Thursday, December 31, 2009

Unexpected Gifts

I thought I had opened all my presents.

I thought when the flurry of Christmas wrap, tissue paper and ribbons had subsided that there were no more gifts.

I was wrong.

Youngest Daughter came to me and asked, "Can you please ask Grandpa to come up to my room? I need him to fix something."

Uh, well, okay. Grandpa does love to fix things, and there really isn't much Grandpa can't fix. I'll send him up.

And, of course, Grandpa dutifully went up the stairs to fix what needed to be fixed.

A half hour later I began to wonder exactly what did need to be fixed. I trotted to Youngest Daughter's door, peered in and found, to my surprise, Youngest Daughter presiding over the arrangement of the new Playmobil kitchen and My Dad patiently placing tiny chairs, miniscule cutlery and itty-bitty cookbooks in the Playmobil dollhouse.

All the while Youngest Daughter chatted away . . . considering, analyzing, theorizing over the best placements. And My Dad obediently worked away to make the kitchen just right.

Can we just say that My Dad isn't exactly who you'd think of to be seated on the floor playing dollhouse with his 6 year-old granddaughter.

He's a full-blooded German, ex-engineer, ex-military man. He has large hands, working hands. I can remember them with cracked knuckles, grease under the fingernails and bruised nails. And now they held a tiny dishwasher and stove. They slid a small refrigerator over so there would be just enough room for the tiny shelving unit.

My Dad has become more tender, more easygoing over the years. It was sweetly healing to see the two of them together, heads bent over the task at hand.

I tiptoed away with my heart warmed to see My Dad gently and patiently engrossed in play with Youngest Daughter, selflessly entering into what could only be an unfamiliar world for him!

An hour and a half later, they both came down the stairs . . . Youngest Daughter beaming happily.

"So, what did you and Grandpa play," I asked (assuming he had probably pointed her to the more structural Legos or even napped on her bed while she played.)

"Oh, we played Playmobil dollhouse and we put together puzzles and we played fairy paperdolls."

Oh my! Can it be? My Dad? Fairy paperdolls?

And that's when I remembered again that not all gifts can be held in one's hands or wrapped up in a box or decorated with a bow.

The official present exchange of the day was long over, but I was savoring my own unexpected gift in the delight of my daughter's eyes and the patient, selfless hands of my father.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Chocolate Plunge

Every year I have the same problem at Christmas Dinner with the in-laws.

Now, don't jump to any conclusions! My in-laws are not the problem. They are dear, dear, dear and much kinder to me than I deserve . . . I can assure you.

The problem begins when, after I've been assigned what I'm to bring for the meal, I ask, "And what can I bring for dessert?"

To which one of my sisters-in-law always replies, "Oh, whatever you want . . . just bring a platter of your holiday baking."


This, of course, presupposes that there is holiday baking going on at my house!

You see, my sisters-in-law are Swedish homemakers. They work full-time jobs; they keep spotless houses; they raise their families; they do holiday baking. I have gone to their houses at all times. It is impossible to surprise them into seeing the house a mess. It just doesn't happen. Amazingly, their homes are also warm and inviting. Life is not fair.

So, when it is holiday time, of course, they do holiday baking. They churn out shortbreads and dipped pretzels and peanut butter blossoms and sugar cookies and no-bake chocolate cookies and fudge and more.

These women would not ever, ever promise their son to make gingerbread men together. And once the dough was all made, not be able to find the gingerbread man cutter. And end up with a bunch of pathetic squished angels and leaning Christmas trees. And then run out of time to ice them. No, that would not happen to my Swedish sisters-in-law. Never.

So, when I am faced with the daunting task of bringing my "holiday baking" to the family Christmas dinner, I have one of two options:

#1 - Offer a very small plate of un-iced squished angel and leaning Christmas tree gingerbread cookies or

#2 - Walk through the door with mounds of ripe, red strawberries nestled at the bottom of my great-aunt's fabulous, red crystal, footed candy dish, filled with Chocolate Plunge for dipping.

(sparkle nail polish courtesy of Youngest Daughter)

And hopefully, once everyone gets an eyeful of strawberries and chocolate, they'll forget all about my missing plate of "holiday baking."

Chocolate Plunge

2/3 cup light corn syrup
1/2 cup heavy or whipping cream
8 oz. pkg Bakers semi-sweet chocolate

In medium saucepan stir corn syrup and cream. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Remove from heat. Add chocolate and stir until completely melted. Serve warm as a dip for fruit. Makes 1 1/2 cups.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Christmas Ideals and Christmas Realities

As usual, my lofty, soaring ideals for this Christmas season far outstripped the abilities of my earthbound, plodding realities! You too?

Oooooh, I did have some wonderful plans. Just thinking about those idealistic plans gives me delightful, post-Christmas shivers. Do I really have to think about the realities?

Soaring Ideal #1 - Homemade gifts from the kitchen for all the neighbors. You know, Italian Bread Dipping Mix, Blueberry Salsa, Ukranian Braided Loaf. The kind of homemade gift that would make the neighbors comment to their spouse, as they quietly shut the front door after receiving their gift, "You know, we just don't realize how blessed we are to have the M's as our neighbors! Day after day they bring us joy and friendship, and it takes a time like this, a gift like this, to really sit back and appreciate them as they are due."
Yes, that's exactly what I was looking for.

Plodding Reality #1 - I have, instead, given large generous smiles to all the neighbors this holiday season. I have complimented their seasonal outdoor decor, wished them a merry Christmas, commiserated with them on the lack of snow. I have not delivered any home-baked goods to their doors. We'll have to wait for next year to get the appreciation we are so due.

Soaring Ideal #2 - 9-foot tree fully redone in the cocoas, coppers, golds and lime greens of my dreams. This really COULD have become a reality if along with my soaring ideal I did not also include that every ornament must be hung on the tree with a gold organza ribbon . . . necessitating the ironing, tying and retrimming of a ribbon for every ornament put on the tree.

Plodding Reality #2 - We had a tree. It had a star (and some really great twigs sticking out of it just like a real, live decorator!). Shimmering copper ribbon swagged down the tree. And half the ornaments got up . . . before time was up.

Even on Christmas Day the ornaments were hiding behind the paisley chair in hopes that in some few duty-less seconds I could get the rest of them on.

It was not to be.

The tree was half-decorated. But that half sure was gorgeous!

Soaring Ideal #3 - Really, really beautiful wrapping of all gifts. The kind of wrapping that says, "I thought of you; I took my time; I love beauty; I am creative." Gift wrap the way the The Nester does it:

Photo used with permission: The Nester

Plodding Reality #3 - All gifts were wrapped in recyclable paper off the discount table at Target. But, hey, at least they were wrapped . . . even the gifts for My Mom and My Dad that I snuck off to wrap as they were finishing up Christmas brunch. They never suspected the last strip of tape was snapped on mere moments before their gifts were unwrapped . . . or maybe they did---they've known me for a long time.

Soaring Ideal #4 - Christmas cards. Sent out the first week of December. To all friends both past and present. To restablish connections with people who currently think we must have moved to a foreign country. Or gone into hiding.

Plodding Reality #4 - I'm really hoping to send out pictures that say "Happy New Year" . . . or some other holiday in the year 2010.

Soaring Ideal #5 - A stunning, breathtaking Christmas Brunch spread for my side of the family . . . highlighted by homemade Maple Cinnamon Rolls from Pioneer Woman. (Don't be too judgmental here. My brother is, after all, a professional artisan baker and chef. You can't blame me too harshly for overdoing it when he's on the guest list!)

I think there was also a vision of gold-edged placards at each dish along the buffet line to let the guests know the full, delicious menu.

Plodding Reality #5 - I actually served two sweet bread recipes that began with cans of crescent rolls . . . purchased at the grocery store. I intentionally avoided eye contact with my brother as he skimmed through the buffet line.

And I must also say that by the time we ate brunch at 11:30, the guests were so happy to finally have food that they didn't really care what they were eating.

They never missed the placards . . . gold-edged or otherwise.

So, there you have it. My Christmas ideals . . . and the realities. And somewhere in there we spent loving family time, ate scrumptious foods, reflected on what really happened on that Silent Night . . . and never missed those lofty ideals.

Not even for a minute.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas, Sweet Friends ~ ~ It is exactly 4:00 p.m. in the Eastern Standard time zone, and I have just completed the last thing that I have to cook for Christmas.

I do believe I'm going to make it.

So, I wanted to pop in here and wish you a very merry Christmas . . . no matter where you find yourself . . . no matter what you're doing . . . or not doing.

On this Christmas day, I'm loving knowing that one of God's names is "Emmanuel, God with us." God, right in the midst of us . . . in us if we are His.

I am never, never alone.

I hope you will be wrapped up in His presence today, and that you'll experience His comfort and joy and peace.

Have a wonderful Christmas!

"The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call Him Emmanuel, which means 'God with us.'" Matthew 1:23

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Frosty Morning Walk

If you have to be out walking

on a winter morning, during Christmas vacation,

it is a good thing that there is so much breathtaking, icy beauty

even in the morning's stark, barren frozen-ness.

Because that dramatic winter beauty is really the only reason I can think of

for getting out of a warm, perfectly rumpled bed

and going out walking

on a winter morning, during Christmas vacation.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Missing: Christmas Traditions

Last Wednesday was just a Christmas kind of day . . . crisp air . . . homes sporting thick green wreaths at every window . . . Enya singing "O Come Emmanuel" hauntingly over the radio . . . me picking up Oldest Son from his last exam . . . school out for Christmas break. Aaah.

Oldest Son jumped in the car and, as usual, downloaded his day for me. I love it!

Algebra II exam - easy; Chemistry exam - easy; Writing exam - hard.

Hard? You do well at writing!

Well, she gave us the question, "What are your family's Christmas traditions?" and we don't have any.

Oh my . . . perfect Christmas-y day blown to smithereens!!

Immediately my mind went into action! No Christmas traditions! All good moms have Christmas traditions. This can't be true. I need to:

#1 - Contact the teacher and explain to her all the good traditions that we have . . . don't we?!

#2 - List out for Oldest Son all the wonderful traditions that he has forgotten.

#3 - Come up with at least 6 new traditions to start this year.

The longer I thought, however, I realized Oldest Son was exactly right. There just aren't a lot of Christmas traditions in this family.

He happens to have a mom (me!) who is easily bored, hates ruts, and is easily distracted.

Red and gold tree 2 years in a row? New color scheme this year! Everyone else does big turkey dinners on Christmas day? Let's do hors d'oeuvres! Advent wreath 2 years ago, visit to holiday lights display last year, let's watch the Christmas story movie this year.

He's right. This family is painfully short on Christmas traditions!

So either one of two things is true. Either (a) I'm the worst mom in the whole, entire world, or (b) I'm the most exciting, spontaneous, and creatively un-boring mom in the world.


Or maybe there's a third option. What if my desire and passion to mirror the love of the Heavenly Father every day is really the most important thing in Oldest Son's life. And what if even after I've done the best mirroring I can do, it really is all His grace and His good work.

Maybe neither my spontaneity, litany of Christmas traditions, or goodie-filled Advent calendar is what the Good Mom/Bad Mom title hangs on.

Whew! I sure hope so. Because if this child's emotional stability is riding on a home filled with Christmas traditions, he's going to need a lot of therapy.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Chandelier

I love to add a little greenery to the "chandelier" over the dining room table. ("Chandelier" being quite the overstatement of the year!)

This year I got an inspiration from "The Nester."

You have met The Nester; haven't you? Oooh, if you haven't, you really should! Her mantra is, "It doesn't have to be perfect to be beautiful."It is definitely a site to check out! She posts every day and is always refreshing and inspiring.

So, anyway, back to my inspiration. Here is what she calls her "Ragamuffin Garland." I just love all that delightful tumble of fabrics one over the other.

(Photo used with permission.)

I decided to use just a touch of this on my "chandelier."

I had some really beautiful large checked silk that was left over from my dining room curtains, so I ripped some of it up into strips 15 1/2 " x 2" (the leftovers, that is, not the curtains!).

The greenery I used on the chandelier is a little more realistic than the norm . . . with some pieces that look like pine and pinecones sprinkled here and there. So, the garland of greenery was laid on the fixture, and I started tying on my "strips." Which, after tying on looked like this.

Now, here's the treasure. A box of Shiny Brite vintage balls from my grandmother, probably from the 50's. Look at how perfectly she kept things. The box isn't even bent. It scares me that this box even came in my door!

To finish off the chandelier "decor," I hung these vintage balls from gold oranza ribbon.

I just love it!

Now, this really gives me some tingly Christmas joy when I walk in the front door!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Wreath

Part of bringing the house from a blaze of red and gold to the comforting shades of browns and greens was redoing the wreath over the fireplace.

I'm no florist, so this task is always fraught with angst and a great consulting with the children and doing and redoing and hmmmm-ing and aaaaaah-ing.

I started with a lucious copper ribbon.

And then tucked in some of those delicious new ornaments and a few pinecones rescued from the old wreath.

The crepe myrtle pods from my fall table got a shimmery gold coat and were added in.

Hmmmm . . . still needed some more natural touches to counteract the slight garishness of the sparkles. So, I went a-snipping around the yard and produced maple twigs, mini magnolia leaves (dusted with a little gold), and some sort of variegated leaf.

Tuck . . . spray . . . adjust . . . snip . . . squeeze . . . catch . . . bend . . . ponder . . . switch . . . turn . . . critique . . . add . . . hang . . . gaze.

After a few moments of loving gazing, I needed a little input.

Youngest Daughter and Youngest Son chimed in, "It's just beeeeeauuuutiful, Mommy!"

(Yeah, yeah, but it also looks beautiful to you two when I light a single candle on the dining room table or pick a single flower and put it in the bottom of an old salt shaker. You two are too easily impressed. Must look for more critical input.)

I bring in the Man of the House.

"Looks nice. Looks good."

"Uh-huh? Anything else?"

He begins to look vaguely panicked and excuses himself to watch the basketball game.

"Oldest Daughter?"

"Nice, Mom." Polite smile and the tone of voice she reserves for the feeble of mind.

"Middle Son? Oldest Son?"

"Uh, yeah, it's okay."

"Mom, are you going to just sit all night and stare at it?"

And then it hits me.

Yes, this is why I blog. Because there's a whole world of women out there who understand the way you get flutters when you tuck some magnolia behind a pine cone and the way you want to jump up and down at the light shimmering on the copper ribbon and the way you feel when you just made something and you sit on the couch with the sun going down outside and just enjoy it until the light is gone and the living room is swallowed up in night.

And you feel . . . content.

Didn't it turn out pretty?

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Veils and Bouquets / Volleys and Blocks

Oldest Daughter and I have a standing date.

Every weekend, some time during the weekend, we will watch "Say Yes to the Dress" together.

(All bridal gown pictures from Kleinfelds.)
We will critique and analyze and speculate.

We will shamelessly scold bossy mothers, roll our eyes at know-it-all maids of honor, and help overwhelmed brides pick the perfect dress.

No other kids allowed. It's our time.

So Friday night I scurried through the dishes, grabbed Oldest Daughter by the waist, and said, "Okay, ready to watch 'Say Yes . . . '!"

Oldest Daughter looked at me . . . shocked and unbelieving.

"Mom, Dad and I are watching volleyball!"

"Honey, are you kidding? Wedding dresses . . . volleyball?"

"Mom! It's Nebraska Women's!"

Excuse me?! Can someone please explain to me how this happened? I did girly crafts with this girl, perched large bows on top of her head for the first 6 years of her life, bought American Girl dolls . . . and in the clinch she chooses televised women's volleyball with her dad over wedding dresses with her mom? Has someone messed up the planet alignment tonight?

So, I watched "Say Yes to the Dress" by myself (which, ironically was about dads and daughters!). I shamelessly scolded bossy mothers, rolled my eyes at know-it-all maids of honor, and helped overwhelmed brides pick the perfect dress.

And I secretly thrilled inside that my own daughter was having a bonding time with her dad . . . even if it left me temporarily dumped on a Friday night!