No More Resolutions

Traditionally almost all of us make at least one or two New Year’s resolutions. We say we’re going to lose weight, exercise more, get our financial lives together, or spend more time with our families instead of our jobs.

We really mean it when we make those resolutions. But by the end of a couple weeks, or at least by the end of January all of those resolutions were forgotten. Discarded. We just can’t seem to make them work. It takes too much effort, or we lose interest.

Personally, I’ve hardly ever made any New Year’s resolutions, because I know I won’t keep them. What’s so special about making a change in our lives simply because it’s a new year? If we don’t change ourselves and our way of thinking, turning over the date on the calendar isn’t going to do it.

Instead of making resolutions I’m going to do something a little different this year. I’m going to list the things that I’m grateful for. The things that really matter to me. And when I get discouraged during the year, I’m going to pull that list out and read it, and remember how I started the new year with a grateful heart, because resolutions don’t last. But the things that we’re grateful for should.

Here are a few of those things which give me reason to enter into the 2016 with a new attitude of hope and expectancy.

My husband’s health – Ben was rushed to the ER a year and a half ago, and flat-lined in front of Ashley and me almost as soon as he arrived. It was the most frightening thing I have ever been through. But he survived, received a pacemaker, and was home the next day. He returned to the ER this summer, shortly after our daughter’s wedding, with congestive heart failure. Eight days later he was back home, and six months later his heart is back to normal and he has no restrictions except a low sodium diet. Praise the Lord!

My health – I am extremely healthy. I may be stressed, but who isn’t!? I don’t exercise. I’m not overweight. My cholesterol and other bloodwork is fine. I am thankful every day for the gift of good health.

Friends – Ben and I have several very close, very dear friends who are always there for us when we need them, just as we are there for them. They are not acquaintances. They’re our family, and we love each other dearly.

Home – I may grumble about having to clean, but we have a comfortable home. It may need fresh paint and a bit of new carpet here and there, but it’s our home, where we raised our daughter, entertain our friends, and just enjoy being together.

A loving and helpful husband – Ben helps me around the house without my ever asking. He brings me my coffee in the morning, does the grocery shopping, helps clean, fixes my lunch for me to take to work every day, and usually has dinner ready when I get home from a job that’s 45 minutes away. He also works full time. He is a gem, and I would not trade him for anything in the world.

Our country – We live in a country where we are free to worship as we please without fear of being arrested or killed because of our beliefs. We are also free to voice our opinions without fear of being arrested or imprisoned.

Our children – Our daughter Ashley is now happily married to her long-time boyfriend Chris, who we love as much as we do her. They have bought their first home; they both have good jobs; and best of all, they are expecting our first grandchild, a daughter, this summer. This is the greatest blessing of all…except…

Our Lord and Savior – who loves us unconditionally, who answers our prayers, even when we don’t like the answers, and promises us the gift of eternal life, just because we love him.

With blessings such as these, who needs to make New Year’s Resolutions?

May each of you have a blessed and Happy New Year! Count your blessings rather than your resolutions, and if you wish to share those blessings, we’d love to hear them!

Looking Ahead…Not Back

The last two years have been challenging, to say the least. In fact, for our family as well as so many of our close friends, it seems like it’s been one battle after another. Hard fought battles, I should add. Not mere skirmishes that last for an hour or so, but in some cases battles that have lasted almost the entire two years, and are still continuing.

Last New Year’s Eve we all counted down the seconds as we watched the ball drop in Times Square (on TV of course), toasted each other, yelled Happy New Year to everyone in the room, and said, “Thank goodness that year is over! This one has to be better!”

Surprise! Although 2015 saw our daughter happily married to the man of her dreams, which has now led to our status as future grandparents in 2016, this year was as difficult as the year before. And for some of our friends, it was even worse.

Job losses and its resulting financial crises. Broken marriages and sudden spousal/parental desertion. Serious illness and terminal diagnoses. Runaway children turning to drugs. Auto accidents. Unexpected deaths of parents and spouse. Not to mention dealing with the stress from all of these incidents, whether our personal situations or our friends’; when our friends are hurting, we’re hurting as well.

There were times we dreaded answering the phone because it could bring more bad news.

I can’t count the number of times all of us have asked each other, “Lord where are you in all of this? Why are you allowing this to happen? When are you going to intervene? Why have you deserted me? I look at others who aren’t believers and their lives are so much easier. What’s going on? Have you forgotten us?”

How do you answer that when your friends are hurting so much? And so are you?

Why are we experiencing all of these trials? I have no answers. Except that we live in a fallen world. Things happen. People make bad choices that affect others as well as themselves. God gave us all free will. And although He wants us to live the way He intended us to live, the choices we make, as well as choices others make, do not always align with His word. Although He could easily control all of our lives and our actions, He allows us to make our own decisions. Some good, and some not so good. And many decisions we later regret.

We know John 16:33 tells us, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” But so much trouble at one time? We look back and wonder what we did wrong. What if we’d done this, or that? What if we’d worked harder? Gone to the doctor more often? Done things differently in our marriage or with our children?

It’s all too easy to mire ourselves in our past. We dwell on all the negative things that have happened and are still happening. We talk about them all the time and we relive each moment of the pain and over and over again. We try to figure out what we could’ve done differently to change things. As one friend says, it’s like opening up a wound over and over…a wound that is starting to scab over and heal, but we won’t allow it to do that. And then we wonder why things don’t change.

The longer we dwell on the past, the longer we stay in the past. We can’t seem to look ahead because we keep looking back. When Lot and his family were told to leave Sodom, the Lord told them not to look back. But Lot’s wife disobeyed and looked back, and she was turned into a pillar of salt. There was a reason He told them not to look back. He had a new life waiting for them; something better. But they couldn’t experience that new life if they kept looking back and dwelling on the past.

Isaiah 43:18 tells us to “forget the former things; do not dwell on the past.” So why do we continue to do so? Is it because sometimes it’s easier to try and dissect what went wrong, rather than look ahead to the better things the Lord has in store for us? Because we can’t see them yet?

In 1 Corinthians 2:9, we are reminded, “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined the things that God has prepared for those who love him.” If we love Him, we are to trust Him. Because He has this under control, whether we think He does or not.

If you remember, Jesus prayed to his heavenly Father in the Garden of Gethsemane to “take this cup from me.” He felt abandoned by the Lord as well, and He was His SON! And He knew the ending of the story. If the son of God can feel that way, no wonder we have our own moments as well.

The Lord told us, “never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5) And He doesn’t. Even when you feel at your lowest, He’s there, preparing to give you something so much better than before. And it will be in His perfect timing, at the perfect opportunity. We only have to keep our faith. It won’t be too early, or too late. Because He knows best.

This year, at the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve, don’t look back. Look ahead. The Lord’s promises are about to be fulfilled in your life…and in ours as well. It may not be in the way we expect, but it will be exactly as He has planned.

Happy New Year, and may the blessings of the Lord be abundant in your lives in 2016! The best is yet to come.

And Now What?

It’s called Christmas letdown, Christmas Blues. That feeling a day or two after Christmas when all the hustle and bustle and anticipation is over. Gifts have all been opened, and some have been returned or exchanged. Some are marked for “re-gifting” next year (and hoping you don’t give it to the same person who gave it to you).

Wrapping paper that had been so carefully placed on boxes has now been shredded by the recipient in the anticipation of finding the gift inside. Bows have been collected and put away for next year to adorn more packages. And those amazing gift bags have been stacked inside each other so you’ll have to do even less actual wrapping next year.

Store shelves have been stripped clean of ornaments and wrapping paper and other Christmas items that went on sale for 60-70% off….stocking up to do it again next year. You had to go shopping the day after so you could buy things on sale that you didn’t really need, but were a great deal.

Your refrigerator is full of leftovers from Christmas dinner and you’re wondering how many recipes for leftover turkey you can find. There are cookies everywhere because you just had to make one more batch, just in case…. (Ok, I confess…..the cookies are at my house!)

That beautiful tree you were so excited about when you decorated it suddenly looks tired and ordinary…and you’re ready to take it down and put it away and be done with all of this. Ready to go back to “normal”. (This is NOT me!)

The mystery and magic of Christmas is suddenly gone…in one day.

At least for a lot of adults it is. The children are usually a different matter…they’re still excited over their new gifts, and still enjoying the magic and joy of Christmas.

So what happened to us? Have we gotten so involved in the details that we think are involved in celebrating Christmas that we’ve missed the whole meaning? Are we so anxious to get on with our routine everyday lives again that we hurry to put everything away when we should be reflecting on the beauty and wonder of the season…instead of only allowing it to stay with us for just one day.

The baby in the manger whose birth we celebrate wasn’t here for just one day. He didn’t pack up and leave and go back to His heavenly home after it was all over. The shepherds and wise men celebrated his coming for days…probably weeks… And He stayed on this earth with us for 33 years until his ministry was over.

We celebrate for a day and go back to our routines because that “specialness” is over. But why do we let that happen? Isn’t the miracle that happened 2000+ years ago worth celebrating for more than one day?

I don’t mean we should go out and buy more gifts to give, but we should stop and remember what we just celebrated. And continue that celebration of wonder and joy in our hearts. Share that feeling with others just a bit longer. Invite someone to share a bit more of the season with you, before our routines force us back to reality.

After all, the song tells us there are twelve days of Christmas. Let’s not limit the wonder to just one!

Does Christmas Day Feel Different to You?

I don’t know about you, but when I wake up on Christmas morning it just feels…different. I can’t really describe it totally, but it just feels like the world is at peace. At least for this one day. There’s a touch of expectancy in the air…not just for opening the gifts under the tree, and visiting and having dinner with family, but the expectancy that on this day, this year, there just might be a real time of true peace and love.

It’s as if the world is blanketed with a special kind of peace, as if snow has fallen overnight and made everything quiet and new…fresh shimmering snow before anyone has the chance to mess it up with footprints or car tires.

It’s a day for family and friends, and yes, a time of renewal and rebirth. The day feels like it’s expecting something wonderful. Just like 2,000+ years ago when the star appeared to the shepherds and the Wise Men to announce the most wonderful event in the history of the world.

I wonder if the day felt different to them as well. Especially when they saw the Christ child for the first time and KNEW He was the Savior of the world.

Even as children, we would get up at the crack of dawn on Christmas morning, wake up our parents, and hurry into the living room to see what had been left under the tree. As we grew up, married, and had children of our own, the tradition continued with our own kids waking us up (or in our case, our daughter and the dog) by jumping on the bed and pulling the blankets off so they could rush downstairs to see what was under the tree. Somehow children, too, sense this day is different than any other in the year.

This year in particular we desperately need this time of peace and expectancy. Maybe for twenty-four hours the world can be without war, without arguments and strife. Historically, there have been cease-fires during war times for Christmas, whether the opposing sides celebrate the holiday or not. I pray this year will be the same, and that there will be an absence of violence everywhere as well. And if we can do it for twenty-four hours, why can we not extend it another twenty-four, and another?

May you all enjoy the very special feeling of this Christmas Day. If you’ve never noticed that it feels different than any other day, stop and take a few minutes to breathe in the Christmas air, and listen to the soft almost-silent sounds of perfect peace around you. That’s the love and joy that entered the world long ago on a night in Bethlehem.

Be blessed, and have a Merry Christmas!

It’s Not About the Presents…It’s About the Presence

I have to admit this year I’ve put off shopping for Christmas gifts until the week before the big day. Usually by then I’m almost done, all of them are wrapped, and placed under the tree.

Not this year, though.

Yes, the house is decorated, the stockings are hung, and the cookies have been baked. Plans are made for the Christmas Eve church service with the family, followed by our traditional Christmas Eve dinner afterwards. The Christmas Day dinner menu is planned.

But the presents? Let’s just say until last night the only things under the tree were the tree skirts and an occasional sleeping cat.
Snowball Tree
There are now a few gifts under there. And a few more to be wrapped, but that’s it. Like the majority of our friends, our gift giving has been cut back. Not only our list of who we’re giving gifts to, but the types of gifts we’re giving. Instead of just going out and buying things for the sake of buying, just to get the shopping done…and not really thinking about what we’re doing, we’re getting gifts that person needs, and maybe one that’s just a little bit for fun. The gifts may not be glamorous, but they’re something that will be put to very good use.

In past years we shopped and shopped, having to get “just one more thing” because we felt like we had to….and not even really thinking about what we were doing. In some instances, we felt like we were expected to give gifts, instead of giving them because we wanted to give out of the love in our hearts. Then we’d spend hours wrapping boxes and putting items in those wonderful gift bags, which are actually one of the best inventions ever! We piled gifts under the tree for everyone. You could barely see the base of the tree, and Ashley had to crawl under there as she “played Santa Claus” to pull them all out. We opened and opened, and hardly remembered what we’d received after it was all over.

And yes, it was fun, but looking back now, it was also a bit much. A bit extravagant. Instead of celebrating the real reason for the season, we celebrated the commercial element of Christmas by shopping the sales and seeing how much money we could save as we spent.

We concentrated on the presents under the tree, rather than the presence of the meaning of Christmas…the presence of our Lord and Savior in our hearts. If it weren’t for the birth of Jesus, there wouldn’t be Christmas, would there?

This year, we have made the decision to concentrate more on the presence of the spirit of Christmas, rather than the presents that have become the main focus for the season. I’m not saying we shouldn’t give gifts to our loved ones, but we need to be sure what we give is something from our hearts, and not from ads on tv and in the newspaper that tell us we need to buy really extravagant purchases right now while they’re on sale.

Not all presents need to have been bought at a store. The greatest gift the world has known certainly didn’t come from a store, but straight from God.

IMG_5774Our daughter and son-in-law are giving us the most wonderful present we could have, even though she won’t be arriving until next year, and she certainly won’t be gift-wrapped. Our granddaughter Rachel Marie will be worth far more than any gift that could ever be wrapped up under the tree.

We have some very dear friends who started a special Christmas tradition right after they were married. Instead of exchanging gifts, they write each other a special letter, and exchange them on Christmas morning. I have no idea what the letters say, because they’re personal, but knowing these friends, they re-proclaim the love they have for each other, and tell each other why they are thankful for another year together. And they give thanks to the Lord for bringing them together and keeping them together. I think this is a wonderful idea, and I admire them greatly for doing it.

Is the presence of Christmas in your hearts and in your home this season, or just the presents? If not, take a few minutes to relax, and breathe, and step away from the busy-ness of the holiday season and focus on the true meaning of Christmas. And make your gifts to your loved ones special ones from your heart to show them how much they mean to you.

It’s not about the presents under the tree…but the present in the manger over 2,000 years ago…and the presence of love and the presence of our Lord in our lives and in our hearts.

Expecting the Baby

“But the angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus’.” Luke 1:30-31

Ashley and Chris are so excited about baby Rachel, and they still have five months to wait. They’ve ordered nursery furniture, picked out color themes, and everyone is already buying cute little clothes, diapers, and baby wipes.

They have baby ornaments on their Christmas tree and are counting the weeks until she’s here. Twenty three left right now!

There are baby showers being planned and some very excited grandparents and friends! It’s such an exciting time!

But the Lord impressed on my heart this morning…how do you think Mary went through while expecting her baby some 2,000+ years ago? What were she and Joseph doing to prepare?

In all the stories and messages I’ve heard about Mary and how she may have felt about being an unwed teenage mother at a time when that was probably almost the worst sin a woman could be in, I’ve never heard anyone speak on this particular subject.

How would Mary and Joseph have prepared for Jesus’ arrival?

Mary was engaged; not married yet. She should’ve been planning for her wedding, sewing her wedding garments and discussing food for the feast afterwards.

But then the news…an angel told her she was going to conceive by the power of the Holy Spirit and have a baby boy. Joseph had nothing to do with it, and since they weren’t even married yet, well…. There were no pregnancy tests needed; it just happened in the blink of an eye, and she was pregnant. No other confirmation had been needed.
mary_angel
There is no mention of Mary’s parents in the Bible. What did they say and think when she told them she was pregnant? Did they believe her story? Let’s face it, as parents, would you believe her story? Or did they blame Joseph for taking advantage of their daughter? Or even worse, think Mary had been with someone else? Can you even begin to imagine the conversations that probably went on for weeks in that household!?

Maybe that’s why she went away to visit her cousin Elizabeth for several months…to hide her condition along with her growing belly. And possibly allow her to come back and tell everyone she and Joseph had been quietly married during that time, even though traditional Jewish customs would probably never have allowed that. There would need to have been a formal celebration!

Scripture tells us Joseph didn’t believe her either, and was ready to walk away from her until an angel told him in a dream that Mary was telling him the truth. So he stayed with her, and I’m sure everyone was relieved. Suddenly Joseph had not only a bride-to-be, but a baby on the way! We aren’t told at what point Mary and Joseph were actually married; I’m sure they were, but most likely not in a formal public wedding celebration. I can’t help but wonder if Mary regretted not having the weddings all the other girls of that time had? She was a typical young girl; surely there were times she must have looked back and said “what if?”

And physically, how did Mary feel during her pregnancy? Our daughter has been sick almost every day since she got pregnant. Very sick. Even the nausea medicines don’t always work. Back in Mary’s time, doctor visits didn’t happen for pregnant women. If they were sick during the pregnancy, there were natural remedies to try, but if they didn’t work, the mom had no choice but to bear it and continue on. There was no such thing as pre-natal care or regular exams to check on the baby’s progress.

They didn’t have to wonder about the sex of the baby at least. The angel had already told Mary, along with the name she was to give him! They didn’t have to spend weeks discussing who to name him after. And today’s popular gender reveals? Back then there was no way of knowing whether it was a boy or girl until the baby was born.

Ashley and Chris have already picked out their nursery furniture and color scheme. Mary and Joseph wouldn’t have planned a separate nursery for baby Jesus; they’d keep the baby near them. Usually there were no separate sleeping rooms for children until they were older, and there were certainly no baby monitors to check on him.

And Ashley and Chris are already collecting clothes for baby Rachel. Adorable little outfits…I wonder if she’ll ever be able to wear them all! But when Jesus was born, Mary dressed him in swaddling clothes, which were actually long strips of cloth babies were wrapped in; only the wealthy could afford clothes for their babies and very young children. They certainly had no collection of cute little outfits for him to wear!

Baby showers as we know them were non-existent. Perhaps a few women got together and brought things for her that she could use, but there were certainly no parties, no games, no party favors. No fancy decorations. And all the incidentals new parents need today…like car seats and strollers to keep the baby safe when traveling…after his birth, Mary carried Jesus in her arms while she rode on a donkey!

Her labor and delivery was without any pain killers; it wasn’t even in a hospital, and certainly not in sanitary conditions. She had no epidural; no doctors or nurses were anywhere in sight. Joseph had to deliver the baby by himself! He probably had no idea what to do. He was a carpenter. At least a shepherd would’ve delivered sheep, and would’ve known somewhat what to do. How scared do you think he was? As well as Mary, who had probably heard all manner of horror stories about giving birth. She had no idea what to expect. And I’m sure the pain was intense, with Mary screaming while Joseph could only wipe her brow, hold her hands, and pray.

And afterwards, this precious little baby was laid in a manger on a bed of straw, a dirty trough where animals fed. I’m sure Joseph cleaned it up as best he could, but it most certainly lacked basic cleanliness and comfort standards. manger

Today after the birth of a baby, family and friends are there immediately to visit and meet the little one. The hospital carefully monitors visitors for the baby’s safety and makes sure the baby and parents all have matching name bands. Jesus’ first visitors weren’t family, but total strangers….shepherds who were considered the lowest level of humanity, who had been out in the fields for probably several weeks, and most likely were in severe need of a bath! And when did the grandparents finally get to meet the child?

It’s difficult to imagine what Mary and Joseph went through to deliver the Savior of the World. But I am glad they were obedient, and I am thankful for their sacrifices. Any baby is a precious gift, a miracle…but this one, conceived by an unwed teenage girl and born under some of the harshest conditions we can envision, is truly the greatest miracle the world has ever known.

Thank you Mary, and Joseph, for all you endured to give us Jesus. Wonderful-counsellor

Candy Cane Snowball Cookies

Once again, this isn’t one of those family recipes handed down from my mother to me to Ashley, but they are so much fun and so Christmasy, when I found the recipe and tried them the first time, they became an instant favorite Christmas tradition!

I just can’t convince Ben not to try and eat them before the topping is put on. He always picks one up and complains there’s no flavor as he eats half of it and throws the other part away. Well, there’s a reason there’s no flavor to them because the main flavors are in the topping and you AREN’T supposed to eat them without it! But I guess scolding the husband is part of the yearly tradition of making them!

Another part of the fun of making these cookies is crushing the candy canes to make the topping. Ashley has always enjoyed this part…it’s a good way to take your frustrations out! We always use a small kitchen hammer. The best way to smash them is in a plastic freezer bag on top of a soft dish towel; NOT directly on your counter top, especially if you have granite countertops. It would not be a pretty sight. (We also discovered this year that if you buy the mini candy canes that are individually wrapped and smash them inside the wrapping, it’s easier, because you can just cut the wrapper open and dump the pieces into a bowl.

So give them a try. The worst part is you have to refrigerate the dough for some 3-4 hours after you make it before you can bake them. Don’t try to bake them without doing that, because you’ll have a mess, and won’t be able to shape them properly. Recipes have directions for a reason!

And don’t worry about completing them in one day. If you leave the dough in the refrigerator for a day or up to two, it will still be fine. Just not any longer.

Candy Cane Snowballs

2 c butter, softened (NOT margarine….only butter works)
1 c confectioner’s sugar
Cream together in large bowl. Stir in 1 tsp vanilla

Gradually add 3 ½ c all-purpose flour
Stir in 1 c chopped pecans; mix well

Refrigerate in bowl (covered with plastic wrap) 3-4 hours or until dough is easy to handle.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Roll dough in 1” balls (dough may be a bit hard at first so you may have to use a spoon to get the right amount, and if it’s a bit bigger, it’s ok), Place 2” apart on ungreased cookie sheet. Bake 18-20 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove immediately to wire racks and cool thoroughly.

Topping:

½ – ¾ c crushed candy canes or peppermint candies (I usually have Ashley crush the whole box of 12 candy canes. See instructions above.)

At least 1-2 packages of candy melts (sold in craft stores or specialty cake stores). Two packages are best because you can use two different colors for the topping – I like pink and red; white isn’t as festive.

In microwave safe bowl, melt about 1/3 c of the candy melts (1 color at a time) per package directions, stirring til smooth. Dip the top of each cooled cookie into candy coating, and then immediately into the crushed candy canes. Put them back on the wire racks to allow candy melts to harden and store in covered containers. They will keep for several weeks if necessary.

They are yummy and make 5-6 dozen! Enjoy!

Anticipation…

This morning I woke up to the radio announcer saying “Just think…Christmas is one week from today! Are you ready?”

Where has the time gone? It can’t possibly be that close! How did that happen anyway? I still have shopping to do; in fact I haven’t really started. There are friends we want to have over for dinners we haven’t even planned yet. I haven’t bought Christmas cards, and guess I won’t again this year. And I still have one more batch of Christmas cookies to make…

But then I realized I also haven’t had time to slow down and enjoy the beauty of my favorite season, because we’ve been so busy working, and by the time the day is over we’re too tired to stop and smell the Christmas candles, or take a drive and enjoy the beauty of all the brightly lit decorated homes in the neighborhood. The season is becoming a time of stress and exhaustion rather than anticipation and excitement. And that’s not the way it’s supposed to be. Not at all.

What happened? Where’d the time go? There’s one week left…just seven short days.

Sixty years ago my little five year old self woke up one week before Christmas. And asked my mother excitedly, “how much longer til it’s Christmas?” And that answer of one week sounded like a lifetime…and seven days sounded even longer!

Time is measured differently at Christmastime by children. Because life is so much simpler for them.

calendar candle

When I was a child, we always had a candle we’d burn every evening at dinner, starting December 1. It had markings on it for the 24 days leading up to Christmas Day, and it seemed like that candle would never burn all the way down to 24! I remember the anticipation of watching it, and actually wondering if I could hurry up the time by burning two numbers each night instead of one!

When Christmas started getting so close, I was so excited I just couldn’t contain myself. By the time it was just a couple of days away, I couldn’t even sleep at night. And Christmas morning, I was up at the crack of dawn, because I wanted to see what Santa Claus had brought!

So what’s happened to the anticipation we should still be having for Christmas? Have we lost some of the excitement by being caught up in the hustle and bustle of everything we’re expected to do, and having no time to do it? Or are we trying to do too much and not taking the time to think about and appreciate the event that’s coming? And to share that excitement with others?

Let’s slow down a bit and enjoy the excitement of what Christmas really means…it’s not just what gifts we’re giving or getting. It’s a time of celebration of the birth of the Savior of the world. I think about how excited my husband and I are about the upcoming birth of our first grandchild, and that’s not until another five months! The celebration of Jesus’ birth is only seven days away! When it’s only seven more days til our granddaughter’s arrival date, I probably won’t be able to sleep either! Shouldn’t it still be that excitement for Christmas we had as a child?

I think it’s time to get excited again about what Christmas means, and anticipate the celebration that’s coming, instead of rushing around and worrying that we won’t have everything done. So smell the Christmas candles, take a ride and look at the lights, invite friends over for cake and egg nog, go Christmas caroling (even if you can’t sing that well), or take a plate of cookies to someone who may not have a lot of family or friends around this season. Call or visit someone who may be having a tough time with the season because of a recent loss, and give them a hug and a word of encouragement; you have no idea how much that will mean to them.season of love

It’s not just about buying gifts, you know…..it’s about love and sharing that love with others. So start getting excited, not stressed! You’ll be surprised how much better you’ll feel.

Decking the Halls

Through the eyes of a child….

Recently I came across a few photos from Christmases from my childhood….some from my first Christmas, and a few when I was probably five or six years old. Aside from thinking about how different my mom’s living room looked back then, I couldn’t help noticing the Christmas tree in the background, and thinking…did it really look like that?

Thinking back on those Christmases past, I still picture those trees in my mind, really big and fat, and smelling like, well, Christmas! There was a special scent in the house once the tree was put up. And I so enjoyed sitting in the living room at night with the only lights being from our tree. Through my child’s eyes I always thought each one was more beautiful than the previous year, but looking at the photos I’ve found, they really weren’t all that spectacular, compared with the ones we decorate today.

Christmas time certainly seemed a lot simpler when we were growing up. Because almost all of us used fresh cut trees, we’d wait until almost the week before Christmas before putting it up and decorating it. My mom and dad would move the old floor model radio that was in the corner of our living room by the fireplace to make room for the tree. Daddy would bring the tree home on top of his car after work, and set it in a bucket of water on the front porch until it was time to bring it in. Then he’d set to work sawing the bottom of it just right so the tree would fit in the stand. He’d put it in the corner and adjust it until it was straight, and then fasten a piece of string around the center and tie it to a nail in the wall, just in case it tried to topple over. And after it was up we had to make sure to keep water in that stand every day, or the tree would start drying out and dropping its needles all over the floor.

After the tree was in place, my mother would bring out the boxes of ornaments and lights, and we’d finally get to start decorating. We’d start with the “bubble lights” with their colored liquid that would bubble up as soon as the lighted bulb in the bottom of the base got hot, and then add big round snowball lights that looked like they were coated in colored ice. And of course there were strings of plain fat lights in different colors that got really hot, and would burn your fingers if you accidentally touched them.

Because we didn’t have as many ornaments as Ben and I do today, we’d make sure we placed each one carefully on just the right branch; certain ones needed to go close together. Why? I have no idea. They just did. And we carefully placed the delicate glass birds that had been my grandmother’s in a place of honor, so everyone could see them. I actually still have those birds, and still use them every year.

And who can forget those skinny silver icicles we used to throw on the tree as a finishing touch? The first ones I remember were real aluminum, and sometimes broke when you took them off at the end of the Christmas season. We’d always try to save them for the next year, but they didn’t survive very well. In later years they were made of some shiny synthetic material that stuck to everything…including our hands…when we tried to throw them on the tree. Even though they weren’t the easiest things to use, we still had to use them. The tree wouldn’t be complete without them.

Then we’d hang our stockings on the fireplace mantle, very carefully, sstockingo the tacks wouldn’t make too big a hole in the wood and mess it up. I had a red felt Santa Claus stocking that my aunt had made for me, and my mother had a matching one with “MOM” on it. I still hang mine up with our newer ones, even though it doesn’t get filled. (Although this year it just might find a few stocking stuffers in it for our new granddaughter, even though she isn’t here yet to appreciate them!) My mom would add some sprigs of fresh holly that she’d cut from the woods behind our house, and a few candles, and we were ready for Santa Claus!

Yes, I’m nostalgic for those days in the past. I don’t have a lot of memories of Christmas with my dad, since he died when I was only eight. But I remember the huge smiles on my parents’ faces when I’d come into the living room on Christmas morning, finding the cookies and milk gone, and all sizes of wrapped boxes under the tree, just for me. And there was always some piece or pieces of doll furniture my dad had made for me in his basement workshop, just like Santa Claus! It was truly a magical time, or so I thought.

But life goes on, and the memories of those long ago Christmases have become just that…memories which hide in special places in our minds where we can relive them briefly. But only briefly, because they tend to fade as they’re replaced with newer ones.

And in those memories, we can once again enjoy Christmas through the eyes of the little child we used to be, and for a brief moment, forget the years that have intervened, and still smell the fragrance of that brightly decorated tree….

Kool-Aid Cookies

All of us who grew up in a certain era remember the ads for Kool-Aid…that round frosted pitcher with the smiling face drawn on it in the condensation! It certainly enticed us to beg our mothers to buy a package and make up a batch! My favorite was the cherry, of course. But if it spilled…what a mess we had!

So when I found a recipe for cookies made with powdered Kool-Aid, or a similar product, they looked so good I had to try it out. So this isn’t an old family recipe by any means, at least not one that dates back to my grandmother or mother. But I can say it’s a recipe that will continue on every year as a new family recipe, because we all like them! And they aren’t hard to make at all. I even had Ashley making them this year, because, after all, she has to continue the Christmas cookie baking tradition now that she and her husband are having a little girl next year!

Even though I make them for Christmas, they do tend to remind me a little bit of summer, and one of these days I may actually make them to enjoy around the pool. But until then, here’s the recipe to try out for yourself! Enjoy!

Fruit Dream Cookies (or, as we call them, Kool-Aid Cookies)

1/2 c butter, softened (butter…not margarine! margarine doesn’t work)
1/2 c Crisco
Beat together in large bowl for 30 sec.

Add: 1 c sugar
1/2 c Kool aid sugar-sweetened or similar powdered fruit drink mix (I usually use orange, but cherry or lemon is good also) and do NOT use the sugar-free mix
1/2 tsp baking powde
1/4 tsp baking soda
Beat til fluffy, scraping sides of bowl.

Beat in:
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla

Beat in 2 1/2 c flour

With mixing spoon, stir in 1 1/2 c white baking pieces (NOT white chocolate, but the white baking chips)

Cover bowl and chill dough for at least 30 minutes or til easy to handle.

Shape dough in 1″ balls. Roll in colored or coarse sugar (I use a combination of red and yellow for the orange ones). Place 2″ apart on ungreased cookie sheet. Bake 9-11 minutes at 375 degrees until edges are set (centers will be soft).

Let cool 2 minutes on cookie sheet. Transfer to wire racks and cool completely.

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Another Rachel…

I didn’t really think I could be this excited. But I am. And I can’t help it.

A few weeks ago a friend commented on my blog post about the empty chair at the Thanksgiving table, that next year that empty chair will be filled with a part of my mother. How prophetically true that statement was, because, even though I’ve known in my heart almost from the day we found out about Ashley and Chris expecting a baby that it would be a girl, it was confirmed ten days ago.

Ashley had asked the doctors’ office to call me to tell me the sex, because she and Chris wanted to be together to find out in some kind of gender reveal event. I very seldom ever answer my cell phone if I don’t know who is calling, and when the call came in, I almost let it go into voice mail. But I thought it was a call from a doctor’s office to confirm an appointment, so I answered. It was a doctor’s office, but not the one I thought. I remember her telling me she had Ashley’s results and was I ready to get them?

Oh my gosh, she was calling two days early! Was I ready…I’d been ready since we found out there was a grandbaby coming! I held my breath…..and then I heard her say the chromosomes came out X…and X, which meant a girl! The stork is bringing us a girl! And this ornament is now proudly hanging on our Christmas tree!2015-12-06 11.08.55

I cannot even begin to express how I felt. I remembered how I felt when I found out Ben and I were going to have a little girl, and I was so excited to tell the world! I called Ben first, of course, and told him, and then I called my mother, who was almost more overjoyed than I was, if that was possible! Another little girl in her life to make clothes for, and buy little ruffled dresses for (which of course Ashley really didn’t want to wear, and let us know as soon as she could express herself)! A little girl she could play school with, and teach to cook…my mother was over the top excited, especially since she’d waited so long for her only child to have her own child! She was so excited, and since her friends knew how much this grandchild meant to her, they even gave her a surprise grandmother’s shower!

Since Chris was out of town on a tugboat in the Chesapeake Bay, we had to wait until he came back to do the reveal. I have to say this has been the hardest secret to keep that I’ve ever been entrusted with. Because I couldn’t tell anyone except my friend who made their wedding cake, since she was making a gender reveal cake for them, and of course the salesperson at the party store who put together the gender reveal balloon. But that really doesn’t count, because I couldn’t tell my husband, or my best friends, or even Chris’ mom who is also becoming a grandmother at the same time I am!

(Chris did tell me I could tell my cats, so all three of them knew as well, but since they’re cats and it doesn’t directly affect them, well, they really didn’t seem to care all that much!)

For the last ten days, everywhere I’ve gone I’ve seen people with babies. They seem to be everywhere. They also seem to be all girl babies, even though I know that’s not true. And I just keep thinking…oh my gosh, we are going to have one of those! Even shopping last Saturday for a few little gifts for the gender reveal, it hit me as I stood in line behind this lady buying a pile of fancy little girl clothes…Ashley and I are going to be doing that soon! I wanted to buy a little Christmas outfit so badly for her for next year, but I have no idea what size she’ll be by then…. With my luck it wouldn’t fit!

Now that I know what we’re having, it’s more real. I can call her by her name, instead of saying “the baby”. It’s so much easier to think of her now as a real little person. And yes, I would be thrilled whether we were getting a boy or a girl.

But there’s a very special reason I’m doubly excited about having a granddaughter.

Because Ashley and Chris are naming her Rachel, after my mother. AshBouquet Charmley and my mom always had a very special bond; perhaps it was because she was the long-awaited and ONLY granddaughter; perhaps it was because of how much my mother loved children. Or maybe it was because when your only child has a child of her own, it’s a feeling that nothing else can compare to. Ben and I gave Ashley my mother’s name as her middle name, and now the legacy of Rachel is being carried on for another generation. My mother would be so excited….but then again, she and my dad already know all about her….

To my friend who made that statement about the empty chair being filled with a part of my mother next year, you were totally right! In a way you didn’t even imagine!

And we all cannot wait until we meet little Rachel in May! We love her already!

Ben’s Favorite Lemon Drops

My mother really loved her son-in-law, and she always tried to make him some of his favorite dishes when she knew we were visiting.

I don’t remember when she first found this recipe. It wasn’t handed down to her from her mother, like a lot of our recipes were. She probably found it in a magazine somewhere and just decided to try it one day when we were coming to visit.

Ben always made sure to go over to the kitchen counter when we got to my mother’s to see what goodies she had baked for us. And on one occasion, there were these yellow crinkled up cookies dusted with powdered sugar cooling on her old wire cookie racks.

Who knew they’d turn out to be one of his very favorites? And from that time on, we’ve always made these cookies at Christmas. And other times of the year, as well.

Ashley has been my official lemon drop cookie maker, though, because they’re a bit messy to make, since you have to mix them with your hands. And she really didn’t mind. At least I don’t think she did. Except now that she has her own home, who’s going to make them? Any volunteers before I have to do it?

So in our newest tradition of presenting weekly (hopefully) family recipes, here’s the super easy and quick lemon cookie recipe!

1 box lemon cake mix
1 egg
1 cup Cool Whip
1 ½ tbl lemon juice

Mix ingredients together by hand. Literally. Because they really won’t mix together well any other way. You can start out with a spoon, but once it gets mixed good, you gotta get your fingers in there! It’s also easier to coat your hands in flour or powdered sugar when you’re doing them, so you won’t have such a mess when you’re done!

After they’re mixed, roll in 1 – 1 ½” balls, dip them in powdered sugar, and place on a greased cookie sheet about 1 – 1 ½” apart. Make an indentation in the middle with your thumb, or whichever finger your prefer. We’re not doing fingerprints!

Bake in preheated 350 degree over 8-10 minutes until done. Cool on a wire rack, and store any that are left after they family grabs them in a sealed container. If they last long enough and start to get a little hard, put a slice of white bread in the container with them, and you’ll be amazed at how moist they become again!

Let me know how you like them! You can also use strawberry cake mix, or chocolate (add vanilla in place of the lemon juice) but I really like these lemon ones the best!