Thursday, December 28, 2017

Reboot: Christmas Photo Imperfection

Photo by Lisa Bauer
Tradition dictates that we attempt to take my Mom's Christmas Eve birthday photo with all the grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Taking photos of nine children - ages 7 and younger - is not for amateurs, though we tried it anyway. We're just lucky everyone was looking relatively acceptable in a frame or two.

My sister, Lisa, got the best version (the photo at the top of this post).
 In reality, it was more like this ....
... or this ...
 ... or this.

Next year, we'll add another face to the great-grandchild photo - a great-grandson who is to be born in February 2018. I'm guessing the photo results aren't going to get too much better for the foreseeable future.
The grandchildren shot is easier these days. It hasn't always been that way though. The grandchildren have been taking the annual photo for years, 
From left: Abby, Brian, Blake, Mom holding Madison, Jill, Brent & Paige
They've improved since the first version with all seven of them back in 1994. They ought to be experts by now.
If I'm honest, photographing just two of them isn't a piece of cake either.

Maybe just one at a time is the way to go!

Or maybe I should stick to cat photography. Target didn't even move when he got crowned by Brooke.
But Christmas isn't about perfection (though this Type A first-born can't ever quite figure that out during all the preparation).
It's about genuine smiles ...

... family,. love ...

... and a whole lot of moving parts AND moving kids.

Our annual Christmas Eve birthday photo shoot 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.

There was definitely chaos. But, boy, did they have fun!
And so did the birthday girl.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

From Our Family to Yours

It's a Christmas miracle.

No, I don't have all my baking done. I am not just sitting around in the living room enjoying the Christmas lights. (Those would be even more epic Christmas miracles.)

But I did manage to write a Christmas "note" rather than a Christmas "letter" this year and include it with our 2017 photo card. My family didn't think I could do it.
I am not necessarily a believer in the old adage, "A picture is worth a thousand words," though I certainly like photos, too. My former newspaper editors would attest to the fact that I have a tendency to "write long."

Jill gave me a pep talk.

"Just think about how much easier it will be. You won't have to print off letters. You won't have to fold them. You'll be done so much faster."

I've been involved in Christmas photo cards for most of my life. It's a family tradition. I starred in my very first one in 1957, as a 6-month-old baby.
By the time 1958 rolled around, I was already sharing space with my sister, Lisa, on the annual missive from Bob and Janis.

Though my brother, Kent, was born in December 1966, he didn't make the Christmas card until 1967. This is the first photo card with all my siblings. I would have been 10, Lisa, 9, Darci, 6 and Kent was 1.
My parents included their children on the family Christmas card until we graduated from college. Since then, we make occasional appearances with a full-family photo, but most of the time these days, the great-grandchildren are the stars in my parents' annual letter.

Randy and I sent our first photo card in 1981, the year we were married.
We didn't send another photo card until 1985, the year that Jill was born. It was only natural, I suppose, that we continued the tradition with our own children.
Christmas Card Photo - Jill - 1985
We sent one with the three of us in 1986, when Jill was 15 months old. After that, I usually stayed on the other side of the camera and just included the kids. (When you're the one doing the work, you get the most votes.)
Christmas Card Photo - 1986
The first one with Brent was in 1988. Brent would have been about 7 months and Jill was 3.
Christmas Card Photo - 1988
Back when Jill and Brent were little, this annual attempt was captured on film. And you weren't sure what you'd gotten until the film was developed. I have rolls and rolls of film chronicling the misadventures of getting two little kids to look their best in the same frame. The move to digital photography makes the storage problem easier - though it can't help everyone look great in every frame.
This year, I left the photos to Manhattan photographer Jill Grogg, who photographed our family the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. This was another one in contention, but the one on the ground got the most votes from the family.

Oh yeah. The Mount Rushmore photo on the back of the card was taken by a stranger there.  I took her photo, too. Who knows? Maybe that photo ended up on a Christmas card somewhere, too!

I know that Christmas card letters have their share of detractors. But, I love getting cards and letters from people at this time of year. Even in this electronic communication age, I send quite a few Christmas cards. It's been a way for me to keep in touch of childhood friends and college buddies, along with sending greetings to family members across the U.S. and seasoning's greetings to neighbors.

So Facebook friends and Kim's County Line followers:  Merry Christmas from our family to yours! 

Thursday, December 14, 2017

One-Pot Swedish Meatball Pasta

It still comes as a bit of a shock when I get an email from Brent with a recipe to try. Jill? Sure. She's been cooking and baking since she was a little girl. But while Brent lived at home, the kitchen wasn't on his radar. I tried to get him to choose 4-H foods and nutrition for a project. Nope, he wasn't interested.

These days, though, he's the one getting supper on the table at his house.

Wait. No, he's not getting "supper" on the table. He's whipping up "dinner." Our two children have become city folk. They eat "lunch" and "dinner" ... well, unless they are here on the County Line. Then they eat "dinner" and "supper," though Brent has been known to "argue" with me about the semantics.

Whether for "dinner" or "supper" or "lunch," Brent was right:  This easy one-pot meal is a keeper. I had thawed hamburger in the fridge. So I threw the recipe together Tuesday morning after helping move cattle and had it ready to go quickly and easily. I served it with a green salad, and it was an easy meal after a busy morning.

The meatballs have less moisture than my regular recipe. But the denser quality keeps them together while you're stirring the sauce and noodles, I think.

We can all use something that's quick and easy during this busy time of year, right?!
One-Pot Swedish Meatball Pasta
Adapted from Tasty Recipes
1 lb. ground beef
1/2 cup seasoned bread crumbs
1/2 onion, finely minced
1 egg
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
2 tbsp. canola oil
2 cups beef broth (or hot water and bouillon)
2 cups milk
1 tbsp. worcestershire sauce
4 cups egg noodles
1 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup fresh parsley (or about 2 tbsp. dried)
Additional salt and pepper to taste

In a large bowl, combine ground beef, bread crumbs, onion, salt and pepper; mix until evenly combined.

Heat the canola oil in a pot or large skillet over medium-high Take golf-ball-sized portions of the meatball mixture and roll it into balls. (I used a cookie scoop.) Place the meatballs into the heated skillet, cooking about 1 minute. Flip the meatballs and brown on all sides.

Add the beef broth, milk and worcestershire sauce and stir. Bring the liquid to a boil. Add the egg noodles. Stir several times while the pasta is cooking and the liquid is reducing to a sauce that coats the noodles, about 7 to 8 minutes.

Add the Parmesan and parsley, stirring until the cheese melts. Add additional salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle with additional Parmesan cheese and parsley to serve, if desired.

Note: I didn't have fresh parsley, so I used dried. I sprinkled a little more on top for color for the photos.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Dismissal with Blessing

God be in your head, and in your understanding. 
God be in your eyes, and in your looking. 
God be in your mouth, and in your speaking. 
God be in your heart, and in your thinking. 
God be in your hands, and in your working. 
God be in your feet, and in your going. 
God be at your end, and at your departing. Amen.

Pastor Nate offered those words at the end of a funeral service yesterday. He called it a "dismissal with blessing."

For me, the blessing wasn't just something "pretty" to say at the end of a funeral. Because I wanted to really think about the words, I asked him to email me a copy this morning.

They could have been the "theme song" for the entire day ... for life in the church ... for life itself. What if I approached life with God in my head, eyes, mouth, heart, hands and feet? What if that was my goal for every day? Every hour? Every minute?

I think funerals - these unique celebrations of life in the midst of death - help us to think about such things. Families and friends come together to remember. And a church family embraces those whose loss cuts to the quick - whether it's the death of the matriarch of the family, as it was during yesterday's services for Phyllis - or the death of an equally important piece of a family's puzzle.

A funeral dinner is symbolic of sharing that love for one another. I think the dinners are among the most important services at our church. Our family has been on the receiving end a couple of times. Having a place to gather around a meal after saying goodbye to a beloved family member is a priceless gift.

Besides helping serve, my assignments for the meal yesterday were a salad and a recipe of cheesy potatoes. This time, the potato casserole was about more than stirring together hash browns, cheese, sour cream and other ingredients. This time, it really was a memorial to Phyllis, the woman whose life we would celebrate.

As I pulled out my big red mixing bowl Sunday evening, I remembered that potato casserole was often Phyllis' assignment for Stafford UMC funeral dinners, too. She - like me - was a farm wife. So she carried those potatoes down the stairs at the church in an insulated container - one that I'm sure she also used for carrying many a harvest meal to the field.

Sunday night, I'd stirred up a recipe of cheesy potatoes, probably using a recipe similar to hers. And I thought about her friendship with my late mother-in-law, another woman who made many a salad or cake or potato casserole for a funeral dinner before we - as her family - were on the receiving end after her unexpected death.

The funeral dinner is that "dismissal with blessing" in action.  At our church, Marion and Wanda have made "Methodist meatloaf" 200 times for funeral dinners. Others make cakes, salads and potato casseroles at their own homes and bring them to be shared by the grieving family. A few of us gather to serve the meal, pouring out smiles and hugs along with hot coffee.
However, just like with any "family," we can get offended by the smallest of things. We don't load the dishwasher to someone's exacting directions, and we huff and puff under our breath, miffed that our shortcomings are pointed out instead of celebrating our efforts. We bristle when our way of doing something is questioned.

But what if I took the words of the "dismissal with blessing" to heart? What if I looked at those situations through God's eyes? What if I recognized another's work as God's hands and feet at work in this world?
This season of Advent gives us a chance to again consider how Christ comes to us. We remember the longing of Jews for a Messiah and our own longing for, and need of, forgiveness, salvation and a new beginning.
Even as we look back and celebrate the birth of Jesus in a humble stable in Bethlehem, we also look forward, anticipating the second coming of Christ as the fulfillment of all that was promised by His first coming.

I've been using several resources for my Advent devotionals (While We Wait: Living the Questions of Advent by Mary Lou Redding, and Down to Earth: The Hopes and Fears of All the Years Are Met in Thee Tonight, by Mike Slaughter and Rachel Billups.)

But maybe this simple "dismissal with blessing" sums it up best:
 God be in your head, and in your understanding. 
God be in your eyes, and in your looking. 
God be in your mouth, and in your speaking. 
God be in your heart, and in your thinking. 
God be in your hands, and in your working. 
God be in your feet, and in your going. 
God be at your end, and at your departing. Amen. 
But I need to open the doors of my heart and mind for that little baby to truly arrive.  Because that little baby is also my Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Angels Among Us

Kinley is not sure the Santa we saw at Manhattan's WalMart was the real Santa - her words, not mine.

"I think the real Santa might be too busy working in his workshop," Kinley told us.

The WalMart Santa was friendly enough, but he wasn't as hefty as the stereotypical version. And then, when we went to a Christmas festival just down the road at Blue Earth Plaza and saw Santa again, Kinley was even more skeptical.

"How'd he get over here so fast?" she said, as we hurried the duo past the curving line of children and parents waiting to talk to Santa and checked out the ice sculptures instead.
Brooke didn't offer an opinion about Santa's authenticity. But she was not going to interact without the buffer provided by Grandpa. 

Randy is hoping that it was the real guy from the North Pole and not just an imposter.

"I want a new tractor," he boldly told the man.
"What kind?" Santa's helper asked.
"Red," Randy proclaimed, clearly trying to appeal to the guy's fashion sense.

Santa looked at me and said, "Do you suppose he'll get a red tractor for Christmas?"

I looked at Santa and said, "I kind of doubt it, even though he's been pretty good this year."

At the time, I was questioning my decision to be at WalMart on a Saturday in December. When we entered the doors, there wasn't a cart available. We waited until someone leaving politely asked if we needed a cart.

And I was there with two little girls - neither of whom wanted to ride in the cart. They were willing to hold onto the cart, but that made us worthy of a "wide load" designation in a store packed with shoppers, carts and aisles with items strategically placed to entice us to buy, buy, buy!

But we were there for a specific purpose: Before we left Stafford to babysit the girls for the weekend, I'd gotten a gift tag from the Stafford Angel Tree. I asked for a little girl in the 3 to 6 age range because I wanted my experts to help me.

There were a couple of reasons for that. First, I'm notoriously decision-challenged. (Just ask my family.) Second, I thought it was a good exercise for Kinley and Brooke. On our way across town, I told the girls that we were going to shop for a little girl who, according to the gift tag, "likes reading and coloring," two activities they love, too. I told them that the tag gave us her shoe size and clothing sizes and that we'd pick out those things, too. Her parent also said, "She'll be happy with anything!" That sentiment made me even more eager for the girls to wander the toy aisles for what they thought would be the perfect toy to add to the Christmas bag.

I explained that this little girl might not get much for Christmas unless we helped out.

"Why?" my curious helpers asked.

"Well, sometimes Mommys and Daddys don't have enough money to buy toys or even new shoes," I explained. "Sometimes boys and girls don't have as much as you guys do, so it's up to us to help them out so they can have a fun Christmas, too, just like you guys will."

Earlier in the month, the girls and their Mommy had already packed shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child, a project at their church. They had found treasures small enough to pack inside a shoe box.

For the Angel Tree project, we didn't have that size restriction. The hardest part was paring down the girls' choices. In the end, they picked out light-up shoes, saying their Mommy didn't let them choose the illuminated version for themselves during their last shoe-shopping trip. They selected clothing, books, coloring book and crayons, as well as a baby doll complete with stuffed animal.
When Jill and Eric got home, Jill quizzed the girls about what they'd done. They talked about the cookie decorating and the ice sculptures at the Christmas festival. They showed their craft creations.

But then Brooke offered an explanation about shopping for another little girl. And I was amazed at how much her 3-year-old mind had retained, telling Mommy that we were helping a little girl have a good Christmas.

I usually bring a bag of library books to read when we visit the girls. This past weekend, my voice was out of commission because of a cold. But there were evidently lessons taking place anyway.

Besides the lessons about sharing and giving, Grandma learned that she still was able to get three people ready and out the door in time for an 8:30 church service. (I did let Grandpa fight a shoe selection battle while I went to change.)
Grandma also learned that it's nice to just sit in the audience and enjoy the show at a church Christmas program. (I was in charge of the Stafford UMC Christmas musicals and programs for a lot of years, so I appreciate all the work behind the scenes.)

And, if I get discouraged about my lack of progress in decorating and baking for Christmas because I'm still fighting this silly cold, I'll just watch the video of Brooke and her preschool buddies rehearsing their big moment in the church Christmas program. And I'll remember her sweet little voice telling her Mommy that we were helping another little girl have a good Christmas.

That's what it's all about anyway.

Brooke's Away in a Manger from Kim Fritzemeier on Vimeo.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Messy Eaters

It's always good when you see your guests are enjoying the buffet, don't you think?

While waiting for the vet to arrive one day, I imagined this conversation among our feeder calves:
Our current feeder calves are the "baby" calves born this past January and February. 
As I took a look through the "family album," I felt a little like that aunt who always says, "My, how you've grown!" (Below, I did find 7106 which was "talking" with its mouth full during the imagined bovine conversation. Sorry for the blurry photo, taken after we worked the calves in mid-March.)
During their time in the summer pastures, the calves bulked up on mother's milk and - just like human babies - they began adding solids to their diet . (Below photos were taken during a pasture check in July.)

We brought the calves and their mothers home from the Ninnescah pasture on a foggy day in early November.
The calves were weaned from their mamas when we brought them home. If their messy faces are any indication, the calves are thoroughly enjoying their daily buffet of silage and hay. Actually, they are kind of like toddlers, in that their food ends up on places other than their faces. (Read about our silage harvest at this link and all about alfalfa at this link.)
 Some of the mamas are now cleaning up sudan and milo stalks.
Others were initially on wheat stubble, eating volunteer wheat (below).

Last week, we moved those cows onto an alfalfa field to graze. (After looking at the photos, I realize that we've had a lot of overcast days while moving cattle this fall. Unfortunately, that didn't lead to any rain, and our part of the state is now in a moderate drought.)
It seemed we interrupted this mama in mid-chew during the cattle move last week. But just like the rest of us during the holidays, she'll find plenty more food on the buffet.