10 thoughts on Christmas music while the cookies bake

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A dozen naked Hershey kisses are lined up on the counter, waiting to be nestled in warm peanut butter cookies when they come out of the oven.

SONY DSCAnd as usual this time of year, I’m listening to Christmas music. Right after baking and all the lights, that’s my favorite thing about this time of year. I’ve drawn some observations from these hours of carols:

1. It always strikes me as odd that I have to turn the channel from a Christian radio station to a pop station to hear Christmas music.

2. Every time I hear a Carpenters song, I am amazed at the beauty of her voice. It also makes me a little sad.

3. Bing Crosby had more class in his little finger than any popular entertainer today.

4. When a hipster tries to make a hymn sound cool, it’s just embarrassing. Dude, a song written in 1818 does not need your help.

5. Speaking of 1818, “Silent Night” is one of the most beautiful songs ever.

6. Best melancholy Christmas songs: “Hard Candy Christmas” by Dolly Parton, “If We Make It Through December” by Merle Haggard and “Blue Christmas” by Elvis.

7. It bothers me that songs about mistletoe and snowflakes far out number songs about Jesus. Even on Christian stations.

8. Most over-recorded song: Santa Claus is Coming to Town. Most over-aired song: Chestnuts Roasting …. I can’t even finish this line I’m so tired of it.

9. The surest way for a singer to achieve near-immortality is to record a Christmas album.

10. If I could sing, I’d record an album called The Forgotten Carols of Christmas. I’d include songs like “Infant Holy, Infant Lowly,” “Birthday of a King,” “There’s a Song in the Air” and “Hark! The Herald Angles Sing.” (It’s not forgotten but it is my favorite.)

The cookies are done! I need to get back to work.

 

Thanksgiving Reflections

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This post was originally from 2010. I’m tearing up day-old bread for stuffing tonight and thought of it.

It’s Thanksgiving. I’m making pie, stuffing, baked squash and salads with jello and Cool Whip starring as main ingredients.

Alan Jackson is cued on the stereo and soon he’ll sing, “Let It Be Christmas.”

But for now, it’s Thanksgiving and that gives rise to a reflective mood. I’ve had some quiet time to let my mind wander as I’ve been cracking black walnuts. It’s a tedious task, pounding the hammer to crack the hard shell, then tapping it just right to jostle out a little bit of nut meat. It takes a special combination of patience and persistence to do the job well.

My Aunt Sis had both; she sold shelled black walnuts by the quart. We lost her this fall and she’s been on my mind, especially around Thanksgiving.

Her given name was Celia, but my dad called her Sis, so she was our Aunt Sis. She was never idle a moment, always crocheting, cracking walnuts or clipping coupons. She didn’t drive and she usually walked to town to clean houses. They only got a telephone a few years ago. And I don’t know if I ever once heard Aunt Sis complain.

She was a woman not of words, but of action. When she joined us for Christmas, she brought a sack filled with grocery items — each with the UPC code carefully removed to be sent in for a rebate. The year after I graduated college, I had a cold at Christmas time. Newspaper reporter salaries being what they are, I could only afford the discount brand of tissues and it felt like I’d been wiping sandpaper across my face. Aunt Sis handed me her goody sack and right on top was a box of name-brand, extra soft Kleenex tissues. It may very well have been the best Christmas present I got that year. It was a gift just like Aunt Sis herself – unpretentious and practical and immediately put to work.

I can afford the good Kleenex now. I’ve got several boxes sitting around the house. And I have much to be thankful for.

Cracking walnuts and reflecting, I remember Thanksgiving last year. I was working at a different job, making plans and thinking life was going a certain direction. But I quit the job, worked as a freelance writer for nearly a year, and now I have a different job. I’m growing my hair out and I rearranged the living room and in other ways, life is going in a different direction than I had planned.

I’m thankful. For my wonderful family. My friends, my job, my new computer, my country, my church, my house slippers, pumpkin spice coffee creamer, cell phones and that God not only allows new directions in our lives, he ordains it.

I’m thankful for Aunt Sis, for black walnuts and a few moments to reflect on it all. The pie’s almost done baking. The house smells like Thanksgiving morning. Blessings to all of you and may you have a few moments to reflect, as well.

Party like we’re Royals on my birthday

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When we party like it’s 1985, let’s not forget about my birthday.

Thrilling with the Kansas City Royals in their heart-stopping dance into the World Series this year has been so much fun. Talking with a young co-worker, she lamented how the Royals have been miserable for her whole life.

She is not exaggerating – she was born several years after their historic championship and last appearance in post-season.

“I remember when they won in 1985,” I said. “It was pretty awesome.” She sighed with envy and I couldn’t help but adding, “In fact, the biggest win in Royals history was on my birthday.”

This crazy World Series has sparked many nostalgic feelings. My niece sent me a sweet note on Facebook, sometime when the Royals were playing the Angels in an unexpected playoff round that turned into a rout. She said she’d been thinking of me as she watched the games and said, “Thanks for being the first and best Royals fan I ever met.”

My family had always been Royals fans – clear back to 1969 when they were born. My sister Paula said the caravan came to her school that first year and all the kids got stickers that said, “I’m a loyal Royals fan.”

My dad listened to Royals games on the radio after putting up hay. We’d sit on the patio, a square of yellow light shining out the kitchen window, the long summer night peppered with the sound of June bugs hitting the screen door and George Brett batting home runs.

Paula was the first Royals fan I knew and so I wanted to be a Royals fan, too. She took us to a game, the first major league game me or my dad or my mom had ever been to. That was when I got hooked. Listening on the radio was one thing; seeing it in person was a whole new level.

In 1985, the whole state of Missouri was ecstatic to host both teams in the World Series. In typical Royals fashion, they were behind for most of the series. The Cardinals came into fateful Game 6 with a 3-2 series lead.

The game was played in Kansas City on October 26. My birthday. I don’t remember anything else about that year I turned 12. But I remember staying up late with my mom to watch the game. Thank goodness it was broadcast on ABC, because that was the only channel we got on antenna. The Royals entered the bottom of the 9th behind, but refused to give up. With my own eyes, I saw Don Denkinger make the call that kept the Royals alive.

 Game 7 was on a Sunday night. Dad and I went to church, but Mom stayed home to watch the game. When we got home, she said, “You won’t believe this.” The Royals – our Royals! – were pummeling the Cardinals. They won 11-0.

Me and Mom

Me and Mom, 1987

I became a devoted fan. I listened to every game on the radio. I made my own schedule to track wins and losses. I even wrote up my own game stories – my first experience at journalism.

Then I started high school and got busy with other things. I still loved the Royals, but it was like my first high school crush – unrequited. As much as I cheered them on, the boys  in blue just kept getting worse.

 As a reporter at the St. Joseph News-Press, I covered agriculture and business – not baseball. I sat next to the sports desk and sometimes got to watch games on TV while at work which was a nice perk.

When Dayton Moore was hired as Royals General Manager, the St. Joseph Chamber hosted him for an event. I covered it for the newspaper and remember that Moore, a dedicated Christian, said working for the Kansas City Royals was the best job in baseball because it was the biggest challenge and, in effect, the team was so bad that even a small step to get better would make a big difference. I’ve thought of that perspective often.

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At the Louisville Slugger plant in 1987.

When I visited Dad last weekend, I went to the Northwest Missouri State homecoming where Bobby Bearcat led the parade waving a Royals flag. Dad had some boxes of pictures out. I found this one from 1987 when I went on a trip with Mom, Paula and my sister-in-law Cindy and we visited the Louisville Slugger plant.

A lot has changed since 1985. Last week, I rushed out to buy a Royals T-shirt. I’m happy for the new generation, including my young co-worker, who get to cheer on a good Royals team for a change.

 If the World Series makes it past four games, they’ll play Game 5 on October 26. My birthday. And we’ll party like it’s 2014.

Sweet and Sour Green Beans

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This is my sister-in-law Cindy’s recipe. It’s a Thanksgiving staple for my family. Familiar green beans get a fresh, tasty makeover that is perfect for a fall day.
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Sweet and Sour Green Beans and Carrots

Perfect for fall – apples, bacon and onion.

1 quart fresh or canned green beans
1 can sliced carrots (or fresh)
3 to 4 slices bacon
1/2 onion, sliced and diced
1 to 2 apples, cored and diced
2 Tbsp. vinegar
1 Tbsp. sugar
Salt and pepper to taste

If beans or carrots are fresh, cut until tender. Fry bacon, then cook onion in the bacon drippings. In stock pot, combine beans, carrots, crumbled baon and cooked onion. Add raw apple, salt, pepper, sugar and vinegar. Heat until the apples are tender and mixture is cooked through. May want to add more or less sugar and vingar depending on taste.

I  hope you enjoy Cindy’s recipe!

How a “smoke break” can bust stress

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I learned about a great way to clear my mind from the smokers at the office where I used to work. When they were frustrated with a project, they’d often roll their chair away from the desk and announce, “I’m taking a smoke break.”

One day, the injustice got to me and I muttered, “Why should smokers get a break when I don’t?” I realized there was no reason why I couldn’t take a break, too. So I went outside and instead of breathing in smoke, I got some fresh air into my lungs and walked around the block. I timed it and discovered that it took me less time to walk around the block than for a smoker to finish a cigarette, so I didn’t feel guilty.

I also discovered that a brief time away from my desk – moving my arms and legs, getting fresh air and seeing the scenery – helped me focus once I got back to my computer to write. Each work day, I usually take one or two “smoke breaks.” A young woman in our office actually worked here six months before she realized I am not and never have been a smoker.

Although these little treks around the neighborhood probably need a new name, this is a good habit I’m going to keep.

 

The power of a volunteer

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Gardening is good for the soul. This year, it has been both challenging and rewarding – but isn’t it every year? We’ve had a lot of rain, producing abundant crops. And weeds.

From one little seed.

From one little seed.

The thing I have learned this year is what volunteer plants can do. While mowing early this summer, I found a little plant growing in the yard near the back step. Since it seemed like a scrappy little thing – and I figured it must be watermelon – I couldn’t bring myself to mow it off, so I cut all around it and let the little plant grow.

And grow it did!

It turned out to be a canteloupe. This is a single plant that grew from one little seed that fell in the grass last fall. At last count, there were 10 canteloupe growing on it. I’ve already harvested one and it was delicious.

Patty pan squach

White patty pan squash. They taste great grilled or fixed in the microwave with a little butter.

Something unusual also sprouted from the compost pile. It turned out to be patty pan squash. I got some from the University Extension garden last fall. It’s a yummy little squash that is also adorable.

Never again will I doubt the value of a volunteer!

Saving June for January

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Sweet peas and raspberry brambles growing together in the backyard.

The long, hazy days between summer solstice and the Fourth of July – aren’t they just the best.

The raspberry crop is exceptional this year, thanks to abundant rainfall. With an old ice cream bucket slipped over my elbow, I’ve been picking piles of them. The overflow has been packed in containers and preserved in the freezer.

Always, the date is carefully penned on the lid.

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Setting a little bit aside.

Some day deep into winter, I’ll pull it out of the freezer and think about June 25. A day when I was preparing for the future.

I’ll remember a soft summer night when the fireflies twinkled and I walked barefoot through the grass to pick raspberries.

And smile because of a small slice of June saved for January.

 

The mail comes through

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Pony Express rider delivers the mail mochilla

The mail arrived in St. Joseph from Sacramento on Saturday. The annual re-ride of the Pony Express route left California on June11. Riders carried the mochilla filed with 65 pounds of mail around the clock, retracing the route the riders took in 1860.

The last riders galloped over the Missouri River on U.S. Highway 36 with a police escort on Saturday. Those of us waiting at the Patee House Museum cheered as they rode up the hill. It really was something to imagine that mail bag traveling on horseback all the way across the country. For that first trip 154 years ago, I can understand why the people were amazed.

Gary Chilcote, right, the curator of the Patee House Musuem.

Gary Chilcote, right, the curator of the Patee House Musuem, with the riders after they arrived in St. Joseph.

Just about everyone had a camera on Saturday. Fans young and old crowded around the riders, asking about their trip and petting the horses.

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Opening the mail.

 

 

 

 

Last year, I got to see the send off from St. Joseph headed West. This year, I got to see the opening of the mail pouch. Actual letters were carried on the route, wrapped in duct tape to keep dry. I met one woman who saw the sendoff in Sacramento, then discovered she would be visiting a friend in Kansas when the re-ride would reach St. Joseph, so she came to see the ceremony.

The annual re-ride has lasted a lot longer than the original Pony Express. I don’t think we’ll ever get tired seeing the mail come through.

 

 

Be a pepper

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True – my word for 2014 – has been impressed upon my heart in many ways so far this year. I’ve found myself thirsty for The Word. Often in the evening, I’ll open my Bible to find what is the truth in a world of shifting values. Scripture has been encouraging and convicting.

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Some of the old dried peppers, then new life on a dead plant.

And it’s made me fascinated by this chili pepper.

I wrote about how I moved this plant inside this fall and enjoyed its bright red chilis into the deep of winter. Along about March, the leaves shriveled and died. The peppers dried out. Spiders started building cobwebs over it. All well; it lasted longer than I thought it would.

No need to keep around a dead plant, so I set the pot out on the porch. It was also about this time that I came to terms with some personal disappointments. The little chili had come to symbolize defying the odds, so when it died, it seemed a fitting way to bury that hope and move on.

This spring was especially cold. It might have even snowed on that tropical pepper. But spring finally arrived and with great joy, I gathered new flowers and went out to the porch to make a fresh, bright beginning. When I reached to uproot the dead pepper stalk, I stopped short.

It was alive. A little green leaf sprouted from the bottom.

And I’ve been noticing how God makes it clear that in order for something to live, it must first die.

Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat is planted in the soil and dies, it remains alone. But its death will produce many new kernels – a plentiful harvest of new lives.” John 12:24

Paul said, “My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me.” Galatians 2:20

“Since we died with Christ, we know we will also live with him.” Romans 6:8

There is no resurrection until there is a crucifixion. This makes me really uncomfortable. I’d rather talk about “surrendering” my will to God, or “committing” my dreams to him, or “offering” my life. But this dying business takes it to a whole new level.

Still, God says to die.

And then truly live, because Jesus – who is himself truth – said he came to give life. I want new life, but I’m still coming to terms with how I am to die to my self and my desires. But this chili pepper gives me hope that God loves to defy the odds.

My hope is that I can be a born again pepper.

Grandma’s lemon cake

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lemonadeYesterday, I wore a floral print top to church – in honor of my Grandma Violet’s birthday.

Grandma loved bright colors and floral prints. (I inherited her sense of style, just ask my sisters.) And she loved having us all over for her birthday, which often fell on Mother’s Day as it did this year, to enjoy her delicious cooking and sit on the patio and enjoy her flowers.

Chatting with my sister yesterday, she mentioned it was her turn to take treats to Sunday school, so she made Grandma’s lemon cake in honor of her birthday. Several people in the class said their grandma made that cake, too!

It’s a simple and delicious dessert that tastes just like a sunny spring day.

Grandma’s Lemon Cake

1 lemon cake mix
1/3 c. oil
3 eggs

Glaze
1/3 c. frozen orange juice concentrate
1 c. powdered sugar

Bake cake mix according to directions. Mix orange juice and powdered sugar for glaze. While cake is still warm, poke lots and lots of holes in it with a fork. Pour the glaze over the top. It tastes best to prepare the night before and let it get really moist. I’ve also used pre-made orange juice and it works just as well.

Rocking my floral prints, Grandma style.

Rocking my floral prints, Grandma style.

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