Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Pursuit of Happy

This Christmas can be one or the "t'other" as my Gramma used to say. It can and potentially could be the worst Christmas I have ever seen for my family. Face it. It could. It would rival only one in my memory. My senior year found my grandfather spending Christmas critically ill in a hospital 90 miles from our home. We spent Christmas Eve driving around, supposedly looking at lights to give us joy... waiting for time to go see him during visiting hours. I can remember driving along in the back seat all alone with my dad trying to hum a little song he always sang. My mother was quietly crying in the front seat. I saw families gathered around tables, candles and trees glowing through frosty windows... all a part of a world that seemed inaccessible to me, kind of surreal and foreign. I remember saying little. In times of stress that quietness usually describes my modus operandi. I say little. Those who know me might be surprised to hear that since I'm a chatter-er. But in times of trial and "ain't nuthin' to do about it" sadness, why talk?

But, back to my original point. This could be that kind of Christmas... only worse. I'm only certain it won't be the stellar, rock around the clock kind I can remember when I was little, spoiled rotten, and dancing like a veritable Shirley Temple gone berserk for parents and grandparents who doted on my every wiggle and giggle... Oh, those were the fun days, all right. It won't be like that. It also won't be like my favorite Christmases spent with my husband and little red-haired son, eyes like two stars.... waiting for Santa (aka Paw-Paw) to fill the stockings around the big dining room table. You see, my dad is Mr. Christmas. Red shirt tradition. He refused to let Mom EVER leave any of their tubs and tubs of decorations in storage. Last year the two of them put up seven Christmas trees! He has a tree all strung and ready to hit the switch in the loft window of his barn. It would have been lit on Thanksgiving night if I would have had the heart to flip the switch.

Mom and Dad have a cutter sleigh, painted a lovely color although you couldn't pay me to tell you if it's red or green. It was their gift to each other for their first anniversary, and it has always been lovingly placed somewhere in prominence, parked on their lawn, tucked in a porch, perched on a ramp toward the roof, or lately waiting outside the barn for Santa, the blow-up doll, to board its magical bus to holiday-ville. That sleigh won't be out this year. People will tell me we should. I don't really think it matters whether we do or not. The truth is, my son isn't that "into" things like that. His dad never seemed to be either. Some men are, and some aren't. My dad was. His little song, which I believe to be original, went like this, "Merry, merry Christmas to you, dear. Wishing you a lot of love and cheer. Hope we'll be together again next year. Merry, merry Christmas to you, dear." It had a sweet, little, lilting, lyrical tune, and it was just so cool to hear him sing it to my mom. Simple. Gentle. Happy. Very smart, and very quiet... and very busy. That would describe my dad....

I think this Christmas could be very sweet, as well. I am trying to believe that anyway. It isn't as if Christmas is something you can just blow off and say, "Oh, I didn't have a Christmas this year." Nope. It can't be done that way. It is a magical time of year, steeped in love, holiness, and tradition. Sometimes a tradition has to bend; sometimes it has to break. Sometimes new ones begin to replace ones impossible to continue. And even though I'd love to be the little elf that just puddles along behind the sleigh and follows some heroic leader dressed in red, I'm very afraid that this holiday, this particular one in my house could depend upon me to get it off the ground. I know that sounds kind of snooty. And I don't pretend to think that Jesus Christ needs ME to have a happy birthday! But you know what I mean. Jesus wants me to be happy and filled with peace and joy and love. Those things have nothing to do with holly and cedar, reindeer and tinsel. We are told that in song, movie, and verse for all our lives. But somewhere down the line, I think we all come to a point in time when there is a test of those values.

I think the single most important thing I can do to help our family is to try with all my might to tap into the simple, quiet, busy, gentle cheer of the holiday. Do something small and enjoy a moment of tea and homemade cookies, deliver a package to a friend... help my mom.... listen by myself on a frosty dawn morning to my Celtic Christmas album.... I am all too aware of the fragility of this existence, the precarious thresholds we perch upon and call our lives. Thank you, Lord, for each and every gift of each perfect day... for if we don't call them perfect today, we may very well look back on that very "imperfect" world of a few months ago and ache for it... calling it perfection indeed....

As December 1st approaches, I think that might be my resolution: For each day of the month, find at least one and not too many more moments to capture the essence of cheer. I found this quote in a cookbook I love called "The Passionate Palate," by Desire Witowski (not sure about spelling). "Always, always be good to yourself. Never, never beat yourself up for not doing enough, not being enough. It takes away from your life force." Oh, how important to keep that thought in mind during this stressful and busy time...

Where is this little truck in the picture going? It's for sale on Ebay here. "Happy may your Christmas Be..." Is that a blessing or a question? Or a golden possibility posed to each and every one of us? We will know the answer in about four weeks, won't we? Perhaps, like the sons of elders in ages past, I must don the family armour and proceed into the fray... This year the family armour seems to be a red shirt, and the weapon of choice is maybe a sugar cookie, a sprig of holly, and if it can be done, a flip of a switch to honor the heart and soul of a beautiful man who would have done it for me if he could.

Monday, November 26, 2007

After the "ball" is over. . .

Had nine friends here tonight for sorority. Served our meal after the meeting and we sat and visited until about ten p.m. It was so much fun to see everyone. These are the little favors I gave each one of them. The little flower is a pin to wear or put on a pillow.. the other thing is little notes.
I actually forgot to take a picture of the little buffet, but here is the table AFTER the whole thing, including dishwashing duty. Did I tell you my mom doesn't have a dishwasher? Yay.
There's really no good way to get a shot of vegetable beef soup..... It always tastes better than it looks on film, doesn't it? I added frozen veggies to this one, and they kinda bobbed to the top like little buoys.... haha.... Oh, well.
Now, the final sprint on my week's work is to get myself over to my shop and get ready for our Christmas Festival on Saturday.... oh, my.... Will this old girl EVER get her nap?

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Flurries of Cleaning and Cooking... done while you wait!

On Monday night I will be hosting another club meeting, this time Beta Sigma Phi, my sorority girls. I decided since I "live" here at Mom's, I'd have the party here, so we have recruited my son to run the sweeper and help a teensy bit, and we are basically ready. I have to go to the store and make some vegetable soup; we're also having ham salad, pasta salad, cherry squares, a cheese ball, dips, crackers, penny rolls, and chips.

But for today I made a little lunch for the family, and it was kind of a new recipe! These dessert cookies are white chocolate macadamia nut, and sooo easy... In fact, the cheerleaders were selling tubs of the dough! That's how easy... Scoop and bake. You do have to watch or you'll burn them, but other than that.... yeah, it's that good.

Mom re-invented the sweet potatoes, but it looks yummy but it is still those yucky old sweet potatoes underneath... I think this on a graham cracker crust with Hershey bars would be spectacular.... Personally the only was I like sweet potatoes really is to bake them with butter and cinnamon.... yum.
This is the new dish: King Ranch Chicken (I substituted turkey) Casserole. I thought it was really good, and so did my son. My mom even gave her tentative approval, and she's not into new dishes too much... Here's the recipe:

1 sm. onion, chopped

6 chicken breasts

1 can cream of mushroom

1 can cream of chicken

1 can Rotel tomatoes with diced chiles

1 c. chicken broth

1 lg. bag corn chips, I used Doritos (crushed in bag)

2 pkg. Monterey Jack & Colby cheese

Boil chicken until done, de-bone and cut into small chunks. I chunked up about three cups turkey.

Be sure to save 1 cup broth when chicken has finished cooking. Mix cream of chicken, cream of mushroom, Rotel tomatoes and chicken broth; heat on stove. Layer 1/2 of chicken, 1/2 broth mix, 1/2 of chips, 1/2 of onion, 1/2 cheese and repeat above. Bake 35-40 minutes at 350 degrees in 9 1/2 x 13 inch greased pan.

I mixed up some Ranch Dressing, mayonaisse, paprika and dill for a little sauce to ooze over the top.

Just a bit of breadstick, some sweet tea, and a little love.... That's all we needed... (Did I say salad? uh... we'll have to get our vegetable a bit later, I guess.... unless you count the corn! haaha...

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Talkin' Turkey Around Here. . .

Tomorrow (Friday) is our big day... Our centerpiece is kind of wild and wacky... Scarecrows, homegrown pumpkins, bittersweet, carnival glass, a hopeful cracker that my son's friend Willie can come after all, and a little photo of my grandparents on their honeymoon... Vintagey, kind of a collection of this n' that. The crackers are not really crackers at all, but grande Snickers bars wrapped in a tea size autumn napkin and tied with irridescent fall ribbon.

Place cards ready for the "crackers" on the table...

We did a Paula Deen Ooey Gooey Pumpkin Cake instead of the pies this year. It's incredible, easy.... and already for tomorrow. Our tablescape...

Well, we are having our Family Thanksgiving tomorrow (or rather later today, since it is already Friday... My son and his friend both had the flu on Tuesday and Wednesday, and I didn't much want to cook a huge meal if they didn't feel up to eating it, so we just postponed. Today I made a huge crockpot of chili,and we had lunch and watched the parade. He came over by hiimself and had abite with us and then went to other family's homes, but Mom and I just got ready for tomorrow. It was a quiet Thanksgiving, that way... and Mr. Turkey is headed for the oven in about four hours...

I can't believe how odd this feels to get ready for a holiday in basically another woman's kitchen... especially my dear wee mother. She follows me all around and throws away stuff, cleans and washes dishes, and basically is a clean FREAK all the time... Me, I'm kinda messy and definitely don't pitch anything until the job is finished. She is an attention to detail, do it early girl, and I'm a foo foo hard at the last minute, wait a bit and let it settle in the brain kind of gal... Wooo! I love her dearly, but this is harder than it looks.... Who said holidays are homemade? I laughed so hard I wanted to flip over that Jenny-O ad with the huge turkey. Have you guys seen it? I wish we had a Jenny-O I think we have a Tommy F.. F stands for FROZEN. It has been in the refrigerator since MONDAY, and it is still hard as a rock... Maybe I bought a turkey shaped granite piece???? Dunno.... And I dread the battle with the little metal deal on the legs, dragging the frozen bags of giblets out.... yucko.... I love cooking Thanksgiving dinner, though... all that aside, it is wonderful... Talk to you guys later... Hope you get all you are looking for if you go out this morning and shop.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Thanksgiving Thinking

Thanksgiving just makes me feel so centered. I used to kind of wonder about my aunts and grandmas who would say they "loved" Thanksgiving... I wondered, what's to love? You eat. You go somewhere. You go home... Ah, the innocent, unappreciative mind of a young person... even one of those who seemed pretty mature, pretty intuitive, and very aware of the fragility of life.... or so I thought. My days back then were filled with some kind of unusual soul talk. I nearly always had some kind of dialogue running in my head, and I was constantly inhabiting the books I read or the television I watched. As a little girl, I was MORNING STAR, an Indian princess... I am not sure what television show that came from. Does anybody know (I know... you would have to be in your 50's... but maybe somebody else remembers this lovely Indian maiden.)Brave Eagle: Chief of the Cheyenne.... That's the name of the show. I looked it up. Boy, that title doesn't ring any bells.... I recall having my entire family call me by "Morning Star" or I wouldn't eat or do any chores..... or anything... Wow... I was certainly a little Miss Universe, wasn't I?
It's funny, but we don't have very many photos of Thanksgiving. My family isn't big on pictures anyway, but about the only ones I recall were at my home about ten years ago when I had my Dad's Aunt Mildred and her family, along with my cousin and her children. Lovely day... sparked by the constant barking of a little Jack Russel terrier somebody brought and tied to my clothesline about a leash length from my collie... I don't know if they were making friends like the pilgrims and Indians, or what... but they barked.
Gobble gobble... I also associate Thanksgiving with going to one of my very favorite aunt's houses in Quincy, Illinois, nearly every year. She didn't like turkey, so she made ham. It was the most delicious candied ham I ever hope to put in my mouth, but I still usually lied and told the school classes and teachers I'd had turkey... Being original and unique was such a terrible thing for a grade school girl.... At times when my days are going a bit rotten, I AM still that girl... Isn't it funny to feel gangly or "wrong" or ugly or something unusual in a wash of that old yuckiness right in the middle of walking around clad in these adult bodies? I don't think my students, or my son for that matter, ever think older people might have those kinds of thoughts.. (I'm not the only one, am I? I would HATE to be that different....)
This Thanksgiving I just have to give thanks for so many wonderful gifts. My top ones are my family, of course. And I include in this list both the ones I have with me now and the dear ones who have gone on to be in Heaven. Something about the November winds, the chilly rain, and the delicious grey mornings bring me into their circles, both here and there, and I feel so grateful for them. Isn't it amazing how a person's family shapes the life she is living... It's possible to realize that each person's family was just perfect for that person... and even the ones in my tribe who were a bit under par, if you know what I mean.... they became a part of my past and thus a part of my very real presence in the world. I wouldn't be me... so I guess I'm grateful for those "ones," too.
This is me this year... hibernating like an old gobbler inside the cocoon of my mother's house. I went to a cousin's home for a delicious Thanksgiving dinner today, and I can't describe how intensely being together, even traveling through the gray clouds in my turkey sweater... all this process made me appreciate that bond... I also cherish and appreciate my beautiful friends. This year my friend world again multiplied in an amazing way. I have found so many friends through blogging, and I have such dear ones here with me. My dear friend is traveling to Michigan this week and will be gone for the whole week. She usually graces my table at Thanksgiving, and I'll miss her.... and her little dog, too... I pray for safe travels for all of those who are journeying over the holidays.
I am thankful for books, for movies, for blogging.... for school, for cats and little snippets of colorful magazines. I consider it luck to have fall colors, fat orange pumpkins, and sweet cider candles in my mornings and here late at night.... My world is so blatantly different this year with the loss of my dad, with the move to my mother's, with full time teaching, and with so many changes; therefore, my greatest thanks turns to the Rock of my world, the sweet love of a God who loves me unconditionally, whether I am setting a table in my beautiful navy blue dining room with my precious autumn stoneware or not... I am trying to learn to be happy.... happy with myself.... happy from the heart, from the soul, not based on anything external... just an internal smile and a light in my core spirit and being. Things and places are simply that. Things... replaceable or not, but things... places, livable or not, but just places.... Not places in the heart, not things that truly matter.
That's probably just about enough philosophy for one night, eh? I read in a magazine this week (forgot which one) about a collector who made this comment: "Everything I have is valuable, whether it cost a lot or not." I ponder this.... In the midst of having much and having nothing, I think that's a pretty worthy goal. To make everything I have valuable by esteeming it, by choosing it wisely, by thinking about its purpose and worth and beauty to me.... If it doesn't make that standard, why do I have it anyway? And it could apply to food... If something isn't delicious, why should I eat it? I'm on to something here, but I'm not sure what it is.... To each of you who read this little blog, I am wishing a sweet and loving Thanksgiving week. I hope to post a lot this week and show you pictures of our table. Mom has beautiful Friendly Village Johnson Brothers dishes... We have invited over friends of my son. There won't be an empty place at the table perhaps, but there will be that one person we are all thinking about and missing.... Holidays are coming.... Be strong, oh my soul.... and be thankful... Goodnight!

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Thank you, Amy!

I Won all this in a Blogger Giveaway!
Thanks to Amy from Four Sisters in a Cottage for the lovely items she sent to me. I won her giveaway, and these are so vintage and soooo cute! i LOVE THE LITTLE CROCHET BAG FULL OF BUTTONS!!! And the Christmas hang tags and lovely pink ribbon... the vintage sheet music will look wonderful with some of the items I'm tagging for the holidays. Everything is so very sweet .... just like our Amy... (even if she is on a rant right now at her blog... and who wouldn't be???). I'm so glad her chemo is now behind her, and she's on the road to recovery... THANK YOU, AMY!!!!!

Yummy Yummy Candles

My passion is candles. I have them in my shop. I have them at "both" homes, and I would rather give and get them than anything I can think of... Just light a candle at home, and the world seems much much better. Right now, I'm thinking about tonight when I light up an orange candle from Muffin Gems and a little mandarin orange spice crow candle from Sugarloaf Mountain Primitives.
How adorable is this? And so interchangeable. My dining table at home still has the black Patchoulli candles in these cute pots from Halloween.
These candles have a marvelous mandarin orange scent. They are subtle at first, but highly addictive and simply assail the soul.
These little treasures have actual Christmas glitter entertwined. It's a lovely gift... Shhh! Don't tell my family!

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Saluting our Veterans

Today was a Veteran's Day Appreciation service at our school. Some very dear friends of mine were in charge, and since it is a small community, they asked for local family members to bring in photos of loved ones who were or had served in the armed forces. We took in pictures to be copied, and they were all hung on a "Wall of Honor." During the ceremony family members brought in flags to place in urns at the front while a veteran called out the names, ranks, and facts. Earlier two speakers talked about "their veterans," and they were very good. One had lost a son a year ago in Iraq, and the other was a war bride from England who was married for sixty years to "her veteran." I took my mom, who cried before the program after she just read the order of events. It WAS touching, and although I'm a definite crier, I tried hard to be stoic. That's my new attempt it seems. Me, who cried like a baby every year when we read Anne Frank and "The Scarlet Ibis," me.... who can't watch a Budweiser Clydesdale ad.... I'm trying to be a tough cookie.... Whew, I'll let you know how that works out...

The service made me think a bit about Veterans and my generation's peculiar stance. I come from a long line of patriots, and I'm very American at heart.... but as a child of the sixties, I'm always kind of amazed to see wars sponsored on t-shirts worn by young people.... It's hard to think about war for me... I have noticed I tend to stuff things when they make me uncomfortable... Wars do that.... I mean no disrespect. My father fought in WW2, and my grandfathers in WW1. My husband was a navy man... That's the beautiful way the woman ended her talk. She said something like, "I have known many veterans--- my husband, his six brothers, a son in the Marines, a grandson in the Marines, and many friends and neighbors. We each have known a veteran at some time or another.... and the Good Lord knows them all."

Wasn't that sweet? I want all of our young people to return home safely. I want America to stay true to the good and beautiful things inside... Today I was quite blessed to be a part of this lovely celebration with vignettes of war memories, photographs, flags, and examples of war uniforms from many foreign wars of long ago... I salute the veterans.... and I send a hug to those who love them...

Thursday, November 8, 2007

The Brocante Home Puttery Treats Challenge

The first blog I ever found was sure a honey. Owned and created by the wonderful, wonderful English sweetheart, Alison May, Brocante Home is and always will be my first glimpse into the wonderful world of blogging. She captivates the home, the heart, the soul... And her years online have been ones tied to my spirit. I consider her a dear friend although we may never meet face to face. We have "met" on the glowing page, and that is why I chose to do this lovely puttery treat. I have a confession. I had already done and posted the deed of sprucing up a vignette here at my Mom's before I realized what the puttery treats challenge was all about... so I decided to add the links and include this quote from Alison's list... After all, it surely did inspire the whole experience--- just as she has inspired me over and over again to embrace the beautiful and enjoy my home, in this case my home away from home... Cheers, Alison.

There is a surface in your house you see more than any other. Where is it? The mantlepiece? The sideboard the TV sits on? The windowsill above the kitchen sink? Your bedside table? Wherever it is, decide now to completely re-invent it. Remove every object on it. Polish it to a shine and then give it new life. Imagine you are setting up a still life for a painter. Add quirky, silly temporary touches... an orange, or a bowl of apples. A little bundle of handwritten letters and a pen. A branch of blossom from the garden. Put a mirror behind the display to double its deliciousness....

Well, here is a kind of blurry photo of the new fall mantel. I used her things from around the house, cleaned it all up where I rummaged, and hopefully, she'll be surprised (and happy). She may not like the sunflowers, but they're kind of a signature of mine in the fall. It's nearly two a.m., so I am posting and snoozing!
This is a family clock; the little pilgrims were made by a dear friend of Mother's who passed away earlier last year. I made the little house, and the gorgeous orange blossom carnival bowl was layered in my grandmother's china cabinet in my mom's dining room.
These girls were wearing the right colors for fall!!! Sisters ready for Thanksgiving!

And the big farm basket filled with harvest "bounty."..... and everything else but the kitchen sink... Boy, was it ever heavy... Full of holiday napkins, actually.
There will be a little more tweaking going on, but this is sufficient, as my dear gramma would say.... Night, all.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Toile Be What Will Be????

I have been meaning to take a few photos in my classroom, but camera nabbers intervened. Now you are seeing the first shots from my new digital camera. Mine. Yes, mine. My fourth digital camera, actually. No, dear son, I would die for you, lie in front of a semi for you, dedicate my life to you, BUT no, you are not borrowing this camera.... (I hope.)

I bought a half roll of toile contact paper on Ebay, (for a little too much I think), but I have so enjoyed it! The books are gradebook and lesson plan book, traditionally kind of blah... This year's had clear covers to protect, so I was able to just slip a layer of toile under there, and voila! Lovely spirals... The little spiral and the notebooks... just a snippet that I had left... But the piece I'm happiest to record is the desk mat... Underneath, it lurks as a FREE calendar from the National Guard!!! fREE!!!! So, my desk is set for France.

Notice my computer is pointed to Cindy's Romantic Home Blog.... (ahem! not during school hours, of course!).

Possibly I've gone too far when I rip off the perfectly good label on my Jergens Cherry Almond Original Scent lotion, slap on a toile bit of sticky paper, and add a bracelet.... Then, what's up with the markers? If the kids want a purple or pink one, they have to raid my stash!!!

Internet coming to Mom's house today! She was excited last night and told me she wanted to look up antique dolls!!! It will be fun to shop with her, too. I really enjoy Internet shopping more than real shopping any more.

Mom doesn't know it, but a Thanksgiving mantel is coming to her house maybe tonight, as well. I planned it and sketched it last night, and am gathering the stuff.... My mother doesn't ever change stuff around... Same mantel except for Christmas for maybe seven years???? Well, seven weeks of it is enough for me. I can't decide whether to include her in the thing or just slip in and do it when she's asleep tonight???? Any suggestions??? I am thinking switch it while she's asleep to surprise her and let her see how cute???? And then she'll swoon and be soooo ready for my holiday mantels all year???? I think I am going by that favorite saying of mine: "It is better to seek forgiveness than ask permission." It's a solid piece of advice.

Happy Fall, Y'all.

Monday, November 5, 2007

The great Ransom of "red" Sally

Hi! Long time no post! I have been in no man's land but things are definitely looking better there now. I am getting fast internet at Mom's on Wednesday! I convinced her, which is true, that I cannot do Christmas shopping without access to the internet. Dial up is unbelievably slow at her house, and I didn't have a little mouse for my laptop. NOW, now... life is really doing so much better. I'm kind of getting into the groove of living there. If I don't go home very much, I don't miss it... Boy, when I walk in there and see all my goodies, my red living room, and all that jazz, I am a goner.... So my motto is, "Don't go there!" haha..
I had a secret, clandestine affair this weekend. I purchased some things at good old Wally World to help me get ready for my affair... No, not perfume, makeup, and all that... I bought a litter pan and kitty litter, DeliCat, and .... after my mother went to bed, I made my move... Hit it with the "Mission Impossible" theme.... I swooped over to my house, picked up a very surprised and not so happy Sally, and we were back in my cozy room before you can say, "Kitty kitty." The first night was cool. She did a load of purring; we cozied down for our long nap into the extra hour granted for Daylight Savings Time. It was all I hoped and more. But then, the other woman found out. My mom doesn't hate cats, but she might as well. She was really sweet and said it was okay, but she kind of wailed. "I hope she doesn't have any messes on the carpet. It's the only one I have, the first one I ever had, and the only one I'll ever have." Well... that kinda puts a damper on cat owners, because even though Sal is litter box trained, we all know that hairballs happen.... I dunno. Plus Sally wasn't a bit happy the second day and night. She looked so forlorn, and I kept thinking she went from a full home to "command" to a one room place with no high places to jump on, no Tiffany lamps for comfort, no recliners to sit on the tops of... no dining tables for a queen's perch on the world. She had to return to her rightful domain...
After I snuck her back to my son's happy arms and returned to my little room, I promptly spilled my Diet Coke.... Ah, perhaps I'll be "put out" next?????
Anyway, with a new mouse for my laptop, internet on the horizon , and my digital camera ready, perhaps I'll make a return to blogland. I have missed you all.