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The Power of a Compliment

“Try to compliment, not to criticize,” a phrase from the Winners Walk Tall theme song, an instruction that I discussed with First Graders last Thursday, the power of which I personally experienced a few days ago.

The compliment came quite unexpectedly during an ordinary evening mall walk  with my husband. We were about halfway through the mall when he spotted a co-worker and his wife, nice folks with whom I’ve enjoyed a few brief conversations. Their work days finished, they had been out to dinner and were headed for the Hallmark store. We stood with them for a few minutes making small talk, mostly related to work and the weather. As I looked at her, I began doing what women tend to do. I noticed her perfectly styled hair, and even though my hair has become an object lesson for defining “envy” in my Bible study class,  I felt like I had a mop on  my head. Her beautifully made-up face triggered thoughts of the imperfections I see in my own magnifying mirror and of how little make-up I was wearing. Talking, listening, and smiling, I did a quick survey of her layered office wear, complimented by a designer purse and stylish coat, and remembered that I wasn’t wearing a bra underneath my casual clothing and jacket.

I like these people. Yet, here I was, making a negative comparison of myself to her. She made a comment about our walking shoes, one that clued me in that she was doing her own self-evaluation. Having enjoyed a nice dinner with her husband, she felt a bit guilty because we were exercising and she wasn’t.

As we resumed our walk, I silently put away my insecure, somewhat envious thoughts without whining to my husband. Women compare themselves to each other, and I am a woman. I reminded myself that I love my life as a homemaker and volunteer, and that my husband has called me beautiful every day of our nearly 34 years of marriage, even, rather, especially, on the days when I’ve felt rough. After I wrote about my Cold Sore Crisis, I acknowledged to him that I didn’t look that bad in my before make-up and hair picture. His wise words, “It’s not how you look that matters; it’s how you feel,” revealed his understanding of women.  I’m more confident during this stage of life than I’ve ever been. There are just those moments when, in the company of attractive, accomplished people, I feel like a floodlight is illuminating how plain, old, or ordinary I am.

"Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight." 1 Peter 3:3-4

Continuing our walk, we rounded a corner and  encountered a group of young girls, talking and moving in dancelike, joyous friendship. As I passed one of the beauties, probably nine or ten years old, she looked me in the eye and said, “Hi! You’re very beautiful,” then carried on with her friends. Before I could brush her words off, I heard Dave telling me, “She’s right, you know.” The power of her spontaneous, sincere compliment was undeniable. I was able to receive her gift of words as what some call a “God wink.” His love, expressed through the child and my husband, encouraged me.

I’ve pondered the series of events in my spirit for days, feeling amazed at the tender love of our Lord Jesus, gaining confidence in the beauty of a gentle, quiet spirit, one that is willing to resist the urge to think or speak negatively about myself,  considering how the tale might encourage you to give and receive compliments.

(I purchased this beautiful artwork from the Etsy shop, Little Emma’s Flowers.)

 

 

 

 

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What’s in a Maiden Name?

Having never been a history buff, I’m suddenly intrigued with the Franco-Prussian War, known in France as The War of 1870. If you read Soup, Snow, and Sentences, you might guess that a lecture from The Great Courses has piqued my interest. It has, but only because of discoveries made in 2012 and 2016.

Prior to a trip to Montreal in 2012, I challenged myself to learn French, a language previously unfamiliar to me, one that held my interest beyond our short trip to Canada.

Same airport food with fancy French names.

Dave with his Cafe au lait avec sucre.

The corner where we enjoyed crepes et vin.

Then, in the summer of 2016, I clicked on an Ancestry.com link on Facebook to find out the history behind my maiden name,

Pfeiffer

Once on the genealogy site, I decided  to try to trace my dad’s family line back to Germany. The site’s Two-Week Free Trial would give me time to find a few names and dates with no cost and little commitment.  I spent many hours during those two weeks clicking on green leaves to learn more about my ancestors. (I may even have neglected other activities and stayed up later than usual, finding the search to be a bit addictive.) When my Free Trial ended, I had, indeed, been able to trace the Pfeiffers back to Europe, but to my surprise, my great-great grandfather and great-great-great grandfather were born in France! I asked a couple of cousins if they knew that, but they  seemed uninformed  about our Family Tree. The two weeks ended, leaving me satisfied with birth, death, and marriage details about several sets of grandparents, but not yet interested in becoming a World Traveler client of Ancestry.com.

Recently, son Eric and his wife Amanda came for a visit, wanting to share the family history information they have unearthed on the internet, helping me trace my mom’s family back a few generations, reigniting my desire to access more information about my French grandfathers.  I found a Great Courses series on genealogy and selected a lecture called Extending Your Family Tree Oversees. The teacher’s enthusiasm about his trip to Europe in search of his roots prompted me to consider his challenge to learn about the history and culture of France. I talked Dave into signing up for a free trial on Ancestry.com and attempted to reach back into the eighteenth century for another set of ancestors. That’s when my family’s HISTORY began to ignite my passion.

I discovered the reason for confusion about whether the Pfeiffers came from Germany or France and, I believe, the reason why my great-great grandfather immigrated from France to America in 1872.  Michael P. Pfeiffer was nineteen years old when France declared war on the German Kingdom of Prussia, attempting to maintain control of the homeland of my ancestors. They were unsuccessful as the Germans mobilized, attacked, and defeated the army of Napoleon III, ending the Franco-Prussian War in 1871. Germany then annexed Alsace-Lorraine and forced the citizens to declare French citizenship and leave or become Germans. Records show that twenty-two year old Michael P. Pfeiffer and his cousin Nicholas Wilhelm arrived in New York in 1872. Pfeiffer married my great-great grandmother in Ohio in 1880, and the rest is, well, history.

But, I still have questions. Finding the answers may take me on a long journey, searching out on-line records, visiting genealogy libraries, continuing to learn French… traveling to France? Oh yes, Alsace-Lorraine was regained by France at the end of World War II.

So, what’s in a maiden name? History. People. Story. My hope is no longer just to fill in names on my Pedigree Chart, but to also gather enough information to piece together some life stories about those men and women, my ancestors.

I’m proud that my ancestors kept the original spelling of Pfeiffer, despite our need to spell it often. The Germans pronounced it Fifer, however my branch went with Pifer along the way. Here is what I found when I initially took the bait on Ancestry.com.

Pfeiffer name meaning: German and Jewish (Ashkenazic): from an agent derivative of Middle High German pfif(e), German Pfeife ‘whistle’, ‘pipe’, hence an occupational name for a pipe player.

Well, what do you know about that!

 

 

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Soup, Snow, and Sentences

I have no trouble avoiding boredom on snow days, when 1st Grade classrooms are empty, preventing me from doing Winners Walk Tall lessons, or Bible study is cancelled, freeing up Tuesday mornings. Being stuck at home offers opportunities to try new recipes, crochet for Warm Up America and the American Heart Association, or  take in some lectures from college professors such as The University of Iowa’s Brooks Landon who is teaching me to Build Great Sentences.

A couple of years ago, I began receiving catalogs from The Great Courses offering audio and video discs loaded with lectures from The World’s Greatest Professors on an array of topics, topics ranging from math, science, and history, to drawing, cooking, and psychology. After a moment of wistful consideration, I always added the junk mail to our recycling bag, that is until the latest catalog’s cover touted an 80% OFF Special Sale for New Customers. Flipping through the booklet, I turned down corners of pages displaying courses of interest, realizing that the chances of an order being placed were slim, but tossing the catalog onto a table for later consideration.

When I next opened the cover, two red words caught my eye. A FREE TRIAL offered unlimited video streaming of all of the courses for thirty days, giving me a chance to test my level of interest before purchasing individual discs or a monthly subscription. Starting my trial was easy, and now I’m looking forward to watching the eighth of twenty-four lessons from Professor Landon, a lover of long sentences, who encourages writers to “change the period to a comma and keep on writing.”

SOUP

On one of these wintry afternoons in January, I was listening to a Building Great Sentences lecture while adding a bag of chicken bones, carrots, celery, onion, garlic, and parsley to a stockpot full of water. As I covered the pot and turned on the stove to induce a boil, Professor Landon likened a writer building a great sentence, rich with descriptions and details, to a chef boiling down a broth or sauce, resulting in a richer, fuller end result. I was experiencing the very illustration he presented! Wanting to document this moment of wonder, I took a picture of the simmering pot of water and then sat down to craft a sentence about making chicken stock.

Tiny droplets of water formed on her hands as she held the camera over the brimming pot to snap a picture, knowing that a picture is unable to convey the sound of a watched pot slowly coming to a boil, the smell of water turning to broth, or the sensation of being warmed by both the heat of the burner and the moist comfort of rising steam on a cold winter day.

SNOW

Yesterday afternoon,I considered writing a post similar to Summer in Ohio, but instead took the opportunity to craft some sentences about our winter weather, existing on the other side of the window through which bright sunshine was streaming into our comfortably heated home.

Winter’s cloudy skies, now raining, now snowing, deliver precipitation with a crucial measure of heat called “freezing” deciding which.

Driveways, streets, and parking lots disappear as fragile snowflakes in growing numbers work together, blanketing the landscape, enjoying a bit of time undisturbed before shovels, snowblowers, and plows intrude.

The sun, as bright as a summer sun, stays low in the sky, warming spirits, but not bodies, and disappearing by dinner time.

Weather has its way, dominating our conversations, dictating our clothing choices, deciding whether crops thrive or die.

Weather tricks and teases, ignoring averages and expectations, dropping a day of springtime into the middle of January, chilling a June bride, capriciously coating a palm tree with snow, quickly overwhelming streams with a deluge of rain, coaxing spring flowers to sprout and then plunging them into a deep freeze.

Were weather to attempt to behave, to harness its extremes, finding a perfect balance of wet and dry, warm and cold, windy and still, could it succeed in pleasing those it serves, making everyone happy, able to enjoy favorite activities or necessary duties?

SENTENCES

I can almost hear my sentences being read by Professor Landon. I’ll close with an inspired weather sentence recorded by the Bible’s prophet Isaiah.

As the rain and the snow
    come down from heaven,
and do not return to it
    without watering the earth
and making it bud and flourish,
    so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,
so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
    It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
    and achieve the purpose for which I sent it. Isaiah 55:10,11

 

 

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Holding On to Christmas

The twelves days of Christmas have passed, and retailers have quickly moved on to Valentine’s Day, St Patrick’s Day, and Easter (April 1). Only a tiny offering of discounted broken and picked over Christmas merchandise remains. As I was removing our lighted nativity set from the front yard yesterday, a neighbor called out, “Leave it till next year.” By the end of the day, though, our block was devoid of lawn decorations with just a few wreaths and window candles remaining. Another dead Christmas tree had been dragged to the curb. Any day now, our city’s festively illuminated downtown  will return to blocks lit by functional street lights alone.

Owners of artificial Christmas trees have been making hard decisions about when to store away their seasonal living room centerpieces. Ours was disassembled and boxed over almost two weeks ago. I’ve been gradually carrying decorations up to the guest room closet, while strategically leaving some in place: the “winter” village that we both love, the whimsical reindeer plates that look so nice with my wallpaper, and the little evergreen tree, now trimmed with Valentines.

In late November, I was reluctant to rush into the season, while in mid January, I’m happily holding on to the holidays. A friend who is still enjoying her Christmas tree was glad to find some decorations in my home today. With the exception of folks who leave trimmings up all year, most of us will soon be ready to move unencumbered toward spring.

Seasonal norms aside, we can still focus on the Christmas experience as more than decorations and delicacies. I smile as I turn on remaining lights, remembering rushing around the house to get them all plugged in before son Kyle arrived on December 21. Seeing those reindeer plates reminds me of the sweet Saturday morning before Christmas when our sons and daughter-in-law each chose a plate for our brunch of S’mores Pancakes* and bacon. And, while we’ve removed Joseph, Mary, and the Baby from our yard, a small nativity set still graces our dining room, bringing to mind the blessing of being back in my childhood church on Christmas Eve, holding my lit candle and singing Silent Night alongside all of my siblings.

December 24 was a snowy night at Emmanuel U.C.C.

The carols have ceased, gifts are being used, and homes are returning to their everyday look. Still, I wonder if the spirit of the season can remain.  I’ve noticed folks at our mall continuing to be friendlier, at least for now. Sadly, we seem to slip back into our more self-absorbed state as the new year grows older, not taking the time to visit friends or to reach out into our communities as often. January newspapers contain pleas from local help agencies that see a surge of goodwill dwindle after Christmas.

People who do believe in God’s gift of peace and goodwill through the coming of Jesus have a responsibility to show love for Him every day by loving our neighbors. I’m one of those people. I pray that even as the last candles are put away, His light will continue to shine through me throughout the year.

My brunch plate – Vixen

*To make S’mores Pancakes, after pouring your pancake batter onto the skillet or griddle, sprinkle some graham cracker crumbs over each pancake. Turn and finish cooking. Remove when cooked and spread some marshmallow cream on the graham cracker side of a pancake. Then place about 8 milk chocolate chips on top and cover with another hot pancake with graham cracker side down for melted goodness.

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