Sunday, December 31, 2006

Welcome 2007!

Just today I journaled about how glad I am to see 2006 roll on out, and yet I have to say I feel God drew me closer to him through it. Funny how we can remember whatever we choose.

A new year lies before me. I do love a new year. It's right up there with new notebooks and new pens or pencils. In fact, it's kind of like a blank page in a new journal, only that's just how I see it. I know that God already has every detail of this coming year inscribed in his mind - how reassuring to know he is directing my every step.

I don't usually make New Year's resolutions but I do feel the Lord has placed some desires on my heart which I need to pursue. More directions than goals.

Tonight we spent a few fun hours with some family and friends. Tomorrow - we'll relax and watch the parade and bowl games. Oh, and eat shrimp! And I need to go shopping for a few new clothes too. All in all, a relaxing way to see the old year out.

Just a few random thoughts as we pass from 2006 to 2007. My mind doesn't function so well after 11 pm, hence the randomness of this post.

Happy New Year to you, my blogging buddies - old and new. I look forward to blogging with you all again this year and seeing where God takes us.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Of Styrofoam and Rubber

Nope, this is not about all the ridiculous packaging manufacturers use to delay our enjoyment of our Christmas gifts. It is about how things have tasted to me the past 3 days! Somehow, I have managed to contract a pretty nasty cold that started about Friday, peaked yesterday and has left me feeling pretty wiped out today. So much for bragging about never getting sick - I can't believe I was sick on Christmas Day. So much good food . . . so little taste.

Do you know that texture does not really contribute to taste? I swear the only thing that really "tasted" like anything to me was the delicious leg of lamb my sister prepared for our family gathering yesterday. Oh, and the more than few ginger cookies I've eaten - I'm telling myself they're for medicinal purposes!

Thank goodness the joy of reading does not diminish when one has a cold. What I've missed eating, I've put a lot of effort into making up in reading (and sleeping) today!

Saturday, December 23, 2006

This Christmas . . .

Lord as I seek to keep in mind "God With Us" throughout this holy season, help me remember:

When I'm jostled by the crowds who seem so unaware of what we're really celebrating . . . that the crowds which must have rubbed shoulders with Mary and Joseph as they travelled to Bethlehem were no less aware that their King was about to come.

As I partake of gift giving with my family and friends . . . how Mary must have felt when presented with myrrh, a foreshadowing of your death.

As I sing the oh-so familiar songs heralding your birth . . . bring to mind the angels who announced your arrival from the heavens.

As I greet friends and relatives during the holidays . . . remind me of the shepherds who came to welcome you with joy on that holy night.

As I think about travelling on Christmas day just 50 miles round trip in a warm car to cozy homes . . . remind me of Mary and Joseph's journey to Bethlehem, a long and difficult one but filled with promise.

As I make my last minute preparations, focus my mind on those preparations you made from the foundation of the world to redeem mankind and make possible my relationship with you.

Mostly help me remember, as I look for the meaning that the world tries to obscure, that Christmas is more than just another day off work or appointed time for family gathering - it's a holy day, set apart to celebrate your coming to be with us. God With Us - the greatest gift.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

And Mary pondered all these things . . .

That's what we do, right? We women. We ponder things. I've come up with no less than 5 posts of a Christmas nature that I'm just not through pondering yet. So in the meantime, some thoughts about Mary and Joseph.

Do you ever wonder what Mary might have been pondering? I don't just mean when the wise men presented her with those foretelling gifts. I wonder what went through her mind when the angel told her she would bear a son, not conceived by man. And when she had to face her family with the truth? And when she raced, maybe in fear, to her cousin Elizabeth's house. I wonder if she missed her maidenhood friendships when she was thrust into the throes of womanhood so unexpectedly? Did she worry about what kind of mother she would be? What did she think about travelling to Bethlehem so close to the birth of her child, so far from her family and all she knew?

Maybe you've wondered about some of these things. If so, you should think about going to see The Nativity Story. I went with my parents and husband to see it this past Sunday. This well-written screenplay took us into the minds of Mary and Joseph during those months prior to Christ's birth. Believable characters combined with breathtaking scenery and a timeless storyline to bring the story to life.

And if you enjoy a behind the scenes peek at things, you'll probably enjoy Angel Hunt's blog entries relating to her novelization of the screenplay. Scroll down to to the entries beginning around December 9th.

Whatever you do, I hope you take some time to ponder the Christmas story anew this year, and that it's fresh with meaning for you. In the meantime, I'll go back to my ponderings and hopefully come up with some things to share between now and Christmas.

Monday, December 18, 2006

What Ever Could It Be?

Is it a reindeer?

Or a deformed turkey?

Or an angel?

Nope, it's just my puppy-boy MacGyver looking awfully cute in his too-big antlers someone gave him as a gift. He was mighty disappointed this was not a squeaky furry thing for him to terrorize and kill. But he posed for me so well while I snapped about a dozen pictures so he got a treat!!

Saturday, December 16, 2006

We Have A Tree!

A tree, prelit and complete with ornaments. And snowmen. Lots of snowmen. After years of my husband making fun of our Charlie Brown tree, I splurged last year and bought a prelit one from Walmart and I love it. I also opted to ditch the handmade garland and bows that I'd used in the past and go with ribbon and more glass ornaments that he prefers instead.

Did I mention I like snowmen? My mom got me this first little guy, and the Snowbuddy one was a vacation souvenir one year. They make a Snowbuddy Nativity set now but something just doesn't seem right about that!

A few years ago I started collecting the Mitford snowmen stuff that Hallmark was making, in conjunction with Jan Karon's beloved Mitford series. If you look carefully, you can see the ornaments are skiing on shovels and garden spades.

Topping our tree is the first ornament we ever bought together - at a craft show five weeks before we were married. You can't see the detail but it's an angel made out of cornhusks and it's something I'll always treasure.

And lastly - someone obviously can't wait until Christmas! The funny thing is - MacGyver never gets into anything but somehow he "knows" when a bag or something (like this stocking) contains a toy or treats for him. It's uncanny, but he has to wait for the Fat Guy like the rest of us!!

Friday, December 15, 2006

A Blaahgy Tour of My Yet to be Christmas House

While everyone else in the blogosphere is touring Boo Mama's Bloggy Tour of Chrismas homes today, I'm just waking up to the fact that Christmas is indeed almost here. Ten days to be more or less exact, depending on when you happen to read this post. Ten days. And no tree up here yet. A few Christmas decorations out. And a few - just a few - cookies baked.

I started off with my favs this year. Giant Ginger Cookies and Shortbread. I've found two recipes that are in my opinion equal to or better than the same offerings by Starbucks, and much cheaper, ha! Here's the link to the Shortbread cookie recipe. I roll the dough into 2 logs, roll in raw sugar, wrap in plastic wrap and chill in the fridge. Then I slice and bake - make sure you let them get a little brown around the bottom edge. Mmmm!

And here's the recipe for the Ginger Cookies.

4-1/2 cups flour
4 t. ginger
2 t. baking soda
1-1/2 t. ground cinnamon
1 t. ground cloves
1/4 t. salt
1-1/2 c. shortening (I use butter-flavored Crisco)
2 c. sugar
2 eggs
1/2 c. molasses
3/4 c. coarse or granulated sugar

Preheat oven to 350. In medium bowl, stir together first 6 ingredients. In another large bowl, beat shortening for 30 seconds. Add 2 cups granulated sugar and beat until combined. Beat in eggs and molasses. Add flour mixture gradually. Using a med. scoop, shape dough into balls. Roll in coarse sugar and place on cookie sheets 2 inches apart. Bake in preheated oven 12 minutes, until cookies are light brown and puffed and starting to crack. Do not overbake. Cool on cookie sheet 2 minutes before transferring to cooling rack. The original recipe calls for using 1/2 cup scoop, which makes 4" cookies. I prefer smaller one; mine are about 2-1/2 inches.

And while not much Christmasy has been going on inside the house, my husband has been busy stringing lights outside. Unfortunately someone (me) failed to get the lights OUT of storage while we had 60F days around Thanksgiving and so he spent several hours outside in 30F weather one night last week. No pictures of those efforts yet but to give him credit, he's also been busy ensuring we have that fire for which to roast chestnuts by throughout the holiday season and then some! Here are pictures of his growing woodpile(s). And remember, "you can never have enough wood!" (This is for Bev - yes, we're into the wood thing!)

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Christmas on the Funny Farm

I know someone did a Christmas memory post and invited everyone to link there, and I obviously missed that one. Nevertheless I wanted to share a few memories of Christmases gone by here.

Although my parents made Christmas wonderful for us as kids, my memories are interspersed with times spent at my Gram's house in the country, that big multi-acre homestead we affectionately called the Funny Farm due to its lack of animals beyond the occasional mouse.

Christmas eve was always spent at my aunt's house, and my parents would get home and get their two anxious little girls to bed and begin assembling toys and arranging our presents in the livingroom. Christmas mornings were spent in front of that ever-so-bright light on my dad's 8mm camera, as he taped his little girls expressing glee at the site before him (or faking it, if I was up several hours prior, rearranging the presents to my benefit - see my previous post here if you want to wise up to what your kids might think of!)

Sometime around noon I guess, we'd don our new turtlenecks and holiday best and head for the country for Christmas with Gram. I swear she must have spent hours making those celebrations almost magical for me and my cousins. There must have been at least twenty-five people crowded into her diningroom and she usually had tables extending into the livingroom as well. After dinner, it was time for presents. But not just presents. One year she had a grab bag and we cousins all pulled numbers out of a bag and got a different gift. I think that was the year I ended up with a $5 bill hidden in an empty wrapping paper tube. Another year she made a pinata and we all took turns swinging at it in the basement, waiting for the candy to spew all over the floor.

When I think about it, the gifts really weren't much. There was the year she gave me and my sister really nice perfume sets. One year it was a Nothing Book - much like a blank journal nowadays. The adults exchanged practical presents such as dishtowels, pot holders and Maxwell House coffee. The men would usually end up sitting around, solving the problems of the world in raised voices, while the women played cards and we kids played with our gifts. It was the togetherness, not to mention the wonderful food, that made the holiday special.

As we grew into our teens, the big get-togethers dwindled as some of our cousins and aunts moved away. My one favorite aunt, my gram's sister, continued to come. Presents continued to be silly and practical. My sister was becoming an accomplished pianist and we'd look forward to her performing for us after dinner. Then everyone would get in on the act, my Gram and her sisters singing goofy songs or playing Charades.

In 1977, our family spent the entire Christmas week and then some at Gram's, because our house next door burned down and we had no where else to go. My memories that year are mostly of generous church families making sure our family had the basics as we started our lives from scratch. I still have my Bert & Ernie pillowcase I was given back then.

During my college years and my twenties, we continued to spend much of Christmas day at Gram's, but sometime in my thirties, we started gathering at my mom's instead (which was just across the field from Gram's place). When my Gram broke her hip one year, and started feeling the effects of osteoporosis, my husband and brother-in-law would carry her across the field in a chair. I guess it was easier than getting her in and out of a car. The gift-giving seemed to center around Gram too - she was our little queen (she was less than 5' and weighed less than 100 lbs). I usually bought her clothes in the children's department!

Our last Christmas with Gram was back at her house. We gathered in the livingroom that was rarely used anymore, and she gave each of us something from her house. I can't remember what she gave my mom or sister, but she gave me a set of Norman Rockwell teacups, which I'll always cherish.

When the presents have outlived their usefulness, when the bubble bath and Maxwell house coffee are gone, when the chocolate's all been eaten and we've outgrown the toys, we realize what lasts from year to year are the memories we make together. I hope you and your family make some wonderful memories for keeps this year!

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

WFMW: Google Homepage

Several months ago, my friend Katrina at Callapidder Days introduced me to Gmail, a Google web-based email program. I have to say, I love being able to search my emails instead of organizing them all into folders. You can set filters and apply labels, and finding that email from your second cousin once removed is super easy - just search on her name instead of worrying where you filed it. There are lots of other beneficial features, not the least of which is not downloading your mail onto your hard drive, thus remaining a little more protected against the Microsoft Outlook Express-spawned viruses. Oh, and I love webmail - I can access it from anywhere.

Not too long ago, I started using Google Reader, an alternative to Bloglines. If you suspect Bloglines is not always registering updated blogs, you may want to give Google Reader a try. Takes a while to set up because you don't get that neat little "Sub with Bloglines" button but it's not that hard.

Now for the neat part. I have Google as my home page and I can add all sorts of personalized features by simply dragging and dropping title bars. So when my home page opens up, I can view my email, Google Reader, the weather, Quote of the Day, and other useful bits of info all at once. Oh and they have a calendar I started using, since I can enter birthdays and have email reminders sent to me. How cool is that? And again, I love that this info is available to me anywhere.

Google Homepage - it works for me. For lots more cool ideas, visit Shannon's place at Rocks in my Dryer.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Evening Review

I’m a practical sort of person. Perhaps that’s why I had such a difficult time with student teaching. While my advisory teachers were content to have me just present a lesson for their review, I felt compelled to really teach the students something.

So as a follow-up to my previous post, God With Us, I felt compelled to share how God is helping me put this into practice.

Lately I’ve started looking back over my day before I go to sleep, and ask God to help me be aware of his presence throughout that day. It’s not always easy to be aware of his presence when I’m in the midst of things, but when I think about it after the fact, it becomes very clear to me. It’s kind of like reminiscing about an evening with a friend – while you’re with them, you’re not thinking about how much you appreciate them. But later on you start thinking about what a good friend they are.

This is not an original idea – it’s something I’ve come across in my reading recently, and there are many ways of doing this. There are whole books on the subject, I'm sure, but I'm a "keep it simple" kind of girl. I don’t write anything down, and it’s not necessarily meant to be a time of thanksgiving or praise – just seeking to be aware of God’s presence. But I always end up thanking him and praising him!

I find it not only helps me be a little more aware of his presence and working in my life the next day, it helps form my prayers, both for myself and for others. It’s making my relationship with God more of a reality than a formality. When I think about it – perhaps this equates to the “listening” part of prayer. You know, that conversation we’re supposed to be having with God that usually ends up being pretty one-sided!

I only share this because many of you left comments on my previous post indicating that you were also challenged to become more aware of God’s presence throughout this Christmas season. If you’re finding other ways to do that, I’d love for you to share them in the comments!

Monday, December 04, 2006

Same but Different

I expressed to my sister just the other day how much I appreciate the ways my husband is different from me. It hasn’t always been so. For example, when we first got married, I couldn’t come to terms with his sense of urgency. I’m pretty laid back, and here comes this guy (living in my house) panicking over things like running out of cereal and flipping the laundry at just the right time and the dog choking. When he kicked it into high gear, something in me automatically went into neutral or practically reverse! Now, however, I realize how much I appreciate that about him. As I said to my sister, if our house were ever to catch fire, thanks to him, we’d probably make it out alive. I’d most likely burn, waiting to be sure it was a true emergency!

Over the past few weeks, I’ve wondered if perhaps we get it backwards sometimes when it comes to the uniqueness and commonality of man. Don’t get me wrong; I know that I’m unique and there’s no one like me (for which many people are thankful!) But should the emphasis be on me – on my uniqueness? Or should I instead seek to embrace the uniqueness of others? When I go shopping, when I’m at church, when I pass my co-workers in the hall - do I see a blurry grey sea of mankind? Or do I see a sweet older woman who’s paid her dues and deserves to take a few extra minutes at the check out to be sure her receipt is correct? Or a hardworking dad committed to serving his fellow Christian? Or a co-worker who always seems to be concerned with helping a friend?

At the same time, I’ve found a certain comfort in knowing that I’m not so different from the next guy (no, make that “woman”). In spite of my tendency to pepper my stories with superlatives (I had the roughest day, the worst headache, the most unbelievable thing happen . . . oh and of course I have the worst job), how many times have I been relieved to learn I’m not the only woman struggling with a certain issue? God assures me no temptation can seize me but that which is common to man. (I Cor. 10:13) And I think part of that assurance comes from the commonality we share with mankind. Not only that, but Jesus as my high priest (Heb. 4:15) faced every kind of temptation imaginable – he understands. He sympathizes with my weakness. And yet as God, he did not succumb to sin.

When I stop and see others as individuals created by God, with strengths I can learn from and weaknesses I can relate to, the picture comes to life in vivid color. And when I see the big picture in such a way, it humbles me and helps put things in perspective. Yes, I’m unique and special to God, but it’s not all about me.