Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New Year 2010!

Ten years ago, we celebrated the arrival of the new millennium with friends from church whom we'd known for just a year. Since then, seven of us have become parents, eight have moved out of state, three have been ordained, and countless memories have been created.

Tonight, at midnight Eastern time (so the kids wouldn't have to stay up too late), we clinked champagne glasses, stomped on bubble wrap, and welcomed in another year of friendship...

Then we opened up the time capsule we created together a decade ago -- and laughed over silly memories, and even sillier memorabilia...

(There was also quite a bit of camera-borrowing to record the event.)

Happy New Year, everyone! Remember the good, forget the bad, and bring on another year of friendship, joy, and memory-making!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Simplify, schmimplify.

I've discovered a little truth this month. And it may be just the thing to save my sanity this Christmas -- because it's been on its way out.

The directive to "simplify Christmas" is an impossibility.

What would have made this month simpler? Well, I suppose I could have called all my friends and family in November and said, "We're not participating in the festivities this year. Please don't send us any presents, or money for the kids, or invitations to parties. Don't expect Christmas cards with updated photos of the family. Don't expect gifts from us, either. We want to avoid rushing around to get it all done.

"And by all means, don't stop by to visit without calling at least two weeks in advance."

Lately, I've been hearing the message that rushing during Advent is akin to sin, and misses the point of the season. After all, how can we prepare our hearts for the coming of our Savior, if we're busy checking off our lists -- and trying not to be late to church potlucks?

It's a tough one.

And so, organized types encourage us to start planning earlier, promising that if we just follow their 12-week plan, we won't feel rushed, and we'll have the happiest, most peaceful holiday ever!

Except that life doesn't follow a 12-week plan. Not everyone knows in October whether they'll be able to travel in December -- or whether they'll have custody of their kids on Christmas Day. Life requires you to adjust your plans to accommodate others' plans that you have no control over.

Life sends rainclouds over your leaky roof right before Christmas, leaving you cold and wet, and obliterating your party schedule. Life also sends your neighbor over with a spontaneous invitation to a round of wassail!

Life sends gifts from friends you love, but were too obsessed with trying to simplify to shop for -- and sends you to the last-minute sales to reciprocate.

Christmas is NOT simple. Christmas is complicated.

Was it simple for God to say, "Heck, it's a mess down there, I guess I'll just come down and clean it up myself." Well, maybe to say it. To do it? I think the New Testament shows otherwise.

Was it simple for Mary to accept Gabriel's message that she was going to be an unwed mother? Somehow, I don't think she said, "Sure, I'd be happy to carry God's son. My parents and fiance will understand. No biggie."

Was it simple for Joseph and Mary to get to Bethlehem? No, it was complicated. And they were freakin' exhausted when they got there.

I'm a little tired, too -- probably from staying up too late playing Santa while the children slept. I've checked a lot off my list. I still have to check it twice. I cannot say, "Whew, I'm totally ready for Christmas, nothing left to do except wait."

When there's nothing left to do to prepare our hearts for Christ's coming, He'll already be here.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Goodbye, old friend, faithful servant.

Looks like it's finally time to say goodbye to my old dryer.

It served me well for nearly 12 years with no problems, patiently fluffing our towels, tossing our jeans, keeping our t-shirts from getting too wrinkled.

It didn't complain when some toxic chemical spilled on its white top, bubbling up the paint so that it's now splotchy and covered in rust. I felt bad for not keeping it cleaner.

So I tried not to complain when one day the start button locked on. The dryer couldn't stop unless we left the door open at the end of the cycle.

It was almost a blessing when one of the boys accidentally sat on the door six months ago, bending it so that it popped open on its own -- now we don't have to run to open it when the cycle's done!

(Instead, we've had to prop the door closed with a hobby horse when we want to run it, blocking the way into Scott's bathroom. It smelled in there anyway.)

But this week, the 14-year-old machine just wouldn't go. It made a horrible noise, gasping in pain as it tried to turn the drum.

We hoped it was just a hose. We suspected it was the motor.

First, I ignored the problem, as I usually do. I lugged basket after basket of wet laundry next door to my parents' garage to use their dryer. It was a good excuse to visit my dad while he banged around on someone's jeep.

I finally called our 80-year-old repairman, who came out the same day, and gave me the bad news. Nope, not a hose.

He gave me a list of inexpensive dryers made by Whirlpool but branded otherwise. So, we're off to spend the rest of the Christmas budget. Guess I'll have to wait until my birthday for that iPhone.

Yes, clotheslines are cheap. Yes, I will attempt to be better at using mine in 2010. But any local knows that clothes don't dry in the fog. And our hot summers -- well, let's just say there are some days you need a modern appliance if you don't want to shrink your delicates or smell like an alley.

So, it's off the Lowe's Christmas sale we go!

Monday, December 14, 2009

10 days til Christmas: Make-and-Bake Party!

Flour and sugar and herbs, oh my!

Yesterday the kids got to measure and pour all afternoon, putting together Christmas gifts-in-a-jar for friends and family. My friend Christina came up with the ideas and recipes. So fun!

Everyone was doing a little tasting as they measured. ;)

After making two batches of cookie jars, the kids ran off to play outside, leaving the mommies to measure and pour rosemary, sage, thyme, fennel, basil and marjoram for "Herbs de Provence" -- and bake some cookies to eat, too!

Here's the first recipe -- I'll have to post more later...

Ultimate White and Dark Chocolate Cookie Mix

Layer in a one-quart jar:
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1 cup white chocolate chips

Recipe to attach to jars:

1 cup butter, softened
2 eggs
2 Tbs almond-flavored liqueur or water
1 tsp vanilla
1 jar Ultimate White and Dark Chocolate Cookie Mix

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
Beat butter in large bowl at medium speed until smooth. Beat in eggs, almond-flavoring and vanilla.
Put contents of jar in another bowl, and mix. Add into the butter mixture and stir until well blended.
Drop dough by teaspoonfuls 2 inches apart onto ungreased cookie sheets. Bake 8-10 minutes or until firm in the center. Do not overbake. Remove cookies to wire racks, and cool.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

12 days til Christmas: The Nutcracker

On Friday, I took the boys to see a preview performance of "The Nutcracker" ballet.

Our local symphony orchestra and premiere dance studio offer a 45-minute "young people's concert" version of the ballet for two mornings before the weekend performances. Local schools bus in hundreds of kids for what might their only ballet experience ever.

Next year Eldest and Middlest want to see the full ballet, so I might just have to splurge!

A few days before we attended the performance, paint-your-own nutcrackers arrived in the mail as Christmas gifts from my sweet friend Megan! So perfect! We finally had time to get them out to paint today...

Even Eldest, who has refused to touch a paintbrush for years, rediscovered his love for color...

What are your favorite holiday events to attend?

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

21 20...16 days 'til Christmas!

Goodness, where have the days gone? To tree-trimming and gift-wrapping, errand-running and story-reading, laundry-washing and pageant-rehearsing...

And it rained! So, after a cold, wet couple of days, we decided to head to the park this afternoon and enjoy the sunshine -- unfortunately it looked warmer than it really was, and we didn't stay for long! But I got to try out my new camera lens (Nikkor 55-200mm)... I just wish I knew what I was doing!

Thursday, December 03, 2009

22 Days to Christmas: Knitted gifts

One down, half a dozen to go... I'm trying (rather unsuccessfully) not to be too ambitious with my knitting this Christmas. I'm using a few patterns from One Skein, and a couple more freebies off Ravelry. One cabled scarf took me three weeks of intermittent knitting! I'm only making things for immediate family -- we'll see how far I get!

What handmade gifts are you giving this year?
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