Thursday, December 15, 2016

Winter’s Art is Mysterious, Complex, and Still Unexplained

Several years ago, my eldest son gave me a book for Christmas called “The Snowflake – Winter’s Secret Beauty,” written by Kenneth Libbrecht and photographed by Patricia Rasmussen.

I was fascinated by the enlarged microscopic photos, but even more intrigued by the fact that scientists even today cannot fully explain why no two snowflakes are alike or how each is created with such specificity.

Quoting Libbrecht, “The wonder of snowflakes is how they are fashioned into such complex and symmetrical shapes with no blueprint or genetic code to guide construction. How do they develop into such intricate structures? Where is the creative genius that designs the never ending variety of snow-crystal patterns?”

I’m a believer and a “Creationist” so I’m perfectly content knowing that God our Father created the earth and everything in it.  The Lord God enjoyed creating such beauty for us and used eternal mathematical principles to mold and shape our universe.

Libbrecht explains that “Crystalline branches form around a nucleus of microscopic dust, creating a one-of-a-kind design. Because it weighs next to nothing, a snow crystal may take hours to fall – finally landing where photographer Rasmussen’s amazing micro-photography can capture the fleeting beauty and complexity of nature’s art.

“Rain does not produce snowflakes. Rain simply turns into frozen water becoming sleet. A frozen raindrop does not become a patterned snowflake with ornate patterning and symmetry. Snowflakes are the product of a rich synthesis of physics, mathematics, chemistry and temperature. No two are alike, but their uniqueness is soon lost on the ground where they clump together into formless lumps of ice.

Henry David Thoreau said in 1856: “How full of the creative genius is the air in which these (snowflakes) are generated! I should hardly admire them more if real stars fell and lodged on my coat.”

As a kid, I loved folding paper and seeing how intricately I could cut out a flake with my scissors. Usually my stars had four points or eight. Our class would decorate our windows with the many patterns each student had made. In retrospect, these simple designs were a far cry from the intricate patterns that fell on our tongues at recess.

A man by the name of Wilson Bentley, a farmer from Vermont, photographed a real snowflake in 1885 by attaching his microscope to his camera. Snowflake photography became his lifelong passion. In the course of 46 years, he captured more than 5,000 snow-crystal images on the old-style glass photo-graphic plates and scientists and hobbyists have been photographing and studying them ever since.
Have you ever paused to study the intricate designs and patterns that land on your lapel when a blizzard occurs? The fluffy, large flakes that fall during a massive storm are not as detailed or crystallized as the ones that fall during colder weather. The big ones melt quickly because they are full of ice water.

Einstein wrote “What I Believe” in 1930: “The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead: his eyes are closed.”

Next time you find yourself complaining that it’s bitter cold or that you’re home-bound, bundle yourself up and get outdoors with a magnifying glass. Study the exquisite beauty found in those ice crystals that fall as snowflakes. Use your eyes to appreciate and see. Awaken your imagination to the miracles that exist around you.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Deck the Halls and other Traditions

Every year after the Christmas decorations are up and the tree is glistening in all its glory, I play my favorite CD that was purchased at a Christmas pageant called “Child of the Promise” written and produced by Michael & Stormie Omartian. My husband also purchased an album because we were not yet married, and we each wanted our own copy.

Hearing Bible verses sung by Donna Summer, Steven Curtis Chapman, Vince Gill, Amy Grant, and Michael W. Smith, to name a few, really gets me in the mood for Christmas.

After my divorce from my children’s father, and the scattering of my children to the far corners of the U.S; I was left feeling shattered and broken. I had always loved this Holy holiday, but after this I could barely deal with Christmas. When the last two were gone, I stopped decorating altogether. It brought back too many precious, but painful memories.

It wasn’t until I met my current husband 16 years ago that I finally began to celebrate Christmas in baby steps. 

My dear husband helped me to heal. He stood by me, cared for me, and restored my faith in myself and in my God.

I remembered those long ago years when I filled up the empty spaces in my heart with work and good deeds. I Decked the Halls to excess, and cooked up a storm for friends and family. I started so many new traditions each year that I could hardly keep up with them. So in looking for a topic for this blog, I decided to forewarn you: beware of what you start. It has to be done each year (others will demand it), and what you add makes your annual job get bigger and bigger.

My traditions started with the making and decorating of a Gingerbread House. Of course, the children plastered the house and yard with so many candies that the roof became top heavy, but that was part of its charm. After Christmas, they looked forward to smashing the house and eating the candy-covered pieces. I also rolled out gingerbread men for ornaments at the same time.

Then there was the making of doughnuts for our Christmas morning breakfast. I prepared cake doughnuts and risen ones that were frosted and sprinkled with coconut, slivered almonds and candy. I served these with slices of orange for nutrition and home-made eggnog. We never worried about salmonella back then. I guess we were either lucky or blessed.

I also baked various cookies and arranged platters for some of our friends. One couple said it was the prettiest tray of cookies they had ever seen. Of course, their praise gave me incentive to widen my list and bake some more. I also loved to make mini poppy-seed cakes for gifts and family, and special breads like stollen, and muffin sized cherry cheese cakes.

We lived in Kansas City and had incorporated local menus into our holiday traditions.  Barbecued brisket was a favorite, along with the usual trimmings, cheesy potatoes, green beans cooked with ham bits and onions, fresh whole cranberry relish, crab dip and a shrimp cocktail that was made to be drunk in a cup. I cooked so much that in my “old age” I cannot even bear to read a recipe let alone cook one.

Now I’m apt to buy some or most of our traditional meals unless my husband decides to cook his favorite stuffing for a turkey. He does almost all of our cooking, anyway. Whenever I risk a foray into the kitchen my nerves start to frazzle and all the work I did in the past comes barreling back like a bad dream rather than a cause for rejoicing.

But the most important parts of our family traditions have stayed with me. After our Christmas Eve banquet, we’d gather together dressed in our robes and towels and read from the Bible re-creating a live Nativity Scene. 

I can still see the number of new babies in our household that played the part of baby Jesus over the years. A child would progress from baby Jesus to angel, and then to Shepherd. The older ones played Joseph and Mary.

When I listen to “Child of the Promise” it brings those images back, in a good way. There are times when I wish I could have my children all with me once again. I loved the hours spent rocking in their grandfather’s old chair. Drying tears, comforting sorrows, bandaging skinned knees and all the other motherly services performed of which I never grew weary. Each task was special in my heart. 

Imagine rocking the Christ Child?  I treasure the words to my favorite Carol “Mary did you know.”

Mary, did you know
That your baby boy will one day walk on water?
Mary, did you know
That your baby boy will save our sons and daughters?
Did you know
That your baby boy has come to make you new?
This child that you've delivered
Will soon deliver you

Mary, did you know
That your baby boy will give sight to a blind man?
Mary, did you know
That your baby boy will calm a storm with His hand?
Did you know
That your baby boy has walked where angels trod?
And when you kiss your little baby
You've kissed the face of God

Mary, did you know?
The blind will see
The deaf will hear
And the dead will live again
The lame will leap
The dumb will speak
The praises of the Lamb

Mary, did you know
That your baby boy is Lord of all creation?
Mary, did you know
That your baby boy will one day rule the nations?
Did you know
That your baby boy is heaven's perfect Lamb?
This sleeping child you're holding
Is the Great I Am

Oh Mary did you know?

An old favorite by Kenny Rogers and Winona Judd

A more modern version with Pentatonix: