Sunday, December 08, 2019

Sunday Afternoon Tea - Expectations

I was wide awake very early this morning.  Normally, I would make some attempt to let sleep return but I remembered... the Christmas tree.  I put on my red flannel robe, pushed the button on the coffee pot, and plugged in the tree lights.

Within minutes I was sitting in the recliner, sipping my first cup of coffee, with a cat curled up on my lap.  This is what I needed.  Silence.  Sparkle.  A warm kitty.  Time to think about... expectations.

Last week you may remember, I had lost my Christmas spirit.  The decorating had not begun and the Season was short this year.  I had a long To Do list of other necessary work that was flying around in my mind.  I had a difficult letter to write and there were the normal little foxes and a couple big shadows shifting around in the back recesses of my mind.

The next day, I wrote out a long list of "stuff needed done" and prioritized it.  I had already made a list of those activities I wanted to do this Christmas season.  There was no overlap in the two lists.

However, I started chipping away at the small stuff on the list of work needing to be accomplished.  Before I knew it last week, quite a lot had been checked off the list.  I felt I could breath again.

By mid-week, I pulled the containers out of the garage that held the Christmas decorations and the tree was put up, decorated, and tweaked to my liking.  Eventually more favorite decorations were displayed and I could feel my joy return. 

I remembered why I loved this time of year, seeing the memory filled tree ornaments, setting out the table top decorations, hanging a Christmas plaque or two, all came together to remind me of what I love about Christmas.

The Willow Creek Nativity, a birthday gift in July from a dear friend, was displayed on the hutch and the old Nativity now sits on a table on the front porch next to the door.  The true meaning of Christmas... both inside and outside.

So what was I pondering at 5:00 on a Sunday morning?  By the light of the Christmas tree?  I was thinking about expectations and beauty and tradition and how they all come together at Christmas.  Without them I feel empty.

I realized it is not wrong to have certain expectations that go along with my Christmas season.  The Bible is full of days of remembrance and places of remembrance.  My ornaments and decorations are reminders of people and places that have meant a lot to me throughout life.

The songs and the stories lead my thoughts Heavenward to that Day when all will be made new... by reminding me of the most important night the Universe has ever known.  Silent Night.  Holy Night.  All is calm.  All is bright.

Even the cooking and baking can have a special meaning this time of year when we think of loved ones as we prepare meals or remember friends and neighbors as the Kitchen Aid is mixing another batch of cookies.

I was chatting with a long time friend via emails this week about the importance of what we do, even if there are some who would think a concentration on cooking, decorating, and making a home cozy is deemed worldly.   Not at all... we are the makers of memories.

Women especially seem to hold it all together each year.  That which makes Christmas special.  I do know there are men who must step into that role but mostly it is the wives, mothers, grandmothers, aunts, nieces, and daughters who keep the Christmas traditions alive.

We know the importance of doing it this way or that way every year.  Not that it becomes a burden but that it remain a blessing.  We are the keepers of the family archives as special recipes and traditions remain important each year. 

So here it is just a week later and I am feeling much better.  I found my sparkle.  I have enjoyed a few things on my Christmas tradition list... stopping by Barnes and Noble, enjoying a cup of coffee and an orange scone at Panera, and enjoying a late breakfast at Cracker Barrel.

I will admit that my trip to my favorite decorating shop only involved running in quickly before they closed to purchase two sprigs of artificial holly for the dough bowl.  I told the owner that I will return.  I promise.  I need to return and just breath in the aromas and listen to the country music Christmas songs.

All of this was what I was pondering this early morning, long before the lights came on in the windows of my neighbors.  Expectations.  How this is the Season of Expectations.  It is the God given way of the world.  I felt His presence and His smile.

I have found Advent means more to me every year as I celebrate the first coming and look forward to His return when all things will be made new.  For He is the Source of all sparkling.

Image:  John Sloan, Artist

Saturday, December 07, 2019

Living the Pantry Lifestyle - a little stock up here and there

We have been experiencing a chilly but dry period of weather in our part of the Midwest.  Which was a blessing with numerous appointments last week.  I always like to wake up on a morning I must go somewhere to find the roads are not slick.

I know the budget is extremely tight this time of year, we even have three important birthdays at the Holidays.  However, I have wanted to take advantage of Holiday sales to stock the pantry at least a little.

I now have about six cans of pumpkin on the shelf, ready to be made into pumpkin bread or pumpkin bars this winter.  I can buy canned pumpkin all year but the prices are usually lowest in November and December.

There are seven packages of cranberries in the deep freeze, especially for making cranberry orange bread and a favorite cake when they are no longer available at the store.  We have no brand of frozen cranberries sold in our area.  I've been able to take advantage of sales and I bought two packages of cranberries on clearance today at Aldi for making cranberry bread as gifts this Christmas.

My reason for going to Aldi this morning was to purchase a package of their beautiful European chocolates that are wrapped in Christmas decorated foil.  They are very inexpensive and just what I needed to fill a small silver bowl.  They look quite festive.

I also picked up another round of their delicious Cranberry White Cheddar Cheese.  If left unopened, the sell by date is in May!  I'm hoping to get one more to put back for future enjoyment.  It is a fairly low carb treat and would be beautiful on a cheese board.

If you see a cranberry theme here, I do love them... and if the only cranberry dish you have ever known is that jelly stuff that comes in cans... well, that is like comparing canned spinach to fresh spinach.

I have a few more food items that are available mainly during the Holidays on my Pantry Wish List but the above purchases are the most important.  Isn't it a good feeling when you have at least a small stock up waiting for future recipes?

I've also been looking at possible Christmas gifts at the grocery store.  For instance, I gave my son a cheese/charcuterie board for his birthday and included a bottle of California olive oil and a bottle of Avocado oil, both from Aldi and he enjoyed getting those.

I had given him a nice cutting board for Christmas one year but this kind of charcuterie board is used for serving cheese and sliced meats.  I knew he would be able to use something like that.  I'm including a link to a similar cheese/charcuterie board on Amazon to show what it looks like.

Can I share a funny store about my son's enjoyment of cooking?  When I saw my retinal specialist last week, we were talking about having to slow down as we are both now in our mid-60s.  I mentioned that Thanksgiving really tired me out this year and he said my kids should take over the cooking.

When I told him that my son had already offered and that he enjoyed "smoking many kinds of things", I saw the smile on his face.  Ummm... let me clarify that.  He enjoys smoking various kinds of meat in the smoker in his backyard!  One must be careful about the context of their words...

I hope if you enjoy cooking and baking, lots of good stuff is (are?) coming out of your kitchen.  I will be baking more as gifts closer to Christmas.

Mentioned in this Blog Post
The cheese/charcuterie board closest to the kind I bought my son for his birthday is... here.  It is not exactly like it but close... and the one I bought is not available at the moment.

Disclosure:  Most links to are Associate links.  I thank you.

Image:  Christmas Glow

Sunday, December 01, 2019

Sunday Afternoon Tea - The Holiday Ho Hums

“If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.”
C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity 

This year I have gone from being excited about Christmas to feeling completely depressed... all in the same hour.  When we were experiencing a week of early snowfall, I was ready to pull out the Christmas decorations early and here it is the first of December and I can't get enough Christmas spirit to put up the tree.

I will, though.  Probably on Monday.  I have learned through the years that it is wise not to force the Christmas cheer on myself when I have lost my ho ho ho.  I mean, really... I don't want to be Scrooge but on the other hand... why mask the feelings of a little Holiday blues.  They are also a part of the season for a lot of people.

When I make out my Holiday list each year of things I want to accomplish (see last week's Sunday Afternoon Tea post), it shows the reality of changing circumstances that come with the passing of the years.  Much like the winter snowflakes, no two Christmas seasons are the same. 

There are years that have been completely wonderful from Thanksgiving to New Year's Eve.  There were years when smiles had to be forced for such things as illness, death of loved ones, or job losses do not take a vacation because it is the month of December.  I have found that most Christmas seasons have fallen in the middle with both joy and challenges occurring at the same time.

Earlier this week, I was listening to a program on television about C. S. Lewis and the above quote was discussed.  I have long loved that quote but I thought of it anew this year from the perspective of the Holiday season.  How easy it is this time of year to realize the reality that Christmas can be enjoyable but it will always leave us short of our expectations.

I think it is this... I associate the Christmas season as the closest thing to Heaven this side of Eternity.  I love the lights and the sparkle and the joy of giving.  I especially love how the most secular of programs proclaim the birth of Jesus in the form of Christmas carols.  I can think of no other time of the year when Jesus is announced as often in secular media.

Is it any wonder that our emotions can become a roller coaster in December for we are seeing glimpses of what Eternity will be like one day and just as suddenly we are brought back to the reality of living in a fallen world.

How does one fight the good fight this time of year?  How can I stop comparing what is now to what will only be found Someday?  I'm still working on that answer, especially as I am making a list and checking it twice... and three times... and four times... etcetera.

Well, just as I wrote last week, I am working out priorities for both time and my budget.  I have enjoyed some old favorite Hallmark Christmas movies in November and while I will still watch a few here and there, once I get into December I turn my attention to the music of Christmas.  

I will reread two or three favorite Christmas books.  I took Nigel Slater's beautiful Christmas Chronicles off the shelf to continue reading this year.  I had to stop due to eye troubles last December.  Reading small print is a challenge but overall, reading is much more doable since the surgery. 

I am also going to listen to the Christmas Chronicles podcast this year... all of it this time.  Rumor is that the podcast is available again this year.  Slater is quite secular but oh my, his writing reminds me of the beauty found not only in Christmas but during the season of winter.

I have a doctor's appointment this week and while I am on that side of town, I plan to stop by Barnes & Noble to peruse Christmas issues of British magazines and have a cup of coffee.  There is something about that store during the Holidays that brings joy to my soul.  Could it be the combination of sparkle, books, and caffeine?  Could be...

A simple item crossed off my list already was to dry orange slices to use as decorations.  My home had a slight aroma of orange all day yesterday as they were drying on the lowest temperature in my oven.  They are now ready for when I do finally decorate.

I will think of two or three "must do" items for Christmas 2019.  I think they will most likely have something to do with food.  Whether at home or at a restaurant... time will tell.

One thing I do know this Christmas, I appreciate the blog friends I have made throughout the years.  Someday we will be in that other world that Lewis writes about and there we will meet face to face as long time old friends.

I hope you find your sparkle this week.

Mentioned in this Blog Post
The book Christmas Chronicles... info here.
The podcast Christmas Chronicles... info here to listen online.  It can also be downloaded wherever you find podcasts.

Image: Winter Scene

Saturday, November 30, 2019

Living the Pantry Lifestyle - When you think you have nothing to give

I hope my American friends had a good Thanksgiving holiday.  Ours was wonderful, in part thanks to a long time good friend who blessed me with extra funds before the Holiday.  She made it possible to go from a good meal to a feast.  :)

Once again we had our son's family around the table and my daughter-in-law's parents.  We thoroughly enjoyed seeing Piper (now 3 1/2) and Oliver (who is now 1 years old and just started crawling!).  One of our desserts was pumpkin bars, in which were placed three candles and became a belated birthday cake for my son's 30th birthday.  (How did that happen?)

Once again, I'm offering up a blog post that you have said is a pre-Christmas favorite.  I need to read it again every year.  This list came from the years when we had little or no extra funds available at all.  

In our materialistic society, we most often think we have to make a purchase to give or the gift will not be appreciated. Actually, I have found that not to be true in most cases.

Yes, there are those around who may not appreciate fresh baked cookies but let's be honest... do you want those people as friends? So they are family and you are stuck with them... pray for their materialism and offer them a cookie, anyway. They may learn someday.

Here are some ways I've learned to be a giver, even with a very limited income...

When I do have "extra" cash, I stock the pantry (shelves, frig, deep freeze) with simple items which... when mixed together... create magic (Narnia magic). Isn't it absolutely remarkable the number of recipes which can be made from: eggs, butter, milk or cream, various sugars, flour, flavor extracts, nuts, dried fruit, yeast, etc.?

Throughout the year I'm always looking for inexpensive containers, suitable for giving gifts of baked goods. For instance, one year I hit an after Christmas clearance sale at Wal Mart and purchased a couple dozen pretty red trays for a dime each.

When I can get a good deal on fresh fruits, I like to "can" jellies and jams. People love these. A blog friend once sent me honey and homemade soap from her farm... I LOVED it!

Other gifts I give with little or no money:
  • Books from the book sales or purchased with Amazon credit.
  • Items purchased at garage sales and while thrifting that I know people would love.
  • A pretty mug or teacup from my own collection with a box of favorite tea or hot chocolate mix.
  • A basket filled with a favorite snack (like puppy chow... yum) made "from scratch".

  • I used to make teddy bears, angels, small quilts, and other sewn items.
  • My first gift to my husband (before he was my husband) was a crocheted scarf... which he still has. :)
  • I've given a gift of recipe cards written with favorite family recipes.
  • My daughter received a "cookbook" from our good friend for a wedding gift that she had written with their favorite recipes... all printed from her computer.

Stuff to do as gifts

  • Offer to babysit the kiddies.
  • Sit with an elderly or ill person so their caregiver can get relief.
  • Read to someone who can't read for themselves... young or old.
  • Offer to scrub a floor or paint a room.
  • Trim bushes and trees for someone who can no longer get around easily.

  • Put up a Christmas tree for a friend who is not handy about such things.
  • Share extra decorations with a friend who has none.
  • Hang the Christmas lights for the elderly neighbor who can no longer hang them.

  • Write letters to people who would love to hear from you.
  • Send a pretty card to an elderly relative or friend.
  • Give forgiveness to someone who needs to hear those words.

  • Listen to a teenager, really listen.
  • Ask an elderly relative to share family history and write it down.
  • Collect family recipes and type them into the computer... give copies to loved ones.

  • Encourage your children to draw pictures for Grandma and Grandpa... and send them.
  • Look through your digital photos and fine one or two or three you know someone would love, get them printed... don't worry about a frame... just give hard copies of photos so a loved one will have them available.

If you have a green thumb, take starts from your flowers (in season) and start them in your home, give to a neighbor or family member when they are ready.

Yes, it takes creative thinking but you can give... even if it a prayer.  No... especially your prayers.  How wonderful it is to know there is someone in this sometimes scary world that is praying for you.

So this year, let us get our mind off of Black Friday and Cyber Monday and too much credit card debt.  Give from the heart... and don't ever think you have nothing to give.  ;)

Note:  I love the Christmas Jam recipe that originally came from Country Woman Magazine... here.

Pumpkin bar recipe... here.

Image:  Artist Lisi-Martin (I have this print hanging in my dining area)

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Sunday Afternoon Tea - My Annual Sunday Before Thanksgiving Post

For over ten years now, I have shared the same blog post before the Holidays and usually the Sunday before Thanksgiving.  It has been the blog post that has had the most response in all my years of blogging.

I'm going to share it with you now as I first wrote it in 2008. My own list has been tweaked a lot over the years. As this Holiday season continues, I will share more about this season's priorities.  Remember, I do not try to do but a few items on each year's list, I just brainstorm lots of ideas.  In the meantime, below is the original post:)

I remember coming to the end of a Christmas season about ten or twelve years ago and wondering at my frustration. There were no severe money trials that season, nothing that should have kept me from enjoying Christmas but... I couldn't put my finger on it... there was this sense of a lack of satisfaction... an unsettled feeling.

Soon after that, I was reading an article (magazine... book?) about this very thing. In it, the author said she learned to write out what it was she wanted from the Christmas season, what was most important to her. When I started doing that, I realized why the previous season had been lacking in joy.

It had been a rushed Christmas, the "doing" of many activities I felt I should do and not "being" the person I wanted to be that Season. My frustrations stemmed from a lack of getting away, alone beside my Christmas tree, enjoying that which comes from prayer and study and reading of books. I also had not said "no" to some outside activities that did not bring peace and joy.

Since that time, I have enjoyed making a list each season. My list has changed since that time due to health and finances but only in the "big" things. My list back then included attending a Christmas concert that I loved each year. However, it became too expensive even when we did have a regular income. It wasn't that much of a priority that I'd spend more for tickets to a concert then I would on a week's worth of groceries.

Another item on my list that has gone by the wayside is hosting a big Christmas party. I loved decorating the house and having a lot of people over but that season is now behind me. I remember one very magic (Narnia magic) party in our former house when we invited over Stephanie's college group. There was a tree in the family room and one in the living room, a fire was burning in the fire place, food placed in various areas, conversations were going on in many rooms of the house.

Later that night, as the young people were leaving, one student came up to tell me that night will be one of his "perfect Christmas memories" when he leaves college. It is one of my perfect memories, too. :)

I have found by making a list of those things I love about Christmas, I can make certain what means the most to me (and for my family) becomes a priority for time and money. Here are a few for this year, written out on paper before transferring to my scrapbook journal. Of course, I can't do them all but any of them on the "wish list" would make my season bright.
  • Decorating the house with my snowman collection
  • Carefully placing all my ornaments on the tree
  • Morning quiet times in the dark, with the tree lit
  • A breakfast out at Cracker Barrel during Christmas
  • Lunch with the guys at our favorite cafeteria
  • Holiday Baking
  • Candy Cane Lane tea
  • Listening to the music of the season
  • Watching favorite Christmas movies
  • Reading favorite Christmas books
  • Seeing what yummies The Food Channel comes up with this year
  • One or two Pumpkin Spice Latte's to enjoy
  • A morning at Panera sipping coffee and writing a real letter
  • Visit my sister, Bonnie, to see how she decorated her place (she has that wow factor)
  • Send a small gift to my sister, Jean, knowing it is her first Christmas as a widow
  • Send Christmas cards to our elderly aunties
  • Visit my favorite "downtown" primitive country store... breath in the scents, no purchase necessary
Most of my list this year involves more solitude than in the past. It has been that kind of year. None require much money.  This is only a way of thinking through what brings joy... and peace... and faith... and what lifts my thoughts to the One Who Made Me.

Little satisfactions in the most wondrous and magical time of the year.

I encourage you to brew a little pot of tea and fill your favorite tea cup, bring along a notebook and pen, light the Christmas tree if you have one, and think about those things that bring joy to your heart at Christmas. Are you making time for them? Did you budget for them through the year? What makes your heart sing with gladness?

You don't need to do them all, just choose a few that will cause you to look back at this Christmas and smile... and remember, Christmas is not about the price of gifts or how many are given, it is about the Giver of all gifts.

Image Seasons of Peace poster

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Living the Pantry Lifestyle - Thanksgiving week

Thanksgiving is about as late as it can be and it still surprised me this year.  It was Wednesday evening when I was thinking how the frozen turkey needed to be placed in the refrigerator the Thursday before Thanksgiving so it can defrost properly.  Wait!  That's tomorrow!!!

Last year, Thanksgiving was on my son's birthday, making it easier to remember.  He had his 30th birthday yesterday.   I cannot comprehend how that is possible but I did the math and it is true.   He was my surprise child, born twelve years after his sister.  She wasn't too thrilled at the time to give up her only child status but now she likes him.  ;)

Back to the subject of food... on Thursday, I removed the 9 x 13" dish that held the chicken I had roasted the day before, ready to be transformed into orzo lemon chicken soup, and replaced it with a larger dish holding the frozen turkey.  (I learned the hard way long ago that you must put frozen poultry into another dish because it leaks as it defrosts.)

Speaking of that 9 x 13" dish, after the contents went into the stock pot... the dish had to go in the trash.  It was beyond the ability to rescue. I had set the oven to 400 degrees to begin roasting the whole chicken and imagine my surprise when a little later, I walked out to check if the mail had arrived and heard the smoke alarm going off as I walked back to the house.

In that short time, the house had filled with smoke from the oven.  No fire... just smoke.  I had to open the windows even though there was a cold rain, put on every fan in the house (I already had the fan over the stove going when this happened), and eventually took the batteries out of the two smoke alarms just for my sanity.  As soon as it was time, I pulled the chicken out of the oven.

The next morning, I HAD to use the oven again so I opened the windows, turned on the bathroom fans, and turned on the oven at a low temperature.  While there was less smoke, it was still there but eventually went away so I could make granola without it tasting as if it had been finished in my son's outdoor smoker.

Honestly, I have baked a whole chicken starting at 400 degrees many times before without the fat splattering everywhere so I don't know why it was different this time.  I probably should have turned it down to 375 degrees earlier than I did this time. 

The week before Thanksgiving is a time for great prices at the grocery store.  Turkeys were at a loss leader 33 cents a pound again this year so I bought one for our Thanksgiving meal and then went back another day to buy one for the deep freeze (you could only buy one per visit).  Both turkeys were about 14 lbs and just a little over $4.00 each.

Store brand canned pure pumpkin was on a significant sale as were many items usually served at Thanksgiving.  I hear Aldis butter was significantly reduced. The only item that had gone up in price was the package of cranberries.  I bought only one package for this Thanksgiving and will buy more for the freezer when the price goes down.

I couldn't do the Thanksgiving meal all on my own, anymore.  My daughter-in-law's mom brings a couple of our favorite sides that she makes, our daughter-in-law brings a side dish, and I provide the rest.  I make the pies and the cranberry dish the day before as both taste better that way, anyway.

When I had young children, I loved reading them stories of the settling of America at this time of year.  It is so interesting to read about the food served at the first celebration of the harvest in New England.

Although, did you know that America's first thanksgiving was actually in Virginia two years before the celebration in Massachusetts?  Look it up and see how many people know this little bit of trivia at your Thanksgiving meal... and yes, I am an American History nerd.

If you don't have anyone to celebrate Thanksgiving with, invite people over who are lonely and you will all be happier for it.  It doesn't need to be a huge meal unless you love to cook.

Most of all, we need to remember in this day of Friendsgiving... there is Someone who deserves our thanks. 

NOTE:  If you are need of an excellent roasting pan at a greatly reduced price, this is the one I have and I love it.  More info... here.  I have added it to the Amazon widget for the next few weeks.

Disclaimer:  Most links to are Associate links.