Monday, November 28, 2011

Christmas Sadness, Christmas Gladness

It's time to begin Christmas decorating and festivities, but my heart is heavy and I don't feel very celebratory. News of a family in crisis, a tragic plane crash, unemployment, and miscarriage have filled my e-mail inbox this week. I ache for these dear people. How can I get in the holiday spirit when there is so much wrong in the world? How can I celebrate with my children when so many people are brokenhearted and hopeless?

But then I remember the two messages the angels gave at Christmas. First, the angel told both Mary and the shepherds, "fear not!" Don't be afraid of the glory of the angels. Don't be afraid of the task before you. Don't be afraid of the future, or of what might happen. Don't be afraid of the sorrows of this fallen world. The Prince of Peace is here.

And then the angels told the shepherds that Christmas holds "Good news of great joy for all people." And what good news it is! All of the bad news in this world pales in comparison to the great joy of the incarnation. Christmas isn't just for people who are happy and want to celebrate. It is perhaps even more for those who sorrow.

This babe in the manger is also the Savior, the one who redeems even the worst tragedy and comforts us in our sorrow. He is the one who wept at the grave of Lazarus and promises us that all things will work for the good of those who love him. He is the one who came to save us for eternity and holds all of our tears in a bottle while we're waiting for that eternal perfection.

So maybe it's appropriate that my thoughts are filled with heavy burdens during Advent. Perhaps I need to be reminded of why Jesus came. If the world were perfect and happy like a Christmas-card picture all the time, we wouldn't need a Savior. But life is messy, and we are sinners in desperate need of a Savior.

And so our loving God broke into our fallen world to bring us peace. He became a helpless, impoverished baby so that he could save shepherds and kings and everyone in between. He came for the husband trapped in pain and sin and for his abandoned wife. He came for the mother who's lost her child and for the man who's lost his livelihood and identity. He came for the bereaved and heavy laden. He came for the people who are full of happiness and wonder this season and for those who are hopelessly sad. He came for you and for me, in all our joys and sorrows.

And even better than that, he's coming again to make all things right again. Hallelujah! Come, Lord Jesus.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Friday Funnies

Have you ever wondered if elephants sneeze? Never say I didn't give you useful information here.


Thursday, November 17, 2011

Art Class, Take 2

It's been a little over a week since I posted about art class. I ended up taking some time off on the weekend, but I've spent much more time in my jewelry workshop this week than usual. Here is some of what I've made this week.

And here is my ever-present "helper."

In this process of being more disciplined about making time for creativity, I've discovered a few things. First of all, it's really fun. I keep feeling like I'm on vacation, because usually it's only at Gram's house that I work on jewelry this much. Feeling like you're on vacation even when you're at home . . . by yourself . . . with 5 children . . . including a 19-month-old . . . well, that's priceless!

Related to that, I think I'm much happier when I'm being creative. It's not that I'm a super-creative person. My drawing consists of stick figures that my children make fun of. I'm more of a practical, organized type of person who likes everything in my world to have a purpose and a place. But each of us has some creative outlet that we are good at, and if we find that one thing and make time for it, I think it makes for a much happier life.

I also think I've been more productive this week than usual. It's kind of like that old adage that if you want something to get done, ask a busy person. When I have more that has to get done (including some paid work projects this week! Hooray!), I somehow manage to get it all done. For some reason, spending 45 minutes or so in the morning creating something gives me the extra energy later in the day to get my chores and other work done too.

So, if you haven't found your creative outlet, that thing that you look forward to doing, that thing that makes you lose track of time while you're immersed in it, that thing that gives you energy and enthusiasm . . . I encourage you to find it. Sign up for a class in something you've always wanted to do. Take a trip to the craft store and see what looks like it might be fun. Ask your friends to show you their hobbies and see if something sparks an interest for you.

And if you do have that creative thing that you love to do but you keep not having time for it, give yourself the gift of a daily art class.

p.s. All that jewelry and more is for sale. Anyone ready for some early Christmas shopping? You know where to find me;)

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Real Mail

It's clean out your fridge day. Are you cleaning yours? I'm not, but I did clean the floors, so that's something. And I raked leaves. That's huge for me.

Yesterday I got a letter in the mail from the mother of one of my childhood friends. It was delightful to hear from her after all these years. We were never very close; I probably played over at this woman's house a handful of times in all those years I was in school with her daughter. But it was so nice to hear from her and sense that she's interested in what has become of me.

And it made me think, how often do I wonder about someone from my past, but don't try to make contact? Writing a letter or an email can be kind of scary. I worry that the recipient will think I'm strange, or that they won't write me back and I'll sit around feeling like they have rejected me, even though probably they thought my letter was nice but were too busy to write back. Or worst of all, maybe they won't even remember me.

Letter writing is a real ministry. There's just nothing like the feeling of a sweet note waiting for you in the mailbox when you least expect it. People don't hang onto emails, but think of all the letters you've saved over the years. I think of my cherished letters from my grandma, who used to write letters to us every week. And notes and letters from my friend who is so good at writing "real" letters.

So I'm going to write this woman back, and I'm also going to keep her letter to remind me that it's nice to get "real mail" when you least expect it. And while I'm at it, I'm going to pay it forward and write a note to someone else. I don't know who yet; maybe someone from my past or maybe someone I see regularly. If you'll join me, we can start a letter-writing campaign and resurrect a lost art.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Groceries! (and Aldi recipes)

My friends and I have a joke that whenever we get together with any group of ladies, at some point the conversation turns to grocery shopping. Favorite stores, recipes, deals we've found . . . somehow it always comes up. So I guess it was inevitable that it would come up at some point on this blog. I'm sorry. If you're already bored, just come back tomorrow or whenever I write something new.

We have this great, cheap grocery store around here (and most places around the country, it seems) called Aldi. I sometimes hate Aldi, and I sometimes love it. I remember going there with my  mom when I was little and getting some gross cheese and not liking the smell. Aldi has come a long way since then. I find they have more and more things every time I go (like last time I went after a long break from going there, they had almond milk. Hooray!). Anyway, when I'm on one of my anti-Aldi strikes, I wish someone would give me a week's worth of menus and a shopping list to get me back in the habit of going there. So here I am to give you just that. And I have some more menu ideas, so I may come back with another one next week. (I bet you can't wait!)

Grocery list (not including milk, eggs, flour, etc.--and one recipe calls for wheat germ, which you can make do without, but it also keeps for a long time in the freezer, so you could buy some to have on hand)
Tortilla chips
Potato chips, or a healthier side dish if you prefer
Bbq sauce
Italian Bread crumbs
Ranch dressing
1 box jif cornbread mix (or make your own from scratch)
Tomato juice
1 can tuna
1 box macaroni noodles
1 can black beans
Taco seasoning
1 jar of applesauce or desired fruit side dish
4 cups Shredded cheddar cheese, plus more for a topping on the taco soup
Cottage cheese
Sour cream if desired
Salad ingredients
Potatoes or cauliflower
Green onions
yellow onions
Sandwich buns
1 lb ground beef (or buy 2lbs, cook it all up, and freeze half for next week)
Frozen chicken breasts
2 cans cream of mushroom or celery soup
1 pkg frozen chopped spinach (occasionally they have this) or frozen broccoli or fresh spinach
1 pkg frozen mixed veggies
1 pkg frozen peas
Ingredients for muffins or sweet bread, or a mix

Breaded chicken/mashed potatoes or cauliflower/salad
Taco soup with toppings/cornbread
Overnight Tuna Casserole/salad
Bbq chicken/chips/applesauce
Crustless Quiche/sweet bread

1) Breaded Chicken: dip chicken in ranch dressing, then bread crumbs. Bake in greased 9x13 pan at 350 until done (30 minutes probably). Serve with potatoes or cauliflower and a salad.

Mashed cauliflower: cook cauliflower on stove in chicken broth or chicken bouillon and minced garlic, drain and mix or blend with butter, milk, and/or sour cream.

2) Taco Soup: Brown 1 lb. ground beef with chopped onion. Throw in crock pot with 1 can tomato juice, 1 pkg. frozen veggies, 1/2 pkg. taco seasoning, and 1 can undrained black beans. Cook on low for 4 hours or high for 2 hours. Serve with shredded cheese, tortilla chips, and sour cream. And cornbread.

3) Overnight Tuna Casserole: in a bowl, mix 2 cans cream of celery or cream of mushroom soup and 2 cups of milk. Add 1 can tuna, 2 cups uncooked macaroni noodles, 1 cup frozen peas (if desired), 1/2 c green onions, and 1 1/2 c shredded cheddar cheese. Pour into greased casserole dish. Cover and refrigerate overnight. Cook at 350 for 35 minutes covered, uncover and top with 1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese and bake 5-10 minutes more. Serve with a salad.

4) BBQ Chicken: Toss frozen chicken breasts and 1 jar of bbq sauce in the crockpot. Cook on high for 4 hours or until done. Shred chicken. Serve on buns with chips and applesauce.

5) Crustless Quiche: Beat together 4 eggs and 6 Tbsp flour. Add 1 pkg frozen chopped spinach, drained, or other veggies and 2 c cottage cheese and 2 c grated cheddar cheese and 1/2 tsp salt. Pour into well-greaesd 9x13 pan. Sprinkle with wheat germ to make a crust. Bake uncovered 350 degrees for 45 minutes. Serve with muffins or a quick bread.

That is the original recipe; however, it is never enough for our large family. So I use 12 eggs and extra veggies and keep everything else the same and it works fine.

So there you have it: five super easy dinners that you can get all the ingredients for in one trip to Aldi. Add in a couple of frozen pizzas (or make your own) and you've got the week pretty well covered. Do you want another week's worth of recipes next week, or is this too boring? Let me know.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Jesse Tree

Every December I set out once again to do a Jesse Tree. A Jesse Tree is a way of tracing salvation history throughout the Bible, from Genesis to advent and beyond. Each day you do a Scripture reading and then place an ornament on a small tree that reminds you of that story.

Last year we used this book, which was pretty good. The kids were engaged in the story of a grumpy woodcarver who talks to a little boy about each story as he carves it. I would say this is a way to do the Jesse Tree that is accessible to younger kids.


As far as the tree itself goes, we have been gathering ornaments for a few years, but some of them are really hard to find, and I haven't had the energy to devote to making ornaments. My sister is sewing beautiful ones out of felt, but I just don't have the artistic talent to design them nor the inclination to sew them.

But this year I discovered this printable from Ann Voskamp that I just love. So I subscribed to her blog (which I read pretty often anyway) so I could get access to it. I think I've finally discovered some paper Jesse Tree ornaments that I like.

I'd encourage you to find a way to do the Jesse Tree that works for you. It's a great way to keep the true meaning of Christmas in your mind and heart throughout the season. And if you haven't done it before, now is a great time to start making plans and finding ornaments--Christmas will be upon us before you know it!