Thursday, December 27, 2007

Looking Back, Looking Forward

I hope many of you saw the beautiful full moon on Christmas Eve. I tried to take photographs of it that would do it some justice, but it was difficult, since I was leaning out the sun room window, and was hampered by some tree branches. I even saw, Mars, right below the moon, but it doesn't show up in the pictures.

I should have gone outside and stood in the middle of the field, to get some clear shots, but earlier I had heard a pack of coyotes howling near-by, and thought I'd better not chance it.

Christmas 2007 was merry and bright and blessed with family and good friends. Not all my family was here in person, but we were together in our hearts. And we spent some time visiting by telephone.

Oh, and there were presents galore; my kids and grand kids like to spoil me. I am very blessed, because at some time in our lives, there were difficult circumstances, but it has only strengthened us as a family, and I thank God for that.

Christmas morning church service was more beautiful than ever, and brought me to tears, as it always does. Joining the choir and the congregation in singing the beautiful Christmas Hymns, I thought back of Christmases when I was a child; Christmases when my children were small, and the celebration of the birth of our Lord, and as usual, I was overcome with mixed emotions: Nostalgia and Joy!

But Christmas 2007 is over, and now I'm looking forward to 2008. I hope everyone had a joyful Christmas, and may the New Year bring countless blessings and many good surprises to each and everyone of us!
(I love good surprises, don't you?)

Happy New Year, everyone!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Unexpected Gifts

When we arrived in the refugee camp in Austria, after fleeing our war-torn country Hungary
just a few weeks before Christmas of 1947, I was 11 and had become resigned to not having much.

The refugee camp, with its wooden barracks, and dusty lanes, was pretty drab. But we had a warm place to sleep, warm food to eat, and were outfitted with warm clothes donated towards the refugee effort from various generous-minded countries like the United States, Canada and Great Britain. So we considered ourselves pretty fortunate. Plus we had some of the most beautiful views available, free to anyone who wished to look, since the camp was located in one of the most scenic areas of Austria-Carinthia.

As Christmas approached, the refugee camp school I attended made plans to help us celebrate the holiday as a group. In the barracks where we lived, our private spaces were tiny cubicles, where we slept. There was no room for individual celebrations. But the school had a large auditorium, where a donated Christmas tree was set up. We children created hand made ornaments, which we used to decorate the tree. There were even candles on the tree, to be lit on Christmas Eve–just like in Hungary, before the war. We stayed busy rehearsing a school play that was to be presented on Christmas Eve. I had a small part as the angel who announces the birth of the Savior to the shepherds. I was very pleased and excited about the part.

On Christmas Eve afternoon, my grandparents and I decided to take a walk to the small town of Spittal, just a few miles away from the camp. Grandfather felt that even though we had no money to buy anything, taking in the Christmas sights and smells would be worth the walk. The town's cobbled streets, with its many small shops were decorated with fir branches, and small trees in shop windows glowed with lit candles. People were hustling and bustling, getting last-minute things for the holiday, and wishing each other "Froliche Weinachten."

We stopped in front of the bakery, and inhaled the delicious smells coming out of it each time someone opened the door. I gazed at the napoleons, displayed in the window, my mouth watering. "Oh, they must taste so delicious," I said wistfully.

"And that poppy-seed cake looks wonderful, too," Grandmother sighed.

"Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea," Grandfather said sadly. "Now everyone is hungry for something they can not have."

"But who is to say that you can not have a napoleon, or some of that poppy-seed cake?" a voice behind us asked. As I turned around, a woman in a fur coat and hat took my hand.

"Come on, let us all go into the bakery."

"Oh, no!" I protested, trying to pull my hand out of hers. But she wouldn’t let go, and inside the bakery, bought a large napoleon square and a horseshoe-shaped cake just for us.

"Froliche Weinachten," she called out merrily, then disappeared into a crowd of people. A Christmas angel in a fur coat!

On the way back to the refugee camp, as I sank my teeth into that delicious, custard-filled napoleon and got powdered sugar all over myself, I felt very blessed. Although we lived in a refugee camp, my grandparents and I had much to be thankful for.

That evening, Christmas Eve, the candles on the community Christmas tree were lit, and all the adults came to watch our Christmas play. Everyone remembered their lines, and the choir sang some beautiful, Hungarian Christmas songs. Many people had tears in their eyes. And if that wasn’t enough, each of the children were given a present from underneath the tree.

When I opened mine, I found a pair of pink, fuzzy mittens and matching scarf in the box, and inside one of the mittens, there was a little note, written in English: "Merry Christmas from Mary Anne in Buffalo, New York, United States of America." Imagine that! A gift from a girl all the way in America! I wondered how old she was, what she looked like, and what she liked to do. I couldn’t help but think of her as I drifted off to sleep that night.

When I awoke on Christmas morning, the sun was shining brightly. I heard noises coming through the thin wooden boards of the barrack.

"Good morning, sweetheart. Merry Christmas," Grandmother said cheerily.

"Why is there so much noise out there already?" I asked sleepily, rubbing my eyes.

"Well, I guess some early rising children are enjoying all the newly fallen snow."

"Oh, did it snow?" I asked, leaping from the cot and reaching for some warm clothes to put on. "How wonderful! Where is Grandfather?"

"He and some of the other men are shoveling some paths, so people can go for their breakfast, and then to church."

Within seconds, I was out there, too, marveling at nature’s power to turn a drab refugee camp into a pristine, winter wonderland!

Soon, the surrounding, snow-covered hills were filled with squealing Austrian children, sledding down those hills in their new Christmas sleds, or flying down on their new skis. Meanwhile, refugee camp children built snow men, had snowball fights, and made snow angels, squealing with just as much delight. Nature's gift of snow was free for everyone to enjoy!

As I stood there and gazed at the beautiful snow covered mountains, my heart filled with joy and I said a quick prayer of thanks. For those few days in 1947, it didn’t matter that we were in a refugee camp. From the angel in the fur coat who bought us pastries, to the candles on the Christmas tree, the joyful school play, the unexpected presents, and the fluffy white snow, God had made our holiday extra special.


Have a Merry and Blessed Christmas, everyone! Thank you for visiting and reading my little story. God bless you!

"Unexpected Gifts" was first published in, Whispers from Heaven Magazine, in 2002. Copyright by Renie Burghardt

The picture of the snow covered mountains is of a mountain range in Carinthia, Austria, courtesy of

My Two New Awards

It's a mild but rainy Thursday morning in the woods. I thought it's a good morning to show you my two newest awards. They are both from sweet, Karen at Karen's Korner. Thank you Karen for the beautiful "Your Blog is a Treasure" award and the cute "Bodacious Blog" award. I appreciate you thinking of me, and will post these awards on my side bar after Christmas, along with the other three awards waiting to be posted. In turn, I would love to give these two awards to all the wonderful friends that take time out of their day to visit here. You are all Treasures, and you're all Bodacious, and I am thankful for your visits and comments! Please pick them up, if you'd like to have them, and display them on your site.

Tomorrow morning I will attempt to post my Christmas blog. Have a wonderful day, as you are getting ready for the holiday.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

No Snow In My Neighborhood!

The weather predictions for Saturday were ominous, with freezing rain and snow in the forecast. Well, we had torrential rains all day, but by the time the temperatures dropped to freezing, late at night, most of the moisture was gone. Oh, we did get a dusting of snow, but that melted as soon as the sun came out this morning. So, no snow in my neighborhood, to take beautiful pictures of. (Thank goodness!) But it was a beautiful, sunny day, and I decided to take some pictures anyway.

The small pond is at the northern edge of the field. It isn't a fancy pond, it is a wildlife pond. Behind the pond are the woods. The pond, field and woods are a nice habitat for the wildlife that live around here. And the birds always find water to drink or bathe in.

The field is east of the house, and it is where the deer and wild turkeys like to congregate. Behind the field are some more woods.

The grass is brown nowadays, and some of the oaks which hang on to their leaves until spring, are somewhat drab, but I like my snow-less landscape. It has its own "rustic" charm.

Of course, it never fails. Whenever I'm outside, the deer appear. Here is a doe and her teen aged fawn, posing for me nicely.

And here comes another doe with her twin fawns. The fawns will hang out with "mom" even after she has new "kids," next spring, and even after they give birth to their own young. The bucks stay with "mom" for about a year, after that they join the "boys," who usually hang out together in the woods.

I hope you enjoyed my "snow-less" pictures.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Rustic Charmers of the Past

Tucked away in a corner of our small town is the Heritage Homestead, with it's rustic charmers of the past. Since today was the first rain free day in a week around here, I decided to snap a few pictures of them. Above is the Patterson Family Cabin, built in 1867. This cabin was located out in the country originally, near where I live, but was moved to town to grace the, Heritage Homestead. Decorated with festive red bows for the holidays, I hear it is the place where Santa will be visiting with the local kids, Saturday, after our Christmas Parade.( If Mother Nature cooperates, that is. Rumor has it that we're in for some nasty weather by Saturday; a rumor started by our weatherman!)

This rustic little log cabin reminds me of, Laura, and the clan from the Little House TV series!

Of course, on every homestead of the past, there always was a rustic log barn as well. This one was built sometime in the late 1800s, sports some hand- hewn logs, and is an oldie but goodie!

The side of the barn sports a "garage" of sorts, for the buggy. It looks like it's waiting to be hitched to the horses, to take the family to town.

Behind the barn and it's neighboring Blacksmith Shop, some old farm machinery is on display. Of course, I should have zoomed in on them, so they could be distinguished as such, but maybe you'll take my word for it. There is some old farm machinery back there!
The last photo above is of the old Blacksmith Shop. The owner and long time resident blacksmith, Tom Kennon, operated his shop into the early 1980s, when he was already quite elderly. I hear he was a man who loved his job!

I hope you have enjoyed this peek at some of the rustic charmers in our area. And I hope everyone is well, and ready for Christmas!

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Remembering A War-Time Christmas

This little story was first published in Midwest Living Magazine in 2001, when it was one of the winners in their Christmas Memories contest. I hope you enjoy it.

In my homeland of Hungary in 1944, World War II played havoc with everyone’s lives, especially during the holidays. My grandparents, who were raising me, and I had traveled by horse and wagon throughout the countryside searching for safer surroundings, along with hundreds of other people.

In December, after settling into a small house in a city , my grandmother, who didn’t want me to be too disappointed, told me we would have to observe Christmas mainly in our hearts that year, without a tree or gifts. But I prayed to God every night, and had much hope in my heart that our Christmas would be special, just like it had been in the past, when things were still good in our country. At age eight, I still believed in the magic of Christmas!

Air-raid sirens sounded frequently at night in that time of fear and strife, often forcing us to sit in the dark, praying, until danger passed.

However, Christmas Eve arrived quietly, with no war-planes buzzing, and no air-raid sirens going off. And somehow, to my great surprise, my grandparents had managed to get a small Christmas tree, and set it up ablaze with candles and a few strands of tinsel and sweets, in our tiny parlor. And wonder of wonders, there were even a few presents, with my name on them, under the tree. The Christmas Angel had come, despite the war, bringing gifts from the Baby Jesus, like on other Christmas Eves in the past.

That night for supper, we ate noodles covered with poppy seed and honey, the traditional Christmas Eve supper, then gathered around our glowing little tree to quietly sing Christmas hymns, and Grandpa read the story of the first Christmas, from the Bible, as he had always done in the past.

Then I opened my presents, and I found a bright red scarf, mittens and a jaunty, upturned hat just waiting to be tried on. (Years later, I learned that my grandmother had unraveled one of her old woolen sweaters, dyed the wool a bright red and crocheted my gifts while I was at school.)

I went to church that Christmas morning with a joyful heart, wearing my bright red woolens, and I thanked God for giving us a very special Christmas, despite the war.

There have been many wonder filled Christmases since that Christmas of 1944, but none have been quite as special as that humble, war-time Christmas!
Peace! Love! and Joy! to everyone this Christmas!
A War-Time Christmas, Copyright 2001 by Renie Burghardt

Thursday, December 6, 2007

December Sunrise in the Woods

There was a beautiful sunrise in the woods, this morning, so I braved the chilly temperatures (24F) and took some pictures of it.

December 6th is the Feast of St. Nicholas in Europe. In Hungary, we called him Mikulas Bacsi. Santa Claus was not a part of our Christmases.

Mikulas Bacsi came on the Eve of St. Nicholas, dressed in the robes of a bishop, with a red miter on his head, a staff in one hand and a sack full of small presents in the other. He didn't come on a sleigh, pulled by some raindeer. He was accompanying by a scary "Devil" boy, or Krampusz, in a black costume, complete with horns and a long tail. He usually held a switch made of dry twigs, ready to smack any "naughty" children.
Each "good" child received a small gift and some sweets from Mikulas Bacsi.

I like the American Santa Claus better!

Christmas cheers and blessings!

Monday, December 3, 2007

My Christmas Partridge

This is my little ring necked dove, posing for me as my Christmas partridge. Isn't he cute?

In 1987, my friend Vivian, who raised these sweet doves, gave me a pair of them as a gift, along with a sizable cage built by one of her sons. They were so cute, and I loved their cooing and giggling, and docile, sweet nature.

Luckily for me, the two doves turned out to be two males, so I didn't end up with more partridges than I could handle! And the two were great friends and cage mates for 18 years.

Unfortunately, one of the doves flew over the Rainbow Bridge, almost two years ago, at the age 18. It was sad to find him one morning, fluffed up at the bottom of the cage, no longer breathing.

I worried about my remaining little dove. Would he be lonely by himself? Thank goodness he seems to be doing very well on his own, still cooing and laughing, at the ripe old age of 20!

Here he is sitting in my fern plant, as my "Partridge in a Fern Tree, " cooing a Merry Christmas, to everyone!

Saturday, December 1, 2007

The Twelve Questions Of Christmas

Hootin'Anni is hosting a wonderful Christmas Meme. Here is what she said about this meme:

For the holiday season, I've started a meme. "The Twelve Questions of Christmas" If you'd like to participate, I'd be honored to have you join in the fun. If you'd like, you are welcomed to use the meme header graphic!

To get into the spirit of the season, I have decided to participate. Thank you, Anni ! So here are the questions and my answers:

1. Christmas is Joy. [fill in the blank with ONE WORD]

2. In memories, what was the best part of your Christmases past?

Seeing my children's faces on Christmas morning, going to church as a family, Christmas dinner with the family, were all a wonderful part of our Christmases.

3. Was Santa ever good to you? [describe how and what]

On my first Christmas in America in 1951, Santa brought me a very special gift, a tiny orange tabby kitten! Since I had lost my 19 year old cat on Christmas Day in 1945, I was overjoyed with this special gift in 1951.

4. Do you open gifts on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, or both?

We always opened gifts on Christmas Day morning, when my children were little, but these days, I often open mine on Christmas Eve, like I used to as a child in Hungary.

5. Is there something you make each and every year? [craft or recipe]

We used to bake lots of Christmas cookies and breads and cakes. But my kids' favorite were the Walnut Butterballs, or Snowballs, as they used to call them.

Walnut Butter Balls /Snow Balls
1 c. unsalted butter
1 tsp. vanilla
2 c. sifted flour
1/2 c. sugar
1/4 tasp. salt
1 c. finely chopped walnuts
powdered sugar

Cream butter, sugar and vanilla until fluffy. Sift together flour and salt and add to creamed mixture. Mix well to make a soft dough. Stir in walnuts. Shape into 1 inch balls. Bake on ungreased cookie sheet at 375 about 12 to 15 minutes until slightly brown. While cookies are still warm, roll in sifted powdered sugar. Makes 4 dozen cookies. Enjoy!

6. What is your favorite five[5] Christmas songs/hymns?

I love them all, so it's hard to chose, but the top five would be:

1. O Come All Yea Faithful (Adeste Fidelis) (It always moves me to tears.)

2. Silent Night

3. O Holy Night

4. What Child Is This

5. I'll Be Home for Christmas

7. Is there a new tradition for Christmas since your childhood days?

Christmas in Hungary was very different from here. So all the traditions we followed here, are different, except for always going to church on Christmas Day.

8. Describe one of your Christmas trips. [whether it's across town or across country]

When my children were young, we often spent Christmases in Florida, where they swam in the pool or ocean, while Christmas music played in the background. It was enjoyable, but we missed Christmases at home.

9. Do you have a special Christmas outfit to wear for the day?

Not really, except I try to wear something red and festive!

10. Have YOU or any of your family members sat on Santa's lap?

Oh, my yes! Santa's lap was a Christmas season tradition!

11. What is/or will be on your Christmas tree this year?

Old ornaments from years ago, along with some newer ones acquired more recently.

12. Do you/or have you decorated your yard for Christmas?

When the kids were young, we always decorated the yard, and had lights on the bushes around the house, but these days, I don't do any of it, except for the Merry Christmas sign. The colorful birds that come to the feeders, and the deer and wild turkeys around here are my wonderful live decorations. And I always have special treats for all of them on Christmas.

If you would like to participate in The Twelve Questions of Christmas Meme, just follow the link to Hootin'Anni's blog, and then follow her instructions.

Christmas Blessings to one and all!