Edition 29-Wednesday’s Word

December 30, 2009 | My Jottings

Faith means believing the unbelievable or it is no faith at all.

G. K. Chesterton

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“Loadeth!”

December 28, 2009 | My Jottings

I hope your Christmas was blessed in some special way. Even if not in the ways that you expected, I hope you were able to detect at least one specific blessing and give thanks for it.

We Americans are spoiled – we forget that if we have something to eat, a roof over our heads, the ability to get out of bed, and at least one person in life who cares about us, then we are more blessed than many on our planet.

Our Christmas was so blessed I almost didn’t know how to contain it. I was missing Sharon, Chris and their three children who were far away in Maryland, but aside from that void, our celebration was wonderful.

First of all, our house now gets decorated in ways it never did before. Since Sara is a floral designer, she took a few branches of cedar and some cast-off, destined-for-the-trash roses, a few yards of my ribbon, and the results were little pockets of beauty all throughout the house.

In the living room

On the kitchen counter

Over the kitchen table

I didn’t take pictures of the tiny arrangements she did for two bathrooms and the den.

Everything started when Jeremy, Carolyn and their four children came over on Christmas Eve day. Unfortunately, Jeremy had to work on Christmas day, so our plan was to spend lots of time together on Christmas Eve, then get up early on Christmas morning so he could be part of the gift opening before he went to work at the hospital. I was thrilled when they decided to spend the night so there wouldn’t have to be any packing up and going home in the cold.

We had carols playing softly all day, the kids were reading and playing with Legos and coloring pictures, and the snow was falling heavily outside.

We ate a late lunch/early dinner around 2:30, and had ham, scalloped potatoes, broccoli and raisin salad, red cabbage slaw, and buttered rolls.

Christmas dinner

After dinner we cleaned up a bit and kept commenting about the weather, which had reached blizzard status with many inches of snow predicted. I felt so sorry for the people who were trying to get home to Minnesota for Christmas; flights were canceled and the roads were so treacherous that driving was almost impossible.

Here’s a photo of our gang, without Elijah and Audrey. He was at the table but somehow isn’t in this picture. She was napping with her glow-worm.

Carolyn, Clara, Vivie, Sara, Jeremy, Julie, Michael

Jeremy and the children had written and planned a Christmas play, and staged it in the third floor guest suite of our house. When it was time, we all went upstairs where the seats for the audience had been placed, where a stage with stage lights had been set up, and all the props and “costumes” made. The play was about a little dog named Shorty (played by Vivienne) and what she learned after she ran away from home for not wanting to wear her new Christmas collar. She had to deal with the dog catcher (played by Elijah), landed in a cage in the pound, and had a change of heart after talking with another dog in the pound named Cocoa (played by Clara) who helped Shorty see how good she really had it.

Jeremy was the director and provided background music

Vivienne and Elijah playing their parts

Vivie, Clara, Elijah

Shorty learning her lesson at the dog pound

Audrey was still too young to take part in a play. Maybe next year.

Later that night we joined together in the living room and sang Christmas carols. I think the highlight for me was when four year-old Vivienne, who was comfortably cuddled on her mama’s lap, decided to sing one of her own carols a capella. She often makes up her own lengthy songs and we sat and listened as she introduced this new one about praising the Lord: “O price the Low-udd, O you’ve got to price the Low-udd, because you should price the Low-udd, yes we price Him…” I wish I had a recording of this because it was so funny and so sweetly heart-wrenching at the same time. I can imagine the Maker of Heaven and Earth smiling at Vivienne’s song.

Jeremy read the Christmas story to us from Luke, and we were reminded about why we were together in the first place. Why we exist, why we are on this planet, why we are a family, all have to do with the coming of Christ to the earth. How amazing that the Creator of everything so willingly limited Himself to show us His love. How humbling that even when we pay no attention to Him, He has His eyes of love on  us. How comforting that when we are His, nothing can touch us without His permission and His good purposes. How wondrous that He left the splendor of Heaven to dwell in whomever would ask Him in.

The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. And He is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because He himself gives all men life and breath and everything else. From one man He made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and He determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek Him and perhaps reach out for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us. ‘For in Him we live and move and have our being.’   Acts 17:24-28

After this, each child got to open one gift before they went to bed.  There have been many times when I have not been as grateful as I should be for this big house, but Christmas Eve 2009 wasn’t one of them. We have enough rooms and beds that each person could have a warm, private place to sleep. Thank you Lord, for your many blessings.

After the kids went to bed, the adults played Whoonu?, a fun game that tests how well you know someone else’s favorites. I learned that Sara does not like baseball caps but loves big cities, that Carolyn isn’t crazy about roller skating but loves birthday parties, and that Jeremy likes museums better than cats.

And the snow continued to fall outside. We checked the weather report and found that over twenty inches of snow was predicted, with blizzard conditions, and hoped that Jeremy could get to work in the morning.

our back yard, early in the storm

Early on Christmas morning when it was still (as Vivienne says) “peach black” outside, we got up to open presents before Jeremy went to work. Carolyn put yummy cinnamon rolls in the oven to bake, and we all sat around and watched the children open their presents. There was a Star Wars sword, some Tinker Toys, some pom-poms, many books, a Teddy bear, a Misty of Chincoteague model, some punch balloons, a doll…we watched them all ooh and aah over their gifts, and I was impressed with their gratitude. Blessings abounded.

Jeremy took one of the four-wheel drive vehicles to work (23 inches of snow would eventually fall in our city) and we enjoyed a leisurely day of quiet music, lots of food, happy children, and the movie Little Women. After lunch Carolyn made Reese’s bars and we found that they, along with cold glasses of milk, were the perfect accompaniment to a game of Yahtzee.

We ended the day not with leftovers from the night before, but with homemade pizza. Two-year old Audrey is rapidly becoming very verbal, and each time we asked her if she wanted another little piece of pizza she would enthusiastically smile and yell, “Shuh!” (sure!)  More blessings.

After dark fell and the snow tapered off a little, Carolyn and I loaded bags of gifts and four children up into Michael’s truck, to take them home, about two miles away. They were all dressed in their winter snowpants and boots and mittens and hats. The side streets were still not plowed, but the main streets had been, leaving chest-high snow banks in front of the driveways on Jeremy and Carolyn’s street. Even with a big four-wheel drive truck, we could not get through into their drive. Carolyn had to climb over the mountain of snow and trudge down the driveway, making trips into the house with the bags of Christmas goodies. Clara, Elijah and Vivienne were able to get through the drifts by walking in Mama’s footprints, while I held on to Audrey until Carolyn came back to carry her in.

When Jeremy was through with work that night, he couldn’t get in to their driveway either, so spent two hours shoveling the piles of wet, heavy snow in order to be able to park the car and go inside for the night. Thankfully it was about twenty-eight degrees out, so bitter cold was not a factor as it so often is for northern Minnesotans this time of year.

When I returned home we watched my favorite HGTV show Divine Design, cleaned up a little bit, talked over the highlights of the holiday we’d spent with our loved ones, and Sara stayed the night with us again, which was another blessing.

I do not know why our Christmas was so blessed.

I know a young woman who just found out she has an aggressive cancer, and she has a husband and three young children. I know a man whose heart is giving out, and he’s aware that he may not see another Christmas with his family. I know a woman whose brilliant, talented, only son is getting ready to go to prison. I know a family who doesn’t know where they will live in 2010, nor how they will make it financially. I know of a family whose father just had a brain hemorrhage and they don’t know if he’ll ever be right again. I know a man who lives in his car and doesn’t know how bound up in chains he is. I’ll bet you know a few people going through their own terrible trials too.

I don’t know why today we are so blessed. And I don’t pretend to think that someday we won’t have more serious trials of our own. We do have some now. And as long as we live, we’ll probably have some more. It’s just the way it is.

But at this moment in time, I want to be found being grateful. And not just anemically grateful. Powerfully and exuberantly grateful! I want the Lord to find me clapping my hands in applause and looking to Him and saying, “Thank you! I have noticed! You have blessed us! We can hardly contain what you’ve done for us, Father! Thank you, thank you! You are so good to us!” And maybe I’ll even sing with Vivie, “O price you Low-udd, O how I price you, my Low-udd!”

What will happen if next year, if I’m still writing away on this little blog, I have bad news to report? Will I still think we’re blessed? Will I still be proclaiming how good God is to anyone who will read? I pray so. I pray I am always able to give thanks to Him no matter what. He is my rightful owner and can do with me what He will. I will always try to praise and thank Him no matter how plenty the blessings or how heavy the burdens. I trust Him, and long to trust Him even more.

In one of my favorite books, At Home in Mitford, the main character, Father Tim, has a moment when he can hardly believe the blessings of God in his life. He quotes Psalm 68:19 aloud as he walks along (“Blessed be the Lord, who daily loadeth us with benefits, even the God of our salvation!”), and then shouts out the verb in the verse that means the most to him…

“Loadeth!”

That’s how I felt this Christmas season. Loaded down with blessings.

And for this I most fervently price the Low-udd…

From our house to yours…

December 25, 2009 | My Jottings

Heaven’s Loss by Ron Dicianni…

For to us a child is born,
to us a Son is given,
and the government will be on His shoulders.
And He will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Michael and I wish you and yours a very Merry Christmas!

Peace,

Cardinal greeter

December 24, 2009 | My Jottings

I just hung this sweet cardinal candle holder on the wall. It was a Christmas gift from my dear friend Su, and it’s hanging right inside our back door. I put it there on a rather large, blank wall, not only to fill the space, but to once again remind me about the hope that knowing Christ brings.

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Su knows the cardinal story and is one of those thoughtful people who takes every opportunity to remind me of the hope that God spoke to my heart on a dark winter morning years ago.

It still amazes me that the majestic and powerful One who hung the billions of galaxies cares enough to speak to us, but He does. I will never get over that.

I’m not the only one He wants to talk to, either.

Edition 28-Wednesday’s Word

December 23, 2009 | My Jottings

“We would worry less if we praised more. Thanksgiving is the enemy of discontent and dissatisfaction.”

Michael W. Smith

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Green Macaroni and Cheese

December 19, 2009 | My Jottings

About twenty-five years ago a friend of a friend told me about a simple and unique (and more healthy) recipe for macaroni and cheese. I was intrigued by the ingredients and made it right away. It was pretty tasty, and I made it again, tweaking the simple recipe a bit until it was something we loved, and I’ve made it often ever since.

My daughters grew up eating this Green Macaroni and Cheese, and they still love it. I think Carolyn makes it for her family now and then. Even my grandbabies enjoy it, and some of them are fairly picky eaters. Sara introduced this dish to her best friend, and now Layla talks to her about “your mom’s green macaroni and cheese.”  (I’m pretty sure they talk about other things too, but I’m honored that smart, beautiful and accomplished young women think highly enough of even one creation of mine to make it a topic of conversation.)

I’ve received enough requests for this recipe that I thought I’d share it on the blog. It’s simple enough to make, but there are a few putzy steps that can be better illustrated by photos than by me trying to write the recipe out on 3 x 5 cards. Anyone who knows me knows that a 3 x 5 card might be large enough for me to write my name and phone number on.

Julie’s Green Macaroni and Cheese

Preheat your oven to 325 degrees.

So here’s what you’ll need for a large batch:

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A cup of milk, 16 ounces of spinach nests pasta, 4-5 tablespoons of soy sauce (I use low-sodium but you can use the stuff that’s brown liquid salt if you like), 2 containers of cottage cheese and some grated mozzarella cheese.

I have only been able to find these spinach nests at one store in our town, and it just so happens that last week when I went to buy some, they were gone and it didn’t look like they were coming back any time soon. So I put in a request with the manager and we’ll see if he does anything about my family’s regular need for spinach nests. Not being one to wait for another person to hold my destiny in their hands, I did a little search online and found our beloved spinach pasta nests through Amazon. The case of twelve 16-ounce boxes of spinach nests arrived today.

If you can’t find spinach nests where you shop, you could probably use other spinach pasta that isn’t made into little circular nests. And I have made this recipe with multi-colored rotini pasta and it’s yummy too. Play around with it until it’s something your family likes.

This recipe will need a fairly large baking pan – I use my deep lasagna pan. I make a large recipe because at our house we basically feed the multitudes, and some of us around here love leftovers for our packed lunches.

If you don’t have multitudes to feed, I would suggest you cut this recipe in half, and use a 9 x 13 baking pan.

Pour all the spinach pasta from a 16-ounce box into a large mixing bowl. See the cute little nests?

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They look innocent enough, but they will cut your fingers into shreds if you try breaking them apart with your hands. Don’t try it.

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You’ll need to break these nests up now. I use a metal measuring cup and just slowly crunch up the nests by pressing down on them in the bowl with the cup. If you have Miniature German Schnauzers with sensitive ears, they will probably run into the other room while you’re crunching up your spinach nests in a metal mixing bowl.

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Just press and crunch until there are no more nests left – just bits of spinach pasta a couple of inches long.

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See? Like this. If you use a pasta that already comes in a bag and looks like this, you won’t need to crunch and crunch it with a measuring cup and scare your dogs.

Now take two entire containers (24 ounces each) of cottage cheese, and dump it out onto the broken up spinach pasta. (Remember, if you want to make a normal-sized batch and are halving this recipe, you’ll only need one 24 ounce container of cottage cheese, 8 ounces of spinach pasta, etc.)

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Be sure you get all of the cottage cheese out. You can use 4%, 2% or 1% cottage cheese, but I wouldn’t recommend using skim.

Now comes the soy sauce. I like Kikkoman best.

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Add four or five tablespoons of soy sauce to the cottage cheese and spinach nest pasta.

And now add one cup of milk. Again, you can use whole milk or 1% or 2%, but I don’t recommend skim milk for this recipe. Pour the milk over the green mess mixture.

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Give these four ingredients a good stir. You might be thinking, “This is awfully dry — how is this going to make a delicious, creamy macaroni and cheese dish?”  That’s what I thought when I first made it too, but I promise you’ll see how yummy it is soon.

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I don’t think this recipe would qualify for Better Homes and Gardens or Bon Appetit magazines, because it’s too easy and it doesn’t photograph well. But I think we all know someone who doesn’t take a good picture who has a deep inner beauty that makes you completely forget about outward appearances. That’s the way this Green Macaroni and Cheese is. It has a deep inner beauty.

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Pour all this into a greased (I use Pam) baking dish.

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Be sure you scrape all the whey from the bowl too. You want all the liquid in there since the spinach nests aren’t cooked before you put all this in the oven.

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Here’s how it looks spread evenly into my lasagna pan. Sara knows I like dark blue in my kitchen and gave me this pan a few years ago.

Bake this at 325 degrees and set the timer for 15 minutes. This will be the approximate halfway point, and you’ll have to take out the not-quite-done pasta and give it a good stir.

Below, here’s how it looks after about 15-20 minutes at 325. The pasta is softening up a little.

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Now just stir it up a bit in the baking dish. Below, see the whey that the cottage cheese finally releases as it’s stirred? It’s pretty liquidy — just stir and fold, so all the dry bits of spinach pasta get covered with the whey. Experience has taught me that any little stray bits of pasta sticking up out of the liquid will get very dark and crisp, and will not taste very scrumptious.

We don’t want our spinach nests going rogue on us.

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Stir those curds and whey, stir that pasta. This takes about a minute at the most.

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Now spread it out again, making it even with the back of your spoon. It’s going back into the oven to finish baking. Set your timer again for about ten-fifteen minutes, and then pull it out again.

Here’s the part that just takes a time or two of making this dish to understand or recognize. When you pull out the pan the second time, if there’s still a lot of liquid and it hasn’t been mostly absorbed by the pasta, stir it again and put it back in the oven. Keep watching it every few minutes until the pasta has absorbed the liquid. It should be moist, but not swimming in whey. You don’t want to wait too long though – it will result in dry pasta, and you won’t like this recipe and your grandchildren won’t have a chance to try it.

I find that an oven thermometer is a very helpful tool. Even though my range is new and has two ovens, I leave an inexpensive oven thermometer in there all the time. One oven cooks a little hot and the other a little cool (yes, I’ve had the Sears guy out), and if your oven cooks at 375 when it should be 325, it could make a big ugly difference with your Green Macaroni and Cheese.

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Once the liquid is mostly absorbed into the now-soft pasta, pull the pan out and sprinkle with grated mozzarella cheese. As much or as little as you like. We like a goodly amount.

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Above, here’s what ours looked like today before I put it under the broiler.

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The final step: put the pan under the broiler and watch it carefully. Here’s my first peek after about 3-4 minutes — nope, not yet!

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And here’s my second peek after about 5 minutes — yep, this looks just right! It’s ready to come out into the light of day again.

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I let this sit for about 4-5 minutes before cutting it into squares and serving it on a small salad plate.

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Can you see why I don’t try to write this all down on a recipe card?  :)

I hope you let me know if you try Green Macaroni and Cheese. It can be a side dish to whatever you’re making for dinner, or it can be lunch itself with a nice Honeycrisp apple and a few carrot sticks.

This makes good leftovers too — just store it in an airtight container in the fridge, and warm it up in the microwave when you’re ready to eat.

Now when I look at the other kind of macaroni and cheese we’re all familiar with, it seems so foreign to me, so orange looking.

I’ll let you know if the store manager calls me to say they’re back to carrying my spinach nests again. But just in case they decide not to, I’m equipped for several months, at least.

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Green macaroni and cheese has definitely transformed our consumption of mac and cheese.

Blessings,

Priceless

December 17, 2009 | My Jottings

This photograph represents 4/7 of my treasure of grandchildren.

Clara Pearl (almost 8), Elijah David (6), Vivienne Irene (4) and Audrey Elizabeth (2).

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This is their 2009 Christmas photo.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if next year I could report that 7/7 of my treasure of grandchildren were living close by? I’m praying about that. One never knows.

Little Audrey is saying so many sweet new things, and if you ask her to repeat some words, she’ll give anything a try. I think the most endearing words she says right now are her own version of “Grandpa and Grandma.”

She calls Michael and me “Bocka and Backa.”  :)

I’ve heard of grandchildren calling their grandparents Nanny and Pop, Nana and Papa, Opa and Oma, Gramps and Granny, and even Pappaw and Mammaw. But up until now I’ve never heard a grandchild call her grandparents Bocka and Backa. She could be saying Pocka and Packa too – only she knows at this point.

What did you or do you call your grandparents?

Blessings,

Backa Julie

Edition 27-Wednesday’s Word

December 16, 2009 | My Jottings

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket – safe, dark, motionless, airless – it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside of Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is hell.”

C.S. Lewis

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Schnauzer Sentries

December 14, 2009 | My Jottings

We have two dogs — seven year-old Edith Elaine Bubbleloo (we call her Edith, and occasionally, Schmeedith Needle), and three year-old Mildred Virginia Sizzlelorum (we call her Millie.) They’re both Miniature German Schnauzers, and you can read here how different they are from each other, and also how we are pretty much their human slaves.

All the Schnauzer literature says the same things about the traits of these stout little dogs. They’re very bright and inquisitive, very lively, very loyal and attached to their owners, have extremely sensitive noses and were used as “ratters” in Germany, their supposed land of origin, and they are very barky. Veeerrry barky. I just looked up the word barky in my online dictionary and here’s the definition: “the word barky could not be found.” I tried another online dictionary and it said that the word barky means rough and not smooth like the bark on a tree. That is not what I’m referring to when I say Edith and Millie are barky.

Both dogs are hyper-vigilant about anything going on outside. They station themselves near any window to stand motionless for long periods of time, watching carefully for any sign of movement. If leaves blow in the yard, their ears are instantly up and they’re alert to what else might be lurking out there. If squirrels dash up the trees at the back of the yard, the Schnauzers begin to vibrate slightly as they watch. But if a person jogs by in the street, this will finally set them to barking. If someone walks by with a dog on a leash, the canine hysteria begins. But if a trio of deer ambles through the yard, oh my…then the Schnauzer Shrieking commences, and Edith and Millie won’t stop their ear-splitting and barky behavior until all moving objects have disappeared from their fields of vision.

We’ve tried many things to stop them from barking so much. A dog trainer showed us how to try violently jerking back on choke collars in “a quick yet not cruel” motion as soon as they start up. This requires that we be within four inches of them at all times, and tends to hinder us from cooking meals, cleaning house, talking on the phone, driving the car, taking a bath, going to the bathroom, etc.

We’ve also tried throwing small chains at them when they bark. My dear friend Carole learned this from someone and she took me to a hardware store and had the clerk make a circlet of five chandelier chain rings for me. She showed me how when the dogs are looking at something moving outside and start barking, you quickly and accurately throw the chain circle at them and they’re startled, thinking that God Himself has intervened to put a stop to their barking. This method also requires that you be near the dogs at all times, because you certainly can’t run from the second floor of the house as soon as you hear a bark, down the stairs to grab the circle of chain links and hope to toss it so it lands directly between their shoulder blades just as they’re barking. My friend emphasized that for this method to be effective, the dogs can’t know it’s the owner throwing the chain at them. Use your imagination and you can probably tell how often we currently throw chandelier chains at our dogs when they bark.

We have also tried just keeping the den window shades closed so they couldn’t see what was going on outside, but we missed the already scarce daylight and started having symptoms of Vitamin D deficiency and developing huge pupils and amazing night vision. This also didn’t address their views from the kitchen French door that looks out over Birdinal Creek in our back yard, or our bedroom windows on the second floor, or the living room windows, which have no shades.

We have also tried yelling at the dogs. “Be quiet! STOP BARKING!” we holler at them when they start the incessant barking. Or my favorite tactic that Michael uses — when they’re in the back yard shriek-barking across the creek at deer or squirrels — he says loudly to the dogs (from inside the house) “Ssshhh!” You would have to see him do this to get how funny it is.

Yelling at them to knock it off sometimes works for a few seconds, but their Schnauzer instinct dominates and they’re back at it again. Our daughter Sharon nicely reminds us that we’re not the most effective dog owners and that The Dog Whisperer would have much to say about the way we’ve allowed Edith and Millie to behave.

Well, if you’ve read this far in this post, you can congratulate yourself for possessing amazing concentration skills. Nothing really exciting is going on this morning.

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But here’s a recent photo of Edith on the back of our living room couch, in stealth mode. She looks relaxed with her legs draped over the sides like that, but she’s really just waiting….waiting for the slightest sign of life outside.

If you watch her when she’s like this, the only thing you’ll see is her quirkily twitching Schnauzer eyebrows as her eyes scan the outside world for something to announce.

Minutes later, a UPS truck pulls up across the street and our little Schnauzer Sentry is ready to tell the world.

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In this photo she hasn’t started up yet. She has only lifted her head and a low rumble in her chest has sounded.

But the shrieking and barking and hysteria will most certainly ensue, and we will either be looking for a small circlet of chandelier chain links to throw at her shoulder blades without her noticing it was us, or more likely, we’ll just let her bark. And bark.

Because we know that basically, the Schnauzer Sentries are just trying to protect us from evil. They’re just doing their job.

At least that’s what really bad dog owners like us keep telling ourselves.

“Deck the porch…!”

December 12, 2009 | My Jottings

“Deck the porch with artichokes and oranges! Fa, la, la, la, la, la, la, la la!”

On Wednesday our daughter Sara hung the Christmas wreath she made for us outside on the front porch. She’s a floral designer at a local flower shop and I’m always so thrilled with her unique creations.

When I went outside for eleven seconds on Thursday morning to take this photo, it was four degrees below zero with a slight wind. Even though winter doesn’t officially arrive for several more days, most of the Midwest apparently did not get that memo. Our views are white, our furnace is roaring, our hands are lizard-like and our resolve is firm. We can endure this until spring. At least Michael keeps telling me we can.

Here’s our wreath:

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It may not have any boughs of holly, but if you look closely you’ll see a few unusual items in there with all the traditional balsam and cedar. Fresh oranges, pomegranates and artichokes make it interesting to look at. I doubt that anyone will see those from the street as they drive by, though.

What Christmas decoration do you have up/out that you really like? Send me a photo and I’ll put it on the blog so we can all enjoy it together.

Blessings,

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