Thursday, December 23, 2010

..a kid thing...

Denny and I have a collection. A big collection. So big that most of them are in a storage unit in Pennsylvania. This collection is so important to us that we notice when one is missing or out of order. Both of our children are already claiming parts of this collection when we pass on. My dream house has a room dedicated solely to our collection. If we were weathy people there would be no end to adding to our collection.

The collection....books!

One of my favorite categories is Christmas Children's Books. I love them. I only buy one a year. Last year one of my gifts from Ryan was "The Polar Express." It meant so much to me that he gave me something I really wanted! No matter how old you get, you are never too old to read a children's book.

Last night's selection was "A Red Neck's Christmas," I read it out loud. When everybody laughs at the lines, it makes my day! You can never get to old to be read to! There is something calming about being read to. My mom is an avid reader, my husband is a voracious reader, my children loved to read while growing up.

Today I opened my book for this Christmas season and Renee and I really enjoyed it. The cover is misleading a little bit. Although it is about Santa, the story is about a little girl Holly and since it is Christmas Santa is in there somewhere!

When my children were growing up one of our favorite activities was library night. We would dedicate a night of the week to simply reading. No music, no television, no friends. Just reading our books.

Of course going to the library was always a regular routine. We would bring home literally bags and bags of books. Such treasures.

Being a reader develops critical thinking, good spelling, increases the vocabulary. Stimulates the imagination and can take you all over the planet without buying an airplane ticket. We have ministered in so many countries. The one thing we always buy is a book about the country we are in. That has become another special collection.

Since our passion is the ministry and preaching, we are continually made aware of how important reading is to a speaker. We can always tell when a preacher does not spend time reading. Reading is an important element in being a life-long student and learner. Reading outloud is also important. How distracting it is when people stumble over reading the text outloud to the congregation. It is such an important discipline. Disciplines can be just a natural overflow of your life or they can be very tedious and unwelcome. Either way disciplines are critical to our behavior and character development.

Well from a kid's thing to did I get there?

Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

memories of Christmas goodies....

I really miss my Grama Hall and my Grama Niles. Grama Niles died when I was 9 and Grama Hall when I was 15 years old. Both left such indelible impressions on me in many ways. As I have been busy making holiday goodies I can't help but think about both of them.

Grama Hall loved evaporated milk. In my memory she always had hot tea at meals with evaporated milk. I never remember her drinking water or milk made from dried milk like us! Funny how I loved dried milk when I was a kid, white or chocolate! Back in those days soda wasn't a staple in the house.

I remember evaporated milk being used in so many things especially her Christmas cookies. My mom makes Grama Hall's cookies every Christmas and even some other holidays like hearts at Valentine's Day. I remember helping my mom stir, and stir, and stir some more! The bin of cookie cutters came out and we would make batches and batches of Grama Hall's cookies. We would be so tired by the time dinner came that we would put them in big tins (the ones that would hold the flour, today I guess people would call them the holiday popcorn tins). Then in the next couple of days Mom would make the frosting. When the 5 of us kids would help ice and decorate, Mom would put the frosting in Corning cereal bowls and add different food coloring to each bowl. We had to have green for the hollys and trees, red for the stockings and Santa. It seems like we always used white for the bells and stars and on the bells we would put a cinnamon dot candy for the ringer. We would use sprinkles and decorate to our hearts content. Of course some had to remain plain for Dad! Even today I leave some plain, I think I really like those too for dipping in my coffee or chocolate milk!

Back to the evaporated milk. Grama Hall's cookie recipes called for sour milk. She would add a tablespoon of cider vinegar to a cup of evaporated milk and yum! What a difference it makes in the cookies. Everytime I make the sour milk I think of Grama! Her sugar cookie recipe also has nutmeg and that is something I find different than other sugar cookies. Grama Hall's are the best! This year I made her raisin filled cookies and soft molasses ones too.

In the years that I grew up every girl would have a hope chest. A trunk or a box of future items to be used when married. I remember so clearly sitting with my Grama Hall, going through her recipe box. I am so happy today that I did that. She gave me the index cards to write the recipes. They are still the cards I use today, probably over 40 years old! When Current started making plastics I remember putting Grama Hall's recipes in the plastics first. They have always been treasures to me.

Another holiday goodie Mom always made are popcorn balls! Such a tradition that I can't let a Christmas go by without making Mom's fudge and popcorn balls. I still remember Mom standing at the stove bringing the popcorn ball mixture to a boil and then saying, "Kids come on! I just saw the hair!" You know when the mixture is ready because you lift the spoon and a hair forms! Doesn't that sound funny when you read it! Yesterday when I made the popcorn balls, Renee was intrigued with the hair! Well, when it is ready it is like sheer madness getting that hot mixture into the 4 batches of popcorn you've popped and getting the balls made while it is burning hot! We Hall kids have had our share of finger burns, that is for sure!

Mom was so concerned about Jamaica not having the ingredients for popcorn balls after our first Christmas here that the next time we went home she got Karo Syrup, popcorn and cream of tartar for me! I am so glad I have the right stuff here in Jamaica!

My friend Cheri sent me a really neat email the other day. It fits right into the Christmas Goodie Blog!

Christmas Cookie Rules
1. If you eat a Christmas cookie fresh out of the oven, it has no calories because everyone knows that the first cookie is the test and thus calorie free.

2. If you drink a diet soda after eating your second cookie, it also has no calories because the diet soda cancels out the cookie calories.

3. If a friend comes over while you are making your Christmas cookies and needs to sample, you must sample with your friend. Because your friend's first cookie is calories free - rule #1 applies to your friend. It would be rude to let your friend sample alone, and being the friend that you are makes your cookie calorie free.

4. Any cookie calories consumed while walking around will fall to your feet and eventually fall off as you move. This is due to gravity and the density of the caloric mass.

5. Any calories consumed during the frosting of the Christmas cookies will be used up because it takes many calories to lick excess frosting from a knife without cutting your tongue.

6. Cookies colored red or green have very few calories. Red ones have 3 and green ones have 5 - one calorie for each letter. Make more red ones!

7. Cookies eaten while watching Miracle on 34th Street have no calories because they are part of the entertainment package and not part of one's personal fuel.

8. As always, cookie pieces contain no calories because the process of breaking causes calorie leakage.

9. Any cookies consumed from someone else's plate has no calories since the calories rightfully belong to the other person and will cling to their plate. We all know how calories like to CLING!

And finally...
10. Any cookies consumed while feeling stressed have no calories because cookies used for medicinal purposes NEVER have calories.

The Niles side of me loves cookies. I think that if my mom and I lived in the same house we would survive on cookies and tea.

They our the #1 comfort food! Something I would really like to know is how far back to the recipes go? Where did Grama Hall get them? Like Grama Nile's suet pudding, (that is to good to be true) where did she ever get that recipe and whoever thought that suet would taste good in a cake with butter sauce? Memories, questions, longing for home kind of moments!

Happy Holiday Baking!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Luke 2 ...Patois style!

It is reported that Patois begain in the 17th century with the slaves from West and Central Africa. The language is a mixture of English and Creole.
In Jamaica, British English is the official language, however, Patois is the language of most homes, the street and I should say the heart.
Our students speak English in the classroom but in our home over a boxing match on the Wii it is Patois all the way!
The Bible College has a Christmas dinner on the last day of school and one of our students graced the gathering with Luke 2:8-20, Patois Version.
Take a minute and read it out loud. It may make more sense that way!

(vs 8) Di shepherd dem di some place. Innah di field, a watch dem sheep innah nite.
(vs 9) An wah angel af di Lard cume up pon dem. and father God cume down an shine pan dem an dem get fraid.
(vs 10) An di angel tell dem seh, nuh badda man. A good news mi cume, cume tell you. Weh afi every badi.
(vs 11) One pickney aago barne todah down weh David come from, dem a go call him Christ.
(vs 12) An it ago bi wah sign to you; you ago fine di pickney wrap up innah some cloth, lid down innah wah manger.
(vs 13) An mi seh, wid di angel some whole heep fram heaven an wiship father God, an dem a seh,
(vs 14) Glory to father God who deh innah heaven, an pan earth peace, good will to every man.
(vs 15) An it came to pass, when di angel dem left gone backa heaven, di shepherds seh to dem one another, mek we go down a beth-lehem, an weh see di ting weh fi came to pass, weh father GOd tell we seh Him a go do.
(vs 16) An dem run, run come fine Mary and Joseph and di pickney lid down innah oah manger.
(vs 17) An when dem see it, dem go tell everybodi all over di place bont di pickney.
(vs 18) An everybodi weh hear dem cant believe seh a so it go, weh di shepherd dem seh.
(vs 19) but Mary keep all a dem sintino, yah and panda dem innah har hart.
(vs 20) An di shepherd cume back, cume glorifying an a praise father God fi all di tings dat dem hear an si, weh di angel di tell dem.

and that my friend, is the beautiful story of the child that changed the world..Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Christmas in Jamaica

I find this piece interesting from the Jamaica Gleaner, dated December 9, 2010. During Jonkonnou (John Canoe) a traditional Christmas celebration, revellers parade through the streets dressed in colorful masquerade costumes. Traditionally, men wearing white, mesh masks play the characters which include the horned cow head, the policeman, horsehead, wild indian, devil, belly-woman, pitchy-patchy, and sometimes a bride and house head which is an image of a great house carried by the reveller on his head.

The parade and festival probably arrived with African slaves. Although Jamaica is credited with the longest running tradition of Jonkanoo, today these mysterious bands with their gigantic costumes appear more as entertainment at cultural events than at random along the streets. It is not as popular in the cities as it was 30 years ago but is still a tradition in rural Jamaica.

The Gleaner continues, The Grand Market is a community fair characterized by food, street dancing, crafts and music. In the past, the weekend before Christmas and particularly on Christmas Eve, markets all over the island were set up with vendors selling small toys, firecrackers, balloons and sweets of all kind, including pinda (an African word for peanut) cakes, grater cakes and peppermint sticks.

Traditionally some markets on Christmas Eve are decorated with streamers, large accordion-style bells and balloons. People are decked out in fancy clothes, including bright hats purchased upon entering Grand Market. Everyone comes to town for market and the celebrations last throughout the day and night.

Dinner on Christmas day is the biggest feast of the year. It includes chicken, oxtail, curry goat, roast ham, rice and gungo peas. Another holiday special is Christmas cake. It is made of fruit soaked with rum. The Christmas drink is sorrel. This is made from dried sorrel, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, sugar, orange peel and rum.

After reading the article in the Gleaner that day, I was interested to learn more about the masquerade in the street. Jonkonnu has many different spellings and is essentially a musical street masquerade with music, dance, symbols and mime. It took place at Christmas time because that was the only time that slaves were relieved of their duties. The band actually consisted of 3 instruments, the fife, drums, and a coconut grater. This tradition takes place in most, if not all, of the islands.

Looking at some images, the characters look quite scary to me! Some of the props are pitchforks and batons for the police.

Somehow I think the nativity scene would be more pleasant. I haven't seen that displayed here. Renee did get her picture taken with a really cool Santa one time. That was fun. He wore sunglasses and was quite skinny, but he did have a white beard!

Christians attend the Christmas service no matter what day of the week Chrstmas falls on. It is not an abbreviated service but rather one that is full just like a Sunday morning would be.

I am not so sure that the emphasis is on gifts but rather community, family, food and the best gift of all....Jesus.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Royalty...that's my girl!

While I was hearing my son's band, The Interlude, on December 5th, Daddy was with Renee at the King's House in Kingston.

A beautiful house that we have seen from the street but never have been in. This is where the governor-general resides and works. The first King's House was in Port Royal in 1690. The second King's House was in Spanish Town in 1762. In 1872 the capital was changed to Kingston. The new King's House was located in Somerset Pen and this one was destroyed in 1907 by an earthquake. A new building was constructed in 1908 and was destroyed by fire in 1925. In 1932 Lady Slater collected money for the restoration.

Queen Elizabeth and Prince Charles have planted lignum vitae treees on the grounds. Mahoe and Banyan trees have been sent from India and there are flowers and ferns from all over the world on the grounds.

The Governor-General resides on the top floor. The principal floor has his office, morning, drawing, and public rooms. The ground floor is the ballroom where all the portraits of previous Governors, Governor-Generals, Queens and Kings are kept. This is where ceremonies take place as well as the dining, kitchen and pantry. Another interesting fact is that the personal body guard of the Governor-General is housed on this floor. This is the floor where Renee played her violin.

Many important dignitaries have spent time in the King's House. Princess Anne spent her honeymoon there in 1973. Queen Elizabeth has been here many times and the last visit to this house was in 2002. The list goes on and on of the Kings and Queens who have been at this house.

The Governor-General is recommended by the Jamaican Parliament and appointed by the Queen as her representative. The Governor-General usually receives knighthood.

Renee met the Governor-General Sir Patrick and Lady Allen a couple of months ago when she played for an important event. This time she was able to be in their house. How special is that!

The occasion for Renee to play at the King's House with the ensemble and her teacher was the Feast of Lights. It is an annual presentation by the Music Department of the Northern Caribbean University. It is to celebrate the Advent of Christ. Miss Moyah's ensemble played Bach's Sheep may Safely Graze. Denny said that it was beautiful. I watched the video and I have to agree.

In the intermission, Renee and Den walked by the Japanese Ambassador and he said to Renee, "I love the carving on your violin and you played very well." Den asked if he could take a photo and they continued to have a wonderful conversation. His name is Hiroshi Yamaguchi and his wife Yoko! I wonder if they skate! :)

It is amazing the opportunities God has afforded my children down through the years with their violins. Who would have ever dreamed the places that would go when they started at 3 and 4 years of age! Music lessons are never wasted! They teach so many things the earlier they start. Character and discipline, love of music (all kinds), teamwork, peer learning, bond with teachers and instruments. Just so many advantages, why do so many quit, or should I ask, why do so many parents let their children quit?

Something else to ponder....

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Counting my Blessings....13 days!

I flew out on Air Jamaica November 23. A very early Tuesday morning. The alarm sounded at 3 in the morning however I was already up and about at 2:30 am. Too excited to sleep. I was also anxious about not hearing the alarm so my mind couldn't rest. So I bounded out of bed to get ready and make the trip to the Kingston airport. It was a very exciting day. One I had looked forward to since 2008. Valley Forge Christian College lights the luminaries and trees the first weekend in December and calls it "Christmas at the Forge." This was a performance I couldn't miss! Ryan is a senior and this would be his last one for playing the violin in the symphony.

Since I went to the states the week before the performances, I had lots of great times and experiences. Although my flight was to depart at 7 am on November 23, I actually never left Kingston till 11:30. We taxied out early in the morning but the pilot was not comfortable flying that plane so after a long wait on the mechanics and status of the plane, they grounded it and we were sent back into the airport. I was very disappointed because I missed Ryan's violin recital that took place on that Tuesday evening. I landed at JFK at 4 in the afternoon and his recital was at 5. Huge disappointment. I have missed every college recital of his and was so excited to learn about this recital after my flight was booked. But for some reason it was not to be. Maybe some day on the other side of eternity I will find out what was wrong with leaving on the first flight out of Kingston! Could it be that we were spared tragedy? I don't know but I do know that every step and every stop is ordered by the Lord. That didn't lesson the disappointment any but eventually I made it to Phoenixville, PA!

The next day Ryan and I began the trek to Mansfield. It was a long trip but so wonderful to be in the car with the apple of my eye, my firstborn. I am so proud of the man he has become. I am proud of his dedication to his music, his friends, and his surrender to God's will for his life. Our time together was balm to my "mommy" heart. AIM and Skype is our lifeline but "face" time is even better.

The next day was Thanksgiving. In 1971, one year before my Grama Hall passed away, Uncle Eddie and Aunt Kathy began to host Thanksgiving in their home in NY. Every year we feasted, watched football, made crafts, shopped at a local store that would open in the afternoon,and enjoyed family. Since Ryan has been a college student he has been there for Thanksgiving but this year I got to be with him and what a wonderful day we had with family. Still watched football,still made crafts, and even got to shop at Walmart that is now the store of choice! Well I should say it was the one in town that opened on Thanksgiving. This was really just whetting the appetite for the next big day of shopping, Black Friday!

Typically, Ryan and I always went shopping on Black Friday. Renee was always too little to appreciate the early morning deals and Den, well let's just say, shopping isn't really his favorite thing anytime of the day so he would always stay home with Renee and then meet us for breakfast! Ryan and I bounded out of our beds at 4:00 am and took off very quietly so as not to wake Mom and Dad in the very brittle air and cold car! The GPS got us to Target! That was a great start! It was peaceful, quiet, not a peep of noise in that store. I still think that everyone was sleepwalking when we got there at 5. There were lots of shoppers but no pushing and shoving like we had been used to in years past. We had a wonderful shopping experience there, then off to the mall. We purchased everything we went for and saved loads of money! More than getting the deals is the memory of shopping with my son. We had a fantastic time and a great breakfast at Bob Evans. After Old Navy, Barnes and Noble we headed home. I think Ryan was asleep before Mom and I went to Wellsboro to see what we could find there!

On Saturday Ryan had to leave Mansfield so he could fulfil his worship responsibilities in Phillie, I remained at Mom and Dad's. I spent the entire day and evening at my friend Donna's. When I am with her I understand the concept of friendship so much more. She is my childhood friend and knows me so well. She helps me to center. She helps me to be at peace. She helps me to appreciate past years and experiences. She helps me to rest in what is. She helps me to enjoy tea and cookies without fanfare. She helps me to relax. She is my friend. When she prayed for me to preach well the next day I felt empowered and ready to do it. I simply gained calm from her and I needed that.

I had a wonderful opportunity on Sunday to preach in the place where it all started for me. My home church. I left Mansfield in 1974 to attend bible school and basically never lived in Mansfield again. I have never preached there to my regret. A few months ago I asked the pastor if I could preach while I would be home for Thanksgiving and he so graciously welcomed me. I am so grateful to know Pastor James and Wendy Revie. They came from Canada to pastor New Covenant 4 years ago and I enjoy their company. They are precious people. If I lived in the area that is where I would attend. They are good people and wonderful pastors. They were so kind to me and even took me to my favorite place in the area to eat! What a great day!

That evening Mom and Dad had a birthday party for me with 20 friends and family. I really had fun. I treasure that night. I love my family. I love my childhood friends. I wish I could spend a month with them instead of just one night! My day was so blessed and it just kept getting better!

On Monday I started the next leg of the journey. Mom and Dad drove me to Lewisburg. My sisterinlaw picked me up and drove me to the turnpike. Ryan met me at exit 2 and drove me to VFCC. It was a long day but a great travel day. Good weather and blue skies.

The next day was November 30~my day! I spent the day alone at the mall looking for new glasses, my bday, Christmas, Mom's day, etc gift! The King of Prussia mall has many eye places so I was able to shop around and find the best deal. I felt so special. I imposed on everyone and told them it was my birthday! I met Ryan at 3:00 after he finished his classes and he took me for my bday dinner. I have a new favorite place to eat in Phoenixville. We had so much fun over the meal and little did I know he arranged with the server to bring me a lovely dessert! I had even asked about this particular one when he brought the dessert menu. A chocolate mound filled with ice cream, drizzled with raspberry sauce and anglaisse creme, with a candle on the side! Our meal at the Iron Hill was tremendous and I will remember Ryan's kindness forever I am sure.

On Wednesday I had a very special treat. Ryan was scheduled to lead the worship in chapel and I was there in person! For his entire college career I have watched the internet webcast to see his involvement. I have watched the VFCC webcast more times than I could ever count. VFCC chapel is my American church fix. I love it! But this day was even better than I could have imagined. Ryan is so gifted. He knows his stuff. He is a great musician.

Wednesday afternoon I traveled to Lancaster to preach at the First Assembly. Pastor Kris and Darleen Newman are people from my past, my Zion past! Funny I look older but they do not. They look just like I remember them from 1974-1977. Young, energetic and pastoring a wonderful church. I was so pleased to be able to thank them for their support through our missions career and preached from Luke 2. I spent the night at the Newman home and started my journey back to VFCC on Thursday morning.

While I was driving east, Mom and Dad were travelling southeast to be in Phoenixville for Christmas at the Forge. I returned to VFCC in time for chapel and it, as always, was terrific. I was able to hear a senior speaker preach from First Peter. She spoke on a transformed hope, a purified faith, an expressible joy and a magnificent salvation. It was a great message. I really enjoyed it.

On Friday and Saturday it was so much fun to hang out in Ryan's dorm/apartment. His friends/room-mates are wonderful. They are all musicians. Music is their life and passion! I love being around people like them. At any time, they would pick up their guitars and I got to enjoy their music. We spent those 2 days with Mom and Dad too. great, great fun! The performances in the evening were tremendous! To say that it was all I thought it would be would be an understatement. I always enjoy the webcasts of whatever is happening at VFCC but to be there in person was awesome. Both nights were packed out. It is a gift from VFCC to the community. When you turn onto the campus the luminaries are lit, the trees have lights. From beginning to end it is a Christmas extravaganza. The chapel is decorated so beautifully for the event. Mr. Bilotta and Dr. DeSanto are in their element when they direct the different ensembles and choirs. I am grateful to them and the rest of the professors that Ryan has had for their dedication to bringing out the best in the students. I was able to speak with Dr. Richmond and Mr. Smith as well. They complimented Ryan to me and that always feels good as a parent!

The "Christmas at the Forge" started out with the Wind Ensemble. A huge wind ensemble, they played selections like Emmanuel Variants, the Bells of Christmas, Christmas Classics and of course the wonderful standard Leroy Anderson's Sleigh Ride. One of my favorites from playing in the band from elementary school through high school. To me Sleigh Ride is in the happy music category. You can't hear it without smiling and bouncing. I love it, one of my all time favorites.

The Patriot Bells played Angel Songs and Fum, Fum, Fum. This was such a fun song that at first I thought the title was Fun, Fun, Fun. They actually placed their bells on the table and used what looked like drumsticks with a big puff ball on the end and hit the bells on the table. They did some interactive things with the sticks as well so it was a show stopper.

Of course we "Halls" are jazz enthusiasts. So the next segment really sparked our attention! We were sitting on the edge of our seats. The jazz ensemble played Greensleeves and the Little Drummer Boy. Absolutely tremendous!

AND THEN! the moment I was waiting for. I may have been sitting on the edge of my seat for the jazz but when the orchestra came on I was standing to get good pictures! My Ryan was so handsome in his tuxedo, the orchestra players are students and professionals. Their sound rivals that of any city symphony I have been afforded to hear. The orchestra played for the rest of the first half with the college choir and the entire second half which was 17 selections from Handel's Messiah.

The performance was so fantastic I didn't want it to end. Christmas at the Forge was my purpose for being in the states and I was enthralled with every moment of it. But lo and behold my trip wasn't over! The next day was Sunday, my last day, and I was going to see my son in ministry action!

A few months ago Ryan took on the responsibility of leading worship in The Worship Center, in Roxborough. It is a suburb of Philadelphia. I was able to attend with him and actually see him in another form of ministry, away from the college and the support it lends. Oh my goodness, he is great. The church responds to his style of worship in a really neat way. You can tell it is a worshipping church and they are completely engaged. I am so pleased that this is his first paying job. A great experience with wonderful pastors. I am so impressed. The church has supported us for years but I had never been privileged to attend a service. I was so blessed and it wasn't over yet. The only thing that could have made the service better was if I could have heard Pastor George Cunard speak! What a wonderful man and his son the youth pastor, Pastor Jamie. Beautiful people.

That evening I was in for another wonderful surprise...Ryan's band, The Interlude, played for a worship experience at The Worship Center. They loaded up 2 cars with equipment and the guys. I knew I was in for a treat. I wished I had a video camera with me to bring the worship experience home to Denny and Renee. They would love it! some day.

My 13 days in the states were truly wonderful. I am so blessed. I am so grateful that Denny sent me for Ryan's senior Christmas at the Forge. I so enjoyed living in his world for those days. I miss him so terribly but it made coming back to Jamaica easier for me to see how happy he is and for the last 3 years he has been growing in ways I would have never known except for being there. I am proud of my firstborn. I am proud of his giftings and his calling. I am proud of his decisions. I am proud of his friends. I am proud of his determination. I am proud of his future and it isn't even known yet. Jesus, thank you for holding Ry's future and revealing it step by step.

I trust you!

p.s. thank you Jesus for my last 13 are the best gift-giver....