Saturday, December 27, 2014

Goals for 2015

We've reached that time of year again...that week between Christmas and the New Year when many minds turn towards upcoming resolutions.  I personally don't make resolutions.  It's almost a joke to see how quickly they get broken.  Ask any gym member and they'll tell you how long they have to wait for machines those first 2 or 3 weeks of January, but by February it's back to the few regular exercisers who were already committed without a resolution necessary.  

Instead of  "I'll start doing this good habit or stop doing this bad habit for the rest of my life" I am choosing a set of goals.  They'll have a start and end (or be a singular event) and I'll be able to determine if the goal has been met.

1. I will post to my blog every week.  

I did manage to complete the blogging through the alphabet challenge, but didn't make my 52 weeks of Rescued Books in 2014.  I am still debating on a year long theme or just making sure I share with you regularly.  I will be part of the 2015 Review Crew so you know I'll be sharing my experiences with some great homeschooling products.

2. I will learn how to make good fried chicken

One of my husband's favorite meals is a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken.  I know I won't be able to duplicate their recipe exactly because they pressure fry their birds.  Still, I'd like to be able to make an acceptable version at home.  I'll be saving gas money (our nearest KFC is a 26 mile round trip) as well as the food costs (think about it---one chicken at the store is $4-5, but $12-14 cut up in a bucket).

3. I will make Jesse Tree Ornaments

I came upon the idea of a Jesse Tree for Advent too late in the year to make one, but I've been pinning ideas for ornaments.  I've already spoken to another homeschool mom and we may organize an ornament swap.  I want to make a set for my family and give two as gifts for my mom and step-mom.

So what about you?  Do you still make resolutions?  What goals do you have for the coming year?

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Saturday, December 20, 2014

Advent Conspiracy: Worship Fully

Funny how I thought I’d just have one post on Advent Conspiracy this year, and now I’m on my third one.  Earlier this week my husband received and email from his prayer partner and our pastor asking for input on what keeps you from worshipping Christmas fully—the theme for tomorrow’s message.  The Toolman emailed back his response, but I decided to write this post on what my answer would have been had I been asked.

In 1998 I had the opportunity to visit the Holy Land with my father & stepmother and a group from their church.  One of the many sites we visited was the town of Bethlehem –the very place where the original Christmas occurred.  Surely one would be able to fully appreciate and worship the babe in a manger there if anywhere in the world!  FYI: I didn’t have time to dig in the basement for my own pictures—I’ve still got holiday baking to do and presents to wrap. (Hmmm, there’s a clue for attentive readers)  So these are all images I found  on Wikimedia Commons.

We were actually in Israel the week before Holy Week, so I’m guessing we were at the high end if not the very peak of tourism crowds.  While the focus was on the Easter sites in Jerusalem, anyone who’s traveled around the world to be there wasn’t going to pass up the nativity sites in Bethlehem—especially since they’re only 5-6 miles away.

Entrance to the Church of the Nativity (7703543954)




I confess my excitement was building as we got off the bus and so the sites familiar but till now seen only in books or on TV.  We walked through Manger Square and had to significantly bend over to pass through the entrance known as The Door of Humility.







And once through the doorway we beheld …..a line as long as any you’ll find waiting to see a shopping mall Santa.  It seems we weren’t  the only tour group who thought they’d be clever and leave the Jerusalem crowds behind that day.  We had plenty of time to study these columns in our hour plus wait.

Bethlehem Church of the Nativity main nave

Finally we reached the main altar area (see below).  I’ll be frank here and say there must be something about flash photography that makes the ornate lamps and decorations appear glistening and gleaming.  My impression in person was that everything was extremely dirty and dusty—like a neglected (and slightly tacky) antiques store.

Church of the Nativity (Bethlehem)

What you can’t see in this photograph were the streams of people kissing the icons in front, nor the two “kiosks” on either side where priests were selling incense.  Perhaps it was being distributed with the expectation of a donation, all I know was that money was being exchanged—apparently Jesus’s rant about “a den of thieves” had fallen of deaf ears.  You may not realize that the Church of the Nativity is administered by three different denominations:Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Armenian Apostolic.  I don’t remember which two were doling out the incense, but as most of the exchanges were done in foreign languages I imagined them saying “Buy our incense and your prayers will reach Heaven faster!”

The stand to the right seemed to have the brisker business, perhaps because that side also had the entrance to the grotto, cave-like area where Christ was born.  At this semicircle of steps leading down all semblance of order from the line dissipated.  People wriggled and squeezed toward the doorway—holding hands with the others of their group so if one made it in, the others could snake in behind them.  That old Christian belief that the last shall be first was tossed out the window—there were busses waiting and schedules to keep.


The Grotto holds two features—the first is the spot where “it is believed” Jesus was born. If you ever travel to the Holy Land you’ll get used to that phrase.  Again, flash photography make this look more gleaming and less dusty.  People stand in line to place there hand on or kiss this spot.  Lest someone become overwhelmed with awe and want to actually worship, there is a priest standing by to instruct them to “move along.”

This spot I remember wasn’t administered by the Roman Catholics.  They had their own attraction across the room:  the spot where Mary laid Jesus in the manger.  At some point in history, a pope donated the marble replica that now stands there.  As I stood nearby, the voice of Indiana Jones popped in my head, “That isn’t the manger of a carpenter’s son.”

I left the Church of the Nativity with far different emotions than I’d arrived with.  The excitement and anticipation were gone, trampled on by the crowds, the commercialism, the constant urging to move forward and not linger, the gaudy decorations and the people seeming to worship them rather than the real Reason for the Season.  I left with disappointment that the day wasn’t living up to expectations.

The story isn’t over though – we got back on our tour bus and our next stop was…the middle of nowhere.  There were no crowds, nor any buildings to be seen.   I don’t know if we were in the spot actually designated “Shepherd’s Field” or not, but while we stopped to read the Bible passage about the angels bringing the good news a Bedouin boy came over the hill leading a flock of goats.  We stopped to help him draw water from a well.  We watched the kids frolic and butt heads.  It was simple and natural and the closest I’ve ever felt to the Christmas story.

Before I close I want to say, I’m not anti-religion or anti-catholic and I’m not saying you shouldn’t go see the Church of the Nativity if you have the chance.  What I am saying is that if you’re struggling to get that Christmas spirit this year maybe you need to lay aside the trappings of Christmas—the decorations, the entertaining, the cooking and baking, the crowds.  Remember, God himself didn’t enter the world with great pomp and circumstance. He chose a very simple story: a young girl, a humble manger, and some shepherds as witnesses.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Advent Conspiracy & Living Water

My last post focused on our church’s annual participation with the Advent Conspiracy.  For those of you unfamiliar, there are four tenets (one for each Sunday of Advent): Spend Less, Give More, Love All & Worship Fully.  I did not mention the main charity promoted by the national Advent Conspiracy organization : Living Water International.  This group drills wells to provide clean drinking water in communities around the world. Events this week have forced me to focus on what life must be like for the folks who are still waiting for Living Water to come to their town.

Sunday evening my husband, the Toolman was preparing to brush his teeth before bed, but when he turned the faucet absolutely nothing happened!  He tried to turn on the shower…again nothing.  We live with a well system and depend on a pump to bring up water from 160 feet below our house and for unknown reasons the pump wasn’t working.   We checked the circuit breakers and confirmed electricity was still running to the controls but we’d have to call for service in the morning.

Now we’re not entirely new at this no water situation…if there’s an ice storm or other emergency to knock out the power we lose our pump as well so I usually keep 5 or 6 gallon jugs of water on hand.  Unfortunately, all the jugs in our kitchen had been used to fill the dog’s water bowl and certain parties (who now understand why I harp on such things) had failed to refill those jugs when emptied.  We managed to find a partial gallon of water in the downstairs bathroom (our tornado shelter). 

In the morning, the Toolman had to heat that water on the stove to shave.  Then I used the rest  for a sponge bath.  Oops…now we were out of water and I couldn’t exactly go knocking on the neighbors’ doors at 6 am asking to borrow a cup or two.  For the next several hours it seemed everything needed water—the dog’s bowl was empty, my son had to start brushing his teeth with a dry brush and complained that he couldn’t rinse, I was planning to make real hot chocolate  to drink and getting the sugar and cocoa to mix and dissolve without that little bit of water to kick start the process was a chore.

I figured 9 am was a safe enough hour to call on neighbors, but I couldn’t find anyone at home.  There I was going up and down the road with my little wagon load of empty ice tea jugs.  I ended up going home and trying to reach folds by phone.  Of course after nine I could also call the well digging service—they were out on calls and couldn’t get to me that day.  Finally I reached a neighbor who let me fill up five jugs and knew the name of another well service, the ones who had actually drilled ours. They were also out on a call, but thought they’d be able to swing by in the afternoon.

More waiting….dishes piled up in the sink—I wasn’t going to waste our limited supply on them.  High on my priority list was being able to refill the toilet tank because some things just have to be flushed down right away.  Decisions on what to eat and what to plan for dinner all revolved around how much what it would use up – rice and pasta were definitely out.

That afternoon the serviceman arrived.  The fault lay in the control box in our basement so they didn’t even have to dig up the yard or pull up the pump itself.  It was a real pleasure to turn on all the faucets and showerheads and flush the toilets to get all the air out of the lines. 

I share all this not to make anyone feel bad for me, my water problems were brief and now a memory.  I only wish to point out that for many people, the search for clean water is a daily struggle.  How far must they walk?  How safe is it to travel to the water and back again and once the task is done how clean is the water really? 

Living Water International is one of the charities recommended by Advent Conspiracy.  For around $25, they can provide clean water to a family of five for a year!  Look through your Christmas shopping list—isn’t there one gift you could purposefully choose not to buy so you could give this life-saving gift of water to someone really in need?

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Advent Conspiracy 2014

Let me ask the question--what does Christmas mean to you?  There are many good answers: getting together with family & friends, beautiful music & lights, and of course we can't forget the real Reason for the Season.  Perhaps it's my proximity to Ferguson (my mother actually grew up there), but this year I'm praying for some real Peace on Earth.  What's not on my list?  Shopping malls, lists of gifts to buy, hefty credit card bills come January.

Since we've moved back home to Missouri, we've participated in our church's
Advent Conspiracy project and it's four principles: Worship Fully, Spend Less, Give More, and Love All.  This video is several years old now and estimates are Americans will spend over $600 Billion to celebrate this year.  That would surely rebuild all those stores and buildings that burned down in the riots.

This week I thought I'd focus the middle two, specifically how I can spend less at the stores and give more of myself with homemade gifts from the kitchen.  BONUS: I can also give more quality time to my son if he helps me make memories along with the goodies.  So here's just a few ideas.


It's the standby, by who doesn't love it.  Can't bake?  You can make Rice Crispy Treats or those birds nests with melted chocolate & Chow Mein noodles.

Quick Breads

Pumpkin bread or banana bread.  Here's a link to the persimmon bread I love to give.

Yeast Breads

The sad part is you can’t wrap up the wonderful smell of freshly baked bread, but I don’t think that will keep anyone from turning down the loaf or basket of rolls you offer.


Try making some peppermint bark with white chocolate.  I’ll be trying a new peanut brittle recipe I found on Food Network.

Homemade Spice Blends

Got a secret recipe for a special BBQ rub—you don’t have to share the recipe, just bag it up.  It’s all in the presentation…here’s a link to the Southwestern Dip mix we shared two Christmases ago.

Gifts in a Jar

Don’t want to do the baking yourself?  You can layer cookie ingredients like sand art in mason jars—just be sure to include the directions and a list of perishable ingredients the recipient will need to add.  Or maybe you can make up a Russian Tea or Hot Cocoa mix.

Facial Scrubs

Not everything has to be eaten.  I’ve found several recipes online for facial scrubs that use sugar as the main ingredient (always on sale during this prime baking season).  Add a little extract or essential oil and voila!

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