Twas the Night Before the Night Before the Night Before Christmas

My family enjoys getting together.  Brothers, Sisters, Aunts, Uncles, Parents and Children all gather to celebrate Christmas.  The ever-growing clutch expanded enough over the years to warrant the rental of a Hall.  Tables, chairs, a mini-kitchen and no clean up required:  A deal we couldn’t refuse.

From the Austin Family; Merry Christmas & Happy New Year!

Decades Past, Christmas Present

20131214_080155Created in 1973, Shrinky Dinks were a marvel of science and crafts.  For our family, a year later, they were the makings of some very cool Christmas ornaments.  We were always on the cutting edge of Craftiness.

At the time I made this plastic ornament, it seemed wrong to shove Santa into a scalding hot oven, but the results were as magical as the Old Man himself.  And now I cannot imagine Christmas without it!  I’ve carried this little faceless Santa Claus with me for nearly four decades.  It is the only ornament I have from my childhood and it means so very much to me.  At 10-years of age, it was one of my greatest works of art and the fact that it has survived half-a-dozen moves, 39 different Christmas Trees, and my family’s mockery proves its resilience.

I have that same feeling about Christmas:  Commercialism, antagonism and skepticism will not alter the joy I get from this time of year.  It is not just a holiday for children; Christmas is a time off celebration.  It is, in the words of Kevin’s mother as she tries to get back to Chicago, “The Season of Perpetual Hope!”

I hope, on this day, you will remember a season in your life when things were more simple, the sights and sounds more vibrant, and the peace in your heart was pure and bubbling over.  I hope you can rediscover this same beautiful truth in your heart and life on this day, and all the days of this Christmas Season.

On the 14th Day of Christmas…

20131214_065644As I prepared to write this little story, I did so thinking that I would scribble something about the first day of a new Christmas Season; the first of the 12 Days of Christmas. But research (Wikipedia) indicates that my knowledge of all things Christmas is off by 12 whole days!  In fact, I’m nearly two weeks early for this seasonal favorite.

The Festival actually starts on December 25th and ends with Christmastide on the evening of January 5.  While I thought I was celebrating the Christmas Season, what I discovered is that I’m actually hanging out in Advent:  Day 14, to be exact.

But here’s the beauty of my miscalculation:  We now have an additional 12 days of the Christmas season.  So, leave up the fake Christmas tree!  Don’t tear down those stockings hung by the chimney with care!  Cut another piece of Aunt Ruth’s Fruitcake!  The celebration continues!

However, until I’m told differently, I’m going to make the most of the days we have leading up to the 25th.  I will enjoy the snow.  It isn’t the lovely seven inches promised/predicted by panicky weather forecasters, but heavy wet blanket of a couple inches.  It covers the ground and drips from the tree branches.  It makes every light sparkle with new beauty.

I will celebrate the innocence of Buddy the Elf.

I will crank the tunes on my Spotify Christmas Play List (now up to 1,147 songs).  Feel free to follow the play list:  Austin’s Acre Christmas List.  It will put your heart into a festive mood!

I will drink eggnog till I burst!

I will take advantage of Mistletoe every chance I can get!

Why?  Because I just discovered that the Christmas Season just extended another 12 days…That’s why!

Our Christmas

Here’s the deal:  Our kids have never asked for much.  In fact, the joke is that Jonathan gets excited about socks and Emily is just a girl looking for some dill pickles and Ben…well, let’s just say Ben always “has money for that”.  And so, when Christmas comes, the kids are always surprised at what they receive and are thankful for what came their way.

That makes gift giving such a joy and so much easier.  But more than that; it makes the holidays a time of joy and allows us to focus on one another rather than that perfect gift that always seems to allude.

This year was no exception.  We went to Christmas Eve Services as a family, came home to eat a wonderful meal and then settled in to open our presents.  It was a fantastic evening and a very, merry Christmas.

The Hiatt Side

Christmas is a great time to be with family, whether you are with your in-laws or out-laws.  Yesterday was the Hiatt side’s turn to gather and we enjoyed great food, some White Elephants, a short present exchange and some hot-buttered rum.

It wasn’t too much food or too many gifts.  The TV was off in the basement which made for easier conversation and more laughter.

It was a very nice afternoon.


A Silent Night to You and Yours

The first snow of the year left a beautiful view out our front door.
The first snow of the year left a beautiful view out our front door.

Christmas Eve is one of my favorite nights of the year.  As a child we would visit Grandma Freda’s home and celebrate with Aunts, Uncles and cousins.

At some point we started our own tradition of reading the Christmas Story, sharing Communion and opening our immediate family’s presents that same night.  When grandmother died and the kids moved to far-off locations the Christmas Eve faded.

When I served in the church, it wasn’t possible to celebrate our family’s Christmas on that night.  Responsibilities of Christmas Eve services kept me at the church until after midnight for many years.

But in the past dozen years or so, we’ve returned to the Eve celebration.  We visit church, sing the songs, light the candles and return home for a nice dinner together and the opening of some presents.

Our gifts have become more simple but the meaning of the night, the love shared by family and the lights of the tree make for a beautiful, silent night.

May you and your family enjoy the beauty of this season and the joy that comes from the greatest gift of all.

A Night That is Anything But Silent

The party just doesn't stop!
The party just doesn’t stop!

It is a little tricky to get family pictures at the Austin Family Christmas.  People are constantly on the move.  The only time we sit very, very still is during dinner and when we sing Christmas songs.

As in past years, my parents make serving the family dinner one of their presents to us, and it is truly an act of service.  The kids and grand-kids enjoy one another over a beautiful salad, a fantastic hot meal and more dessert than we can eat in a night (but God knows we try).

After dinner, we put away the tables and chairs and gather to sing.  This year, there were five of us strumming our guitars.  I think some of the family members were singing but the guitars were so loud that I couldn’t hear them.  Todd, Chad, Ben, Caleb and I rocked the G-chord on nearly every song.

Once the singing is over (and its never soon enough), Dad tells us the Christmas story, we share Communion, and spend some time talking.  This year Dad asked about some of our favorite Christmas memories and that started a nice discussion that included everything from dead mice to mislabeled packages.  But we also talked meaningful and important moments of Christmas past.

And then the moment we’d all been waiting for…more dessert.

And then that other moment:  The White Elephant Exchange.  There’s nothing that says Christmas like a pile full of stupid presents that are so bad, no one wants to actually use them when the received them years before.  They stay stashed away in a garage for 12 months only to be returned to the pile the following year.  I know. I got my same stupid ski men that I pawned off last year!

But, all in all, it was a wonderful evening.  We laughed hard, we sang loud and we loved well.  It was a very Merry Two-Nights-Before-Christmas.

Christmas Magic

Each year, our small group gathers for a Christmas party.  We eat good snacks, drink cranberry tea, and separate into three different rooms:  The men in the living room to talk about work and football, the kids around the dining room table to play a game, the women in the summer porch doing who-knows-what-women-do.  Between each of the three rooms, Little A (now three) wanders handing out candy, members from a nativity set, and good cheer.

The highlight of the evening is the White Elephant Gift Exchange.  This is a creative bunch and this year Anita scored a home-made IPod speaker stand made from a Pringles can and some toilet paper.  I made off with a 600 piece puzzle in the shape of the map of the world.  Each piece is the shape of an actual country or state.  I’ve already volunteered to look for the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans.

But this group is not just about fun and games.  These people are my dear brothers and sisters.  They lighten our load.  They share the journey.  They listen well.  They love dearly.  They pray earnestly.  In short, these folks are amazing and I’m so thankful that I get to do life with them.

Christmas Present

Kindergarten Curt
A school picture from Kindergarten.

My memory of Christmas in 1968 is a mixture of fantastic sights and sounds reproduced from my five-year-old mind and old 8 mm film shot that year.  It is grainy and jumpy at best.  But I remember two things very clearly:  The toys and the love.

I remember lights twinkling in the tree as we rounded the corner to see all the loot. I remember a train track set up under the tree.  I remember football helmets and cowboy guns.   And I remember the bikes:  Two red bikes, one for me and one for my brother, with our names painted on the crossbars in perfect lettering.  Santa did a good job that year.

But all those presents have long since been outgrown, lost or broken and thrown away.  What remains is the memory and excitement of that morning, the love of our family, and the joy in spending time together.  It was our first Christmas after mom and dad married.  We were living in a little (and I cannot stress enough how LITTLE) house on the edge of Selma, Indiana.  This was the first Christmas in this home, living with one another and celebrating the season.  I believe it is one of my most cherished memories of our family.

Memories are like that.  To this day, I have only one childhood present that has survived the years and I guard it carefully.  But my childhood memories, both good and bad, will never be broken by time and rust.

Second Grade Curt
My second-grade school picture.

To this day, if I close my eyes, I can remember the table in Farmland when I was eight years old.  It was spread out with a dozen plates and platters full of food.  Around the table are my grandparents, Freda, Ray and Jo, and our adopted grandparents, Ralph and Frona.  Beside them are my brother and sisters, and mom and dad.  The smell of fresh grapefruit and salty bacon fills my nose.  The steaming scrambled eggs and the cinnamon rolls still make my mouth water.

To this day, the glow of the tree in my living room returns me to the farm, when I would spend countless nights on the floor by the bay window, all the lights in the room turned off.  I would lay under the branches to look up through the pine branches and the lights; blue, green, red and white.  My mind would marvel at the star-like beauty.

To this day, the laughter of friends and family sitting around the room places me back in my grandmother’s basement where we opened presents open on Christmas eve by the light of the fire burning brightly in the fireplace, each of us marveling at the newest gadget, art set of paper and pencils, or every piece of clothing.  It still warms my heart and soul.

The Austin "Children" opening last year's stockings on Christmas Eve.
The Austin “Children” opening last year’s stockings on Christmas Eve.

But these memories are from the past.  These images are from years gone by.  Though my heart grows fond at the thought of them, my true joy is in the present.  Knowing that I will soon be with my extended family again, excited that my own children will open their own presents on Christmas eve, anticipating the spread on Christmas morning:  These things bring me as much joy as the images of Christmas past.

The joy that comes from celebrating with family and friends is just around the corner and there is nothing that enlivens the season more than that!

Christmas Time Is Here, Happiness and Cheer

IMG_3192“And this will be a sign unto you…”

One of my favorite shows each season is “A Charlie Brown Christmas“.  Despite being nearly 50 years old, it still captures our nation’s fixation on stuff.  Though repeated every year, the clear message is seldom heard.  Linus and the gang invite us to recall the true purpose of Christmas and forsake Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Spending Saturday, etc.  The true meaning of Christmas isn’t the aluminum tree, or the show, or the money, or the gifts.  The true meaning is found in the simple story of love and life, given to us in a form of a baby.

But we do it over and over again.  I did it this weekend.  I became angry with the manager during a call to customer service.  He informed me that, despite my opinion and the fact that they could not service the customer, they provide excellent customer service.  He said it was in the definition.  I lost it.

I did it when I called around to find that one special gift and then jumped in my car to race to the store and snatch my prize, the last one in the store.

I did it when I ordered frantically on-line to ensure that my items would be here in time for Christmas day.

Linus told me.  Charlie begged me.  Lucy scolded me.  But I never listen.

No Tie For You

Enjoying my first cup of Joe - 04:50 on Thursday.
Enjoying my first cup of Joe – 04:50 on Thursday.

Today is the day.  I’m breaking the Christmas Tie tradition.  I’m wearing my collar open.  My neck is exposed.  I’m living life on a very dangerous edge.

After months of buying, weeks of planning, hours of reviewing, I’ve decided at the last minute to leave today’s tie hanging in the closet.  Why, you ask?  Because I am a spontaneous nut.  THAT’s WHY!  You may not know this about me but I’m wacky and crazy.  And, despite my wife’s diagnosis of possible OCD, I can ebb and flow with the best of them.

All of that…That’s why.  That, and the reds in the tie and the shirt I ironed two weeks ago were bothering me.  They just didn’t seem to go together the way they did when I test-wore the outfit on November 27th.

So today, I’m being flexible.  Because I’m a free-wheeling crazy man!  That’s why.

Some 2012 Christmas Advice

partridgeDear Austin’s Acre,

In a romantic moment, I bought my wife a Partridge in a Pear Tree for her Christmas gift.  I originally planned on doing something that resembled all Twelve Days of Christmas but I didn’t realize how expensive the bird would be.  Don’t even get me started on the bush of fruit that came along with it.  Now I don’t have enough money to buy the two french hens, let alone the four calling birds.  I’ve blown my entire budget on this one gift and the more I look at it, the more stupid I feel.  What should I do?

Signed, A Bird In The Hand

Dear Bird-brained.

First, you have done yourself a favor.  As I always say, “When the world gives you partridges, you make dinner”.  Take the tasty bird and turn it into a romantic supper for two.  Seriously.  I did a quick Google search of “Best Roast Partridge Recipes” and in less than .20 of a second, I had 733,000 results.  But taking the search a step further, I added “pear” to the string and came up with the BBC’s own recipe for a delectable treat that combines all the ingredients already in your hand!  But be careful to cook the little bird until the internal temperature is 180 degrees or you will all die.

Beyond that little warning, I think you have everything you need to make the best Christmas Dinner of your life and, in the process, save Christmas.

As an added gift, use the wood from the tree to create something that will be remembered for years:  A candle holder, a coffee table, a picture frame, a diamond ring, a stack of wood.  Be creative. Why do I have to do all the thinking here?

I hope this Christmas is one of the most fulfilling yet (or at the very least, the most filling).

Good luck and good eating!

Oh, Christmas Tree – the 2012 Version

Every year we venture into the wilds of Noblesville’s local tree farm with saw and measuring stick in hand.  It is an age-old tradition of hunting down the most innocent looking Christmas tree, killing it, mounting it on the top of our car, driving it home, and setting it up in our living room, as if it’s lived there all along.

To humiliate the little tree even more, we string it in lights and cheesy ornaments bought from the local hardware store or made in preschool by each of our children.  As proof of cheesy, I present for evidence:  the Christmas Pickle that I purchased for this year’s tree.

But there is also something wonderful about a tradition that is as old as our family.  We scheduled our weekends around this event and I’m happy to say that, even with three adult children in our midst, everyone is game to help the tradition continue.

Advent Already?

001How is it possible that we have so few days left in the year.  How can it be that there are so few days remaining until Christmas Day?  Where did the year go?

It seems like only yesterday that we were planting our garden and the daffodils began to bloom.

It isn’t possible that Ben marched in his final State Fair Band Day competition or that we sent our last child off to his first day of his senior year of high school!

Thanksgiving was just last week and already I’m nostalgic for the events of the year.

As the leaves fall from the tree and thankfully blow into my neighbor’s yard, I’m reminded that another year has come and gone.  Another season has ended and a new one begins.  Another round of preparation for what is yet to be and what will be again.

Have a great weekend, folks.  Enjoy each moment.


The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, Again

One of my favorite films for Christmas is Jim Carey and Ron Howard’s version of the Grinch.

Yes, I know that it was a SPLAT on Rotten Tomatoes.  I know that it still gets painful reviews each year. I know that children cry when they are asked to watch the film.

But I like it.  It makes me laugh.  And for my family, it is the perfect movie to watch this season.  Jim Carey isn’t any Jimmy Stewart and the Grinch isn’t any Wonderful Life but it still remains a classic in this house.

Let the Movies Begin

My actual spreadsheet to help track this year’s Christmas Movie Experience.

Yes, yes…I love movies.  I think I’ve made this perfectly clear.  But a good Christmas movie is even more special to me and there is nothing I enjoy more than pulling out my box of videos and getting ready for the season by watching one movie a day.

This year, I’ve made an Excel spread sheet listing the best seasonal movies of all time.  As I watch each one, I’ll be able to check off the list and make sure I make my way through all 35 videos before Christmas day ends.  In the process, I will ensure world peace and seasonal harmony across this great land.  Don’t ever say I’m not a team player.

Sure, my goal is lofty but we must dream big.  Right?


The Bright Midwinter

I’m listening to a newer Christmas album today and want to encourage you find a copy and add it to your listening list.  The Bright Midwinter offers an upbeat and soulful Christmas experience by Sarah Scharbrough Mclaughlin and is one of my new favorites.

Sarah is a fantastic artist with wonderful sensitivities and you will appreciate the beautiful piano, the smooth voice and the great arrangements.  I am particularly fond of her version of “Oh Come All Ye Faithful” and the gospel version of “Shine“.

This album is a good addition to your favorite Christmas music and can be found on I-Tunes, Spotify, Rhapsody, and Amazon.

Let The Countdown Begin

In my world, Thanksgiving is the kick-off event for the next few weeks of Christmas cheer.

Midnight Clear: One of my favorite Christmas albums of all time.

I’ve loaded over 1,000 songs on my Spotify play list. I have everything from the Jackson 5 to John Denver.  I’ll be listening to music that ranges from the beautiful melodies of Penny Rodriguez to the chipper chatter of the Chipmunks.  I’ll jam to 243 versions of Silent Night and Frosty the Snowman.  When I’m done, I’ll start all over again.

The perfect movie to kick off the Christmas count-down.

I’ve made the list of the best Christmas movies of all time and pulled the Christmas videos and DVD’s from the attic and dusted them off for the marathon that begins today with one of the best:  White Christmas.  I’ll move on to the Christmas greats of Scrooged and Die Hard and then settle on the classics like Charlie Brown and A Wonderful Life.

It’s been a long year and I need a little Christmas Cheer.  I’ll do everything I can to make it happen…even if it means overloading on some music, holiday decorations and cheesy movies.  I’ll get into the Christmas Spirit, at any cost.

Dear Austin’s Acre: Returns

Dear Austin’s Acre,

I love Christmas and thoroughly enjoy celebrating the birth of Jesus, etc.  But to me, nothing says Christmas like some really good gifts.  This year I received several Christmas gifts because I am a very popular person.  Unfortunately, it appears that all the people I know have bad taste.  The gifts I received were each hand-made and every single one, without exception, was hideous.

The most unfortunate reality of this year’s gift exchange is that there is no where to return the pair of knitted oven mits, the felt pajamas with puppies on the pattern, the stationary with my initials drawn on each page, by hand, with orange crayon.  I’ve tried taking the items to WalMart, KMart, StuffMart, and any other Mart in the Tri-state area.  But no one wants these pathetic gifts.

I don’t want to appear insensitive but this just stinks.  It has ruined my Christmas and the first part of 2012.

Do you have any suggestions or matches?

Signed, Gifted

Dear Gifted,

Life can be hard as exhibited by your bad luck this year in the Christmas gift department. However, you are in luck.  I have several good ideas that can turn your bad run of gifts into a profitable venture.

1.  EBAY – there is a sucker born ever minute.  Those oven mits can be sold as Soviet-era space gloves.  The pajamas will go quickly because there are lots of puppy lovers out there with money to burn.  The stationary will be a little trickier.  If you have good initials (LBJ, JFK, etc) you can really clean up.  Otherwise, you might have to do a Google search to determine a favorite person with your initials.  Simply post that item as a childhood memento of that famous celebrity.

2. Insurance Fraud – Take out a large insurance policy on the items and then, through a tragic accident in your fireplace, the items were burned beyond recognition.  You lose the items and make a little cash on the side.

3. My Dog Ate It – I keep a Yellow Lab pup around for just such an occasion.  Smear each gift with peanut butter and leave them laying around anywhere your Lab might wander (like every room of your house, on top of the kitchen table, under the car, in the microwave, the toilet or trash – don’t worry – your lab will find it).  After 15-20 minutes, your gifts will be completely destroyed.

4. Re-Gifting – Give the mits to the pajama giver.  Give the pajamas to Good Will.  Give the letterhead to the mit maker, etc.

5.  You could keep the gifts that represent lots of hard work and a personal investment in your life.  You could be thankful for the time and talent that have been offered to you as a way of celebrating (in your words) Jesus, etc.  That might be the best idea of all.