Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Christmas Chaos

Our annual Christmas Eve birthday shot isn't going to make it onto a photo website, showing the "how-to" to create the perfect holiday image. It's not about photography's Rule of 1/3s or perfect lighting. It's about family - all the imperfections and all the chaos.

noun: chaos; plural noun: chaoses
 1.    Complete disorder and confusion.
                "Snow caused chaos in the region."
 Five children ages 3 and younger "caused chaos in Grandma's annual birthday photo."

Christmas Eve at my parents' house is both a Christmas celebration and a birthday bash for my Mom. Since the first grandchild was born in 1982, we've been taking the annual snapshot of Grandma and the grandkids. 

In the first version of 2013 (at top), my Mom and my niece, Paige, were the only ones ready for their closeup. (That is one rule I try and stress with adult "models" in photos with kids:  Be ready at all times. A+ to both my Mom and Paige!) 

I put out an email plea to my siblings, nieces and nephews for a better shot than I got. Evidently, they weren't any more successful than I was, since I didn't get a single response.
This was as good as it got. (From the left: Braden, 3; Blake (Dad of Braden & Benson); Benson, 15 months; Kinley, 2; Neelly, 2; and Holte, 11 months; and Paige, Mom of Neelly and Holte.

The scene was somewhat reminiscent of a long-ago grandchild shot - the first that contained all seven of them, back in 1994.(Paige again pulled through for me: She was the only one looking at me in this particular shot.)
From left: Abby, Brian, Blake, Mom holding Madison, Jill, Brent & Paige
Nineteen years later, they were all looking in the same direction at the same time. We take our victories where we can find them, folks!
From left: Blake, Jill, Mom, Paige, Madison, Brian, Abby & Brent
Despite the chaos, it was great to be together as an extended family to celebrate my Mom's birthday and Christmas. I appreciate the effort it takes for 23 people to get to my folks' house at the same time to be together - even if it's only for less than 24 hours. 

Monday, December 30, 2013

Look Whooo's Two! It's Me, Kinley!

Look Whooo's 2 today! Yes, it's me, Kinley Marie!
I am taking cupcakes to day care today to celebrate, but I had a party with my family on Saturday. My Mommy worked really hard to make me a party with an owl theme.

See! She made cupcakes that looked like owls. She cut out cheese and meats and made them look like owls. She made no-bake cookies that looked like nests and put M & Ms in them. The candy was my favorite part.
The grown-ups kept talking about how much I'd grown. I suppose, if we look back at last year's party, they are right: I have grown quite a bit.

My Grandma Fritzemeier had further photographic evidence. On the first day I came home from the hospital, she took this photo of me and the Dolly that Great Grandma and Great Grandpa Moore gave me.
Taken January 1, 2012
On Saturday, I carefully measured Dolly to see if she had shrunk during the past two years.
No, I don't think so. So I must have grown into a big girl sometime in the past 730 days (AKA 2 years)!

My cousin, Hannah, helped me open my presents. Next month, when she's 2, I'll probably help her out, too, now that we both have so much experience, what with all the Christmas gift and birthday gift opening.
I may not be able to fly like an owl, but I got my own wings for my birthday. My Aunt Kate and Uncle Drew fixed me up with fairy wings.
I'll be ready to fly the coop with this owl suitcase. Here I come, Grandmas and Grandpas!
I got so many presents for my birthday that I may still be writing thank you notes by Easter. (With a birthday so close to Christmas, I had barely gotten my Christmas thank yous started.)

I am a pretty lucky 2 year old, don't you think? My Grandma would say I'm blessed. Yes, I think she's got it right! 

Until next time,
Kinley Marie

P.S. A note from Grandma Kim: Happy Birthday to my favorite 2 year old! I am blessed indeed!

Monday, December 23, 2013

White Christmas

I'm dreaming of a white Christmas
Just like the ones I used to know.

Actually, I'm my Mother's daughter. I wasn't dreaming of a White Christmas because my kids were on the road. Brent was driving from Kentucky. Jill, Eric, Kinley and an extra passenger, Hannah (Kinley's first cousin), were driving to Eric's parents' house in Iowa.

Thankfully, they did their first round of Christmas traveling on Friday, ahead of the storm. But, Randy & I decided to stay home from the K-State vs. Gonzaga game at the Intrust Bank Arena in Wichita on Saturday because of the ice and snow. And then I watched it snow ... and snow ... and snow some more on Saturday night.We ended up with about 9.5 inches of snow by Sunday morning.

I was ready to sing Seal & Crofts "Summer Breeze," just to inspire a change in the weather. But, I got a White Christmas instead. (Even though the snow may be melted by Christmas Day, we've having our little family Christmas today on the 23rd and will be at my folks' house in Pratt County for Christmas Eve. So it counts.)
Of course, Saturday night, I thought I was having a Green Christmas.
Or perhaps a Red Christmas.
Those new colored floodlights provided more holiday decor than I'd bargained for.(The falling snow even gave me some natural bokeh (those little dots of light in the pictures), a term I'd never even heard of before I read it on The Pioneer Woman's blog.
And even though I'd prefer no snow for my travelers' sake, I have to admit it made for a beautiful sunrise Sunday morning. The snow-covered berries were a nice accessory for the Santa flag. The house truly was dressed for Christmas.
So was Randy's favorite tree. It's easy to see why it's his favorite, isn't it?
The old grainery is always good for some Currier and Ives-style photos, and it was dressed in its Sunday best with sequins of glistening snow.
It appeared this snow was holding on for dear life.I just didn't want it clinging with such tenacity to roads between here and Iowa.

My son-in-law sent me this helpful text and photo so I wouldn't worry:
He said, "Jill said you were worried about us driving on Sunday. Here's a picture of the "snow" mode for our Explorer, so we'll be fine. ;-) "

And they were. Merry Christmas to me! That's the best present of all.

Friday, December 20, 2013

How A Decapitation Changed Christmas

Our outdoor Christmas display was decapitated six years ago. It was a casualty of the 2007 December ice storm that left us without power for 12 days.
The poor snowmen were no match for the falling, ice-laden branches.

We "inherited" the snowmen and sleigh when my in-laws, Melvin and Marie, died. It had decorated their farmhouse 2 miles to the north for several years. Since it said "Season's Greetings from The Fritzemeier's," we were the logical choice for taking the sleigh home.

Truth be told, the punctuation on "The Fritzemeier's" drove me to distraction. But I decided it wasn't worth risking the paint job to correctly remove the apostrophe ... especially since I'm pretty sure I'm the only one it bothered.

Still, I really liked it, both for sentimental value and the fact that we had a nice outdoor display item that we didn't have to pay for. Bonus! During the day, it was visible from the road and, at night, we lit it with a flood light.

So, I was disappointed that the snowman and his wife were accidently beheaded by one of the thousands of branches that fell from our majestic old trees in the December 2007 ice storm.

Since then, I've kept my eyes open for a replacement display. I think Marie had purchased the sleigh from an Oktoberfest vendor years ago, but I never found anything similar.

Honestly, we don't have a lot of traffic down The County Line. Having outside lights is more for me than for the person who randomly travels down our road after dark. I tried some lighted Christmas trees, but they fell apart after one season. (Perhaps I should have looked for higher quality instead of lower price.)

But, this year, I saw a house in Stafford lighted with colored floodlights. And I thought, "We could do that!" We have a unique old farmhouse that I think is a real looker. And what could be easier than sticking a couple of floodlights in front of the house. (Well, the first green bulb didn't work, and Randy had to round up a timer. But it was still relatively painless.)
From our house to yours, we wish you blessings and JOY this Christmas season.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Ho! Ho! No! No! No!

A Christmas Story
By Kinley Marie

Give me a tiny Mickey Mouse hat for my head.
Give me a tiny horn to toot.
Make me fluff the Christmas tree. (I'll hold my mouth just so!)
Make me examine old Christmas tree ornaments from my Mommy's and Daddy's past.
I'll hang the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse ornament that Grandma and Grandpa brought me (after I carry it around awhile).
Yes, I'll even stand on my leg to work, even though it's in a cast. 
I'll supervise the parents' decorating efforts while I rest my leg and check email on Mommy's phone. 
But do not make me go see that big guy in the red suit and the beard. Ho, Ho, NO, NO, NO!

Last year, Mommy & Daddy made me sit on that guy's lap.
This year, they said I could decide for myself. (I heard my Mommy tell my Grandma that I didn't need anymore trauma when my leg is already in a cast.)
And I decided, "No, no, NO!" (even though Santa probably would have liked my Christmas sock and my jingle bell. He probably would have liked my cast, too, now that I've switched to pink. It's just a lighter shade of red, you know, which the Big Guy seems to like.)

Santa seems to be popular. There was a line to see him at the mall. I graciously decided that someone else could take my place.
This year, I think I'll just stick to a Christmas portrait with Mommy and Daddy.

Merry Christmas everyone!

Until next time,
Kinley Marie

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Lofthouse Sugar Cookie Bars

Admittedly, these Lofthouse Sugar Cookie Bars aren't on the same level as the frosted sugar cookies my sister, Lisa, rolls out and turns into Santas, ornaments, stars and stockings each year. There's just something about biting into one of those cookies - lightly crispy on the outside and tender on the inside with the sweetness of almond-flavored homemade icing on top.

Yeah, these aren't those. On the other hand, these sugar cookie bars take about a 10th of the investment of time. And they still:
1) Taste good.
2) Look pretty on a cookie tray.

Score and score!

Cream cheese gives good flavor and moistness to the bars. The original recipe called for vanilla. I am a sucker for almond flavoring. (See above!) So that's what I used. They do have a taste and texture similar to the Lofthouse brand cookies you buy at the store. But this homemade version is better, even if it's square rather than round.

Decorate them with cute holiday sugars and sprinkles and you have a tasty alternative to rolled sugar cookies.

I will, however, be looking forward to Lisa's cutout sugar cookies on Christmas Eve. I won't lie. (No pressure, Lisa.)
Lofthouse Sugar Cookie Bars
Adapted from Cookies and Cups blog
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 cup butter, room temperature
8 oz. cream cheese, room temperature
1 egg
2 tsp. almond extract
2 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda

Buttercream Frosting
1 cup butter, softened
4 cups powdered sugar
1 tsp. almond extract
1/4 cup plus 1 tbsp. milk
Food coloring (opt.)
Holiday sprinkles (opt.)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a jelly roll pan (15- by 10- by 1-inch) with cooking spray.

In mixer, cream butter, cream cheese and sugar together. Add in egg and almond extract until incorporated. With mixer on low, add dry ingredients. Mix until just combined.

Press dough into prepared pan. (Dough is sticky. It may help to use an offset spatula to help spread the dough.) Bake for 20 minutes until edges begin to turn golden brown. Cool completely before frosting.

Frosting:  Place the butter in the bowl of an electric mixer. Beat on medium-high speed until smooth, about 1 minute. Blend in powdered sugar until smooth, 1 to 2 minutes. Add almond extract and milk and mix well. Add a little more milk, if needed. Tint frosting as desired. Spread frosting over cooled bars. Decorate with sprinkles as desired. Cut into bars.


I will also be making these Caramel Chip Bars this week. Though they use a cake mix as a base, they are more candy than cake or cookie since they are packed with mini chocolate chips, white chocolate chips and caramel bits. Even though I'm trying to simplify and not make as many things this year, this recipe makes the cut. Yes, it's that good!

I'm linked today to Wake Up Wednesday through Wichita blogger Ashley's Kitchen Meets Girl. Need some other holiday cooking ideas? Click on the Wake Up Wednesday link. 

Monday, December 16, 2013

Peek Into the Manger

Great Bend First United Methodist Church
The light  makes the scene glow like sapphires, emeralds and rubies. The scene is perfection in that light: Each little piece of glass comes together perfectly to make a beautiful picture.

It would be easy to think that's what the Nativity is all about ... beauty, perfection, peace.  It's Advent. At our church, we pull out the perfectly-white porcelain Nativity scene and light the candles.
Nativity made by Dorothy Newell, Stafford UMC

In another church, the glow of stained glass catches the light of gold threads which run through the elaborate clothing garbing Mary, Joseph and the angel. 
Trinity UMC, Great Bend
In sanctuaries across the world, the winter light streams through stained glass windows, showing an idyllic, pristine scene. Mary glows. Joseph beams. Baby Jesus is bathed in the star's light. 
Holy Cross Catholic Church, Hutchinson, KS
But then I remember. Mary was likely 13 years old (or so). Maybe she wasn't so different from the girls in middle school choir, the ones I witness from the piano bench. Yes, the same ones who are nice as pie one day and then moody and withdrawn the next. (Who am I kidding? You don't have to be 13 to be like that.)

Mary was a young, unwed mother. She had just had her first baby - not in a well-appointed delivery room - but in a stable with animals all around. She laid Him in a manger filled with straw, not a crib with sheets that match a nursery theme. It wasn't all that pretty.

Jesus was born to a family that possessed little and worked hard to make ends meet.
How can we, in the midst of our culture's conspicuous consumption and demand for perfection, turn our focus on the Child who was born into poverty as a sign of hope and salvation for a broken world? While it may seem the world demands perfection, the Gospel message demands nothing from us. Rather, God invites us to gather around the manger just as we are: unfinished lists, burnt pies and all. No matter our imperfections, great or small, God invites us to peek into the manger and gaze at the real Christmas message: That Christ came for us all to be a beacon of hope for the hopeless and to bring peace.
Rev. Amy Slater, Stafford UMC newsletter, Christmas 2012

So, when the list seems overwhelming ... and the oven timer is ringing at the same time the dryer bell is sounding ... and there's too much to do in too little time: Remember it's not about perfection. It's about grace. And, like teenage Mary, listening for God's voice in our lives, then obeying.

Gifts don't have to cost a lot of money to be meaningful. I enjoy giving gifts from the kitchen to family, friends, the mailman, the choir director ... the list goes on!

Snack mixes don't take much time to make, but they can be something that your gift recipient can use for unexpected guests or their own family gatherings. And, kind of like stained glass windows, the bits and pieces come together to make a delicious whole! Here are a few tried-and-true recipes that we enjoy at our house and I've given as gifts. Click on the links for the recipes and ENJOY!

This is my December post from Lovely Branches Ministries. Click on this link to read my friend, Suzanne's, ideas for simplifying Christmas.

I'm linked today to Michelle DeRusha's Hear It On Sunday, Use It On Monday. Check out what other bloggers of faith are saying today by clicking on the link.