Friday, 31 December 2010

Officially a Toddler

Two whole years have gone by since the New Year's Eve morning when I checked myself into the hospital to be induced.   My due date was January 2 and December 31 was my doctor's first day from vacation.   Plus, it gave us a few extra days for Joey to be home from work since we had no family coming to help us.  I had to check in at six in the morning and Joey stayed at home with the girls so they could wake up at their normal time and not have a hurried, hectic morning.   Clare.'s godparents, Ray and Leslie, offered to watch the girls.   Joey drove them to their house and got to the hospital after nine o'clock.  

After ten o'clock, I told Joey to get the nurse and she immediately called the doctor, without checking on me.   Later, I found out that my doctor told her that when I said it was time to page her because I would know.   Our sweet Thomas Becket was born at 10:59.  We named him after the English martyr, Thomas Becket.   I have a tremendous devotion to the English martyrs and saints, made even stronger after our visits to England.   Our visit to Canterbury holds a special place in my heart.




It was a little different being in the hospital during a holiday.   People were working different shifts from normal and check-out didn't run as smoothly as usual.   Plus, it is hard to ask friends for help during such a busy time.   So, Joey stayed at home that night with the girls and I spent the night alone with Thomas.   That was different from the birth of the girls.



Proud Big Sisters in their scrubs made by Aunt Amber just for the occasion.



 She told everyone, "Now, I'm a Double Big Sister!"   She was SO happy to have Thomas!




 We were released the next day, thanks be to God.   He was a perfect little gift under our tree!







Thanks be to God for the privilege of being a mother to daughters and a son.   It is so wonderful to experience both and I am so grateful.



Happy Birthday, sweet boy; you make us all so happy!

Thursday, 23 December 2010

A Few of My Favorite Things

There are too many things to do for a long post, but I thought I'd take a little time to post pictures of some of my favorite Christmas items.

I think it would come as little surprise that, like most things, my memories of Christmas are wrapped up with memories of my mom.  Mama made Christmas such a magical time.   We both loved decorating for the season.  We even took care to decorate the presents carefully so they were beautiful, also.   As I grew older, I found our that Mama made special efforts at Christmas because of her experiences when my brother Greg was small.   Money was tight since my dad was just an instructor at a junior college and then a graduate student.   She never forgot those times and she appreciated the better times as they came.


She began collecting Hallmark ornaments in the late 1970s.   At first, she only bought them at half-price on the day after Christmas.   I have memories of standing outside the Hallmark store in the mall on December 26, waiting for the doors to open.   Once I remember Mama yelling, "Run!" as I ran ahead since I could easily work my way to the front of the crowd.   No trampling back in those days, though.   Later, Mama started buying the ornaments at full price and she bought most of the ones made each year.   We would put up multiple trees, each with a different theme.   We also emptied our built-ins and made little scenes with the ornaments.   It took about a week to decorate.   I have some of my favorite old Hallmark ornaments, but my favorite ornaments are the homemade ones and vintage ones from my parents' early Christmases before I was even born.


My other favorite items are the Christmas pieces my mother painted such as this little candle box.   Mama painted the manger scene on the back.   When the candle is lit, baby Jesus' face seems to glow.   I can remember sitting and staring at this as a child.   Such a sweet picture of children paying homage to their savior.   It is one of the last items I found when we cleaned out my parents' house and I was upset when I thought I would not find it.

Another favorite is this shadow box.   Mama painted the image of Santa in his workshop on glass.   When you paint on glass, you paint on the "back" of the glass and you do the techniques in reverse.   The shelves have little miniature toys that fascinated me as a child.   I longed to take them out to play with them!




Mama painted this sweet child and tree on a wooden sled.   I can't remember a Christmas from my childhood when this wasn't hanging in our home.   I think it was painted before I was born.
Another reason it's a favorite is because it is one of the paintings Mama signed.















This is another painting she did on a small wooden sled.   She copied this image from a Christmas card and it always hung in our kitchen on the farm.   Another treasured item!










This is a cypress knee Santa.   In Louisiana, cypress trees that grow in the water have exposed root systems and the roots are called "knees."   People would cut them, dry them, and paint them as Santas or other items.   They were very popular in the 1990s and my mother wanted one.   I remember how excited I was to find this one for her Christmas present one year.



A few weeks after we were married, we found a Fontanini  nativity starter set on post-Christmas clearance.   They rarely go on sale, so we were so excited.   For several years after, instead of giving each other presents for our anniversary, we bought new pieces for our nativity.   It is a beautiful reminder of our savior's birth and it also reminds us of our first years together.



I am so thankful for so many precious memories of Christmas.   Not all of the items from my childhood are Christ-centered and some are downright secular, but they are the only physical connection we have to my parents.   My children have no living grandparents so photographs, stories, and keepsakes are the only way for them to get to know them.   I pray that I can help my children have precious memories of their own for this holy season.  




Of course, more precious than things are our beautiful gifts from God:






 



Merry Christmas & God bless you during this holy season!

Friday, 17 December 2010

Holiday Gifting

It's time to fess up.   This is the first year I did no holiday baking for Joey's Christmas presents at work.   Our church pie bake sale has taken its toll, I think, but it was so much fun!

I actually bought cookies (nice ones, but store-bought!), but I did make the two recipes below, so there was some homemade element.   Mama's got to do what Mama's got to do!

Here's a cute way to give cookies.   I wish they were homemade, but at least the packaging shows I put thought into these gifts for some special people.   I want people to feel special when they receive a gift from me.   After all, it's about them!

I got this idea from a Southern Living Christmas book.   They used milk glasses in antique metal milk bottle carriers.   For this gift, the black caddy is from the Better Homes and Gardens line at Wal-Mart.   This is the half-pint size, made for canning jars.   You can find them in the canning section, in various sizes.   I just bought two standard glasses that looked like great milk glasses (get wide ones) and filled them with cookies.   I bagged the cookies in decorative bags.  I like this because you could keep the glasses in the caddy and use it as a flatware caddy on a buffet when entertaining or you could place jar candles or other decorative items in them.  Plus, it's small and can be used year-round.   I hate to give gifts that add clutter to people's lives.   I try to think ahead to a gift's possible other uses.




I also made gift baskets filled with homemade cocoa mix, homemade marshmallows, chocolate candy, a holiday tea towel, a sampler of coffee and a glass mug.   I like the look of a glass mug and these are made in USA.   I worry about possible lead contamination in some ceramic cups.   I can always use extra kitchen towels, so I like to tuck those into gifts.   The basket is solid green, so it can be used at times other than Christmas and it's a nice size for paper dinner napkins.  

My friend Amber makes peppermint marshmallows every year at Christmas.   This recipe is copied from Martha Stewart Living.  It was my first time to try them.   Delicious, pretty, and not that difficult.   You just have to have a block of time to work on them without distraction.   A stand mixer is a must.   Have powdered sugar ready for cutting.   My Pampered Chef sugar shaker came in handy.   After each cut, powder the squares on all size so they won't get sticky. 

Here's the link to the recipe: http://www.marthastewart.com/recipe/candy-cane-marshmallows



Alton Brown's Hot Cocoa Mix

Here's a nice, rich recipe for a dry mix.   I just mixed it and put it in air-tight glass jars and paired it with the marshmallows above.   Yes, it's easier to buy cocoa packets, but they usually aren't as good and this shows you took care and effort to prepare the gift.  


Here's the link for the cocoa mix: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/alton-brown/hot-cocoa-recipe/index.html







Thursday, 16 December 2010

Happy 235th Birthday

On 16 December 1775 the future literary great, Jane Austen, entered the world.   This year marks the 235th anniversary of her birth.

My preference for literary escapes is the nineteenth century.   When I was expecting  my son, I was reading Richard Shannon's biography of the Victorian prime minister Gladstone.   After Thomas was born, PBS's Masterpiece Theater showed productions of several Charles Dickens works in a row, including the beautiful Bleak House.   Dickens fan or not (the horror!), you must watch this movie.   It is a beautiful example of a modern take on a faithful period piece.

Another beautiful modern example is the 2007 ITV1 production of Persuasion .   It actually manages to capture the breathless and sometimes deliciously frustrated feelings you experience as a reader.   Plus, Rupert Penry-Jones is a favorite actor of mine!    I can never quite settle on my favorite character from Austen's works: Darcy, Captain Wentworth, or Mr. Knightley?   Can there be a wrong choice among such a list?

Longer posts about Jane Austen will have to wait for another time.   For now, peruse the activities related to her birthday at Jane Austen's World.   I'll be making cherry cream scones tomorrow in honor of this great lady and re-reading some of my favorite dog-eared portions of her novels.

Happy Birthday, Jane and thank you.
.

Two of my favorite Jane Austen quotes which reflect my feelings about friendship

""There is nothing I would not do for those who are really my friends.   I have no notion of loving people by halves; it is not my nature."   


and hospitality in our current home:

"...and found rooms so small as none but those who invite from the heart could think capable of accommodating so many." 




This beautiful graphic was created by my creative friend, Lauren.   She's amazing!  (You should see the lovely Jane Austen note cards she made.)  

Monday, 6 December 2010

The Visit

I was the youngest of nineteen grandchildren on my mother's side.   I only saw my paternal grandmother a few times, only one of those times do I remember and I only saw my paternal grandfather once.   I was closest to my maternal grandparents, although I usually only saw them once a year.

When the air began to get cool and crisp and the pecans began to fall, I knew the time was approaching for the occasion to which I most looked forward each year: The Visit from Grandma and Grandad.    Bill and Lena  were my mother's parents.   They were married almost sixty-seven years (Grandad was buried on their anniversary in 1990).   Even today, when I hear the term, "salt of the earth" my thoughts always go to images of them.   They were the kind of people who, in their seventies and eighties, were still bringing meals and doing work for the "elderly" in their church!   In personality, they were a little like the grandparents on The Waltons.   The theme song of that program always brings memories of them.   Grandma was always busy working and could sound a little sharp when she spoke and Grandad was quick with a joke or a wink.

My grandmother was an incredible cook, making everything from scratch, of course.   She made homemade chicken and noodles, pies, fried chicken, and so on goes the list.   My mother told me stories of dishes she remembered from her childhood.   Grandma made strawberry shortcake with layers of pie crust, sweetened strawberries, and real fresh farm cream.   She was famous for her sweet pickles and she canned everything from their garden.   Mama would tell the story of one of Grandma's home births.   When the doctor arrived, he looked at all the filled Mason jars in the kitchen and wanted to know WHO had done that?   She had spent the entire day canning while in labor!

Of course, the visits I most remember are those they made to the farm when I was in elementary school.   My Aunt Pat would drive them to our house and she would stay for a day or two.   It was so exciting to see Aunt Pat.   I liked watching her and Mama together as sisters.   And Aunt Pat knew how to speak to and play with children.   I still have a miniature Strawberry Shortcake figurine she brought me one year.   She found out I liked Strawberry Shortcake but didn't have any of the toys yet, so she made sure to bring one when she made the trip to take Grandma and Grandad back to her house.

 
 Aunt Pat and Mama, second and third from left, top

As they arrived in fall  it was still pecan harvesting time.   We had quite a few towering old pecan trees of several varieties.   We spent every spare moment of daylight picking up pecans.   People laugh when I tell them how we accomplished our task.   We picked on our knees.   Starting at the base of the tree, we sat beside each other and began picking outward in rings.   As we searched, we had to move the leaves and they formed a ring to let the person beside you see where your area stopped.   We would pick the ground beneath the trees clean in this manner!   I wish I knew how many pecans Mama picked over the years.   She told people that the first year we moved there, the neighbors probably thought she was either  really short or very religious, since she was out on her knees so often!   Mrs. Carmel and Grandad were the only two people who could keep up with her when it came to picking up pecans or any other task.

While we were out picking up pecans, Grandma would stay inside, usually cooking.   We had a little television in our kitchen and she would keep it on as she worked.   I can remember her coming out every so often to tell us about the latest winner on The Price Is Right.   This is the show she would complain about and wonder why anyone watched!   I also remember her coming out at some point on each visit and announcing the tally of chickens for that year.   My mom collected chickens and Grandma would count the total number each time she visited.   It always struck her as amusing because she said my mom couldn't stand taking care of chickens as a girl and then she ended up having a kitchen full of them.

Evenings, we would visit and watch television, each of us with a t.v. tray on our laps, cozy in the living room warmed by a fire.   On the trays were cracked pecans that we would pick out so the meat could be put into freezer bags for storage.  One of the sounds from my childhood is the pecan cracker from Kent's Nursery that seemed to be working without stop during the fall.

Grandad always called Mama his baby girl.   She was the youngest of six children.   He loved to fish and he was an amazing carpenter and craftsman, although not by trade.   When he visited, he and Mama often had some refinishing project to be done.   When Mama found out she was pregnant with me, they were refinishing this antique Duncan Phyfe table.   Aunt Shirley called my mom one day and said her neighbors were getting rid of the table.   The owner kept it in the garage and was throwing his tools upon it!   As long as I can remember it was called my table and I loved caring for it and asking Mama to tell me the story of the day she found out she was pregnant with me.   Mama's face as she told the story and the scent of lemon Pledge as I carefully polished "my table."   It is now the centerpiece of our family celebrations and my daughters help me polish it.     





Another year, Grandad and Mama worked on this Hoosier cabinet.   It belonged to Mama's best friend, Carmel and when she no longer wanted it, she passed it on to Mama.   It had several coats of paint and when they stripped it, they found the copper Hoosier label on the front.   Inside, the paper shipping label was still taped to the cabinet wall.   Mama took the doors off and had glass installed, so she could keep the doors closed for display.   It now holds vintage tablecloths and kitchenware that Mama collected for me, usually at garage sales.

 Mickey Mouse cookie jar is reversible; Minnie is on the other side.  It belonged to Mama's grandmother and it's from the 1930s.   The other cookie jar is from Mama's first kitchen after being married.  
 
Then, on another visit, Grandad made Mrs. Carmel a bench for her kitchen table.   When Mama saw the finished product, she decided she needed a bench, also, so Grandad made the one that now sits at the foot of our bed.   It is so nice to think of him as I walk through the various rooms of our home.   I think of the two of them, working and talking.   They were both meticulous when it came to making or refinishing items.   Everything was done slowly and carefully, with such care, pride and PATIENCE.   My conscience is pricked often as I look upon the beautiful finish of our table after I've literally gotten upset over spilled milk!   Such a connection with family through treasured items can never be assessed a value.



This is my favorite picture of Grandad.

I asked my cousin Linda to take a picture of Grandad in his overalls because that's how I always pictured him, and all the other more recent pictures we had of him were in his Sunday best.   The only thing about the picture is these were his nicer overalls.   I remember him in his striped, engineer-style overalls, bent at one knee picking pecans or bent over a piece of furniture, bringing it to its original finish.   I remember the feel of the buttons and clasps and the fabric of those overalls against my cheek  as I sat in his lap.   I can still hear his voice as he said, "Grandad loves you honey."   

Even though I didn't spend time with them very often, I learned so much from my grandparents.   I learned about the dignity of work and a job well done, kindness to those in need, marriage, wisdom and faith.   When the country song, "I Thought That He Walked on Water" was released by Randy Travis in the eighties, Mama and I thought of Grandad because that title captured how our "little girl" hearts thought of him.   He was a towering figure in our minds, full of kindness and love and I still miss him.  God gives us so many tiny glimpses into His Glory and the true joy that awaits us one day with Him.   In Grandad's lap, I think I had an earthly taste of the happiness  of one day being a beloved child in the presence of my Heavenly Father for all eternity.

Grandpa's Angel

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Holiday Baking

Holiday baking usually is more involved than average baking, and we must plan ahead and do a little more prep work.   Over the next few weeks, I will share some of my favorite special recipes for Christmas and Epiphany.




PARTY PASTRIES

I like to make these for buffets and luncheons.   People are always happy to have a savory item added to all the sweets.   I usually roast seasoned chicken thighs for this recipe.  The shell recipe is like one you would use for pecan tassies.   It's a must-have in a southern cook's recipe file!

Shells:
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 3 oz. pkg. cream cheese, softened
1 cup all-purpose flour
Dash of salt
Leaf lettuce
Chicken Salad Filling

Combine butter and cream cheese in a mixing bowl; beat at medium speed of an electric mixer until smooth.   Add flour and salt; mix well.

Divide dough into 30 balls.   Place in ungreased mini muffin pans, pressing dough on bottom and up the sides to form shells.   Prick bottom and sides of shells with a fork.   Bate at 400 degrees for 10 min. or until lightly browned.   Remove from pans and cool on wire racks.

Line shells with small piece of lettuce.   Spoon Salad Filling evenly into shells.   Cover and chill.   Yield: 2 1/2 dozen

Chicken Salad Filling
3/4 cup finely chopped cooked chicken
1/3 cup mayonnaise (If you can find Blue Plate mayo, try it.   It is the BEST!)
1/4 cup finely chopped celery
2 Tbsp. finely chopped dill pickle
1/8 tsp. ground pepper (white or black)

Combine all ingredients; stir well.   Cover and chill.

from Christmas with Southern Living Cookbook

FIRESIDE CHOCOLATE
 It's hard to go back to envelopes of powder after homemade hot chocolate.

Whipped cream optional?!   Homemade whipped cream is so much better than the tub or spray stuff.   You can make your own and avoid all the chemicals that make up those other products.   Really, read the labels for a scare.

To make your own whipped cream, be sure to pick up a carton of HEAVY whipping cream. With an electric mixer, beat 1 cup whipping cream and 1 Tbsp. sugar on high speed until soft peaks form.   You can store it in a covered air-tight container in the refrigerator.

4 cups milk
5 (1 oz.) squares semi-sweet chocolate, chopped
2 sticks cinnamon
1 tsp. vanilla
Whipped cream (optional)

Combine first 4 ingredients in a large saucepan; cook over med. heat, stirring constantly until chocolate melts and mixture is thoroughly heated.   Remove and discard cinnamon sticks.

Beat at high speed of an electric mixer 1 to 2 minutes.   Pour into mugs.   If desired, top each serving with whipped cream, and sprinkle with cinnamon.



MELT-IN-YOUR-MOUTH SUGAR COOKIES

For years, my mom and I searched for the perfect sugar cookie recipe.   One that wasn't too sticky, needing to be refrigerated every 5 minutes, one that didn't burn on the edges as it baked...one that tasted good.   I finally gave up and shelved the idea of sugar cookies, leaving them to mythical bakers I imagined who were the only ones who could make a delicious light sugar cookie, in addition to things like croissants or homemade phyllo dough.

Then, I found this recipe (this is where the clouds would open and the angelic choirs would sing) and my daughters and I were able to produce beautiful, delicious sugar cookies.   I'm posting the link to this Southern Living recipe because there is no reason to sit and re-type it.   It's from the 1999 Christmas with Southern Living book.   With this frosting recipe, you can make gorgeous decorated cookies.

It is time consuming, but kids can join in.   They can cut the cookies (simple shapes are best) and after you pipe the white outline and let it harden (a min. or two), they can pipe in the filling and spread it around with a toothpick.   This dough is lovely and easy to handle.   For the frosting, you could also use Meringue powder, sold with cake decorating supplies in cans like baking powder.   Follow the directions on the can for royal icing and then use this recipe's instructions for thinning it.



Here's the recipe:

http://find.myrecipes.com/recipes/recipefinder.dyn?action=displayRecipe&recipe_id=10000000520510

Enjoy planning for your Christmas baking!
More recipes to come...

Seven Years Old!



It seems impossible that seven years ago, I was in a labor and delivery room, waiting to give birth to my first child.   I ended up giving birth to E. on December 1, the day the doctor wanted me to call to set up a time to be induced.   She told me on my last office visit that I would probably need help with labor and she was right.   I ended up going several hours without any contractions after my water broke, so the doctor decided to begin a pitocin drip.  I've heard since that pitocin labors are supposed to be hard, but it's what I've had with all three of my children; I don't know anything different.

I had back surgery in 1998, so I found out when I watched the epidural video that it would probably not have effect because of the scar tissue.   So, I decided that it wasn't worth the risk, or frankly, the cost, if there was a chance it might not even work.   So, I had a natural birth and I am so grateful.   My doctor was in a dentist's chair having a root canal when I was in labor and her husband ended up delivering E.

My parents made the three and a half hour drive, arriving around 3:00 in the morning.   They saw twelve deer on the road along the way.   Mama was so excited and very anxious.   Joey was beyond nervous and I was calm because I was in a hospital with which I was familiar (back surgery, gall bladder surgery, sinus surgery) surrounded by wonderful and skilled nurses and doctors.   I am so thankful for hospitals and the quick action they can take when seconds count.   My nurse for delivery was so good that the doctor thanked her and said it was a privilege to work with her.   She was semi-retired and he didn't get to work with her very often.

The doctor and nurses were very excited because we did not know if we were having a girl or a boy.   They said that happens so seldom now that it is even more exciting.   The doctor yelled, "It's a girl!!" when E. was born at 10:06 in the morning--"a very respectable time" as one of Joey's professors said.   It was such an incredible, joyous time.   I could not stop smiling and I was overcome by the love I felt for my precious baby.   I still find myself looking at her and marveling at the love I feel for her.

 Our first glimpse of E. at 6 weeks.



 Our 4-D ultrasound of our little girl.   My parents went with us to have this ultrasound and I remember leaving the office building and walking to the car.   Joey and I were ahead of Mama and Daddy and I was so happy I didn't even realize Daddy had asked me a question.   "She's in her own little world," Mama told him and we shared our first of a precious few "between us moms" looks.  



He was smitten from the first glimpse and smitten he remains!

Love it when they are in that deep, comfortable, arms-up sleep!

Grandma with E

We used this picture on our thank-you notes.  

I would like to have a picture from each year, but we only went digital two years ago and our scanner isn't cooperating.  

Thanks be to God for my precious E. and for the gift of motherhood.   Happy Birthday, sweet girl.   I am so thankful God sent you to us!

My big helper, with a sharp sense of humor and an artistic eye.   Thank you for sharing and showing me the world through your eyes.

  
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