Saturday, December 31, 2011

Let's Interrupt This Week Of Eating To Talk About Food For A Minute...

I don't know about you, but I have eaten more scrumptious food this week between Christmas and New Years than I have all holiday season!

One evening we dug out our gift cards and went on a double date to Maggiano's with my parents.  Don't even get me started on Maggiano's, there's just not enough time! My parents had never done the family style dining there and while I was describing everything as we ordered and waited for our dinner, my dad said I should do a commercial for them!  I'll just say this....fried zucchini and shrimp scampi.  Oh, and shrimp and crab fondue.  Not to mention the chopped salad and beef medallions.  Okay, I'll stop now.  Let's just say dining there is a huge treat!

Last night I went out with these cuties for cheese and chocolate at The Melting Pot!  Madi asked me what The Melting Pot was and I told her it was bliss.  She asked what bliss was and I said happiness.  "So The Melting Pot is happiness?" she asked me.  Well, yeah, basically.  :) But I mean really, things can only get happier when you dip them in cheese and chocolate.

Yesterday afternoon I got to eat this...but I'll tell you more about that later!  It was not just a meal, it was an experience.  A very neat one.

Soon we are heading to spend New Year's Eve with some friends of ours.  I have Broccoli Salad filled with natural goodies like dried cranberries, onions, walnuts, and a homemade dressing marinating.  I have Bacon Wrapped Green Bean Bundles baking away in the oven.  These little bundles are always a hit when I bring them to parties so I figured I better made a batch!  The guys devour them.  Strawberry season is just starting around here, so I hulled two containers of local strawberries, got a bag of marshmallows, and am going to try my hand at my own Chocolate Fondue in a few minutes (I was inspired by The Melting Pot bliss!).  I'll let you now how it goes. I also baked some hot Ham and Cheese Sandwiches with a buttery mustard sauce, and they are currently wrapped in foil and keeping warm in the slow cooker.

Don't you just love party food?!

Happy New Year !  Have a fun, safe evening and let me know what goodies you made to take to your celebration!

Monday, December 26, 2011

The Worst Christmas Ever (Because Not All Christmases Are Picture Perfect)

We had a wonderful Christmas this year.  Our month included a special time away for Jimmy and me which was a huge gift in and of itself!  It included lots of things that helped keep the focus of the season - caroling to older folks or those who've had a tough year with our kids and youth group students; packing shoeboxes for needy children across the world and buying/wrapping gifts for a needy family we've never met in our own community; practicing and singing songs about our Savior's birth at our church candlelight service; reading the Christmas story together; taking moments to pause and pray together to thank God for the gift of His son Jesus, and for all that we are blessed with.  It also included lots of the fun of the season - pictures of my kids and their cousin with Santa; buying and exchanging those perfect gifts for those we love; making gifts by hand to give away; baking cookies and eating extra treats; parties at school and church; Christmas movies and hot cocoa; family game nights and more.

It's been a good Christmas season.  And yesterday was a good day.

But I couldn't help remember a Christmas not too long ago that wasn't so great.  We can laugh about it now but at the time, it was a nightmare.

The year was 2006.  Christmas Eve that year fell on a Sunday.  Sundays are a obviously a big day for most pastors and their families, and Christmas Eve was always a big day for us at our church in Maryland because we would do a beautiful candlelight service attended by many in our community.  That year was no exception.

That year was also the one I had an almost 20 month old toddler and an almost 2 month old baby.  I refer to those years in my life as "The Blurry Years" - some of you out there may have experienced a few of those yourselves!  I had just started to really recover fully from my second C-section, was still nursing around the clock, and had a sweet baby with a dreadful case of acid reflux.  Madi had reflux, but hers was nothing like what we experienced with Trevor.  Poor little guy.  And poor us.  Madi was always extremely smart, but with her brightness came a will of iron as toddler.  We had our hands full.  It was a time in my life where I would count it a huge accomplishment to have everyone clean and fed and decent and happy by around lunchtime, and would often end up with a huge spit up stain on me and someone ready to be changed or fed by the time we got anywhere anyway!

Needless to say, I didn't do a whole lot of Christmas decorating that year.  I didn't even put up a tree.  We had a felt tree with magnetic ornaments that Madi enjoyed playing with, and even though I am a lover of Christmas decorating, I decided that was going to do it this time around!  Though we had two kids in a flash and our world was a little, well, blurry like I said, we were still happy and busy with life and ministry.  And we were looking forward to the Christmas Eve services.

However, one day very close to Christmas Eve Madi had a quick but very bad bout with a stomach bug that involved a huge mess to clean up in her crib.  These things happen with kids as you know, but what we did not know was that our whole family was about to go down in a major way.

It was late at night on December 23rd.  I couldn't sleep and something just didn't feel right.  Neither could Jimmy...and sometime in the wee hours of Christmas Eve we both experienced the.absolute.most.violent stomach virus either of us have ever had.  I will spare you most of the details but it was unlike anything we could compare it to or describe. And it was constant.  We were up all night long and still violently ill in the morning, so we called our parents to tell them we would not be able to come to church - and possibly beg for some help - and found out my dad (the pastor), my mom, my grandmother, and my sister-in-law had been up all night with the same thing.  It was awful.  An ambulance of paramedics had to come to my parents' house to check on my grandmother who was very weak, and my sister-in-law who had passed out twice.  I was trying to nurse poor Trev and take care of him and Madi between bouts of sickness.  Trev was throwing up all over our sheets so we were laying on beach towels at one point because we didn't have the strength to change them (lovely, I know).  I was concerned for him, not knowing if it was his dreadful reflux or if he had gotten whatever we all had, so I called the pediatrician's office.  I was trying to explain everything to the nurse on call and was literally pausing to throw up in an empty baby wipe box between sentences (gross, but true).  I remember the nurse saying, "Ma'am, you sound like you need some help."  And I remember saying, "All of my help is also sick, and there is no way I can ask anyone else to come help me because they will most likely get this too."  It was a very helpless feeling, and I was getting weaker by the second between the violence of the illness and nursing baby Trevor.

The only person unaffected in my family was my brother.  He had mercy on me and risked his own state of health to come over and drive me to the emergency room.  My mom rode over with my brother and she and Jimmy did their best to watch Madi and Trev.  I was so weak my brother wheeled me into the [absolutely packed] ER in a wheelchair.  They too had mercy on me and gave me priority (I guess I looked as bad as I felt) and though there were no open rooms (I suppose "no room in the inn" is a common theme on Christmas Eve) they gave me a cot in the hallway.  I was thankful for anything at that point, and most grateful when the anti-nausea drip they gave me knocked me out in a few seconds flat.  I was desperate for sleep, and remember being so relieved to get some that I was completely unaware of the hustle and bustle that surrounded me in the hallway.

Several hours later when I was able to keep a Sprite down they sent me home.  We somehow made it through the night and needless to say, we didn't have our usual Christmas brunch in the morning.  We didn't even drag ourselves over to my parents' house until sometime Christmas evening, and while Madi felt better and opened her gifts, the rest of us sat around all pale and weak and thankful that the ordeal was over.

We did however eat some chicken noodle soup.  And that is an interesting part of the story.

I had forgotten about this, but my mom reminded me of it last night as we were reminiscing about the disastrous Christmas of 2006.  She was carrying soiled bags out to the trash that Christmas Eve when someone came to the door.  It was a man in a red turtleneck with a white beard.  She had never seen him before (I am not making this up).  He was with a pretty little girl who he introduced as his granddaughter.  She said he had a bag in his hand and said to her, "I heard the preacher was sick."  Now, that right there is interesting and here is why.  Down here, it is common for me to hear people refer to my dad or other pastors as "the preacher."  But I had never heard that up in was always "the pastor" or in some churches "the reverend."  However, this kind stranger with a red turtleneck and white beard had somehow heard "the preacher" was sick.  In his bag were containers of chicken noodle soup from Friendly's which he said he had heard were good when you weren't feeling well.  He gave them to my mom, and walked to the driveway.  And then he drove off in a (get this) bright, shiny, vintage cherry red pickup truck.  Definitely not something you see everyday, especially in the Mid-Atlantic area.  To this day my mom believes it was either St. Nick or a true Christmas Angel!

So we ate chicken noodle soup, delivered by a white-bearded stranger in red, Christmas night.  And we gained back our strength and life went on and the kids grew up and The Blurry Years sharpened into greater focus.

I share this story for a reason.  Some of you, like us, had a very nice Christmas 2011.  But some of you may not have.  For whatever reason this Christmas may not have been merry, or bright, or healthy, or happy, or maybe just didn't live up to some expectations that were deep in your heart.  Our family has had other Christmases clouded by illnesses or cancer diagnoses, losses or other troubles.  Many have looked like a scene from a Norman Rockwell painting or Christmas card, but not all have been so.

So if this just wasn't your year, keep your chin up.  Remember, there is always next year...and the next....and the next.  Christmas faithfully shows up each year, and the Christ of Christmas is always the same no matter what our circumstances may be.  If it's been a tough year or season, it truly will pass.  There is a light shining for the heart that holds on, as the song says.  Hold on, sweet friend.  Hold on.

Much Love and Thoughts of Cherry Red Pick Up Trucks and Chicken Noodle Soup,


Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas!

Wishing you all things merry and bright!  Praying you are remembering the One who came to earth one starry night to reconcile us with God, and are celebrating Him this day.  Hoping your day has been wrapped in love, and you have enjoyed the presence of someone dear.  Rejoicing with you for special gifts exchanged and fun memories made.   Most of all, praying you know Jesus, really know Him, because He will change your life.  Have yourself a merry little Christmas, friends.  And rejoice with exceeding great joy!!  Christ is here!  God is with us!!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

'Twas The Night Before Christmas

Well, the children are indeed nestled all snug in their beds and Santa and Mrs. Claus are done with official duties and will soon turn in.  They kept it fairly simple this year so it didn't take long to fill stockings and set presents out by the tree.  Santa is currently enjoying some of Mrs. Claus' chocolate chip cookies that the kids set out earlier, so he's feeling pretty jolly!

We enjoyed a lovely afternoon with family and friends with two very excited kids making everything extra merry!  Trev "read" us the Christmas story (which was an abbreviated but sweet version including a lot of lines like this...Hi Mary, you are going to have a baby.  Hi, Shepherds.  You need to go to Bethlehem and see the baby.  Hi, Wise Men.  You need to follow the star to see Jesus.  Bye.).   They led us in song and had us guessing Christmas charades.  We exchanged gifts and there was some serious excitement going on.  It was fun - I love Christmas Eve!

My candles burned for hours and even though it feels more like Spring Break than Christmas Break outside, I let apple cider simmer with mulling spices and cinnamon sticks in the crock pot, so my house still spells of spice and comfort.  My mom brought over a pot of chili and I made several new recipes that ended up being delicious - I promise to share them soon!  One was for Glazed Tea Cake.  I added a peppermint twist to it and it was just what the Elves ordered.  Sweet divinity!

After our guests left the kids threw reindeer food in the yard that they each made in their class at school, then we tucked them in for the night.  I have never seen Trevor so eager to go to sleep - he was begging to go to bed, and was out like a light!  That boy has been excited for weeks!  It's hard to believe the day he has been waiting for is almost here.

The past few days as my Christmas music has played, I have been going back to a line from Hark The Herald Angels Sing....

Peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled.

God and sinners reconciled.  Four words that very succinctly sum up the meaning of Christmas.  We had a sin problem, so God sent us a Savior.  Through Jesus we, as imperfect sinners, can be reconciled with a perfect God.  He was born - then later died and rose again - so that we can have life eternally with God, despite our sinful humanity.  His whole purpose in leaving Heaven to come to earth was so that through believing in Him as our perfect sacrifice, we can one day leave earth and spend eternity with God in Heaven.  We needed Him.  We couldn't do it on our own.  He changed everything for us.  He reconciled us with the Father (2 Corinthians 5:18).  He was born to be our Savior. (Luke 2:11).  I stand in awe of that.

I feel overwhelmingly blessed tonight to be reconciled with God.  To have a Reason to celebrate.  To have sparkly lights and presents under the tree and a home filled with family and love.  It's all because of Jesus, the greatest gift and manifestation of love the world ever has and ever will know.

We celebrate Him.

We worship Him.

We adore Him.

We love Him.

He loves us.

He loves you.

Merry Christmas Eve,


Thursday, December 22, 2011

A Few Last Minute Christmas Ideas!

I made a cute gift for a friend and I think I want to make one for myself next year.  It only took a few minutes to assemble but makes a fun decoration to set out during the Christmas season!  All I did was put some jingle bells in a canning jar, add some scrapbook paper to the lid, make a decorative tag that said "Get Your Jingle On" and tie it on with a festive ribbon.  If you need a last minute gift idea for a friend or hostess you could do this in no time flat!

I have been meaning to share with you some of the wonderful ideas that were shared at our ladies event "Don't Get Your Tinsel In A Tangle" - here are a few you could still use these last few days.  Our friends Sharon and Debbie showed us how coffee filters make great packaging for homemade bread...

And how kids could turn plain white paper into festive, personalized wrapping paper.

My mom and her friend Linda showed us how the raw veggies you serve at your holiday get-togethers can become a striking centerpiece with toothpicks and a styrofoam cone...

I shared the Jezebel Sauce recipe that was such a holiday hit last is so easy to whip up and makes a fantastic appetizer poured over cream cheese and served with crackers!

I also shared a new and extremely recipe I came across this year for Snow Candy...all you need is to melt some white chocolate chips (I add a spoonful of shortening as well) and mix in craisins and walnuts.  Drop onto some wax paper and you have some sweet and tasty candy!

And my mom shared how sometimes at Christmas what we need most is a Party for Two - just ourselves and Jesus.  In the midst of the holiday hustle and bustle we can find a quiet moment when the rest of the house is asleep and instead of wrapping or baking or working, we can pause.  Make a hot cup of cocoa or cider.  Pull out our Bible and a favorite devotional book and reconnect with the Savior we celebrate this time of year.

Wishing you the merriest last few days before Christmas!  
Don't get your tinsel in a tangle!  

"How'd You Like To Spend Christmas...On Christmas Island?!"

"How'd you like to spend the holiday away across the sea? 
How'd you like to spend Christmas on Christmas Island? 
How'd you like to hang a stocking on a great big coconut tree?"

I have been humming this Christmas tune a lot lately, first of all because it is on the new Kristen Chenoweth CD I treated myself to a few weeks ago and my kids love it to sing along to it.  Second of all because my husband and I got to do something amazing and out of the ordinary this December.  We got to celebrate our 10 year anniversary by sailing away for 6 nights, just the two of us, on a Caribbean cruise!  Our honeymoon wasn't even that long, and it is the longest we've vacationed ever in 10 years of marriage!  You may remember our 10 year anniversary was in June, but when Jimmy found a deal on a cruise that would equal two, maybe three nights in a local hotel on the beach (with no food or activities included) we knew it would be worth the wait to celebrate.  And celebrate we did!

We snorkeled with stingrays in the Caymen Islands and then went to Tiki Beach where I took the best nap of my life...

Did a little sightseeing in Jamaica...

Relaxed together in the Bahamas...

We had fun walking the track on the top deck several mornings, playing mini golf, in line skating, and ice skating on the ship!

We also relaxed on the ship - reading, napping, watching shows, and taking it all in.  It was surreal!

We laughed a lot.  If you had seen this ballroom dance competition with volunteers from the audience, you would have been laughing too!  Oh my goodness. Jimmy's impression of one of the real ballroom dancers was pretty hysterical too.  :)

Of course being on a cruise, we ate!  We enjoyed every meal, pinching ourselves each time that there was no bill coming at the end!  I relished not having to prepare meals or do dishes, and enjoyed the fresh fruit, readily available hot coffee, shrimp and seafood, and unlimited desserts.  As for Jimmy, well, he got his share of potatoes in every form possible and loved every minute!  We didn't eat until 8:30 each night and were up and going pretty early each morning, so one of my favorite times was around 5:00 when we would go to a cafe on the Promenade and get a coffee, small sandwich, and some baked goodies.  I love snack time!  :) And again, ordering from a cafe and not having a bill to pay is just so strange and wonderful!

We had fun taking our time getting ready for dinner each evening after lots of sun and fun during the day.  My mom was looking at some of my pictures and made the comment that my hair looked good.  I was like, yeah, I actually had time to do it!  (I'm telling you, this trip was surreal!)  It was a treat to dine together in the lovely dining room each evening...six date nights in a row!

Two evenings were formal nights and we got a little extra snazzy which was fun...

We took in sunsets, jazz music, and other happenings on the ship.

The whole thing was as Scripture says, exceedingly, abundantly more than we could ask or think.  It is still unbelievable to me the deal Jimmy found - what a gift that was.   From start to finish it was a lovely time away.  In ten years we have never had that much time to simply relax.  We had no agenda but to simply enjoy new destinations, good food, fun activities, and each other.  I am still pinching myself that we actually got to do this.  God is so good.

We were anxious to see the kids after six nights away, and it was a sweet reunion!  They had been having a ball with Grammie and Paw Paw though and busy with school, so the week had gone quickly.  We hit the ground running when we got back and entered into 10 extremely busy days in a row with family, church, ministry, friends, and school which is why I haven't been able to share much lately on here.  But the past day or two things are slowing down again as the kids are on Christmas break and the big day approaches rapidly.  What a wonderful season!  I hope and pray that you are enjoying the celebrating, the worshiping, the time with family.  Take time to enjoy!

Love, Blessings, and Dreams of Christmas Island,