Thursday, December 31, 2009

End of the Year Wrap Up

With a few more months to go until spring, I'm already searching for mercy in the cold, dark days of winter. The gray skyline and stark branches of trees provide little comfort for man or beast during these frosty days. I am all "baked out" after Christmas and have tins full of treats to last for a month. Now I am spending the end of the year comforting my sad mama hen friends with grown children who are flying back to their independent lives, perusing the lovely gardening/canning book that I received for Christmas, and thinking about my next round of sewing projects. In other words, I'm making due until sunnier days.

Oh, and that doll dress I made for a friend of a friend? It went over like a charm, and fit perfectly. I was so relieved to hear that. It felt good to bless a stranger.

This was the cake I baked for our Christmas Eve get-together with my side of the family.
Usually I make a traditional English trifle which has gone over well with most people, but this year someone wanted a cake. So, to please everyone, this is actually my trifle in cake form. A yellow sponge cake, elderberry jelly filling, whipped cream frosting, fresh raspberries and toasted almonds. Very easy, too. The hardest part was getting it down our icy driveway in the cake carrier without it sliding around!

A view from between the rows- dried corn stalks across the road.

Wishing you all many blessings in the New Year!

"Behold, I make all things new."

Sunday, December 20, 2009

A Time to Give

zealous of good works.”(Tit.2:14)

A sign along our road admonishes drivers passing by to be zealous of good works. For me, good works often means giving, and nothing incites the zealotry of giving in me quite like Christmas does. I know neighbors may drive by our work-in-progress home and see piles of construction debris and cars that are humble (but paid in full) and may think of us as those poor people. But what others can't see is that we have so much more than many other people do, and we are actually so rich that my heart aches to hear of others who have a need or have nothing. So, without any advanced planning, I embarked on my own personal twelve days of zealotry. Each day for the past ten days or so I have tried to give charitably or do a good work with the idea of giving for the sake of giving. It started out very easily. After all, this time of year there are an abundance of organizations collecting food, clothes, was practically impossible not to give something! Our mail box regularly overflows with donation requests from various ministries we have supported, and it seems so overwhelming, the needs that exist in this world. Some days the only thing you can do is pray about it and ask God to use us to meet those needs. It doesn't make the burden of wanting to help go away, but it does ease it.

One day, the only thing I could give was the simple gift of helping a woman find a few books at the library. She was so excited when I showed her where they were on the shelf that she grabbed my hands and thanked me so profusely it was almost embarrassing. "You've made my Christmas!" she said. And then she apologized to have bothered me to begin with. "You're not bothering me, it's my job!" I told her. It was a reminder that I often have a chance to give to someone just by doing my daily routine, though I admit it often does not come easily to me, and I am not always a cheerful giver or do-er.

But I have found my days of intentional giving to be an enormous blessing, and a contagious one, too. The more I give, the more I want to give more. And the more I see others give, the more I want to follow in their steps.

Around the Home: We have had two feet of snow dumped on us, and the wind was so cold it was even hard to keep our food on the table warm. We have enjoyed "decorating" for the season as we usually do, by tacking Christmas cards to our bare studded walls. I love seeing those Christmas messages from far away friends. On our snow day, I accomplished all of my Christmas cookie baking, making dozens of gingerbread men and my own personal favorite: oatmeal cookies with white chocolate chips and cranberries. Oh, delicious!

Some months ago, someone asked me as a favor whether I could make a doll dress for a friend of theirs. The catch was that there was not a pattern or even measurements of the doll, they just gave me an old dress to copy that was so worn that the fabric was discolored and the elastic spent. I gave it my best try...

I think it turned out sweet. Hopefully it fits, or that doll will have to go on a diet!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Scenes from the Season

Why yes, it is a very busy time. You too? Oh, I'm so glad I'm not alone. Allow me to introduce scenes from the pre-holiday:

It started with a cough from The Mister, and is ending with perpetual sneezing sessions from me. I could only duck his cold for so long. I find a sympathetic ear in my friend Lois, who, a
fter I get done expounding on the unfairness of always catching your spouses cold and explaining how I expect to be bed-ridden any minute, asks good-naturedly "Are you coming Christmas caroling with us?" Hmm, with my nasal passages clogged and my voice unrecognizable between coughs, I think not.

I'm on the phone (yes, the dreaded phone) with my sister-in-law and we're making plans for Christmas day. She puts my three-year-old niece on the phone.
"You coming our house for my birthday?" she asks.
Oh dear, it seems that every time she observes plans being made and family converges on her home, my little niece Katie figures that it must be her birthday!I hope she doesn't get the wrong idea about the meaning of Christmas.

And of course it would not be complete without bickering over food, this time, with my mother:
"(Picky-family-member) suggested that you bring a cake for dessert."
A cake? Why? What kind of cake?
"Something light."
How is a cake ever light?
"And it should have fruit."
There isn't a lot of fruit in season right now.
"But not a fruit cake."
I give up.

This is a favorite winter side dish. Squash and apple slices baked until tender with a hint of brown sugar. A winner!

Baked Squash and Apples

2 pounds butternut squash (peeled seeded and fibers removed, cut into 1/2 inch slices)
-arrange in an ungreased baking dish

2-3 baking apples (cored and cut into 1/2 inch slices)
arrange on top of squash

1/3 cup brown sugar
3 Tb butter
1 Tb flour
1 ts salt
1/4 tsp ground mace (optional)
-combine in a small bowl then sprinkle on top of apples and squash. Cover and bake at 350F until squash is tender (about 45 minutes).

Monday, December 7, 2009

The Christmas Letter

Once, in my youth, a brave family member sent us a Christmas letter on special themed paper filled with family news and success stories. It was ridiculed at our house as vain and prideful, and my parents would no sooner have penned a Christmas letter than rented a billboard to tell of our family news. Of course, things to brag about in those days were in short supply, but you get the point. Imagine my surprise when I married a man who not only expected me to write a Christmas letter, but came from a family where nearly everyone sent them. It was my own private culture shock. But I fell into writing it with ease, and even enjoyed it. But I can't bring myself to report on the slow news day that has been the past year.

This weekend I suggested to The Mister that we not send out a Christmas letter this year. It just wasn't that exciting a year. Compared to our friends who welcomed new babies and finished their home renovations, there is not enough on our end that would fill more than a paragraph. We pretty much carried out our year engrossed in the daily labor of working on our own property, and all the seasonal tasks we usually accomplish. We did not have any tragedies (praise the Lord!), nor did we have any major changes for better or worse. Those close to us, who would be interested, already know who our visitors were, where we took trips to, and the status of our home renovation. They don't know the gritty secrets, such as our future plans- where we want to relocate, when I plan to stop working, and other secret things. And we aren't going to tell them, and certainly not in a Christmas letter.

Although we are thankful, we are not going to expound on the mundane. That my husband enjoys steady and fruitful employment at his job, that I still attempt to create some good in the world through the library, and that our house remains a work in progress. Our family is well, there were no deaths, and we acquired no new pets or properties. I could probably write a few sentences about my neck problems and repeated chiropractor visits and the pain-management doctor, and how it was getting worse and not better until some people started praying about it. Could probably, but would not.

We don't have any funny anecdotes to share, or perhaps writing them down would not do them justice. An annual letter can't convey the mixed feeling of dark humor that comes every time another 75-year-old termite eaten board is pulled out of our floor, created by insects who lived before we were born. It also can't accurately communicate how it felt like a joke was played on us to discover that our simple, mixed breed dog Buddy, a former stray, was actually an exotic middle-eastern breed, proving our family motto that good dogs are often free.

We had no great adventures, nor phenomenal revelations. We had a simple year of hard work and quietly served the Lord the best we could. It was a good year, and I think I have just written a brief Christmas letter right here, in a round about way.

Menu Plan Monday? There were a few reasons I stopped participating in Menu Plan Monday, the main one being that it was just too boring for me to write the same meals we eat over and over, week after week. Then you would have to link it back to the site that sponsors MPM, and I might have gotten a little lazy about that. So now I just post an occasional recipe that is maybe new or interesting. But if there is enough demand, I might start participating again. So what do you think?


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