Christmas Decorating: Mom’s Influence – The Advent Calendar

Sometime before I had kids – I’m thinking late 1970s, I was visiting my parents and mom was making an Advent calendar that she copied from a friend. She bought enough of everything ahead of time so I could make one too. We worked on our calendars at her kitchen table – soon covered with felt, scissors, glue, sequins, thread, paper, pencils, sharpies, burlap and with her sewing machine nearby.

I still have the instructions that I wrote from her copy.

Advent Calendar instructions 1Advent Calendar instructions 2Advent Calendar instructions 3Advent Calendar instructions 4

And the pattens for the ornaments and tree.

I didn’t finish all of the ornaments during my visit, so it was up to me to finish on my own. I didn’t understand a few of the ornaments – like the owl, for instance. A Christmas owl? What’s that about? I understand the imagery of the fish – but this one is maybe a little too “fishy” for the Christian connotation…

And how about the pig?

In the creative comfort of my own home, I didn’t always use the designs provided. I got the designs for the doll and the teddy bear from coloring books.

DSCN3311 - Version 2I don’t know if you noticed, but I never finished the Advent calendar. See that pocket with the number 1 on it? It’s empty. Over 30 years later and I still have one ornament left to make. Typical.

Here is a look at our almost fully decorated Advent calendar.

The missing ornament is supposed to be a reindeer, but I didn’t like the one in the pattern. As I was preparing this post, I found several ideas I had considered for the last ornament. Living in Texas, these included an armadillo and a pair of cowboy boots. Hey – unless you can explain the owl, I think the armadillo and boots are just as relevant. Besides, my husband used to collect armadillos, so it would have had meaning for us at the time.

That armadillo is traced from one of my husband’s signature armadillo doodles. He drew the cowboy Santa too. :)

Leave a comment and suggest what I should make as the final ornament.

Or should I just leave it as it is – a testimony to imperfection?

When we only had one child, she got to put each ornament on the tree to count down the days to Christmas, but with the birth of two siblings, it was necessary to evenly divide the task – which did not divide evenly among three children since there were only 23 ornaments. These days I hang the calendar on the pantry door in the kitchen and I alone have the privilege of counting down the days on our Advent calendar.

Thanks, Mom!

Mom also made the tree skirt that we use under our tree every year. You can read about it (and get the directions) here: Christmas Decorating – Mom’s Influence: The Tree Skirt.

A Little Story about Voting – But Is It True?

Kathy voted

Yesterday I decided to commit to writing/posting something every day and I got busy and whipped out a little something. But is it true? 

The election results are in and I am not a happy camper, so now you can guess how I voted. Today is a chilly, rainy day and I’m not going anywhere. I’m just going to nurse my wounds and do as I please, which will include eating as much chocolate as my tummy will tolerate. I even cancelled my physical therapy appointment. I’ve been hurt enough.

I have a vague memory of learning about the voting process as a Girl Scout and eagerly looking forward to the day when I could cast my first ballot. My first voting experience wasn’t the joyful event I anticipated.

The presidential candidates that year were Richard Nixon and Hubert Humphrey. I liked Humphrey as he seemed to embody values and ideas in line with mine. I was a Social Work student at Baylor University, a private Baptist college in Texas. It’s a great school and I have many wonderful memories, a good education, and my husband to show for it. But let’s say it like it was, and is – it’s a conservative institution populated by conservative-leaning people. For the most part.

As a freshman and sophomore at Baylor, you were required to attend Chapel every week. It was not always religious in nature. In fact, I don’t really remember it as being primarily a time of worship or religious activity. Before the election, two students spoke on behalf of the presidential candidates during Chapel. As I remember it, everyone listened attentively and clapped enthusiastically for the student who spoke on behalf of Nixon. The student body didn’t show the same respect (there were a few boos) and enthusiasm for the student who spoke on behalf of Humphrey. Instead of standing tall and proud as he exited, his posture was slumped and he seemed to hurry off the stage when he finished his speech.

I knew in my family that my dad would vote for Nixon. I heard my mom say a couple of things that made me think she kind of liked Humphrey, but I assumed that, in the end, she would also vote for Nixon.

So all the people who were important in my life didn’t agree with me. All of the people that I loved or liked or whom I wanted to like me (because I’m a dyed-in-the-wool people-pleaser) were of opposing opinions. Being a people-pleaser, I kept my opinions to myself so as not to rock the boat.

And then I found myself in the voting booth for the first time. I wanted to do my part, to be a good citizen, to participate in the democratic process. I looked over the ballot and marked it for …. Nixon.

I regretted my vote as soon as I slid my ballot into the box.

I regretted it because I was not true to myself. I allowed myself to be pressured by my environment and the opinions of my peers to vote against my conscience and my judgement.

Nixon won, of course, and we all know how that turned out.

And so I have always looked back at my first experience at the polls with regret. But I have never made that mistake again. I try to do my due diligence to be informed about the candidates and then I vote for the candidate that I think is best. I am usually at odds with my family and I am often in the opposite camp from many of my friends and neighbors, but I am never at odds with myself.

Ok – there you have my nice little story about voting. There’s just one problem. It isn’t true. Let me put it this way – it is based in truth, but I got a few things wrong.

This is the story that I have told myself for at least a couple of decades, but just as I was about to click “publish,” I decided to fact-check myself and – oops! – there are some problems with my memory.

Yes – Humphrey did run against Nixon, but that was in 1968 and I wasn’t old enough to vote. In 1972 (the election in which I did vote), the presidential candidates on the ballot were Richard Nixon and George McGovern. How had I gotten this part of the story so wrong?

The best answer I can come up with is that Humphrey was a candidate in the primaries and that, although he won the popular vote, he fell short of delegates at the Democratic National Convention. Perhaps I had placed my hopes on Humphrey being the nominee and my inability to vote for him added to my feelings of regret about my first voting experience…. and because of his significance to me, he became the candidate in my memory.

And what of the speakers in Chapel? I have a vague but definite visual memory of sitting in the auditorium and feeling bad for the student speaking on behalf of McGovern. My fellow students may or may not remember it the same way, but I think my memory is fairly accurate on that point.

So is my story true? Well, it isn’t factually accurate, so you could say that it is not true. But does the story contain a truth? Yes – the truth being that I voted for a candidate based on the opinions of those around me rather than my own best judgement and I regretted that vote.

I’ve always known that I don’t have the best memory for facts. And now, having just proved how bad my memory can be, I hope my relatives and friends will help me out by sharing what they remember. So if I ask for your memories while I’m working on something, I hope you’ll respond. And if you read something I wrote, but you remember it differently or know that I am wrong, leave a comment and help me out! I’d like to be as accurate as possible.

Please share a story about the first time you voted, or some other election-related memory.

Or your experiences of having a “false” memory.

The “10 Books” List

Mom reading to Matt and Tina - and Ginger

Mom reading to Matt and Tina – and Ginger

There has been a game of tag being played on Facebook recently. The rules are to list ten books that have had an impact on your life, then tag ten more people to do the same. When I was tagged, my first thought was, “Oh no! If I do this, everyone will know just how little I read!” And, reading the lists of some of my friends, I did feel a bit stupid and ignorant.

I was a reader as a kid. I loved biographies and mysteries and books about horses. Mom would scold me when I tried to read at the dinner table because I didn’t want to put my book down long enough to eat. So what happened?


It seems like college ruined my ability to read for pure enjoyment and entertainment. There was so much assigned reading that I couldn’t find time to read for pleasure. And nearly everything I read was a textbook or non-fiction with the purpose of teaching me something. By the time I got out of college and graduate school, I was seven years removed from popular fiction. I didn’t know what authors I liked to read any more. And there was always a feeling that I should be reading to “learn” something. Sigh.

After a few years, I finally started reading some fiction again and found authors I enjoyed: E. L. Doctorow, John Updike, John Irving, Anne Tyler .. to name a few. And then another reading killer came along – kids! I just didn’t possess whatever it is that true readers have to keep it going once we had kids. I did enjoy lots of children’s literature, though, and once they were old enough for chapter books, I got to revisit my old favorites and read wonderful books that I had missed as a child. I had never read The Boxcar Children series, or Anne of Green Gables, or books by Roald Dahl. How had they escaped me?

These days I actually spend a lot of time reading – but not always books. Every day I read the newspaper and numerous blogs that I follow. Unfortunately, I have not been reading my favorite family history blogs – but I intend to correct that. I’m getting depressed and stressed reading so many current event and opinion pieces. One day I counted the tabs I had opened on my computer of links on my Facebook feed that looked interesting. 22! So, yes, I do read …. but not what the game required.

So I tackled my list of 10 books that had an impact on my life with some reservations and fear of embarrassment. I decided to start at the very beginning (a very good place to start – please, sing along) and proceed through time. Admittedly, I didn’t spend days thinking it through, so my list might be different had I given it more thought. Here is my list of books and why I chose them.

“10 books that have shaped me, changed my perspective, or moved me. Tag 10 friends and me so I can see your list.”

book cover.little engine that could1. The Little Engine That Could – I mentioned this book in a previous post about a few of my childhood books. Undoubtedly, several generations of American children have been influenced from a very early age by its message of success through optimism and effort. If you think you can, you can! And, looking back, I don’t think it was lost on me that the Little Blue Engine that could was female. She may have been small and lacked experience, but she had compassion, optimism, the will to try, and the strength to succeed. Hurray! Hurray!

Brownie Handbook2. The Brownie Handbook – This book, in and of itself, did not have a great impact on my life. But it represents the other Girl Scout books that followed and the many years I spent as a Girl Scout and a Girl Scout leader. In that sense, it had a tremendous influence on my life. One of the truths of my life is that Girl Scouts made my life tolerable and fabulous as a child who moved every few years. As a new kid in a new school in a new town, joining a Girl Scout troop was the first line in making friends. And being empowered as a girl. And singing and playing games and spending time (and testing myself) in nature and serving the community and making decisions. And, as an adult, I enjoyed nearly thirteen years as a Girl Scout leader, taking a group of girls from Kindergarten through graduation from high school. And those wonderful girls are now amazing women whom I treasure.

3. The Nancy Drew series – ah, well. Another smart girl! Enough said? Nancy and Bess and I spent many many many many hours together!

Christy4. Christy by Catherine Marshall – This is the first – and perhaps only – book that I can link with a very specific outcome in my life. As I approached graduation from high school, I had no idea what I wanted to do in life. People often told me I should be a teacher or a nurse. (What else was there to be in the late 1960s – early 1970s?)  But I knew that these professions were not for me. Teacher? I knew I didn’t have the skills or where with all to deal with a room full of kids and handle discipline. Nurse? Are you kidding me? I can’t stand the sight of blood.

Reading Christy, I felt that I had found my calling. But I didn’t know the name for it. I wanted to help people who were disadvantaged in some way access a better life – as Christy had done when she went to Appalachia to teach. It wasn’t until I started reading college catalogs that I found the name for what I wanted to do – Social Work. I studied Social Work in college and graduate school and worked as a social worker for about ten years – until I decided to leave the world of the employed when I had children.

5. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee – This one is on everyone’s list. I don’t think it needs any explanation. And, besides, I was beginning to grasp at straws in making my list. Were I making the list today, I might make a substitution here.

DSCN34956. Native Son by Richard Wright – I wasn’t sure if this was the right book, so it stood in for whatever book led me to read book after book about living “black” in America. Maybe it started with To Kill a Mockingbird. Maybe it was The Learning Tree.

Maybe it was Five Smooth Stones – a book I saw on someone else’s list after I posted mine and then remembered how I loved that book; how it stayed with me for years after I read it. I remember trying to find my copy years ago and looking at the library and book store, but it was out of print. I hardly remember the story all these years later. Would it have the same impact today? I don’t know, but I just purchased a copy on Amazon last week and one of these days I’ll get around to reading it and find out.

7. The Color Purple by Alice Walker – Kind of continuing the theme above, only several years later. Very powerful and moving. I love the conversation between Shug and Celie about God.

8. The Bible - I decided my list would not be complete if I didn’t include the Bible. What other book do I return to again and again and have memorized passages from and find new insights in rereading?

DSCN34969. Traveling Mercies by Anne Lamott – I thought this was my introduction to Anne Lamott and that’s one reason why I included it on my list. I was wrong. I read Blue Shoes first. I’d still include Traveling Mercies, though, because I really fell in love with Anne in the pages of this book. I’ve gone back to read the chapter on forgiveness more than once. It is hilarious and so true. That’s what I love about her. She is hilarious. And serious. And spiritual. She says what she really thinks and feels – and so often you know those thoughts and feelings too. Her books make me wonder if messed-up-life Anne had walked into the church I attend, would she have been welcomed with abundant love and acceptance and nurture and grace as she was in the little Presbyterian church she attends in Marin City, California? I wonder because I would have not been the one to give those gifts to Anne and I sure hope someone in the pews around me is a better Christian than I am!

10. Cane River by Lalita Tademy – I loved this book and need to read it again. Lalita Tademy put skin and bones and emotion and history and connection and faces on the ancestors whose history she researched. It is so well-written I couldn’t put it down. And the family historian in me was overjoyed that she included documents and pictures from her research. Historical fiction at its best, it begins with the birthday of nine-year-old Suzette, a house slave in Cane River, Louisiana.

I heard about this book from my sister because it takes place in Louisiana, where most of my family now lives. In fact, we were in town to visit my parents one summer and decided to stay in a hotel because we were “all” in town. I noticed a group of people in the parking lot wearing matching t-shirts. Later, we were getting on the elevator and some of them were exiting. It wasn’t until the elevator door closed, that I realized their shirts said, “Tademy Family Reunion.” I was so excited, but it was too late to catch them. Of course, they only wore the matching shirts one day, so I missed my chance to ask, “Are you members of ‘The Cane River’ Tademy’s?”

So that’s my list. Other books I almost included but didn’t are:
Plain and Simple: A Woman’s Journey to the Amish and Everyday Sacred: A Woman’s Journey Home – both by Sue Bender

The Harry Potter series – many many joyful hours and days spent sharing these books with my kids

The Work at Hand by Carol Flinders, an introduction to the cookbook Laurel’s Kitchen. I know … a cookbook? The introduction? Maybe I’ll reread it and write about it one of these days.

Tag! You’re it!  What ten books have shaped you, changed your perspective, or moved you?