They’re works of art, creatively executed by people who obviously appreciate their Creator.

I’d guess this book, once read to a child, will be as popular with them as that ‘right jolly old elf’ poem was for me so many years ago.

You can find the book for sale at the publisher, Zondervan or on Amazon.

Blackie

Of all the animals that lived with us as we six kids were growing up, the one I remember the best was Blackie. Blackie wasn’t my cat nor did he belong to any of my siblings. From years of experience with cats, I believe you don’t own them, they own you.

Blackie owned my dad and that was only right. They were a lot alike. Cats could teach graduate courses in Being Aloof. My father was equally distant to us.

Dad and Blackie were both tough. Dad, an auto mechanic, came home with scabs on his forehead because he’d come up too quickly from under a car hood. (Bang! “Ouch!”) He’d get those blackened fingernail beds and he’d have grease all over him. Blackie had bald patches, and a couple notches in his ear from years of cat fights.

One night, Dad and Blackie revealed their respective vulnerabilities. Aged, deaf, and not as quick as he once was, Blackie didn’t hear the car when Dad pulled into the driveway. We almost always heard it and usually ran to the door to greet him.

This time he dashed back outside with a flashlight in his hand. “I think I just ran over Blackie.”

We were stunned. We waited.

Dad came back in and dropped onto this chair. He rested his elbow on the kitchen table, put his head in his hand and cried.

Dad? Crying? We were stunned. We waited.

We rarely dared to touch my dad or gesture in an intimate way, but we stood there around him and were quiet. He didn’t tell us to go away.

Somehow in his death, Blackie gave my father permission to let us see his soft side. Dad wasn’t instantly cured of Being Aloof, but we knew he had potential. He was on his way.

Tips for Raiding the Foodie Pantry

Believe it or not, we don’t need to buy fancy products at the store to handle cleaning, repairs and conditioning. Practically everyone knows you can use dryer sheets for freshening things up and lint pickup. Here are some other tips using household items you probably already have around the house.

Rubbing Alcohol: It’s a great cleaner and disinfectant. It also leaves a streak-free shine.

  • Wipe candles with a cloth dipped in rubbing alcohol to remove dust being careful not to touch the wick.
  • For your car, wipe your windshield wiper blades with a bit of rubbing alcohol. It removes road grime and they are less apt to become iced up.
  • Unclog hair spray or paint nozzles by gently removing the spray top and soaking in rubbing alcohol for about 10 minutes.
  • Make a home-made ice pack by mixing 1 part rubbing alcohol with 3 parts water in a seal-able plastic bag. Next time you have a sore area or injury, use this clever ice pack which also molds to your body. (alcohol doesn’t freeze)
  • Get rid of fruit flies by mixing rubbing alcohol with water in a spray bottle and spraying them. They’ll soon drop so you can clean them away. So much cleaner and less smelly than commercial bug sprays.

Cooking Spray: This has become a staple in many modern pantries and for good reason. Did you know you can also…?

  • Spray a thin layer inside plastic containers before storing tomato-based sauces. Stains normally left behind from the acidic sauce can be prevented this way.
  • Being very careful not to get any on the floor of the bathtub, spritz the shower walls with cooking spray to help loosen soap scum. Again, if you’ve ever over sprayed in the kitchen and it’s landed on the floor, you know it’s important to be careful. It is, after all, an oil.
  • Who needs commercial products when you can use cooking spray to take care of a squeaky or tight hinge?

Vinegar: It’s probably best to use white vinegar for these tips. The smell is milder and there’s no color.

  • Would you rather not use alcohol on the wiper blades? Vinegar may not keep them from icing up, but it also cleans away the grime that builds up.
  • For your laundry, add 1/3 to 1/2 cup white vinegar to a full load of laundry. It will soften, deodorize, and de-lint clothes. It also removes excess soap, which can cause skin irritation.
  • Warm white vinegar in the microwave for about 30 seconds and use it to cut though hardened soap scum and hard water stains in your bathroom and shower.
  • Preserve fresh-cut flowers by adding 2 tablespoons of vinegar and 2 tablespoons sugar to the water. Vinegar kills the bacteria and sugar feeds the flowers.

Cornstarch: It’s not just for making gravy.

  • After cleaning wood furniture, sprinkle a little cornstarch over the area and rub with a lint-free cloth. Cornstarch absorbs the excess polish and cleans away fingerprints.
  • Remove greasy stains such as lotion and baby oil from clothing. Blot as much as you can with a cloth, then sprinkle the cornstarch. Let it sit 10 minutes, shake it out, and dab with (that good old) white vinegar to break up the greases. Launder as usual.
  • If your shoes seem to retain odor, sprinkle a little cornstarch in them at bedtime. The smells are absorbed and it’s easy to just dust it away into a waste bin.
  • You can also make dry shampoo from cornstarch. Use ¼ cup cornstarch, 4-5 drops of your favorite essential oil (rosemary is a good one), a small jar with a wide opening, and a fluffy makeup brush. Mix the cornstarch and oil together in the jar. Before bed, dust the shampoo into your roots so it can absorb oil then carefully brush it out the next morning. If you’re pressed for time, try to do this at least a couple hours before you leave the house, so you don’t get that ‘grey’ look.
  • Clean your child’s favorite stuffed animals with cornstarch. Put the fluffy little beast in a paper bag with a bit of cornstarch, seal and shake the bag, then leave it overnight. The next day, remove the toy and shake it well or use your vacuum attachment to remove any residue.

Do you have tips for cleaning with ordinary pantry stuff? It’s environmentally cleaner and much cheaper to use those items you already have on hand. In fact, of the pantry items mentioned here, cornstarch is the only one I’ve not found at the dollar store. Use the comments section and let me know your tips and tricks.

 

 

TGIF: Just Scream

This would normally be a Foodie post because it’s Foodie Friday. But my mind is elsewhere.

Yesterday a friend shared with me a text from her daughter-in-law. The poor woman was recounting every challenge which happened in just the past week alone, including a scare with her husband being hospitalized for chest pains. I told my friend, “Well, life is like a roller coaster, and it’s okay to scream.”

If you’re one of those people who is saying to yourself, “Thank God it’s Friday,” hang on to that bar in front of you. God will be your source of strength and comfort to get through any challenge. And, even though screaming may help in the moment, remember that the ride eventually evens out.

The more we get used to the roller coaster ride of life, the more we realize that the steep climbs, crashing plummets, and speedy curves are all part of it. Our approach to God in facing the roller coaster’s intensity–even while screaming–makes sense as we approach each challenge on the ride of our life.

Be a blessing to someone today.

God’s Will in a Short Reminder

Most of the time, I’m not confused about God’s will for me. I don’t fret over what I”m supposed to be doing and how God’s going to use me. If I need to know about those things, I can go to his Word and find out. I can memorize scripture to help me remember those things as I go about my day. His instructions are explained in simple terms and usually take the form of simple acts.

As I become more familiar with God’s will for me, I learn that there isn’t anything mentioned that I cannot do, but often there are things I balk at doing. Having scripture like the one above helps to remind me to keep it simple.

Rejoice. Pray in all circumstances. Give thanks. Put those three together and they spell Worship.

Be a blessing to someone today.

Foodie Sips Hot Chocolate

In my part of the world, it’s autumn. This time of the year and all through winter, we like to drink hot chocolate. I like mine from scratch (naturally). It’s easy to mix up a batch from a container of baking cocoa, sugar (or your choice of sweetener), and milk.

This time of year, we’re often found around campfires in our own back yards or that of a friend. Think “s’mores.” Think “roasted marshmallows on a stick.” Think “hot chocolate with roasted marshmallows.”

Think in a different vein.

If candy manufacturers can add a twist to their chocolate confections, why not do the same to your cup of hot chocolate? I like chocolate with raspberries or cherries. I’m game for just about anything when it comes to chocolate. Try some homemade cocoa and give it a little zip with one of these suggestions.

Caramel: A tablespoon of caramel sauce can do wonders for hot chocolate. Spoon in your favorite brand and give it a good stir right before you take your first sip.

Cinnamon, Nutmeg or Vanilla extract: A 1/4 teaspoon of any of these always adds zip.

Orange Zest: Carve three 2-inch long strips of orange rind (the skin) and let them steep in your drink for a while before tasting. That citrus flavor is a delight.

Espresso or Coffee: You can either add a tablespoon of fresh-brewed coffee or espresso, or you can use the instant stuff.

Peppermint Stick: Drop a peppermint stick or even one of those peppermint candies you picked up at your last restaurant visit. It adds great flavor, and a great smell. This version is nice if you’ve got a cold. Peppermint also calms an upset tummy.

Peanut Butter: If you’re crazy for peanut butter, take a tablespoon or two and mix it into your cocoa. Just be sure to mix well until it melts.

Habanero Pepper or a Shot of Hot Sauce: Got a hankering for something hot and spicy? A dash of your favorite hot sauce kicks a hot chocolate into high gear. You can even drop in 2 fresh slices of a fresh Habanero pepper into your cocoa and stir the flavor in. I like hot sauce, but admit this choice isn’t for the faint of heart.

Hot Cherries: Nearly everyone has that jar of maraschino cherries sitting in the fridge, so drop two or three teaspoons of the juice into your drink, along with a cherry. It tastes like drinking a chocolate cordial.

Coconut Milk: Put a tropical spin on your hot chocolate by substituting some of the milk required with a 1/4 cup of coconut milk.

Maple Syrup: It’s not just for waffles and pancakes! A squirt of the unique taste of pure maple syrup livens up ordinary hot chocolate.

If you’re interested in making a single cup of cocoa for yourself, Epicurious has a recipe for that.

Make your own hot chocolate mix to have on hand whenever you want a cup. The Pioneer Woman has a recipe which is easy and makes a really creamy concoction you can share as gifts.

So, cozy up in your chair or in front of the fireplace with a nice cup of chocolate. Boy, I think I’ll go make a cup right now.

Hoping and Coping With a Disability

We who have disabilities have certain limitations. We understand that and, with the passing of time, we accept them. But we also have abilities in addition to those limitations.

If you’ve followed this blog for any length of time, you know I’m manic-depressive. Or, to use the more common name for it, I have bi-polar disorder. People who are bi-polar are limited in different ways; limited in as many ways as there are people with the diagnosis, I imagine. And so it is with anyone who lives with chronic illness or a disability.

I believe that, although people with chronic illnesses and disabilities have limitations, most of us aren’t constantly “suffering.” What we’re doing is learning how to manage it; we’re living our lives and sometimes even thriving. Sure, we struggle sometimes.  But we also have hope. We manage to put one foot in front of the other (so to speak) and do the necessary things to have a relatively good life.

Stress exacerbates any chronic illness, so we must avoid situations we’ve discovered we can’t handle as easily as someone without a disability. The symptoms we often have because of stress could be mental or emotional. They could manifest as physical symptoms.

Please don’t expect us to make important decisions when we are sick. If we’re experiencing a flare-up or an episode of the illness, we may in fact, need your patience as we make simple decisions to just get through the day.

If it seems we’re being irritable, you’re right. Some disabilities are noted for having an irritability aspect. For me, this is one of the first symptoms I display when I begin a manic phase–even before I begin the ‘hyper’ activity. I think I can speak for many when I say this is another aspect of having a disability we wouldn’t suffer if we didn’t have to. Most of us have a great attitude toward life. We don’t complain all the time and we’re generally nice people. But if we’re in pain or not able to think our way out of a paper bag, we can get grumpy. Hey, everyone gets grumpy occasionally; people with disabilities are no different.

Some of the ultimate limitations are being bed-ridden; inability to communicate our needs effectively; a temporary inability to handle being in public or with groups; not being able to work; and the necessity for some sort of support equipment (i.e., wheelchairs, oxygen, inhalers). However, many disabilities are what we refer to as “invisible.” Please don’t assume someone isn’t struggling just because they don’t need equipment.

As far as our hope is concerned:

For the most part, we rely on being educated about our specific disability. Knowledge is power and when we understand what’s going on in our bodies, we’re better equipped to respond to the symptoms. Then we go from being helpless to being able to manage, to a certain degree, what’s happening. We might not be able to rid ourselves of the physical (or mental) state, but we can usually control what we do. We can control our attitude toward our illness and the world around us.

Many of us practice some sort of faith. We rely on worship and prayer and are grateful when our friends and loved ones pray for us.

People with disabilities usually need to grieve their health. That process may be subtle and we may not even realize grieving is what we’re doing. Frankly, our irritability might be happening because we’re moving toward acceptance of our limitations. I mean, who wants to come out and say, “I simply can’t do some of the things I want to do”? But acceptance is one key to handling our problems.

I’ve learned that having a good day might mean leaving the house and moving my focus off myself. I can get the proverbial shot in the arm by simply having a brief conversation with a neighbor or calling someone on the phone to chat. I write letters and notes to friends and family members. Engaging in hobbies or learning a new skill helps too.

People with disabilities have much to offer. We might not be able to work even part time jobs. But we can volunteer, we can engage in our communities as advocates for something we’re passionate about, and we can offer a compassionate ear to someone who’s struggling with an illness because we’ve been there ourselves.

Over the years, I’ve discovered what Helen Keller said is also true for me.

“I thank God for my handicaps for through them I have found myself, my work and my God.”

Seeing my illnesses as something I can learn about and learn from helps me to keep a positive outlook even during a flare-up. I know God is with me. Even during a psychic ‘crash,’ I know that when I pray, God hears me. I don’t look like I’ve got it together–and I don’t. But I trust that God is in control.

Today, I’m believing less in “self-help” and relying on “God-help.” Ironically, in my most vulnerable states, I realized God can make me strong. In our world many of us think we must declare our independence. We believe our dreams are a result of hard work and self-sufficiency. While there’s nothing wrong with hard work, I prefer to declare dependence. On God.

Having a disability doesn’t make me less human. It doesn’t mean my limitations define me. Having a disability doesn’t mean I can’t make contributions to society. I’m a person living my life with purpose because God has promised me that I can.

 

Author’s note: I don’t claim to know everything about every chronic illness. I know some illnesses make an individual totally unable to make decisions for themselves and caregivers are needed to help them navigate life. This post about the abilities and limitations of people with disabilities is not all-inclusive or meant to be medical advice. The comments herein are taken from observations of my friends’ conditions, conversations with those individuals, and my own experience with several chronic illnesses. For those interested in such things, many support groups exist addressing the needs of a variety of illnesses.