How I prepare for Thanksgiving is…

Sunday, November 20, 2011

How I prepare for Thanksgiving is…

Thanksgiving is a magical time. There’s snow in the air, pretzels dripping chocolate all over the kitchen table (yes, even with the waxed paper, somehow I always manage to make a mess), a popcorn chain that’s never quite long enough, a final rush to finish my Christmas gifts, and—best of all—suddenly the rest of the world catches up with my love of Christmas music (secretly, I’ve been listening to Bing Crosby croon ‘Silver Bells’ since, oh, June-ish).

Thanksgiving is magical: The meal, the traditions, and the never-heard-enough Cool Whip story. But long before the day arrives, before the tree is up, before the bird is stuffed, there is something I have been compelled to do—a project that has consumed me for the last decade of pre-Thanksgivings.

The Snowmen.

Did you know that your Grandma collects Snowmen? She didn’t either, until it was too late! I’m not sure what started it, but it is such a fun tradition for me. Every year, I spend the weeks working up to the Thanksgiving shopping all around town to find the cutest and most unique Snowmen. Those with character end up with the year written in permanent marker on the underside (or somewhere not too obvious—which, believe me, can be difficult to find sometimes!), wrapped in tissue paper, and tucked away in a bag or a box or a crate for gifting. Then, on Thanksgiving (with a few exceptions—like this year, we did the Snowmen early so it wouldn’t interfere with everyone coming home for the Big Day), I give them to Grandma.

And every year, she gasps—she oohs and aahs and giggles like a child. “Oh! He’s got a little birdy!” “Look at that pudgy nose!” “It’s a Snow Family!” “They’re all holding shovels!” I don’t know if she’s really that excited about Snowmen, but she sure puts on a good show. So every year, a handful of Snowmen are added to the collection, and on Thanksgiving, when the tree is up and the decorations come out, she’ll be surrounded by Snowmen that she can enjoy all throughout the Christmas season.

To me, that is the greatest way to prepare for Thanksgiving. It puts my heart and mind in a spirit of being Thankful and of Giving.

And…it really does make your Grandma smile. That alone makes it worthwhile.

All my love,

Aunt Sarah

One Veteran I’ll never forget is…

Sunday, November 13, 2011

One Veteran I’ll never forget is…


His name was Mike.

He was born and baptized in a small village in Germany in 1838. At the age of 14, he and his family ventured across sea to a new home, a new world, a new life. They arrived in 1852 aboard Brig Hector and settled in Frankenmuth, a German community in lower Michigan. Though the family had not long called America “home,” Mike and his brothers proved their loyalty to her in their service during the Civil War. Mike’s great-grandson, Alois, wrote the following:

          When the first call for troops came in the fall of 1861, [Mike] and his brother John George joined the 3rd Michigan Cavalry. He served almost three years before he was captured by Southern forces while on scout duty. Johann Michael was tried and convicted of being a spy and sentenced to be shot. The day before his sentence was to be carried out, through some mistake of the Confederate officers, he was exchanged along with other Northern prisoners and spared.

Mike should have died. Mike was supposed to die. It boggles my mind to think about how he survived “by mistake.” Though Mike’s actions proved he was willing to give his life for his new country, he must have breathed a sigh of relief when he was released. And even after such an escapade, after being honorably discharged, Mike re-enlisted.

But really think about that—Mike should have died. The plan was for Mike to die. Before he met his wife, before he had any children (and boy, did he have a lot of children), before anyone except his parents and siblings would have missed him, Mike was supposed to die.

His name was Mike. And though there are many who’ve served in the course of our nation’s history that I’ll never forget, though each soldier has a story of his own that brings a chill to my spine, Mike is special. Mike was supposed to die, and he lived by accident. His name was Mike. His kids probably called him ‘dad.’ His wife probably called him ‘dear.’ My grandpa probably called him ‘grandpa.’

Johann Michael Schmitzer is our immigrant ancestor, my great-great Grandfather, your great-great-great Grandfather, the son of a tailor, a farmer by trade, a German by birth, a Lutheran by faith, a soldier who was sentenced to death, who, by some accident—by some miracle—was released.

If all had gone according to plan that day, there would have been no children (Ernst George Schmitzer); no grandchildren (Herman Carl Schmitzer); no great-grandchildren (Heidi Lynne Schmitzer); no me, no you. More than one man, more than one child or grandchild, more than one family: An entire clan would never have existed.

Do you feel a big sense of purpose in the world right now? I hope you do. I pray you do. So many men and women have given their lives to defend our liberty. For whatever reason, God saw fit to spare Mike that day—sparing you and me, as well.

This is your life, kids. What will you do with it?

All my love,

Aunt Sarah

My faith is…

Sunday, November 6, 2011

My faith is…

         I believe in God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth.

And in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried. He descended into hell. The third day He rose again from the dead. He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. From thence He will come to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Christian Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.

That is my faith. The Apostles’ Creed.

Maybe it seems like a cop-out that I don’t have anything original to tell you about my faith. In some ways, it is very original. I came upon these beliefs very personally and with great struggle. In another way, the beauty of it is that it’s not original—it is a rather common articulation of what the Church has believed for some time now.

I like what G.K. Chesterton said about Christianity, though: “I will not call it my philosophy; for I did not make it. God and humanity made it; and it made me.” Every day, it seems, I find myself asking whether I truly believe one point or another of this Creed. Every day, it refines me. Every day, it challenges how I live.

Faith isn’t just about the things you say you believe. It’s not about having some club where you feel you belong. And it’s certainly not about being “better” than the person next to you. Faith is about the very character of God. It’s about being persuaded that His testimony, His promise, His word is true. And if it is true, it ought to guard the way you live and speak and act; it ought to fill your heart with expectation of a Savior who will one day return; it ought to at least give you goose pimples when you whisper “and the life everlasting.”

That is my faith.

All my love,

Aunt Sarah

I’m afraid of…

Sunday, October 30, 2011

I’m afraid of…


Today, my buddy Ben and I talked about going to a Dude Ranch and learning to ride horses (and yes, I’m late getting this to you again—so by “today,” I really mean “almost a week after the date on the top of the page”). Once upon a time, Rodger was going to teach me to ride a horse. The memory came unbidden. I don’t even know why I remember it. It was a random piece of a conversation by letter before Rodger and I even met. He was going to teach me to ride.

He was going to walk me down the aisle, too, if I ever married.

And he thought I was spitting on him. I wasn’t. I promise. It was the camels. Never trust camels at Disney World. They’ll get you into trouble. (I mean, really—have you met Rodger? Show me one person who would dare to spit on him. Really.)

And that first episode of NCIS that I watched with him and Kristin—the one that Rodger had solved before I even understood what was happening.

He always encouraged me to finish school. I always wanted him to finish school, too. Rodger was one of the most intelligent people I’ve ever known.

I remember going to the Beirut Memorial and listening as he recalled the events of the bombing in Lebanon on his birthday in 1993 and how that shaped him as a person, how that birthed in him a desire to serve in the Marines.

He was so perceptive…if you offered even the slightest hint that you were interested in something (whether it was the history of the Marine Corps, the Beirut Memorial, that NCIS episode that I truthfully didn’t fully understand until about the seventh time watching it, or just those phenomenal [but ancient history] nachos at Applebees), Rodger went out of his way to share it with you—as evidenced by the fact that I’ve been digging into the family history recently, and when I arrived down south for his Memorial, my sister showed me the pages of notes he’d begun working on with names and marriage in his family.

He used to have hair. And when he didn’t have much anymore, he took our teasing graciously.

There are a million little things. And I’m afraid of forgetting. Help me to not forget.

If anyone wants to help me remember by learning to ride a horse…you know where to find me.

All my love,

Aunt Sarah

I love…

Sunday, October 23, 2011

I love…

Okay. I’m about to let you into my secret world. My coworkers were teasing me the other day because I’m humored by such small things. It’s true. One small, weird thing that makes me happy is singing the wrong words to a song. Intentionally. Yeah…I know it’s weird. But I love to do it!

For instance, ever since I read The Lord of the Rings, I have had a difficult time singing White Christmas along with Bing Crosby. While Bing is crooning, “may your days be merry and bright,” your Auntie is squawking, “may your days be Merry and Pippin!”

I know. Ridiculous. There’s another old Christian song called by All Together Separate that says, “I stand solid while the paradigm is shifting.” But me? No, I sing, “I stand solid while the twenty cents is shifting.”

Oh, you love me. Admit it—it’s fun to be related to someone who does this. It’s fun to do it! Sometimes you have to let loose and just be odd. It’s fun.

I do think, though, aside from being fun, it is a gift that runs in our family. Your uncle Joel may not sing the wrong words to a song, but he’s skilled at writing bizarre songs on the spot. Uncle Doughnuts is known to change words and names just for the fun of it (the TV series “One Tree Hill” will forever be “Single Maple Incline” in my head; and pitcher Phil Coke for the Detroit Tigers will always be Mr. Pepsi).

But where did we get it? I learned the truth a few Christmases ago. There’s an old album that Mom shared with us as we were growing up that featured several popular artists. One gentle melody, sung by B.J. Thomas, expresses a Christmas Wish:

                Take this Christmas love and spread it all through the year.

What did Mom say of the line? She said she always expected him to sing ‘shove it.’

Shove it.

Take this Christmas love and shove it.

Now you know your Grandma, and you know that she does not use or condone that type of remark. But she heard it somehow in that song, and…I’ll never hear it the same.

That’s really the fun of it.  Music is nothing if it isn’t fun. Have fun with your music—even if it’s a silly kind of fun now and again.

May your days be Merry and Pippin,

Aunt Sarah

My favorite book is…

Sunday, October 16, 2011

My favorite book is…

To say I have a favorite book is akin to saying I have a favorite chord on the piano. I hesitate to confess it because there are so many beautiful chords, so many that I cherish and thank God for (and if you’ve never thanked God for a chord because it resonated deep within your guts, you need to spend more time with your piano). Both are true, however: I have a favorite chord and I have a favorite book, but that certainly does not diminish[1] (a little chord humor for you) my love of other chords or books.

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.”[2]

It sounds like a romance novel, doesn’t it? Okay, okay—Pride and Prejudice is a love story, but that’s certainly not all it is. Many have commented that Jane Austen’s work is brilliant for depicting the societal expectations of women during her lifetime, but she also shows us how men were expected to behave. She crafts a beautiful (and bizarre) tale about the Bennet family—two sisters who are young and flirtatious, a sister who is awkward and unsocial, two elder sisters who are rational beyond their years, a mother who strives to see them all safely married, and a father who always planned on having a son to provide for any of his unmarried daughters.

Further, it is a story of how these and other characters relate to one another, how they behave, why they behave, and how it affects their choices. Jane Austen was a brilliant observer of human nature, as evidenced by her crafting of the Bennets and all who encounter them!

She was also incredibly witty (perhaps more witty than a novelist ought to be), which I love, and is one of the few authors I’ve read more than once. In fact, C. S. Lewis (another favorite author of mine—sometime, we’ll talk about The Voyage of the Dawn Treader and why it has the perfect first sentence) once wrote:

“I’ve been reading Pride and Prejudice on and off all my life and it doesn’t wear out a bit.” [3]

It’s so true. You know, usually when I read a book a second or third time, I come away feeling like it wasn’t as good as the first time. For that reason (and because I am already in my thirties and don’t have an eternity to read all the books I want to have read before I die), I don’t usually read books more than once. Austen is different. Every time I read Pride and Prejudice, I learn something new about the characters and their behavior. My most recent read-through, I was astounded to realize that Mr. Darcy exhibited feelings for Elizabeth from almost the beginning—and then the recognition that all of his actions and behaviors toward Elizabeth and others coincide with those feelings.

Austen really is my favorite author, and Pride and Prejudice really is my favorite book. I love many authors with a geeky sort of love, and I cherish their books and words as if they were my own; but Austen is different somehow.

I suppose she has the same affect on me as a D2. Something inside of me resonates with what she writes.

All my love,

Aunt Sarah

[1] A diminished chord has a flattened third and fifth.

[2] Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice (New York: Doubleday and Company, Inc, 1945) 3

[3] Lyle W. Dorsett and Marjorie Lamp Mead, C.S. Lewis: Letters to Children (New York: Touchstone, 1995) 37

My grandparents’ home is…

Sunday, October 9, 2011

My grandparents’ home is…

Since I’ve already written once about Grandma Schmitzer’s house, and I don’t remember Grandma Helen and Grandpa Earl’s farmhouse, I think I will follow the advice I gave you at the beginning of this project and “ignore the prompt.” Are you ready?

You cannot control life.

You cannot make the sun shine or the rain fall. You cannot make others treat you well or respect you. You cannot make everyone agree with you at all times. You cannot dictate even your own existence. You cannot determine that no one will ever rob you or cheat you or lie to you. You cannot make your boss give you a promotion, and you cannot make your teacher give you an A. You cannot control life.

Do you feel a little bit sad? Or a little bit relieved? Yeah—me, too! Too often, I want to control every little thing that happens in my life. It’s just not possible. We were not created to have authority over every detail of life.

We were created, however, with a will, with a conscience, with a mind and heart to weigh matters and determine our own courses in life. What am I saying? Well, you cannot make the sun shine, but you can be thankful when it does. You cannot choose whether or not you’ll be hurt (you will be—that’s just life), but you can forgive and not allow hurt to keep you from loving others. You cannot make your teacher give you an A, but you can follow instructions and submit your very best work.

See, life isn’t so much about the things that happen to you. It’s more about how you respond to the things that happen. That, my kidlets, is something you can control.

And your journal entries—you control those, too! Keep writing! We’re almost to the end of the year!

All my love,

Aunt Sarah