Monday, December 27, 2010

24 Years Ago Today

Paul and I were married on December 28, 1986. It was three weeks after his mom died, 9 days after final exams, and 3 days after Christmas. Talk about stress. But I was mostly calm for the wedding. I remember praying with Paul before the ceremony and the sheer love in his eyes when he looked at me as he held my hands in his. It's a look a woman never forgets, the look that says "You are the most special person in the whole world and I love you!"

My Granny had come from California along with my uncle Doug, who designed my bouquet.

My sister Rachel was my maid of honor. She attended well to the details that I wasn't concerned about. (I just wanted to be married.)

Bad surprise: the guy who promised in September to make my wedding cake for free could not be tracked down.
Good surprise: The day before our wedding, when I was far too busy to do one more thing, my friend and bridesmaid went to a bakery, ordered us one, had it delivered on time, and paid for it as a gift to us because we hadn't figured on needing cake money in the budget.
Bad surprise: The girl who agreed in August to do my hair, didn't call me at all for four months.
Good surprise: She remembered the date and showed up an hour and a half before the wedding.
Bad thing: Danny (Paul's nephew, our ringbearer) picked his nose during the ceremony.
Another bad thing: He wiped the booger on the pillow.
A good thing: Someone flicked it off before I found out.

A funny thing: my baby sister, Jill (the flowergirl) kept putting her arms all the way through her muff during the ceremony. I'm sure she got more attention than we did for at least 10 whole minutes.
Another funny thing: my bouquet got stuck on the front of my dress while we were singing, "O Come, Let Us Adore Him." Somehow Paul got it unstuck. He's always had the ability to fix stuff, one of his many admirable traits.

Sweet thoughts: Gary and Kim Bull were in our wedding party. They are still in our lives, and go to the same church.

Something you can't tell by looking: my sister Andrea (the blonde) had a migraine.
Something you can tell: Paul's dad was crying from grief during the ceremony. (See him in the aerial photo, second row, second from right.)

A romantic touch: the snow falling on our kiss in the parking lot.

A funny touch: the words "JUST MET" put on the back window there by my Paul's side of the family who had run out of masking tape and couldn't finish the whole word ,"MARRIED."
A touch that should have tipped me off about Paul's neatness tendencies: He took all the balloons and stuff off the car before we drove away.

I took these pictures from my wedding album, which has fallen apart. (A friend dropped it about 15 years ago and broke the spine. She offered to put it back together with duct tape.)
The recessional shot is blurry, but you can see how eager Paul is that the wedding is over, he gets to eat, and then get the show on the road!


My sister Jill was going to have our family and my folks over to her house the day after Christmas, but the forecast was calling for 8-16 inches of snow . So we cancelled. As it turned out, we got about an inch of snow and unbearably cold winds. However, I wanted to see her and give her a gift before I left for Texas, so she stopped by after church. The family members who were here and willing to be photographed (Sarah, Steve, and I) got in the pictures.

One of these days we'll do Christmas!

Christmas Day Photos: The Handmade Stuff is Best

Ben's sporting the paper hat Joel made for him.

I made a Ravens pillow for Joel. He was so happy, he gave me a big hug. That was worth all the times I stuck myself with the needle trying to sew the pillow closed.

Paul "made" the money to send me on a trip to Texas to see my sister, cousins, aunts, and uncle to ring in the New Year! LOVE my generous husband!!
Aunt Andrea "made" Joel's day by adding a huge lot of coins to his growing collection/obsession.

Sarah made a "Ben & Dee" collage. Dee wrote things she loves about him.
He thought it was a pretty cool gift .

Molly made herself a part of the goings-on, smack dab in the middle of mayhem.

Sarah is holding a Lego purse that Joel made for her. "Because you didn't have one," he said.

Unfortunately I didn't get any close-ups of Stephen, so I took one the next day when Jill stopped by. (That's the next post.)

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Candy Cane Tree?

I have my own little tradition of staying up later than anyone on Christmas Eve, arranging presents, and taking pictures. I had some fun with this one. The candy canes don't exist; it's an optical illusion created by a certain camera setting.

The tree really looks like this. Couldn't find the angel we usually put on top. Oh, well. No one seemed to really miss her. It made me realize that some things just don't matter.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas Messings and Blessings

Having a daughter who loves to bake is a blessing. She bought ingredients for five different kinds of cookies last night. She started out with Joel's assistance, and then he dropped out. I took his place after wrapping some gifts. We spread out all our ingredients and got busy on separate kinds.

I would have taken her picture in her element, but she absolutely did not want me to, so I respected that (even though it's people--not the stuff-- that really are what makes pictures special). At one point, I stopped to think about how many times we take pictures of the finished product, of things all nice and pretty and cleaned up, but how most of life is lived in the messing up of things. Literally and figuratively. So I decided to whip out the camera and get a shot of our counter "in the moment"--covered with flour, eggs, brown sugar, white sugar, chocolate, jam, nuts, mixer, vanilla, measuring spoons, and other tools of the trade.

She said something like, "Why on earth would you take a picture of that mess?"

"Because it's Christmas!" I replied.

"Then every day must be Christmas around here," she retorted, glibly. I laughed at that good one, and quickly got back to business.

When all was said and done, we made 135 cookies (intending to give two dozen to a new neighbor). Joel got up on a chair for an aerial shot and took pictures.

The only mistake about the production was that we didn't cover the big red tray of goodies with aluminum foil. This morning we found about 30 of them gone--and one very guilty looking dog under the table.
Decided not to chance giving away any cookies that might be a little "Golden" brown!

Merry Christmas to all--blessings and messings alike.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Sew Much Fun: Dala-la-la-la

Every now and then I get the urge to sew. I have to be inspired, and this Christmas I have been.

I was inspired to make a pillow and a small tote for my blogging friend, Laurie. (She already opened the gifts, so I can show pictures now!) The fabric just "called" her name--the colors and design remind me of the Swedish Dala horses of Lindsborg, Kansas and, I hoped, coordinate with her decor as best I could remember it. (I second-guessed myself a few times about the busy fabric, but the love is there in the busy-ness of my choice anyway.)

She gave me the mug in the summer for my birthday. Can you see the inspiration I took from it? (I wrapped the pillow before thinking to photograph it, but it's a simple 16" square, knife-edge number in matching fabric.)

The lining of the bag is a repurposed cloth napkin I had that was too silky to stay in one's lap!
But it dressed up and bulked up the cotton bag. I found pale yellow buttons in Sarah's button stash and used my Bible and journal as guidelines for sizing. The pillow is for fun and comfort anywhere she wants to use it.

Got something in the till for Joel (which I hope I don't forget about!) . While sewing, a hand needle got lodged in the guts of my machine, and Joel took the bottom plate off and rescued it--plus found two wheat pennies that made him ecstatic. For a mechanical guy who collects coins, my loss was his gain!

All told, I had a lot of fun making stuff this year for people I love.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Crab Mousse --er, Reindeer

Whoever said, "Don't play with your food" could not have had much imagination. Playing with food is nothing short of downright fun!

For our care group Christmas party last week, I wanted to take a crab dip that I remembered a friend making some 10-12 years ago for a party. Certain recipes are just unforgettable. This is one. So, thanks to Facebook, I was able to contact her and she gave me her recipe for Crab Mousse. I wasn't going to do much more than garnish it with red leaf lettuce and grape tomatoes, but once I realized I had some green peppers, garbanzo beans, and broccoli on hand, well...I couldn't help but play with my food.

Here's the recipe.

Sharon Mueller's Crab Mousse

Heat together in a sauce pan: 1 can Cream of Mushroom Soup (undiluted)
6 oz. cream cheese
1 med. grated onion
To this mixture, add 1 envelope unflavored gelatin which has been dissolved in 1/4 c. boiling water. Then add 1/2 c. mayonnaise and 1 1/4 tsp. Old Bay. Add 1 lb. crab meat. Stir well and pour into greased mold. Chill until ready to serve.

Sick Mail

This little card came in the mail, addressed to our oldest son (who, until the youngest came along, was the most accident-prone kid on the planet). It's hard to tell what the message is here:

"We Want You Back"?
" Thanks for Funding our Trauma Center with Your Blood, Dad's Sweat, and Mom's Tears"?

At any rate, I thought it was kooky, weird, and kind of sick to get this announcement/invitation? in the mail.

As for our RSVP: No, thanks. One pulmonary contusion was enough to make me appreciate this place, thank you very much.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

"It's okay. I love you."

I've been wrestling with years about Christmas.

My heart has oscillated and spun clear around at times like a weather vane in Kansas wind when I've dwelt for more than a minute on the hows and whys of celebrating this holiday. I've tried so hard to reconcile and justify the hodge-podge of the mayhemously secular (shopping, decorating, baking, extra events, certain music) with the simple message of the mysteriously sacred (Christ came to earth from heaven for His Father's sake, and I benefited from His obedience).

I've been harshly judgmental in the past about things like Santa, extravagant gift-giving, Christmas songs on Christian radio that clearly are not about Christ but about snow, sentiment, and sleigh bells. I've hopped on a soapbox about photo Christmas cards being more about "looky at us" rather than "behold the Lamb!" I've blasted people in my heart for asking for things they don't need--or even for confusing needs with wants. I've blasted myself for the same. I've even used "that tone" (that scolding voice) when telling my kids, "Get the word need out of your vocabulary. It's like saying 'I'm starving.' I don't let you say that. You can say you're very hungry, but you are NOT starving! You have no idea what starvation feels like." But then within a couple hours, I say something stupid like, "I need a new set of steak knives because these are dull" or "I need to take the van through the car wash." First off, owning dull steak knives means I can afford steak. Second, owning a vehicle that I can splurge hundreds of gallons of wash water on is nothing short of two luxuries in one, not a need.

I have felt guilty in the past for being a middle-class American. At Christmas especially, it has felt wrong to me. I have gone down the path of "I don't deserve this lifestyle" to almost accusing God for allowing other people to be poor--and in so doing, accusing Him of not being fair. Forgetting that He chose to become poor, not middle class or rich by anyone's standards, when He came.

And yet, for all the guilt, I have honestly enjoyed many parts of Christmas that have absolutely nothing to do with the birth of Jesus. I love looking at a tree with twinkling lights and feeling nostalgic over certain ornaments. I love getting pictures of people's family as a Christmas card, and being counted as their friend. I love baking and eating gingerbread men and strawberry thumbprint cookies and peanut butter blossoms.

So this year I have pondered the freeing words, "It's okay. I love you." These words have echoed from Christ to me over and over. Whenever the guilt starts to rise as I ask Him, "What does wired ribbon have to do with your birth?" I hear him say, "Nothing. But it's okay. I love you." Or when my toe is tapping to "Jingle Bells" and I stop to say,"Wait. There's nothing in that song about Jesus," and I feel condemned for liking a song the angels didn't sing in Bethlehem, I sense the "it's okay. I love you." Or when I have felt ashamed that I really DO have a wish list for things like new pajamas, better towels, or a surprise piece of jewelry (despite my gratitude for what I already have) God has whispered, "It's okay. I love you." Not that he's okay with my greed, but He understands the twins of my heart--gratitude and greed--and that neither will be enough this side of Heaven. Or when I'm having trouble not wanting to buy everything I see for my kids that I know they'd just love or "need" (ahem!), it's as though God is smiling and saying, "That's My heart coming through. And that's good, but I am the only One with unlimited resources."

So this year, I've become gut-level honest about Christmas.

I love the Christmas carols that remind me of a holy night that probably was not snowy at all. I love the smell of fresh pine and don't try to force it to remind me of the ugly stench of the Tree on which Jesus died, as if thinking such thoughts makes me a more "focused" (read "better") Christian. Rather, I realized I was being corny and cheesy by trying to make every secular symbol have some sort of sacred meaning. A strawberry thumbprint doesn't have to convert to Christianity in December. I can just make them and eat them's Christmastime!

I have been freed from "Christmas guilt" this year. By giving thanks to God rather than questioning "Why have You spoiled me by putting me in 21st century, middle-class America?" I find freedom. It's okay. He loves me. Listening to "secular" music (as long as it doesn't glorify self or the Enemy or take me down paths I shouldn't go) is okay. He loves me. Sending cards with an artist's rendition of baby Jesus or sending pictures of people made in the image of God? Both are okay. He loves me.

Thank you ,Father, for freeing my heart to love Christmas this year. It's finally okay with me to celebrate it with gusto and to let others do the same. I love You.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Don't Like to Hear or Say the "C" Word (Circumcision)

Thanks to Rachel at Home Sanctuary, I'm taking the opportunity to write about something I savored today--some sweetness and warm fuzzies in the middle of the hurried, harried moments of late December.

The things I savored today:
-the spontaneity of my husband taking the day off
-watching my older kids drive off for the weekend to respective friends' gatherings
-seeing my husband take care of the Jeep they were taking by topping off fluids and checking their tire pressure and then praying with them for their safety
-admiring the white dusting of snow and the husband who shoveled the driveway off
-learning about faraway places with my 8 year old. Today: Egypt.
-listening to my hubby read Genesis chapter 17 aloud without stopping to feign a soprano "ouch!" when he got to the part about Abraham circumcising himself and doing the same deed to his 13-year-old son
-our 8 year old son not stopping his dad to ask what circumcision is
-reading another book while snuggling the boy under a pile of blankets, and having him play with my hair.
-hanging up ultrasuede, camel-toned curtain panels at the sliding glass door for the fourth winter in a row, and realizing I still like them. That was $30 well spent.
-hearing our youngest child thank God twice --once before lunch, once before dinner--that "Dad took the day off and stayed home"
-making hot chocolate from a block of Abuelita cocoa and some milk and sugar. and drinking it from one of my happy mugs.
-clearing clutter, lighting the tree, smelling an Almond Cookie candle...

Nothing big, Nothing grand. Just a few simple, sweet moments I've savored in the week before Christmas. Sweet things said--and thankfully, some things said but not discussed.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Christmas Gift Bags for Sarah's Kindergartners

Sarah worked really hard this semester and completed her student teaching in a kindergarten class at a public school. She absolutely loved the whole experience, and grew to love the students in short order. It was easy for her to understand now how teachers get attached and emotional at the end of a year.

I came home one evening last week to find 15 cute gift bags on the table, some pink, some blue. Each one was decorated with either a snowman (for each girl) or mitten (for each boy). Gifties for her kiddoes. She stuffed each bag with goodies from the dollar store. My favorite was the crazy straw. I loved crazy straws as a kid! She also got some Bath & Body stuff for the mentor teacher. (Pay no attention to the other crap on the table and counters; I wasn't shooting for a magazine and this is my real life house where real people leave egg nog and Star Wars plates and empty soda bottles on the table.)

She stamped the snowmen on, using a sponge and paint. The mittens were peel-and-stick jobbies. I was so impressed with her thoughtfulness and the fun way she always puts things together. She was born to be an early elementary ed teacher! God has gifted her with a love
for little kids, for learning, and for giving--a winning combo. (And one of her teachers emailed her and said that she is the first student ever to have earned a perfect grade in her class!) Can you tell I'm just a bit over the moon about my daughter?

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

A Walk Through My Day

Like A Simple Woman's Daybook, but with different prompts, this post was inspired by Dea. Thanks, Amy, for leading me there.

Today I am pondering... what a difference prayer makes. I woke up distraught, moaning, fearful, and anxious about at least six different things. I wrote down my anxieties, showed them to my husband, tried to pray, but only cried. He prayed for me quickly before heading out the door, which I appreciated, but I was still fraught with turmoil. So I emailed three friends who are faithful intercessors and advisors. Within an hour I felt a burden lifted and the grace to plow through the day with peace.

I am memorizing... nothing this week. I hope to take on Romans 5 or 8 in January.

I am thankful for... doctors who specialize in things I can barely make myself say.

I am studying... ecosystems around the world with my third grader. By way of a book, that is.

Other ongoing studies throughout my month:
Genesis, with same child. We're in Chapter 16. So far he hasn't asked how Ishmael and Isaac have the same dad but different moms. I've focused on telling him that
he is a descendant of Abraham and Isaac. He is one of the stars that Abram could not count in the sky or even imagine but he is a son of God's covenant!

Family Bible study: doesn't exist.

Studies at church: The book of I Corinthians. My 21 year old single daughter can't wait till the messages on singleness and marriage are over. She told me this week, "Singleness is a gift. A gag gift."

Bible reading schedule for today... I've been in Psalms and Matthew. For Psalms, I take the number 30 and add today's date (14th) to it and get 44. So I read Psalm 44 today, and Matthew 9 for no numeric reason except it comes after 8, which I read yesterday:). I also read I Peter 5:7ff "Cast your cares upon Him for He cares for you" and noticed the connection just after that: "for you have an enemy prowling about like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour." I knew I could either pray or be preyed upon! If I'm going to give myself to any lion, it'll be the Lion of Judah!

Other books I'm reading sporadically... I am a very slow reader. If I keep my goal in mind to finish 12 books this year, I'll be happy. But I doubt I'll finish them all. I just picked up Understanding Your Man. I've been working on the topic for 24 years (25 if you count our courtship). Think I can clinch the study of my man in two weeks? Me neither.

Most recent online sermon I have listened to...Wow, it's been a long time. I seldom listen to sermons online, but the last one was by Frankie Chan on how to really love people. The title was esoteric and academic-- "seminarian" as I recall. But the message was superb.

Song going through my head today
...There's a Song in the Air.... I sat down to practice carols and opened an old hymnal. I don't think I've sung that song alone since last year, and can't remember the church singing it for ....over 15 years???

I am anticipating...lab results and another medical test on Thursday. Might be having a double surgery in January.

A few plans for the rest of the week... care group social tomorrow (making crab dip); mail handmade gifts; get the summer clothes to the basement since the bathing suit and shorts aren't exactly gettin' the job done wardrobe-wise. Seeing your breath while you're wearing a tank top either means you're smoking something or you need to cover up. I'm also planning to figure out what we're doing for Christmas Eve and Day. The kids want to have people over. That's all I hear them saying, "So what are we doing? Who are we having over? " I'm glad the adult kids are so outward-focused. It does mom's heart good. So I'm placing a call to the local army base for starters, to see if there are folks who might like to come spend some time here.

And, since everyone loves picture posts, here's a goofy picture (not part of the prompt). Some kid around here is dangerous with a camera. So I threatened to kiss him!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Squirrel Drawing

by Joel, age 8.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Tree Tour: Special Ornaments

This year our tree-trimming started
with a rite of passage of sorts: stringing
the lights on the tree. In our house, I have
dubbed it "a man's job" (mainly because
I'm not tall enough to reach the top, and
am too lazy to stand on a chair). By default,
Joel got to "be the man" this year for the
first time, and he loved his important role.

Betwixt as to whether I wanted
to do a glamorous tree again , or go for the homespun
look, I combined both and decided my theme would be
"Shine and Sentiment." Joel wanted cranberry strands
and no ribbon. He said ribbon is too girly. Since I
appreciated his help with the lights and wanted him
to keep me company with the ornaments, I respected
his wish to not hang girly ribbon. Cranberries were
his preference, and I like them, too. Granted, we only
had enough for the top half, but oh well. Whatcha
gonna do? I looked for more in the store and could
find none that same shade of red.

I shared with him the meaning or origin of several
ornaments as we hung them on the tree. (He didn't
care as much as I did. Go figure.)

Ben was a 21 months old, so still "1."
Sarah was 13 months old. Where is
her painted bear for that year? I think
I must've been too busy or sidetracked
to finish (or start?) it. One more bit of
guilt on the motherload of motherguilt.
Oh well. I don't think Sarah's in therapy
over it. (I, on the other hand, still am.)

My favorite picture
of the three older kids.

Blue spoon: from Joel's first
bite of solid food.
Pine cone: gathered by Sarah
at my parents' farm when Brandy,our horse, was dying. Andrea
rushed home from the Air Force
to bury her beloved 26-year-old mare.

I cried again as I was hanging this
one up. Represents God's grace
in protecting a loved one.

My sister-in-law Donna made
us ornaments for many years.
This reindeer consists of 3
clothespins (2 glued together
to make 4 legs; and a 3rd pin
upsidedown for horns. Googly eyes
and paint make it so cheerful.

A bit blurry, but the little
blue "purse" is a
miniature version of a
Katrina Kit, c. 2005. Still
blows my mind to think that
people from around the world
made, sponsored, and/or sent
259 kits (filled with emergency toiletries)
to hurricane victims because of one blog post!

Red heart from my boss at the
Baltimore Crisis Pregnancy
Center, c. 1990. The year I found
out I was preggo with a third child
and didn't know if I could handle
it. Now I look back and think, How in the world could I live without that child, our Stephen?

Oriole bird from Paul's dad.
He was a huge baseball fan.

"Merry Maryland Christmas"
from the Elliott family. They lived
on the Chesapeake Bay and we
had science co-op class at their
house. This crab shell was the real deal,
c. 1995. It's amazing they come out of the water
painted and ready to be used as decor.

from my missions trip with
GAIN to Vladimir, Russia,
with daughter Sarah, 2007.

Our first ornament as
as a married couple.
Leaves pressed into
plaster of Paris. Made my
Paul's niece, Talitha, 1986.
We actually didn't have
a tree in '86 because we were broke; he had unexpected funeral costs since his mom's
sudden death, expected costs of a honeymoon, and I had extra little wedding things
to pay for out of my meagerly wages. But this ornament started hanging on our tree every year from 1987 to the present.

When the rest of the house is decorated, I might take pictures and post them for a virtual tour.
I'd love for you to show me your Christmas at home, too!