Winter Sunset

Winter Sunset

Friday, December 31, 2010

Keeping Christmas

Decking the halls always seems to be such a big job. Though I love the end result, I dread the mess of pulling the plastic tubs of Christmas decorations from their hiding place in the basement storage room.

And, for a few days now, I've dreaded taking them all down. It doesn't have a thing to do with the mess or the work.

I waited a few days to do it. I know there are organized people who promptly pull out their Christmas decor the day after Thanksgiving and then pack it away on the day after Christmas.

But I'm not one of those people.

After several weeks of twinkling lights decorating the living room, I'm never quite ready to give up the multicolored dreamland.

Even as a kid, I remember the letdown after Christmas. It didn't have anything to do with whether I'd gotten everything on my wish list. It was just that slight feeling of melancholy, a sadness at saying goodbye to that "hap-happiest season of all," as the song goes.
It's the most wonderful time of the year
With the kids jingle-belling
And everyone telling you
Be of good cheer
It's the most wonderful time of the year

It's the hap-happiest season of all
With those holiday greetings
And great happy meetings
When friends come to call
It's the hap-happiest season of all

It's the most wonderful time of the year
There be much mistletoe-ing
And hearts will be glowing
When loved ones are near
It's the most wonderful time of the year.
So, as I pack away the Christmas angel tree topper ...

and say goodbye once again to the Santa who counts down the days to Christmas Eve, I need to remember not to let go of the spirit of Christmas.

Even if I must take down the twinkle of lights in my living room, I can let the Light of the World continue to shine in my heart, mind and soul as we enter a new year.

"For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace."
Isaiah 9:6

Hallelujah!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Dippity-Do-Dah!


Maybe you have more exciting plans than we do for New Year's Eve. We will be loading a U-Haul with Brent's worldly possessions in preparation for a cross-country trip to South Carolina. He'll begin working on his master's in sports administration at the University of South Carolina on January 10.

But if you're looking for something a little different to make for a New Year's Eve celebration, I have a contender.

I made it for a Nu Lambda-Beta Sigma Phi potluck before Christmas. It was a blast from the past. I made it years ago after it was a third-place winner in The Hutchinson News' Holiday Recipe contest back in 1988. I guess that recipe is as old as Brent.

It's a great dip for fruit, and I served it with some apples and pears for the party. But the original recipe used sweet tortilla chips: I also gave snackers that option.

In the original recipe, you make your own chips from flour tortillas. This time, I purchased already-made flour tortilla chips from Anchor Inn, a Mexican restaurant, in Hutchinson. After I got them home, I heated them briefly in the microwave and then sprinkled them with cinnamon-sugar while they were warm so the cinnamon-sugar would stick.

Whether you serve it with fruit or tortilla chips or both, it could be a pretty and tasty addition to a New Year's Eve table ... and good for leftovers when you watch football the next day. And it's super easy, too ... especially if you cheat and buy the chips. (And really, it's not cheating: It's just being efficient. Who needs more of a mess in the kitchen?)

Enjoy!

Double Delight Strawberry Dip
1 pkg. (10 tortillas) flour tortillas, cut into 8 wedges each
1 8-oz. pkg. cream cheese, softened
2 cups whipped topping, thawed
1/2 cup powdered sugar (or to taste)
2 10-oz. pkg. frozen strawberries, thawed

Deep fry tortillas and sprinkle with cinnamon sugar. Store in airtight container until ready to use.

Mix together all the other ingredients until smooth. Chill well.

To serve, put dip in glass bowl in the middle of a serving tray. (Garnish with a whole, fanned strawberry, if you have one available. I didn't.) Surround with tortilla chips or fruit.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

A Bowl Game Snack Riddle

What's black and white and purple all over?

It's a snack that's perfect for K-State's appearance in the Pinstripe Bowl.

Eat 'em up! Eat 'em up! K-S-U!


We won't be making the trip to this bowl. We did drive down to Dallas for K-State's two different appearances in the Cotton Bowl. But this time, Jill and Eric, and my sister, Darci, will have to do the cheering for the rest of us. They'll be the only ones from our family making the trip to New York City and watching in person as the K-State Wildcats take on Syracuse in the Pinstripe Bowl game on Thursday.

They may wish they had a few of these snacks tucked in their pockets, since it still looks like negotiating New York City airports and streets may be a challenging as breaking through the K-State offensive line.

But that doesn't mean we won't cheer on our 'Cats from afar. If you're looking for a couple of snacks to offer your K-State football fans at a bowl watch party on Thursday, here are a couple of ideas.

I made them for Brent's graduation party earlier this month. But they would be perfect finger foods for bowl viewing, too. (I didn't realize how perfect until I looked at the photo and realized the Hugs stripes look like pinstripes!)

I realize a few misguided people in this world don't cheer for the K-State Wildcats. You could adapt these recipes for any school color scheme. For our Stafford Trojans, I could use red, black and white instead of purple and white. You can develop your own game plan when it comes to honoring your favorite team - whether that's high school, college or pro. Enjoy!

Pretzel Snacks
Square pretzels
Hugs candies, unwrapped
Colored candy discs
Colored M & Ms

Preheat oven to 250 degrees. Line baking sheets with parchment paper. Line up square pretzels in rows on parchment-covered cookie sheets. Top each pretzel with either an unwrapped Hugs candy or a colored candy disc (in this case, purple!) I purchased the candy discs at a party store.

Put the cookie sheets in the oven for about 2 minutes. Test to see if the Hugs or the candy discs have started to melt. If they haven't, put them in for another minute or so. If they have started to melt sufficiently, remove from oven and top each with an M & M, pressing it in. (For Brent's graduation party, I topped each Hugs with a purple M & M and each purple disc with a white M & M. I bought the specialty colors at the party store.)

For Christmas, I used this same recipe. I topped each Hugs candy with a green M & M. I purchased green discs at the party store and topped each of those with a red M & M. I used these for our family Christmas gatherings, as well as giving them away with cookie and snack trays for the mailman, neighbors, etc.

You could adapt this recipe to any holiday, too. Use red and white M & Ms for Valentine's Day. Use pastel discs and M & Ms for Easter. And so on and so forth!

(The Powercat in the middle was made by melting purple candy coating and pouring into a mold.)

***

Toffee Snack Mix

12 cups cereal, pretzels, nuts
2/3 cup butter (no substitutes)
2 cups brown sugar
1/4 cup corn syrup

This time, I used Chocolate Chex and mini pretzels. I sometimes have trouble finding Chocolate Chex. You can use Rice Chex or Crispix. I have also used fancy mixed nuts - just any combination of 12 cups of dry ingredients. Combine in large bowl.

Combine remaining ingredients in saucepan. After mixture begins to boil, time boiling for 2 minutes. Remove from heat.

Pour over cereal mixture, mixing well. Pour out onto waxed or parchment paper. Break snack mix apart periodically while it cools. Store in airtight container.

Optional: The original recipe didn't call for chocolate. When I do the mix using chocolate, I make the mix as directed above. Then, I melt about 1 cup of semi-sweet chocolate chips (use the kind of chocolate you like: You can use milk chocolate or white chocolate). Pour it over the snack mix. I have tried to drizzle it, but I find it works just as well to spread over the snack mix and then lightly mix it or spread it.

Usually, if I add the chocolate, I put the snack mix on parchment-lined cookie sheets and then put it in the fridge to get it to set up faster.

For Brent's graduation party, I didn't melt the chocolate. Instead, after the snack mix was completely cool, I added purple and white M & Ms that I'd gotten at the party store. Use the colored M & Ms of your choice for holidays or cheering on your favorite team!

Bring on the 'Cats!


Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Frosty Morning

Frosty branches outside the Stafford 1st United Methodist Church
December 26, 2010



The last two Sunday mornings, I've been tempted.

No, I wasn't tempted to sleep in. I wasn't tempted to skip church.

But I was tempted to be a little late.

The last two Sunday mornings have been frosted more carefully than any meticulously prepared Christmas cookie.

Oh, the fleeting beauty is hard to ignore!

But our church now starts at 9 AM. I have Sunday School materials to run off ahead of time, and a choir run-through to attend.

I know if I don't pull my camera from my purse, the moment will be gone yet again. The sun has been a sleepyhead these past two Sundays, but he's sure to awaken soon and melt away the moment.

The first week, I just gazed wistfully out the window. But this Sunday, as we motored past the old barn on the Zenith Road, I just couldn't resist. (Much like I'm having trouble resisting the leftover Christmas goodies still in my kitchen.)

"Could you back up?" I asked my chauffeur.

These days, my ever-patient husband doesn't even have to ask why. He knows there must be a photo op around somewhere.


Painter Andrew Wyeth once said about his work:

It's a moment that I'm after, a fleeting moment,
but not a frozen moment.


Actually, Andrew, it was a frozen moment that I was after.

Monday, December 27, 2010

All Grown Up


You know your baby is an adult when he insists he'll take care of his own grab bag gift for the extended family Christmas.

This year, instead of buying a gift for a specific person at the Moore family Christmas, we brought a grab bag gift.

I offered to buy Brent's for him. But he said he could handle it.

I offered to wrap it for him.

He said he could handle it.

You know all the sayings:
  • Don't judge a book by its cover.
  • All that glitters is not gold.
  • Good things come in small packages.
Well, we now have a variation on those proverbs.
  • Don't judge a gift by its wrapping.
Or maybe you should judge a gift by its wrapping - in a way the proverb writer never intended.

Brent's wrapping job was ... well ... very Brent.

Even if no one saw him come through the door at Grandma's and Grandpa's, they would have known it was his contribution to the day.

He used wrapping paper. But he used the non-snowman side.

He used tape. But it was duct tape.

He then went through newspapers and made his own decorations.

(I give this present one thumb's up!)

(This present is a real touchdown!)

(Boy, I sure wish we would have brought Jesus this gift instead of all that stupid frankincense.)

It sat amid the beautifully wrapped gifts brought by all the siblings and the cousins. Before it even started, Brent looked confident in his gift choice.


And it turned out that his gift won the prize for the most "stolen" gift of the night. As you might imagine in a room filled with purple-blooded people, there were a multitude of K-State-themed gifts, especially since the grab bag was supposed to be unisex.

But Brent's framed and matted and autographed photo of Jacob Pullen's Sports Illustrated cover was the hit of the grab bag party.

(Sorry I didn't get a photo of the actual gift.)

Even though, as Brent intoned, the gift was worth more "a couple of days ago."

But even with Mr. Pullen's problems with the NCAA, Brent's gift was a winner.

I wish I'd gotten a photo of the proud new owner of the Jacob Pullen cover. Brent's cousin, Brian, who was among the last people to choose gifts, got to walk out the door with Jacob.

And it turns out after multiple passes around the room that Brent's present illustration turned out to be the most prophetic:

(I'm devastated I didn't get this present!)


Friday, December 24, 2010

A Family Tradition

1994: Abby, Brian, Blake, Madi, Brent, Jill & Paige with my Mom


Christmas isn't the only celebration we'll be having at my parents' house later today.

It's my Mom's birthday. During the day, we celebrate her special day. She'll open her presents after lunch. We are always careful to wrap the gifts in birthday paper. No leftover Christmas paper will do.

My siblings and I provide the bulk of the evening meal (though Mom made her own homemade ice cream earlier in the month when she had the ice cream freezer out to make my brother's frozen concoction).

One of the traditions is for the grandkids to gather with Mom for an annual photo before she cuts her cake. The grandkids began arriving in 1982 and were interspersed about every two years until the last one arrived in 1994. The photo at the top was Madi's first appearance in the annual photo. The photo below is from 2008.

Madison, Brian, Jill, Abby, Blake, Paige & Brent

This year, we have a new person to add to the cast of characters. And I'm wondering what will happen to the annual snapshot with Grandma. Will this cute little Santa be the only one to share the spotlight this year? We will see.

Braden and his mom, Tamara (His Dad is Blake.)

This afternoon, a photographer is coming to take a family photo. We've added three spouses and a baby since the last photo was taken.


By next Christmas, the "new" family photo will be obsolete, since Grandchild No. 2 and her husband, Paige and Russ, will add another face to the photo, the second of my parents' great-grandchildren.

Life changes. We celebrate the arrival of new family members. We say goodbye to others, and we pull out the special memories from our mental scrapbooks.

Christmas is about family. And it's about birthdays - very special birthdays.

"It comes every year and will go on forever. And along with Christmas belong the keepsakes and the customs. Those humble, everyday things a mother clings to, and ponders, like Mary, in the secret spaces of her heart."

--Marjorie Holmes

Merry Christmas to you and yours!



















Thursday, December 23, 2010

Hustle and Hurry

Advent candle - Stafford United Methodist Church - 2010


For many of us, sadly, the spirit of Christmas is "hurry." And yet, eventually, the hour comes when the rushing ends and the race against the calendar mercifully comes to a close. It is only now perhaps that we truly recognize the spirit of Christmas. It is not a matter of days or weeks, but of centuries - twenty of them now since that holy night in Bethlehem. Regarded in this manner, the pre-Christmas rush may do us greater service than we realize. With all its temporal confusion, it may just help us to see that by contrast, Christmas itself is eternal.

- Burton Hills

I still don't have everything done on my to-do list. And Christmas will come anyway.

Sometimes, I worship the to-do list instead of the season. Sad, but true, I'm afraid.

But the things that have most blessed me this holiday season don't have a thing to do with my to-do list.

I could have gotten more holiday goodies made if I'd stayed home last Sunday afternoon. But, instead, we went to a concert at the Great Bend First United Methodist Church. I heard beautiful Christmas music played by organist Brad Shirer and pianist Jenny Allford.

If I'd stayed home, I wouldn't have heard their collaboration on well-known songs of Christmas, like "O Holy Night!" and "Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus."

After the concert, Jenny admitted their program hasn't varied much in the past 15 years. But she says she came to a realization: While she was practicing, the words of those old, familiar songs danced through her head.

It was the same for the audience. And it truly was a Joy to the World moment - over and over again.

If I had stayed home and worked on my voluminous to-do list, I wouldn't have been blessed by the beautiful stained glass windows of their sanctuary ...

Or the glow of candlelight through jewel-tone glass ...

Or a sanctuary bathed in a rosy glow from a skylight and the twinkle of hundreds of lights.

I wouldn't have heard one of my favorite Christmas hymns, "There's a Song in the Air." It's a carol from my childhood days at Byers United Methodist Church, but it often gets lost in the plethora of the more popular "Away in the Manger" and "Silent Night." I love those, too, but what a treat (and how appropriate) to hear:

There's a song in the air
There's a star in the sky
There's a mother's sweet prayer
And a baby's low cry
And the star reigns its fire while the beautiful sing
For the manger in Bethlehem
Cradles a King!

But I didn't have to go to another church to feel the spirit of Christmas. I could have stayed home last Sunday morning. I could have slept in or I could have crossed more things off my list.

But then I would have missed the beauty of heavy frost in the crisp December air as we drove to Stafford for church ...

I would have missed the lighting of the fourth Advent candle. I would have missed the choir anthem. I would have missed the fellowship with my friends.

While I was writing this, I got an email from a friend. And it was another confirmation of what I know in my heart:

"When you worry and hurry through your day, it is like an unopened gift....Thrown away.... Life is not a race. Take it slower. Hear the music before the song is over."

Jill and Eric arrived last night. Brent got here Tuesday night. And I'm reminding myself that it's more important to "be" instead of "do." Play a game instead of making one more snack we don't need. Sit and talk instead of worrying about whether there are bows on the presents. The kids didn't pack their white gloves, so if the dusting didn't get done, nobody will notice anyway.

Hear the music of life. That's my prayer for you today, too!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Easy As Pie

Easy as pie? Really? Did the genius who first coined the phrase ever make a pie?

A piece of cake? Well, unless I'm making a three-layer frosted monstrosity, I'd have to say cake is easier.

Easy as cookies? Now we're getting warmer.

But easy as pie? I beg to differ.

With Christmas just a few days away, it's pie baking time across America once again. And, if you're going to go to the trouble of making a pie, I say, make it a good one.

My Grandma Leonard's Pumpkin Pie is the best pumpkin pie I've ever had. Randy's sister, who grew up on a different pumpkin pie, is one of my converts, so it must be true.

My pie baking skills have improved with age. Both my grandmas made good pies. I didn't get that interested in making them until Jill was in 4-H cooking. There's nothing like 4-H cooking to teach parents a thing or two.

The Coconut Pie is one that my Mom always made at Thanksgiving. We use the same recipe for Coconut or Pecan Pies. The coconut version seems to be a bit more unusual. I've never seen anyone else bring this kind of Coconut Pie to a gathering, though the Fritzemeier clan is known for Coconut Cream Pie. (I still haven't mastered that art: Randy would just contend I need to practice more.)

If pie baking is on your agenda this week, here are a couple of tried-and-true recipes. And, if you need a review on making crust, check out the link to my sister's recipe for Never Fail Pie Crust, complete with step-by-step photos.

It'll be easy as pie ... really.

Pumpkin Pie
1 can solid pack pumpkin (15 oz.)
1 tbsp. butter
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1/2 tsp. ginger
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
Dash of salt
2 eggs
1/2 cup evaporated milk
1 pie crust, unbaked (see recipe for Never Fail Pie Crust)

Combine pumpkin, butter, brown sugar, spices and a dash of salt in a medium saucepan. Heat on stove, cooking and stirring for about 5 minutes. Remove from heat. Combine 2 eggs and evaporated milk in a separate bowl, mixing until well blended. Add a dollop of the warm pumpkin mixture to the egg mixture and mix well. Add the egg mixture to the rest of the pumpkin. Mix well.

Pour pumpkin pie mix into a prepared pie shell. Cover crimped crusts with pie shields to avoid overbrowning. Bake at 400 degrees for about 50 minutes or when a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.

If desired, roll out leftover pie dough and use a cookie cutter to make an appropriate shape (pumpkin or turkey for Thanksgiving or a bell, star or tree for Christmas, etc.) Sprinkle with cinnamon-sugar mixture and bake until lightly golden brown. Cool. Use to decorate the top of the pie, just before serving.

***

Coconut Pie (or Pecan Pie)
1 unbaked pie shell
1 cup shredded coconut (or pecan halves)
3 eggs
3 tbsp. butter, melted
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup white corn syrup
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. vanilla

Sprinkle coconut into the bottom of the pie shell. Beat eggs. Add all other ingredients, blending well. Pour over coconut (or nuts). Cover crimped crusts with pie shields to avoid overbrowning. Bake at 350 degrees for about 50 minutes. (If I think it's getting too brown on the top, I may shield the whole pie with aluminum foil until the center appears fairly set.)

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

One Size Fits All


There is a new wrinkle thrown into the mix of my holiday shopping this year. Instead of purchasing a gift for a particular person for our Moore family Christmas, we are trying a new feature for the annual gathering. Each of us is to bring a grab bag gift.

Since we are an opinionated crew, there was great debate about how much we should spend and whether or not the gift should be geared toward the male or female persuasion or suitable for either.

I lost that battle. The gifts are to be unisex.

I thought and I thought. And then I stumbled upon advice from that great gift giver, Erma Bombeck:

Wouldn't it be wonderful to find one gift that you didn't have to dust, that had to be used right away, that was practical, fit everyone, was personal and would be remembered for a long time? I penciled in ... Gift Certificate for a Flu Shot.

Thanks, Erma, for the perfect gift idea. I'm sure my family will love it.

Hey, everybody! Be sure and watch when I come through the door at Mom and Dad's. You won't want to miss getting this thoughtful gift. It's in the green and red wrapping paper.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Little Blue Box? Or Not?

What says love like a beautiful robin's egg blue-colored box? That's what Tiffany & Co. would have us believe, right?

But you don't have to have a ritzy 5th Avenue address to advertise that love comes in small packages. Lower rent jewelers also want us to believe that you can wrap up love and good will in a tiny box. The television ads promise "Every Kiss Begins with Kay's" or proclaim, "He went to Jared's!" In this make-believe world, a perfectly manicured wife opens up a little box while her proud and meticulously-dressed beloved stands beaming, ready to get that promised kiss under the mistletoe.

But for Kansas farm wives, the "box" may not be tucked under the tree, and it may not be so little. It might be metal, all right, but there's not too much that's shiny (unless the camera flash catches it in just the right light).

It may even be in a barn. After all, the best Christmas story of all time took place in a barn.

Last week, my farmer came home and told me he'd bought my Christmas present. It was a new calving pen for the barn.

Believe me, my heart swelled. (I just won't say what it swelled with ...)

He bought it from a neighbor who has retired from calving duties. Randy and Jake went to the neighbor's barn, dismantled it and installed it in our barn last week.

It came complete with a story about another farmer and his wife. He threw in the story for free.

This long-ago farmer was a big guy, and he married a petite lady who weighed about 90 pounds, soaking wet. (Obviously, no resemblance to this author!)

Anyway, the farmer's wife did all the milking. When she broke her leg, the farmer shared with another friend about what a good husband he was. He proclaimed: "I carried her all the way to the barn so she could milk the cows."

Wow, what a prince, right?

Maybe you were like me and were initially thinking that the calving pen might have been a gift more suited to Randy. That's OK. I thought it, too.

But then I got to thinking: Maybe this big metal box does say love. I remembered last February when Randy was at a meeting, and we had a heifer in trouble. My attempts to get the vet on the phone went unanswered.

Jake, a helpful neighbor and I finally got the calf delivered. But a nice calving pen, complete with head gate, would sure have made it easier.

A pen with lots of different gates and openings would make it safer for the people and the animals.

A breakaway gate would make it easier to coax reluctant first-time moms in the fine art of nursing babies.

So, even though I may have originally thought this gift was more about my farmer than me, maybe he really was thinking of me ... at least a little bit.

And I know someone else who's happy. After they got it installed, Jake proclaimed he was looking forward to using it.

What a guy my farmer is! It's a Christmas bonus for his employees - the paid one and the unpaid one.