Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Scent of Memories

I am one of those for whom smells can, in the blink of an eye, bring back memories from days gone by.  Today, the memories have created a whirlwind in my mind.

A trip to Ma's house always meant the opportunity for a cinnamon roll.  Whether the visit was a quick one after church on Sunday mornings just to say hello or maybe the need for a place to land for a few hours after school and before the next extracurricular activity, you could always count on a cinnamon roll.

Now these weren't just ANY cinnamon rolls.  They were Ma's homemade ones that were the best ones on the planet, hands down.  I don't think any cinnamon roll will ever take the prize of the "best on the planet."  Ever.  Whether fresh on the counter, or warmed from the freezer, there was just nothing better. 


As I've grown older, I've come to realize it was more than the taste that made the cinnamon rolls so tasty.  Now don't get me wrong--they were scrumptious.  But what came with the cinnamon roll was just as special.  A conversation about my day at school.  The latest happenings at church.  Family news.  The sweetest encouragement you could ever ask for.  I could always tell Ma about an accomplishment, no matter what it was, knowing she wouldn't take it as bragging, and knowing she would be so proud.  And tell me so.  Every time.  And if ever there was correction that needed to be given, it would be so coated with love and sweetness that you didn't even realize you were being corrected, but yet the lesson stuck.

I've begun my own little tradition of making Ma's cinnamon rolls every year at Christmas.  Maybe it's because I become more senitmental than usual during the holiday seaons.  Maybe it's because I miss her and need to revisit those sweet memories. 

As the scent of homemade cinnamon rolls is making its way through my house, a few tears find their way down my cheeks.  I wish Ma were still here.  I'd so love for my kids to know her.  And for them to know her.  And her love.  And her sweet correction. 

If she were here, I'd put a warm roll on a Christmas plate for each of us, pour her a cup of coffee, and sit down at the table for a chat.  I'd tell her all about Benjamin and Hannah.  How smart they are.  How funny they are.  How sweet they are.  How ornery they are.  How much I love them.  And she wouldn't take it as bragging.  And she would tell me how proud she was of me.  And of them.  Every time.


Monday, December 21, 2009

Gingerbread Houses

I've been wanting to make gingerbread houses with my kids, but I never like those kits that you can buy in a store.  You can only eat the gingerbread if you're willing to risk a broken tooth, and eating it, to me, is the best part about making one in the first place!  Then I heard some friends talking about making them out of graham crackers and decided the kids and I would give it a try.  My nephew is with us for a few days, so I thought this would be a fun activity for us to do while he's with us. 

I googled making gingerbread houses out of graham crackers and found a very easy recipe for icing--simply mix 3 egg whites and 5 cups of powdered sugar until it is peanut butter consistency.  It worked well.  The builder of the houses was a rookie builder, so the sturdiness of the houses would not pass inspection.  But I don't figure that matters because I'm not sure they'll last much past supper anyway!



Our various candies--gummy life savers, M&M's, butter mints, licorice bites, candy cane kisses, and what I thought were gum drops.  Turns out they were "spice drops."  Ick.  Definitely ensured I would not be munching on them in obscene amounts.


The houses before...



...and in the making.  What, you mean you didn't know Spider Man made gingerbread houses??



Serious concentration



And the finished products--Benjamin



Nephew Ethan



Hannah



This one belongs to the only person at the table who had enough patience to construct that M&M roof.  Evidently, I was a bit too intense while building my gingerbread house because I kept getting holes in my icing bag (aka a Ziploc bag with a corner snipped off).  The bag would just split and icing would start oozing out in another hole.  By the end, I was smearing the icing on with my fingers and was by far the messiest one at the table!  But doesn't the rule say something like the messier you get, the more fun you had?  Well, a great time was definitely had by all!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Thank You

As a pastor's family, we are blessed beyond measure during the Christmas season with gifts from our congregation--everything from a snowman cookie jar filled with homemade snack mix, to a dozen grapefruit, to candy and cookies specifically designated for Benjamin and Hannah.  I've been trying to stay caught up with thank you notes as the gifts come in, so as to not find myself with oodles of thank you's to write come December 26th.

As I was just sitting at the kitchen bar, writing our appreciation to so many people, an abundance of things flashed through my mind for which I am thankful--and for which deserve a thank you note of their own.

Dear God,

In this Christmas season, there are so many things that you have given me for which I am so grateful.  Some of them I often take for granted; others, I thank you for on an almost daily basis.  But tonight, I thank you for:
  • the gift of your Son.  As a mommy, this gift, this sacrifice of yours, is completely beyond my comprehension.  I am humbled by your love for me.
  • the gift of my husband.  The work you began in his life as a young boy, and the work you continue doing through him as a pastor, husband, daddy, and more is amazing.  Thank you for choosing me as the privileged one to be his wife.
  • the gift of my son.  My life-long dream to be a mommy was fulfilled the day he entered this world.  The relationship that you have given us is a special one that can never be matched.
  • the gift of my daughter.  Oh, to get to be a mommy to a little princess is the best.  Each day is a new adventure, and she sings and dances her way through my days and brings beautiful rays of sunshine along with her.
  • the gift of life.  As I watch a friend struggle through an organ transplant and the daily battles that go along with it, I realize just what a gift my good health is--one I don't deserve, but one for which I am so grateful.
  • the gift of beauty.  You didn't have to make this world be an array of colors, scents, sights, sounds, tastes and more--but you did it because you love beauty, you love creativity, and you love your children.
This thank you is never-ending.  The life you have given me is one that is full of grace, mercy, love and so much more.  I haven't earned this life, but I humbly thank you that you've given it to me.  Forgive me for the days that I take it all for granted.  Help me to share the gifts you've given me with those you put in my path each day.

Monday, December 14, 2009

I Love Christmas, But...

I want to preface what I am about to say with this:

I LOVE Christmas.  I love teaching my children the real meaning behind this holiday.  I love decorating my home and enjoying the twinkling lights on our tree.  I love shopping for gifts for those I love and wrapping them up in pretty paper.  I love a month that makes me focus on the real gift, the ONLY gift that matters.  I LOVE Christmas.

I am NOT a Scrooge.

But...and I am prepared for boos, hisses, and rotten tomatoes...

I am tired of Santa Claus.

There it is.  Go ahead.  Call me un-American.  Call me a grump.  Call me whatever.  But I AM tired of Santa Claus.

Santa seems to take center stage in the consumeristic, materialistic, worldly celebration that is Christmas for many people.  But I don't want Santa taking center stage in my family's celebration of the birth of Christ.

I don't get into the "Santa Claus is watching you!" method of parenting at Christmas time.  I don't want my kids to have to pretend that they believe in Santa long after they really do in order to continue getting gifts in their stockings.

In this day and age, it actually kinda creeps me out to think of my kids sitting on the lap of some man that I don't know from Adam just so that I can have a picture of them for the "memory of it all".  And then to have to pay a ridiculous amount of money just to walk away with a 3x5 photo of the "memory."

Mark and I refuse to lie to our children.  They are smart, curious kids, and it won't be long before "what do you think?" will no longer satisfy their questioning selves.  I'm so ready to just be straight-forward with them.  To tell them how Santa Claus came to be a part of this holiday in the first place.  To enjoy filling their stockings, simply because it's a fun way to celebrate and spread joy to those I love, rather than trying to make them think a fat, jolly man in a red suit somehow makes it down our chimney (even when I have my church collection displayed in front of the fireplace doors) to put gifts in their stockings.  I'm ready to teach my kids that we ALL can be Santa Claus by sharing hope and love with others who desperately need it year-round, but who especially might feel forgotten at this time of the year.

I am tired of Santa Claus as the world knows him.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Let's Pretend

I cannot count the number of times as a child that I remember saying to my sister, "Let's pretend..." Worlds of fun open up in the times following those two simple words. Now, I overhear Benjamin and Hannah saying it to each other multiple times a day as well. 

So...

Let's pretend that you live just down the street from me, and Mark and I invite you to our Parsonage Open House (which occurred in reality yesterday).  Even though it's frigid outside, you bundle up in your warm coat, scarf and gloves and head over to my house.  Here's how it will go.


Welcome to our home!





As you sign our guestbook, take note of the sweet message left for you from Benjamin and Hannah.


Our mini-host and hostess will be glad to serve as your tour guide if you'd like them to!


First things first!  Grab a plate of goodies to munch on while you are perusing our home.  There's lots to choose from...


here's fudge, apricot balls, and chocolate-caramel apple slices...


and peanut clusters and macadamia-craisin clusters...


dipped apricots and pecans, or maybe a cheeseball is more your thing...


there's hot dips, too--jalapeno and bacon or spinach-artichoke...
(I have no idea why Blogger is turning my pictures sideways...let's pretend they are turned the way they are supposed to be!)


I always love summer sausage, cheese and crackers, and maybe you will, too!


You can have a brownie or piece of strawberry bread to top off your plate.  And don't forget the cider!


Why don't you have a seat and enjoy your munchies?  If you had an hour, I'd tell you all about our tree and how almost every ornament has a story behind it.  But I know you are busy, so I'll just tell you about a few of my favorites.


This delicate laser-cut paper nativity always hangs near the top in the center of the tree--signifying why we celebrate Christmas in the first place.


This little nativity ornament caught my eye last fall when I was in Cancun.  I collect nativities, but this one is housed inside a little gourd, making it very unique.


This is the ornament that started it all!  Mark and I bought this on our honeymoon in Hawaii in April 2000.


This one comes with lots of memories attached.  I bought it in San Luis Obispo, CA over the Thanksgiving holiday in 1993.  I played basketball my freshman year in college, and we were in California for a tournament.  The ornament signifies my love for basketball, but that trip was an especially difficult one for me.  It was my first time ever to be away from my family for Thanksgiving, and just three weeks earlier, my roommate/best friend/teammate had been killed in a car accident.  My introduction to "life" as a freshman in college that year was a little more than I bargained for.


Bittersweet memories here, too.  This "Beary Christmas" ornament belonged to my sister, Susan, a lover and collector of all things with teddy bears.



This sweet Fitz & Floyd teddy bear was my gift from an ornament exchange in 1997.  We went to the party assuming it was a "get-to-know each other" party with my sister's boyfriend's family.  What it really was was an opportunity for both families to be together for that "boyfriend" of my sister's to become that "fiance" of my sister's, complete with Santa delivering the engagement ring!



Over the years I've been given picture frame ornaments which have become great ways to capture my children's pictures over the years.  The one to the left was given to us at Benjamin's baby shower and has his first picture as an infant in it.



And here's Hannah in her "First Christmas" ornament and with me in the "Mommy's Little Angel" ornament.

Since you've finished your goodies, feel free to look around.  There's decorations all over the house, so make yourself at home!



Being a pastor's wife, I'm a little partial to churches.  Here are a few of my favorites!



Right above the churches on the mantle, "the stockings are hung by the chimney with care."  No, I didn't needlepoint our stockings, as many people asked me yesterday.  I ordered them here.



In the kitchen, I have my Santa collection displayed.  It was not intentional on my part to start collecting Santas.  A gift here and a gift there, and the next thing you know, I have these and...



all of these!  The three little guys on the bottom shelf are the ones that started it all!



Having a collection of nativities was an intentional effort on my part, since they do serve as a constant reminder of the reason behind this special season that is often overcome by commercialism.  Mark and I bought this set for our first Christmas together, and it has travelled many miles with us.  This is the third parsonage it's lived in!



This table shows several of my favorites.  The Jim Shore nativity there in the middle is earmarked for Benjamin one of these days.  Mark and I decided that we wanted our children to have a special "First Christmas" gift that would always be memorable to them and us, so we chose a nativity set for each of them.  We will give them their set when they have a home of their own in which to put it.



This set is Hannah's.  I will have a hard time parting with both of them when that time comes--they are two of my very favorites.




For now, though, Benjamin claims this one as his...




...and Hannah claims this one.  Notice how she set this up.  When I display mine, my focus is on getting everyone positioned just right so that their faces can be seen by those admiring them.  When Hannah and Benjamin set theirs up, everyone faces Baby Jesus--no worries about perfection, just focused on the "main thing."  Quite a lesson for this mommy.



We're getting close to the end of our tour.  These are a few of my favorite decorations.  They sit in my kitchen and were given to me a few years ago by two families in our congregation.  They are just so colorful and fun!  I can't help but smile when I look at them, and I use the platter every chance I get during the Christmas season!



Benjamin and Hannah's bathroom becomes adorned with snowmen at Christmas!  Shower curtain, bath mats, towels and all!



And a few more here...



...and there.  No, I do not spend a fortune on Christmas decorations.  Being a pastor's family, we often get gifts during this time of year, and many of them are decorations!  So we certainly have many more than we did when we started almost ten years ago!



These also hang in the kids' bathroom.  They didn't cost me a dime, but they are priceless.



You'll notice a few more nativities on my bedroom dresser.  (I love how this picture turned out!  It was not on purpose, believe me!)



The last thing I want you to see is our newest family tradition, most likely to become my favorite.  This is our Jesse Tree.  I had never heard of a Jesse Tree until a few months ago, and I absolutely love the concept.  This is the book we are using.  I hope to eventually gather "real" ornaments for each story, but for now the paper ones I printed out work just fine.  It's not the ornaments that are the most important part, anyway.



I know the rest of your day is busy, but I'm so glad you took a few minutes to drop by.  Please come back again when we can sit down and just visit.

Merry Christmas!



Thursday, October 29, 2009

Pumpkins, Pumpkins Everywhere!

I'm 34 years old, and until today had never carved a jack-o-lantern!  Is that crazy or what?? 

That all changed today when the kids and I set out to carve and paint pumpkins.  It all started out as a "we" thing, but when it came time to clean out and carve the pumpkin, it suddenly became a "me" thing!  I still enjoyed the challenge and was pretty pleased with the rookie effort!  Here's some pictures from our fun afternoon:

Benjamin & Hannah's Pumpkins...Before



...and After!


My Sweet Pumpkin Painters!








Jack-o-lantern stencils that you can print online are GREAT!!

All in all, I carved one pumpkin, roasted 3 cups of pumpkin seeds, and put 5 cups of fresh pumpkin in the freezer for some yummy holiday baking!!  Fun afternoon!