Special delivery: Readers send their best to you at Christmas

December 22, 2013 

Visit with Santa

Judy Newman, of New Athens, had her picture taken on Santa's lap in 1949. She was 5 years old.

When her sister, Mary, found the old photo, she had Christmas cards made for Judy. The message inside: "Believe."

Here's what Judy knows about the visit.

"My grandmother took me to see Santa in downtown Beleville," she wrote. "My mother told me we rode the bus from New Athens to Belleville where we shopped downtown and visited Santa in one of the stores."

But Judy has some questions. Maybe you can help.

"I'm curious if any reader knows the department store, the photographer, and most of all, who the Santa is. Even though it's been nearly 65 years, maybe someone knows."

She looked forward to trips to Belleville.

"As teenagers, my girlfriends and I often rode the Greyhound bus from New Athens to Belleville to shop the stores on East Main Street," she said. "We only had our baby-sitting money so we did lots of window shopping.

"I still love downtown Belleville."

Custom card

Just in time for St. Nicholas' Day (Dec. 6), Gail Przada, of O'Fallon, came up with a fun card for granddaughter Lauren Serafini, who just turned 1.

The card has cut-outs of a little girl holding a teddy bear, a smiling dog, Christmas trees with jewel ornaments and more.

"She is such an adorable little girl," wrote Gail, about her granddaughter, "and I wanted to make a keepsake card for her for St. Nick -- although I could never remember the date when my daughter was little. St. Nick always came a day earlier or a day later than her classmates."

The Weilmuenster Dynasty

Each year, the Weilmuenster family, of Shiloh, tries to come up with a funny card.

"As the boys are getting older, getting them to play along is getting harder," wrote Kim Weilmuenster of sons Bradly and Blake.

"This year with the 'Duck Dynasty' theme, there weren't many arguments."

Just in case you've somehow missed TV's "Duck Dynasty" reality TV series, it's about the Robertson family. They became wealthy selling products for duck hunters, primarily the duck call named Duck Commander. The Robertson men are known for their long beards.

The Weilmuenster men put on beards and posed with Kim in the family Jeep. Dad Henry is pullling the Jeep that looks to be stuck on a tree stump.

The Weilmuenster message: "From our Redneck family to yours ... wishing you a 'Hairy' Christmas and a 'Happy, Happy, Happy' New Year."

The family's 4-year-old poodle, Rocky (a rescue dog from Spencer Kennel in O'Fallon), also has a close-up on their card.

"We had to showcase him, too," said Kim, "since you can't see him too good in the family photo."

Born to be wild?

Betsy, a silky terrier, stars again in Shirley Holcomb's Christmas cards. This year, the little 8-year-old dog is perched on a motorcycle. Shirley lettered in red "Born to be Wild" and "Vroom."

"What's ironic about the card, my Betsy is anything but wild," said Shirley, of Belleville. "I first took a picture of Betsy on the motorcycle, but she was so little on the big bike, she didn't hardly show -- so a nice man at Walgreen's helped me put two pictures together.

"Even though my cards always include my dog, I try to get the Christmas message through."

The inside reads: "About celebrating Jesus' Birthday at Christmas."

Shirley, a mother, grandmother and great-grandmother, is retired after working as a dental assistant, a salesperson at Ben Franklin and an office assistant at Real Pure bottled water in Belleville.

She creates her cards a year ahead "just like Hallmark."

"I do them at Christmas when I am in the Christmas spirit for the next year. I made almost 60 cards."

A piece of her heart

Quilter Gloria Seibel, of Millstadt, likes piecing, both fabric and cards.

"My Christmas card features a 'paper-pieced' quilt block," she wrote. "This is a quilter's equivalent of 'paint-by-number.'

The 3-inch block is pieced with 11 different fabrics, then placed on a green background.

"The key to success is the choice of appropriately-sized prints," said Gloria, who has been sewing for more than 40 years. "I've made other designs as well, but this is my favorite.The card itself was originally intended to hold a photograph.

Gloria, current president of Hearts 'n' Hands Quilt Guild, of O'Fallon, also teaches quilting classes atJackman's Fabrics in FairviewHeights and Raccoon Hollow in Waterloo.

All wrapped up

Mel and Jerrie Weith, of Shiloh, make cards that reflect their interests and activities.

"One year, we used a picture of us with the chefs in Emeril's kitchen, a place we have Christmas Eve dinner every year," said Mel.

Last year, the Cardinals fans posed with the 2011 World Series trophy. This year, Fredbird is is the star.

"Over the past 10 years, we have become good friends with Fredbird," said Mel. They see him on the Cardinals cruise.

About 16 months ago, they asked him about doing a photo.

"We took some props and then just let Fredbird be Fredbird," said Mel. "He took over: grabbing wrapping paper and Christmas lights, ending up with the photo attached.

"Each year, we send out 300-plus cards, and this year's has gotten some of the best comments."

Their message: "So may the Fredbird of happiness and wins fly into your life!"

Oh, Christmas tree

Helen Tresnak Karasek, of Swansea, hasn't painted in a while, but family and a few friends received prints of her original, holiday artwork, circa early 1990s, in this year's greetingcard.

Daughter-in-law Ann found the prints in a box and turned them into cards that can double as ornaments. She sent along gold ribbon to hang them.

Each features a Christmas tree. One has young dancers in the foreground, the other, a child hanging an ornament.

Helen, 98, got a new pacemaker in the summer. The prolific artist has vision and hearing problems, but is still very sharp, said Ann.

Helen missed reading and painting, but family keeps her informed, reading the newspaper and books to her. She still lives in the Swansea home son Gary, an architect, designed for her and husband Ed, who died in June 2009.

Merry Hump Day

The Crossley family, of Belleville, laughs when they see the Geico camel commercial on TV. The silly commercial gave Todd Crossley an idea for a Christmas card.

"Since Christmas is on Wednesday this year, we decided to use the idea," said wife Tina. "We took our son, Austin, to the Shrine and had his picture takenon a camel.The card I finally found was perfect.It even looks like the camel is saying "Merry Christmas."

One holiday, many cards

Versatile cardmaker Rita Vago, of Mascoutah, is never satisfied with one card. She creates several, each with painstaking precision. This year's models are paper-pieced Christmas stockings and a red bird on skates.

They combine stamping, with watercolor and embossing.

Sure, the cards are time-consuming, but that's what makes them such a success.

"Hope you enjoy my endeavors," said Rita, a retired administrative assistant.

Rita also sends a custom card to her husband Bob's aunt who will be 101 in January.

"She enjoys the cards I make, and the card usually gets passed around in the dining room of the independent living facility where she lives," said Rita. "Everybody enjoys!"

Guess where Irene went?

Irene Mueller, of Belleville, took the trip of a lifetime in October. She headed south to the Galapagos Islands and Machu Picchu, and made a stop in Costa Rica where her brother lives. She was gone a month.

Among her adventures was winning a photo contest aboard the Galapagos Legend.

"I wasn't going to enter this contest on the ship," she said. "Someone talked me into it. I got first prize."

Her winning photo of a sleeping sea lion is framed in red on her Christmas card. Her inside message: Wherever you go, whatever you do, Have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, too."

On her trip, Irene was was able to get to animals and birds in the Galapagos, volcanic islands near the equator. Twice a day, she'd board an inflatable Zodiac boat for the island.

"You are in this animal world that is theirs," she said. "That was the most awesome. I saw sea birds, sea lions, iguanas. You could walk on a path and a baby bird would be next to you. They aren't afraid of anybody."

Irene was in awe of the Incas when she visited Macchu Pichu, their 15th century city, built with precision without machinery.

Among her surprises?

The Galapagos aren't tropical.

"It was starting rainy season when we were there," she said. "It was cool. It wasn't tropical looking, but it was awesome."

Another surprise?

"That I was able to climb a mountain. but I trained to do it. I hired a trainer and worked out."

The McFarlands and "Stan the Man"

Twins Kevin and David McFarland salute Stan Musial in their 31st annual Christmas card, or set of cards.

There are eight in the set of cards that feature their meetings with Stan. The cards are wrapped to resemble a pack of old baseball cards. A late addition is a flat, pink square of bubblegum, similar to the gum that came in the Topps baseball cards they collected growing up.

Kevin and Dave, avid sports fans, had the idea for several years. When Stan died last January, they knew what their next "card" would be.

"A lot of folks had connections with Stan," said Kevin, 49, who lives in Millstadt and is a teacher's aide and substitute teacher. "With me, it was through fundraisers, getting things autographed for auctions. I probably met Stan Musial 25 to 30 times. I've been to Stan's office that many times."

Kevin got the typical Stan treatment.

"What tickled me is how kind and gracious he was when no cameras or no one was there to witness what was going on.

"He would look you in the eye and shake your hand. You could ask him to do something and he'd do it. All those gracious stories of Stan? They came through every time I saw him."

Dave, who works at Kurt Smith Sporting Goods, and sons Brendan, 18, and Jordan, 16, and Kevin and sons Mason, 13, and Colin, 9, usually star in the Christmas cards. This year is no different.

Among the eight baseball cards in the McFarland "Remembering A Legend" set is one of Stan with Brendan and Jordan in 2003 when Belleville's Whitey Herzog field was dedicated. There's one Kevin took of Stan in his batting stance with Dave pretending to catch. Another features baby Mason with Stan.

"He grabs Mason," Kevin remembered, "and sits him on his lap. He lets you take a picture and bounces him on his lap like he's a grandkid."

The McFarlands also included a couple of other legends. One is their dad, the late Bill McFarland, who was once a Cardinals minor league player.

"Dad crossed paths with Stan in '46," said Kevin.

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