Christmas Cookie Exchange Announcement (my first blog link-up)

il_fullxfull357409572_6b0x

If your family is like mine, you have a thousand Christmas memories, many of which center around the dining room table or plate of treats shared with warmth and laughter.

Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas for you without the results of these recipes that are tucked as tightly into your heart as they are into your overflowing recipe box.

My Dad loved Christmas, he didn’t go overboard on much, but when it came to Christmas cookies, once a year he would turn our kitchen into a cookie factory.

He made Snickers Surprises, Mrs Fields with M&Ms, Corn Flake Wreaths, Almond Pies and my Grandma’s sugar cookies, brushed with an egg wash and topped with colored icing and sprinkles.

He did it all in one day, batch after batch, using our garage as a cooling room.  There were card tables overflowing with cookies cooling on newspaper.  I’m not sure my Dad even know that cooling racks existed.

He often gave me the job of “shucking the snickers” which was to essentially sit at the table and unwrap about a hundred bite size snickers bars so he could shove them into a ball of peanut buttery dough.

On my worst Christmases I’ve found comfort in making my Dad’s cookie recipes.  For me there are always a few tears of grief in the batter, but when I sit down with a plate of his cookies I feel the tug of all the Christmas that have gone before.

It’s one of the most bittersweet moments of my year.

I bet that you have these heirloom recipes as well, the things that you make year after year.  As you do I bet that you share the stories and memories of the people whose hands taught yours to mix, roll and bake these ingredients into reality.

I love stories and memories, I could sit all day and listen to you talk about your heirloom recipes and family memories.  Because the heritage in these bites goes so deep into our souls that it’s mixed into our DNA.

A part of me can be found in these cookies.

A part of you can be found in your Grandpa’s almond bars or your mom’s chocolate pie.

So would you share these stories and memories with us?

So I’m cordially inviting you to a blog-wide Christmas Cookie Exchange, it’s my first Blog Link-Up, so I’m a little nervous, but like.. nervous excited.

I wish we could actually share a cup of cocoa and share but since there are likely miles between us, lets try the next best thing.

Here’s the info:

On Friday December 7 I’ll write a post about my favorite holiday recipe with a link up option so that you can join in.

Write your own post On December 7 or sometime shortly thereafter and link up with us!  Use the #cookieexchange hashtag to make connecting even easier.

Share your favorite holiday recipe with ingredients and clear instructions. It can be sweet or savory, it’s not cookie specific.

Tell us the story of why it’s so special, where did it come from, who passed it along to you?

Take pictures while you make it, do it at home or go to Grandma’s house, get your kids and friends involved.  These lovely recipes are made for sharing my friends.

I can’t wait to share stories and make new memories with you, eek!  I hope you join in.

Kid Questions, Suicide & railing against a WalMart Christmas

courtesy of http://www.sxc.hu/

Our family is experimenting with Paleo eating these days, mostly for medical and health related reasons, but also because we’re just plain sick of the American diet.

So earlier this week, Noelle and I set out to WalMart to hunt and gather what we would need to get by for the week.  I didn’t get to bring a caveman club to the store, although I sort of felt like it.  It’s probably good I don’t go into WalMart armed with a club, I get a little crazy in there.

If you’ve been in any retail store in America during November or December you’ll know that it’s rigged to persuade you to buy holiday M&Ms and vinyl snowman tablecloths.

Noelle was delighted with the whole business, the banners, the elves and the wreathes hanging over every checkout lane light.

She looked up at me from her perch on the front of the cart as asked “Is it Christmas mom?”

Uhhh… yes… no.. sort of? Continue reading

The one where I give away my hair (and get so much out of it)

I had a friend in high school who believed that a woman’s hair is her God-given beauty.

I always marveled at the moment in Little Woman where Jo reveals that she chopped her hair off and sold it to purchase a train ticket.  “How could you?  Your one beauty!”

Long hair is the thing right now, I always admire women with their perfectly coiffed locks and adorable up-dos.  Most of the women you see in movies or on the red carpet have a gorgeous mane, or at least a wig that looks gorgeous.

I’ve been growing my hair out for two years and I honestly thought that I would leave it long for the next ten years.  I’ll leave it long while I still have it to flaunt!

But here’s the thing, I have a ton of hair, I’m like in the 98% of women for thickness and amount of follicles per square inch.  There is just SO MUCH OF IT.  The healthy oils from my scalp struggle to get to the ends and it breaks and tangles.

And those curled coifs?  I don’t have time for them, I just don’t.  I want to look posh and gorgeous but I would rather read or write or go for a walk.

And those fabulous up-dos?  The sock bun?  The top knot?  They all fall down within two hours because they don’t make a bobby pin or sock elastic strong enough for ALL. THIS. HAIR.

Then I started the series Once Upon a Time and I saw the Mary Margaret haircut…

……and my jaw dropped.

“God that’s a cute hair cut” I said out loud to myself…. alone in a room.

Then I got to thinking, which led to pondering and some texting and tweeting.

The texting led to scheduling, which came to fruition this morning with my dear friend and stylist Emily.

I walked in like this:

Then I lost all of this Continue reading

The Thanksgiving that almost wasn’t (or the one where I get smacked with truth, and it hurts)

Noelle kept trying to stick bendy straws in my cranberry candle centerpieces like they were a cocktail.  This has nothing to do with this post, it’s just funny.

This year we hosted Thanksgiving at our place.  It was the four of us, our friends the O’Neals and a little girl form the Youth Shelter that spent the day with us.

Kel has long harbored dreams of frying a turkey, I have long stood in the way of these dreams. I’m not a fan of deep frying, period, in fact I’ve never deep fried anything in my life.

If you gave me a fry daddy, I would probably give it away, mama don’t fry that.

Yet, after several reassurances that the oil would touch only the skin and the meat would be tender, not soggy, I agreed to the deep fried bird.  Yet, it still bothers me, all that oil!

At 10:30 Thanksgiving morning Kel began to rig up the turkey fryer, only to realize that were short on peanut oil.  So off to WalMart he went to procure a few more gallons of oil, gag.

Around 11:30 Kel came in to tell me that the oil was not heating up and if something didn’t change, we may not have turkey this year, we may have to figure out another feature protein.

AH NO! I’d been planning this day for weeks, we had company on our way, I took a big sip of my bloody mary and said something like: “No we’re having Turkey, you get out there and figure it out.”

Kel, Jason and the kids gathered around the Turkey Fryer.. like it’s a campfire or something. Yes it made me nervous having them around hot oil…

Not very cute of me but it was Thanksgiving!  There needed to be Turkey! Continue reading

Antique prayers and picture frames

This is one of my favorite corners of our home, a little bit gold, a little bit aqua, all thrifted, discovered, or salvaged.

This entire corner cost me less than $10, I love that.

The chocolate brown table was hauled out of the trash near our first married apartment.

The gold mirror tray was a garage sale find

The aqua watering can, I must confess, was an Ikea special that I took the spray paint to.

The cranberries were a Hobby Lobby purchase.

The frame, however, is the best story:  Found at a garage sale on the outskirts of town  for $1. When I started working on it I realized it was lined with old German newspapers that, although illegible to me, predate World War 1.

Oh the stories it could tell, I like to imagine that it came across the Atlantic on a steamer, wrapped in brown paper or in a trunk, the cherished possession of a woman with hopes for new life in America.

I could be all wrong, but I’m glad that it’s come to rest with us. Continue reading

Our children, Our mirrors

he got my crooked smile and my heart

Every parent, from the moment their child is born, delights in the unique blend of gifts that they’ve been given through their son or daughter.

We look around at other people’s children, we skim the milestone charts and parenting books, but somewhere in the back of our mind is the belief that our child is too wonderful to be contained by statistics or averages.

They’re ours, they broke the mold and they will make the world a lovelier place just by being alive.

Then one morning we wake up and we look at them not as a unique work of art, but as a mirror.  We look at them and we see ourselves.

We look at them and we see ourselves not just in their eyes, their button noses or their crooked smiles, but we see ourselves in their flaws, their struggles, the things that cause them pain.

They don’t have an easy time reading
They have a wicked bad temper
They’re stubborn and refuse to learn lessons the easy way
They can’t sit still during story time
They don’t seem to fit in at school

In that moment we freak out a little, or a lot.  Our hearts break as we remember our pain and project every ounce of it onto our child’s future. Continue reading

When in doubt, dance it out. (A guest post at missbananapants)

If I was looking for a reminder of God’s goodness in this season, I need look no farther than my friends.

One of my sweet new friends these days is the fabulous and funny, Michelle Clark. We write together over at EpicTots and today I get to have some fun with a guest post on her blog, Missbananapants!

Put your dancing shoes on, cuz here we go:

 Everyone has a portion of their day where they’re just trying to survive. For some people it’s the morning, for some people it’s the post lunch slump, but for me it’s the hours between 3:00 – 5:15. When naps are over, I’ve exhausted all my creative energy, organizational skills and patience. When all I can do is dole out goldfish crackers and stare at the clock until my husband comes home.

Incidentally the staring at the clock business just makes everything worse.

Sure I could pop in a movie, but usually it fails to fully distract my kids and they just end up under my feet in the kitchen while I grumble and try to get dinner ready.

Why, oh Why are they so interested in messing with my perfectly organized spice drawer? And what is so interesting about breaking into the dishwasher and trying to jump on the door like it’s a trampoline?

There is only one remedy for this portion of the day and Lady Gaga said it best when she said: Just dance, gonna be okay, da-da-doo

To finish up this post, head on over to Miss Banana Pants and keep be bopping along.

Saved by the Dough

You know the song lyric: “We need a little Christmas, right this very minute, we need a little Christmas now” ?

That perfectly describes the atmosphere in our home yesterday.

Yesterday there were tears and silence, I wept through church, dear reader there is so much I’m not ready to unveil here yet, but when I can, I will.  I promise.

So yesterday I decided that part of our aching may be soothed with a few twinkle lights and some nostalgia. Christmas has historically been the best part of my year, where my family managed to forget the sickness and pain and find joy together.

I grew up measuring my year by it, how many months until Christmas?

Grieving my parents has certainly messed with my feelings about Christmas but I still try to breathe it as deeply as I can, even if it stings a little bit.

So, yesterday we put up our grove of Christmas trees.  No ornaments yet, just the three white lighted trees that spend December in the corner of our living room.  I haven’t even fluffed the branches out yet, they look a little sad but they still do the trick.

Then I shattered a Bath and Body Works Wallflower refill on the tile floor that runs past our living room and the atmosphere really took on a Christmas feel, er.. smell.  Plus the added danger of cleaning up chards of glass while the little ones attempt to investigate the mess.

Then to top is all off we spent the evening listening to Christmas music and baking my Dad’s famous Christmas cookies.  Something about standing over that huge bowl of cookie dough, like I had every year for as  long as I can remember, healed me a bit.

Everything we’re going through, my Dad endured too.  All the gossip, the inner anger and bitterness, he walked through it.  I also know that he came out of it and wanted his children to live with the knowledge that men’s praise does NOT matter.  It’s not why we’re here.

He wanted his kids to be free from people pleasing, from legalism, from caring what other people think of God’s call on their lives.

Somehow in the cookie dough I found that reminder.  I was rejoined to who I am and why I’m here.

Then I ate 3 cookies and fell asleep on Kel’s lap at 8:30.

I think that in December I may share our family’s Christmas cookie recipes with you, what do you think?

What’s something that grounds you to who you are and why you’re here these days?

Butternut Squash Casserole (AKA The Squash-gasm)

I will always remember the first time I tried this dish, I was at my Aunt Cindy and Uncle Rick’s house for Thanksgiving dinner.

After Kel and I had tasted it for the first time we were lost in bliss, I’m not sure we said much more for the duration of dinner other than: “Yeah but that squash casserole is like… wow!

After dinner we sipped white wine and worked on a Christmas craft, a tradition of my Aunt’s that we’ve adopted in our home.  In between dinner and dessert we all sit down together and make something crafty while we chat and digest.  That year we made puzzle piece Christmas ornaments.

I’m sure all I said was:   The casserole!  The sweetness, the creaminess, the crunchy nutty topping!  

I would have skipped pie and just eaten an 7th helping of this Butternut Squash Casserole if there was any left.  That’s the thing about this recipe, when you make it, there’s rarely any left.

So from my Aunt Cindy’s kitchen, to mine, to yours, Enjoy!

One third cup butter or margarine, softened
thee quarter cup sugar
2 eggs
1 small can (5 oz) evaporated milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups of mashed, cooked butternut squash

TOPPING
One half cup rice krispy type cereal
One quarter cup packed brown sugar
One quarter cup chopped pecans
2 tablespoons butter, melted

In a mixing bowl, cream butter and sugar.  Beat in eggs, milk and vanilla.  Stir in squash (mixture will be thin).  Pour into a greased baking pan such as an 8 x 8 pie plate.  Baked, uncovered at 350 for 45 minutes or until almost set.  Combine topping ingredients; sprinkle over casserole.  Return to the oven for 5-10 minutes or until bubbly.

I often double this recipe and then I use a 9 x 11 casserole dish

Last year’s Thanksgiving Feast, Squash is at the bottom of the picture, a little overdone on the edges. You have to watch it, it’s a tricky little vixen.

Tears, Tantrums and Hope on the Horizon

 If I’m honest I’ve yelled at God a lot this week, those have been my main prayers.  As soon as my heart unleashes all it’s frustration upon the God that created it, guilt and shame ensues.

I know that it’s okay to yell at God, but I’m a 30 year old mother not the headstrong idealistic college chick I was ten years ago.  The spiritually mature don’t have weeks where they sulk and yell at their Father God, do they?

I guess this one does at least.

This week I’ve been angry, I’ve been a six year old girl on the inside, looking God straight in the eye and yelling: “This is not FAIR!”

Not fair God to endure the loss of my father, my mother’s sickness and suicide, two years of hard grief only to emerge and to the wounding of our hearts over the ministry we’ve spent four years pouring into.

Not fair God.  This is an uneven distribution of pain.

Deep inside I fear that you will always keep us struggling to teach me a lesson that my thick and stubborn heart hasn’t mastered just yet.  Perhaps I don’t rely on you enough to come out of the painful times?

But, is pain the only way to learn true reliance?

God, can’t we have an easy season, a break from bearing a heavy burden?

At least twenty lovely people have told me that they’ll pray for us this week, and I responded with the expected “thank you.”  But I confess that inside I thought: “It won’t make any difference but sure, knock yourself out.”

Yesterday I emerged feeling brave again, strong again, less cynical and more optimistic.  We have weathered worse storms than this, this season of painful persecution.  And hey, maybe it means that we’re doing it right?

I know that we’re approaching a turning point of some sort.  I know that an extra measure of deep breathe bravery will be required, I feel like we’re approaching a cliff, that we’ll need to take a leap of faith soon.

At Saturday’s sun rose I awoke feeling more like the “me God created me to be.” I shook off the labels and painful words that I’d let stick to me over the past few months.

And as I write these words “Be Thou my Vision” starts trickling sweetly through my ear buds.  My Father’s hymn, my favorite hymn, God I love hymns.  They wash over me like gentle, lapping waves and remind me of what is and what isn’t.  Who I am and who I am not.

Be Thou My Vision Oh Lord of my heart
May my eyeballs see you when they look at the world

Be Thou my Wisdom, and Thou my true Word;
I ever with Thee and Thou with me, Lord;
Thou my great Father, I Thy true son;
Thou in me dwelling, and I with Thee one.

Somewhere inside I believe my Dad manipulated the Pandora system to send me this song in this moment.

Dear God, can I still be your child, stand up from my tantrum and take your hand once again as you lead me where you know we need to go?

If you find yourself doing some wondering and yelling this week, I get it sweet friend.  What have you learned in your seasons of painful wondering or tantrumy “not fair?”   

I’m with you, I love you.