Favorite toys, family memories, blessings remembered … what did you get for Christmas?

I loved Christmas as a kid.

Like all kids I’d be up half the night, listening to the activity down in the living room where my dad would be putting together a bicycle or building some other contraption. He’d sometimes ring the jingle bells that hung on our front door because he knew my sister, brother and I were listening; we swore Santa was on our roof with his sleigh full of toys! My older sister would peak down the stairs to spy.

It was such a long wait until 6am when we would run downstairs to open our gifts.

I have fond memories of toys from Christmas past. Among my favorites:

doll and dollhouseSuzy Smart, a talking schoolgirl doll

A magnetic dollhouse – the magnets were on wands and I used to love whipping the family members through the house!

bike and clothesMy first 26 inch bicycle

Barbie clothes, especially the ones my cousin Janie made for me. The white levis were the coolest!

All the cute nature-related stocking stuffers – they were the best!

christmas morningHere’s what we looked like on Christmas morning – my dad could never resist taking a picture and as you can see, we were just thrilled:

When we were a little older, we were required to wait until our grandparents came over before gifts could be opened. Sometimes they wouldn’t arrive until two in the afternoon; that’s a long wait for a kid! I managed to take satisfaction in the fact we still had gifts to open while the rest of the kids in the neighborhood had long ago opened theirs.

Christmas becomes quieter as we grow older  …

although sharing it with small children keeps the magic alive. My husband bought and put together a huge Brio train set for our then one year old son; he ended up playing with the box!

brio trains

But now at 27, he keeps that box of wooden tracks and trains under his old bed at our home to keep for future generations.

Christmas these days is tinged with a bit of melancholy,

remembering parents and other beloved family members who have passed on. This year’s holiday was especially poignant with the thought of my older sister Christine and her husband Tom soon moving down south for their retirement.

We enjoyed a lovely last get-together at their home sharing mementos and memories.

The gathering was intimate: just Christine and Tom, our own family of four and older brother Tommy. Christine set the table with the silver, delicate white tablecloth, cloth napkins and embroidered place mats belonging to our maternal grandmother. Dinners in their Tudor dining room, complete with leaded windows, and a curved entrance with a wrought-iron gate, were formal; this dinner was warm as we each shared something we were grateful for before eating.

Upon opening presents we each received a precious remembrance of past loved ones.

Christine and Tom had recently cleaned out their attic and decided to distribute family mementos. I received my mother’s diploma from Wellesley College along with a special poem and remembrance from her retirement in 1984 from the Botany Department at the college.

Tommy received plans, drawings and photos of miniature ships that our paternal grandfather, known as Pom Pom, had built. We all marveled at the incredible precision and accuracy of the drawings and models; I knew that talent had passed down from grandfather to father to son and felt proud. Here’s a sample drawing from our “Pom Pom” of his 1912 car:

pom pom's car

The day ended quietly and once home,
I indulged in my favorite Christmas present this year,

daktarisent by my brother-in-law and his wife who live an hour outside of Los Angeles. They gave me a DVD of the complete first season of Daktari, a children’s TV show that I loved as a kid (from Wikipedia: The show follows the work of Dr. Tracy, his daughter Paula and his staff, who frequently protected animals from poachers and local officials. Tracy’s pets, a cross-eyed lion named Clarence and a chimpanzee named Judy, were also popular characters.).

It was particularly special that it came from Tim for he loves old TV shows and collects autographs and memorabilia. We had visited them over the summer and Tim and I had talked about favorite TV shows. It touched my heart that he remembered and I literally squealed when I tore off the paper and saw his gift.

So for a little while I became 10 years again, pretending I was Daktari’s daughter, living in Africa taking care of and communing with the animals (especially the big cats!).

Christmas Day was magical again.

But most importantly, thoughts of the baby Jesus and His birth into my life and so many others was never far from my mind. I was pleased to light all four of my advent candles for dinner with our son just before Christmas:

advent wreath with votives

A lovely tabletop tree highlights the manger scene:


Magical, yes. And blessed. Merry Christmas!

How was your Christmas? What were your favorite toys from Santa?

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There’s nothing better at Christmas than “It’s a Wonderful Life,” especially if it’s your story!

Last night I had a lot of cooking to do for a dinner party and kept myself company watching “It’s a Wonderful Life” on YouTube. This truly is a Christmas classic and I got all choked up at the end when the town turned out to help George Bailey. I was flooded with strong memories of a Christmas in 1997 when our family faced a similar situation. I’ll let my son Stephen tell the story:


I’ve been extremely fortunate to have had close friendships with many of my teachers and college professors growing up. I’m generally the class wise guy and this has always guaranteed a lot of time conversing with the teacher, either in welcomed humorous banter or being kept after class for being disruptive while continuing an intellectual conversation on topics discussed in the class.

Of all of these teachers the one that first comes to mind is my sixth grade English teacher, Mrs. Bloom.

Mrs. Bloom recognized early on that I had a lot of creative energy to burn, and she encouraged this at every turn. She focused me on my written work and indulged my interest in humorous skits and videos for my class projects. I think she saw in me a kindred spirit of wild enthusiasm, something she brought every day to class with her own outsized personality and a sweet caring nature that she extended to all of her students. These two sides of her personality came out in full force the week before Christmas in 1997.

Earlier in the month, my family’s storage locker in the basement of our apartment building had been broken into. My parents, having to deal with two surprise-ruining children, had taken to storing all of the Christmas gifts in this locker to keep my sister and me from peeking at them. The thieves had crudely pried open the locker and made off with everything.

My family was devastated; we resigned ourselves to what would likely be a very low-key Christmas.

Somehow Mrs. Bloom found out what had happened. Being anything but a low-key personality, she was not the type of person to stand for anyone settling for less than the best.

I remember entering my sixth grade class the morning before the Christmas break without the sense that anything might happen that day. The sting of the theft was still something everyone in my family felt, a kind of weird shame that hung over us despite it being nothing we could have prevented.

I was greeted with the sight of my entire class clustered around Mrs. Bloom’s infamous treadmill. Having so much excess energy, Mrs. Bloom had the treadmill off in the corner near her desk and would take to running on it during lunch (or class, generally for humorous effect).

Today, the treadmill was piled high with wrapped gifts and surrounded by the smiling faces of my classmates.

nordic-track-commercial-2150-treadmill with giftsMrs. Bloom then explained how in the past week she had called and spoken with the parents and students of my class and in an act of kindness that has so far gone unmatched in my lifetime had organized all of them into this big act of charity for my family.

In a time of crisis, she had gone above and beyond her textbook role as an educator and brought together a small community of people to do good. This event has always stuck with me, and the lessons of kindness taught here have influenced my life ever since.

Do you have a “It’s a Wonderful Life” story of your own to share?

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True unity that brings all things together

Unity in the Heart of God

“Love unites all, whether created or uncreated …”

This is the beginning of a short meditation by noted spiritual writer (and my favorite), Henri Nouwen.

You can read the rest here.

This short passage utterly sums up the purpose of this blog, and my life.

How about you? What sums up your life?

Click to Tweet & Share: True unity, as Henri Nouwen sees it. Sums up my life. How about yours? What sums up your life? http://wp.me/p2D9hg-iB

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The metaphor of Seven Kittens

In a previous post I shared how a live cam on Ustream of a stray cat and her kittens rescued by a woman in Pittsburgh, PA had caught the attention of the world. Thousands followed the escapade of Noodles and her kittens and shed tears as they grew up and went on to their permanent homes.

This may seem like a story reserved for cat lovers but I couldn’t help but notice a universal theme.

To review the scenario:

  • A woman takes pity on a stray, pregnant cat and takes her into her home.
  • Five weeks later the cat bears seven kittens.
  • Care and love are lavished with tremendous generosity on the cat and kittens.
  • One kitten is a tiny runt with no hair. He is so small that the chat community is concerned for him.
  • The mother cat is especially solicitous towards the runt. The community takes notice and falls in love with the runt and roots for him.
  • The cat and kittens thrive under the care they’re receiving and blossom into beautiful young cats, perfectly socialized and affectionate with humans.
  • Loki (Runty) at 8 weeks with the lucky lady he would soon go home with

    The runt especially blossoms, turning into a large, fluffy and sweet beauty.

  • The girls are gorgeous tortis, the boys lean and handsome gingers.
  • The adoptions go well and the kittens go home.

End of story. Or is it?

In the midst of a dark, chaotic and polarized world, a small international community grows around creatures given a home, love and care. The love is contagious and soon the community cares for the cat and kittens. And then people in community begin to care for each other.

It proves something I’ve suspected for a long time: love begets love.

from http://matthewpaulturner.net/jesus-needs-new-pr/the-light-is-for-you-a-post-inspired-by-rachelheldevans/

We are created to seek goodness, love and beauty. We long for light, not darkness, but we get pulled off course.

We seek happiness from the outside: from the glitzy, glamorous, sexy, exciting, unwholesome and even dangerous when it fact, it dwells within, simply and quietly, waiting for us.

In an ugly world the site of a cat and her kittens being so generously cared for is attractive and touches the heart. And it drew people in like a moth to a flame.

This wasn’t just a story about cats: this is about us.

One person took a chance fostering these kittens. She accepted the risk, laid out her money, gave of her time, and poured out her heart. Although many in the chat community are sad at the departure of the family, this person must feel especially drained and heartbroken.

Happily ever after

The story, however, has a happy ending. No one in the community could deny the miracle of the blossoming of these kittens (most especially the runt); it was the product of selfless love. The weak were taken in and made strong.

And no one could deny the friendships that grew within the community. When the kittens were quietly sleeping and out of sight, the conversations continued. People began to get to know each other. Even though posts were in many different languages, all converged around a single, unifying event.

Love begets love

from http://www.profkrg.com/nerd-note-each-other-vs-one-another

Love is oftentimes depicted in the scriptures as beginning small and growing big. The mustard seed grows into the huge tree. The five loaves and two fish feed 5000 people. The small bits of leaven make the bread rise.

And love given spontaneously to a stray cat and her kittens grows into an international community.

God, who is Love, is continuously at work in the world using any and all situations to communicate with us. Like so many of the mundane, everyday occurrences of our lives, these events teach us how to love and care for each other.

We just need the eyes to see.

Linked to stay in touch

So far, two Facebook pages have set up by the new owners:

Loki: https://www.facebook.com/SevenKittensLOKI

Cosmo: https://www.facebook.com/cosmo.swishermullins

Seven Kittens has a page too: https://www.facebook.com/TheSevenKittens

And you can watch highlights from the Ustream site: http://www.ustream.tv/sevenkittens

Click to Tweet & Share: What can seven kittens teach us about love, light and each other? Plenty! http://wp.me/p2D9hg-55

em space

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Susan Bailey, Author, Speaker, Musician on Facebook and Twitter
Read my other blog, Louisa May Alcott is My Passion