Saturday, December 27, 2008

Stills of a Christmas season

Ornament shopping, tree decorating, a birthday to celebrate. Cookies to make, parties to attend, a coffee, a pageant and home schooling. Cookie swap, cozy lunch, hot chocolate with whipped cream in a mug. Just words and images that bump and jiggle and work together to make a season that's full of family, fun, sweet anticipation and thankfulness.

Annual ornament shopping; lunch at Wegman's--modest husband; cookies as big as my hand

Erin with stockings on her feet; Tigger in a box; selecting ornaments

Santa on the fire truck; icy morning; Christmas placemat in morning sun

lunch box; happy girl; trying to decide which movie to watch

stocking; sugar daze from eating gingerbread tree; new reader

Our nativity set; pretty package; very good hot chocolate

Monday, December 22, 2008

Cookies for breakfast

Yesterday I hosted a Christmas luncheon and cookie swap. Yummy. I downsized my list this year to be able to focus more on each guest, and I'm glad I did. For me, it was a cozy afternoon.

Salad greens with walnuts and dried cranberries
Cream of crab soup
Broccoli cheddar soup
Tomato, basil, mozzarella paninis on olive oil and rosemary artisan bread
Cheesecake cupcakes

This is a fancy way of saying we had salad, soup and grilled cheese sandwiches! It's all how you present it.

A friend also made snickerdoodles. It's the first I've ever had a duplicate. In order to push my cookies, I reminded guests that mine were called The Best Ever Snickerdoodles, in fun, of course. Hers were way better than mine! I ate some of hers for breakfast today.

I was immediately drawn to the peanut butter and kisses cookies since I only eat them once a year, if I'm lucky. I cannot seem to make them well myself, but I love it when someone else does. I didn't eat these for breakfast today. I'm saving them for lunch.

These little cupcakes were too cute. And very good. My favorite was the coconut lime. It was like eating a pina colada cupcake. My girls were all over them.

I didn't even taste everything that was brought. I told myself yesterday that the diet starts today! That was before I realized that chocolate mint sandwich cookies are the perfect chaser to oatmeal and orange juice. (Don't tell my kids. They are not getting cookies for breakfast.) But the diet starts soon!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Eleven minutes

We're doing a lot of food gifts this year and I'm up to my ears in cookies. I have two great recipes to share. One is my friend Doris's ginger cookies. I make them every year and someone always likes them. Then again, someone else always doesn't, so try your luck.

I discovered this Snickerdoodle recipe and incorporated reader reviews to make it the best ever cookie without chocolate that I've had. Even Lanie was raving over these treasures and has declared them her favorite as well. Such a keeper and I'll be going back to the kitchen to make more of them tomorrow.

Ginger Cookies

1 stick of butter
¼ cup oil
1 cup sugar
1 egg
2 cups flour, not sifted
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ginger
1 teaspoon cloves
¼ cup molasses

Additional sugar to roll balls in.

Melt butter and add oil.
Mix with all other ingredients.
Form into balls and roll in sugar.
Bake at 350 degrees for 10-12 minutes on foil-lined cookie sheet.

Best Ever Snickerdoodles

1 cup butter
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
½ teaspoon almond extract
2 3/4 cups flour
2 teaspoons cream of tartar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons sugar
3 teaspoons cinnamon

1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
2. Mix butter, 1 1/2 cups sugar, extracts and eggs thoroughly in a large bowl.
3. Combine flour, cream of tartar, baking soda and salt in a separate bowl.
4. Blend dry ingredients into butter mixture.
5. Chill dough, and chill an ungreased cookie sheet for about 10-15 minutes in the fridge.
6. Meanwhile, mix 3 tablespoons sugar, and 3 teaspoons cinnamon in a small bowl.
7. Scoop 1 inch globs of dough into the sugar/ cinnamon mixture.
8. Coat by gently rolling balls of dough in the sugar mixture.
9. Place on chilled ungreased cookie sheet, and bake 11 minutes.
10. Remove from pan immediately.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Home school review

We met with the county today to review our home school progress. The county guy says to Lanie, "What's your favorite subject?"

"Princesses," she replies.

"He means in school, honey," I explain.

"Recess," she says.

He smiles. "Well, aside from recess, what's your favorite part about school?"

She thinks for a few minutes and we wait for her answer.


We had a fun chuckle over it. It was a good review.

Opposites attract

Don't look so surprised. I haven't been able to get these plates off my mental wish list since I saw them. And when I saw that they were on sale for 30% off, what choice did I really have? You don't have to answer that.

I broke it gently to my husband the other night ...
"I know you said no frivolous spending ..." I humbly began.
His face fell. Like I had taken on the national debt. So I hurried in, "But I got the 12 Days of Christmas salad plates. I DIDN'T GET THE COORDINATING DINNER PLATES! And the salad plates were on sale! I used my mad money."
He continued to stare me down. I waited.
"These plates are an idol to you," he said.
I laughed out loud. I didn't even know he knew church speak, and here he goes like its his native tongue. I have to say I was rather shocked, but pleasantly so, despite the reprimand.
"I'm not worshipping the plates," I argued.
"But you haven't been able to stop thinking about them."
I prefer my girlfriend's approach to the topic, and I anonymously quote, "I do think that God wants us to enjoy beauty and hospitality."
Yes, my sister. I tend to agree more with you. Because if I left things up to my husband, we'd still have white walls, no pictures in the house, and not a single speck of character to adorn any countertop or shelf. There'd also be no cozy Christmas luncheon or cookie swap.
What does one do when one's spiritual gifts are in direct opposition with the husband's personality? How does one offer hospitality and its trimmings when a spouse prefers solitude and white salad plates? I've found many ways around it, actually, so there is a way. It's an interesting topic for another day. I'm sure I'm not the first whose "opposites attract" marriage has brought on complications with spiritual giftings.
Hasn't anyone written a book on this yet? A book that I can buy in 2010 after my self-imposed, yearlong book buying boycott is over?
The plates arrived today. They were packaged in a cute little matching drum box with golden cord. I opened the box carefully, and the plates were more beautiful in person (actually I saw them yesterday at the mall, under the exquisite trademark Williams-Sonoma magical lighting). Ahh.
Two turtle doves; it's two turtle doves.
And a partridge in a pear tree.
(Sorry for the ugly massive block of copy; blogger will not let me break my paragraphs up.)


I've been enjoying reading Little House on the Prairie to Lanie at night. She looks forward to it too. If the chapter's a shorty, she even seems a little disappointed. So I make up for the lost time with extra cuddles and talk--the quieter the better.

Sometimes we whisper to each other about a secret place to meet in our dreams. Like the blueberry patch. Or the beach. Or a picnic spot at the park. "See you later in my dreams!"

Last night she wanted story ideas that she could tell herself as she fell asleep. My goodness, for nearly two years Shane and I had to come up with different stories for her and her storyline best friend, Piggette. We told so many stories, and some of them were so lame, but she didn't care. I suppose she fixed it all in her imagination.

But now, with new best buddies in her life, Piggette is just a memory. I asked Lanie, "Who are your best friends? Olivia and Ashyln?"

She said, in a whisper, "Yeah. And you, Mom. You're my best friend too."

I hugged her so tightly and didn't want to let go.

Friday, December 12, 2008

It's not a party without Bob

Yesterday was Erin's happy birthday. We had some dear friends over to celebrate for a homegrown party. I doubt that Erin even understood the significance of the day. She knew it was her birthday, but as the day went along, it seemed same old, same old to her.

Until Bob showed up. When it was time to decorate the cake, I knew what had to be done. The question for me was: do I show her the cake or surprise her later? I decided to show her.

The cake:

Erin looking at the cake:

Erin leaning over to lick Bob. I stopped her in time!

She loved the red balloons I made up for her. She loved playing with Lanie and Ashlyn. She even understood the concept of unwrapping presents, and provided the appropriate "oohs" and "aahhs," however premature sometimes. All much to our delight.

I saved the VeggieTale castle for last. She was so visibly excited. I wished our video camera was working to capture it. Just sweet.

Last night, she brought all the VeggieTale characters to bed with us!
Thanks to our friends for braving the rainstorm and rush hour traffic to celebrate our little two. Yahoo!

Sunday, December 7, 2008

12 days of Christmas

This morning as I prepared Lanie's breakfast, I started singing "The Twelve Days of Christmas." I haven't sung that song in a long time, as we aren't really carollers around here. As I looked into Lanie's eyes, there was a light in them, a certain holiday merriment.

A partridge in a pear tree.

But what comes next? Two calling birds? Two ladies dancing? I started to wing it. What did Lanie know anyway? Funny thing, when I started to sing the song backwards, I remembered the lyrics. Yet going forward, I stumbled over the lines.

Immediately, I thought of the lovely set of Christmas plates at Williams-Sonoma. On more than one occasion, I've been lured into that store. Their lighting is exquisite, the way the golden rays sparkle and glitter off every surface of gleaming piece of cookware. Copper pots. Saute pans. Dutch ovens. Panini presses. Then there's the aroma of the store that wraps an embracing hug around you so you'll stay a few minutes longer. Long enough to see the shelves stocked with rich chocolate shavings for the quintessential cup of holiday hot chocolate. Or the must-have cookie cutters for the upcoming cookie swap. Or for the $10 sandwich cutter you didn't realize you needed until your youngest was screaming loudly in the store. So you bought it. And later returned it when you regained your senses. But I digress.

I have fallen in love with their "12 days of Christmas" holiday salad plates. Each plate represents a day of Christmas, so you get twelve. And they have matching dinner plates, sold separately. And I knew if I had them, I would remember how to sing this maddening song to my daughter. And we'd dine off the matching dinnerware, serenaded by the colorful lights of our Christmas tree and the song of our hearts during a merry season.

No matter what I do, my mind goes back to those plates. If it's not a WS e-mail in my in-box, it's the catalog enticing me from the counter. Or something as benign as a song to my daughter in the morning. It's a spell.

"Sing it again, Mommy," Lanie says.

I only get the lyrics right backwards, but she doesn't seem to notice my inconsistency. It would be cheaper to Google the lyrics. It takes my total, utter, weakening will not to go near that store. Especially when reader reviews comment on things like: something to pass down to children; beautiful artwork; being discontinued this year ... the urgency. I'm a sucker for marketing copy and the teaser of never seeing it again. There will never be another 12 days of Christmas salad plate! (When I wail it along these lines, it does seem rather foolish.)

But if you happen to come to my house during the holidays, and see my table adorned with a partridge or golden ring plate, don't judge me. I'm sure you've been snookered into a purchase before too. Instead, enjoy the delicious salad that I place on top of your plate and smile.

Resist, Courtney, resist.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Purpose ... ?

I subscribe to a few blogs. Ok, twenty-eight of them. And a lot of them have some definite reasons for being: home school information; being thrifty; a lot of blogs by Christians who provide thought-provoking looks at life and scripture; sometimes a blog is just outrageous and keeps me coming back out of curiosity. But one blog I read today mentioned how to have a good blog. She started off with purpose. What's the point of your blog?

What's the point of my blog? ...

Oh. So maybe "occasional thoughts of a wife and mom whose hands are busy and heart is full" doesn't sound purposeful, but it is descriptive. Perhaps if I had more purpose in my blogging, I wouldn't have lost my only subscriber. Yeah, that was a sad day for me when I checked out bloglines and saw my only subscriber had left me. It was like a break-up that leaves you feeling unsettled.

"It's me, isn't it. It's not you, it's me."

So not everyone cares that Erin is obsessed with Bob the tomato, or that Lanie is afraid of nearly every breathing creature under the sun, or that Shane likes to sneak up behind me and make goofy faces while I'm striking vanity poses doing self portraits for my blog. From time to time, I discuss the latest news and possibilities for mass destruction ... ok, I only did that once. I guess my blog is mostly about me and this life. It's the stuff I'd tell a friend over the phone, which is a lot of blah, blah, blah and then an occasional something wonderful. Or two. Except it would take a lot longer, and there'd be a lot of: "Lanie, I'm on the phone" or "Erin, don't hit your sister!" And by then, I'd forget what I was saying anyway.

My purpose is maybe stepping up to the canyon's edge to whisper, "I'm here." Maybe that's not enough in itself to accumulate mass fans, but that's ok. Because it never was my purpose. Thanks to all who were able to hear me out of this loud, echoing canyon of people vying for your attention. Thanks to everyone who keeps coming back.

Monday, December 1, 2008

It goes so fast

I don't know why I'm surprised that Christmas is just over three weeks away. It always falls on December 25, unlike Thanksgiving which can be any date as long as it's the last Thursday of November. I think what threw me off was that Thanksgiving seemed to come so late this year. And there wasn't nearly a week's grace period before December first. There wasn't an extra week of shopping or planning or even relaxing. It was Thanksgiving. Then it was Black Friday. Then it rained. Then it was December 1.

Where did the time go?

In a whirl, we got our tree up and decorated because Christmas is (just over) three weeks away. I wanted the kids to remember something of the season before it slipped away, something beyond the rushing and craziness of the holiday.

We found ourselves out on a rainy day yesterday getting ornaments from Valley View and then heading out for lunch at Wegmans(!). Erin was happily overcome by all the ornaments and lights. She spotted a My Little Pony ornament and held it in her hands the entire time. Wouldn't even let the clerk ring it up.

We did enjoy lunch out, and topped the outing off with bakery cookies as large as my hand. What a treat for a child's eyes to see so many sprinkles on an enormous cookie. We prepared to head back out in the rain to get to the car. An older woman was tightening her raincoat and hat about her. She smiled at the girls: Lanie, waiting patiently; Erin, red-faced and tear-streaked from having been told she couldn't have jelly beans.

"It goes so fast," the woman said to me as she looked at my girls wistfully. "My own kids are grown with children of their own. I'm a grandmother. G-R-A-N-D."

Tears almost stung my eyes. It wouldn't be the first time I've felt that bittersweet twist as I watch my babies grow. It won't be the last that I cry over them and their fleeting childhood. This fleeting season.

And here, so close to Christmas I find myself rushing around. Getting gifts. Making gifts. Decorating. Baking. Planning. A recital. A Christmas coffee. A holiday luncheon. Erin getting lost in it all ... she'll be two on the eleventh and there's barely time for a party. Just a cake and us.

It goes so fast.

I carve out the time to slow down and savor ... to admire the lights on the tree ... the feel of my children's tiny hands in mine ... the smell of their hair after a bath ... the close cuddles during a read-aloud. The richness of this season.

I want to say, "Don't close!" to the door that's pushing me from mother to grandmother. G-R-A-N-D. How did I find myself on this side so fast? I pull against the frame. I want to say, "Slow down!" to my little ones who are intent on growing up fast. It's not a race. Savor the days. It goes so fast. Savor the season. It goes so fast.