Hiking from the Hostel

Rose and dog Sadie left in the morning for a Christmas visit with her family. By late afternoon we were in hostel mode. Son John $pencer bunked in with grandson David to give his room to Bob, a hiking friend of long standing. We had a leisurely breakfast before driving the two to Cataloochee to hike. Even though it was not prime grazing time, we saw a herd of elk resting in the valley.

I zoomed in to get this. The elk were across a large meadow.

The fellows let me take their picture after they strapped on their backpacks. They planned to hike back to a peak we can see from our living room window. It isn’t right in our back yard, but it is pretty close.

Bob and John ready to hike for a couple of days

Picturing Love

We went to the midnight service on Christmas Eve and the one on Christmas morning. If I had photos to share, they would show ordinary people gathered to worship God. We are common people loved by our extraordinary God. Sharing faith draws us together to love each other. What a celebration we have every year, because God sent his son to become one of us!

I hope our love shines through photos taken at home, beginning with Sadie, who had an immediate attachment to her new chew toy.

John and grandson David handed out gifts from under the tree. This was the best photo of the tree this year. Decorating the tree was a labor of love, one that I always leave entirely to John.

Son John $pencer held Sadie as Rose put treats in the dog’s main Christmas gift. That kept Sadie busy for the rest of the morning.

Family and neighbor friends watched the flaming of the Christmas pudding, a show we always enjoy. Our neighbors are very special, and we were blessed that half of our favorites could be with us. The others had family activities elsewhere.

John $, Rose, Marla, David, John
John, Dawn, Jeff, and Connie watching the flame. Pumpkin roll waits patiently.

For the foodies: We had baked Brie with crackers, spinach dip with chips, a casserole of chicken and stuffing, frozen cranberry salad, glazed carrots, broccoli with Hollandaise sauce, homemade rolls (not tasty at all) Jell-o cottage cheese salad, Connie’s delicious pumpkin roll, and Christmas pudding with hard sauce.


My 77th birthday was one of the most delightful ever. First, there was the surprise party in New York with relatives and friends of long standing (not calling them old). Between that and my real birthday, I received lots of lovely cards, e-greetings, and phone calls. I was humbled by all the attention from around the world.

After church, I was given a fun story to write. Surely that counts as a gift. Ed and his wife were flying to Texas the next day to spend Christmas with relatives. Did he have a big family? Oh! My! Yes! He had 35 first cousins!! Those 35 were descended from 11 children, so Ed began life with 10 aunts and uncles. John and I wanted to know if he knew everyone’s name. You could see the wheels turning, so I suspect he could pull those names out, given time. He explained that every family member has a number. His dad was the seventh child, and Ed was his firstborn, so Ed’s number is 71. I think that is brilliant. If you know the number of the person you are talking to, you know exactly where s/he belongs in the family tree.

Rose and son John $pencer met us to go to a Thai restaurant north of Asheville. I last had Thai food three or four years ago, so I was excited about it. We shared an appetizer – spring rolls, crab Rangoon, and dumplings. John and grandson David chose orange sesame chicken, and Rose had a tofu dish. It didn’t matter what $ ordered, because he chose the hot version and probably couldn’t taste anything because of the searing heat. He turned all shades of red, while insisting he loved his food. I had pineapple curry with salmon that was only mildly spicy.

I asked $ to take a selfie of us, but we didn’t all fit in. $ overheard a family conversation at the next table, so when one of them offered to take a photo of all of us, he asked, “Are you also celebrating a birthday?” They were. It was a young woman on the far side of their table, so we waved and called greetings to each other.

John, Anne, Rose, David, and John

At home, I quickly looked at messages. Having had the phone silenced during church and dinner, I was behind. Neighbor Shawn texted to ask if they could come over in the evening, and neighbor Marla said she and her mother would like to bring something to our house. That was the beginning of the best impromptu birthday party. Connie and Marla arrived wearing festive Santa hats.

Sadie was enthralled when Logan arrived. Their play was so active that both boy and dog were blurred in the photo. Shawn, our son $, and Bob were in the background.

I liked the picture of everyone at the table after we devoured the cake $ bought. It was marvelous to have this congenial group together. I couldn’t have dreamed of a better celebration.

Rose, John $, Connie, Marla, David, Shawn, Logan, Bob, and John

Stony Brook Family and Friends

Sister Barbara can turn any space into a festive party venue. We had a light supper in the living room after church and breakfast the next day in the sun-filled dining room.

We walked on Main Street, the place where I used to walk when we lived in Stony Brook. I got a quick photo at the millpond, but it was much too cold to linger. We walked back to the car as quickly as possible to thaw our faces.

David, Barbara, and John at the millpond

Our nieces and nephew visited in the afternoon. It was amazing how much great nephew Thomas had grown. His little brother Ellie is now a year old, and he was a mere infant the last time I saw him. The boys played together nicely while the rest of us chatted.

Ellie, Lars, Thomas, and David

I liked the photo of Tonja and Catherine ( sisters-in-law) with Ellie.

Barbara served dinner for twelve, making it seem as easy as putting out snacks. It was delightful to visit with old friends from church. Resident Sophie and her niece Sara expedited the serving and cleaning up.

My birthday was the last thing on my mind. I put off thinking about it until this trip was over. It was a total surprise when Barbara came in with two pies, one headed my way with candles blazing. I have good breath control but no aim to speak of. It took both a huff and a puff to get the symbolic candles out. Who knew you needed to practice candle-blowing? I should be in good form Sunday when I turn 77. There should be no hoopla, although John always buys a luscious chocolate cake to celebrate. I like things so low-key that they almost fall off the piano.

Barbara, Sophie, Judy, Pat, Thom, David, Al, Karen, Anne, Ruth, and John

We stopped in New Jersey to see daughter Kate on our way to North Carolina. She was called into work early, so we talked with her as she set up her check-out area. It was fun to see her scan groceries and pack them efficiently.

We had a pleasant drive back to North Carolina, a trip of 16.5 hours. Now, on to Christmas!

A Pre-Christmas Day in New York

Even the drive into Manhattan was exciting, but I’ll not share the distant photos or the shots of buildings that are ho-hum to many. We posed in the entrance of St. Thomas Episcopal Church on Fifth Avenue – grandson David, John, sister Barbara, Sophie, brother Thom, and Sara. Sophie lives in Barbara’s and Thom’s home, and her cousin Sara is visiting for the Christmas break. This was Sara’s first visit to New York.

We had pews near the front for the noon service of lessons and carols.

From my seat, I took a photo of the front of the church. The huge Advent wreath was prominent. I wanted to show the creche in the center, too.

It’s the norm for the choir to have a quick rehearsal just before the service, and we’re often early enough to hear it. John immediately noticed that only the men were practicing. He had a feeling the boys were not going to sing, even though they were on the schedule to be there. Sure enough, the rector announced that because of the danger of ice falling, the boys were not allowed to leave their residence a few blocks away. He said there was heightened awareness of danger because a woman had been killed by falling debris only a few days before. Ice from sleet the night before was the present danger. As the service progressed, we became aware of how that affected what we heard. The twelve men would normally have sung the bass, tenor, and counter tenor (alto) lines. Boys always sing the top line. Five of the men shifted to share the soprano and alto lines, parts they had not rehearsed before. The director stood with them and was singing, something he normally would not do. The choir sounded as if they had intended to sing the music that way all along. We were totally impressed with their mastery of this quick change.

As the service ended, John looked back and said, “You won’t believe how many people are here. The church is full.” It’s amazing that so many came at noon on a Wednesday.

We approached the tree at Rockefeller Center from the back.

I took David’s face with the trunk of the tree to show how large the tree was. Santa Claus was skating at the ice rink in front of the tree. The skaters and crowds were enjoying him.

We walked around to the side where I took a shot of the tree that included the waterfall behind the golden statue. You might have to use imagination to see that.

I pushed myself to keep up the New York pace of walking. People appeared to be just walking, and I was almost running. I think I kept my tongue inside my mouth, but a dog would have been panting! There were people from many nations, identifiable by appearance and/or language.

One mini-conversation in English made me laugh. A man was loudly telling his companion, “I saw Bill there. He was in my class in school.”

The woman rolled her eyes outrageously and said softly and clearly, “Shut up!”

Barbara had wanted us to eat at a special restaurant where the wait staff sing to you at your table. They are actors hoping to land a part in a musical. The line to get in was too long, so John drove us to Queens to eat. Sophie,with her musical laugh, and Sara, with her beaming smile, were happy to experience a meal at a New York diner.

As we finished eating, a snow squall worked its magic, turning everything white. Thom, Barbara, and David posed with the snow before getting in the car.

Traffic was very heavy on the way out. We had five minutes to spare before the Advent service at our old church in Setauket. Friend Ruth had all the Chrismons laid out, and Thom and Liann shared the symbolism of the ornaments. Everyone participated in hanging them on the trees. That is instant decorating! How wonderful it was to see our former church family there!

I think we were gone about 12 hours, having a marvelous day with people we love.

Advent 3

The third Sunday of Advent has the theme of joy. We had a joyous day, starting with our service of lessons and carols. John and grandson David sang in the choir for both services. I took a photo from my seat, though it’s not a good one. If I look closely, I can see my men in the back row, David wedged under the eave on the left and John with the red eternal candle appearing to sit on his head on the right.

I was too far back to get a good shot of the chancel, though it does show how crowded the front was. In the center was a teen-aged angel holding a toddler cherub. Mary was a 14-year-old with a live baby, her cousin I think. The wise men and shepherds were sitting on the floor, hidden by the music stands of the orchestra. Also in front were the stands for the bell choir. Despite the crowded conditions, bell ringers moved freely from the congregation and choir to their stands. Maybe the children had angelic assistance to get to the chancel. The readers were in the back, reverently reading the Scripture on which the music was based. I can see the pianist on the far left and the director with his back to us.

What do choir members do when they are off-duty? They sing, of course. There was a pot-luck dinner for the musicians and readers at a member’s home. After we ate, we were invited to the living room to sing carols and Christmas songs. Pianist Lula and director Kevin were sitting on either side of the hanging wreath. I believe Kevin teaches guitar at the college level, so he was able to accompany us on any song we chose. Several people used their phones to call up all the words. It was a fun time for all.

Two consult cell phones for lyrics

For punsters: As we were leaving, David put COKES on the stairs while he fetched his sweater. The hostess asked if he were getting COATS, and we said yes, and that we would COAX him to leave.

Balancing Act

Grandson David is always ready for fun, even after being on his feet all day. It puts a bit of balance in his life. I used the apple whomper to cut and core his apple, and he reassembled it on the plate. He could have said, “Look! Gran! No hands!”

Apple cut and cored

After David put cookies on his plate, I stood two tan ones up like cards. He redid it, adding a cookie on top.

In the next room, John sat down to rest after pronouncing the Christmas tree finished.

David joined him in the living room, balancing two oblong cookies and a star on the original A-frame. This is sweet edible art.

As I wrote this post, snowbows formed and reformed near the mountain. The weather map showed snow clouds running behind the ridge line, yet the colorful arcs appeared in front of it. The show lasted several hours.

December Snowbow