Thursday, December 31, 2009

On Why Our Bathroom Remodel Is Behind Schedule

Oh, I'm not certain there ever was a schedule. Timing depended upon arrival of new tub and toilet (six weeks of waiting), upon completion of another job by Roger our carpenter/cabinet maker (whose work was delayed by various snowstorms and other minor inconveniences), and trying to work around holidays and company.

Doug the plumber had the new tub installed before Thanksgiving. One thing and another contributed to delay. We had a new tub and we had walls where tile had been peeled, cabinets had been pulled off the wall and 2x4 studs stood exposed to view. But, Hey! Everything worked. A functioning bathroom is a good bathroom.

Monday this week was supposed to be the "big" day of "beginning of completion". But Sunday night the heavy snowfall brought an awning crashing down from Roger's storefront. Roger had to meet with insurance people but managed to get to our house on Tuesday and he and his crew of one have been working busily. They are trying to have things ready today for Doug to come in and install the toilet. Doug, who will be wrestling a ton of porcelain, is heading for Colorado next week for back surgery. I haven't a clue as to why he took on this job with that kind of a back problem. But I suppose he knows how to wrestle fixtures using dollies and such to take the load off his back. But still!!!

Today I have to be away from home. Hubby will be here to answer any questions and to mostly shut himself up in his computer room, away from the noise and dust.

You can click on Roger's storefront for a closer view. Funny thing...where the awning used to be is now revealed some antique stained glass. I hope he is able to restore the glass as part of the "new" store front. In the photo the awning has already been removed from the sidewalk...I wasn't able to get a photo quicker than I did.

Gotta run! I'm headed to the Big City to see my oncologist.


Tuesday, December 29, 2009

One Thing Leads to Another

A scary thought entered my head today. We've just come out on the far end of a five-day "snow storm of the quarter century" as the weathermen report it. The storm is over. The sun was shining when I got up this morning. Our thoughts are focused on the immediate...getting driveways shoveled, streets cleared, and a new supply of groceries from the store. We're pretty much happy that the storm is over...until the next one.

But today I looked ahead a bit. And it dawned on me that this widespread storm is going to cause more problems than the immediate. In a "normal" spring we experience flooding in various areas of the country. This year it is going to be worse. Spring thaw is going to have creeks roiling, dams over-topping, and flood waters rolling and threatening community after community.

That is not a happy thought to me. I hope city, county, and state governments are planning ahead. I hope they are two steps ahead of the game. Because to my way of thinking, we have some serious business ahead of us.


Monday, December 28, 2009

Oatmeal! With Raisins! For Energy!

One winter in the 1950s we didn't have snow. My brothers and I wanted a white Christmas! Surely it would snow before Christmas! But it didn't. And that Christmas our "big" present from Mom and Dad was a sled. If we got snow that winter it was mere dustings of white powder and not the stuff of which sleds need in order to provide good play time.

Some winters we had satisfying snows and my brothers used the corn scoop to shovel the sidewalk from the door to the driveway. (I borrowed this photo from a website and I have no association to the brand.) Corn scoops are highly efficient at grain or snow. But they can be heavy, especially with a load of grain or, in this case, snow. It was hard work. We didn't have a snow blower then. We didn't even have a real snow shovel!
corn scoop shovel
When I woke up this morning, the first thing I did was check out the window. Ahhhh! This is the first time in days we do not have to anticipate shoveling snow right after breakfast. That's because for the first time in days there is no fresh accumulation of snow. I'm pretty okay with that!

We had a record snow this year. The city north of us received 20.7 inches over the several day storm. I would guess ours was similar. And our state capital, Des Moines, has experienced the snowiest December on record with 27.7 inches for the month! (May they never break that record!)

The city crew will be out today. And if they blade the streets, the side-drift of the snow from the blade will create dams of heavy, hard, chunky snow across the ends of every driveway in town. Those dams are very hard to move and everybody grumbles curses when the snowplow goes by for the third time in three days, plowing up a new dam each time.

I think this calls for an oatmeal breakfast.


Saturday, December 26, 2009

Home Alone. And I am Not Talking Movie.

Christmas was a wee bit different at our house this year. I jokingly said this was our Grinch Christmas. (Actually, not even the Grinch can take the true Christmas away from us, for we celebrate Christ wherever we are.)

First of all, I didn't feel well on Wednesday. Perhaps it was the raw cookie dough I ate the day before. My Ohio email buddy (whose hubby has pediatrician credentials) told me that salmonella can produce symptoms that range from mild to severe. And that's what I had...mild annoying nausea...until I went to bed Wednesday night and then it was annoying pain in my abdomen...which to an ovarian cancer patient is reason for mildly great fears were telling me perhaps it was a bowel perforation (a possible side effect of one of my meds) and I was so afraid I would have to get up during the night, in the middle of a blizzard, and have to call the ambulance (the pain was a bit more than mild) to get to the hospital which is only two blocks away but our streets were snow filled and we could not have gotten our cars out. And we had already cried at our house about my having cancer and I was so afraid I would make this the worst Christmas of all time for my family.

But I finally fell asleep about 3 am and the next day I felt fine and the next night as well. So perhaps my Ohio friend was right and I should never eat raw cookie dough again!

But I started talking about Christmas. Our daughter and grandson arrived Wednesday safely from Minnesota, a five-hour drive for her in her new little car. We had been watching road and weather reports and knew the roads would be bad. So we were greatly relieved that they made it here okay.

Christmas Eve we were all snowed in. The service at church was cancelled. Gramma was stranded at her house across town. My brother at his house on the edge of town. And we at our house. In the middle of a blizzard. Which continued on during Christmas Day. The city crews were not even was pointless...the snow was blowing and the streets would have drifted in right behind them.

Early Christmas Day we did manage to get our driveways clean because a young man down the street came by with his Deere. He got stuck when his tires left our concrete drive and and the front tires slid down onto the neighbor's lawn. Getting out was difficult and he set the blade heavily and bitingly into the neighbor's lawn to give him extra oomph in backing up onto the concrete. I think we will have to help the neighbor rake and re-seed his lawn in the spring. But our neighbor doesn't know that yet because fresh snow covered up the evidence. The young man had to have his Deere pulled out by a pickup with a chain. He was slightly embarrassed about having gotten stuck but he had done a good job of cleaning the drive for us. We have a small snow blower but this storm was heavy-duty. And it needed heavy-duty machinery. We were glad he helped us out and he refused payment, saying, "It's Christmas."

It continued to snow last night so today we had to do our driveways all over again. But this time Hubby was able to clean them with his little snow plow. Our nice young man came by again and cleaned out the huge stack of snow at the end of the drive left by the city crew when they bladed the street. Again he refused payment.

(If someone wants to make a fortune this year, go invent a snow plow which has a handy-dandy lever they can push that will avoid dropping snow in driveways while cleaning the streets. It could shoot the snow at the end of the driveways up onto the lawn instead. So go invent a machine to do that and sell one to our town, please. Maybe one has already been invented. Maybe it is too expensive for our small town budget. So if that is true, invent a cheaper model, please.)

This morning Daughter and Grandson and I and two Great-Grandsons (who had walked a mile to our house to come play with Grandson) piled into the Kia with snow shovels and drove/slid to Gramma's house. We weren't certain just how we would get to her house once we got there for she has a longish driveway.

Her street was only partially cleared. But there were two Bobcats in the drive next door. I asked one of them if he could clean her drive. And he did. And I paid him and asked for a business card because Gramma will need to call him again if we have more of this wintery snow.

The three boys worked to clear Gramma's back step so we could get into the house. Then they scooped a path to her mailbox so the mailman will stop. And when they came in the house we had milk and cookies and doughnuts waiting for them. And Gramma paid them $5 each for scooping her snow. Then they rested by playing cards while Gramma opened a couple presents and while we chatted. One GGS tried to impress the other two boys with his bubble gum blowing ability. One was not impressed.

Then we came back to our house and they went down the street thinking they could make some more money by offering to scoop sidewalks. I told them they wouldn't be able to do was toooooo much snow. They came home with $49 in their pockets which they needed to split three ways. They were very happy. I hope they brought back all three shovels and the broom which they took with them.

Now they are in the basement playing board games. And we will feed them chili and chicken noodle soup.

Tomorrow we will check in again with Gramma...perhaps we will bring her over here so she can get out of the house. She doesn't like being cooped up in the house for so long. She is 88 years old and she says this is the first Christmas she spent 'home alone'. Even though we spoke to her on the phone several times over Christmas, it still wasn't the same. We're sorry about that, Gramma!

Gramma had her home all decorated for Christmas including this little village scene.

We hope if you live in the path of this storm that you are safe and warm and have plenty of warm steamy food and that you have a friendly neighbor with a Bobcat or a Deere or a large tractor with blade to help you out.

Merry Christmas! And, as Tiny Tim said, "God bless us, every one."


Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Rain and Sleet and Ice Underneath in Western Iowa

Wednesday, Dec 23, 2009, 12:20 PM
Rain and sleet and ice underfoot make it treacherous out there. I did venture forth this morning to make several stops uptown.

One dumb idiot -- oops, Scripture says we are not to call others "fools" so I will call him a brain-challenged individual--came up very fast behind me and flashed his lights to tell me I was not driving fast enough on slush and ice and rain forming more ice. And so I carefully speeded up just a little bit so as to put a little more distance between us and then I tapped my brakes once, then twice, so as to let my brake lights signal to him that I was speeding up no further. He finally backed off a bit. And when I signaled to make a left turn he backed off even more. I hope he drove carefully through town.

One very important reason that icy roads are unsafe is this kind of driver -- brain challenged as to the treacherous road surface underneath. He still thinks his big truck can stop on a dime.

And now I am home. And I hear sirens. We live within 2 blocks of the local hospital and so we usually can hear sirens when some accident has occurred out on the highway. I hope everyone is safe. We have family traveling today and I know many other families are out there as well. I pray that everyone is careful and arrives a-okay.


Tuesday, December 22, 2009

From My Pillow I Could See the Star

I was thinking of antique Christmas lights. When we were kids there were two kinds of lights being strung on outdoor trees. The older version were large round bulbs which made for a pretty nifty bright light.

You don't see them anymore. For one thing I think they were wired in series which meant if one bulb burned out the entire string went out. And to replace it, one would have to test one bulb at a time from one end of the string to the other, until the bad bulb was found. (Often those outdoor trees would be dark, without light, because someone had stolen a couple bulbs...whether it was vandals or some thief needing to replace their own burned out bulbs...who knows.)

Then came a generation of outdoor lighting that solved that problem of burnt out bulbs. Strings were wired in parallel...if one bulb went out, no problem. The rest of the string would continue to burn. And after a dark blip in the early 1970s due to energy conservation, December lights have enjoyed a resurge.

An article in the paper today (click here) mentions the new LED lights which are nicely energy efficient and how today's outdoor decorating enthusiasts are not yet enthused about them, citing not only the different "color" and "light" but also the nostalgia involved with using the old sets.

You can read up on old lights at the Antique Christmas Light Museum (click on the name). Browse around the will enjoy the visit.

But I think the oldest "Christmas" light I remember from childhood was the one I watched outside my bedroom window. From my pillow I could see the night sky and it seemed at Christmas there was always a very bright star that shone in through the bedroom window. I knew it wasn't the Star of the East, that same star that led the Magi to the Christ child. But I liked to imagine so. And so as I climbed into bed each December night (and shivered till the bed warmed), I would look out at that star (it was probably a planet) and think of Bethlehem and Jesus and forgiveness and God and God's love and wonder what it must have been like to be in Bethlehem so long ago.

In John 8:12 Jesus said, " "I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life."

The entire world walks in darkness and death...Unless! Unless God causes us to be born again to new life (John 3:3) and brings us into light and life. Light denotes truth, fully revealed, nothing hidden. If we walk in darkness, we are at mercy of the darkness and death. If we walk in light, we see! And we have Life!

In Colossians 1:13-17 Paul reminds us that Christ has rescued us from darkness. The verse reads this way..."

For He (God the Father) rescued us from the domain of darkness (from the kingdom of Satan), and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. He (Jesus) is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by Him (by Jesus) all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities--all things have been created through Him and for Him (through Jesus and for Jesus). He (Jesus) is before all things, and in Him (in Jesus) all things hold together.

The most "antique" light of Christmas was that star over Bethlehem. (Matthew 2:2 and Matthew 2:9-10). To my way of thinking, it still outshines any incandescent or LED light on the market.


P.S. No, we don't live in the house at the top of this page. It was for sale when we moved back to town but it was too small (smaller than it appears) and needed more work than we were willing to do. But isn't it lovely on a snowy winter day?

Monday, December 21, 2009

Chemo Brain - And How I Deal With It

Yesterday I jokingly blamed "chemo brain" for our forgetting to attend an open house at the home of our pastor and wife. But to many cancer patients, chemo brain is not a joking matter.

In my case, I still carry a residual effect that I don't often think about. But it is there. I constantly refer to my calendar (or at least think it through in my brain) as to which day of the week it is. Even if I've verified to myself an hour ago that today is Tuesday, for instance, 30 minutes later my brain has to grasp at air for a moment before it clicks. It's Tuesday. Still Tuesday. (You see! It's actually Monday! It's not yet Tuesday!)

You've probably had this happen now and then. For some unexplained reason you think all day that it is Friday, and instead, it is Thursday. That seems to be the new "norm" for me. Even though I may have checked my calendar 2 or 3 times this morning, I still sometimes have to check again to see what day it is. It's odd, really. And I don't think about it often. I just take care of it by keeping a good calendar. But it's there.

Other cancer patients struggle much more than I in regards to chemo brain. You can read more about chemo brain by clicking here.

Along with the "what day of this week is it" I also find it difficult to make plans. We're having company over Christmas (weather permitting!). And I know I need to have some food on hand. But my mind is so wishy-washy over what to serve and how to prepare it that I still have not made a decision as to what groceries to buy.

It's not totally debilitating. I will eventually sit down with a pen and paper and write it all out...what to serve...what to place on my grocery list...and schedule when to prepare each item. As long as I have my list and my calendar, I'm okay.

It's weird. That's all I can say.


Saturday, December 19, 2009

Whereupon We Goofed BigTime!

Tonight we goofed. Big time. I hope our Pastor doesn't read my blog. Or perhaps I hope he does for it will explain why we were not at his house tonight.

This morning I looked at our calendar and told my Hubby, "Tonight is Christmas Open House at the Pastor's house." And we made a mental note of it for we intended to attend and to happily greet our Pastor and his wife and be amongst our friends who would be greeting one another, and saying Merry Christmas to one another, and eating of the bounty of which the Pastor and his wife would have ready for us.

For their Christmas party Mrs. Pastor always has a very large pot each of three different soups, one of which is Cabbage Soup, and which nobody around here in western Iowa makes and yet which every one of the congregants agrees is the best soup ever. Pastor and Mrs. are natives of elsewhere. Maybe not far elsewhere and maybe everyone makes Cabbage Soup there. But I had never heard of it here. And it is rich and it is good. I was looking forward to seeing everyone and I was also looking forward to Cabbage Soup.

And then, late tonight, I glanced at our calendar again, and "Oh, My!", I checked the clock, and realized we were half an hour past the closing time of the Open House. We missed greeting Pastor and Mrs. Pastor with a hearty and happy "Merry Christmas". And we missed sitting and carrying out buzzing conversations with our friends. And we missed the Cabbage Soup.

And now we have to go to church tomorrow and we will be embarrassed to say "we forgot". But that's the plain truth of it...we forgot. I, myself, could claim a perfectly good excuse. Even though I finished my last chemo in July I could still claim the residual "chemo brain" of which many cancer patients complain. They forget things and it's like their brain works in a fog. But, alas, my brain is working quite well these days (except for occasional forgetfulness!), and I cannot in all honesty claim "chemo brain". I will have to face the music and face the fact that we just plain "forgot". (low groan here)

The problem is, I will have to face it alone. My Hubby has to be elsewhere in the morning so I will be going to church without him.

Since it is the Christian thing to be forgiving of others, surely Pastor and Mrs. will do that, won't they? Won't they forgive us for being so dumb as to forget a Christmas party?!! I can always quote Scripture, I suppose, if I have to. I could quote Matthew 18:21-22! But they're both pretty knowledgeable about Scripture, so surely I won't have to do that. To remind them to forgive, that is.

I think I forgot because I kept thinking today was Friday. I'm still bummed about the whole thing.

(Huge sigh of contrition!)


Friday, December 18, 2009

Of An Old Secret I've Never Told Before

If liverwurst is one of your favorite foods, then you'd best read no further. Stop right here. Don't go any further. If you do, you read at your own risk.

Oh, My! I don't know if I dare disabuse some of you from your favorite sandwich food - Liverwurst! For anyone who has never eaten it, it is a pasty spread of assorted stuff and mixed seasonings that is quite the best sandwich filling ever.

UNTIL! Until you know the ingredients. Wiki-Answers will tell you that the contents of liverwurst include Pork, Pork Liver, Water, Veal, Beef, Salt, Dextrose, Dehydrated Onions, Sugar, Gelatin, Flavoring, Spices, and Sodium Nitrate.

I must mention here that I am of ancient origin. That means I'm a tad older than you, Dear Reader. So listen up as I tell you what I learned about liverwurst four decades ago!

About 40 years ago we had a nice little Mom & Pop type grocery store on Main Street. Cute little store. Called "Red & White". Pop had a fresh meat market at the back of the store and you could have any kind of meat fresh cut. Steak, roasts, fresh-ground beef, etc. He had a busy business and happy customers.

So one day I'm in the store and I purchase a pound of Liverwurst. I loved that stuff. I could eat it every day. But that particular day I read the ingredient label on the side of the casing. I kid you not! The very first ingredient was Pork Snout. End of my delight with Liverwurst. I think I've eaten it twice in the past 40 years.

Today's label will not list "pork snout". No, they won't even list "pork probiscus". But when they list "pork" what they mean is that they toss in all the extra-terrestrial trimmings from the porky, the hog. Yah, I know "extra-terrestrial" is not an accurate usage here but it seems somehow to fit the bill.

The pork processors trim every last useful bit of meat from that piggy. Including fleshy areas around the head. And nose. I don't know if they actually cut into the nose these days, but I am saying this...40 years ago the label read "pork snout".

This is an area where a little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing. I used to love liverwurst but I just can't bring myself to eat it anymore.


Tuesday, December 15, 2009

I Reiterate What I've Said Before...I Am Not a Fruitcake!

Today I am extremely happy for fruitcake friends. Oops. What I mean is this... my friend Debby posted her Gramma Violet's fruitcake recipe (click here and scroll down for the recipe), and, Boy! do I appreciate her having done that. (Debby is not a fruitcake. I assure you of that. She may be a bit of a character, but then, aren't we all, and if the rest of us are not classified as fruitcakes, neither is she! If you want to test that theory, you can read her main blog page here.)

Yep. Last night I baked Gramma Violet's fruitcake. Now I know that down south a true fruitcake has fruit that is soaked in rum or brandy or both, but I've never eaten one of those "down south" fruitcakes so I can't compare the two. But I have eaten good fruitcake and I love fruitcake. (for the sake of clarity, I reiterate here that I myself am not a fruitcake. I emphasize that. I am NOT.)

Putting this recipe together is easy. Gramma Violet said to use a tube pan and all I had was one of those two-piece angel food pans and I figured that fits the bill okay. Butter the pan. Cut some wax paper to line the pan. I think parchment paper might work as well. Then butter the paper. The pan is ready.

I did not have the full amount of recommended candied fruit so I subbed a few dried apricots which I snipped into bits with my kitchen shears. The recipe calls for chopped walnuts and I think next time I'll add a few pecans as well. I like walnuts and I like pecans. Both should add their own unique crunchy flavor. Most recipes use some kind of glaze but Debby says she does not, and so this morning, after letting that cake sit overnight, I cut myself a slice. I think "down south" fruitcake is supposed to age and mellow but believe me, this one is already delicious. If the flavors meld over time, so much the better.

Oh, Man, do I love this cake! Debby will be my best fruitcake friend forever! And Gramma Violet's recipe will reside in my stash of "best" recipes.


Monday, December 14, 2009

The Scam Bugs (Scum Bags) Are Still At Work!

Crooks abound!!! And I'm betting I just heard from another one. I don't know why I should be amazed at their audacity but I am.

Got a phone call today which my caller ID identified as "service call" and phone number (714) 607-5763. After a weird beepy sound a computerized woman's voice came on and suggested they were calling to help me "reduce the interest" on my "credit card". And she advised me to call some number (which I did not record so I can't tell you what it was). I haven't a clue who this company is, but I'm betting this one is a SCAM in CAPITAL LETTERS!

Ummmm, Yah. I'll betcha dimes to donuts this outfit would love me to call their number and give them my credit ID and then scam me out of $$.

My advice to self and to all of you? Nevah, Evah respond to one of these phone calls. NEVAH! If you've got a problem with the interest rate on your credit card, call the card company and try to negotiate. Or find a card company that will charge you less interest than the one you have now.

DON'T be giving your name, card number, bank account number, etc., to some unidentified individual over the phone. If they initiate the call, you have absolutely no certainty that they are honest and not a scammer. And if you initiate the call by calling a number THEY gave you, you are still in the dark and at their mercy.

My Very Best Advice in regards to credit cards! Don't! Just Don't use them UNLESS you are able to pay them off on a monthly basis.

If you can't pay for an item with the cash you have on hand, then you need to renegotiate how you are handling your money.

Just Sayin'!


Sunday, December 13, 2009

If You Were to Ask Me...I'd Be Embarrassed

Sometimes I wonder where my mind was wandering all the days of my growing up years.

I'm of the era of Elvis, Everly Brothers, Buddy Holly, Frankie Avalon, Fabian, Paul Anka, the Beach Boys, Roy Orbison, Connie Francis. As a typical teen I loved the music of the time, but while I enjoyed their songs I was never one to buy the latest fan magazine to read up on their personal lives or their latest gold record.

I'm a bit embarrassed to say that if you were to ask me to name three songs sung by any of these musicians I wouldn't be able to do that. It's as if they were singing in the background of my life. It was just noise in the background. Nice noise. Pleasant noise. Noise to which I could dance. But, still noise.

But this morning, in church, we sang a different kind of song. And I knew every word to some of these songs. And I sang at the top of my voice. (I hope the guys in front of me didn't mind!)

Isn't it strange that I cannot remember the simple words to a rather simple rock-n-roll song that hit the top ten and was on the radio for weeks and weeks at a time? Those songs were everywhere. And yet they left not much impression.

But jump from there to here, to this Christmas season, and to songs such as "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel", a song whose words date back to the 12th century. This is a song which one might hear only a handful of times during Christmas season. And yet it becomes so ingrained in us that we rejoice to be able to sing it again, to sing it with fellow Christians anticipating the celebration of the Incarnation of the Christ.

The ti­tle comes from Isaiah 7:14 - “Be­hold, a vir­gin shall con­ceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Im­man­u­el." The word Immanuel means "God with us" and the song is a song of longing, of looking forward to the fulfilling of the promise of a Savior, a Messiah, who would save His people from their sins.

The chorus is best of all. "Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel."

Christians rejoice at Christmas for it is the celebration of God coming to his creation, to partake of flesh, to be one with us, to die for us, to rise for us, to give us eternal life. We celebrate His work on our behalf. We rejoice!

John 1:1-5
John 1:14
Colossians 1:13-17 (click to read entirety)


The Days They Be a Marching

Depressed by winter days? Days too short. Dark too soon? I have good news for you. Perhaps you already know this, but in the depressed state of your mind you may need a reminder.

The winter solstice is nearly upon us. In a bit over a week, on December 21, the sunny part of our days will stop getting shorter and will begin getting longer. At first you won't notice it, because the change is only minutes a day. But arriving at the solstice means we have stopped sliding into short days.

I don't know about you, but that lifts my spirits. I don't like dark days. And I don't like cold.

Perhaps my dislike of cold wintry days (and I don't seem to be alone in this) is because I've lived in some mighty cold houses in my years. Keeping a house warm is expensive. If you crank up the thermostat you also crank up the bills. There was a time when my budget cringed when the utility bill arrived and so I was ever careful to be conserving of the heat.

In my childhood we lived in an old farmhouse, which if I remember correctly was built in 1929. They didn't do much for insulation in those days. I think the plaster lathe construction was supposed to be THE insulation. Every fall Dad would take off the wood-framed screens and replace them with storm windows. There were some windows that didn't have storms, so he purchased a heavy plastic from the hardware store and placed it over those windows, securing it in place with strips of lathe tacked into place.

A combination gas-wood range heated the kitchen. My brothers hauled bushel baskets of corn cobs and wood to keep the stove burning. We knew how to efficiently start a fire in that stove...crumple some paper, lay on some cobs, light a match. When the cobs began burning good, lay on a couple sticks of wood. It was a warm spot by the kitchen stove.

In the dining room was a two-burner oil stove which fed off an oil barrel sitting beside the house. The cobs and wood were free but the oil was purchased. That meant it was "rationed" if you will. Overnight the burners were turned down so low that only a blue tip of flame indicated the burner was still functioning. By morning the house was well chilled. I guess that says it was well chilled. Doggone cold.

The water pipes were always in danger of freezing. We would leave faucets dripping, hoping the ground warmth of the water from the well would flow enough to keep the water from freezing. But every winter Dad crawled under the house with kerosene lamps and his blowtorch to thaw frozen pipes. The foundation of that house was brick which meant old broken mortar created holes for the north wind to whistle through on its way to wrapping itself around copper pipes. Dad used heat tapes which he kept plugged in with long extension cords. And he piled dirt up around the foundation and sometimes bales of hay. But it seemed every winter was cold work for him.

I later lived in similar homes. Any forecast of below zero temps meant fears in the middle of the night that one would wake up with frozen pipes or some other cold disaster.

I guess that's why I dislike cold. It portends disaster. Think about it. How many times have you read of a major storm putting thousands of homes in the dark. No power. No electricity means Nothing Works! Everything in the house runs on electricity. Even the fan on the natural gas furnace.

You know, I can't imagine how terrible winter must have been for our ancestors who homesteaded this part of the country, living in dugouts or simple frame homes. Nor how difficult it must have been for the Native Americans. Nor, for that matter, for anyone who lived more than a couple hundred years ago. How in the world did they endure?

But back to the solstice. On December 21 the daylight hours will stop getting shorter. Each day thereafter we (those of us in the Northern Hemisphere) will have a few more minutes of daylight. We will have ended the downward spiral and begun the upward march towards spring. Even though there will yet be many winter storms before we actually arrive.

And so while the best day of December for me is the day we celebrate the Incarnation of Christ, I also breathe a sigh of relief on December 21 when I know the earth's journey has shifted once again towards spring.


Friday, December 11, 2009

Southerners May Enjoy This But to Northerners It May Be Ho-Hum!

We have two garages. This one sits behind the house. It took Hubby hours to plow this with our little snowplow. The farther he went, the deeper the drift. We knew we would never get the rest of it done. So we were happy to see the neighbor come down the street with his blade. (If you click on the photo you will get a much better image.)

It was easy for him to drive up into the driveways and "pull" the snow out towards the street. Yay for Guys with Trucks!
As I ventured out yesterday I took a photo of what I have always called the "Cinderella House". One might think living in this house must be a marvelous living in fairytale land. When we moved back to town this house was for sale and we looked at it but it was too small and needed too many updates. It looks like a castle and castles are huge but this is only a small "replica" so to speak. It's small. So we declined. That's good because I don't want to live in fairytales. I prefer to live in reality. (Do click on this one...the house is darling.)
I was in the doctor's office yesterday for a bone scan. Chemo brings on osteoporosis and so my doc wanted me to get a scan. Then he'll probably want to put me on a pill. Aaack! The clinic has an outdoor atrium and look how the snow blows in. You can see my reflection in the window.I like this view down our street. And, Yep, that's a giant pumpkin still sitting on our front step. And I like that the plowing is done and we can get out and about. It's sunny again today and a bit warmer but it is still only about 10 degrees. If you live in the southern states, enjoy! If you live north, I hope you, too, are able to be out and about in the midst of the storm that covered several states.


Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Blowing Wind, Pancakes and Hope

Some folk enjoy winter snow. And kids across the country want "snow for Christmas". Well, it's here, folks! It's white and cold this morning.

The forecast includes "winter storm system moves away to the east--accumulating snow is ending across the area. Northwest winds continue to gust to around 35-45 mph...but wind speeds will decrease through the day......drifting...throughout the day...creating treacherous travel conditions...wind chill readings of 10 to 20 below zero are expected to continue throughout the day.

Today we will have pancakes and later, potato soup. And maybe I will bake some cookies. Maybe.

The little neighbor girl has already been outdoors with their dog and she did much leaping and jumping and shouting loud laughter as her little dog jumped from snow to snow. I was not quick enough with the camera to catch her but perhaps later.

This photo is out our front window and you can see the huge drift up over the front steps. Across the street, in the extreme right corner of the photo, is a very large oak tree which causes all of us on our side of the street much work. The leaves of this oak are almost indestructible. They will not mulch down in a mulch pile. They hang on the tree and drop all winter long. The swirling wind carries them around back of our house, dropping them in the flower garden where I have to hand rake them from the plants with my fingers come spring. Even with the heavy winds last night there are still a good supply of leaves still hanging on the lower limbs, waiting for the opportune time to fly over to our yard where Hubby will (if there be no snow on the ground) use the lawnmower to mulch them to smithereens. It is an aggressive battle that he carries on and now the neighbors, seeing how successful he is, have taken to do the same. But for now, with snow on the ground, perhaps the wind will blow any loose leaves three miles away where they can catch in the cornstalks and enrich the Iowa soil there.

We can always hope.


Monday, December 7, 2009

Let Us Do Good to All People

First Thought
Sometimes I think I don't explain myself well. Yesterday's post was intended to convey the seriousness of our duty as parents to teach our children the things of God. And if we believe in a Creator God who has created all the universe, and one who set into motion before the beginning of time a plan to save His people from their own self-destruction, and one who sovereignly works in all facets of our lives...then shouldn't we be meticulous in explaining that kind of Awesome God to our children? Shouldn't we recognize that even in their smallness, they can begin to grasp "Awesome" and "God" and combine the two. I simply don't see how that vegetable nativity set can convey either Awesome or God, let alone an Awesome God. (I'm sorry, I simply can't capitalize "nativity" when it is used in conjunction with "vegetables".)

Other Thoughts Today

It's coming up to Christmas. And I'm learning it is so easy to bask in our own blessings when people all around us are living in poverty. It's so easy to think we have done well by dropping bills in the Salvation Army bucket or by sending a check to Goodwill. It's so easy to send "love" from a distance.

But sometimes the one we need to love is sitting right beside us.

Yesterday morning I drove 50 miles to sit in church beside a young man who is struggling with life. I mean "really struggling". He's been a single father for the last ten years. He works long hours. Put those two together and you see that he is not always able to be home to supervise his two teen children who disobediently run with a bad crowd. He's anguished over that. He has sought counseling for one child and has even considered allowing the system to place that child in a foster home. But he doesn't want to give up on him yet. He owes money for vandalism caused by the other. He himself neither drinks, nor smokes, nor does drugs.

And lest you think that he should be on top of all this, I have to add that his school days were a constant struggle for him. He has common sense, good common sense, but it takes him long hours of anxiety and struggle to learn new things. His boss has given him only one 25 cent pay raise in SEVEN years. And this boss is part of a national restaurant chain. (I'd like to wring that guy's neck!) This young man does not know that it is A-Okay (aye, even necessary) to ask your boss EVERY year for a cost-of-living increase. Consequently, he lives in poverty, pays his bills as best he can, and grieves that his children are headed in bad directions. He doesn't know what to do. And so he handles it by worry. It's hard for him to get from "worry" to "possible solutions".

So there I sat. In Sunday School and church with him. There were numerous adults, well-groomed and successful members of the community, who greeted him by name with a smile and a handshake. I watched them. They seem to like him. As we sat in church I looked around the room and saw healthy families. I saw much-loved children with bright shiny faces dressed in warm winter sweaters. And I realized that my friend, although he has taken himself to this church for some time now, recognizing that he needs God in his life, has not really revealed his problems nor his need for friendship and encouragement to these people. Nor can he get his children to attend either church or youth group. I wonder how he endures sitting here amidst "plenty" when he has never experienced that "plenty".

These well-groomed and successful people, who are wanting to reach out to the community, don't realize part of that community is seated right beside them.

I've been helping this young man, mostly with advice, but sometimes with cash. Before we left church I slipped back and spoke to one of the elders. He did not even know there were children in the family, let alone that my friend is struggling so. He immediately "heard" me and I won't be surprised if they provide some kind of Christmas love to this family.

I'm saying this. It is so easy to think all is well with those around us. It is also easy to assume that if people simply use their brains, that they can do well in life, that life will be good to them. But that is not so. We are not all gifted with brains. Nor are we all gifted with the ability to solve the everyday problems of our lives. Nor are we all gifted with the ability to simply ask for help.

I told my friend, that the next time the church asks for prayer requests, he needs to speak up and say, "I'm struggling with my job. I need a job that will support me." or "I need prayer for my kids." I told him that the members of his church cannot help him if they do not know he needs help. Then we went to his home where he showed me his bills. I made suggestions in regards to talking to the hospital and the medical clinics about bills there. I suggested he ask the pharmacist if there is a program that will help with his asthma meds. As I said, he has good common sense, once he realizes there is something he can do. And so this week he will visit the billing department at the hospital and take along last year's tax return as well as a pay stub, showing that part of his meager pay goes to pay for medical and dental insurance. I'm hoping they will realize that he falls within guidelines for some amelioration of his debts. I will follow up with him as he does this.

Dear Readers, during this Chrismas season, please look at those around you. The ones who bag your groceries or serve up fast food or who hold down other low-paying jobs, struggling to make ends meet for their families. Remember them at Christmas time (and throughout the year). Remember that their social skills may be woefully inadequate and that it may be difficult for them to initiate relationships. Be patient with them. Be kind to them. TALK to them. Get past the "Good morning, How are you this morning?" Get past that. Go deeper. (One very simple way to help others is to pick up a bag of whatever canned goods are on sale at the grocery store and drop them off at your local food bank.)

Today's Scripture?
Galations 6:10 So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith.


Saturday, December 5, 2009

In Which I Tell You I Am Not a Grinch! Really, I'm Not!

I hope young Christian mothers will not call me a Grinch when I wonder (out loud) why vegetables seem more suitable in a nativity set than do Jesus, Mary, Joseph and all the rest of the usual characters of that night in Bethlehem 2000 years ago.

Okay, I get it. The vegetables are supposed to be "stand-ins" for the "real" characters of the nativity. I recognize that the butternut squash is supposed to be Joseph. And I think a Lemon portrays one of the Wise Men. And it looks as if the cow is a summer squash in a cow costume. Very Creative!

Frankly, as an adult, I cannot figure out even what most of the VEGETABLES are, let along figure out how a kid can think these are PEOPLE.

I'm wondering why, after all these generations since Christ's birth, we have to dumb down a nativity set to "vegetables" in order for the little ones to "understand" the night of Christ's birth. Is it because they won't understand it if we have the figures look like real people! (They understand vegetables better? They won't even eat them!!!)

I realize my way of thinking may not be the "norm", but to my way of thinking, a vegetable with two eyes, nose and mouth does not a person make. And Folks! We're talking about Jesus here! The Son of God. God Himself come down into humanity (John 1:1-3, John 1:14) to live the righteous life we can't, to take our sins to the cross with him, to die for our sins at the cross, and then to impute to us His own righteousness so that when we stand before the Father we stand there clean because we stand there clothed in Christ's Righteousness Given to Us! Folks, if you miss that, you've missed the entire Gospel!

So we let some vegetable portray the Incarnate Christ? Am I missing something here? Somebody please speak up and explain that to me!

(It's things like this that make me see why unbelievers think Christians are a bit weird.)

Surely any little boy or girl who is even one year old recognizes the difference between "people" and "vegetables" or even, if you wish, the family dog or cat. Kids know people when they see them. And they know non-people when they see them. ( I'm not sure, though, that they can tell me which vegetable plays Mary in this Nativity set.)

My advice to parents wishing to teach their children about the living God and His Son Jesus? Teach them that the Son of God came to us as a baby in Bethlehem. He was fully God. And he was fully Man. He was not a vegetable.

I'm just sorta wondering out loud here. Isn't it strange that Protestant parents - who may be among those who mock the Catholic church for their statues of saints and of Jesus and Mary - isn't it strange that they themselves will portray Christ as a vegetable to their most impressionable young children? Isn't there some kind of incongruity there?

P.S. I am not a Grinch. I did not write this to hurt anyone's feelings. I'm just sayin'!


Jumping Out of Bed Without Killing the Alarm

Bill writes about Wasilla. His blog is an interesting read. In his casual photos and his quiet voice (is a keyboard quiet?) he makes me feel leisurely, as if time has slowed down a bit. That's nice, you know. Life should not be frantic and frenetic.

In yesterday's post, he commented that he had gotten up late (which, by the way, he says is not his usual mode) and asked "How do you do that? How do you leap out of bed in the morning?" His post was about many other things, of course, but his question reminded me of my working days and how I got rid of that much-hated alarm clock every workday morning and still made it to work on time.

So to repeat Bill's question..."How do you do that? How do you leap out of bed in the morning?"

And my response:

Long ago, in my working days, I hated alarm clocks. Their noise always sent the adrenaline rushing and I would jump out of bed, mad as all get-out that I had to "get out" of bed. The thing I wanted to do most was to pounce on that alarm clock and toss it against the far wall. Smash it to smithereens. Which I couldn't do, of course, unless I wanted to buy a new alarm clock for the next day.

Then I taught myself to awaken at a given time without an alarm. At bedtime before drifting off to sleep I would imagine a clock with the present time, putting a clock "picture" in my head. Then I would imagine the clock at my "get up" time. And I would tell myself, "I will get up at 6:30." Or whichever time I needed to arise from bed. I became very good at awakening at the exact time and in a good mood. No angry adrenaline punch in the gut, so to speak. I could do it noon hours, too. Come home, eat a sandwich, lie down and take a 20-minute nap and awaken at the precise minute I wished to awaken. There is a trick, however. You MUST get up the moment your eyes pop open OR you will go back to sleep and OVERSLEEP! No second chances! If you allow yourself to go back to sleep, you lose the ability to time your wakeup.

The only time during those years that I used an alarm was for something of great import (more important than getting to work) such as catching a plane next morning. Then I used the alarm for backup but still usually arose at the pre-determined time.

Even though I am retired, I still do this when lying down for a nap. For if I do not "decide" to get up within a half hour, I will sleep away two hours. And sometimes I do. But I can will myself to awaken at 30 minutes if I wish. And I find that I am much more refreshed after 30 minutes than after a 2-hour nap.

Try it. See if you can do it.


Friday, December 4, 2009

A New Rant About Sharks and Dangerous Things

I think I need to repeat this Rant About Sharks And Dangerous Things. (click here)

And I do it because I've recently joined Facebook. And here is a little known fact that you may not know about Facebook and the photos you post there-on.

It goes like this. If you post a series of photos any one of your friends can comment on that photo. Their comment is read by any of their friends (who may not be anyone you know). That third person can click on the comment and view Every Photo in Your Album. You may have hundreds of friends. And each of them may have hundreds whom you do not know. And your album may contain hundreds of photos that you did not expect the entire universe to be able to view.

To restate this... a friend of your friend (some third party whom you do not know) can view your photos if one of Your friends comments on Your photo! Not only can the third party see the photo in question,but they can see the entire album.

Why am I fussing about all this? It's because many young people today unabashedly post full frontal photos of their children in the nude. (I'm speaking newborns, not older children.) What they do not realize is that there are perverts out there who love these kind of photos (however cute to your way of thinking) and who will DOWNLOAD them, and indeed may SELL THEM! By posting nude photos of your own child you have made that photo available to potentially thousands of people (a hundred friends multiplied by their hundreds of friends).

While a young parent may think these photos of their newborn child are "cute" and "natural", I want to remind these same young parents that there are evil people out there who are not thinking "cute" when they see that same photo.

A parent's job is to protect their children. DO IT!

And read my previous rant, written a year ago, which has nothing to do with Facebook, but which has everthing to do about protecting your children. You can click on the link in my first sentence at the top of today's rant.

Just call me "Gramma".


On Which I Comment on Work

I love reading Laurie's blog, Beauty for Ashes. I like her deep insight and her ability to write words that are rich with meaning. Today she comments on Elizabeth Elliot's book, Through Gates of Splendor, and especially on Elizabeth's second Epilogue to the book. I hope you will go to her post for today (click here) and read her comments.

Elizabeth and her husband, Jim Elliot, were with a group of young missionaries who were hoping to reach a particular tribe in Ecuador in the 1950s. In January 1956 Jim and his companions, Ed McCully, Roger Youderian, Pete Fleming and pilot Nate Saint, were killed by tribesmen. I remember as a child reading the 10-page article with accompanying photographs published in Life Magazine about the event.

Elizabeth Elliot is a woman of grace. I hope you will read Laurie's blog today and in particular, please note the words in Bold in the last paragraph of Elliot's epilogue.

Those words point out very clearly that it is not our "good works" that accomplish anything. If anything is accomplished, anything of merit, or anything good, or anything that glorifies God, it is because God is the one who works in us and through us. The work is His. To paraphrase Elliot....It is God who calls, God who causes, God who summons. And He does it for His own purposes. The entire work is God's and God's alone. That's why we give Him praise and worship and thankfulness. And we do so Humbly.

Philippians 2:12-13. " out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.


Thursday, December 3, 2009

Welp! Didn't Find What I Was Looking For!

Welp! Cleaning the closet was done for a purpose and said purpose was not to count how many pair of jeans I have. Nope. I was hoping to find several skeins of yarn that I KNOW I had last year pre-chemo days.

Even though I am at last sporting some nice curly hair, I'm finding that my head gets a tad cold when I venture outdoors in the wintry wind. I figured I could make myself a nice stocking cap. Wouldn't take more than an evening or two. But I can't find the yarn and am wondering if I donated it to the thrift shop during my chemo-brain days. Chemo brain causes you to do some things that you later forget.

So...if one of you family members has my name for Christmas you can either fetch me a new stocking cap (I do have more than one already but I like a variety of colors) or the yarn with which to make one.

Just sayin'. In case you need a hint.


Today's Tip Before You Go Shopping

Buried inside my closet are things unseen for several years. Some even with the original tag or receipt.

Note to self (and to anyone planning soon to shop for clothing):
Before hitting the store, clean the closet. Drag everything out, sort into two piles.

Pile 1 - Keep and wear.

Pile 2 - Donate to Goodwill or other charity. (If you itemize on your tax return you can count these as "donations" if given to a tax deductible charity...keep a list or ask for receipt.)

Sometimes when I hit the store or while I am window shopping, I spot something and think "I need that". I have a lot of jeans in my closet. Blue jeans. Colored jeans. Khakis. Two sizes of jeans because when I lost weight after surgery this year I went out and bought (over the summer) five new pair. Now those new jeans are heading to the basement because I've returned to my "normal" weight. I'll keep those five pair just in case but I also have a stack of 10 pair of the old size that will be donated. I have to admit that having 10 extra pair is a bit over-consumption. note to self...and my note to you...before buying another stitch of clothing, clean your closet. You might be as I, a bit surprised at your surplus of good clothing.

Oh! And the photo! That seems like a goodly supply of jeans but it doesn't include the half dozen pair that are in the dryer as I type.

I'm abashed. Maybe embarrassed. But I'm green...the 10 give-aways will be recycled to another user(s).


Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Of When I Discovered "Discovery"

When I was less than 4 years old I discovered "discovery". It happened like this.

I had just become aware that you could tell when someone was looking at you by their eyes. I recognized this. And so I decided to test the theory by checking for myself in the mirror. You've probably seen toddlers do the same. I stood in front of my mother's dresser and stared into the mirror, turning my head this way and that way and always noting that the eyes remained looking at me, no matter which way I turned my head.

You may think that is pretty babyish in terms of discovery. But it wasn't that I was so fascinated by the discovery itself (although I was). No, it was that I was fascinated that there was such a thing as "discovery" even though I did not yet know the word itself. I had discovered "discovery". And I discovered that I could test the new knowledge by "checking it out". Now that's a pretty interesting concept for a 4-year-old. For if one thing can be discovered then surely there must be more that can be discovered. I understood that.

I still like to check things out. In many ways I'm a skeptic...until I've checked the facts. When my Beloved emails me (all the way across the hallway from his office to mine) some "forwarded" email that purports to claim some odd event, my immediate response is to check with or some other online source as to its validity. It has become a standing joke between the two of us. He KNOWS I will check it out before forwarding it one person further.

I'm also curious about things. I like mechanical things and I like to know what makes them work. And how to take them apart and put them back together again...not that I'm always good at that...when I was 10 years old I ruined a Timex Cinderella watch. It came apart easily enough. But, well, you know, it didn't go back together very well. So I never did become a watchmaker. But I did, for a number of my adult years, take apart, fix, and put back together old Singer sewing machines. It was great fun. (Okay, I realize my concept of great fun may be a bit askew of what you might consider fun. But to each his own.)

My curiosity and my need to know how things work has benefited me in the spiritual realm, too. When I read my Bible curiosity causes me to dig deep, take apart the sentence structure, check the cross-references, see how it all fits together. It fascinates me when I discover something new or when I connect the dots between one scripture and another.

For instance. As a child I had read the story of Jacob's dream. Here's how Genesis 28:12 says it: "He had a dream, and behold, a ladder was set on the earth with its top reaching to heaven; and behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it."

Now, as a child I knew there was no "real" ladder of wood or stone between earth and heaven. I knew that the ladder in the dream was symbolic of something. But I did not understand the symbolism. Not, that is, until some years later when I read Jesus' words in John 1:51 where he said to Nathanael, "Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see the heavens opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man."

It was a light bulb moment! Then I understood the ladder of Jacob's dream! Jesus Christ is the ladder. As God incarnate (God come to us in Humanity) He is the God-Man. He is the mediator between God and man. Without Christ there is no access. It is His work on our behalf that gives us access to heaven.

Jacob verifies his understanding that the vision is one of access to heaven in Genesis 28:17 after his dream when he says, "...this is the gate of heaven."

The night before Jesus was to die on the cross He comforted the disciples by telling them this: "I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me. John 14:6.

Jesus is the gate. Jesus is the ladder. Jesus is the way. Jesus is Life.


Sunday, November 29, 2009

On Why You Should Not Give Up On Sweet Potatoes

When we were growing up on the farm our mother would periodically place sweet potatoes on the table and expect us to enjoy them. Instead we tended to "gag" as we tried to choke down this dish. The brother who was the most adamant about refusing to acknowledge the culinary delight of a sweet potato still refuses to eat them. In fact, if you offer some up to him he's apt to get a most astounded and disgusted look on his face before he calmly states, "No." And then he turns away as if you have mightily insulted him.

But he's the loser for all that. This recipe given me by a friend several years ago bears no resemblance to chunky sweet potatoes. This dish is creamy, sweet, and crunchy. I even like it as a leftover, cold. Now, that's saying something. So here goes.

Sweet Potato Dish

Mix together:
4 cups hot mashed sweet potatoes (I use canned, drained, heated, mashed)
1/3 cup butter
2 T sugar

Beat in:
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup milk

Place the potatoes in a 1-1/2 to 2 quart casserole. I use a bowl, and not a flat dish, but I suppose flat would be fine.

Crumble and sprinkle on top:
1/3 cup chopped pecans
1/3 cup brown sugar
2 T flour
2 T melted butter

Bake at 325 for 1 hour.

This year I made a bit extra added a nice crunchy layer on top. Yummy!


Saturday, November 28, 2009

Things Said at the Dinner Table - And After

One learns many things at a family gathering. Odd bits of information gleaned while listening to family around a table and later here and there throughout the house.

For one! Thirteen-year-old nephew N visited the Dallas Cowboys stadium this past year and the family was able to walk out upon the field. As they were leaving, N was trailing behind. His mother turned back to see what he was doing and saw him pull a single strand of hair from the top of his head and drop it on the 50-yard line. Just trying to be part of the game I guess.

Two! Adult nephew and niece J and K spent the day with us. Their dad was not here so we were able to regale them with our versions of his childhood adventures. They did not know this little story about their father (who was not present and could not deny nor sputter...although he may sputter when he reads this). Growing up on the farm we raised chickens. Lots of chickens. During the summer they were more or less allowed to roost at night where they wished. But as winter approached they needed to be safe and secure in the chicken house. One fall evening we ventured out after dark to grab them from their roosts and carry them (upside down by the legs, more than one hen in each hand) to the chicken house where they would be penned up for the winter. Brother T was to gather the chickens from the rafters in the lean-to that served as Dad's workshop. He pointed his flashlight upward at the chickens with his mouth hanging open......need I finish this story? You get the drift. (Plop!!!!) Needless to say, J and K will undoubtedly file this mental note to some safe spot in their cranium and bring it forth someday when they relay this very important bit of family history to their own children.

Three! My Mom watches the "Today" show. I didn't know that she is a fan of Linny Boyette who himself is a diehard fan of the "Today" show. I had never heard of this guy! But Mom has and she watches for him in the crowd outside the Midtown studio every morning. If he's not there, she worries about him. And when he's there again the next day she is satisfied that he is okay and it is now okay to change channels to watch something else. Boyette sounds like a nice fellow and you can read more about him here. Daughter now and then travels to New York and says if she ever gets up early enough to go down to Rockefeller Center she will be sure to stand beside Linny Boyette. Otherwise she's afraid Gramma will be so busy looking for Linny that she won't see her own granddaughter!

Four! My sister-in-law teaches computer at school to several groups of young students. She refers to them as nosepickers. (I do not know what percentage of students can be included in this category but that's beside the point and is not necessary to the story.) She says she recently asked one young student to please stop picking his nose because she feared his habit would leave germ-ridden "stuff" on the keyboard. He looked up at her and replied, "It's kinda like's a hard habit to break!"

Of course, we had to climb in several vehicles and caravan out to the old farm, just as we have in previous years. (You can read about our version of "This Old House" here!) Niece G who is wearing a classy plaid skirt walked through mud after this photo was taken, losing one shoe temporarily and muddying her tights. She was shoeless the rest of the day. I gave her a pair of old hospital socks to keep her feet warm on the ride home. The socks did not match and they were very grandmotherly socks but she was very sweet and thanked me kindly, running out the door in happy warm feet.

We marveled at Baby M's baby feet and the fact that he has little pads on the ball of his feet. Daughter says the pads remind her of kitty feet. We spent considerable time admiring his feet and assuring each other that with such long toes, surely he will grow up to be a great athlete. Kitty feet and all.

Other musings: Daughter and I wondered "why, oh why!" can't the bakers cut bagels and English muffins ALL the way through.

We later lingered at the (now clean) kitchen table browsing and laughing through two boxes of family photos. A photo of dad's old 1928 Studebaker illustrated the story of how my mom and her brother drove to California in 1946 with three of us along for the ride. I really don't remember it...I was a mite young. I asked brother F if he remembered the trip and he responded, yes, he did. At least parts of it. Nephew J asked what Mom and Uncle Jake would have done if the car had broken down during the 3600 mile round-trip. She replied that it DID break down. Uncle Jake cut some wire from a nearby fence, made repairs, and they traveled on. You can read about that venture here.

Niece A joined in the laughter at the table but her siblings spent most of the afternoon with our grandson D in the basement playing games on the Wii. I'm sure the conversation down there was less than sparkling...just "game" talk.

Over the length of the day, eighteen persons managed to consume eight pies, a 15-lb. turkey, one large meat loaf, one vegetarian lasagna casserole (for souls not hardy enough for turkey or beef...heh-heh), 10 lbs. of mashed potatoes and gravy, cranberry sauce (my secret recipe is simple and yummy!), sweet and creamy sweet potatoes, and other assorted dishes. Everybody brought a dish or two and we had plenty of food to enjoy. But the fellowship of family was the very best part.

I ponder deep things such as how many tons of turkey carcasses ended up in the landfill this week. And why anyone would venture forth on the Friday after Thanksgiving in order to shop amidst maddening crowds.

Since I had cooked our turkey a day ahead of time and had deboned it, I cooked up the carcass and used the resulting broth for gravy. Best gravy ever. Even though it was a mite thin. Thin gravy. It's a tradition in our family. Every family has traditions and I can't seem to break this one, no matter how I try.

Hope you and your families are blessed in all ways. Especially this Thanksgiving weekend.


Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Twenty One - And How I Am Grateful

Strange how we see gratefulness more easily when we have come through the fire of suffering. If you've not been following my blog you may not know that 2009 was the year of Ovarian Cancer at our house. Surgery. Hospital stays. Fears of more surgery. Chemo. Aches, pains, weakness, loss of hair, daily shots of neupogen to boost the white blood count. And all the while hoping that I would not catch a cold or flu. My immune system was often at its lowest ebb and any illness would have easily landed me in the hospital.

Today it is 20 weeks since my last chemo session. During that time I have regained strength. Mentally, physically, and spiritually. Currently my cancer is at a stable place. This stability may last a few weeks or it may last years. Only God knows. He holds all my days in His hands and I am learning, day by day, to leave my worries and concerns there.

So today, while I am preparing for 21 guests and while I am bustling about the kitchen, putting pies in the oven, pre-cooking the turkey, cutting veggies, baking dinner rolls, I am amazed how good I feel. I am grateful for this year. And for tomorrow, family, good food. And for the knowledge that God is Sovereign and in control of all. My path is laid before me and I will walk it day by day. Good days. And bad days. And all the while I will continue to bow down and be grateful to God for all things. Even cancer.

You might think it strange to be thankful for cancer. But, you see, it is in the darkest moments when we finally relinquish our desire to control our own lives and when we finally give up on our own plans. And when you are able to bow down, then your worship is best.

Isaiah 43
But now, this is what the LORD says—
he who created you, O Jacob,
he who formed you, O Israel:
"Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
I have summoned you by name; you are mine.

2 When you pass through the waters,
I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
you will not be burned;
the flames will not set you ablaze.

3 For I am the LORD, your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.

To Tantalize the Twenty-One

We're expecting 21 guests, plus or minus, and just in case they're reading my blog this morning, here's a little preview...just to tantalize a bit.

Mind you, there will be more pies than this...this is just the main meal...later on we'll surely want an extra slice to tide us over till next year.

Mmmmm, smells good!


Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Pie Crusts - Commercial vs. Home-Made

Does anyone else out there intensely dislike the refrigerated pie crusts offered in stores? The ones that come rolled up in a box? I find them barely acceptable and usually end up eating the filling and leaving the crust on my plate.

In my estimation, the very best crust in terms of flaky texture is made with lard. And while some folk still bake with lard I choose not to. These days I make my crust with butter. If I use salted butter, I omit the salt. For a recipe I still refer to my vintage (antique) Betty Crocker cookbook circa 1965.

In making pie crust, the shortening should be cold and should be mixed in until the texture is crumbly. In other words the bits of lard, or butter, or whatever, should remain a bit pebbly in size. Overmixing makes for a less tender crust.

I've found a shortcut to mixing in the shortening is to use a grater to grate cold butter into the flour, periodically tossing flour into and onto the grated butter (so it doesn't stick back together again). Once all the butter is grated into the flour, I use a hand-held electric mixer to whiz through the mixture until the butter is down to crumb size.

The water, of course, should be cold. Put some ice cubes into a bowl, add some cold tap water, and let it get nice and Cold! Then sprinkle in the recommended amount, stir with a fork, sprinkle in some more water, until the mixture is somewhere between clumpy and crumbly. A bit of kneading and pressing will make it into a cohesive mound.

It is at this stage that many go wrong with pie crust. The recipe usually says to knead several times. My comment on that is "Don't!" I may fold it the mound over on itself, but never more than 3 times (4 max). Overkneading produces "tough crust".

If I am making crust for more than one pie (today I made enough for five!), I will mix the flour and butter in one bowl. For the next step I take out a couple cups of the mixture, placing it in a separate bowl, then add the appropriate amount of water, a bit at a time. I find that I usually need to add a tad more than the recipe calls for.

When I am making the crusts a couple days ahead of time, I'll partially flatten them into a round shape about an inch thick. You will need to dust the counter top with a bit of flour, and redust whenever the dough is sticking to the surface. Wrap the partially shaped dough in plastic wrap or bag, then store in the fridge until ready to finish rolling out tomorrow. (You can also freeze them at this point.) Tomorrow, let them warm a bit before rolling out to size. Not too warm, just warmer than the fridge.

Long ago I tossed out those aluminum pie pans. They simply do not produce a well-baked crust. Instead of the aluminum I prefer Pyrex or pottery pans. The Pyrex are nice because you can see through the glass that the crust has reached a nice toasty color.

The recipe for a 10-inch one-crust pie as Betty herself recommends in her vintage cookbook is as follows:

1-1/3 cups flour
1/2 tsp salt (if using salted butter, omit)
1/2 cup shortening (one stick or 1/4 pound of butter equals 1/2 cup)
3 to 4 tablespoons cold water.

Double this as necessary for the number of crusts you want. When making several pies I will sometimes have enough dough left over to for a small single-crust. And if you do that as well, simply store it in the freezer for a quick bake some later time.

We're having pumpkin, apple and mincemeat. How about you?


Thursday, November 19, 2009

What a Difference a Day Makes or How I Love Vacuuming!

What a difference a day makes. Or in my case, "what a difference several months make".

It's been four and a half months since I finished my chemo. Hooo, Boy! Do I feel good! Not only do I feel physically good but I feel mentally and emotionally good, too. And since ovarian cancer is not exactly something that is ever considered "cured", I figure I'm going to enjoy every day. Even moments like today when I decided to do deep cleaning for Thanksgiving week. We're having company! Yayyyy, Company!

Hubby began the vacuuming by cleaning the large downstairs room that doubles as a TV/guest room. Then it was my turn and I cleaned the old basement laundry room, furnace room and storage room. Those three rooms are "utility" rooms. Concrete floor, bare walls, wood rafter ceilings. Over the summer months a few wispy spider webs make their appearance along with a few dead bugs, dirt, construction dust. Those rooms are now dust-free. I'll be able to run downstairs barefoot and not feel grit between my toes. I hate gritty floors.

Next stop for the vacuum cleaner was the garage. I figured I'd have to put in a new bag anyway, so why not fill this one to the brim. Again spider webs, dead crickets, debris tracked in with our feet. Tossed the old rug that stood at the entrance cause it was 'done for'. Drained the garden hose. Tidied the area. Put the clutter items out of sight underneath the steps to the kitchen. Placed a 'new' used rug before the door.

There's something about having things clean and tidy. It makes me breathe an appreciative sigh. I can let things go only so far before they begin to bug me. Sometimes I let them go a bit longer like when I was doing chemo or just because sometimes I procrastinate. I'm pretty good at procrastinating. But then, when cleaning begins, I go like gangbusters.

Tomorrow I need to check my grocery list and begin some baking.

I'm thankful that I'm feeling good these days. I hope that you, too, are looking forward to Thanksgiving this year with friends and family and with much thankfulness.