Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy New Year Around the World!

Now that we're giving up our land phone line and I'll need to carry a cell phone with me at all times, I had to come up with a way to keep it on my person.  For someone who doesn't usually have pockets or doesn't always carry a purse, this presented me with a good old-fashioned dilemma. 

A while back I purchased two skeins of Yarn Bee fabric yarn.  It was unusually neat, and it intrigued me enough to be tossed in my Hobby Lobby shopping cart.  I like having a stash of supplies for times like this when I need to design my own pattern on a whim.

With a size H crochet hook and the fabric yarn, I delved into my memory of stitches and patterns, and within an hour a necklace phone pouch evolved and the problem was solved.  I just love making things myself and having an original creation. 

Tonight we are going out for dinner at a local restaurant.  We're meeting another couple there at 5 o'clock.  The four of us have spent New Year's Eves together for quite a few years, and this one night we girls order our champagne by the bottle and merrily clink our glasses and  savor the sips of sweet sustenance until we get silly.  We won't stay out late, but will return home fairly early to snuggle down and watch the ball drop in the Big Apple at 11 o'clock CST.

Best get crackin' here.  A list of tasks awaits me.  Went to bed late last night--got up late this morning.  My personal approach to a lackadaisical retirement!

This will be my last blog of 2010.  Will meet you back here in 2011.  Until then......

"Stir the eggnog,
Lift the toddy,
Happy New Year
                        -Phyllis McGinley

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Life Lessons Learned

During the last week of each year, my brain kicks into a reflective mode.  I find myself thinking about all that has happened the past twelve months.  Some events bring us so much joy, and others bring us utter sadness.  The older we get, the larger our stockpile of life lessons becomes.  Today I ask myself what  have been some of the most important lessons life has taught me....
  • The only person I'm in charge of is me.
  • Peace of mind is priceless.
  • Be loyal to myself.
  • Be honest, but don't expect others to be honest back.  The world is a stage.
  • Work hard, save money, and be willing to live with less, if need be.
  • Laugh till it hurts. 
  • Betrayal is inevitable.
  • Respect all opinions.
  • Continue to learn. 
  • Mother Nature has comforting and healing powers.
  • True friends are as, or more, important as family.
  • Good health is wealth.
  • Be leery of those who are manipulative and use others to their advantage.
  • We will lose those we love, but we are given a strength (from somewhere) to endure the loss.
  • I must have a puppy to be completely happy.
  • Marriage is a transitional process.  First we fall in love, and then we fall into deep friendship.
  • Live right now.  Don't dwell on what was, or what might be.
  • It's okay to cry once in awhile.
  • Have fun with hobbies.  Creativity feels good.
  • Have lazy and crazy days and stay in p.j.'s.
  • Bottom line:  the only person that can make me happy is.... me.
Life is a lot like rolling a snow ball.  We take something with us from every experience we go through, and that's what shapes us into who we are.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

New Year's Resolutions

2010 is winding down, and 2011 is just a new calendar away.

This coming year I'm going to zero in on three resolutions that have potential for rewarding me with fun and self-satisfaction.....

  1.  Make new recipes so as to add variety to our plates and palates.    For Christmas I received a cookbook put out by a high school cheer-leading team, and that will be the perfect stepping stone in January.  Maybe I could use a different cookbook every month.  Not a bad idea. 
2.  List one item a week on e-bay.  Why not convert clutter into cash.
3.  Devote 15 minutes each day to physical exercise.  Don't they say that it's the moving hinge that keeps working?  Anymore than 15 minutes won't cut it for me.  That much I know about myself.  My goal is 15 minutes every day, rather than 30 minutes three times a week.

Old Man Winter is sounding off where I live.  Rain and ice and sleet are in the forecast starting tomorrow.  Already family plans have been postponed for a week so as to avoid any of us being out on the roads and in possible danger.  We who love winter, have to be mighty flexible and tolerant, because Mother Nature pretty much calls the shots this time of year.  We go according to her schedule, not ours. 

We went for an afternoon drive yesterday, and the frosty trees were absolutely beautiful.  One of our stops was at Farm Fleet to buy more bird seed.  No doubt about it.....our feeder is a popular diner for lots of little feathery ones all day long. We also saw a herd of deer feeding in a farmer's field and a snow bunny huddled beneath a farm fence.  I'm pretty sure we'll take another one of our nature drives later today.  My hubby also asked me to give him a haircut and to fix a vegetable chowder for supper.  That's the least I can do in return for all he does around here for us girls.  

Gotta go refill my coffee cup.  Ta-ta.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Hefner-Harris Engagement

This was a very special Christmas for Hugh Hefner and his dolly, Crystal.  Do you suppose there's a possibility that Hugh's wallet is whispering sweet somethings into Crystal's pretty little ears? 

One cannot help but wonder what the two of them will talk about at the breakfast table.  Especially on those mornings when his 84-year-old body moans and groans with aching muscles and painfully creaking joints.  The normal 84-year-old has ears that don't hear very well, eyes that don't see very well, hearts that don't beat very well, and the list of other possible glitches and malfunctions is close to endless.  Will Crystal really be able to relate?  

When Crystal is 44 and Hugh is 104, what will be their typical Saturday night be like?  She'll be anxiously wanting him to wine and dine her, while poor old Hugh will simply want to sit by the fire in his pajamas wrapped in his favorite blanket, dozing and drooling.  But, the great guy he is, more than likely he'll adoringly toss her his credit card and insist she go out and have fun with her playboys.  It will all work out.

Mr. and Mrs.
Realizing full well that this is absolutely none of my business, isn't Crystal young enough to be Hugh's great-great-grandchild?

Monday, December 27, 2010

What a Christmas!

When I cozied down under the blankets last night and said my prayers, I thanked the highest heavens for giving us the most wonderful Christmas.  We are blessed to have some nieces and nephews who are over-the-top, super-duper, fun-loving, and best of all.....they're kind to us.

Our roof top about flew off the house from the laughter and silliness yesterday.  If we'd have had a richter scale in here, we'd have blown it off the charts!  My heart can't stop giggling this morning.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year!

Christmas Day is behind us, yet ahead of us lies another family celebration.  Scheduling get-togethers is no easy task these days with both spouses working one or more jobs, plus countless other scheduling conflicts.  So, we're happy to have two of my nieces and their families coming over for some silly gift exchanging, munching on the pot-luck goodies that will more than fill the kitchen island, and an afternoon of plain old-fashioned fun. 

Last evening I put on my apron and played the role of Mrs. Domestic and baked three dozen crescent rolls (not the ones in the tube).  They can be eaten alone with butter or for making sandwiches out of the bone-in ham that will be going in the oven in about an hour.  Now that the generation before us is gone, I find myself clinging to some of their memorable holiday contributions to our Christmas table.

At this very moment where I live, night is trading places with day.  I've said before, this is the most magical time of day.  With the snap of a finger, one minute it's dark.....then it's light.  Isn't our universe an incredibly accurate timepiece?  Just can't get over my fortune to have been born into this world filled with so many marvels and equally as many mysteries. 

I'm taking the liberty of sharing a photograph that our dear friends sent to us a few nights ago.  Notice how their nativity scene is brought to life with the full moon shining in through their bay window on a crisp wintry night.  I feel it's too beautiful a picture not to share with my readers around the world.  As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words.....

All is calm.....all is bright!

Saturday, December 25, 2010

It's Christmas!

Every time a hand reaches out
To help another...that is Christmas.
Every time someone puts anger aside
And strives for understanding
That is Christmas.
Every time people forget their differences
And realize their love for each other
That is Christmas.
May this Christmas bring us
Closer to the spirit of human understanding
Closer to the blessing of Peace!

My love to you all............

Friday, December 24, 2010

Santa Took Our Fuzzy One!

Tonight we find out if we've been
naughty or nice!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Can You Feel the Magic of Christmas?

One can only imagine what is going on at the North Pole today!  Poor Mrs. Claus is most likely stirring up batches of cookie dough.....gosh, how many cookies do all those little elves eat on this busy day!  I wonder if Mr. Claus has a computer to help him categorize toys for all the children across the globe.  How could he manage such a task without a database. 

Our Christmas tree
White ornament from my cousin in S.C.
Chip-carved plate my husband made
Hand-woven rug that I made
The Fuzzy One's Stocking
The magic of Christmas is near.  One can see it by looking under our trees.  Presents for the little ones, presents for the big ones, presents for friends, neighbors, and shut-ins.  Christmas kindness is falling upon us like snowflakes.

We went grocery shopping yesterday.  With a possible winter storm heading our way, we wanted to be sure that we have the ingredients for the goodies we want to make.  My hubby took me out for lunch.  Our favorite little cafe serves comfort food, so that's what we opted for.  He ordered a pork tenderloin sandwich with fries, and I had the daily special...bbq chicken sandwich, cheesy potatoes, baked beans, red jello and a green-frosted Christmas cookie!  Two ladies sat down at a table across from us, and after they put in their order, they pulled out a deck of cards and started playing.  A good old-fashioned noon lunch with a good friend.  How can you beat it!

Despite all my intentions, I'm no more ahead of myself this year than any other Christmas.  But, there are things one isn't able to do until the last minute.  Maybe the hurry-scurry is part of what makes it fun. 

At home here, just the two of us and the fuzzy one, we celebrate special occasions with shrimp cocktails.  This tradition goes back lots of years, and yesterday we made darned sure we didn't forget the shrimp.  A fluted glass of champagne and a shrimp cocktail is a simple, yet sweet, way to toast the end of another year together.  When we think that we had our first date in January of 1964, these toasts become more precious with each clink of our glasses!

So it is that we await our families coming to our house this weekend.  It means the world to us that they want to be with uncle and auntie.  We've aged physically, of course, but not mentally.  One of the best part of Christmas is that all of us are free to revert back to being the little child that lives within us.....and always will.  And, isn't it fun!


Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Daddy's Christmas Present

In my family, Daddy wanted nothing to do with Christmas shopping.  That was Mom's department, and he made that clear to us kids from early on. 

The farm chores were started early on Christmas Eve so our family of four could celebrate in our own little way.  After supper, Mom would leave the dishes until later to wash.  Instead, we went directly from the supper table to the living room where our humble tree glistened with strings of old colored lights of red, blue, white, yellow, and green, and ornaments that still to this day are precious to me.  The cutest ornament on our tree, in my opinion, every year was the little fish.

There was ritual to our Christmas Eves, and Mom made sure we followed it just like we followed the ritual at Catholic Mass.  The three of them would comfy down, while I hopped up on the piano bench of our old upright piano and began playing Christmas carols.  It was my job to choose which songs we'd sing and  announce the song before our chorus of four started sending our untuned voices up to heaven.  When I figured that the angels and archangels had heard enough singing, I'd close my song book, slide off the bench, and sit down in a chair.

Mom handed out the presents, one at a time.  She was wise in doing this, because there weren't a whole lot of presents to open like there are today.  Being the youngest, I got to open a present first, of course.

When each of us had finished opening the wrapped gifts, Daddy would stand up and reach under the tree for the three envelopes that were held together with a rubber band.  According to the ritual, he handed each of us an envelope with our name on it and wished us a "Merry Christmas." 

There was, and still is, humor in his gifts.  As our family grew with time, his granddaughters each received the same as his wife and children, and he made no bones about it.  If you were part of his clan, you got $5 and nothing more and nothing less.

Daddy was a great guy and was liked by most everyone, so far as I know.  His humorous personality walked ahead of him wherever he went, and he liked everyone.  But, one thing I remember most about Daddy.  He was firm as a rock.  Even I, his little Chiquita, couldn't budge him if his word was "no."  Now that a good share of my life is behind me, I respect him for holding to his word.  Life has said "no" to me more than once, and maybe because of his firmness, I've been able to deal with and survive those times. 

Like all of us, our memories become sweeter the older we get.  Just like food grows mold with age, our memories grow sugar-coatings for us to munch on. 

Just to show how much I loved my Daddy, I still have that Christmas envelope and crisp $5 bill he handed to me the last Christmas Eve he was with us, back in 1980. 

Oh, and I also have the poem he wrote in my autograph book when I was in grade school.  Here's what he wrote to me:

When you think of me,
Think of me as Dad.
Of course, that will make me
Real glad.
Love, Your Dad

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Mom's Recipes

Last night, laying there in bed, thoughts came to me about our Christmases past.  Every year Mom would make two Date Nut Rolls, one to serve at Christmas and the other to send home with me.  Cuz she knew that I just loved it. 

Mom left behind for me all of her recipes, and last year I categorized them in an expanding file, labeled as cookies, desserts, main dishes, salads, and more.  This morning my mind is still stuck on that Date Nut Roll, so I brought out the file of recipes and found the ingredients that make it so good.

1/2 lb. Graham crackers
Few Maraschino cherries, cut fine
1 cup dates, chopped
2 cups small colored marshmallows
1 cups chopped nuts
1 cup Cool Whip
Roll graham crackers out fine.  Add chopped dates and marshmallows.  Combine with nuts and add the Cool Whip.  Blend well.  Firm in a roll and wrap in wax paper.  Refrigerate overnight.  Slice and serve.

The slices are pretty, with the red cherries and colored marshmallows.  Oh, I know I can make my own date nut roll, but nothing is ever the same as how our mothers made it.

Thinking back, mom made each of our favorites.  At the time, we took that for granted.  Now, however, it's plain as day that back then mothers used their kitchens to show us their love.  More often than not, that was their only resource for creating gifts to give their children.

If I let myself, I can get pretty sad this time of year when I think of all those who aren't with us anymore.  But, instead I try to devote all my love and thoughts to those that are around us, and with us.  And, in reality, those that are gone.......well, they're still with us......just like mom and her date nut roll.  I can sit here this morning, hold her hand-written recipe in my hands and feel her love goes right up my arm and straight to my heart.

If any of my readers have had problems leaving comments, please know that a simple change on my part has made it possible to leave messages for me.  Thanks, M.J., for calling this to my attention and helping me fix the problem.  I welcome your comments.......thanks!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Christmas Quotations

A Loving Heart
 Remember, if Christmas isn't found in your heart, you won't find it under a tree."  -Charlotte Carpenter

Books Make Great Gifts
Do give books - religious or otherwise - for Christmas.  They're never fattening, seldom sinful, and permanently personal.  -Lenore Hershey

My idea of Christmas, whether old-fashioned or modern, is very simple:  loving others.  Come to think of it, why do we have to wait for Christmas to do that?  -Bob Hope

Christmas gift suggestions:  To your enemy, forgiveness.  To an opponent, tolerance.  To a friend, your heart.  To a customer, service.  To every child, a good example.  To yourself, respect.  -Oren Arnold

Home for Christmas
Christmas is, of course, the time to be home - in heart as well as body.  -Garry Moore

One of the most glorious messes in the world is the mess created in the living room on Christmas day.  Don't clean it up too quickly.  - Andy Rooney

Christmas is a necessity.  There has to be at least one day of the year to remind us that we're here for something else besides ourselves.  -Eric Sevareid

Memories of
Christmas Past
Like snowflakes, my Christmas memories gather and dance - each beautiful, unique and too soon gone.  -Deborah Whipp

The best of all gifts around any Christmas tree:  the presence of a happy family all wrapped up in each other.  -Burton Hills

The Supreme Court has ruled that they cannot have a nativity scene in Washington D.C.  This wasn't for any religious reasons.  They couldn't find three wise men and a virgin.  -Jay Leno

Erma Bombeck on Christmas

No one loves a Christmas tree on Jan. 1.  The wonderful soft branches that the family couldn't wait to get inside to smell have turned into rapiers that jab you.  The wonderful blinking lights that Daddy arranged by branch and color have knotted themselves hopelessly around crumbling brownery and have to be severed with a bread knife.  The stockings that hung by the chimney with care are hanging out of sofa cushions, and they smell like clam dip......

And the angel that everyone fought to put on top of the tree can only be removed with an extension ladder that is in the garage, and no one can remember how to fit it through the door.....

Next to the presidency, de-trimming a tree has to be the loneliest job in the world.  It has fallen to women for centuries and is considered a skill only they can do, like replacing the roll on the toilet tissue spindle, painting baseboards, holding a wet washcloth for a child who is throwing up or taking out a splinter with a needle.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Perfect Gift

Years back when I taught CCD (Confraternity of Christian Doctrine) classes, one of the assignments I gave the kids was to write 5 things that they liked or admired  about each other....and me.  To help them out, I provided each of us with pieces of paper, with individual names, five lines, and all they had to do was fill in the blanks, and sign their name.  My purpose for this assignment was to encourage them to look for the good in others.  The interesting part was watching their reactions when I announced the project.  They were all excited.  They looked at each other; they all giggled.

We had two weeks to complete our lists.  Then the Wednesday evening came around when they were to bring them to class and turn them in to me.  I sorted them out by name, put them in envelopes, licked them shut, and handed them out so each student could take home an envelope filled with handwritten lists of the things that their friends really liked about them.  I gave myself an envelope, as well.  I asked them not to open them until they got back home.  This was private.

Oh, dear, when I read my lists.....I cried......good tears. 

The neat part of this story is that this particular class of students had the open reputation through high school of being a closely-bonded class.  I don't mean to take credit here, but could this assignment have had something to do with the closeness and respect they had for one another?

In these days when there isn't a whole lot of money to spend on presents, this would be a terrific gift idea that I can honestly say I think anyone.....young or old.....would love to receive.  And, the price is right.  Who among us doesn't need to be encouraged, feel confident in ourselves, and know that others think we're pretty special. 

What started out to be an assignment for the kids, ended up being something of incredible value to me.  I had no idea that a few pieces of paper, with 5th grade penmanship and scribbles, could possibly mean so much. 

Just between you, me, and the tree........this group of kids were my pets......and they always will be!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

We Must Keep It Christmas!

Yesterday we were busy making lemonade out of lemons!

First off, when my hubby backed our vehicle out of the garage, he noticed a trail of oil in the snow.  A local mechanic diagnosed the problem as a leaky transmission seal, and from that point on the rest of our day was a circus.  To make a long story short, we had to take our 2009 "Big Dripper" back to where we bought it some sixty miles away from home, and we left it with the dealership to be fixed.  The nice part was that they gave us a snazzy black 2010 loaner vehicle (same brand/style as ours) to use until next week, only because my hubby was tactfully persuasive and made it clear we weren't going to go back home in some kind of clunker.  So, rather than getting all hot and bothered about the unexpected wrench thrown in our day, we cranked up the volume on the radio, trollied down the road listening and singing (both off-key) along to country Christmas songs, stopped in a specialty shop to browse their glittering holiday inventory, went to Walmart for some groceries, brought home a cardboard pizza for supper, and made it into one heckuva fun day! 

The Real Reason for This Season
 One small town we drove through had this sweet nativity scene set up in their central park, and I asked my patient hubby to please drive around a block so I could snap the picture.  It bothers me so much the way America's leaders are allowing our precious Christmas to be morphed into a mere Winter Holiday so as not to offend other believers.  What people fail to remember is that they wouldn't want to immigrate to this wonderful country if it wasn't for the Christian Founding Fathers who set down the freedoms and rights in the first place. 

This weekend I'm going to write out Christmas cards and letters.  Now that I'm retired, I find myself enjoying Christmas in itsy-bitsy increments.  I do a little of something each day.  What a refreshing feeling that is, considering there were years when I'd have all the gifts, wrapping paper, scissors and rolls of Scotch Tape strewn on the living room floor on Christmas Eve frantically wrapping just before heading out to our parents' for supper and the gift exchanges.  It makes me exhausted just thinking about that insane rush-rush kind of life.  Thank heavens those years are all behind me.

Last evening while I was looking for holiday recipes, I found this recipe on the Better Homes & Gardens website for Crunchy Cracker Snack mix.....
4 cups bite-size cheese crackers
5 cups wheat stick crackers
3 cups pretzel twists
2 cups mixed nuts
1/2 cup butter or margarine, melted
One 0.7-ounce envelope Italian-flavor dry salad dressing mix.
Preheat oven to 300 degrees.  Place cheese crackers and wheat crackers in a large roasting pan.  Bake about 5 minutes or until warm.
Add pretzel twists and nuts to the crackers.  Pour melted butter or margarine over mixture.  Sprinkle with salad dressing mix.  Stir well to coat.  Bake for 20 minutes more, stirring once.  Spread mixture on foil to cool.  Store in an airtight container for up to 1 week.

Doesn't that sound yummy? 

Friday, December 17, 2010

No Curls for Christmas!

All week long I've planned on today's  9 o'clock appointment to get my Christmas curls!  Well, wouldn't you know it.....I overslept.  Yup, I set the alarm clock for 6 so I'd have time to blog and get myself ready to go to the salon and after that out to lunch with my hubby.  My alarm clock is one of those old wind-up things.  Most days we don't use an alarm clock, so the time itself needed to be re-set besides being re-wound.  Well, I forgot to re-set the time, and thus no alarm went off.

Oh, I'm not too upset.  It's just that my hairdresser is moving away, and I wanted her to do me one more "do" before she left.  A person gets used to someone performing a service for us, whether it be a hairdresser, doctor, or dentist, and when they leave, we feel stuck and stranded.  Maybe we have to experience this abandonment in order to realize the value of those people while we have them.

The doctor I had for many years retired probably twenty years ago, and I still miss him.  No one on the planet could replace him so far as I'm concerned.  Back in the early 1980s I was rushed by ambulance to the hospital during the night for a medical emergency, and by the grace of my Creator it was my doctor who was on call that night and appeared at my side like an angel to take care of me.  I will never forget that. I will never forget him.

We have to move on, tho, and give others a chance to serve us, and if we're not satisfied, then we have the prerogative of looking for someone else.  There's a law of nature that dictates that certain personalities will clash no matter what we do.  Of course, there's also a law of nature that requires us to give-and-take just a little bit.

As we age, we deal with more of this abandonment business.  We lose our grip on "how things used to be" and have to get used to "how things are."  Our household tries desperately to adapt ourselves best we can to the here and now, and not dwell on the past.  Actually, it can be enlightening and challenging to accept the new and refreshing.  Many things new can simplify our lives.  One example is banking online.  I remember how I struggled to pay the bills and balance the check books, but now I get a kick out of the simplicity of it.  

The sun is shining in the east kitchen window, the furnace is running, and all is warm and calm where I live.  A week from today will be Christmas Eve Day, and our house will be bustling with my husband's family.  Our niece will be leaving for Afghanistan in February, and she and her family are driving home from Colorado to be with her side of the family. 

Blessings Basket
For me, Christmas is about slamming on the brakes and coming to a screeching focus on all our blessings..... spouses, significant others, families, cherished friends, pets, health, homes, jobs, freedoms here in America, our rights of dignity and respect, the people who take care of us in all areas of expertise, our utilities and highway systems, animals, flowers, gardens, talents, our senses of sight, hearing, touch, smell, and speech.  Omigod.....the list of things to be grateful for is immense and without end.  Every single day of life brings with it a basketful of gifts for us......neatly wrapped in the stunning essence of amazement.

You know what?..............I could care less that my hair won't be curly for Christmas.  I'm just thankful for the hair on my head that could have been curled....if I hadn't overslept!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Ice Fishing

Two men are out on a frozen lake ice fishing.  One man had been out on the lake for over two hours, and he hadn't gotten a single bite.  The other man, just about a dozen feet away, had been on the lake for about half an hour, and he already had almost a bucket-full.

This disturbed the other man greatly, so he walked over to him and asked him, "Excuse me, sir, but I'd been out here for a mighty long time and I ain't caught nothing.  How do you catch all them fish?

The other man looked up at him and said, "Mummmummhummmummhummhmummm."

"What did you say?"

"Mummhummmummhummmumnmunhumm," mumbled the busy fisherman.

"Sir, you got a speech impediment?  I can't hear a darn word you are saying!"

The fisherman pointed his finger up, indicating to wait a minute.  He pulled and reeled in his line and another fish.

"OK, darn it.  Either tell me now or else," said the angry amateur fisherman.

As the expert fisherman removed the fish from the hook, he looked at the unfortunate man standing beside him.  He put the fishing pole down and took a large wad of something out of his mouth.

"You have to keep the worms warm," he answered.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

A New Cultural Experience

Yesterday we bought Christmas presents for each other.  Yup, we are making one giant step for our household......saying good-bye to our land-line phone effective the first of the year.  In its place, we will each be sporting our own cell phone.  I will be sending out our new numbers to friends and family.  In the meantime, we shall have to read the instruction books, program them as we want them, and familiarize ourselves with their buttons and options.  It's exciting stuff for us geezers. 

Amish School
Later in the day we drove to another town where we treated ourselves to a whole new cultural experience.  An Amish Haystack Supper.  The Amish families host this free-will-donation supper as a fund-raiser for their schools.  We went through the help-yourself line, took a paper plate, put real homemade mashed potatoes down on our plates first, then a taco-hamburger topping, and from there we stacked on our choice of tomatoes, onions, peppers, cauliflower, radishes, lettuce, celery, taco chips and the best oozy-goozy cheese and/or salad dressing.  For dessert, choice of homemade pies.....pecan, blueberry, black raspberry, apple, etc......topped off with homemade vanilla ice-cream that the Amish men were making outside the building in sub-zero temperatures.  As the two of us sat stabbing our forks into the haystacks, I told my hubby this was the neatest cultural experience I ever had.  And, I meant it.  Our only regret when leaving the supper was that we'll have to wait until March for the next one! 

The road ahead of us!
 The country roads are snow-packed and call for cautious and slow maneuvering.  With each turn in the road, a fresh dramatic scene appeared in front of us.  A blue sky painted the perfectly glorious backdrop to the snow-frosted timbers. 

Last evening's final curtain fell, with us embracing sweet memories of things new, things old-fashioned, and all things bright and beautiful.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Holiday Toasts

During the winter holidays, we Americans celebrate with the cha-chink of champagne glasses and other toddies that warm both tummies and hearts.  What do people in other places sip on this time of year?

    Acacia Tree
  • The Maasai people of Kenya, Africa, love to celebrate all occasions in a big way, so they adopted Christmas into their culture as yet another wonderful celebration.  Bees love the blooming acacia trees and produce the most flavorful of all the honeys in the world.  The Maasai then use this honey to produce Honey Beer--the common holiday beverage at their celebrations.

    Sorrel Drink
  • The favorite Christmas and New Year's favorite beverage in the islands of the Caribbean is the Sorrel Drink.  The sorrel flower is a member of the hibiscus family, and the tart little red petals of the plant are boiled to flavor their jams, chutneys, wines, teas, and, of course, the Sorrel Drink itself.
  • Hawaiians enjoy the Angels Delight Christmas Drink.  The recipe:  Put 1/4 cup whipping cream, 7 scoops ice cream, 1/2 cups chopped pecan nuts, 1/4 cup chocolate syrup, and one banana in a blender.  Pour into glasses and top with whipped cream and a sprinkle of nuts.
  • A popular Christmas-time drink throughout Finland is the deep ruby red mulled wine called Glogg, or Glogi in Finnish.  Glogg is made by heating up sweetened red wine with spices like cinnamon, cloves, allspice, nutmeg, mace, cardamom, orange peel, lemon peel, ginger, etc.  Glogg is traditionally served from tea glasses, mixed with blanched almonds and raisins.
  • A shot of ice-cold vodka is part of the Nordic culinary tradition.  A shot of liquor at Christmas was believed to give blessing to the crop, and even the non-drinkers, children and domestic animals took part in this ceremony.
  • For an Italian-style Christmas Eve, plan on pouring an Italian cocktail called Sgroppino.  This icy concoction is made with vodka, Prosecco, and lemon sorbet. 
So, no matter where we are, let's all share a cyber sip together as we say ta-ta to another calendar year!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Christmas in Canada

How do our Canadian neighbors celebrate Christmas?  I come to find that the majority of Christmas traditions in Canada are similar to the traditions of the rest of the world.  However, there are some interesting traditions which have their roots in the customs of the French, Irish, Scottish, English, Germans, and its native peoples.

  • One of Canada's annual Christmas traditions is to select and donate a fir tree to Boston, USA, as a token of appreciation for the help given by the Boston Red Cross and the Massachusetts Public Safety Committee immediately after the 1917 Halifax Explosion.  This annual gift continues as a goodwill gesture by the Nova Scotia Government.  This tree then becomes Boston's official Christmas tree and is lit on Boston Common throughout the holiday season.  Because of its symbolic importance to both cities, the tree has to meet specific guidelines to be selected.  The tree must be an attractive balsam fir, white spruce or red spruce, 40 to 50 feet tall, healthy with good color, density, symmetry, and be easy to access.
  • A very unique tradition in the small towns and villages of Newfoundland and Nova Scotia is Mummering.  This involves people disguising themselves by dressing up and knocking on some one's door and saying in a disguised voice, 'Any mummers 'loud in?" -- this means "are mummers allowed into the house?"  Tradition has it that if the answer is yes, the mummers entertain the people in the household by singing and dancing and are rewarded with Christmas cake and a Christmas drink.  If the host does not invite the mummers in, then the tradition demands that he or she join them as they continue on their rounds.
  • Ice Sculpture
  • Labrador City (near the Quebec border) has its own tradition called the "Christmas Light-Up Contest."  The exteriors of houses are decorated with lights, and the tradition also involves having big ice sculptures in front gardens.  This custom is popular, because 12 feet of snow or ice is normal at Christmas time and the tradition allows creative skills to be brought out in the selection and quality of the figure chosen to be sculpted. 
  • Another tradition in Labrador is to save turnips from the previous summer's crops, hollow out the center, insert a light and give to children to carry around.
  • Families of French descent enjoy a huge feast after Mass on Christmas Eve, called a reveillon (derived from the word 'reveil' meaning 'waking,' because participation involves staying awake until midnight and beyond.)  This feast usually lasts well into the early hours of Christmas morning.  A plentiful supply of lobster from the shores of southern Nova Scotia has given birth to a Christmas tradition there, where many people eat lobster for their Christmas dinner instead of the more traditional foods, such as turkey or ham.  
  • Barley Candy
  • Canadians eat sweets called Barley Candy and Chicken Bones.  Barley candy is on a stick and is shaped like Santa, reindeer, snowmen, a tree, or other symbol of Christmas.  Chicken Bones is a cinnamon candy that melts in your mouth, with a creamy milk chocolate center.
  • A Christmas tradition in Eskimo areas is to hold a winter festival called Sinck Tuck.  The festival revolves around gift-giving and dancing.
  • British Columbia is unique in that its individual Christmas traditions include the Christmas turkey being joined by salmon.
  • Quebec has a tradition called La Fete du Roi.  This takes place on the 6th of January -- a Christmas cake is baked with a bean inside it, and the one who gets the bean becomes the king or queen for the day. 

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Looking Out from Within

Winds are still blowing after the snowstorm that hit the Upper Midwest yesterday.  Now the work begins.  Driveways and sidewalks will have to be opened, as well as the many highways that were slammed shut last night because of the storm.

 There was no Sunday Paper delivery this morning.   That didn't really surprise us because of the intensity of the snow and blowing winds.  We simply turn to our trusty laptops to get the latest news.  Will there come a day when the newspaper will be obsolete?  Perhaps sooner than we think.

Outside our kitchen window
Little birdies were hopping in the white branches of the bird-feeder tree, eager for some breakfast.  Poor little creatures out there in the harsh elements. 

The man of the house went out to start the snow blower and do our sidewalks and driveway, but he promised me he would do it today in small increments.  He wasn't outside but more than a few minutes when he came back inside for the crocheted neck scarf I made for him last winter to put across his face.  He said the wind is bitterly cold. I can hear the shovel scraping against the sidewalk back by the patio.  Sounds like there's a base of ice beneath the snow. 

Outside our living room window
Merciful me, the last report from outside is that our snow blower won't start.  There's some one in our house who is now fairly frustrated, but one good thing is that the paper boy just brought us our Sunday Paper.

Another example of the natural balance of thing goes wrong, but another thing goes right!

Ta-ta and stay warm!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Holiday Mincemeat Pies

This time of year I miss eating mincemeat pie with my mother.  Oh, how she enjoyed mincemeat pie.  She didn't bake them herself from scratch, but bought the ready-made ones from the grocery store.  If I would stop by to visit her and she had one in her cupboard, she would say, "let me warm up some mincemeat pie for us."  She knew that it wasn't my favorite kind of pie.  It was simply an annual mother-daughter kitchen devotional, along with a cup of coffee. 

Mince pies were originally filled with meat, such as beef or lamb, rather than the dried fruit mix as they are today.  They were first made in an oval shape to represent the manger that Jesus slept in as a baby, with the top representing his swaddling clothes.  Now they are normally made in a round shape and are eaten hot or cold.

One legend tells that the original recipe for mincemeat pie was filled with religious symbolism.  The pie was supposed to have 13 ingredients, symbolizing Jesus Christ and his 12 apostles.  The ingredients had to be stirred from east to west to show the route of the Three Wise Men, or Magi.  In addition, the pie had to contain three Middle Eastern spices--cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg--to represent the three gifts the Magi gave to the Christ Child.  Although recipes varied, the meat may have been combined with pepper, salt, saffron, suet or marrow, vinegar, prunes, raisins, currents, dates, and orange peel. 

On Christmas Eve, children in the United Kingdom often leave out mince pies with brandy or some similar drink for Father Christmas, and a carrot for the reindeer.  Interestingly, there is even a Mince Pie Club!

Trivia:   Eat a piece of mincemeat pie every day between Christmas and the Twelfth Night (January 6th) and you will have 12 months of good luck.  It's even better if you can eat the pies at a different house each day!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Flowers of the Holy Night

This time of year I enjoy reading legends and stories about Christmas.  There is an old Mexican legend about how Poinsettias and Christmas came together.  It goes like this.

There was once a poor Mexican girl called Pepita who had no present to give the Baby Jesus at the Christmas Eve Mass.  As Pepita walked to the chapel, sadly, her cousin Pedro tried to cheer her up.  'Pepita,' he said, 'I'm sure that even the smallest gift, given by someone who loves Him will make Jesus happy.'

Pepita didn't know what she could give, so she picked a small handful of weeds from the roadside and made them into a small bouquet.  She felt embarrassed because she could only give this small present to Jesus.  As she walked through the chapel to the altar, she remembered what Pedro had said.  She began to feel better, knelt down and put the bouquet at the bottom of the nativity scene.  Suddenly, the bouquet of weeds burst into bright red flowers, and everyone who saw them were sure they had seen a miracle.  From that day on, the bright red flowers were known as the Flores de Noche Buena, or Flowers of the Holy Night.

This story of the poor peasant girl is told each year in Mexico, inspiring everyone that a gift from the heart is the most precious gift of all, and even the simplest of things can be great.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Staying Indoors

An ever-so-beautiful snowfall is floating from the heavens this morning.  Could this be one of those surprise snowfalls that sneaks in without the weather forecasters noticing?   

We are having cranberry-orange muffins with our coffee.  Krusteaz makes the best muffin mix.  Just add water to the mix, open the included can of cranberries, fold them in, and voila, they're ready for the muffin tins!  Seems I find myself taking short-cuts wherever and whenever I can these days.  In fact, most of what I make in the kitchen is semi-homemade, and Sandra Lee on the Food Channel probably has had something to do with that.   

Nestles Toll House makes wonderful ready-for-the-oven cookies that can be found in the refrigerated section of the grocery store.  Heat the oven to 400 degrees, cut the cookie dough apart, put them on the cookie sheet, pop em in the oven, and 15 minutes later a dozen of large chocolate chip-pecan-caramel cookies emerge.  Positively decadent.  And, they also make perfect hostess gifts during this holiday season.

Wreath of Cards
Christmas cards are beginning to come in the mail.  I haven't started writing out ours, but hopefully I won't let it go till the last minute.  There is something warmly reassuring when one opens a specially-chosen holiday greeting, knowing that someone took the time to remember us.  The older I get, the more I want to cling to these old-fashioned traditions that carry with them the embrace of the human heart.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Yin and Yang

This Kodak Moment makes me think of things black and white......

Salt and Pepper
Piano Keys
Soccer Balls
Oreo Cookies

Can we think of more???????

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

My Prayer for Elizabeth Edwards

Yesterday's news that Elizabeth Edwards is gravely ill makes me sad.  We grow to know people through the media, and they become part of us, in a way.  All that Elizabeth Edwards has had to publicly and privately endure these last years shows us the far reaches of human courage, hope, and strength.

My prayer for you, Elizabeth, is that you fall fast asleep wrapped in the warmth of your children's arms here on earth, and that you awaken wrapped tightly in the arms of your son, Wade, who is waiting to be with his momma again.

A light on earth goes out.  A light in heaven goes on.

It is the story of Christmas.    

Monday, December 06, 2010

Get Out the Griddle!

Merciful me.  I've got a bad case of brain freeze this morning.  Not even three big mugs of strong coffee have thawed my mental block.

Plate of Lefse
My hubby wants me to go online and find a Lefse recipe that uses potato flakes so we can try our hand at making a simplified version of the coveted Norwegian delicacy.  Stay tuned for a play-by-play recap from Ole and Lena's kitchen!

Today's chuckle:  Old Ole was in bed dying.  Downstairs he could hear Lena rattling pots and pans.  Pretty soon he could smell the sweet smell of potato lefse wafting up from downstairs.  And Ole thought, 'Oh, my darling Lena, she's making me potato lefse for my last meal before I pass on.'

Ole could hardly wait as the smell kept getting stronger and stronger.  But Lena, she never came upstairs, even though Ole thought the lefse should be ready by now.  So, with the last of his strength, old Ole rolled outta bed.  He crawled across the bedroom floor.  He crawled down the stairs, real careful.  He crawled across the parlor floor.  He could see Lena's skirt swishin' by the stove.

Old Ole was nearly delirious by now, so he made his way across the kitchen floor and started clawing his way up the stove.  But Lena slapped his hand with a wooden spoon and said:

'Ole! Stop it. That's for the funeral.'

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Little Fockers

We're marking the 22nd of December on our calendar, cuz that's the day "Little Fockers" is coming to theaters.  In fact, this will be our Christmas highlight.  We'll find a theater somewhere, take the day to go for lunch, and perhaps take in a matinee.  If this is anything like "Meet the Family" and "Meet the Fockers," well, it will be hysterical. 

From Hollywood Humor
Robert DeNiro, Ben Stiller, Dustin Hoffman, and Barbra Streisand make this sequence of movies an absolute laugh fest.  Maybe we enjoy comedy so much because it mimics how life really is.  How families spit and sputter among themselves, and in-laws fight with the out-laws.  And, now it sounds like there are going to be children thrown into the boiling pot, as well.....the little Fockers.

So many movies portray life to be glamorous, and by the time a person walks out of the theater, we feel like smashing into a tree.  I can remember when I was a teenager, going to see Elvis movies when they were dancing on the beach, he was singing love songs to his sweetie, and the girls were all drop-dead gorgeous.  When the movie was over, we walked outside into reality, I felt like up-chucking.  Maybe the movie industry has something to do with the unrest and unhappiness we solitary soldiers suffer after spending two hours in their make-believe worlds that someone has simply created.

No matter what we do, sometimes life sucks.  Sometimes it doesn't.  And, there are times we don't even need a reason to be down-hearted.  We simply are.  I know there are days that I get down and depressed, and some days I cannot pull myself up no matter how hard I try.  But, the next morning it's as though a force has lifted me up to safer ground, and the world seems just fine.  The psychological see-saw.  There is one thing that does seem to help, and please feel free to laugh at me for saying this.  But, if I eat chocolate, I feel better.  Maybe it's all in my head, but it works. 

-A lonely little evergreen-
A pretty day outdoors where we live.  Driveways and roads are cleared.  We went for a drive yesterday afternoon, admiring the countryside after the snowfall.  We spotted seven deer out in the fields. 

This morning our activity slate is still clean.  The Sunday Paper and coffee are the first order of the day, along with my blogging.  Our town is very quiet.  This is the perfect morning for little kids and big kids to stay in bed, wrap up in cuddly blankets, and fall back asleep for another hour or two for some sweet, refreshing slumber.