One Word

December 31, 2012 | My Jottings

This morning when we got up it was zero degrees outside (minus 18 Celsius), and Lake Superior was steaming. It’s a gorgeous sight, especially with the clear sky and the sunrise over the vast expanse of water, yet for some reason January’s approach always fills me with a bit of dread. It’s our coldest month, and even though this might sound a little dramatic, it feels dangerous to me. The best part of January is my middle daughter Carolyn’s birthday on the 12th; the rest of the month can’t pass too quickly for me.

Yesterday I took most of our Christmas decorations down, and today the tree, already bare of its ornaments, will go into the box and down to the basement for another eleven months. I like getting our normal space back after Christmas, breaking down the boxes for the recycler truck, moving the living room chairs back to their places, and putting away our Christmas CDs. Do you leave your Christmas things up past the new year? I knew someone who loved her tree and decorations so much she always left them up until February.

Also, we have a winner for the Cardinal Caption Contest! It’s Kay, in Cornwall, England! Her poem of what the little jaunty cardinal in the photo might be saying brought smiles all around, and even my daughter Sara said at the breakfast table this morning that she thought Kay should be awarded the prize. If you haven’t read the poem Kay composed, be sure to look in the comments to the last post. 🙂  Kay will receive a $10 gift certificate to spend as she pleases at Amazon.com. Thank you all for your very clever captions — I thought all of you deserved a prize.

Next, have you heard of the One Word trend? I think it’s been going on for a few years, and I’m thinking and praying about what one word should be the focus of my life for the coming year. I have known for a long time that the Lord seems to be bringing me low in so many challenging and marvelous ways, so I’ve considered that my one word might be lower. I have also seen that I am more fear-based that I ever thought I was, so I think the word trust would be appropriate too. One decorating blogger I enjoy has chosen the word up for her one word in 2013. There are several that come to mind for me, and I’ll share about it when I’m sure of what it will be.

Pray. Encourage. Honor. Forgive. Listen. Decrease. Praise. Humility.

Have you ever chosen one word to focus on for a coming year? If so, what was your word? If not, are you considering trying it this year?

Today a furnace repairman will be coming to our home, and this will make the eighth time someone has come to see what can be done. Many changes have been made: dampers adjusted, zones rezoned, zones unzoned, temp limits replaced, air filters checked and replaced, and thermostats rewired. Our furnace unit itself is fine. It seems like it could be the air flow to our registers that’s the problem, but none of the three companies who’ve come out seem to be sure yet. They’re all baffled. If it means actually tearing into the floors of our bedroom and bathroom (which is a huge space, but only has six heating registers and apparently should have more) to install more registers, I admit I think I’ll be truly upset and discouraged. Having our furnace work perfectly for three days and then start blowing cold air is very disconcerting, over and over again. Each time it performs as it should I’m practically in tears of relief, saying, “Thank you Lord!” and realizing what an overlooked grace it is to have heat at the touch of a switch. Then each time I feel the heat stop and the cold air begin to blow and see the thermostat temperatures drop, I feel vulnerable and anxious, and this morning when it happened again I started to cry. January is not the month for complicated furnace failures for a Minnesotan. If any of you reading this would be willing to pray that the Lord would give wisdom to the people working on it, I would be so grateful.

Last night Sara and I went to see Les Miserables and I loved it (although some pretty bawdy scenes make it an inappropriate choice for young people, I think). The book has been one of my favorites for years and I’ve read it three times. It might be time to open it again. Michael and I saw the play at the Queen’s Theatre in London in 2007 and were awed by every part of it, especially the continuously revolving stage and the powerful music. Last night I rummaged through my purse when the tears started to fall, and couldn’t believe I didn’t have Kleenex, which I’m never without. Fortunately Sara had one, and by the time the movie was over I could have wrung it out from crying into it so much. Les Miserables is such an epic story of grace! One humble man’s act of grace and forgiveness literally changed many lives over the course of many years. It’s a lesson I want to remember forever. Are any of us wondering what to do today? Whatever tasks are before us, giving grace should be part of each and every day, especially toward the people we live with.

Well, I have much to do today. Our kitchen sink is piled with dishes that I didn’t feel like tending to last night. There are three baskets of clean laundry in our room waiting to be folded and put away. There are chicken breasts in the fridge that should be made into a nice New Year’s Eve meal. There is laundry to do for our Fosters, a tree to be dismantled and stowed. Paperwork to be conquered, a letter to write, dogs to be petted, a husband to be hugged. And hopefully, please God, a furnace waiting to be fixed, once and for all.

Tonight when the stroke of midnight hits, Michael and I will not be awake (Lordwilling) clinking a glass together, or watching the coverage from Times Square in New York, or even attending a Watch Night Service like we did in church years ago [where, for your information, a group of friends and I dressed up as Gladys Light and The Hips and sang (lip-synched, actually), clapped and danced wackily in unison to this song. We padded our hips grotesquely under our black stretch pants (because we were The Hips), wore sun glasses and generally stunned the more staid members of our congregation.] But tonight, I hope to be soundly sleeping when the year changes over, with two scruffy dogs at our feet, and a dependable furnace humming along.

I never quite know exactly why I keep a blog. Is it because I’m a word person and if I don’t have an outlet for my thoughts I’ll someday shut down? Is it because I’m vain and think what I have to share is actually of some import? Is it because I’m actually supposed to be doing this, for some strange reason? I don’t know. Whatever the motivation, I want to say to you all today that I’m thankful you stop by here now and then. I love it when you leave comments, and am so glad for the friendships I’ve made here.

I wish you and all your loved ones a very blessed 2013.

Cardinal Caption Contest

December 27, 2012 | My Jottings

I included this terrific photo in a recent blog post, and now here it is again. My friend Ember in England sent it to me because she knows how much I like cardinals, and what they signify to me.

It has been a very long while since I’ve had a bloggy giveaway, and I think it’s about time. If you’d like to see the last caption contest I had, click here.

Take a look at this male cardinal below. Doesn’t he look like he’s saying something? Or that he has something important on his mind?

Tell me what you think he’s saying/thinking, what the caption to this photo should be, and if you’re the winner, I’ll send you a gift! It might be a book, it might be a CD, it might be something yummy to eat. But I promise it will be good.  🙂

Wi-cheer! Wi-cheer! Purty! Purty! (That’s what a cardinal call sounds like to me…click here for a real recording of one.)

I look forward to seeing what you all come up with, and the winner will be announced on Monday, December 31st!

Wednesday’s Word-Edition 94

December 26, 2012 | My Jottings

This is me with my sister-in-law Christy, who feels like a true sister to me. The quote below is just how I feel about her…

“Oh the comfort, the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person, having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words, but pouring them all right out, just as they are — chaff and grain together — certain that a faithful hand will take and sift them, keep what is worth keeping, and with the breath of kindness blow the rest away.”

Dinah Maria Mulock Craik

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Do you have a friend or family member you feel this way about? Will you share a little about them and why this quote might fit them as well? I look forward to reading your comments…

And now, from the Hallelujah Hounds….

December 25, 2012 | My Jottings

Please click here for Edith’s and Mildred’s Christmas message to you, dear blog readers.

Blessings,

God Is With Us

December 24, 2012 | My Jottings

Lo, in the silent night
A child to God is born
And all is brought again
That ere was lost or lorn.

Could but thy soul, O man,
Become a silent night!
God would be born in thee
And set all things aright.

~~~15th Century

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May your Christmas be full of God’s peace, hope and joy!

The logs on the fire fill me with desire

December 22, 2012 | My Jottings

This is a true blast from my past.

So I’ve decided to take an informal little poll. What’s your feeling about this old Christmas song by the Carpenters?

Love it? Hate it? Never heard it?

I will share what I think of it after all the results from this important poll are computed.

Okay….cast your vote!  🙂

“Make straight in the desert a highway for our King…”

December 20, 2012 | My Jottings

That’s what I’m trying to do this Christmas season.

In this very full life that can lead to spiritual dryness, I am trying (with God’s guidance, grace and mercy!) to live out the words of the prophet Isaiah, when he wrote about John the Baptist and his announcement of Jesus:

“A voice cries out, ‘Prepare the way of the Lord
Make straight in the desert a highway for our King
Every valley shall be lifted up
And every mountain made low.’ “

Even though I think I’ve taken all the things off of my proverbial plate that I can, I find myself still wondering how to quietly and peacefully enjoy this beautiful season for what it really is. To me, it’s not about shopping, although I’ve done some of that online. It’s not about decorating, although as you’re about to see, we’ve done some of that too.

Each Christmas season, I try to make straight in the desert of my spiritual life, a highway for my King. A place where He has unhindered access. I ask the Lord to fill in those valleys in my life, of which there are many. I ask Him to remove the mountains that I just can’t seem to get around.

I have said no to almost every event, except most things having to do with my family or grandchildren. I have tried to make room every day for down time, reading and devotional time. I have been writing in my gratitude journal, which I love — what a special time that has become! I just finished this book, and very much enjoyed it. I’ve been mindfully listening to Christmas carols, getting enough sleep, and letting some things go. And yet still I wonder if I’ve made enough room in my life for the One I say I love and serve. Do any of you ever grapple with this? I’m probably not the only one pondering these things.

Well, moving on, I thought I’d share some more photos with you of some things we have around the house to give it a festive feel.

This is a night-time view of our tree. We have these neat privacy blinds that can be opened so they go up from the bottom, or down from the top. This way we can walk around in the house completely undressed, and people outside can see our tree, but not see us. Ha. NOT! Never in a million years. I just wanted to make sure you were awake.  🙂

This sits on the kitchen window sill above the sink:

Sara decked out the lights over our dining room table with several feet of artificial holly vines, some plaid ribbon, and a few gold ornaments hanging at different lengths:

Here’s a closer shot:

At our old house this triple wreath hung outside one year, but this year I thought I’d put it in our bedroom.

 I also put the nativity scene in our bedroom this year.

We have a small white tree we set up in our bedroom too, and when the grandchildren spend the night during the Christmas season, they love to sleep under the glow of its tiny red and white lights, while soothing instrumental carols play.

Sara also put these gold ornaments and curly ribbon on the three pendant lights that hang over our kitchen counter. I think the lights look like ice cubes.

It’s cold and windy today. Most of our snow has melted from a few days we had in the 40s, but there are still a few patches on the grass left. Here’s a view of the morning sun shining on grey Lake Superior:

And here’s a fabulous picture my friend Ember sent me yesterday. Look at Mr. Jaunty Cardinal’s expression! He’s checking up on me! He’s peeking around the corner and saying, “Juuuulie? Have you forgotten that when you have Jesus, you always have hope? Don’t you remember how He sent me to you all those years ago?”

Just looking at this photo makes me grin. Yes, Lord. I remember. Thank you.

Even Edith, our almost eleven year-old Schnauzer, is making room for her King. She was resting on our bed this morning, looking out the window and wondering when He would show up. She’s ready for Him, all decked out in her green ribbon, humble hound heart prepared to bow when she finally sees her Maker. She’s a Hallelujah Hound, you know.

Our furnace has broken three times in the past month, and as I type this, the third repairman is trying to fix it. He has been here a long time and from what I gather, it’s not a simple repair. Michael and I held hands together a little while ago and asked the Lord to help this man fix it. It’s a terribly misbehaving furnace, and we’ve learned it has special needs. We have company from California arriving soon to spend Christmas with us, and what kind of hosts would we be if they came all the way to frigid Minnesota and we didn’t offer them heat?

Thank you so much for stopping by today!

What kinds of things do you do (or not do) at Christmas time, to keep the true meaning alive in your heart and home?

Loud and Deep

December 18, 2012 | My Jottings

Like most everyone, our family has sat in front of the television these past few days, tears welling, hearts aching for the people in Newtown, CT.

I wish I knew what to say, not that my words matter at a time like this. I wish I knew how to pray. What I have been praying is, “Jesus, you know what to do. Will you please go to them?”

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem, set to music and a much-loved Christmas carol, says it better than I can:

I heard the bells on Christmas day
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet the words repeat
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

I thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along the unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

And in despair I bowed my head;
“There is no peace on earth,” I said,
“For hate is strong, and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail,
With peace on earth, good will to men.”

Till ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime, a chant sublime,
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

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Julie’s Swiss Muesli

December 17, 2012 | My Jottings

(updated from the archives….)

I have no idea if this is true, but I recently heard a well-known financial advisor say on television that she believed America would be facing bread lines in coming years due to the state of our economy. Correct me if I’m wrong, but the last time Americans waited in bread lines was in the late 1920s and early 30s. I refuse to worry about this, because there’s nothing I can do except try to live carefully and generously. My life is in God’s hands, and if part of His plan for me is to someday wait in bread lines, I will.

I think it’s appropriate to give thanks for food while we have it in abundance. We have so much variety and so many delicious things to choose from, and we can easily take for granted what many in our world only dream about.

Have you tried a Honeycrisp apple lately? I paid $1.00 each for them at the grocery store yesterday and didn’t care — they’re wonderful eating. What about fresh, raw pecans? I try to eat some every day. I’m thankful for sharp cheese and tomatoes that are deep red, not pale pink and anemic looking inside. I’m grateful for shredded purple cabbage and warm, fresh-baked bread. I like balsamic vinegar and capers and hazelnuts and pineapple! And what about Haagen-Dazs Chocolate Peanut Butter Ice Cream? You’re missing out if you haven’t scouted that out in the frozen aisle — in our city it sells out fast at every store we frequent, and Michael and I grin stupidly at each other when we go shopping and actually find a pint of it left on the shelf. See the ribbons of peanut butter winding their way through the chocolate?

hdpb1

But even the tastiest food can sometimes be nothing special to look at, as in today’s recipe. My Swiss Muesli is cold, gray and lumpy, but mmmmm is it good.

Apparently Muesli was invented by a Swiss physician for his patients around 1900. I wonder what medicinal qualities he thought Muesli had? There are dry varieties available in cereal boxes these days, but this recipe I’m sharing here is closer to the original, gloppy mixture – it’s made with milk and yogurt and needs to be stored in the refrigerator. I don’t think I’ll take a picture of the Muesli in our fridge right now, because it looks, well, cold, gray and lumpy. It would never hold a candle to the ice cream photo above. But Swiss Muesli is delicious! And nutritious. And it’s filling (my mom would have said, “this sticks to your ribs!”) And if you use good yogurt, it’s probiotic and so good for digestion.

So, if you’re willing to sacrifice visual appeal for delectability, here’s something to try:

Swiss Muesli

1/4 cup honey
1 cup plain yogurt (don’t use flavored or even vanilla yogurt here — with the above honey it will be too sweet — I tried)
1 cup milk (I use 1%, and very often I use unsweetened almond milk)

I stir these three wet ingredients together in a large Tupperware container that has a lid — this is what I store it in.

Next, stir in:

1 cup regular rolled oats
3 T. grated unsweetened coconut (sweetened will work but unsweetened is better)
1/2 t. ground cinnamon
1/4 cup chopped pecans (you can use walnuts too)

This is my adaptation of a recipe I found in a magazine a long time ago, and that recipe also called for 1/4 cup raisins or dried apricots, and 1/4 cup chopped Granny Smith apples, which you might throw in if those sound good to you. (Authentic Muesli has fruit in it along with the nuts and oats.)

I often make a double recipe of this, and after it sits in the lidded container in the fridge for a few hours, the oats soak up all the flavors and it looks like a bland, uninteresting porridge. Sounds blechy, I know, but it’s pretty yummy. Michael and I eat this for breakfast at least three times a week, and we both like a little dollop of peanut butter stirred into our bowls with it.

They say you can’t judge a book by its cover, and I say Swiss Muesli shouldn’t be judged by its moist, gray lumps, either.

En guete!  (Which means “Good eating” in Swiss German! — thank you Helen!)

Grands, Goodies and Geegaws

December 13, 2012 | My Jottings

Happy Thursday to you! Before I show you a few pictures and share some of our happenings of late, I would just like to say that I have never in my life used the word geegaw. Until now, that is. It’s amazing what some people will do to make a little alliteration work! I had to find a G-word that could represent doodads or decorations, and lo, the Thesaurus handed me the word geegaw. 

We have most of our Christmas decorations up/out, but there are still a couple of boxes in the basement that I’ll bring up this weekend to complete the festive touches in our home. Is your decorating all done?

When in doubt, I fill a cardinal bowl up with gold ornaments and put it on the dining room table. The grandchildren think it’s beautiful.

 

I haven’t done any Christmas baking in years, mainly because when I do any Christmas baking, I eat the Christmas baking, and my knees really would prefer that I not do that anymore. But this year, Carolyn suggested that my three daughters and I do a cookie exchange just between the four of us. Always game for anything that binds mother’s and daughters’ hearts together, I agreed, and we each picked two recipes. We gave one dozen of each recipe we made to each person, so we all came away with eight dozen cookies/bars.

I knew I would make my much loved Spicy Molasses cookies, but I wanted to try something different this year too. I found this recipe called Rosemary Scented Evergreen Cookies and since I love rosemary, these were my second choice.

Here’s a pan of them all ready to go in the oven:

 

Those little dark bits are finely chopped rosemary needles.

I have a friend named Carlene who bakes a lot. She effortlessly cleans up her kitchen and bowls as she goes along, and by the time her bread or cookies are in the oven, the kitchen is spotless and you’d never know she had baked a thing, except for the marvelous aroma wafting through her house.

Clearly, I am not Carlene.

 

I thought I would give her clean-as-you-go method a try, and then gave up after the first batch of cookie dough was mixed. Sara and I made all our cookies in the same day, and it looked like a flour bomb had gone off in the kitchen by the time we were done!

Sara’s two offerings were Spicy Gingerbread Twigs and Mounds Balls. I helped her roll out the coconut balls before she rolled them in melted chocolate, and instead of making them a more manageable size, I got carried away and made them as big as golf balls. This means that when you eat one, you feel the need to immediately consult an endocrinologist about incorporating an insulin pump into your life. Or you just have to go lie down until the coma passes.

Sharon made Peanut Butter Fudge — so yummy. And she made scrumptious Toffee Cookies that are both chewy and crispy.

Carolyn made rich Chocolate Gingerbread Cookies, and classic, chewy Peanut Blossoms, the latter of which lasted less than two days in this house.

Here’s a dozen of my completed Rosemary Scented Evergreen Cookies. I didn’t make them as large as the recipe called for because I didn’t want to triple the recipe, so I just used a regular tree-shaped cookie cutter.

Part of what made them special was the lemon glaze on top of the sprigs of rosemary, and the gold sugar glitter. In my opinion they may not have been the best tasting, but they were pretty to look at!

Every year I try to add one or two ornaments to our collection, and this year a dear friend at CBS gave me this lovely cardinal ornament:

Aside from the swags of glass beads we hang on the tree, we wind and twist some wired, gold-colored French ribbon around the branches too.

I love this baby bird sculpture that usually sits on our coffee table in the living room. Sara put a festive ribbon around his neck and now his open cheeping mouth makes him look pathetically like he’s being choked.  🙁

 Sara’s Spicy Gingerbread Twigs:

Do you have some Christmas decorations (I can’t bring myself to say geegaws again) from your childhood? These green letters that spell out the word NOEL are from my growing up years. My mother owned these long before I was born, so I’m guessing they’re about 60-65 years old. I remember placing these letters carefully in a windowsill each December in our Southern California home.

A couple of days ago Sara was feeling like her Daddy needed some pampering, and knowing how much he loves breakfast, she made him a bit of a feast. French toast with real whipped cream and Minnesota blueberries, eggs fried over-easy, thinly sliced ham and a California orange. That’s a lot of food there, and Michael had no trouble eating every bite.

Later that evening we decided to watch a Tim Hawkins DVD, since our grandson Elijah was spending the night and he loves Tim’s comedy. Here’s a short video of Tim performing our national anthem as he envisions Bob Marley, Neil Young, Dave Mathews and Bob Dylan would sing them. Michael laughed out loud at the Dylan version.  🙂

This was a view of two things at my feet which bring me much warmth and comfort in life — Edith the Schnauzer and my Acorn slippers:

Mildred was looking at me as if to say, “And may I ask why you’re disturbing me with that camera? I’m busy resting here on your couch.”

Elijah loves to build with Lincoln Logs. Look at that smile:

And he found Tim Hawkins so hilarious he rolled on the floor in laughter!

Be careful when you buy artificial fruit for your transferware bowls! They could look so real one of your grandchildren might boldly take a bite of one and find the styrofoam inside!

Last weekend my oldest daughter Sharon, her three Irish girls and I went out to dinner, and then to the Minnesota Ballet’s annual production of The Nutcracker. I realize that I have taken pictures of goodies and grands, but did not take one of my daughters. I guess I thought there would be more time and then I forgot.  🙁

I did get a picture of Sharon’s hands, however. She and I both had tasty Cobb Salads that neither of us could quite finish. Below you can see five month-old Louisa, engrossed in her first book, and five year-old Lil’ Gleegirl enjoying her homemade macaroni and cheese.

Eight year-old Mrs. Nisky loves salad and pasta! She has the most beautiful auburn hair and a heart full of love for her new baby sister.

As we sat together in the balcony later and watched the wonderful ballet, I thought to myself, “I need Cliff Notes for The Nutcracker! What exactly is going on here? Mean dancing mice? Asian dancers? Fairies in the snowy Forest? Clara and Fritz and their parents’ party and her beloved Nutcracker? How does all this fit together?” I came home and looked up the story online and still had a blank look on my face. But I would watch a Minnesota Vikings game with my grandchildren if it meant being with them.

Mr. McBoy also came to spend the night with Grandpa and Grandma recently. I picked him up after school and he and I sat in the car talking for a while. He is such a great conversationalist for a ten year-old boy, and so loving. I wish my parents were still alive to see how much this boy looks like my side of the family. My father would also be so proud of Mr. McBoy’s basketball aspirations. 😉

What you see below is the door to the sauna in our basement. There is no light in the sauna, just this old-fashioned porch light on the left of the door that makes things sort of visible inside.

The photo below is not blurry — it was taken through a thick cloud of steam in the sauna. If you look carefully you can see a ten year-old boy and a sixty-three year-old grandpa smiling and sweating and bonding together:

And this picture was in our newspaper recently and I had to share. Apparently Snowy Owls like to stay mostly in Canada, Greenland and Iceland, and are not commonly seen as far south as Minnesota, if you can actually call Minnesota “south.” This beautiful bird was resting on the roof of a local business last week. (Photo credit: Daniel Oyinloye.)

In other news, our furnace stopped heating the other night and I was up past midnight while the repairman tried to fix it. “Confusing” and “complicated” are not words one wants to hear from the person working on your furnace when it’s eighteen degrees (minus eight Celsius) outside. He was able to get it to heat by doing something temporary to it, and then told me to call someone who specializes in furnace zones. The company I called is sending out their repairman today and I’m praying that “confusing” and “complicated” are not words I hear him utter. “No problem” and “all fixed for free” would be good, don’t you think?

So, what are your favorite Christmas goodies? Do you have any very old decorations? How is your furnace working? What kinds of birds are in your neighborhood these days?

And what is The Nutcracker all about anyway?

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