Saturday, December 31, 2011

End of the year

So it is the last day of the year.

I guess it was a better year than last year, in most regards.

Shannon has successfully matriculated into graduate school and is doing well living on her own.

David is getting healthier.

Jonathan is more interested in his schoolwork.

The situation at Shawn's company is now stable; the end of our vacation was not ruined this year by company issues.

My dad had a heart attack, but he is doing well, and it got me an extra trip out to see him.

We found a new church where we will probably stay. We will stay at least until Jonathan graduates from high school, barring something odd and unexpected.

We still haven't done anything with our land except pay taxes on it. At this point, I am in favor of selling it and putting the proceeds into college tuition. I am sick of dreaming of a dream house. I think it makes me edgy, discontented. We have a very nice house. I don't need a dream house. However, I would like some nasty carpet replaced. And I would like to replace the chandeliers that I have always disliked, because if I am staying here, I don't think it is so bad to put up some lights that I like instead of these ones I have never been able to embrace. Maybe I'm tired of trying to be a good sport. Maybe there are those who would say I never was a good sport.

I'd like to earn some money, (1) so I could hire a bit of help with the housekeeping and (2) so I could help out with college tuition. Somehow, though, it doesn't seem to make sense to go to work at Wegman's, checking groceries, just so I can pay somebody to help me clean. I'm thinking of starting a new blog and monetizing it, but I doubt if that would net me more than $20-$25 per month, if that, based on the popularity I am experiencing as a writer here.

I feel a little down today. Bet that's a shocking surprise. My girls will be leaving soon; it's been dark and gray all day; and I've been itching like crazy all over my body for about three or four days straight. Also junk I can't mention.

God is good, but there are days when I just fail to feel it. There are so many days when I want to be comfortable and creative, to experience beauty and warmth and whatever... love, kindness, cooperation, likemindedness, success, joy, accomplishment. And God just doesn't see fit to grant all that stuff just because I want it, or want it for my family members. I have to struggle like the butterfly coming out of the chrysalis, and I hate this, this struggle, discomfort, disappointment.

And I get sick of trying. And I think I might go read a book, and not the Bible just right now, either. Just a plain old entertaining book to escape into, where I can think about somebody else's life that isn't mine.

I feel like the new year is coming while I hold my hands over my eyes and huddle in a fetal position.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Holidays and celebrations

This morning, feeling the effects of too much sugar, too much butter and too much food, I thought a sort of cleansing diet would be helpful... nothing sweet, nothing with empty calories.

I began with a kefir-spinach-flaxseed smoothie which also had strawberries, peaches and stevia, and wasn't half-bad (although the kefir was pretty sour, as I've been getting a bit behind with the production process).

I also started boiling some eggs at the outset. I decided just to go for hard-boiled, as I've been having tremendous issues with the act of boiling eggs lately.

Green tea with a small wedge of lemon was just the ticket. After finishing my smoothie, I sat down with my tea to chat with Shawn. He was trying out some coffee beans that he and Jon roasted yesterday as a special Christmas project. In the middle of our chat, the timer rang for my hard boiled eggs. I went and got two, rinsed them under cold, running water, and sat down to peel them.

Upon being knocked gently on a napkin on the table, the first egg leaked liquid egg white. How can this be? Even now, as I sit here typing away, I cannot for the life of me figure out how, for days, every time we tried to cook soft boiled eggs for 3 minutes, they came out hard, but here I had cooked eggs for 15 minutes in an effort to produce hard-boiled, and they were not even to the point of a good soft-boiled egg.

I can cook. Really, I can. Although, clearly, I cannot boil eggs.

I quickly melted some butter in the frying pan and added what was left of the undercooked, cracked egg to finish cooking. I returned the other egg to the saucepan with the other eggs I thought I had already hard-boiled, and turned the flame back on to try to finish boiling them.

Then I puttered around and took a picture of the messy boxes in our living room in honor of Boxing Day.

And then I got intrigued and began to download all the holiday photos off my camera, which was a fun project until DJ walked into the kitchen and exclaimed, "Mom! What in the world is in this frying pan???"

As a punishment to myself, I ate it. It had a very crispy bottom.

Here are a few of the pictures that had distracted me:

This is from the night we decorated the Christmas tree (12-21-11).

Each of our kids has an ornament collection... we have a tradition of giving them an ornament every year from birth until high school graduation. By now it is very nostalgic to get out their collections and hang them on the tree. I wouldn't trade our memories of past Christmases for all the designer trees on HGTV.

I just like this picture of Shannon and Shawn sharing a moment during the tree-decorating. By now there are too many ornaments to all fit on the tree, so the kids unpack and look at all their ornaments, then take turns hanging them one-by-one (favorites first) until the tree is full. This was taken during somebody else's turn to hang.

My birthday.

I'd asked for "Blogging For Dummies," so maybe I can figure out what I'm doing here.

Me getting the vegetable brush I'd asked for (more birthday). Now we can start having celery again!

My cake.

I said I wanted one with my name on it.

The cake with candles.

The way they arranged the candles, it looks like I am 55, but I am really 46. Either way it makes 10 candles. They went for artistry and symmetry. But really, I am only 46, not 55.

I got them all.

Christmas morning.

Jon's stocking after he had emptied it and then stuffed some things (including his Nordic ski cap) back into it. We have brassy and tasteless stockings, and I embrace them. They make the morning fun.

The tree on Christmas morning.

Isn't it an odd custom to put gifts under the tree? I wonder where that idea ever arose? It reminds me of eggs under a chicken. (I guess I have eggs on my brain these days.)

Our little family room tree.

I got a fake one this year, which was not as nice as the miniature real tree we had last year, but it made me really happy anyway. Strange, how much I like having two Christmas trees. I kept the dogs toys under this one, because I have a sense of humor that way (just saying).

The kids, ready and waiting to open gifts.

Jon sporting a new sweater.

Laura going to town... those fingers are flying.

What's in there, David??

You know she's all grown up if she gets this happy about a set of flannel sheets.

Of course, Shawn has his coffee.

Unwrapping a joint gift together.


For some reason, this picture makes me want to say, "Happy Christmas, Harry!" with my best British accent. I don't know why.

Well, it was a good one. I'd better go clean.

Friday, December 16, 2011

It takes a chemist

I've been having a little trouble with my stomach lately.

The other day, DJ was fixing his breakfast and he asked if I would like him to make me some eggs. Being in a "delicate" condition, I wasn't up for the standard over-easy or scrambled.

"I would like a soft-boiled egg," I told him. He needed an explanation, so I elaborated: "You put the egg into a saucepan, as though you were going to hard-boil it. But then, when it comes to a boil, you only cook it 2-3 minutes instead of 15-20."

DJ proceeded to bring some eggs to a boil. We weren't quite sure exactly when they started to boil, but when he heard them start to jangle in the pan and saw them rolling around in the bubbling water, he turned off the heat, put on the lid and set the timer for 2 minutes.

Upon cracking the eggs over our toast, we found that the yolks were completely solid and rather light-colored, quite like hard-boiled eggs.

A day or two later, Shawn offered to cook me an egg.

"I would like soft-boiled, please," I said, "And we need to watch very carefully, because it is easy to overcook them."

Shawn watched very carefully, but he was not exactly sure what we meant by "boiling," so once more the eggs made it to a rolling boil. Upon being served a couple minutes later, they were again, for all practical purposes, hard-boiled. (It's a good thing we like hot hard-boiled eggs.)

This morning, I tried my own hand at making a soft boiled egg. I watched the pot meticulously (can you watch a pot meticulously?). Anyway, as soon as small bubbles began to rise, I turned off the gas flame, covered the pot, and set the timer for three minutes. Then I went to work on something else. Suddenly the timer went off, and I realized that I had forgotten to make the toast! I let out a cry of despair and Shawn came running from his computer where he had been beginning the day's work. "What's the matter? What happened?" he exclaimed.

"It's nothing. Just eggs," DJ told him. "I'm very sorry it disturbed you."

We put the eggs into a bowl of cool water in an effort to halt the cooking process, and I hurriedly made the toast.

Hard-boiled again.

DJ was a good sport and said his were the best yet, not really completely hard-boiled. I, however, got the top egg, the one that never made it down into the cool water in the bowl. It was very firm.

Then Shannon (who is home for the holidays) decided to try her hand at soft-boiling. After implementing the process as we described it to her, she brought her eggs to the table and cracked one over her toast. The yolk came out soft and warm, and she proceeded to use her knife to remove the firm-yet-pliable white onto her toast as well. Her eggs were perfect.

As I sat there sipping my tea from a teacup and wishing I could have a delicious soft-boiled egg someday, Shawn remarked, "I guess it just takes an accomplished chemist to make a good soft-boiled egg. Here is a young woman who understands where a boiling point is."

Sunday, December 11, 2011

'Tis the season

I always have visions of a “perfect” Christmas season.

This would entail mysterious packages wrapped in brown paper tied with colored cotton string, and hand-stamped with red sleigh-bells and white snowflakes that I myself had skillfully carved from a raw potato. There would be a colossal, crooked, fragrant fir tree bedecked with white lights, candy canes, homemade frosted gingerbread men and hand-strung cranberries and popcorn.

Sprigs of fresh holly, boughs of pine, pine-cones and white beeswax candles would adorn every room. All plastic items, contraptions powered by batteries, and ribbons of synthetic-flocked-velvet would be thrust into outer darkness. Also, there would be no junk mail, no school papers, no homeless items anywhere. A place for everything and everything in its place.

We would do daily advent devotions by candlelight whilst wearing coordinating clothing of natural fabrics crafted in a style best described as “contemporary Victorian.”

The house would smell of pumpkin pie, spiced cider and nut breads. The sounds of instrumental Christmas carols would play endlessly in the background: oboe, violin, harp and wooden flute tootling softly through the hymnal.

Everyone would be happy, and full of secrets. There would be whispering and laughter and hustled tidying each time someone entered a room. One evening, we would pack up large cookie trays and song books, don long woolen coats, and go door to door through the neighborhood, singing of Christmas in four parts and delivering delicious baked goods up and down the street.

There would always be a fire in the fireplace and cardinals would flutter festively outside our windows, nibbling at homemade bird-feeders we would have hung from the beautiful bare trees.

At the end of each day
I would take a clove-scented bath
in a tub surrounded by candles
while listening to “Ave Maria.”

That is the vision.

is busy schedules, cheap pizza, hectic shopping trips to overcrowded malls... or worse (and even more likely): Wal-Mart. Reality is chintzy wrapping paper, hastily taped over boxes at 1 a.m. Christmas Eve (if we can find boxes; sometimes the wrapping paper is taped directly to the gift). Reality is messy life, lack of time, and fallible humans who sometimes rub each other the wrong way despite the best of intentions. Reality is snacking on wheat crackers and spreadable cheese from Aldi when there wasn’t time to make supper.

But hey. Aldi has delicious wheat crackers and very decent spreadable cheese. And if we are together at the table, perhaps with one of our favorite family games, and the gas fireplace is humming away while the lights glisten on a kitchy but lovable Christmas tree, it is still a good Christmas.

When Jesus takes us to heaven, we will experience perfection. For now, we can just enjoy what we have, all the imperfections and short-cuts and even the sour notes. Because this is life, and the asymmetry of it leads us to Jesus, and that is something to celebrate.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Something I like

I like going to bed at night before our outside Christmas lights have been turned off. Shawn hung white icicle lights along the roof line across the front of our house. I lie in my bed with the bedroom lights off, looking out my second story window at the white Christmas bulbs dangling in the dark, all twinkly and quiet. I like this. I like it best when the shades are up, but it is even nice to watch the twinkles shine around the edges of drawn shades.

There was a time when I hated Christmas lights, but I am over it. I like that our front entryway looks like a neon gingerbread house with the red and white tube lights that Shawn wound like candy-cane stripes around the front posts. I like the glowing multi-colored balls that line the peak of the little roof over our front step.

In the absence of any reflective snow, it is nearly as dark here as it must have been in Egypt during the plague of darkness. The winter solstice is upon us, and right now we need good cheer more than we need good taste. Light up the night!

Monday, December 5, 2011

post aborted

Well, I am actually sick.

After days and days of feeling tired, achy, listless, lethargic and just a general malaise (the other day I had to stop in the middle of peeling an orange and rest and take deep breaths -- even for a lazy lout like me, this is not normal), I now have real symptoms.

So I guess I feel a little less lazy, and I have hope that what I thought was depression was actually a physical thing that will pass with this illness.

I spent a lot of time in bed today, dozing, reading Revelation and running to the bathroom.

There was going to be a point to this post, but Jon is playing some sort of rousing band song on youtube on my computer downstairs, and my poor fragile thoughts are shattered by it. I totally forgot what I was going to write about.

So today will be stream of consciousness or nothing. Probably safer to go with nothing and end here.