Christmas mysteries


Sue Balabuch, Erna Hermann, Diana Dinverno, Iris, Marilyn Dean, and MaryEllen Hammarlund
Meadowbrook Hall, December 16, 2022

Christmas is all about mystery—the advent of Jesus, the Savior of mankind born of a virgin. Somehow, later came Santa Claus, the jolly man who drives an airborne sleigh by the power of magical reindeer and delivers presents to obedient children.

            I believed in Jesus and knew Christmas celebrates His birth. And I also believed in Santa to see him as many children said they did. Perhaps an unfulfilled anticipation of spying Santa’s sleigh on Christmas Eve bred the desire for my children to see Santa. For I promised my three little girls their father would take them to see St. Nick. They would tell him what they wanted for Christmas.

A risky plan, indeed.

Nonetheless, my husband drove our girls downtown to Detroit’s J.L. Hudson’s, took escalators up to the twelfth floor to Santa’s Wonderland. A photograph ever memorializes our youngest daughter in tears, Santa forcing a smile under his mustache.

Years later, Christmas joy languished during the long sorrow of our firstborn’s substance abuse and death. Graciously, Amy Grant performed at the Palace the December my broken family needed her most. A surprise gift to my husband and daughters, we adored every minute of Amy’s show, a lovely voice we all knew well.

In 2008, I planned a trip for the wonderful women who offered to serve on my lavender farm’s advisory board and staff. After a festive breakfast, wouldn’t it be fun to drive them to individual mystery destinations to celebrate Christmas?

Oh yes, both groups loved the surprise entirely. Several advent seasons later, I blended both advisors and staff for all to enjoy a new mystery trip.

Friday, December 16, the lavender ladies and I met again around my dining room table. I served currant lemon lavender scones, Ensalada Nochebuena, Quiche Lorraine, Quiche Nicoise, tea and coffee to those who helped build my lavender farm.

After our gift exchange and stories of cherished Christmas memories, I said, “Time to leave for our first destination!”

“What about Erna’s cake?” a guest asked.

“Oh no! I forgot the cake!” And Erna’s beautiful chocolate layer torte is not to be overlooked.

I closed the door to my study and called our second destination, my favorite restaurant close by our first stop. “I have reservations for six at four p.m. today. Will you permit us to bring our own dessert to the table?”

“Yes,” the employee said.

I led the convoy down Rochester Road, across Tienken, and down Adams Road with one red traffic light. The ladies and I parked in the lot for Meadowbrook Hall and entered the stately doors on time for our self-guided tour.

Dear Reader, nearly two hours we strolled decorated, palatial halls and rooms where another family suffered tragedy, and left their remarkable legacy for public view.

 From four to almost six p.m., we dined at Kruse & Muer, our final stop. Justin, our server, plated our cake while the pleasure of friendship and another road trip witnessed God with us. The ultimate mystery.


Circle of merriment


Jeanette, Friends of Herb co-chair

 The merry heart makes a cheerful countenance. Proverbs 15:13

 As I drove north to Seven Ponds Nature Center in Dryden, I hoped to see Teresa Rolland and Rhonda Kaltz, fellow long-term members of the center’s Friends of Herbs group.

Our paths cross sporadically throughout the year as volunteers beautifying the center’s herb garden, and joining in monthly winter meetings indoors.

This meeting marked my seventeenth annual Christmas decorating, cookie exchange, and lunch with a band of women who take healthy living and laughter seriously.

We first followed the leadership of our former co-chairs, Ruthanne Morningstar and Jan Burns. Since they retired several years ago, Jeanette Farley and Kelly Poole have perpetuated the herb garden and led hands-on botanic and culinary programs.

However, today’s meeting offered a heightened sense of anticipation. The first Friday of December means preserving a tradition: creating swags and wreaths of greens to deck the halls and entrance of the building for the Seven Ponds Holiday Auction and Christmas Dinner.

Glory be! Teresa and I parked in the lot simultaneously. “Can I carry the bag of greens for you?” she asked.

“It’s bulkier than heavy. I can handle it, thanks. I’ll take a hug, though,” I said.

We carried our contributions of greens and goodies down the steps and onto adjoining tables in the building’s basement. Jeanette and Kelly had set up the cookie, food, and beverage tables, and those with supplies for creating wreaths and swags embellished with festive red bows.

Conversation and fun began. We wired and zip-tied together spruce, pine, and cedar boughs in various arrangements while catching up on family happenings. Some spoke of grown, married children living in different states, those coming home for Christmas, and those who are aren’t.

Kelly, the other Friends of Herbs co-hair

The joyful season of reunion and crafting together lifted us from the separation of the past two years, into the light of companionship and common ground we’ve known long enough to appreciate what we’d missed.

At last, one by one, we held up our finished product for one last look and photos before we carried them upstairs for hanging.

“What do you think?” Jeanette said, posing with the wreath she designed for the Holiday Auction.

“I think you need to pose for a picture,” Rhonda said.

Jeanette framed her face within the circle of the woven twigs for the perfect smile of the day.

We placed the greens into the staff’s hands for hanging and returned downstairs for cleanup. Afterward, Jeanette and Kelly set up their home-made chicken taco and salsa lunch for our herb group. Jeanette provided her colorful and delicious Ensalada Nochebuena, or Mexican Christmas Eve Salad.

For the first time in three Decembers, the Seven Ponds team joined us. Another reunion. We met the new, young naturalist named Madison.

Dear Reader, at last my fellow herb members and I lifted the lids to our cookie containers. Some a deliciously healthy assortment of chocolate and coconut. One, my mother’s Chocolate Pecan Sandie.

For nothing makes a cheerful countenance like friends and delicious traditions.