We have a small Fontanini Nativity set that is put out every Christmas. Are you familiar with these beautifully made Italian nativity, figures and town scenes? They have been in production for one hundred years. We purchased ours at a local Christmas shop well over a decade ago.
Handcrafted and painted in the most lovely of colors. Colors that remind me of those used by Michelangelo. Warm, soft, gentle colors. Colors and feelings that speak of The center figure of all their work, Jesus. But the final selling point for me was the fact they were (and still are) made of polymer. I wanted Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus figures to be safe in the hands of our little children. It seemed easier for us to convey the love of Christ to our children when they could touch the figures, hold them in their hands, and pretend they were right there in the stable with them. Even re-arrange them, if they chose to.
Jesus isthe reason for Christmas. Everything else is secondary. So here is a question for you, dear reader, to ponder. What are you going to do with Jesus? For the claims He alone has made to, for, and about Himself and mankind? Accept or reject? These questions demand an answer from each one of us alone because of the prophesies full-filled and claims He made.
As you think on these questions of Jesus, I hope you enjoy this photographic journey through the Nativity and the most important Birth in the history of all humanity.
She has the best laugh. Shirley (her MIL–mother-in-law) spends untold hours thinking of ways to make Hazel laugh. She likes to hear it that much.
She not only has a great laugh, she has a great accent. You see, dear reader, she was not born here in America. She and her family were from a far away place. Her daddy slipped she and the rest of his precious family out of their country in the dead of night for the religious freedoms this great country had to offer. Hazel was knee-high to a grasshopper when they arrived here. She was a tender young teenager. She could not speak one word of English.
Shirley says Hazel is also brave. Brave in many ways. For one, she has a never-give-up spirit. Shirley and Snoot are as proud as peacocks of their second DIL. She married Ot (Shirley’s second boy) ten years ago. Hazel, her two capable brothers, her momma, daddy and friends did all the work for her wedding. Flowers, food, decorations, music, make-up, lights, candles and hair. Snoot helped too. He peeled 20 pounds of potatoes for mashed potatoes! Way to go Snoot. It was a beautiful wedding. One interesting thing Shirley noticed that she had never seen before was that most of the guests Hazel invited wore outfits that matched the colors she had picked out for her wedding. The colors were dark green and orange. It was a beautiful sight. Hazels momma looked gorgeous.
When Hazel was new here to this country, she decided she wanted to work at the local bridal shop in the town where she and her family lived. Remember, she could speak no English. She only knew how to say, “I want a job.” Well, that was all she said to the owner of that lovely shop over and over and over again. That woman could not take anymore of that pretty, annoying, persistent teenager week after long week. Hazel was hired. And that was the grand beginning for her. She learned English in no time flat. It did not take that owner long to realize the quality of gal she had in Hazel. She flourished working at that pretty shop.
She also has a great sense of humor. One funny thing she and Shirley have fun talking about it when she and Ot (Shirley’s boy) started taking a shine to one another. Hazel was still right young. Too young for Shirley’s liking to be sure. This caused a bit of upset between the three of them. And to Shirley’s great delight, Hazel left. Ot was too young too. Shirley believes mothers have an insight into the maturation of their boys. Ot was not there yet, and goodness gracious neither was that ‘little girl!’ Then a surprising thing happened. Two years later, when Hazel was twenty years old, she came back! It was then Shirley says Ot and Hazel were meant for each other. God’s design. Hazel has a lot of fun telling Shirley how much she did not like her in the beginning. She laughs a lot harder about it than Shirley does. Bless her heart.
Not too long after that they were married. It was a beautiful wedding. We already said that. It was at Ot’s granny’s farm. Hard to believe that was over ten terrific years ago. Time sure has a way of going by, don’t it?
One of the most interesting, and special things about Hazel is her love of this country, America. It has been said, “You don’t know what you got ’till its gone.” You see, dear reader, Hazel and her family never had it. But what exactly is “It?” Freedom. Freedom of religion, freedom to pursue one’s own interests, freedom to live where one wants, build as one wants, work where one wants, and speak as one wants, marry whom one wants, to name a few. Space. Have you, dear reader, ever thought about space? Your personal space? To move about as you please, visit wherever you please, stay as long as you please? Do these things ever come into your mind?
Shirley and Snoot like to be reminded of how good they, and their family have it here in America. They know that sometimes it is easy to forget all the gifts and blessings of this free country. That is why everyone in theworld wants to come here, they remind themselves. Hazel always reminds them. She remembers what it was like to not have these precious freedoms.
Another feather in her cap is this; she is a Naturalized Citizen of these wonderful United States of America. She worked very hard to study and pass the test. She is a fine example to all of us that have desired to be a legal American. It is a gift and honor. Not to be taken lightly. Just ask Hazel how much effort it took on her part to earn this citizenship. Her entire family is proud like crazy of her.
She speaks beautiful English now. Though she still has a lovely accent in her pronunciations of some words. And to Shirley’s great delight she can get a big ‘ole laugh out of her for some of the weird ways the American language goes. Why wouldn’t it after all? America is a beautiful land of many peoples and cultures. This has been her timeless beauty since her beginning. It is something every American, regardless of when they earned their citizenship, should be proud of. We have all worked hard for it. To be an American is an honor and gift. Whether we just earned our citizenship, or have been here for generations matters little. What truly matters is that we have a clear understanding of the gift and responsibility of being an American. We stand for our country. We defend our country. We love our country. After all, no matter when we came—it is our country.
Shirley just knows this is one reason why Hazel is so happy. Because she remembers. She knows. It has made her strong, resilient, fun. Best of all, it has made
We Virginians love Open House events. Simply ask any realtor. When they have an Open House event for a home on the market, they get lots of folks just wanting to see the house, how it is decorated and laid-out. It is fun.
Christmas Open House events are even more fun. Full of festive decorations, joy and anticipation of Christmas. I am a docent at Abram’s Delight Museum in Winchester, Virginia. The first week-end of every December we have our Christmas Open House. Full of beautiful greens, wrapped packages, dried flowers, real candles, bows, ribbons, and Christmas bulbs. The live Christmas music dancing on the air is the clincher that makes it all complete. There is no admission fee to see and experience all this loveliness either. Just come, enjoy, and get some new decorating ideas for Christmas.
Our local garden clubs decorate the house. How they get it more beautiful from one year to the next seems magical. Each room is decorated by a different club. There is a unique difference that is fun to study from room to room. We do put ourselves into our creations don’t we?
Because I am a docent, I am not able to be as poky as I would like in looking at each room and taking photographs. Next year I shall get there even earlier so as to capture more of this festive, joyful event. I hope you enjoy the few photos I did happen to get.
Snoot, Wanda’s father-in-law, does not give it a second thought. He thinks he is the easiest person in the world to get along with. Is there a greater father-in-law than he? Not in Snoot’s mind.
Now Shirley, Wanda’s mother-in-law ain’t quite so confident. She’s been know to say that being a MIL (mother-in-law for short) can be like walking on thin ice sometimes—-really thin ice.
Before being too hard on Shirley, dear reader, know that she don’t mean too much bad about it, per se. What she is trying to get at is that the ‘letting go’ thing mothers have to do when their sons marry can be trying at times. Really though, it is more like a ‘keep your mouth shut’ sort of thing. This is an ongoing practice for Shirley. She has often said, “I can’t get that gate shut on my mouth fast enough!”
Makes sense if you would think about it a bit. After-all, Shirley has been a momma telling her boys stuff longer than she has been a MIL. Now she has to learn to be quiet so her daughter-in-laws (DIL) can tell their husbands what to do. It is all a little amusing in Shirley’s mind. Woman have always told men what to do since the beginning of time. So now she can sit back and enjoy the change in power. Though sometimes, she admits, it is hard to let go.
The biggest worry for Shirley is the hope that her DIL’s would like her. All the MIL jokes used to be funny to her before she became one. Odd how things change isn’t it? It is wise not tell any around her, she tends to get a bit testy.
Shirley’s own MIL just recently passed away. It was a fine 42-year-long relationship. They did not do too much together, but the general feeling was friendly and easy. There were times she got a bit too pushy with Shirley and said more than she probably should have. But the sum is more important than the parts, and Shirley knew her own day was coming to walk in those slippery shoes.
And now, she is in those shoes. Man! These roles in life can sure get the best of her. So many of them: daughter, sister, friend, co-worker, wife, teacher, neighbor, aunt, grandmother, and now mother-in-law. If Shirley only had Snoot’s opinion of herself. “Well”, she reasons to herself, “There are no Father-in-law jokes to fret him”. “Are women just more difficult to get along with then men?” Shirley wonders. She recalls the comment a fellow once made about not understanding women and how we spat and such at one another. He said, “When my brothers and I got mad at each other, we’d beat each other up, then we’d be friends again”. Hmmm.
Wanda, Tanner, and their cute, little boys live close to Shirley and Snoot as previously mentioned. And this is what causes the angst. You see, Shirley wants to be a good MIL. So she must believe the lovely thank you notes Wanda sends to her about the fun they have had visiting and enjoying supper together. She has to believe it—
Because Wanda said so.
Shirley has also learned that being a good MIL takes time and practice. She knows the important role all three of her beautiful DIL’s play in forming a family unit. Dot is her very first lovely DIL, and Hazel is her second. These three, wonderful gals have worked together beautifully to create a greater family unit with everyone. It has taken time, effort, and sometimes tears, but it is beautiful.
Shirley would be remiss if she did not mention, Tina, the only daughter. That was an entirely new path too, i.e. being a sister-in-law. Tina was the only girl in the household. She had to learn to step aside also, and make room for these fine gals. “Tina,” Shirley would tell her, “it seems like life is a constant shift and wiggle, most especially when folks are involved.”
“For instance,” she continued, “if the dog was buggin’ you, you could just throw him outside for awhile. But we cannot do that with these new gals that have now become part of our family.” Tina is smart, she gets it, and she’s getting better and better.
Time is a good thing for folks. So is age. So is having children. So is taxes, thinks Shirley. After all what would Snoot have to complain about if it wasn’t for taxes? But the best thing of all is a growing family. Hard as it is to shift around to settle into another comfortable place. When the heart is in it, everyone knows. Love can be felt. Shirley always said one of the best things her good MIL taught her boy Snoot was to always think of the other person and their feelings. She did a good job of it too. Snoot has grown his own family up into an ever-larger loving group of folks.
Fact is all of these folks have worked to build their family unit. It is important to each and every one of them. When they all get together they have a fine time laughing, joking, cooking and eating together. They may not agree on everything, but they let those differences go. They focus on the fact they are family, and there is joy and pride in that. It has taken time to get to this place. Shirley thinks it was worth every bit of work, hardship and effort. She is quite sure everyone would agree with her, because she can see it, and hear it in their voices. She can also see it in their faces. They have each made it their job to build their family unit.
Shirley would say it has been worth the growing pains. She is sure everyone else would agree. She bets $10 (she is a betting sort of gal at times when she knows she will win), that her three, best-any-momma-would-ever-want DIL’s would surely say so too…
What a silly question. Or is it? How do you see your horse?
We get a kick out of asking our students funny questions like this during their riding lessons. It makes them wonder just what in the world we are getting at. Which is exactly why we ask. We want them to turn their horse brains on the moment they step into the barn.
After the rounds of laughter, they are asked to describe the differences between dogs and horses. Have you ever thought about the differences between these two animals that so many of us enjoy over our lifetimes?
If they stumble (we do not let them sweat it out too long), they are asked this question, “Are horses prey animals? Or are dogs? Who hunts whom? What is the difference between a ‘herd’ animal and a ‘pack’ animal?” “Which one does the horse belong to?”
By now our poor students are wondering why they even asked their parents for horseback riding lessons. Hey! They just wanted to ride off into the sunrise. That ain’t going to happen at this barn.
From the get-go we want them to have a clear understanding that horses are not like their pet dogs. Not in the least, and they must not put them in the same category. This is mostly for safeties sake, but it is also a building block for becoming one good horseman.
Safety first, beauty second. This has been the motto of our small horseback riding school since our beginning. We are small. Only two horses, and four miniatures make up our stable. Lessons are private. They begin on High Hope, our pretty buckskin mare. Once the students hands and seat are improved and controlled, they move on to Duke, our Tennessee Walking horse. This exciting move is made only when satisfactory progress has been made in the riders’ seat, balance and hands. Primarily hands, because good hands produce a good seat.
Though small in equine numbers, our lessons are big is scope. Students learn quickly that actual riding comprises a small part of weekly lessons. Groundwork, horse care and horse knowledge carry a lot of weight and precede the skill of riding. We believe that good groundwork produces good riding.
The first fact students hear from this barn is, “A horse can kill you if they want. They can kill you if they don’t want.” The best student is the one who innately knows this truth. For they understand the ultimate lack of power they have over the horse. Either through fear or wisdom of the horse, this knowledge will serve them well.
“What are your goals in wanting to learn to ride?” The answer to this question helps decide if our school is the right fit for them. Our focus is basic horsemanship knowledge and good soft hands. Knowing how to “put your horse brain on.” We believe that if it is not done “on the ground”, it will not be able to be done on the back of the horse. In other words, our students must know how to move a horse while working around them on the ground before they will ever be able to move them from sitting in the saddle. They have to learn how to ‘read’ a horse. These are developed from groundwork and good observation. They will soon learn that all horses are not the same. They may not like a horse for some reason, and that is okay. Did you know horses do not like all people either? Some prefer men over women and visa versa. We teach them how to care for the horses, i.e. how to tie them safely, groom them, look for ailments and injuries, pick their hooves, how to tack them up, and so forth. It sounds like a lot, but it’s a learning curve. We try hard to make it fun, informative and tasty. There is a jar full of candy for hungry horse wranglers in the tack room. Help yourself.
I always have fun telling my students that at this barn, I am the groomsmen, tack man, barn man, hay man, go-fetch-the-horses man, and main mucking man. These students catch on quickly, as they know they will be learning all that too.
Does this mean our students do not ride? Certainly not! We ride english, western, bareback, with a bridle or without. In the round pen, out in the fields, in the woods, on roads, and through streams. Doesn’t that sound like fun?
Basic health care is another part of training. Horses are expensive, but expenses can be controlled. We do not need pink buckets, halters, or lead lines. They cost more money! Less is more, and we learn how to take good care what we have.
Our Fall Riding Recital. What is this? It is a unique ‘show’ we put on every fall for parents, and guests. Students demonstrate the skills they have learned during the year. Each student has a particular skill they have learned well. It is a time to show-off their skills to their parents, friends, and guests. Oh! And there are refreshments for all afterwards, time to talk with students, and meet the horses. It is a fun, unique opportunity for all. Enjoy these photos of recitals past and present.
So if you are interested in having a fun time learning about horses, and becoming a good horseman, swatting flies, sweating, getting stepped on, having a velvety muzzle to pet, and a fun ride, come out and meet us. You may want to give it a try.
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sailaway from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” ~ Mark Twain