Photos of Brady

Wednesday, December 31, 2003


As 2003 comes to an end I have been giving thought to the events of the past year. I have a very average life in the scheme of things. Nothing extraordinary. Yet it is my habit to take stock of my life, to savor the joys, accomplishments, and successes while examining the more negative events for the life lessons hidden there....

I spent the first month of the new year recovering from a painful foot surgery. I had thought to be back to work in a couple of weeks, but was off five weeks. It rendered me virtually helpless. I stayed with Mom and Rocky a week, because I couldn't move to take care of myself. I learned a lot about disability, pain, and the internal determination needed to begin the slow process of physical therapy. Since Smalltown is such a rural area I did the physical therapy myself. Actually I am still recovering from this surgery a year later, but walked with a definite limp for five months. What I have learned from this experience could fill a book.....

My brother George had emergency surgery the first part of May. There were a few days that we were awaiting test results which could have indicated a very serious problem. God blessed us with a good result however, and we felt fortunate that he only lost his gall bladder in the process. Since I had been off so much with my foot, I was unable to be there. It is a very helpless feeling to be far away from loved ones when they are going through serious health issues. This was the first time that one of my siblings had been this ill, and it was scary.

In May our family convened in Covington, Louisiana to see my brother John's only son graduate high school. It was a wonderful experience, and one of the highlights of the year. We are so fortunate to have a wonderful family bond. We have so much fun together. John and Barbara have done a wonderful job of raising LJ.

One Wednesday in June I was returning from lunch when I was told by one of the secretaries that the man who taught me how to drive was coming to visit me at the office. Fifteen minutes later, my high school sweetheart walked through the door. There was about ten seconds while I was attempting to stand that I thought I might faint at his feet, but thankfully that did not happen. It was a shock, however. It was so good to see him, and we talked the afternoon away. I had dreamed of that moment so many times, and had to keep pinching myself to make sure that I was indeed awake. He asked me to dinner, and we had the most wonderful time. We write almost every day, and it has been such a joy to reconnect with him.

In August I began writing my blog, Down A Country Road. My brother John encouraged me to do it, and it has been one of the most satisfying things in my life. I have always wanted to write a book, so I am doing that now...one day at a time. I have met the most wonderful people from all over the world. It is simply amazing. I am reaching more people now than if I had actually published a book. It is definitely a life's dream realized.

September brought our family together again to see my son get married. It was a beautiful wedding, and Jonathan and Aimee were so happy that the church was filled with the power of their joy. It was such a happy time. He had lost his first fiancee to cancer two years ago, and there was a time I feared he might never find love again. In the midst of tragedy love bloomed. It was so satisfying for me to see the look on his face as his bride walked through the door of the sanctuary. My daughter and her husband were here for the wedding, and as magical Mother's moments go, this was the best.

The holidays are always spent with family. We had a wonderful Thanksgiving in Shawnee, Kansas with my brother George. Revisiting the neighborhood where I grew up is always special, and I saw my best friend Diane, and my high school sweetheart again. Christmas George came here to Smalltown, and we had a great time.

In writing out the events of the past year I see that all in all this has been a very good year for me. All of the people I love are happy, settled and healthy. I have reconnected with many dear friends from my past, and connected with many new ones. I am living one of my dreams as I write each day, and hopefully Down A Country Road will actually be a book some day.

God has blessed me beyond measure. As I look forward to the New Year, it is with joy and purpose. Although I always have regrets as the old year passes, I have bright hopes of better things to come in 2004......here on my country road.

A very safe and Happy New Year to all of you dear friends and family.

Until next year,
Becky Strain


Tuesday, December 30, 2003


I am still among the living, although sometimes that is a fluid term. I can't believe how many of you share your lives with cats. Your comments were heartwarming but not encouraging in that I can see my cats will not outgrow these irritating habits. They are traits inherent to cats, I suppose. As I said, I had a little West Highland White Terrier, or Westie for short, named Dara. She was originally a special Christmas puppy that I got for my daughter when she was a junior in high school. She had high blood pressure, and the doctor thought a puppy might be the magic that brought her blood pressure down.

Eventually he was right, but those first weeks were a trial. When Jennifer left for college a year and a half later, the puppy became my dog. We were best friends for 14 years. She knew me better than I knew myself, in that way dogs have. She was a very big part of our family. She developed several health problems, the worst being diabetes and Cushing's disease. I had to give her insulin injections twice a day and oral medications. Eventually she lost all control of body functions, and I had to have her put to sleep. She is buried at the edge of the big woods in back of Mom's house, next to Jake, Mom's best four legged friend.

I have had an emptiness that I did not want to fill with another dog. It was upon the return from a vacation seeing my brother John that we were at the vet to pick up my brother's Westie, Murphy, and I saw a cage full of orphaned kittens. The assistant was only too happy to let them out, and the little runt came my way. And so it was that Scrappy came to live with me. We are still trying to understand each other. He doesn't mind like Dara did, and when I rescued Paddy from Pet Smart to be his friend, my troubles quadrupled. Mom is a very big cat person, and told me that all would be well. It took a while, but they have become pretty good friends. Scrappy is very jealous, and picks on little Paddy, but hopefully in time things will even out.

The post yesterday brought forth a few inquiries about the two outside orphan kitties that adopted me. Tiny is the smallest of the two, the most outgoing, and a male. Scaredy is larger, very timid, and also male. They are messed up because I have been home so much over the holidays, but they play in the big woods all day while I am working and sit on the porch when they see my car come home. Due to the multitude of wild animals, critters and carnivores, I lock them in the garage at night. After seven months, Scaredy finally let me pick him up, but only tolerates it for a second or two. Trust is hard won. Show a dog love, and you can't shake 'em. Cats are a very different story. I very often take offense at their haughty attitude and looks of disdain. I shouldn't take it personally I suppose, but Dara adored me with a very big heart, and I miss that interaction.

Thank goodness for animals. God has blessed us with such loving companions and friends. I don't know anyone who doesn't have at least one special pet in their home. As the old year comes to an end, I will most likely be found sitting on the couch with two cats in the garage and two cats on my lap......here on my country road.

Until tomorrow,
Becky Strain


Monday, December 29, 2003


Yesterday as I was home sick I got a real education. I made up a bed on the couch and was almost asleep when I heard the ficus tree shaking. It was my cat Scrappy. He was trying to climb the tree, which was waving precariously. I am still trying to get used to cats after being a dog owner for 14 years. Yelling at Scrappy did me absolutely no good. I had to get up, disentangle my 18 pound cat from the ficus tree and put him on the couch. I laid back down and settled back into slumber.

A very short time later a loud crash from the direction of the computer room woke me up. Getting up once again, I made it to the computer room just in time to see a box of books go crashing to the floor. My other cat Paddy has a penchant for cardboard boxes. She evidently had been in the box and knocked it off the stool I had it on. Paddy took off in the direction of my bedroom and disappeared. I picked up the books, set them on the floor in the box and went back to bed.

I had been asleep for some time when another crash occurred in the kitchen. I had boxes stacked there to take to the garage when I felt better. They were filled with styrofoam peanuts that Christmas gifts had been packed in. The kitchen floor was now covered in styrofoam peanuts, and two cats were looking up at me with wide eyed innocence. After picking up all of the peanuts I placed the boxes out on the front porch, and laid back down.

I hadn't been settled more than fifteen minutes when a loud crash was heard from the front porch. I opened the front door and Tiny and Scaredy, my two orphaned outside cats were sitting in the middle of a big pile of styrofoam and over turned boxes. I put on my coat and hat, went out to the porch and gathered up all of the peanuts again and carried the boxes to the garage. When I went back inside the house Paddy and Scrappy were looking at me like little angels.

I did eventually get an interrupted nap, but I think it was because I simply outlasted the cats. I thought the cats slept all day while I was at work, but I found out that there is a lot that goes on here while I am away. It is a good thing that I am not sick very often. I will be home again today, but I have policed the house and moved any potential hazards out of the way of my feline friends. I am hoping for a quieter day today.....it's a jungle in here.

Until tomorrow,
Becky Strain


Sunday, December 28, 2003


There is nothing better than being home. I love visiting and all that the holidays entail, but yesterday I realized just how wonderful my little home is. My brother George was leaving yesterday and wanted to eat at Lambert’s in Ozark, Missouri. It is an hour and a half drive from Smalltown, but from there he could go on home to Shawnee.

At first I thought that I was just tired from all of the holiday and hot water heater excitement from the past few days. I was tired, but nothing to indicate a problem. By the time we finished the meal and drove across town to Sam’s Club so that Mom and Rocky could get a new TV set I knew something was wrong. Fifteen minutes later I found Mom and told here I was sick. It is rare that something grabs hold of me like that, but I was chilling and hurt everywhere.

A short time later we said goodbye to George as he left for home, and I stayed in the van while Mom and Rocky completed the last few errands they needed to run. By the time I got home an hour and a half later I was done in. I made it to the house, changed into flannel pajamas, made a bed on the couch and promptly fell into it. At midnight I got up and went into bed.

This morning I feel like a drowned rat. Thank goodness I have this one more day of rest before returning to work tomorrow. I can thoroughly agree with Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz…..There’s no place like home…..there’s no place like home….here on my country road.

Until tomorrow, hopefully,
Becky Strain


Saturday, December 27, 2003


There just one lumber yard in Smalltown now. The other one went out of business two years ago following the death of the owner, the wife being too elderly to run it alone, and the son having fought a lengthy battle with cancer and choosing not to continue with the family business. We also no longer have a hardware store. They went out of business five years ago. The chances of finding everything I needed to complete both the hot water problem and the hydrant situation at the lumber yard were slim, but my step dad and I drove into town as soon as they opened.

One of the beautiful things about living in a small town is that everyone knows who you are. My son's cousin works at Smalltown Lumber company, and greeted me as soon as I walked in. After explaining my problem we walked back to look over the hot water heaters they had in stock. In less than fifteen minutes I had the hot water heater, a new frost proof hydrant, and wood for repairing the floor under the water heater.

By the time we got back to my house Dave (who is little Davey's dad and my repair and fixit man), was busy getting the old hot water heater out of the mobile home. Rocky (my step dad), stayed to help Dave, so I walked back down to Mom's to visit with her and my brother George. The day was cold and gray, dampness heavy in the air. Every little bit I walked up to the house to check on the status of the project and to check if they needed anything. With both Dave and Rocky working together, they would be able to repair everything in a much shorter time. After getting the old water heater out, they were surprised to see the side of my washer in the bathroom. The wall had been left open behind the hot water heater, and there was no insulation. Dave decided that this was not a good thing. He made a trip to his house and came back with insulation. In no time at all they had the enclosure insulated, the floor supports repaired and the new floor installed. My bathroom will be decidedly warmer now.

An hour later Mom, George and I walked back up to inspect the progress. The new hot water heater was installed and ready to be hooked up to the propane line. Dave and Rocky looked frozen, but both denied it. A short time later, Rocky was finishing the hydrant installation, which actually had nothing to do with my leaving the hose connected to it and everything to do with the drain hole at the bottom of the underground pipe being clogged with mud. After Mom and George walked back down to start supper, Dave loaded his tools, cleaned up the mess, and I was able to light the pilot lights. After the house had been without heat all day, it was cold inside.

A short time later, as dusk was falling Dave left for home, Rocky headed back to Mom's, and I was standing in the middle of my little home listening to the sounds of the hot water in the new tank heating, and the furnace filling the house with warmth.

I had tried to pay Dave, but he would not accept anything for his hard work. He declared it his Christmas gift to me. The enormity of his gift was overwhelming, because they had worked hard all day in the cold and he had used a lot of his own materials. Overwhelmed, I thanked him, giving him a big hug for his unexpected and generous gift.

As I left the house to walk down to Mom and Rocky's for supper, I was filled with gratitude. God had not only revealed the problems, but provided the good men to do the repairs. Everything is better now than it was, and I am fixed up for a long time to come. I decided that when I returned home later, I was going to take a long, hot bath.....what an unexpected Christmas gift!

Until tomorrow,
Becky Strain


Friday, December 26, 2003


Today instead of taking advantage of after Christmas sales and finding space for all of the wonderful gifts I received for Christmas, I will be the first customer in line at the lumber yard. The man I hired to replace the floor under the leaking hot water heater will be arriving shortly, and I have to buy a new hot water heater.

Yesterday I went down to Mom’s for Christmas breakfast with my family. We lingered at the table, laughing and talking about different Christmas memories. Mid morning I came home to bathe and dress in the outfit I was going to wear for Christmas dinner. When I entered the bathroom I could hear the unmistakable sound of rushing water. I checked under the sinks, the stool tank, and the floors but found no water. The only other thing that could have happened would be the pipes under the house or outside faucet freezing and breaking. I grabbed my coat and ran outside.

It was with a very sick feeling that I saw water flowing at full speed from the freeze-free faucet behind the house. The ground was soaked. The faucet was cleanly cracked and broken. I ran down to Mom’s and my step dad came right up to the house with me. Luckily they have a key to turn the water off at the meter. There was nothing else to do except turn the water supply off until today when we could fix the problem. There was no sense being upset about it, as I had forgotten to unscrew the hose from the faucet.

I am grateful that I didn’t clean up and dress before going to Mom’s yesterday morning. If I had I wouldn’t have known about the leak until late last night when I returned home. I am constantly amazed at how God takes care of his children. Today I will not have to endure time at the stores, crowds of unhappy people and buying things I don’t really need. I am very happy that I am off work due to the Governor declaring today a paid holiday for state employees. I will be able to get the things the repair man will need to fix both problems, and be here should he need anything.

For me, the day after Christmas will be spent right here….on my country road.

Until tomorrow,
Becky Strain


Thursday, December 25, 2003


It was our family's custom to open Christmas gifts on Christmas Eve. Right before we went to bed, we hung our stockings. Very early in the morning, hours before dawn, my brother John would make his way out to the living room to check out what Santa had brought. Since Santa never wrapped his gifts, John was able to know what everyone had received. From the depths of sound sleep, I remember his little voice, "Becky....Becky.....Santa brought you...." Once he had everyone awake we assembled at the Christmas tree, groggy but awake.

When my children were little we followed the same traditions. Although they were very small I wanted to find a way that they would know the true meaning of Christmas. Since Christmas is the birthday of Jesus, and they knew what birthdays were, I seized on that idea. Every year, we would sing Happy Birthday to Jesus, and have a birthday cake for him. From a very early age, they wanted to give Him a present on His birthday. We always gave Him things from the heart....loving Him, going to Sunday school and church, treating each other with love, trying to be good little boys and girls, and obeying parents.

Each year before we open our gifts on Christmas Eve, our family gathers around the Christmas tree. When we were children, my Dad always read the Christmas story from the Bible, in the second chapter of Luke. Through the years, we alternate the one who will read the Christmas story each year. Last night my Mom read it. It is our way of celebrating what Christmas is really all about, and putting us in the right frame of mind after weeks of hectic activity and preparation.

Today is Jesus' birthday. He is God's greatest gift of Love to mankind. I wanted to take a few minutes today to celebrate the birth of Jesus, to thank God for this precious gift of Love, and to contemplate the gift I will give to Him in honor of His birthday today.

It is my sincere hope that however or wherever you celebrate Christmas this year, that it is meaningful and filled with love. Merry Christmas, and happy birthday to Jesus, King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

Until tomorrow,
Becky Strain


Wednesday, December 24, 2003


Christmas Eve, 2002.
Snow had been falling steadily all night. The big woods were already heavy with it and the great white pines surrounding my house were bowed under the weight of an unexpected Christmas snow. I was up early getting ready to make the trip to Springfield for out patient surgery on my foot. The weather reports were not encouraging. Sleet and ice had fallen under the snow and already many schools and businesses were canceling due to the hazardous road conditions.

My brother George had made it safely from Kansas before the weather moved in. Mom, my step dad, and George would be driving me the 85 miles to the hospital, and I was getting very concerned about the surgery itself, getting there on time, and the weather conditions. After several phone calls from Mom, who tried to dissuade me from going, they finally came to pick me up. By this time the conditions had deteriorated to white out blizzard status. Reporters were telling people to stay home. After driving just four miles, which took 25 minutes, we turned around. I conceded that we had no business even attempting the trip. Our concern was now focused on getting back to Mom’s house safely.

Everyone was on edge. Mom kept getting phone calls then would disappear to the garage. My brother suggested playing a board game, so while we watched the snow continue to pile up, he and I played Monopoly. My heart wasn’t in it. We ate lunch, watched the television for updated weather reports, and attempted to visit. By supper time I knew something was very wrong. Everyone was acting so weird, the phone kept ringing, more trips to the garage, and nobody would answer my questions about what on earth was going on. My nerves were shot. It had been a trying day. We usually open our gifts after supper, and finally I asked Mom if we could open our gifts so that I could go home. This resulted in several attempts to stall me….again. Two hours later I began getting ready to leave. Mom finally told me that we couldn’t open gifts and I couldn’t leave because my younger brother and family were making the trip from Louisiana and they were almost here. Their progress had been slowed considerably due to the weather. This made absolutely no sense. Frustrated, I sat back down on the couch. Finally, after 10:00pm, headlights came slowly down our country road and pulled into the drive. Everyone ran to the door. As I looked out into the snowy night, I knew the car was wrong if it was my brother John. The passenger door opened, and the light illuminated my daughter Jennifer’s face…..

The next hour passed quickly as everyone was laughing and talking at once. My daughter and her husband had been planning this surprise for me for weeks. They had left their home in Connecticut at 4:00am, and had met disaster after disaster trying to get here to Smalltown. They had been searched at the airport in Providence because they had been profiled as terrorists. After several delayed flights, they finally made it into Kansas City from Chicago, after being diverted from St. Louis. This left them stranded. No flights were leaving from there. My daughter would not accept being so close and not getting to Smalltown. They finally rented the last car available, and against warnings of impassable roads, they began the last leg of their incredible journey. Instead of getting into Springfield at 1:00 in the afternoon, they finally made it safely here to Smalltown considerably after 10:00pm.

Everyone was so incredibly grateful for finally being together, and I was very surprised to say the least. It was an amazing Christmas gift of love and determination. God had watched over Jennifer and Marc every mile of the way, and blessed us all with so much….here on our country road.

Until tomorrow,
Becky Strain


Tuesday, December 23, 2003


I have been thinking a lot about the Christmases my brothers and I spent with my parents in Shawnee, Kansas. I suppose that all of the preparations, music, and decorations have brought back memories I haven't thought about for a long time. There are many Christmases that stand out in my memory, but it wasn't until I had children of my own that I realized how hard my Mom worked to make Christmas memories for us.....

The hospital was nearly empty. Most of the patients has been released to go home for Christmas, but I was laying in a hospital bed 85 miles away from my children and my family. Christmas was just days away. I had been watching a Christmas movie on TV and was crying because I missed my children. The nurse had put the pictures the kids had colored for me on the wall by my bed, and instead of making me feel better I cried every time I looked at them. I had several days to go before the doctor said he would release me due to post surgery complications. Just like the heroine in the movie, I needed a miracle to get back home.....

Three days later I was sitting in my Grandmothers living room covered in an afghan. The kids were down at my Moms house, and she brought them up to see me each day. My husband was driving a truck over the road, and wasn't expected home until Christmas day. It broke my heart that we were all so scattered, and I hadn't been able to Christmas shop for the kids. As I was sitting in my chair, I could see Bob, the neighbor coming home from the Christmas party at church. He was still wearing his Santa Claus costume. A wonderful idea bloomed. I made a quick call to Bob, then to my Mom. With the plans made, my heavy heart was filled with joy.....

Christmas eve, my step dad came up to Grandmas and carried me down to Moms house. Once settled on the couch, I listened to my five year old daughter and two year old son tell me about the cookies they had helped Grandma make for Santa. Sitting there in the glow of the Christmas tree lights, we heard a hearty "HO, HO, HO!!" from the direction of the back door. Even though I had been expecting it, I was excited as well, and the kids' eyes were as big as saucers. Mom got up and went to the back door, and Bob stepped in. He was dressed in full Santa Claus regalia, and while he came into the room to talk to Jennifer and Jonathan, Mom filled his black sack with gifts for the kids.....

And so it was, that I had my Christmas miracle. I was back home with my family on Christmas eve, and the kids were sitting on Santa's lap listening to tales of the North Pole. It didn't matter that I had no gifts for them. Thanks to Bob, I had been able to provide them with something much better.
Memories......here on our country road.

Until tomorrow,
Becky Strain


Monday, December 22, 2003


Christmas is for giving. When you are a little child this is a concept that is hard to understand. Growing up in the fifties and sixties, mothers stayed home and took care of the family. During the month of December we were usually home the biggest part of the month due to heavy snow accumulation and Christmas vacation. By the time Christmas eve arrived, Mom was usually frazzled, getting everything finished for the holidays, wrapping gifts, and trying to keep three little kids from driving her crazy in the process.

My Dad was a mailman, and at Christmas time he worked long hours delivering packages. At that time the postal service was the only way to mail packages, and the mailmen worked very hard to get all of the packages delivered by Christmas day. This left Mom with the job of keeping us occupied until Dad got home and we could open our gifts. One particular Christmas we were especially excited and anxious to open our gifts. Mom had been trying to impress upon us that it was better to give than to receive, a concept that was both confusing and unwelcome. My brothers and I had no money to buy gifts for each other, and after some discussion Mom told all three of us to go to our rooms and pick one gift for each other from our own things. This accomplished two things. It kept us occupied for some time, and taught us a valuable lesson in the process.

I looked all around my room. There was absolutely nothing I could see that my brothers would want for a gift. I was just about to give up when I saw the box of Chum Gum I had received at our class gift exchange. I loved bubble gum. I had been thrilled when I drew the gift that held a whole box full. My brothers had of course wanted some, but I hid it under my bed and wouldn't let them have any. It was the most precious thing that I had, and after some thought I decided it would be the only thing I had that my brothers would want. I counted out the same number of sticks for John and George, and ran into Mom to get some wrapping paper. After wrapping the small packages, I took them into the Christmas tree and hid them among the other gifts.

I was aware of several things. At first I had been unhappy that I had to part with my bubble gum, but that feeling had been replaced with the anticipation of seeing my brothers opening their gifts. I knew that they would be very excited, and in giving away what was most precious to me I had a feeling of great joy instead of sadness. I really do not remember what the boys gave to me, but I do remember the wonderful feeling of happiness that giving brought to my child's heart.

After Dad finally came home and we had our supper, we gathered around the Christmas tree to open our gifts. It was with the greatest joy that I watched the boys open their little packages. Their looks of unbelief and surprise were all I needed to tell me I had chosen well. Mom's lesson of it is better to give than to receive hit home in the hearts of three small children. It is one of my favorite Christmas memories....here on my country road.

Until tomorrow,
Becky Strain


Sunday, December 21, 2003


Yesterday I had the task of watching a three old boy while his parents went Christmas shopping. I have adopted this little guy as family, and he calls me Aunt Beck. We made this date several weeks ago, and Friday night he made sure that I hadn't forgotten. Saturday morning dawned clear and bright. After putting on comfortable clothes and shoes I made the short trip to his house.

I didn't even have to ring the door bell before I heard the unmistakable sound of a little boy running the length of the house toward the front door. Is there anything more precious than the look of joy on a child's face? His smile could have lit downtown Manhattan, and warmed my heart. His Mom and Dad were dressed up and ready to leave, so after a few last minute instructions they left for a rare day out.

Davey had spent some time getting ready for me to come. There was a stack of movies he wanted me to see, his favorite toys were piled on the couch, and at the early hour of 9:00am, he wanted to know when we were going to the Sonic drive-in for lunch. I had promised him we would go out for lunch, but not so early in the morning. By way of distraction, we watched part of two different movies before we gave up on that. For a time we played with the train that was set up under the Christmas tree. We read Santa Claus books. He asked a thousand questions about everything from what reindeer eat to when Santa packed the sleigh. There is a fireplace in the corner of the living room, and I asked him if he thought there was enough room for Santa to come down the chimney. Bad idea.

We spent the next hour or so with the tape measure out of his little tool kit measuring the opening in the fireplace and speculating on whether Santa would indeed be able to make it down the chimney or not. As only a three year old can do, Davey asked me questions faster than I could answer them. He also asked many very good questions to which I responded to with, 'Santa is magic' and 'If we knew how he does it, then it wouldn't be magic, would it?'

When it was finally time to make the trek to Sonic for lunch we had cheeseburgers and french fries which we pretended were reindeer burgers. Since the day was a pretty one, we went outside and blew bubbles. He chased them until we ran out of bubble solution. When we went back inside we read the Christmas Story about the baby Jesus. The look of wonder and awe on his little face is something I will remember for a long time to come.

The afternoon went by very fast, and before we knew it Mom and Dad were back home. If I had not had any anticipation for the holiday season before, I had had a double dose of it after spending time with Davey. After explaining to his Dad that we had measured the fireplace and there was enough room for Santa, and he told them all that we had done, I hugged him and left for home. There is an innocence and a sense of wonder in little children that adults lose during the holiday season. I love the holidays, and spending time with Davey had warmed my heart and reminded me that Christmas is indeed.... for children.

Until tomorrow,
Becky Strain


Saturday, December 20, 2003


I received this story from a friend, and it is so heartwarming I thought it worthy of sharing with everyone who still believes in Santa Claus.

I remember my first Christmas adventure with Grandma. I was just a kid. I remember tearing across town on my bike the day my sister dropped the bomb:
"There is no Santa Claus," she jeered. "Even dummies know that!"
My Grandma is not the gushy kind, never had been. I fled to her that day because I knew she would be straight with me. I knew Grandma always told the truth, and I knew that the truth always went down a whole lot easier when swallowed with one of her 'world famous' cinnamon buns. I knew they were world famous, because Grandma said so. It had to be true.

Grandma was home, and the buns were still warm. Between bites, I told her everything. She was ready for me. "No Santa Claus?" she snorted..."Ridiculous! Don't believe it. That rumor has been going around for years, and it makes me just plain mad! Now put on your coat and let's go."
"Go? Go where Grandma?" I asked. I hadn't even finished my second cinnamon bun.

"Where" turned out to be Kerby's General Store, the one store in town that had a little bit of just about everything. As we walked through the doors, Grandma handed me ten dollars. That was a bundle in those days.
"Take this money," she said, "and buy something for someone who needs it. I'll wait for you in the car." Then she turned and walked out of Kerby's.

I was only eight years old. I'd often gone shopping with my mother but never had I shopped for anything all by myself. The store seemed big and crowded, full of people scrambling to finish their Christmas shopping. For a few minutes I just stood there, confused, clutching that ten dollar bill, wondering what to buy and who to buy it for. I thought of everybody I knew: my family, my friends, my neighbors, the kids at school, the people who went to my church. I was just about thought out when I suddenly thought of Bobby Decker. He was a kid with bad breath and messy hair, and sat right behind me in Mrs. Pollock's grade two class. Bobby Decker didn't have a coat. I knew that because he never went out to recess during the winter. His mother always wrote a note telling the teacher that he had a cough, but all we kids knew that Bobby Decker didn't have a cough; he had no good coat. I fingered the ten dollar bill with growing excitement. I would buy Bobby Decker a coat!

I settled on a red corduroy one that had a hood to it. It looked real warm, and he would like that. "Is this a Christmas present for someone?" the lady behind the counter asked kindly as I laid my ten dollars down. "Yes ma'am," I replied shyly. "It's for Bobby." The nice lady smiled at me, as I told her about how Bobby really needed a good winter coat. I didn't get any change, but she put the coat in a bag and smiled again, and wished me a Merry Christmas.

That evening, Grandma helped me wrap the coat in Christmas paper and ribbons. (A little tag fell out of the coat, and Grandma tucked it into her Bible).
Grandma wrote , 'To Bobby from Santa Claus' on the gift. Grandma said that Santa always insisted on secrecy. Then she drove me over to Bobby Decker's house, explaining as we went that I was now and forever, one of Santa's helpers.

Grandma parked down the street from Bobby's house, and she and I crept noiselessly and hid in the bushes by his front walk. Then Grandma gave me a nudge. "All right, Santa Claus," she whispered, "get going." I took a deep breath, dashed for his front door, and threw the present down on his step, pounded his doorbell and flew back to the safety of the bushes and Grandma.

Together we waited breathlessly in the darkness for the front door to open. Finally it did, and there stood Bobby. Fifty years haven't dimmed the thrill of those moments spent shivering, beside my Grandma, in Bobby Decker's bushes. That night, I realized that those awful rumors about Santa Claus were just what Grandma said they were: ridiculous. Santa was alive and well, and we were on his team.

I still have the Bible, with the coat tag tucked inside: $19.95.

Until tomorrow,
Becky Strain


Friday, December 19, 2003


The best gifts at Christmas won't be found under the Christmas tree wrapped in beautiful paper or adorned with a big puffy bow. I doubt that anyone else will even be aware that I received them or how much they mean to me. It is difficult to explain to others what it means to receive a Christmas card or note from a friend or family member you haven't heard from for many years.

Yesterday was a difficult day at work. I came home to several Christmas cards and letters, which melted away the stress and tension of the day. It is my daily ritual to check the comment box at my blog site and my email before I start supper. Among all of the comments from the dear folks I have met through the blog experience was one from a dear friend that I hadn't heard from for some time. What a joy and a blessing- a wonderful gift all wrapped up in beautiful paper and a big puffy bow that can only be seen with the heart.

In checking the email inbox I had several notes from friends that I met through blogging. There is tremendous power in the written word. You can write your deepest thoughts, feelings, memories, joys and fears into a story, thus drawing the reader into it. Other times random thoughts march across the pages without rhyme or reason, but the words that come from the depths of the heart are the best. It is within these daily emails and comments that the unexpected gifts are nestled. Simple words of encouragement, friendship and love from all corners of the world....the best gifts, all wrapped up in beautiful paper and adorned with a big puffy bow.

Until tomorrow,
Becky Strain


Thursday, December 18, 2003


Every day is Christmas. When I arrive home each day it is my habit to walk out to the rural mailbox to check the mail. It is always a chance for me to reconnect with Grandpa as well, as he set the post my mailbox sits on almost forty years ago. As with everything my Grandpa did, the post has stood the test of time.

Opening the door to the mailbox is like opening a gift each day. Laying atop the usual grocery store ad and other advertisements are brightly colored envelopes. With a smile I reach into the box to retrieve the mail and push the door back into place. I used to stand there on the road by the mailbox and leaf through the mail to see what I had received, but now I tuck it into my briefcase and wait until I have gone inside the house. After I have changed clothes, made a pot of tea or poured a glass of wine, I settle into my chair to read my mail.

Christmas cards come from all over the country. Family and friends that have moved far away send Christmas letters in their cards. I used to hate seeing those letters, as I thought a handwritten message to be more personal. Over the years I have come to understand the necessity and value of those letters, and enjoy reconnecting with the families they represent. I used to write my Christmas messages longhand in each card I send myself, but this year I wrote a letter on the computer and printed it on pretty Christmas stationary. It saved an incredible amount of time, and was an enjoyable experience.

After reading the cards and letters, they are placed into the basket on the table by my chair. As I sit in the evening relaxing before bed, I often reach for the basket and go through the cards again. It is just one more way that I reconnect with loved ones throughout the Christmas season…..here on my country road.

Until tomorrow,
Becky Strain


Wednesday, December 17, 2003


Entertaining is part of what the holidays are all about. With my Christmas cards in the mail, and packages going out today, I have turned my thoughts to a holiday get together. Last night I got out my recipe box to look for inspiration. The minute I opened the lid it was like a trip down memory lane. I am still smiling...

The very first recipe at the front is my Grandmother's scone recipe. She wrote it out for me on a pretty recipe card with pink roses on it and the date at the top says 1978. It didn't seem to me it had been that long ago, but there is the proof. In our family we date the recipes when we exchange them, and I can see now the wisdom in that. If the giver doesn't write their name on the top of the recipe I do it myself, as it is really a piece of history.

The recipes I used last were stuck in the front instead of being filed back in the correct category. Leafing through these recipes gave me an unwritten diary of the meals I had served for special occasions over the past few years. Mom's Buttermilk Brownie recipe is splattered with chocolate batter and written on a piece of paper torn from a spiral notebook. The Green Enchilada casserole recipe is also Mom's and I had it out to write the recipe down for my new daughter-in-law's bridal shower in September. Seeing it brings back the memory of making it with her in their kitchen after they were married, and how proud my son was that she had successfully made his favorite meal. The group of holiday recipes were the ones I made for the last holiday party I had- Sausage balls, Bacardi Rum Cake, Reese Cup Bars, and Fantasia Bars.

There were also recipes that brought tears. I made a German meal every year for my step-father's birthday. Written on the back of an envelope I received a Christmas card in from a nurse who took care of me after my last surgery, was the recipe for the Sauerbraten I made for him. Folded up on a piece of notebook paper was the German Red Cabbage recipe. I had made that dinner the last time for him the November before he died of brain cancer in February. I refolded them both and filed them away.

I have one recipe from my older brother, George. It is a wonderful potato casserole. Mom and I were surprised to make it the first time and find it so good. It quickly became one of our family favorites. There are also various and sundry recipes from people from my past. I hadn't thought about a lot of them in years, yet leafing through the recipe file brought their dear faces to mind. Many of them are no longer with us, and many I no longer correspond with. It is like opening the Christmas ornament box each year, or your address book, or a picture album. Faces and memories revisited, always made more special by the warmth of the holiday season.

I chose the recipes I wanted to prepare for my holiday get together, and closed the lid on the box. As I cook and bake this year, the friends and family that gave me the recipes will also be here in spirit....here on my country road.

Until tomorrow,
Becky Strain


Tuesday, December 16, 2003


Yesterday I got out my address book so that I could address Christmas cards. I have had the same address book for more years than I can count, and it is in sad shape. In the same drawer that I keep it in there are two other brand new address books that I bought with the intention of updating mine. Sadly they are still in the wrapping they came in.

My address book isn't even attractive. I got it free as a welcome package when I signed up for telephone service 31 years ago. My first entries were rendered in ink pen, which was a mistake. As I updated addresses I have had to cross out, write over, above, under or to the side of the original address. Some of the entries have never changed in all the subsequent years, but most have been changed several times. I have learned to enter new addresses in pencil in case changes need to be made. It is a journal of the dear ones I call friends and family. Many entries are merely address labels I taped into the book as I noticed a new or updated address. There are post-it notes with addresses on them, torn envelopes bearing a new address stuck into the back, and business cards tucked into the pockets- all needing me to enter them in my book. I will. Someday.

My address book is like a friend. It is falling apart, but nothing a little duct tape can't fix. There are entries for people I no longer correspond with but hate to remove as you just never know- I may need to some day. Several entries need to be removed because they are no longer part of the family circle due to divorce. Some of the entries belong to those who have died, yet I cannot bring myself to remove them from the listings.

My address book is essential. I have taken it on every vacation, business trip or hospital stay. It is my link to checking on animals at the vet, calling the doctor or dentist, and family. How can you send postcards without addresses? My Christmas card list is in the back pocket. Every year as I get it out to address Christmas cards I leaf through the pages of my address book. It is always a journey.....here on my country road.

Until tomorrow,
Becky Strain


Monday, December 15, 2003


Sunday morning I woke several hours before dawn. Still held within the comforting cocoon of sleep I was dimly aware of being cold. Pulling the down comforter more snugly around me, once again I surrendered to slumber. The next time I woke the carriage clock was striking the five o' clock hour. Both cats were curled up against my back. Once again I was aware of being cold. My nose was cold. Throwing back the covers I reluctantly got out of bed and went in to turn the thermostat up. While waiting for the heat to come on I went to the kitchen to brew a pot of hot coffee.

While the coffee brewed I went into my office and turned on the computer. It was half an hour later before I became aware that my fingers were stiff from cold and were having difficulty typing on the keyboard. Once again I went to the thermostat and edged the temperature up another five degrees. The weather report the night before had forecast very cold temperatures, and I was inclined to agree with that assessment. Several more minutes ticked by while I drank my coffee and edited the story I was working on. It was while I sat huddled in my office with my hands wrapped around my steaming cup of coffee that the realization dawned. Quickly I sprang to my feet and went directly to the furnace and peered into the mysterious glass window that houses the pilot light. Darkness.

Bundled up in several layers of clothes and outerwear I went out into the dark with my flashlight to the propane tank. It took me several minutes to beat off the ice and snow from the lid so that I could read the gauge. The small glimmer of hope that still burned within me died when the light fell on the gauge, which was of course in the zero position. Replacing the cover I went back into the house. Questions whirled through my mind as I tried to determine how on earth I could be out of propane on the coldest night of December. The propane company regularly checks the levels of the tanks for its patrons. Resigned to waiting until a decent hour in order to call the company manager, I sat back down in my office as the clock struck the six o'clock hour.

Two hours later, I called the emergency number listed on my propane bill. After stating my problem, the sleepy voice assured me that she would tell her husband to bring me propane. An hour and a half later I got a phone call from the same lady telling me the truck was on the way. It was with a great deal of relief that I heard the big truck pulling into the drive. I went out to the tank where the man was working and thanked him for coming out on a Sunday morning. He looked wary, as though he expected me to blast him with the full force of temper. Once the tank was full and the bill was tucked into my coat pocket, he went to the outside door that housed the hot water heater to light the pilot light. As he took the door off and laid it aside I stared dumbly at the hot water heater. It was leaning precariously to the right. This could not be good. Moving more closely to the water heater I could see the floor was wet and sunk in under the right leg. Looking at the man, realization hit me.
"Now I know why I ran out of propane this morning," I said.
Quizzically he looked at me, not following my train of thought.
"God wanted me to know that I had a serious problem with the hot water heater, and the only reason I would open this door would be to light the pilot light," I explained.

Fifteen minutes later I was inside the house, gratefully listening to the sound of the furnace blowing heat through the house. There was so much I was grateful for, but it all came back to how God takes care of us. The expense of a new hot water heater and repairing the floor was not welcome news right here at Christmas, but I know that if He cares enough to reveal the problem in the first place there is a way to pay for the repair. As I sat in my little home, once again warm and content, I am so very grateful....here on my country road.

Until tomorrow,
Becky Strain


Sunday, December 14, 2003


Snow fell all through the night and greeted me as I woke to the new day. As I raised the blinds there was a panorama of winter wonderland as far as the darkness allowed me to see. The white pine tree branches were bowed with the weight of fluffy mounded snow, and the big woods were cloaked in white. In homage to the miracle of Mother Nature in all her glory there was a hush. Standing on the front porch with my eyes closed I could hear the snow falling through the trees and against the bushes and the house. The cold air had a crispness about it that smelled fresh and clean.

I don't know how long I stood with my eyes closed listening to the snow fall. When I opened my eyes day was breaking, a gentle lightening of night's darkness. My heart filled with joy. Overwhelming, unspeakable joy. Carefully I made my way down the porch steps and into the yard, turning my face toward the sky. The snowflakes lit softly on my face and eyelashes. It was in that moment that I could remember doing this very thing as a girl in Kansas. Smiling at the memories, I stuck my tongue out to catch the snow on it. Flinging my arms out wide I turned in a slow circle in order to find just the right place, and fell backward into the snow. And so it was that in the daybreak of a new day, under the soft snowflakes of December snow, I made a snow angel.....here on my country road.

Until tomorrow,
Becky Strain


Saturday, December 13, 2003


Curled up on the couch with two cats asleep on my lap and a cup of hot coffee in my hands, I can watch the big fluffy white snowflakes fall. The snow began sometime in the night. Already the huge white pines Grandpa planted in the yard because Grandma had a dream of living in a pine forest are bowing under the weight of the snow. The big woods sits in silence as a thick blanket of white is slowly accumulating, creating a winter wonderland.

I almost feel like an intruder watching as Mother Nature paints the landscape with winter magic. A hush has fallen on the world outside my window. Nothing has marred the pristine snow, and I am reluctant to go to the garage and let Tiny and Scaredy out. I know they are curious about the white flakes falling outside their garage window, for I can see two little noses pressed to the glass.

There are beautiful red cardinals sitting on the pine boughs, puffed up against the cold. The snow sits on their back like a mantle, creating a picture worthy of a Christmas card. In the middle of this hectic Christmas season, this gift is a wonderful respite from what I had planned to do today....here on my country road.

Until tomorrow,
Becky Strain


Friday, December 12, 2003


I had never been to a Christmas gathering where a White Elephant gift exchange was to be held. The party was held for our Sunday school class at the teacher's home, and after some debate, I decided to attend. I had just come here to Smalltown, and Mom thought that it would be a good way for me to meet people in my age group. I was already feeling out of place, as I was a young mother alone, and worse, divorced.

Mom offered to watch Jennifer for me, and not knowing what else to take for the gift exchange, I resorted to what I did know. I baked one of Grandma's specialties, a Danish coffee cake with an apricot filling. After glazing the cake and putting it on a large tray for transporting, carefully putting the saran wrap on it for protection, and adding a Christmas bow on the top for good measure, I was ready to go.

I arrived early, as I wasn't sure of the location. The hosts welcomed me warmly to their beautiful home, and took my White Elephant gift. It was added to their gifts, which had been wrapped in odd looking used paper. I began to get nervous that I had committed a faux pas. Taking a seat off to itself, I waited for the other guests to arrive.

A short time later, the house was filled with couples. I felt sorely out of place. They had obviously grown up together and knew each other very well. There was teasing and laughing all through the buffet supper, and I had a good time just listening to them. I answered questions as they were directed to me, but otherwise held my peace. After the supper was over, we went into the White Elephant exchange portion of the evening. The hostess passed around a bowl filled with small folded pieces of paper. Each guest took one while the host carried all of the gifts into the middle of the room and laid them on the floor.
The hostess instructed each guest to open the paper they had drawn. There were numbers on each one, indicating the order of the gift selection. Not seeing my cake among the gifts, I went to the kitchen and told our host that the cake was my 'gift' for the drawing. Laughing, he told me that he hoped he would be able to keep it for himself. He brought it in with the other gifts, which resulted in everyone putting dibs on it. I sat back down in my chair and listened as the rules for the drawing were explained for my benefit. All of the other gifts were odd looking objects wrapped in the ugliest papers I had ever seen. The first person had the choice of the gifts. After unwrapping it, I could see that this was a gag gift type thing. Again, I began to feel unsure about my gift. The second person had the choice of any gift from the pile, or taking the first person's gift. If you took another person's gift they got to pick someone else's gift or one from the pile. This could take a very long time, I could tell.

The second person took my cake. From then on, my poor cake passed from hand to hand. The host had it on two occasions only to lose it again. It was a fun filled evening, and I could tell that some of the gifts had been at every Christmas party for years. They were ugly, useless objects, but funny in the extreme in the gift exchange vernacular. Finally my turn came. I had the next to last number. I chose a gift and unwrapped it. It was some kind of tool, obviously broken. The last guy took it from me, leaving me the unpleasant task of taking someone else's gift or taking the last one. Not wanting another stupid thing, I took my cake from the lady holding it on her lap. Seeing that she would only lose it again, she chose the last gift remaining, thus ending the exchange. Knowing how badly the host had wanted my coffee cake, I took it over and gave it to him. When the hoots and guffawing quieted down, he gave me his gift in return. Reluctantly I took it. It was an ugly ashtray from some bygone era. Mentally making a note to bring it back next year, I sat back down.

The evening turned out to be a lot of fun, and gave me a chance to meet a lot of the people in the class. When I left, the host gave me a hug, and thanked me for giving me the coffee cake. Driving home I thought how much fun I would have telling Mom about the evening. And so it was that with my ugly ashtray and a full heart, I turned down our country road.....toward home.

Until tomorrow,
Becky Strain


Thursday, December 11, 2003


I had only been married a month when I invited our family to Christmas dinner at our little home. The house was very small, and with the large Christmas tree in the living room, there was even less space. We had a couch and one chair but with the dining room chairs there would be enough seating for everyone. This would be my first major dinner as a new wife, and I wanted everything to be perfect.

I had been going through my little recipe box for days trying to assemble the perfect dinner. Family tradition dictated a ham for Christmas, which would be an impossibility for our tiny food budget. I had been worrying over what to do when a Christmas card arrived from my Dad in Shawnee, Kansas. Not knowing what we wanted or needed for Christmas he had sent a check for me to purchase Christmas gifts for my husband, my daughter and me. I was thrilled, for now I had the funds I needed to purchase a ham for Christmas dinner. By taking my portion of the money I had enough to buy not only a ham, but a Cure 81 ham, which was to me the very best.

Christmas morning I was up before dawn preparing dinner. I set the table with all of the new things we had received as wedding gifts, and cut greenery from the Christmas tree to put on the table around my red candles. It was such a joy to put the ham into the oven, knowing how beautiful it would be come dinner time. The rest of the morning went quickly, and by the time family began arriving, the house smelled wonderful. The ham was almost done, homemade hot rolls were baking, and the pies were cooling on the kitchen counter.

Mom and Grandma are such wonderful cooks that I have to admit to being very nervous about the food, but the real critic was my Grandpa. When I called everyone in to the table, it did indeed look like a picture. After the blessing, I went into the kitchen to bring out the ham. I had scored and glazed the ham, which was adorned with pineapple rings and maraschino cherries. As I set the platter on the table, I was rewarded with the oohs and aahs I had hoped for. My Grandpa did the honors of slicing it, and if I had worried about the meal, all of my worries dissolved when he ate so many helpings I lost count. He commented again and again what a 'fine' ham it was, and of course every time he reached for more ham it called for more mashed potatoes, gravy and trimmings.

My Mother and Grandma declared that my dinner was a resounding success, and for me, that was the best Christmas gift I could have asked for. We had a wonderful afternoon, opening the gifts, watching Jennifer play with all of her new things, and listening to Grandpa say over and over again what a fine ham it was as he patted his stomach. By the time we gathered around the table again for pie and coffee, dusk was falling.

It is one of my favorite Christmas memories, and in our family that Christmas ham became legend. My Grandpa talked about it every Christmas....here on our country road.

Until tomorrow,
Becky Strain


Wednesday, December 10, 2003


Several years ago the holiday Christmas season inspired Mom and I to invite a few of our friends over for a Christmas Tea. It was the first Christmas after my stepfather died, and we thought it would keep us busy throughout the holiday season. My Mom had a friend who had lost her husband in a tragic accident five months prior to Warren's death, and we invited her and her two daughters to spend an evening with us.

Mom and I began scouring our recipe boxes for yummy recipes. We originally intended to just have cookies, cakes and candies, but before we knew it we had added cheese balls, sausage balls, barbeque meatballs, several dips and tea sandwiches. We spent many wonderful evenings baking, decorating, listening to Christmas carols and making little gifts to give to each guest. Once the initial invitations had been sent out we began thinking of all the other women we would have liked to invite, and before we knew it invitations had gone out to several other groups of friends.

All through the Christmas season we had small intimate Christmas teas with our friends. The spicy aroma of Russian tea and coffee lingered with the dozens of balsam scented candles. Our prettiest china and crystal dishes were carried in from the pantry, the antique dessert plates and cup sets were washed and ready for guests. We had decorated the house in a Victorian theme, and in every possible nook and cranny yards of lace, tulle, porcelain dolls, and stuffed teddy bears intermingled with Christmas decorations. We chose Christmas music that could play all through the evenings and would still allow for conversation to flow.

Instead of a house filled with sadness our home was filled with memories, stories, laughter, good friends and good food. The guests arrived with joy and anticipation, dressed in festive holiday garb and carrying little gifts for Mom and I. It was a gift of love for us, and one we will always remember.....here on our country road.

Until tomorrow,
Becky Strain


Tuesday, December 09, 2003


Last night I walked out Mom's front door into the darkness. A light steady drizzle was falling, which caused me to pull my coat more closely against the dampness and the chill. An eerie stillness settled around me as I walked to the end of the drive. Fog lay heavy in the big woods, swirling around my legs as I walked up the road. The vapor light behind Grandma's house shone like a beacon, the fog creating a halo around the light through the foggy night.

I stopped in the middle of the road, hands in the pockets of my coat and let the my senses absorb the silent beauty of the night. Closing my eyes I listened as dampness dripped from the tree branches and fell to the forest floor. There was no other sound. The squirrels were already snug in their lofty nests and the birds had ceased their night songs. Taking a long breath I could smell the musty wetness of decaying oak leaves and pine needles in the big woods, and the tangy scent of the pines and cedar trees.

Standing there in the middle of our road with the darkness settled around me, I heard the snort of something off to the right of me in the woods. My eyes flew open, and as my heart began to thud heavily in my chest I took a tentative step backward. The movement was a small one, but enough to alert whatever lurked in the big woods. Again I heard the snorting and then steps slowly advancing through the leaves. I retreated another step, my eyes trying to locate the cause of the menacing sounds when I heard several snorts off to my right. This caused me to bring my hands out of my pockets in what I hoped was an intimidating maneuver. One more step backward put me in line with the light at Grandma's house.

This movement caused all sound to stop. Several tense moments ticked by before I located the cause of the noise. Silhouetted against the glow from the light were several deer standing quietly now, ears pricked for any further sound from my direction. Retreating one more step was all it took for the leader to lunge forward and run down the bank, across the road and into the big woods. As soon as the buck made his move, the others followed suit. Three more deer threw up their white tails and gracefully ran down the bank and into the woods.

Not even aware that I had been holding it, my breath escaped in a long relieved whoosh. I stood there in the darkness, listening to the deer's progress as they move deeper into the big woods. Once again silence settled around me. Smiling at the beauty of the nature that lives around us I started once more down our country road.....toward home.

Until tomorrow,
Becky Strain


Monday, December 08, 2003


My husband and I had been married two weeks when the time came to get our first Christmas tree. He knew that I had grown up in a big city, but he had been born and raised here in Smalltown. When we began talking about the tree I had been shocked to learn that there were no Christmas tree lots in Smalltown. The local grocery store had a few trees standing up against the front of their building, but that was it. He told me that his family had never had a 'boughten' Christmas tree, and that was not an option for us either. I found out that it was a tradition in their family to chop a tree down from their homeplace, so we made plans to go out to his folks' hog farm the following weekend.

Saturday dawned cloudy and gray. I had spent the morning cleaning our tiny five room house and moving the furniture to make room for the tree. I was learning to deal with another fact of life- the Warm Morning wood stove. It took up a large part of the living room, so the tree had to be put in the opposite corner to keep it from drying out so quickly and starting a fire. I had never seen a wood stove before, but when we rented the house prior to our wedding I found no thermostat. After a hearty laugh from both my husband to be and the landlady, I was told that the house had wood heat. Evidently that meant no thermostat. The one thing I learned after we were married was to stay in bed until the fire was hot and heat had begun to warm the house.

First thing after lunch we drove out into the country to get our tree. My mother-in-law had baked a pie in honor of our visit, and as we were sitting at the kitchen table having pie and coffee I spied a nicely shaped tree across the field. It was sitting up on the bank of a pond and was fuller than mostly of the scraggly little cedar trees that my husband had pointed out to me on the drive out. When I pointed to the tree and asked if the pond was located on their property every one began laughing at me. I was told that yes, the tree was on their property, but it was probably about 20-30 feet tall. My new husband wanted me to be happy about the tree, as he already knew that the whole experience was new for me, so he agreed to at least go look at it. We took the axe, and drove over to the pond.

Once we climbed over the barbed wire fence and walked to the pond I could see that the tree was indeed tall. Being the enthusiastic new bride, I had fallen in love with the tree, and was determined to have it. It was a beautifully shaped tree complete with little blue berries on it. My husband and I proceeded to have our first fight over the tree, but I finally prevailed with the argument that we could always cut some off the bottom in order to get it into our little house. After looking at the trunk my husband determined that the axe was not big enough to cut down the tree, so we made the trip back through the field, over the barbed wire fence to the truck and back to his folks' farm. We borrowed his dad's chain saw, and once again set out to cut the tree down. I tried not to be upset by the spirited conversation my husband had with his parents over the height of the tree, and we set off again. It took a long time to get the tree cut in a way that it would fall away from the pond, but once the tree was down I began to see why everyone had tried to talk me out of it. Laying on the ground it was a huge tree. After taking the chain saw back to the truck, we began the job of getting the tree back to the truck. Since I wouldn't let him drag it, we had to carry it. After about 50 feet, I dropped my end, which was the top. While we rested, I saw my father-in-law's truck moving along the lane in our direction. And so it was that with his help we got the tree to the fence. Getting it over the fence proved to be another problem, but with brute strength it was finally tied into the truck bed.

My joy over getting the tree I wanted was dashed when we pulled up in front of our tiny house. After measuring the doorway and the living room ceiling, we had to chop it off several times before we could get it through the door. Essentially we ended up with the top quarter of the tree, which still bumped the ceiling. While beautiful, the tree took up half of the living room, but I was happy. While my husband disposed of the rest of the tree, I got out the strings of lights we had. After getting those on the tree, I turned on the lights. It was dark outside by the time we ate our supper to the glow of the Christmas tree lights. After supper I decorated it while my very tired husband sat in his chair and watched me fuss over the tree. We couldn't afford ornaments, so I took yarn from my knitting basket and tied bows all over the branches of the tree and hung candy canes on the branches. The blue berries provided natural ornaments and when the tree was decorated we sat on the couch admiring how beautiful it was.

I have pictures of that tree, and now so many years later I can see how humble it must have looked to our family and friends. It was so beautiful to me, and after Christmas I cut off a little of the greenery and berries, tied one of the yarn bows around it and put it in a little picture frame. We have retold the story of our first Christmas tree many times over the years, and it is always humorous to hear it told again.....here on our country road.

Until tomorrow,
Becky Strain


Sunday, December 07, 2003


One of the best things about the Christmas season is driving around to see the Christmas light displays in Smalltown. There are many houses already brightly lit with themed displays which revolve around the nativity. There were several houses that were just lit up like winter wonderlands. Quiet, peaceful, beautiful. The icicle lights make the illusion of icicles and snow drifted on the rooftops and eaves, and the blanket lights make bushes and hedges look like mounds of snow.

Whenever I see beautiful lights I am reminded of that excitement I felt as a little girl. They were magic, creating a fantasy of color and light. I used to love to sit in our living room with all of the lights out but the Christmas tree lights, which cast a multi colored glow in the room. The light made the Christmas ornaments sparkle as the glitter caught the light. I could sit and look at the tree for hours, which always gave way to dreaming about what the pretty packages had inside them.

Another thing I miss at Christmas now are the carolers. When we lived in Shawnee, we had several bunches of Christmas carolers a week. We would line up at the front picture window and listen to their singing, waving as they left and wishing them all a merry Christmas. It was a lovely thing to do, and almost a thing of days gone by.

During the Christmas season, neighbors would come by after the supper hour and bring platters of Christmas cookies and candies that the lady of the house had made. I especially liked the peanut butter fudge the neighbor across the street made, the divinity our next door neighbor brought, and the chocolate heath candy neighbors on the next street made. We looked forward to the goodie exchange each year, and Mom always made plates of fudge and cookies to take when we went visiting.

Christmas is a time of sharing. As the Christmas cards arrive, it is good to hear from family and friends around the country and what they have been doing in the months since last year. Taking the time to experience the sights, sounds and foods of the Christmas season, and celebrating the relationships we share with family, friends and loved ones makes the holiday more meaningful....

I think that I will turn out the lamps and just sit and look at the beautiful Christmas lights....here in my little home.

Until tomorrow,
Becky Strain


Saturday, December 06, 2003


I was so warm and snuggled into the down comforter, wrapped in the cocoon of Saturday morning slumber and no alarm clock. Heaven. I was just drifting back into sleep when the Carriage clock began playing the Westminster chimes and began striking the hour. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven! Oh my gosh I am missing the day! Throwing back the warm covers, I bounded out of the bedroom and to the kitchen to make coffee.

There is no sunrise this morning because we had a chance of snow flurries today, but the sky has lightened. Day has begun. Today I am going to have a Saturday doing things that will put me in position to enjoy the holidays. This morning I am going out to the Antique Barn and Flea Market to put things in the booth my Mom and I have there. Then I will do a little shopping for the things that will finish my Christmas shopping so that I can get everything wrapped and in the mail. Once we are done there I will come back home, put on some Credence Clearwater, Three Dog Night, and ABBA. I get so much housework done that way. Once the house is clean I can light candles, work on my Christmas letter, Christmas cards, and wrap gifts.

I have many CD's to fill the house with the sounds of Christmas. The smell of Christmas is something else again. Nothing fills the house with the smell of Christmas like baking cookies. I will have to get out my recipes and go through them and bake some. Since I don't have a Christmas tree due to the 2 indoor cats, I will put the lights on my fichus tree, and pretend it is a beautiful blue spruce. I have Yankee candles that smell like fresh Christmas greenery, so I can cheat and still have the smell of Balsam.

This evening I am going to bring out the big guns. I watch several movies every year without fail because they are filled with happiness and Christmas. Of course there are the perennial favorites White Christmas and It's a Wonderful Life. Then there is The Gift of Love with Marie Osmond and Timothy Bottoms. I also have a favorite called Christmas in Connecticut. It is an older movie, but I highly recommend it. Love is always better at Christmas.

Well, the smell of coffee is in the air, and there is so much to do.....here on my country road.

Until tomorrow,
Becky Strain


Friday, December 05, 2003


It's funny how things trigger memories. Yesterday I heard the March of the Tin Soldiers. I remember when my older brother George was in first grade he was in the annual Christmas Pageant. He was chosen as one of the tin soldiers, and Mom worked on his costume. All of the boys were to wear blue jeans with red stripes down the outside of each pant leg, long sleeved white shirts with wide red ribbons criss-crossed over their back and chest,and they carried little wooden rifles over one shoulder. Each soldier wore a tall black hat with chin strap and they had red dots of color on their cheeks. The night of the pageant we all went to the school auditorium for the performance. When the music started for the March of the Tin Soldiers, the boys began marching smartly from the four corners of the stage, crisscrossing in the middle of the X formation in the center of the stage. This pattern was repeated again and again until the music stopped. I couldn't have been more than 3 years old at the time, but I remember that like it was yesterday.

When I was in first grade, we were getting ready to begin practice for the annual Christmas pageant. We had 4 first grade classes in our elementary school, so there were plenty of parts for the children. My teacher, who was my favorite teacher, was Miss March. She was wonderful. The day we were to begin practice, all of the first grade classes met in the auditorium. The girls who wanted to be snowflakes were instructed to line up by the piano which was set up adjacent to the stage. The minute Miss March gave the instruction I took off like a shot, reaching the piano several seconds before all of the other girls. I was rewarded for my enthusiasm by being chosen to be Suzy Snowflake. All of the other girls would wear white snowflake costumes, but mine would be a beautiful icy light blue. I would carry a little wand with a silver glitter star on the end, and as I danced around the stage with the other snowflakes, I would touch the snowmen with the wand thus bringing them to life. Our vignette was of course acted out to the tune of Frosty the Snowman.

Practice went very well, and Mom worked diligently on my beautiful Suzy Snowflake costume. They were little ballerina style dresses with silver glitter stars around the skirt. The dresses were made from crepe paper, so were fragile. Mom didn't let me try it on but once so she could make sure that it was going to fit properly. The night of the big performance, Mom carried my costume to school where all of the students were to dress. All went well until I danced out onto the stage with my little wand. As I turned to face the audience, the lights hit my eyes, but I could see people sitting out in the darkness of the auditorium. I was temporarily stunned into a frozen position, wand raised, and me in mid curtsey. I don't really remember much after that, but my mom assured me it was a very tense minute as Miss March kept stage whispering directions to me. Evidently whatever she said spurred me to action, because I did eventually dance around the stage with the other little snowflakes, bringing the snowmen to life with my magic wand. It has been a family joke ever since. Probably because I have rarely known a shy moment in my life. At any rate, the show went on, and the rest as they say, is history.

My mother saved my little Suzy Snowflake costume, and it is in the family cedar chest with all of the other precious childhood mementos Mom saved. I am quite sure that the whole event will be retold this Christmas.....here on our country road.

Until tomorrow,
Becky Strain


Thursday, December 04, 2003


Something’s missing. I couldn’t put my finger on it until I had been around the store twice with my grocery cart, but finally I asked a stock boy. “Excuse me, can you tell me where the nuts are?” “Sure, ma’am. Aisle 6,” he replied. Since I had already been around the store twice, I knew what I was searching for wasn’t on aisle 6.…..

Mom helped load my brothers and I into the car, which was a necessity because she had so many layers of clothes on us due to the cold and snow. We looked like little Michelin men, complete with hand knit mittens and stocking caps she had made for us. Our caps were just a little large for us, because Mom believed in making things we could grow into. Each cap sported a large pom-pom, and the mittens we wore matched our caps. The boys had black rubber boots over their shoes, and mine were red rubber. We sat in the back seat side by side, looking at our boots because we couldn’t bend our legs much due to having several pair of pants on. We couldn’t see out the windows, so Mom entertained us with what we would be getting at the grocery store. It was a treat for us, but now I can’t imagine taking three small children to the grocery store to shop.

Mom was getting ready to make Christmas candy, and had a carefully written list of ingredients she needed tucked in her purse. Once she parked the car and helped us out, we went into the store. Our neighborhood grocery store was called Vans, and they had everything there you could possibly want or need in the way of food. In the 1950’s and 60’s grocery stores carried only groceries. There was plenty for us to look at though, because Mom made all of our cakes, cookies and candies from scratch. The store had isles full of packaged cookies, cake mixes, and bagged candies that were fun to look at. I suppose that is where the expression came from, ‘just like a kid in a candy store.’

Mom went systematically up and down the aisles, carefully searching out the items she needed, comparing prices and crossing each one off her list. Our family budget didn’t allow things into the cart that hadn’t been planned for, put on the list and carefully chosen for the best price. Impulsive buying wasn’t a term families in the 1950’s were familiar with. Once all of the items were in the cart, Mom tucked her list back in her purse and we went to the last aisle where all of the displays of Christmas candies and nuts were located. The bins were taller than we were, but Mom would lift us up one by one so we could see the displays.

There were bins of English walnuts, Brazil nuts, acorns, almonds, cashews, black walnuts, peanuts and hazelnuts. The different shapes, textures and colors were intriguing, but what drew our eye was the candy displays. Large bins of sugared gumdrops in every imaginable color, lemon drops, chocolate drops with crème centers, sugared orange slices, red and white peppermints, and our favorite ribbon candy, were arranged in the center. The nut bins surrounded the candy, I suppose to keep little fingers out of them. Mom took the large metal scoop from each bin, carefully weighing out each item, and putting it into a white paper sack. Once at the register, the clerk weighed each sack and wrote the price on the sack. After paying for her purchases, Mom herded us back to the car, and the sack boy would load the groceries into the car.

Once at home again, Mom let us pick out one piece of candy for a special treat. My favorite was the chocolate drops, but I chose a pretty piece of ribbon candy because the store only carried it at Christmas time. It lasted a very long time, and we sat at the kitchen table eating our candy while Mom put away the groceries. In a little while we would get to lick the pan she made the fudge in, and watch as she cracked nuts for the various candies and cookies she planned to bake. The kitchen would be filled with the sights and smells of Christmas baking, which is a cherished childhood memory……

After I put the grocery cart back in the cart rack, I left the store empty handed. I had dutifully made the trip back to aisle 6 only to find nothing but little cellophane packages of chopped nuts. I had to wind my way back to the front of the store around displays of various toys and poinsettias, dishes, film, batteries and Cds. The clerk didn’t even say Merry Christmas or thank you come again. I suppose the idea of a grocery store that only sells grocery items is a thing of the past…just like all of the other holiday memories I hold dear. Today I am making the trip to Springfield, which is 85 miles from Smalltown. I am not coming home without ribbon candy and large sugared gumdrops. As I bag them, I will remember the excitement of those three little kids bundled up, mittened hands clasped together, and eyes as big as saucers while Mom carefully chose our candies and nuts….happy holiday memories.

Until Tomorrow,
Becky Strain


Wednesday, December 03, 2003


Be careful what you wish for. Two days ago I was wishing for some white fluffy snow. Not a lot of it, just enough to bring out the holiday spirit and give the illusion of a winter wonderland. For the past two hours I have been trying to go back to sleep after being woke up by the sound of sleet hitting the side of the mobile home. Now we have a full blown mess brewing out there, complete with thunder, lightening and a mix of rain, sleet and snow.

The weather had me thinking of when I was little and we were home from school due to the weather. The weather patterns were much different back then, and we sometimes were home from school weeks at a time during the holidays because of the deep snows. Mom would have her hands full trying to keep three little kids occupied days on end. There were no VCRs or videos, no computers, and very little in the way of toys other than board games. We looked at the Sears Wish Book until the pages were dog eared. Mom gave us paper and pencils and we made Christmas lists for Santa again and again. When we had exhausted that we got to cut out pictures of the toys we wanted with little blunt end scissors. Mom would make us paste out of flour and water, and we would paste our precious catalog pictures onto paper. This was a laborious activity, and we spent hours at the kitchen table at it.

We did spend a lot of time playing with decks of cards. Do kids really know how to play Slap Jack, Book, War or Crazy 8's any more? I was partial to the brightly colored deck of Go Fish cards because they were shaped like little fish. We also had a deck of Old Maid cards. When all of that failed, Mom showed us how to play Concentration with the cards. That worked better when we were a little older, but while we were young it was too much of a challenge. Our card games would always deteriorate into shouting matches then to full blown accusations of cheating and rule changing, which resulted in a fast trip to our respective bedrooms for a nap.

What I remember most about those days of being shut off from the outside world by a barrier of white snow was the wonder of it. Many times we had drifts of snow up to the bottom of the window sills. Mom would make cookies or a cake and some homemade hot chocolate. While we enjoyed that we would talk about the presents under the Christmas tree and ask questions about Santa and the reindeer, the elves, and the North Pole. I'll never forget the year Mom had been telling us stories about Santa and the sleigh. It was Christmas eve, and we were standing in the living room looking out the front picture window into the night sky. The only light was the glow of the Christmas tree lights on the tree. Mom had told us that when Santa came we would hear the jingle of sleigh bells.
As three little faces stood looking out into the snowy night, we heard them. As clear as anything I have heard before or since, I can remember the sound of those sleigh bells. We danced around the living room before being herded off to bed so that Santa could come.

I think what I miss so much about Christmas now is the wonder of it. It can’t be found at the store or under the tree, but in your heart. The first Christmas gift so freely given to mankind in a little manger so many years ago is the greatest love story ever told. The magic of childhood memories, snow, the jingle of sleigh bells, and the smell of fresh baked cookies flood my senses. Looking for the Christmas spirit? It lies within your heart....

Until tomorrow,
Becky Strain


Tuesday, December 02, 2003


I suppose it is thinking about the Christmas decorations going up everywhere that triggered the memories of our family Christmas trees when we were little. There were no artificial trees back then, and if you lived in the city like we did your tree came from one of the many Christmas tree lots that appeared like magic the day after Thanksgiving. We would go as a family to the Christmas tree lot and pick out a tree that fit into the slim family budget.

For some reason what we could afford usually had flaws that only turning to the wall behind the tree could fix. Once the tree was purchased, it was loaded into or on top of the family car and taken home. Dad would put the tree into the red and green metal tree stand and stand the tree in the garage for 24 hours so that the tree and the branches could relax. Any problems with balance could be taken care of during this stage of the process.

After the tree had been deemed ready to bring into the house, Dad would bring it in and stand it in front of the big picture window facing the street. Once supper and the dishes were done we gathered in the living room where the boxes of Christmas decorations had been put. Mom always turned on Christmas carols while we worked, but there was such a excited chatter going on once the ornaments were revealed it was hard to hear them. We used the same ornaments every year, blown glass ornaments with glitter that sparkled in the light of the colorful Christmas tree lights. There was also a box full of ornaments we made in art class at school and in Cub Scouts and Camp Fire Girls.

My brothers and I would wait excitedly while Dad put on the strings of lights. Not the mini lights that are popular now, but the big bulbs that were all that was available in the 1950's. Once the lights were secure and turned on, we got to put on the ornaments. Mom and Dad supervised my brothers and I during this process because all of us wanted our favorite ornaments on the front of the tree. I am sure that once we were in bed asleep Mom rearranged them to her satisfaction. After the ornaments were up we had to hang the silver icicles. This was a painstaking job. Each one had to be hung separately by hand. My older brother George always got mad at John and I because we would soon tire of it and begin hanging them several at a time and then resort to throwing handfuls of them in the general direction of the tree just to get rid of them. This usually resulted in Mom plying John and I with hot chocolate and cookies so that George could repair the damage and finish hanging the icicles. He never seemed to tire of this job, and was very good at it because each year every icicle was placed in such a way the tree looked beautifully glistening with ice.

The last step in the decorating process occurred once the tree was finished, the boxes cleared away and everyone had hot cocoa and freshly baked cookies. The Christmas carols would be replayed, and we gathered around the tree while Dad would turn out the lamps so that only the tree lights illuminated the room. I thought there was nothing so beautiful in all the world as the sight of our Christmas tree in the glow of those brightly colored tree lights.

Fond memories are what Christmas is all about. The memory of three little kids singing Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer at the top of our lungs while we chewed Mom's cookies warms my heart.....here on our country road.

Until tomorrow,
Becky Strain


Monday, December 01, 2003


Indian summer can only occur once we have the first killing frosts. Usually we have Indian summer in October, but here we are turning the calendars to welcome the first day of December and Indian summer. By December the countryside lays dormant, flower beds are sleeping until spring and the eagles have arrived from the north. Nature is in such a confused state that the spring bushes are budded with new blooms, the sound of lawn mowers can still be heard routinely and the eagles are still in the north.

The ads are heralding the holiday shopping season with Christmas only 24 days from now. People are hustling and bustling about, shopping bags in hand. Christmas decorations are going up everywhere and Christmas music has taken over the local country radio station. Although I had a good start on my Christmas list, I am dragging my feet. I just can't get excited about Christmas preparations when it is sunny and 72 degrees.

The one thing that can make a difference is winter weather. The weatherman has no hope of any snow for us and warmer temperatures will prevail for another week. One of my favorite holiday movies is White Christmas. In the movie they experience the same problem in Vermont. With the skiing season in full swing, there was no snow. The star of the show, aside from Bing Crosby, Rosemary Clooney and Danny Kaye, was the arrival of snow. The auditorium doors were swung open to reveal the thick heavy white snow, and a chorus of ooh's and aah's went up from the audience.

Normally I can do without cold weather and snow, but because we always had snow when we were growing up in Kansas it seems to be linked to my memories of the holiday season. Of course I will plod ahead with shopping and addressing Christmas cards, but my heart won't be in it until I see the first snow flakes drifting down. Just like Bing's famous song, I find that I'm dreaming of a white Christmas.....here on our country road.

Until tomorrow,
Becky Strain
Author's note:
I would like to thank my brother John Strain for the hard work he put into my new blog page. I am really proud of it, and wanted him to get credit for his effort. Of course you can visit his blog site using the link from mine.