From the Farm:


Published in the Casper Journal December 22, 2010

Harry Potter is magical; but nothing beats the magic of Christmas with children.  Ten people, one house, two weeks off of school, cookies, lights, trees, music, and snow falling softly outside the window.  It’s the perfect concoction for warm memories.
When I was in 5th grade, I questioned Christmas magic.  Most of my friends told me that Santa wasn’t real.  I finally approached my Dad about the subject.  After a few silent moments, he read, “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus,” to me.  Then he taught me a wonderful lesson about the magic of Christmas. 
Magic doesn’t just happen.  Magic is made.  Just as Harry Potter had to learn he had magical powers, parents and families can create warmth and magic in their homes.  At our house, we make magic as early as possible.  Christmas caroling, ten red stockings hanging by the fireplace, homemade gingerbread houses, and a secret Twelve Days of Christmas.  Too much celebrating?  I don’t think so.
One element in the magical Christmas potion is music.  We start playing it in early November, and are glad that it’s online and on the air in Casper.  Thanks, K2 Radio!  Another magical element is “Cookie Day,” when we all put on aprons and roll out the dough to make as many Christmas treats as possible.  We don’t just stop with the sugar cookies.  Gingerbread cookies, magic window cookies, red and green lollipops, and cream cheese mints are also in the mix.  Yes, it’s easier to buy them, but cookies from the store don’t make magic.
Then there’s St. Nicholas Tag.  Since we have German ancestry, we put our shoes out on December 5th.  Ten pairs of shoes, lined up from biggest to smallest, all along the front porch are a sight to behold.  In the morning, the shoes are cold and frosty and filled with Christmas candy...and a bit of snow.  Pure magic.
Cocoa is an absolute necessity.  We drink it by the gallon.  Our large container from Sam’s Club reads, “Great for daycares, businesses, restaurants and schools.”  “Which category are we?” piped my daughter one day as we were filling our mugs.  “All four,” my son quickly answered.  Have you tried vanilla ice cream and candy canes in hot cocoa?  Absolutely magical.
And then there’s the giving.  Drawing names in a large family is just too much fun.  In early November, we each choose a family member to give a gift to.  Can a three-year-old keep a secret?  Not mine.  Everyone immediately hears whose name he drew, but the rest are confidential.  Our only guideline is that the gift must be homemade.  Even the smallest children can paint, sew or build something.  Soon, secrets and surprises invade every corner of our warm house.  The concoction of interestingly-wrapped gifts under our tree is a sight to behold.  Nothing makes magic like giving.
            I spent two Christmases of my college years living in Japan.  Since it’s not a Christian nation, Japanese schools and businesses are open on December 25th, and life goes on as usual.  However, in an effort to capitalize on a Western holiday, major stores still put up Christmas trees and a few Santa and reindeer decorations.  My Japanese winters were lonely, and every time I saw something even remotely Christmas-related, I would feel a bit of warmth in my homesick heart.  Since that experience, I have been especially grateful for every business that puts up Christmas decorations.  Commercialism?  Not in my book.  Each wreath and bell is a celebration of Christmas. 
Casper has its own sense of magic.  When we lived in Las Vegas, we generally did our shopping at the Toys R Us store, just two blocks from our home.  My husband and I would normally arrive at the store around 10pm.  Going up and down the aisles stacked with late-night inventory, we passed other, bleary-eyed parents trying to make last-minute decisions.  ‘How will we survive without a Toys R Us store in Casper?’ we wondered. 
But last week we had our first downtown Casper shopping experience.  We arrived at dusk and pulled up to the curb on 2nd Street.  As we climbed out of our car, we heard Christmas music, coming from secret speakers.  Magical!  Happy people were hustling to make last-minute decisions, with the jolly music overhead.  It was just five feet to the front door of the store.  As we entered, we were personally greeted by one, two, three store clerks!  Then, an escort showed us where the item was that we were looking for.   Going up and down the stairs of the beautiful, old store, we were amazed at the incredible selection.  Finally, we went to the cashier, put our item in a gift box and received a hand-written receipt!  (Thanks, Lou Taubert!)  Downtown Casper at Christmas time?  Absolutely magical.
Why is magic so important?  Well, why did Harry Potter need a magic wand?  To fight evil.  Christmas magic is a surefire way to transform hearts without hope – in our homes, our communities and our nation.
In addition, family specialists cite the need for traditions in raising children.  Customs provide consistency, and give children something to anticipate – a vital key in a healthy childhood.  Warm traditions build warm memories which will warm grown children on future winter nights when they are far away from home.  In the words of Charles Dickens, “It is good to be children sometimes, and never better than at Christmas, when its mighty founder was a child himself.”
Another word for “magic” is “spirit.”  The magic of Christmas is the Spirit of Christ. Harry Potter magic has swept the world, so can Christmas magic; a time when warmth, friendliness, giving and smiles work miracles – in Casper, in Japan, or anywhere else.  That is exactly the potion this tired, old earth needs.  A magical Merry Christmas! 

-Nettie Francis is Editor of The Wyoming Woman Magazine


From the Farm:


Published in the Casper Journal December 8, 2010

As cautious as people in Casper are about the dangers of big-city life, Las Vegas residents are wary of living in Wyoming.  “Has it snowed yet?”  “Is it cold?”  “I could never live where it gets below 60 degrees,” commented our Vegas friends when we visited Nevada last month.  And, in a city that knows more about Black Jack than Jack Frost, any degree of cold weather could seem a bit frightening.
I must admit, we were nervous ourselves about the Wyoming weather when we moved to Casper.  After all, when sunshine is the norm and 63 degree weather warrants a winter coat, any sign of snow does make you uneasy. 
It was 70 degrees when we pulled out of Vegas on a December day to move to Wyoming.  Driving north through Utah, we watched our car thermometer drop lower and lower.  As we passed through Evanston, it was only 30 degrees.  Soon the monitor read, ‘ICE.’  “Hooray!”  shouted our excited children.  I cringed.  ‘How will I ever survive the cold?’ I wondered.  Fortunately, the inside car temperature never wavered from 70 degrees during that long drive.
After taking a few days to settle into our rental home, the children finally had time to go outside and build their first snow fort.  They worked all day, wearing the new snow pants, coats, boots and gloves they had received for Christmas.  (Thank goodness for Santa.  At least he understands cold.)  I watched them out of the kitchen window, enjoying the warmth of the furnace and the hot soup on the stove.  When they finally came in for dinner, their cheeks were rosy and their fingertips were numb, but they were thrilled with their first official winter adventure. 
“Can we sleep outside in our fort tonight?” asked my ten-year-old son.  He was eager to “fully” experience Wyoming.  Unfortunately, letting my children stay outside was just a little too much for someone accustomed to the Vegas heat.  “No.  Not tonight.”  I said in my best, diplomatic voice.  Groans of disappointment erupted everywhere, with promises that they would be warm enough in the snow.  However, my motherly good sense prevailed, and we all slept in our beds that night.  And, in the morning, when the freshly fallen snow had caved in the fort—just where their sleeping heads would have been—my children were once again sure that “mother knows best.” 
After a few weeks in Wyoming, I began to adjust to cold weather, snow and ice.  In addition, it became clear to me that what our Vegas friends don’t realize is what they’re missing:  snow-capped mountains, frost-covered trees, and winter geese flying south.  No one can describe the beauty of the white prairie or crystal clear rivers, flowing with chunks of ice.  The winter landscape holds a vivid splendor, different than desert vistas.  After all, didn’t Lucy catch her breath at the beauty of Narnia when she left the wardrobe?  Didn’t Irving Berlin write “White Christmas,” longing for such a scene in Beverly Hills, L.A.?  “The sun is shining, the grass is green,” but on Christmas day, most hearts yearn for the cozy beauty that only snow can bring.
We are now starting our second, full Wyoming winter.  I know we’ll survive.  We have a fireplace, a gas stove, good windows, and a garage.  And, Santa’s arriving just around the corner.  Hopefully he’ll supply us once again with the winter gear we need. 
And so, to my trepidatious Las Vegas friends, “Yes, it’s cold in Wyoming.”  “Yes, we have snow.”  But more importantly, “It’s indescribable.”  As much as I loved the warm, winter days of Nevada, I thrill with the crisp, winter time of Wyoming, too.  No one can match “the moon on the breast of the new fallen snow,” (Clement C. Moore) or the “sweep of easy wind and downy flake” (Robert Frost). 
When those Vegas days get too dry or hot, drop in for a visit.  Dig a coat out of your deep closet, put some snow tires on your car, and come experience winter.  We’ll pull up a chair by the stove, enjoy a cup of cocoa and look out at the vast, frosty prairie. Welcome to Wyoming, a winter wonderland.

-Nettie Francis is editor of The Wyoming Woman Magazine