Thursday, December 29, 2011

Great Because it was Good Enough

I don't remember exactly whose blog
I was on when I read the post "Good Enough Christmas," but it meant more to me than any other post this year. I needed it. The truth that, no matter how things pan out that aren't as I picture them in my ideal "mind's eye," and in spite of my best-laid plans and hopes for a Hallmark holiday, it's good enough.

In fact, adopting this mindset was so helpful I was able to say when it was over, "Christmas this year was great because it was good enough."

I didn't sweat over making sure I spent exactly the same amount on each child. (I've felt guilty over a five-dollar difference in the past.)

I wanted to give out a loaf of bread daily for ten neighbors or friends. I only made three. It was a good enough Christmas anyway. I have the rest of the year to give out bread if I want. And I do.

I wanted to get a last shot of all our kids
standing on the steps where the stockings hang. But I never found all the stockings and only hung up the dog's. (Sigh.) Besides, the oldest child slept in on Sunday morning while the rest of us went to our church. (His church didn't have a service.) I would previously have tried to guilt him into going with all of us to make me happy, but I am learning (yes, at the ripe old age of forty-something) that there is no happiness in guilt, whether receiving it or giving it. I am letting go. It's been a good year of learning to set people free of my expectations or yearnings.

For example, earlier in December, I had hoped the menfolk would want to
help chop down a Christmas tree, but
they weren't into it. Rather than hold it against them, I hopped in the van with my girl and off we went to the tree farm.

She cut it down while I snapped pictures. We made a memory. And we got our first Fraser fir. What I remember was how she said, "It's a good thing God doesn't choose us the way we choose trees. Too fat, too skinny, too bare, too brown, too tall, too short." I added ," Or soft or prickly,
sappy or dry." The tree we brought home wasn't the prettiest we're ever had, but it was good enough.

If you happen to misplace some of the
Christmas stockings, it's okay, as I
found out .A tall gift bag is good enough
for holding things needed by a grown
child about to move into his first

Gotta love the excited
expression on a guy's face when he
gets dish towels and a toilet bowl
brush in his stocking.

Another thing that was good enough, though by no means the cutesy-tootsey things I
had envisioned taking to a party, were these Santa hats. If you look closely on the
coffee table, there's a dish of them. (I left some brownies plain because the icing was
just so darn stiff in the tube, and I barely had the strength to frost these few.)

I was so eager to make the Santa hats that I didn't read the directions
first. If I had, I would've known the brownie mix should've been poured
into mini muffin tins.

So, to end up with round muffin-like shapes,
I used my blender lid. Good enough!

Hmm, they look more like hamburgers
in the picture.

I used some of my favorite wrapping
paper as a liner for an everyday green
salad plate. Not fancy, but good enough.

The next picture isn't great, but it's good enough for my blog. The thing that's great
is God's grace to us a couple. This year marked our 25th Christmas together since we
said "I do." Even though I'm not a great wife, I must be good enough.

Oh, and the little blue topaz ring I'm wearing?
I picked it out and told my hubby it was a great
gift from him. That kind of gift-giving, once in
a while, is good enough.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Hodgepodge: "Five and Twenty" Focus

Here it is, the last Hodgepodge of 2011. This is my most favorite meme to participate in, and as long as Joyce continues to ask questions, I plan to continue answering them. Hope you enjoy your stay here for the duration of this little "interview" between virtual friends.

1. Share something you loved about your Christmas Day.

Can I share two somethings? Sure, it's my blog. :)

One: having all four of our children here, knowing it'd be the last Christmas morning with our oldest son as a single man.

Two: The worship service at church. Honestly, I was not wanting to go as of the day before because I went to a Christmas Eve service at my sister's church. I had actually grumbled about the fact that my hubby and a couple older kids wanted to attend a service at our church on Christmas morning. I had thought what an inconvenience to have to get dressed, have breakfast, do gifts in a rush or postpone them, and make it to church by 10 a.m. My selfish preference was to sleep in, stay in PJ's a long time, open gifts, and then eat at a leisurely pace.

But as it turned out, five of the six of us (my oldest son doesn't attend our church and decided to sleep in) went to service which included a cute skit, a choir, a short message, and several carols. There was great joy in my heart and in that small congregation on Christmas morning. It was quite the change from how we usually look on the morning of December Five and Twenty. Fum, fum, fum.

We waited until after church to open gifts, and I applaud everyone's self-control. (Pretend you can see me clapping.)

2. You get to put five items in a time capsule to be opened in 100 years,
what items would you choose and why?

I'm glad you gave us a day's headstart to think about this great question ,Joyce. Here's what I've come up with.
1. A bible--because in 100 years they might be really scarce, and everyone needs the message contained in God's Word.
2. A photo of my family--with a note saying, "These people weren't famous, but they were the most precious people I knew. They influenced me more than any other humans on earth and I loved them with all my heart." The photo would also show the dorky clothes, glasses, shoes, and hairstyles we actually spend money to wear. I'm sure the fashions in said photo would evoke a good laugh in the future.
3. An ipod, because it will be totally obsolete as technology continues to advance at the speed of sound. It will probably be a collector's item.
4. The one and only poem my husband wrote me (several years ago) and made me promise not to show anyone outside the family while he is alive. I would put it in a time capsule because in 100 years, if the poem were read by one of our descendents, they might say, "Awww, that's sweet. He really loved her. What a nice way to show her!" And, if the divorce rate in the world keeps increasing, it might be a very rare thing that husbands and wives stay together for anywhere close to "five and twenty".

Actually, today is our 25th wedding anniversary, so 100 years from today would be a really, REALLY big anniversary and reason to read a mushy poem from a husband to his wife, wouldn't it?

5. A mustard seed. It's a symbol of faith and hope. Everyone needs those.

3. What do you like on a cracker?

Peanut butter and jelly. Or summer sausage with dijon.

4. Do you make resolutions at the start of a new year? How'd that work out
for you this past year?

I do make resolutions, and it didn't work out so well. I am embarrassed by how few I stuck to, or how few goals I accomplished. My nature is to set lofty goals, which I did at the beginning of the year, but suffered a severe depression in the summer and plummeted into a state of feeling as if nothing mattered, so why make goals? I felt defeated by the littlest failure.

5. What's a song or song lyric you'll associate with 2011?

Though Satan should buffet,
Though trials should come,
Let this blessed assurance control,
That Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
And had shed His own blood for my soul"

— It Is Well With My Soul.

I had so many physical, emotional, and spiritual trials in 2011 that I am more than ready to kick this year out the door. God has redeemed (or is in the process of redeeming) those trials and has brought healing on many levels, has given me grace to forgive and move on for the most part, but there is still work to be done.

However, I am not stuck in the same place I was a year ago. In the deepest pit I was reminded (most often by other people, because I was having major resistance to reading encouragement from the Bible) that no matter what, God loves me, is for me, and will do what He has promised because He is faithful and cannot lie, and He cannot love me any more than He already does. As for human love, I am learning to expect it less in the ways I want it, and accept it more in the only ways that some people are capable of expressing it. The truth is we live in a sinful, fallen world and can't be loved to love's fullest extent. The best we can do is show love to as many people as we can, as best we can, as often as we can.

6. How will you ring in the new year?

Not sure yet. I would like to whoop it up at someone else's house, but I have an intense fear of drunk drivers, so I usually opt to want my brood in the nest playing board games and watching the ball drop on TV instead of at someone else's party on New Year's Eve. Of course I can't control the decisions of Kids 1-3, so I will have to live with whatever they decide to do. Maybe we'll all be here playing this new cool game called Wits and Wagers, eating snacks, and toasting with champagne and sparkling cider. That's my idea of fun. Oh, and I always blow an out-of-tune French horn at midnight. I stick my head out my bedroom window and make 'er bellow. Sounds like a cow in need of emergency veterinary care, and it really embarrasses my kids. Maybe I should stop in the name of love!

7. What is something you look forward to in 2012?

Our daughter's college graduation ceremony in January and our son's wedding in March. I was hoping for a trip to Italy after the wedding to celebrate our 25th anniversary, but it doesn't look financially possible at this point. Waaaa. But I hold a mustard seed in my heart that someday this dream will come to fruition.

8. Insert your own random thought here.

I have now been married four years longer than I was single. My husband has been married the same number of years as he was single. According to my calculations, that makes him older than me.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Illuminated Manuscript

Also known as the illuminated text, this art form was popular between 400 and 600 AD in the Roman Empire. Painted on vellum, the most common examples featured a single large initial letter, sometimes two-thirds the height of the paper or stone canvas. Borders were ornate and often repetitious. The illustrations of the text helped the common illiterate peasants to get the gist of the words by simply looking at the pictures.

For this assignment, I gave the students a week to find a Bible verse to depict. The instructions:

1. It should be a fairly short verse for the size paper we were using.
2. The initial letter must be quite large.
3. The illustration should "illuminate" the text by showing what the verse is about.
4. They had to have a repeating border, and could free-hand it or use either the roller kind of rubber stamp or repeating a single stamp all the way around.
5. The entire paper had to be filled with color. No "vellum" showing. (We used lightweight, pale yellow paper.)
6. They were to use a mix of crayon and marker.
7. The font should be fancy.
8. Complete the assignment in one class period.

The students love this project (especially the rubber stamps) and I was really pleased with the finished projects. I particularly like the way the student illustrated the verse "Jesus wept." If you look closely, you'll see that it shows teardrops falling from the top of the J, and the bottom part of the J is a pool of tears. Week after week I stand in awe of the creativity in children. I love my job!

Egg Yolk Paintings

My fifth and sixth graders have
been studying the Byzantine period
in their history class, so I came up with
an art project to go along with it.

We talked about artists working with what is available to them at the time.
Paint has not always been readily available, but every culture has found a way to paint with natural ingredients.

Paint has to have three things: a solvent, a pigment, and a binder. In this case, our solvent is water, the pigment is food coloring, and the egg yolk is the binder.

("Recipe" per color is 1 egg yolk, 1-2 drops of food coloring, and 1 tsp of water per color.) I happened to have neon food coloring available which the kids thought was cool. The paper was fingerpaint paper.

The egg yolk dries fast, so this painting has to be worked quickly. It took two class periods (about 80 minutes of actual hands-on time).

The three main subjects depicted in Byzantine art were the Virgin Mary, Jesus, and saints. The backgrounds often featured gold halo-like effects and movement with color,the people were shown with big eyes, and their attire was vivid, sometimes adorned with jewels.

For this assignment, I told the students their subject would be Mary, she had to have a gold halo effect around her hair, they had to use a sunburst border, and Mary should have big eyes. (I added the note about big eyes in my lecture while they were working, and unfortunately one artist had already painted closed eyes. I didn't take points off because it was my fault.) One kid was allergic to egg, so I allowed him to use chalk pastel (the one with the wide open mouth is chalk pastel). I'm not sure where my other four students' work is. I thought I photographed them all.

At any rate, this project is one I would gladly do again. One thing we learned was that farm-fresh eggs (as in less than a few days old) create richer pigments than storebought eggs. The consistency is thicker and it holds food coloring brilliantly.

Pork Chops and Santa Hat Brownies

1. Having just recently jumped on the Pinterest bandwagon, I found this adorable little dessert called Santa hats. I knew I had to give them a try. Thinking the little kids at the party would like to
assemble them , I took the strawberries, brownies, and icing tube separate. Unfortunately, the kids weren't strong enough to squeeze the icing out. I barely was, so my results weren't nearly as smooth and cute as the ones in this picture, but the combination of ingredients is quite yummy.

2. This recipe for Grilled Pork Chops was delicious. The flavors of molasses, black pepper, salt, and garlic are amazing together. I prepared it stove-top this evening, and even though in my impatience to eat before heading out to a party I burned some on one side, everyone agreed that I should fix it again soon. When I do, I will remember to:
-marinate the meat for at least three hours
- put olive oil in the pan first
-sear the meat on high for just 30 seconds then turn it down to medium, and cook the chops for four more minutes on each side.

I used thin center-cut pork chops . Doesn't it feel good to make things that actually turn out well?


Hodgepodge: Manicotti, Must-Haves, and Moms

Wishing a merry Christmas to Joyce, the creator and loyal hostess of the Wednesday Hodgepodge. Can you believe this is the penultimate Wednesday of the year? (I love the word "penultimate." It sounds so much more posh than second-to-the-last, don't you agree?)

Oh, what fun it is to ride in a one-horse open Hodgepodge. Thanks for being the workhorse of this "sleigh," Joyce! (Sometimes your humor "slays" me!)

Now, let's giddy-up into the Q & A, shall we?

1. Are you cooking Christmas dinner? How many will be round your table this year? What are we having?

Yes, but dinner is not the big production at Christmas that it is at Thanksgiving. We keep it simple with just our six-pack family, and by that I mean there are six of us, not that we're beer guzzlers. I will probably serve manicotti with meat sauce, garlic bread, and salad because it's easy as can be on a day I'm as tired as can be. I would like to think I'll make up some bruschetta, but that's only if I get a second wind. Mrs. Claus hasn't gotten a second wind on December 25th since, never.
She tries to gear up for her anniversary which is only three days after the biggest energy-draining day of her life every year. And this year Santa and the Mrs are celebrating their "silver" anniversary in just one week's time, and they haven't planned where to from here yet! First things first, I suppose.

2. What is one must-have Christmas cookie in your house?

Thumbprints filled with strawberry preserves. We also call them Polish tea cookies because, well, we're Polish (some of us by marriage and some by birth). Ours aren't usually as pretty as this because we heap up the preserves. Take a look at yesterday's post to see all the varieties going on at our place.

3. Santa likes a glass of milk with his cookies. Do you? What kind of milk is on tap at your house--skim? almond? soy? full fat (Gasp!)

I love cookies with milk. If I could, I'd always drink whole milk. I would say that 98% of the time we drink 2%, so when I add up those percentages, I can fool myself into thinking I'm drinking a full 100% milk. (This is one example of many that substantiates my hubby's claim that I don't have one logical bone in my body. He is right when he says I have "a warped concept of math.")

But the question was about milk, right? Sheesh, I'm easily sidetracked.

4. Time magazine recently named their 'Person of the Year' for 2011. This is the person the editors believe had the greatest impact, for better or worse, in the past year. This year they chose 'The Protester'. Your thoughts? Who would you name Person of the Year for 2011?

The Protester, huh? Well, the squeaky wheels always HAVE gotten the oil, haven't they? I so wish the Person of the Year would be known for doing what is right and good, noble and heroic, or ordinary and common and ubiquitous like the stay-at-home mom of toddlers who devotes herself to a thankless, messy, mostly helpless crew of tiny thumbsuckers. When I was that mom, I wondered what it would feel like to actually get recognized for all I do. Call me selfish, but there was no paycheck, rarely a thank-you (although I loved my "ee-doo, Mommy" times) and there were no promotions. I appreciated my mom and the other older women who said, "You're doing a great job. God notices, even if you feel no one else does." I was thankful for the rare pastor who would acknowledge a few times a year--not just on Mother's Day-- the work of moms, and have us stand up to be prayed for. My heart is especially full of gratitude and respect for the single moms out there who do the work of two parents.

5. December 21st is National Flashlight Day... when was the last time you needed a flashlight and did you know right where to find one?

Who comes up with these bizarre "National Such-and-Such Days" anyway? About a month ago I needed a flashlight to hand my hubby who was replacing the garbage disposal. Yes, I knew right where that light was. (Yay me.) It's in the cabinet next to the fridge.

6. candy canes...yum or yuck?

Yum. I particularly like to keep a long candy cane in my purse after Christmas and break off a small piece at a time, over the course of a week or more, as a breath mint. Of course sometimes that means having to break off some purse grit to get to a fresh part. You know what I'm talking about.

7. What Christmas carol lyric means the most to you?

"God and sinners reconciled!"

8. Insert your own random thought here.

A new 'do always feels so good!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Cookies Galore

Thanks to my daughter, son, and son's girlfriend, our kitchen produced many yummerful cookies. My favorites are the strawberry-blackberry thumbprints. Second favorite: peanut butter blossoms (which do not photograph well up close. They look like nipples. Just sayin'.) The fudge crinkles are delish. And see the cute little red and green things? They are simple: one little pretzel, a Hershey Kiss partially melted in the oven, and then a green or red M&M on top. In the back are some good coconut-oatmeal cookies.

Honk if you love Christmas cookies!

Monday, December 19, 2011

That Reception for our Teacher-Girl

Our daughter invited us to a parents' luncheon at her university, an occasion to honor the December graduates of the College of Education. We were pleased to be asked, and had looked forward to everything she was excited about, or what she envisioned: a sit-down luncheon, a slideshow with a couple pictures of herself in her placement schools, and the chance to introduce us to the professors she highly esteemed and vice versa. That's kind of what I was expecting as well, though nothing was in writing.

Funny how expectations have a way of making themselves known only when they meet with reality. I think we all expected that there would be tables and chairs, plenty to eat and drink, maybe a Kleenex moment when we got to see the slide of our girl teaching at either her second grade or kindergarten placement amidst a slew of other student teachers' slides in the show.

What we got was the polar opposite. After trekking up three flights of steps in the parking garage, uphill for 1/2 a mile on cobblestones and concrete, in heels, with a brisk chill in the air, we finally arrived at the "ballroom," ready to sit down. Good luck with that. The ballroom was outfitted with high, round tables and no chairs. Lots of balloons. More balloons than food, as a matter of fact. Too bad I wasn't hungry for latex.

I wondered, as did many others from the sound of it, who on earth was put in charge of "traffic flow" of these food lines? Picture this: 400 cold, hungry ,tired students and their middle-aged parents at 3:30 in the afternoon trying to fill plates the size of a nickel. Imagine long skinny food tables butted up against each other, about the length of a football field, but catered by Jenny Craig, with fruit at the 10 yard line, veggies at the 20, salsa and dip at the 40, shrimp at the 50 yard line, and of course crab yummies in the end zone. Imagine also that some people started at the end zone, loaded up, .and made their way toward the fruit, not sure whether to play offense or defense in the game of dining. At the fifty-yard line was a gridlock. Paul and I never made a touchdown for the crab thingies before they were gone.

I think one man at the mic thanked everyone for coming, but he made a point to mention that this event was usually only put on for the May graduates ,and that because of budget constraints, they almost didn't do it for the December graduates. Wow, did he really say that? That's a bit like saying, "Welcome to our home. Don't eat much or stay long, even though you've paid for the kitchen and all the dishes in it."

As for the slideshow, three departments were asked to submit their photos--Early Childhood, Early Elementary, and Secondary Ed. Our girl is in Early Childhood Ed. Well, the secondary ed folk were in charge of putting the slideshow together, so guess who didn't get so much as ONE picture of herself in it? We were so disappointed for both her and her best friend in the cohort.

The keynote speaker was addressed as the county's teacher of the year. As if that weren't enough, the speaker himself reminded us in his (not so brief) speech that not only had he been chosen as Teacher of the Year for the county, he was also selected as Teacher of the Year for the State o' Merlin. Apparently humility is not of the core values being highlighted this year.

There were supposed to be many professors in attendance, mingling with the parents and students in a "fond farewell" atmosphere. They must have been more fond of their Berkaloungers and Snugglies than of the people who butter their proverbial bread.

I'll stop here with my moaning and groaning. All I could think was, "for crying out loud, if our kids are in college, we are old enough to need chairs .Please, is that asking too much?" Evidently so. The balloons broke the budget. Chairs would be extravagant.

But at least there was a parting gift for each graduate. They were each given a calculator. And as a bonus, it came with a set of printed directions for how to use it. You can just never get too much cutting-edge technology in the classroom, ya know.

So we got maybe one decent shot (not really). It looks like my hair has taken flight to London or something, but if you look closely, it's my daughter's blending in from behind. My hubby's expression pretty much sums up my thoughts.

Friday, December 16, 2011

What Is It?

Quiz time. Look at the photo and guess what it is.

a. deformed leg lamps, minus shades and shoes

b. twin edible models of Florida

c. a pair of challah bread loaves

If you said "c," you win.

This was my maiden attempt to make challah (pronounced holla, as in "holla when you need dinna, shweethott." The bread machine did the kneading, and I did the braiding. Despite my effforts to make three uniform strands to braid, the results were a bit, oh--shall we say--disappointing? At least on the surface. The texture and taste were quite pleasing, though.

Once again I forgot to label the loaves "Not for us," so a certain child helped himself to the "foot piece" of the one on the right. I took the rest of the limb as well as the whole other loaf to friends who love me in spite of my baking flops.

I will keep practicing my braiding technique in hopes of getting some pretty challah-la-la-la to give out to neighbors on our block.

It lookx z little better up close, right?

Thursday, December 15, 2011

A Delightful Scrapbook from my Precious Friend

I actually received this scrapbook

from my friend Barb for my birthday in August.
I've been meaning to photograph it for quite some time. Barb and I have been friends
since 1974. We met in the third grade when our family moved from Missouri to Kansas.
We did everything together, noble and ignoble.

We lost touch during our teens, but reconnected when my secondborn was a baby. Through every life season since then, we've been friends. She knows me better than anyone except for my husband, and loves me anyway.

So you can imagine how much it meant to me that she would catalog our friendship in pictures and words by making a scrapbook for me. It was a complete surprise, and I cherish it. I could have taken all the page protectors off to avoid the glare on some of these shots, but I didn't. Sometimes you just gotta "get 'er done," and forget trying to be all perfect about it.

The intro page. So clever.
We make each other smile.
I visited her in 1989, the first time we'd seen each other since middle school.
Ben was 18 months old here, Sarah 5 months. And I was... a lot younger. Okay,
23 to be exact! And a lot more energetic. Did my hubby and I really travel halfway
across America with these two little diapered squirmies, and live to tell about it?

We met up again a couple years later, in Independence, MO, at a little zoo. By this time, Paul and I
had had our third child, Stephen, an adorable curly towhead with big blue eyes. Sarah is sour-faced in these pictures because she was kind of scared of those enormous baboons. Wouldn't you be if you were her size? Barb's two little boys were so stinkin' cute. (Still are.)
Many year later, for my birthday, she flew to my house to surprise me. She
had said my present would be a few weeks late, but it would arrive. She didn't
say that SHE was the gift and would arrive on October 1st. My daughter did a GREAT
job keeping it all hush-hush.

Barb adored my baby, and how could she not? Look at him. What a ham, tromping
around in his daddy's shoes.
It's uncanny how much alike Barb and I. When I flew out to Kansas last summer, I was wearing a lime green T-shirt and jeans on the flight. There was no way she knew that, but guess what she was wearing when she picked me up from the Wichita airport? We laughed about our "ESP" and then headed from the airport to visit our favorite third grade teacher and her husband.

They've been married over 65 years, sweethearts forever. Their anniversary happens to fall on my birthday.

It was the summer I turned 45 and Barb turned 46. I love to tease her that I'm
soooooooo much younger! Here we are trying to get a decent shot of ourselves
while stopping on the side of a dirt road to pluck sunflowers. The Kansas wind
never quits except right before a tornado. Ever had one of those self-photo shoots that takes you about 283 tries, wishing your arm was longer and your nose shorter, but just as you think you've got an okay pose--WHOOSH!~ wind in the face again! We were so flustered we got giddy!

She taught me to make sandhill plum jelly. It's the best! What I thought was
funny was that, once again, we both got dressed in the same color AGAIN before
seeing what the other was wearing. We have such similar tastes that we even
bought the same cream-colored eyelet bedspread 1200 miles apart.
A much-needed girls' getaway refreshed us both.

Isn't she cute?
I had to have rhubarb pie. Hadn't eaten any since I was a girl in KS.
We spend a way-too-short but gloriously warm afternoon at Wilson Lake.
I sat and journaled while she read a book. I couldn't get over the beautiful blue topaz
colored water.
And she patiently waited while I took pictures of fence posts, old barns, and
windmills, and those beloved sunflowers.

A friendship like ours is rare and wonderful. I am richly blessed. Even though we both have had many friends in our lives, of course, there is something inexpressibly comfortable
about having someone with whom you can be completely honest, ugly, foolish, ornery, mischievous, hormonally whacko, and still be loved for who you are.

Thanks, Barb, for being that kind of friend, and for making this scrapbook for me. It
is one of the many ways you've demonstrated your love to me in the past 38 years.