Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Baked Some Cookies, Had A Party, Read a Story, Made Some Gifts...


 This morning had me up early and in the shower for two purposes: getting myself clean and scrubbing the tile.  I learned this whole clean-the-shower-while-you-are-in-the-shower trick from my friend Tamyra in Oklahoma.  Always multi-tasking.  Always.

And the reason I want a super-clean bathroom is because in just a few short hours my littlest nephew will be here from California along with his mom and dad.  (Actually, now that I think of it, he's not my littlest nephew, because he has a little brother who's on his way in another 4-5 months!) My youngest sister will also be here today, and we'll all get to celebrate Christmas together.  I can hardly wait to see them, and it will be so fun to have a toddler in the house at Christmas!

Kayla had her annual Christmas tea party last Friday, but this year we called it a Cupcake and Cappuccino party like last year.  I think "tea party" was starting to sound too childish, and I understand, but we definitely didn't want to do away with the event altogether.  Kayla is blessed with wonderful friends, and I love seeing these girls all together.
It was also a pajama party!
Like every year, the girls decorated gingerbread (well...graham cracker) houses, and then we played some Christmas-themed games: Candy Cane Pass, A Nativity Passing game, and a Christmas version of charades/Pictionary.  On the menu for lunch was bagels and cream cheese, cheese and crackers, chocolate dipped strawberries, cookies, cupcakes, and a ham and egg casserole.  Tea, coffee, and hot cocoa were the drink choices.  (Pardon the details, but this is part of how I remember and plan from year to year!)

Here's a link to some fun Christmas party games.  Thanks to Laura Machak for the recommendation!
 When there was a bit of downtime,  the girls ended up having a spontaneous beauty salon and everyone ended up with some form of a beautiful braid.  The most special part for me is watching the big girls and little girls hang out together and in such a sweet way.  The age range was from 6 to 15 years old, and yet there was a kind and sisterly spirit with gracious accommodation on everyone's part. What a blessing.
 I signed up for Advent devotions for women through Bible Gateway, and one of them included an incredible story about a child in Mexico who received a shoebox through Samaritan's Purse which contained only socks. Wanting to do some sort of devotion with the girls while they ate, the Lord prompted me to print it out and read it.  You can read it for yourself here.  Might want to have a tissue handy.  Proof that God knows and sees us and is able to provide for our needs.

And while I'm thinking of it, here is another link to a wonderful article about the "why" of Christmas.  Why did Jesus have to come and put on flesh?  Because it was "fitting" that's why!
Before the party a LOT of baking went on.  This served a triple purpose: the party with the girls, our staff and elders party later that night, and the rest were frozen for Christmas and my family's arrival.
 I'm getting better and the gluten free butter/sugar cookie thing.  Using xanthan gum and CHILLING the dough before cutting out the cookies AND again after they are cut and on the cookie sheets.  A bit more time consuming, but it really helped.

I love these new blue and green sprinkles, and the gingerbread-looking men have cinnamon and sugar sprinkled on them.  Don't know why I never thought to do that before!

And here's a pic of the gluten free version of the "Insanely Delicious Turtle Cookies."  Oh my....
These were NOT served at the girls' tea party due to several nut allergies!
 I mentioned in the last post how much I love to give gifts to my kids, but I also love to give a gift to our church staff and elders as well as a few friends who are near.  It's sometimes difficult to come up with a gift to give to about 10 or 12 folks that is the same.  I've done dish towels, bags of mulling spices, and baked treats before, but this year I came across another idea that seemed fun and practical and not too expensive ~ spice mixes. (And NO sugar ~ hurray!  Christmas often feels like the Plague of Sugar!)
 Collecting the spices was probably the hardest part.  It required standing at the bulk bins at Whole Foods for 15-20 minutes and dealing with their not-so-great system for pouring the spices out and labeling each bag.  Some of the spices I bought in jars at our regular grocery store.  I've kind of figured out which ones are the best deal and where after years of research, i.e. 20+ years of at least weekly trips to the grocery store. (sigh...)

I also saved lots of apple butter from the fall to give as well, so everyone got 2 different spice mixes and a jar of homemade apple butter.  Then I searched online for printable mason jar labels and found these cute ones for free. It was really fun to put all of this together, and I only wish I had more time for creative and kitchen-y things like this.  Even more fun to give them away!
In case you are in need of a last minute gift idea, here are a few links to the spice mix recipes and the labels.  There are tons of versions of labels and spice mixes out there, but this will get you started.


(I decreased the spices to 10)
(This can also be mixed with oil and vinegar for a steak or fajita marinade!)

(Same as above for a fajita marinade.)

(All of my favorite Indian spices here. Yum.)

Okay ~ off to do a bit more baking, cleaning, and errand running. 'Tis the season for going to the store A LOT ~ Ha!

I hope you are having a wonderful Christmas week!

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Christmas Randomness

Seven years ago this month, I was "tagged" by a real and bloggy friend to write down 12 random Christmas facts about myself.  Kayla was browsing through my blog a few days ago and found the list.  She thought it was very funny and asked me to read it aloud.  When I refused, she started reading it to me and laughing the whole time.  Now, I don't really think it's THAT funny, but I thought I would just share it again ~ and maybe update a few things...


1. I used to think the words were, "Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer yoogled down in history." 

(Kinda like I thought it was "Starbucks Lovers" instead of "long list of ex-lovers" in Taylor's "Blank Space")


2. Two of my favorite and most memorable childhood gifts were "shoe skates"(you know, instead of the strap on metal kind of roller skate) and a matching Gloria Vanderbilt outfit - courdoroy pants/ matching sweater with large swan insignia on front.


(Just saw a pair of those retro "Shoe skates" at the mall the other day ~ next to a record player and a vinyl record selection!?  So weird to see things from your childhood become "cool" again.)


3. In second grade, Wendy Reardon told me that there was no Santa Claus at a Girl Scout/Brownies meeting, and when it was confirmed later that evening by my mom, I felt very grown up to have this secret knowledge that my siblings did not.


(My own children have always known there is no Santa, but Kayla still insists on believing and leaving out treats on Christmas Eve.  We just thank her for the late night snack.)

4. My sister and I were convinced that the red flashing radio tower light we could see from our bedroom window was Rudolph.


(And Cooper claims to have seen a couple of UFOs in recent years...)


5. I have never seen the Nutcracker Ballet. I really want to though, and hope to take my own little ballerina next year!


(I STILL haven't seen the Nutcracker, and NEITHER has Kayla!  Maybe someday...)

6. But I have seen the Rockette's Christmas Spectacular in New York City with my whole family thanks to the gift of my sister, Melissa and her husband! They went too, and it was spectacular!


(I really wish we could do this every year.  My brother and his wife from California are spending three nights in NYC this weekend before they come and spend Christmas with us, and I am SO excited for them.  Nothing like Christmas in New York!  I'm having a HARD time not being TOO much of a remote tour guide.)


7. I hate the thoughtless consumerism that goes on, but absolutely LOVE it when I can buy my kids something I know they really want. Stuffing their stockings is equally as enjoyable


(But it gets more and more difficult the older they get!  What do you get 17 and 19 year old boys???  I really don't trust myself to pick out clothes for them.  Kayla, on the other hand, provides me with a list via email ~ complete with links to the gifts.  And guess what she wants this year?  A record player and vinyl albums!  If she gets this heart's desire of hers, it will go very well with her vintage typewriter.)

8. As a child, I became an expert gift wrapper at Rowland's department store in Uvalde,TX during the season. (It was a family owned business)


(I still enjoy wrapping gifts, but my 75 year old father takes the gift-wrapping cake!  He is a loyal Container Store shopper and purchases only the very finest of boxes, wrap, and ribbons.  He then MAKES his own ribbons at home and attaches them to each gift.)

(And while I'm telling stories on my dad, I may as well tell you that he is known by NAME at Dillard's J. Crew, Ann Taylor, and more.  My sister texted me from Barton Creek Mall in Austin to tell me that she felt like a celebrity while helping him shop for the grandkids ~ all the sales clerks giving him a personal "welcome back.")


9. My grandmother, Memo, made something every Christmas that she called "Divinity." I HATED it, and for some time just the thought of it could make me gag. Now I think it was simply meringues, and I LOVE this gluten free treat! (Especially mint chocolate chip ones!)


(I don't make meringues for Christmas much, but I do make a lot of cut out butter cookies, peanut butter blossoms, and a new favorite is "Insanely Delicious Turtle Cookies."  Will be mass-producing cookies in just a while for Kayla's annual Christmas tea party.)

10. My two favorite Christmas albums are Carpenter's:An Old Fashioned Christmas (Karen Carpenter's voice always reminds me of Christmas) and Christmas with the Rat Pack. Consequently, my daughter's favorite "Christmas carol" is "Baby, it's Cold Outside."(which is NOT a carol. Sad.)


(I also never get tired of Amy Grant's Christmas albums, but Karen Carpenter is still hard to beat!)


11. When my sister and I didn't share a room, we used to "move in" together for the Christmas season, and decorate with extra tree lights, etc. Actually, now that I think of it, I don't think we ever lasted until Christmas Day - too much proximity.

(Kayla will be moving into her brothers' room next week, in order to give her room to her Aunt Melinda, who is coming in from Denver.  For some reason, none of the siblings are very excited to be "moving in" together, and I even bought them Christmas lights for their room!?)

12. I never watched It's a Wonderful Life in it's entirety until 2 years ago - but I'm so glad I finally did.


(And since then, I've watched it every year.  A few weeks ago, my seminary professor even used a clip from it in class. And Elf is my favorite Christmas movie from recent years.  It's a tradition now to watch it every year on the day we decorate our tree. I crack up every time.  Love it.)

(And speaking of Christmas movies, how come no one ever told me about the Hallmark Channel? I've been following Candace Cameron Bure (Kirk's sister, D.J. from Full House...) on Instagram, and she's in nearly every Hallmark movie ever made, I think. We watched her movie Christmas Under Wraps this year, and I tried to win the scarf she was wearing in the movie by responding to her "live tweeting." (yes, really) (I did not win) The movie was not at all predictable or sappy. I'm kidding. It was, but I didn't care.)

And even though it was only supposed to be 12 random facts, I added a 13th.  This one also holds true in 2014.

13. Aside from church on Christmas Eve for a candlelight service, and New York City's 5th Avenue and Rockefeller Center, my next favorite place to go at Christmastime (anytime really) is Starbucks. What is it about that place that charms me so?  The warm wall colors, the hard wood floors, chalkboards announcing the newest seasonal drink, the cool music selections, the chai lattes (with half and half, of course)  And during the holidays, the decor draws me in all the more.  What can I say?  The Mermaid mesmerizes me, and I am simply compelled to enter every Starbucks I walk (or drive) past. 

(We have a new one in town WITH a drive-thru which is particularly dangerous.  I use it as an incentive for my big 3-store grocery trips. Ugh.)

(Oh!  And Whole Foods!  THAT'S a fun place to browse at Christmastime!)

And now I'm off to make cookies and a whole bunch of these for a houseful of teen girls tomorrow. No one ever outgrows decorating a gingerbread house!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Overcome, But Overcoming

Christmas is nine days away.  There are menus and meals and cookies to make, groceries to be bought, and parties to be hosted and attended.  There is a track meet to attend and daily practices to travel to.  There are movie dates and skating dates to arrange with teen friends. There are beds to be made and guest rooms to prepare.  There is a pile of laundry. There are 225 Christmas cards sitting on my dining room table that need to be sealed, addressed, and stamped.  There is a long gift list with lots of blanks by lots of names.

And there are so many people and so many needs.  Some need to be taught how to add rational algebraic expressions and write essays for college applications.  Some need to be encouraged.  Some need healing.  Some need counsel and direction.  Some need to be listened too.  Some need apology. Some need forgiveness. Some need confrontation. Some need prayer. Some need referrals. Some need grace.  Some need truth.

And I needed freedom from the resentment that was resulting.

I wasn't coping too well and wanted to totally avoid my Bible and my prayer journal.  I especially wanted to neglect them, because I knew that Jude and Revelation were next up in my endeavor to read the thing cover to cover. What weird books. What could they possibly have to say to me in my weary and bitter state?

Deciding to read them anyway, I only felt worse.  The revelation to the churches had me completely depressed, because at the end of each message to each church, there is a promise "to him who overcomes." The promises are really incredible...

To him who overcomes...

  • the privilege of eating from the Tree of Life in Paradise
  • the crown of life
  • a portion of the hidden manna
  • authority over the nations and the morning star
  • clothed in white garments
  • Jesus will speak the overcomer's name to the Father
  • being made a pillar in the temple of God forever
  • knowledge of the name of God, city of God, and new name of Jesus
  • a seat with Jesus on the throne

The problem was that I was not overcoming.  Not the stress, not the bitterness, not the tears of sadness or frustration, not the fatigue, not the to-do list.  Those things were overcoming me, which clearly rendered me without any of these beautiful promises now or in the future. Those things are obviously only for those really special, strong, godly, always joyful, always energetic, always grateful folks.  After many years of trying, I know I will never be in that group.

Why did you want me to read this now, Lord? I thought. I was already feeling so inadequate and miserable and hopeless.

And then He gently reminded me of something I had JUST READ in Jude ~ and not only had I just read it, but I had written in down in my journal the day before. Sigh...

Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy, to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, authority before all time and now and forever.
Jude 1:24


Why is it so easy to continually fall back into self-sufficiency and self-salvation mode despite the clear teaching of His Word?

He is the overcomer. 

He is the one who keeps me from stumbling.  

He will make me to stand in His glorious presence blameless.

He, not me.

He put on flesh to make this clear. May He also give me a heart of peace and worship this season.

He is able.




Friday, December 12, 2014

Final Exams And Other Festivities


Now that I think about it, I'm pretty sure a final exam does not technically meet the definition of a festivity (the celebration of something in a  joyful and exuberant way), but maybe the completion of the final exam does. I took my final exam in Systematic Theology I (cosmological, moral, and teleological arguments, the Trinity, Providence, problem of evil, free will vs. determinism, etc.) on Wednesday morning and certainly felt more festive when it was over!  I felt especially festive when I discovered that I made a 90% on it.  Then I found out that I got a 91% on my research paper on the possible connections between the Trinity and gender roles (eternal functional subordination of Jesus? I Corinthians 11:3?), and a 100% on my last quiz.  

It sounds silly, but a few of you really encouraged me early on when you said things like "You're not a B student!" (Anne C., Matt B....) when there was that Moodle mishap with my first two quizzes.  (Thank you!) The problem is that for this particular school and program the lowest A is a 95%. So, I will be making a B, but I thank God for the strength to study and learn and make a grade that somewhat reflects the understanding that He gave me. (I say somewhat, because no grade could ever properly evaluate the growth and joy and privilege of learning the deep things of the Word and doctrine or the worship that it calls forth.  For these things I am even more grateful!)

Somehow, in spite of the schoolwork ~ both seminary and homeschool ~ and lots of other things, we managed to cut down a Christmas tree at our favorite tree farm and get the house decorated.
We had a snowstorm the day before Thanksgiving, so had to trudge through
about 10 inches of snow to find our tree!

We cut our tree down two days after Thanksgiving.  Thanksgiving is definitely a favorite holiday in our house. We always have a houseful for the meal, and even the kids love helping with the preparations the morning of while alternatively watching the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade on TV. Some years we've sent the boys away from the house for a football game, but not this year.

Kayla really wanted to make the Turkey this year.  I always cook two turkeys, though.  One goes in at 6am and out at 9am.  The other goes in at 9am and comes out around noon.  I tried to talk her into preparing the 6am turkey and letting me off the hook this year, but she was not swayed.
 She did a great job, and used some tips and tricks she's picked up from various cooking shows ~ butter and lots of herbs and spices.  She was not too thrilled with removing the neck and giblets, but I made her do it anyway.  Hopefully, that way she will never make the same mistake I did the first time I cooked a turkey.

I left the bag of parts and the neck inside the whole time it cooked.

No one died or got sick, but still.

Here's a look at the crowd.  27 people which included a toddler and infant.  My house is very small, but people don't seem to mind too much...
The teen girls' table
Etienne, Tristan, Katie, and Dan
Kevin (our temporary live-in guest!), Steve, Mike, Kiah, Gwyneth, Logan, Cooper, and Mark 
Me, Theresa, Tony, Christie, Ryan, Izckra, Nicolette, Chris, and Michelle
On the Saturday of the following week, we had a church women's event called "Mug & Muffin." The name and idea were stolen from my college and Campus Crusade days at the University of Texas, but it was no less popular than it was back then ~ wow!  About 50 women gathered in the beautiful home of a woman from our church.  Think Pottery Barn + Mary Engelbreit + Williams Sonoma + Susan Branch. It was perfectly delightful in its decor and warmth.  The girls LOVED it.
 They were encouraged to come in their comfiest pi's and slippers or sweats and bring their favorite mug ~ and as you can see, they DID.  We ate muffins, drank coffee, tea, and hot chocolate, sang, prayed, and heard brief teaching or testimony from two women from our church.  We also used the gathering as a way to get everyone thinking about the women's retreat coming up in February.

A chocolate stirring spoon was the take-home favor that I had a lot of fun creating the day before. Super easy, cute, and yummy!
 The very next day we had a combined (early and late services) worship and baptism service. Talk about a festivity! We got to hear three beautiful testimonies, and there is really no better way to participate in the spirit of the season than this in my opinion.
And last but not least, I really enjoyed watching several of Cooper's debates and presentations for Challenge III.  It's been nice to have a break from tutoring this year, but I always enjoy seeing these teens display the skills and knowledge they have acquired over the last few years.  Cooper's philosophy presentation was on Humanism and it's origins and core beliefs.  His debates were on the issues of secession, states' rights, and the Civil War, specifically whether or not the southern states were justified in secession.  He had to argue both sides in two different debates. Ask him anything! I'm proud of his hard work in preparing.  He's constantly being stretched beyond what he thinks he is able to do.
Okay ~ that's about all for now. I only started to think about Christmas gifts yesterday, and have lots to prepare for still. In all honesty, I have been a complete mess (internally mostly, and externally only to my poor husband), but I felt another post about that struggle would not help the situation any. Betsy and I talked about the battleground of our thought life and constant negativity yesterday while running.  I've definitely been losing that battle, but as always the Lord meets me in His Word each day and I am sustained in hope ~ though tiny shreds they may seem.

I'll finish reading the Bible from cover to cover before the end of the year, and I really did not think that Jude and Revelation were going to be of any encouragement.  Silly me.  Maybe I'll tell you about that on Monday.

He is good, and He is returning! Now that will be a festivity! It will be THE FESTIVITY.

The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ; and he will reign forever and ever.
Revelation 11:15