Monday, December 31, 2012

One thousand gifts and still counting (3698-3714)

sunrise views, through the woods, hot pink and gold--caught by Lanie
snowflakes and giddy girls
presents given early--slope sliders down the hill on Christmas Eve

safe travels
a visit with David and Anita
peppermint ice cream
snowman peeps in hot chocolate
cupcakes gifted by a neighbor

text messages from friends
a good night's sleep
fleece blankets
and woodsmoke smells
the story of a witchdoctor turned brother in Christ

forgiveness
grace
a new year on 66 Books
and the people I've met because of that journey

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Monday, December 24, 2012

Spinning dough

We had the delightful surprise of snow on Christmas eve. We were at David and Anita's to drop off gifts as the first flakes fell. Came home to a lovely coating of snow across the lawn and along the tree branches. There is nothing like the white stillness of winter in the woods. I snapped a few pictures and the kids put on snow bibs and hats and mittens to go play.

I pulled out an early Christmas gift: mini slope sliders (like these, but for little bottoms) and presented them to the girls. Then we slid down the hills around here for a few turns.

Shane and I talked about Christmas memories: his with a stocking full of nuts and fruit and chocolate race cars.

My memories of cinnamon rolls, Christmas music in the morning to call us downstairs, Cello chocolate covered cherries, or the Whitman's 4-pack sampler in a stocking. We sometimes got tangerines too.

I wondered what my kids would remember of their Christmases: cinnamon rolls, Christmas music playing, color-coded packaging for their Christmas gifts (that one was started when Lanie was too little to read her name, and she hasn't wanted us to let up), hot chocolate with whipped cream and snowman Peeps on snow days and Christmas eve?

Spinning dough in the bread machine now for cinnamon rolls, and just put the egg and sausage breakfast bake in the fridge for tomorrow.

"It's hard to sleep when I'm so excited for Christmas!" Erin said at bedtime tonight.

I didn't hear a sound from either one after a few minutes.



One thousand gifts and still counting (3662-3697)

breakfast with friends
a great day out for Lanie
and her first sleepover
a chill in the air

coupons given to me, and given away
a free cookie
and a free Godiva chocolate to split with my girl
her hand in mine
a just-us day

year-end posts on 66 Books
Reggie, who wrote nearly the whole four years
a new shirt
Christy, and little somethings for the girls
a new one-word (going into a fourth year with a one-word focus)

a friend's three trees brightly decorated
cookie deliveries to neighbors
and getting to be "the one, behind (her), who lives in the woods"
kids in a kindergarten class, who make my heart swell
lunch with a friend at Chipotle

and a follow-up playdate at my place
steps in faith: to knock on a door, to being vulnerable
the ladies in line at Panera (how one reminded me so much of Anita)
 a gifted blue plate with white snowflakes
topped with peanut butter blossoms

the hospitality of a neighbor at their Christmas party
inclusion
and new friendships
surprise Christmas wishes to Linda
for Robbie, who finished well

and our brief time as pen pals
for a God who catches my tears
and a husband who does too
that we can have honest talks
and he encourages me in godly perspective

for doors that were mercifully closed
and urgings to not look back

Sunday, December 23, 2012

For Robbie, who finished well

I met her at a friend's son's birthday party back in 2010. She was dressed in a dark pantsuit, and old enough that color had drained from her hair and skin. She sat alone, and that in itself drew me to her.

I made light conversation, shallow and chipper.

"What is your secret to long life?"

But she would have none of that.

She was honest and vulnerable and forthcoming. 

"Do you really want to live to be my age?" she asked. And then, she proceeded to tell me about her long life. Deep fractures and losses. She looked at me intentionally and told me her story. I stood next to her, as if we were the only ones in the room. I cried for her and the things that shaped her into who she was: widowed in her twenties, raising two boys alone, and out-living both of them. There was more.

"Do you really want to live to be my age?" she finished.

I could only thank her for what she shared with me, and love her for what she had been through. I understood things about her that I'm not even sure she realized. But I knew for certain, God would have us meet for such a time.

I kept in touch with her these years, by mail. I thought of her often. Looked forward to her responses, always accompanied by a Bible verse or poem. I thanked her frequently for including me among her friends and family. I wonder if she knew I cherished that.

My dear and only pen pal died. The news of it, a gentle whisper below her smiling picture. 

I learned later that she kept the cards I sent her, that she appreciated my friendship. (Oh, how I appreciated hers!)

I'm grateful that God isn't wasteful. Every ounce of life is used for a greater purpose. I think Robbie understood that. I'm thankful for the race she ran. And I know she finished well.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

The not-apocalypse

A few years ago, upon anticipation of the end of the Mayan calendar, I thought it would be fun to throw a big party to celebrate "the end of the world". As Shane is more of "a few friends over" verses "big party" kind of guy, and since part of our house is under construction, there was no party. There was no end of the world, either. (Not that I thought there would be!)

If it had been the end of the world, the kids and I spent it decadently. We enjoyed a holiday-time breakfast at a friend's house. Loved the companionship of these women and our kids. Lanie stayed on to play with her bestie, while Erin and I went out to the mall.

The vast ocean of cars was daunting, and I was about to give up, when there was a vacant parking spot right in front of me. I took it. Erin and I got lunch out (she got food court McDonalds to go, and then we planted ourselves at Panera so I could get a lovely BBQ salad). The cashier approached us while we waited for the order and gifted Erin an enormous chocolate chip cookie, because the cookie was broken and they couldn't sell it. So kind!

We were about to leave Panera because there was no seating, when the very last table on the way out looked like it was reserved just for us.

"Erin, an empty table!"

"Get it!" she said.

We sat and ate lunch together and watched all the shoppers and looked into the toy store across the way. Fun day with her. And we literally (mostly window) shopped till she dropped. First on the floor at my feet, then asleep in the car before we got to the major roads.

We did a delivery to a friend's house on the way home, and then napped together on the couch. (Or rather, I napped and she watched TV.) Lanie ended up having her first sleepover for the end of the world, and thought that was great fun. In fact, when I called her to wish her goodnight, I could barely understand her because of the giggles. And my heart felt happy.

Thankful for good friends who make life so joyful.

Shane was still full from a work luncheon, so I got the night off from making dinner. We went to do some looking around, and I picked up a canister for flour at Bed, Bath and Beyond. Afterwards, we went to a local ice cream place (yes, and it was blustery and cold outside) and got some scoops as a family of three. Which really means we had ice cream for dinner.

If you ever find yourself in a not-apocalypse situation, make these pumpkin cinnamon rolls with caramel frosting, and celebrate life with your friends. (Which means, go do it now.)


Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The not-swap

So, no cookie swapping this year. We've got a room under construction and weekends are full trying to wrap up that endeavor.

But this is not stopping me from baking. No. Not at all. Today, on a no-homework-Tuesday-start-of-Christmas-break, I took out the butter sticks to soften. I cleaned up around the house and cranked up the NuTone (love it!) to have Christmas music playing through all rooms.

When the butter was ready, I pulled out my mixer, now about 15 years old and the beaters regularly fall out on their own if I don't put constant pressure on them against the bowl. But that's another story entirely, about a husband who asks, "What would you like for (insert gift-giving occasion)?" and I say, "A baby, a dehumidifier, and a new mixer" well, guess who is not getting any of the above.

Ahem.

What was I going to mention?

Baking cookies. With a mixer.

This was today.



I'm not sure of the exact name, but I made these treats for some neighbors. Special deliveries tonight, lest I eat them all and have to start over.

This is now pinned in my Pinterest Cookie Swap board. And I'm making more just as soon as I get more cocoa.

For the recipe, go to No. 2 Pencil.

Monday, December 17, 2012

One thousand gifts and still counting (3642-3661)

the community motion of birds flying over the surface of the reservoir
winter-like skies and spring-like temperatures
oranges, the biggest ever, gifted
lunch with Karen, Kathleen and new friends at Panera

laughter that felt so free and good
chats with friends at church
the scent of baking cinnamon French toast
a talk that refreshed me--the energy of caffeinated Jodie
celebrating Christy--my best friend for the last six years

cheesecake to split between us
and the wool socks she gifted me and my feet
how she prays in my car--she is my sister
David and Anita at Erin's birthday
good models of how to live

playdates with Kellie
a dog that picked me
the timing of things, even though I don't understand
Erin's happy birthday
the smell of my children's hair

and the warmth of life in their hugs

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Trash day

Erin had her fanciest dress laid out last night when she went to bed, so that when she woke up today, she could be six and fabulous. I tried to snap a few pictures of her this morning, but she frowned and scowled for most of them.

"Why so grumpy on your birthday?" I wondered. She didn't want to wait till after dinner for presents.

The morning went on and we did school around the dining room table.

"You have to smile, it's your birthday," I coaxed.

"No."

"Well, if you're not going to  smile, we won't be singing happy birthday."

This got her attention.

"You know, we could just change the song around if you want to be grumpy. It's Tuesday, which means it's trash day. We could sing 'happy trash day to you!' instead!" I laughed.

"No!" she laughed, too.

I started to sing:

Happy trash day to you!
Happy trash day to you!

She smiled. 

And after dinner we lit up the cake and sang along, all of us and David and Anita:

Happy birthday to you!
(and a verse or two of trash day just for good measure)

Crazy blessed by this girl. And the people in our lives. A neighbor behind us in line at the store who gifted Erin with a balloon on the spot. Another one who drove up with apple cake and a gingerbread house, and didn't even know it was Erin's birthday, but just wanted to be kind. David and Anita around our table.

"They've never missed a party," Shane commented.

How they love us like we're their own. Erin told me one night that she had promised them she'd always invite them. And I wish that life would never end.

"She's on her way to seven now," Anita commented.





Word of the year, kindergarten style

I even have a board on Pinterest dedicated to JOY.

My word of the year.

A couple of weeks ago, Erin was talking about something and then she said butt, and I winced because I never really liked that word coming out of a child's mouth.

"How about you just say bottom?" I offered.

"But, Mom, it's my word of the year!"

I had to quickly turn my face from hers because I wanted to laugh at the surprise of that.

Today, doing sight word flash cards, I placed some on the table and let her select the ones she knew. As she narrowed her selections down, two remained: that, but.

"What to take a guess at those?" I asked.

"This one is BUT! It's my word of the year!"


Monday, December 10, 2012

One thousand gifts and still counting (3613-3641)

dog bone growls
and waggy tail
drizzly Sundays

family outing
lunch to go
a morning with Erin
and grocery trips with Lanie
running dog walks

mild days
sunshine peeking through
soda with a friend around a cafe table
music played by an orchestra
and dancers who inspire little children

Christmas cards to write and send
a good review x 2
treats at Panera
the power of prayer
when love is first

little notes by Erin's hand, and hearts around the paper
ice cream scoops
local missions
book studies
for friends who feel invisible

dangle earrings with jingle bells
gmail chat
and ensuing phone call
a sister in Christ I feel like I've known a long time
and how You brought us together through Your Word, five years ago

the difference here makes, still

Sunday, December 9, 2012

The most wonderful time of the year

A ride into the city, car of four. Nutcracker selections. Friends seated around us from school. Lunch at home, drizzly day. Chocolate chips and white chocolate chips for favorite cookies. Mixers in hand. Christmas music playing. This season looks a little different than past years. No Christmas cookie swap this year, though the kids and I will be baking in the kitchen for neighbors. 

Took Erin out for a girls' day Saturday: hair salon, ordering her birthday cake, lunch to go, sunny skies. She wanted her old hair style back. So long cutest pony tails. The lady at the bakery commented to us, "You have the same hair." Color, anyway. 

This is what life looks like lately. 

a Pinterest-inspired banner
Mixers in hand
crafted with Lindsay
Erin's new do
mine too
Lanie tries out curls
Shane, under construction



Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Tear jerker

Class recitation tomorrow. Psalm 23. She hands me the paper to compare as she speaks, and I think of how I'm not a fan of the KJV.

This psalm, I've heard at funerals--my own grandmother's on my dad's side.

Whenever I heard it, I thought of that day. Until today.

Today, it brings comfort, and hope, and strengthens trust, not (just) for death, but life. And each word she speaks, and each word I read, I walk deeper and deeper into this dark valley and understand that I am not alone.

He is all I need. He guides me along right paths. He is close to me. He protects and comforts me. He prepares a feast--in front of enemies--and blesses me overflowing.

His goodness and unfailing love pursue ... all the days.

All the days.

No matter what happens.

"Mom, are those tears?" she asked.

Read it here for yourself, in NLT.

Monday, December 3, 2012

One thousand gifts and still counting (3587-3612)

green seasons
and brown seasons
a new love for winter
wood stacks

a forgotten chocolate truffle
and the peace and privacy to savor it
for a friend who catches tears
and prays with me
You, with me, in all the days

Joel at my back door
change
and perspective refocused
cinnamon rolls
returning writers on 66 Books

and new ones joining us for our fifth year
lessons learned through gardening
wool socks with well-loved and -worn holes in the heals
dish towels that have lasted me since 1999
and that "enough is as good as a feast"

an invitation from a neighbor to a Christmas party
for not-swaps and family time
twinkling Christmas lights along the road
and a late-night drive with Erin, who merrily pointed out the displays
our dog

Trish, the caterer's helper, and her pulse check
and our conversation that ensued

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Looking for joy

It was my keyword focus this year, joy. I think it was because I felt so desperate for it after years of the sometime-struggle. Rake in hand, I pulled and tugged at stubborn vines in February and March, and I felt so small. Things unseen loomed large.

I remembered a verse, the go-to verse that came to mind when asked what scripture could help one through difficulties. I felt strengthened by it--a determination to run hard. I raked harder in the cold, with new inspiration and an infusion of joy.

Spring's skies, growing grasses--my delight, and his burden. With determination, I laced up my snake stompers and asked Shane how to start the tractor. He showed me, and for our anniversary I gifted him the first of a season of grass cuts. In the fragrance of walnut trees, onion grass, and woodland, I breathed joy.


It really wasn't any one moment of defining joy, but certainly time framed in joy--an Easter egg hunt in the garden, Lanie swimming under water, picking berries along the perimeter, cutting down pines with Shane.

 



It was woven in the green season, the garden surprises of our first spring and summer here, this house and its transformation into ours, a community of new friends and neighbors, soaring pines and woodland walks, and always how fragrant the air is. Truly, joy was never because of the lack of difficulty, but because of Christ's presence in my life.

My prayer lately, Lord--help me to remember you in these weeks, because that's what it's all about.  

God with us.

Joy.


Thursday, November 29, 2012

Three soups

I got copied on an email today that included two soup recipes. So I'm putting them here.

Easy Crab Soup
2 cans of cream of potato soup
2 cans of cream of celery
3 cans of evaporated milk
1 stick of melted butter
Old Bay to taste
1 pound of claw crab meat
1 pound of jumbo lump crab
Cook in a crockpot for about 4-5 hrs for the flavor of the crab go through.


Italian Wedding Soup

2 c. cooked orzo pasta
2 pkg frozen cooked spinach, thawed and drained
4 eggs, beaten
4 large or 12 regular cans of chicken broth
Bring broth to a boil. Quickly beat in eggs. Add remaining ingredients.
Meatballs:
2 lb ground beef
2 eggs
Garlic salt, oregano, pepper
Bread crumbs
Mix together. Roll into very small bite size balls. Bake 350 until browned, 10-15 mins. Add to soup.



And I had a taste for this one. I googled it and started cooking it well before I realized I had a tried and true recipe saved in a folder, dating back to 2009. 

For your pleasure (and what's for dinner tonight):

 Pasta e Fagioli
 
 1 1/2 hours/15 min prep
 
1 lb ground beef
1 cup diced onion
1 cup juliened carrot
3 stalks celery, chopped (1 cup)
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 (14 1/2) ounce cans diced tomatoes
1 (15 ounce) can red kidney beans (with liquid)
1 (15 ounce) can great northern beans (with liquid)
1 (15 ounce) can tomato sauce
5 (14.5 ounce) cans beef broth
1 teaspoon vinegar
1 teaspoon tabasco sauce
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon basil
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon thyme
1 tablespoon parsley
1/2 lb ditali pasta or less
 
1.  Brown beef in a large stock pot over medium heat-drain off fat.
2.  Add onion, carrot, celery and garlic and saute for 10 minutes.
3.  Add remaining ingredients, except pasta, and simmer for 1 hour.
4.  After 50 minutes, boil pasta to al dente.  Drain well.
5.  Add pasta to the large pot of soup and simmer for 10 minutes.
NOTE: If you think it's too thick, you can add a little water or another can of beef broth.

Monday, November 26, 2012

One thousand gifts and still counting (3556-3586)

candles in votives
home fires burning
seamless preparation for Thanksgiving
a powder room painted
pine cones from a friend's yard, glitter sprayed

a wreath for a door
dog and daughter helpers and audience
sunshine
everything ready-set-go
Denise at the table

recognizing love languages
things put into perspective
kids howling song on the couch
worship in church
pecan pie leftovers

seeing the need and the hope
turkey teacups
and a pumpkin roll
days to sleep in
hot coffee

late nights up with Shane
laughing
his friendship and love
how he vacuums the nooks and crannies before guests arrive and laughs because he knows it makes me crazy
the nearing end of a fourth year on 66 Books

that we've gone this long on the blog
and I still don't want to stop
seventeen years with a best friend
family traditions that started with us
a warm sweater

socks

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Four-day weekend



sweet potato casserole before the oven


because he likes to do this to me minutes before guests arrive

my dad

table setting for eight

ornament shopping, the yearly trek







the kids checking out the sock monkey ornaments
I didn't paint a single room after Thanksgiving. In fact, we didn't spend a cent on Black Friday. I don't even think we left the house unless it was to get wood off the stack for the fire. Today we went to get Christmas ornaments as we traditionally do on Thanksgiving weekend. We'll put our tree up next weekend. While out, we grabbed burrito bowls to go, and pizza for the kids. Followed by Wegman's bakery cookies, as big as your hand. Driving home, I mentioned it was November 25, and Shane said, "Did you say November 25? Do you remember what that is?"

Seventeen years since our first date.

Good life.