Saturday, November 29, 2008

Christmas Decorating

Christmas time is here! Yesterday we brought out all the Christmas decorations and began the fun work of putting them up.

I used the editorial "we" since it's really Melody and Mom who do most of the work. Mel has the gift of making things look beautiful, and she enjoys it. Decorating is not my thing, so I am quite happy to leave it to the other females of the house.


I think I like the corner hutch the most with all the white lights and glass.

I love the reflections. One of Mom's normal jobs is putting up the garland, lights and angels in the kitchen.
It's so bright in there, you don't even need a light. Jason and I usually handle putting up the window stickees.

Melody and I like the nativity scene to be nicely arranged, but as you can see, Jason has other ideas. He likes to do more unusual things with the stickees!This next picture is a tradition. When Jase was younger, he always made the chickens have a snow ball fight. Mel or I would put them back, and when Jason noticed it, he would re-arrange them to his liking again. We used to get so frustrated with him for messing up the window, but now we think it's funny. These past couple years, he's been too busy, so some of our friends who've heard the story took over his job. Another one of my jobs is to set up our artificial tree. This year Dad was around to help with the lights.We then wait until everybody is available to put the ornaments on. Hmm...sometimes weird people show up at our house.
My mom's parents give us an ornament every year.
Another one of our traditions is "fighting" over what ornament is going to top the tree. Will it be an angel (the girls' choice) or the red star (Jason's favorite)?We used to argue about it when we were little--each claiming the other person had their choice last year and it was our turn this year. I don't know why Mom didn't write it down, but if she had, it would have ruined our fun.

Believe it or not, we still "argue" over the tree topper.Who will win this time? I think Jason has a better advantage than Mel since he can reach higher. Compromise? Ah ha...the angel is going for the top! Can she make it? Well, Jason may have won this year, but now we have proof that it will be our turn next year!
Melody and I made these ornaments for our parents when we were in Sunday school many, many moons ago. (What's up with my expression? I think the sun must have been a little bright.)
A few years after we made our ornaments, Jason wanted to know why he didn't have one. We told him it was because he was just a baby at the time. He decided he needed his picture on an ornament too, so he drew one himself. Do you like the self-portrait? I especially like the 6 fingers on one hand! Our friends the Kalebaughs heard this story, so they made him an ornament with pictures of him on it. Unfortunately, Jason will not let me post a picture of that one--too incriminating. If you want to see it, you have to come to our house.
Our nativity set was made by my mom's parents. Grandpa made the stable, and Grandma painted the ceramics.

It's a special reminder of the Reason we celebrate Christmas.
Like the figurines, our focus should be on Christ!

Friday, November 21, 2008

Shoeboxes

This is our third year helping a local man pack shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child. Laverne (or Vern) and his wife, Norma Jean, started their ministry many years ago. They named it "Tommy's Hut" after their son who passed away. This generous couple lives in a mobile home in order to put most of their income towards buying the items for the shoeboxes and shipping them to Samaritan's Purse. These two are amazing, as are the stories they can tell of God's provision, yet they are some of the most humble people I've met. Their lives are a testimony to so many people!
A couple weeks ago, we brought Vern (on the right) the hats we three Hemmer ladies and the Kalebaugh girls been making all year long. I say we, but Mom really made most of them.
It was funny to see the response each of them had to the hats. Like a typical guy, Laverne thought they were nice and wanted to know what size they were, and Norma (right) oohed and aahed like women do over cute things.
The hats at the end of the line ready to be packed...
... and on their way to some little child.
Remember the post of the girls modeling the hats? Well, that night it was the time for the guys to try them on.

I like your choice, Jason!
Mr. P. (or Smiley as many people call him)
Merle (Bop to most of us)
Mr. Kalebaugh
No, we didn't make this head gear, but don't Crystal and I look cute together?
I think we must have hats on our minds. Empty bubble gum buckets work too!
Danielle spent a weekend with us, and we brought her along to help one evening.
Here's a shot of the garage in which we do everything. People come from all over to help each night. You can see our assembly line on the left.

Notice the boxes of toothpaste? It's amazing to see the stacks of each different item! Just to give you an idea on how much Vern and Norma put in to this ministry, I thought I'd give you some amounts.

In 3 1/2 weeks last year, we packed over 14,000 boxes. We went through 56,000 ziploc bags, 42,000 pencils, 28,000 rubberbands, and 14,000 of each of the staple items of crayons, soap, toothpaste, combs, pens, candy and coloring books--not to mention all the filler items which are applicable to the gender and age group we are doing. Vern gets donations from different people, stores, and churches, but he and his wife pay for most of this. Every year, I am in awe of what God can do through someone who is His willing vessel!
Many of us go every night to help out, and as you can see, we can sometimes get a little strange.
Nice expression, Rach! I'm not sure why Reid chose to stand in the empty stuffed animal barrel, but does he need a reason? He did have a hard time moving, and we had to slide the boxes right to him.
Reid again. Is he making sure the earrings are safe to put in the boxes?
The Kalebaugh's Uncle Ron and cousin, Jared, helping on the assembly line...

Mel, are you trying to show us how strong you are or how well you can balance a box of shoeboxes?

There is quite a bit of prep work before we can even start sending the boxes down the line. One day we even took work home with us. After church one Sunday, some of us folded the letters that Vern and Norma wrote to the kids.
Mrs. K, Rachel, Reid, and Jason are bagging soap.
Ray (left) is almost 90, and he comes nearly every night to help out.
Joy decided it wasn't enough just to take the soap out of the plastic and put it in a ziploc bag. She was more creative with her work.
Hiram sat on this table for a long time taking the soap out of the basket and putting it in the tub behind him.
We also have to put candy in ziploc bags before we send it to "The Line".
Quite the selection!
We use a variety of containers--actual wrapped shoeboxes, clear plastic storage containers, and the boxes OCC sends us. We've got a system now in folding the lids and boxes, and sometimes we race to see how quickly we can put one together.
Brenda and I worked on the boxes all night one time because the people on the line were filling them as fast as we could make them. There were probably 6 people working and even then, someone would shout, "I need lids!" or "I need boxes!", and we would have to quickly switch which ones we were folding.
Joy and Hiram even got in on the act. We had them carrying lids to the end of the line.
They looked so cute weaving their way amongst all the people.
Where is Melody?

We were ready with lids this night.
At the end of the line, we have to mark the age group for which the box is intended and put a rubberband on each end of the box to make sure the lid doesn't come off. I think Reid is putting those rubber bands to a different use!

The shoeboxes are put in a big box which is then sent to the truck. They can usually fit 23 of the pre-fab shoeboxes in a big box. No, Becky, we aren't going to ship you!
Hmm...more goofing around...
Now that's more like it.
Contrary to what many of these pictures show, we do get some work done. Our record for number of shoeboxes packed in one night was just over 1,ooo!
Yea!!! The first semi is full and ready to hit the road! I wonder how many boxes we'll do this year!
This video clip needs a little explanation. The chicken Rachel is holding could be called our "mascot". Throughout an evening of packing, someone will push the button, and if we're not too busy, we do the chicken dance. Don't ask me how this got started, because I'm not quite sure.
video

What I think I enjoy most about this yearly tradition is serving with brothers and sisters in Christ. I don't know about everyone else, but I know I am blessed each time I am there!

As a closing to this post, I thought I'd share one of Vern's stories.

He received a letter from girl who had been given a box three years prior to sending Vern the note. She apologized for having waited so long to send a thank you note, but she said that's how long it took her to learn English so she could write the letter. I think most of us cried when we heard that story.