Tidings of Comfort and Joy

We received our first Christmas card today.  It's almost guaranteed that the first card of the season will come from this particular family, and it always makes us laugh.  For one thing, the younger son in this family is an amateur cartoonist, and his parents have always let him create an original design, which they then have printed.  He's 18 now, and shows some promise, but some of the early cards were just, well, awful, and also awfully funny.  He's always been a really witty kid, and his cards generally poke fun at his parents decorating for Christmas.  His older brother sings, and this year, the card includes a cd titled, "Elvis 2009."  I promise we will not make you listen to it, if you're at our house in the next few weeks.  Unless it's really good--you never know.

We so enjoy receiving cards each year.  I know it's an expensive endeavor--postage alone is costly.  But still, even in the world of social networking and emails, I think it's a tradition worth keeping.  I ordered our Christmas cards online a few nights ago from Shutterfly.com.  I had a coupon for free shipping, and I got 25 cards free, so I think I did well.  A good friend took the photo we're using.  I liked the card choices Shutterfly offered because you can write your own text on the inside.  I found out today that Costco also offers a great selection of online cards (a few are shown above), which can be ordered and then printed and picked up at your local Costco.  I really need to always check Costco first.  I'll be there Thursday or Friday picking up pecans and shrimp as well as the usual routine items.

In my growing-up family, my father always did the Christmas cards.  That was the tradition.  He always chose a wintry scene of a train, and he ordered them by mail from the Leanin' Tree Company.  Dad has sent "train cards" as he calls them for years and years.  I began receiving them in 1987, and I have saved them all.  When my paternal grandmother died, I discovered that she had saved them for years as well, and that she even had the first card my father had sent when he was in the Navy in 1956, I believe.  I added her collection to my own, and I pull them out each Christmas.  They are bundled together and tied with a gold satin ribbon.  Sometime during the season, I always take a few minutes to read through them.  Dad's perfect penmanship is unchanged, only the signatures vary from that of a single son to a young married couple to that of one with children to empty nesters.

If you send holiday cards, address a couple to Holiday Mail for Heroes, and drop them in the mailbox before Monday, December 7.  The American Red Cross and Pitney Bowes are teaming up again this year to deliver as many good wishes as possible to those serving in the U.S. Military all over the world.  For details, visit http://www.redcross.org/

Wishing you many tidings of comfort and joy this season!

It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like . . .

Blessed Advent!  Today is the first Sunday in the Christian season of Advent, one of the most meaningful times of the year for me.  Traditionally, the Advent season has called believers from a time of dark and hopeless night to joyful expectation of the coming Light.  Certainly, we can hear the longing in such hymns as "O Come, O Come Emmanuel," and "Come Thou Long-expected Jesus," as the Israelites waited for God's Redeemer in the first Advent, or coming, of the Christ.  How much more we wait and yearn today for the second Advent, when Christ will reign as King and sin will be destroyed!

And so, this time of waiting and anticipating becomes a time of preparation.  Practically speaking, that looks like cleaning house.  And today, after church, that's what we did.  Mr. T&C and Little took care of the windows, while I put away all the fall/Thanksgiving decorations.  Then, some mopping, dusting, vacuuming, and scrubbing (those Mr. Clean erasers really work, by the way) to finish the job.  Now, no one much likes to pile Christmas decorations into a dirty house, but to have the mind-set of "getting ready," well, to me, it makes a world of difference.  So, the house is clean and waiting.

I  sat down Thanksgiving night and sneezed seven times straight.  A cold.  I worked all day Friday, but by five o'clock I had the chills and all the bones in my face ached.  Sinus infection.  I went straight to bed, and Saturday I stayed home while the Mister, Big, Middle, and Little went to get our Christmas tree.  We always go to the same little tree farm in Cedar Mountain, North Carolina.  I was bitterly disappointed that I didn't get to go, but they chose a beautiful tree, a Frasier fir, and it's on our deck, waiting.

Tonight, I made some turkey chili and enjoyed the clean house and thought it would be smart to make some kind of Christmas something, so I made two rolls of Cranberry-Pecan shortbread cookie dough, a slight modification of the cookies in the December issue of Southern Living (http://www.southernliving.com/).  To glam them up slightly, I shaped them in squares and then pressed each side in crystal decorator's sugar before wrapping them in parchment, sealing in a Ziploc bag, and putting them in the freezer.  To wait.

Then, the Mister and I settled into the den to watch the original Miracle on 34th Street.  How fun to see New York City as it was in 1947; part of the movie was actually filmed on two floors of Macy's.  My favorite line belongs to one of the movie's most minor characters, Mrs. Shellhammer.  Slightly smashed on martinis, she bubbles, "Why we'd love to have Santy Claus stay with us!  It would be simply charming."   We only watch that movie once a year, and it's always worth the wait.

So many things are.

Raise the Song of Harvest Home

 My parents are visiting us for Thanksgiving. They arrived Tuesday, which was less than 48 hours after our Florida friends returned to see the Clemson v. Virginia game. This time there were seven teenagers total, three adults, and one Little. It did not rain, but it was cold. I served chili for a late supper, and in the morning we had sausage, egg, and cheese bites, which were a huge hit.

Several weeks ago we were invited to take part in the Thanksgiving service at our church.  It is typically a fairly small service, held in the Chapel rather than the Sanctuary.  We each had a small part in a prayer; then Mr. T&C and I led the responsive reading of Psalm 92.  Finally, Big led the Apostle's Creed before the Benediction was given.  It was an honor to be part of this time of worship, and I think that this service will become a part of our Thanksgiving tradition. 
In 15 years of marriage, I have made Thanksgiving dinner 13 times.  The largest crowd was 18, and my brother-in-law did deep fry the turkey that year.  So, I have roasted 12 Thanksgiving turkeys and a few Christmas ones as well.  I have rubbed them with olive oil, with butter, and with various combinations of herbs and wine.  I have stuffed them with onions and lemons or with apples and onions.  This year, I decided to try a dry rub.  So before we left for church, I rubbed some butter over the bird, and then lavishly patted it down with a mixture of brown sugar, paprika, and salt and pepper.  I stuffed it with onions and slid it into the oven.  We returned home about two hours later, and the house smelled divine.  Half an hour later, I pulled the turkey out to check it, and it looked perfect!  Temperature? Perfect.  So I covered it loosely with foil and left it to rest while I finished the remaining loose ends.
At last, all was ready and we sat down to dinner.  After a few words of gratitude around the table and a prayer of Thanksgiving, Mr. T&C began to carve the bird.  He was eager to try some techniques he had seen Tyler Florence use on the Today show.  He plunged the tip of the knife into the crispy brown skin, but the knife didn't penetrate.  He aimed a bit farther down, thinking he had hit breastbone the first time.  Again, nothing.  So, we whisked the turkey into the kitchen, where I discovered I had roasted it upside down!  (Did I mention I had a terrible headache before church this morning?)  We flipped that bird over, and sliced him right up.  Oh, it was a mess and all the good, crispy caramelized sugar skin was on the underside, but the turkey itself was tender and moist.  So, I am planning to try, try again. 
brown sugar roast turkey with gravy
cornbread dressing with sausage and pecans
cranberry sauce
broccoli casserole
corn pudding
sweet potato souffle
Sister Schubert's rolls
pumpkin pie
derby pie
whipped cream

Let's All Go to the Lobby

Mr. T&C and I had our first real date in November 1993, when we saw Tim Burton's Nightmare Before Christmas.  After Mr. T&C made sure that we had great seats, he politely excused himself, and returned in a few minutes with a tub of popcorn and soft drinks.  He then pulled a packet of peanut M&Ms out of his shirt pocket and poured them into the popcorn.  I had been brought up under the instruction that going to the movies was treat enough; refreshments were overpriced distractions. As you might imagine, a spontaneous offering of popcorn sprinkled with candy was--well, let's just say, things looked promising.

Sixteen years later, another November night, and the Mister and I decided to see another Christmas movie (albeit a bit early in the season), so we headed to the only locally owned theatre in Greenville for A Christmas Carol.  It was well done--true to the story.  The computer animation was exceptional; certain scenes of London were lovely.  But.  Why did it have to be 3D?  The glasses are kind of a pain, and even though in certain places the 3D effects were quite good, I can't get past knowing that it's not 3D.  I feel the same way about pop-up books.  Sometimes they're kind of clever, but what's important--to me, anyway--is the story.  So, I didn't love this version of A Christmas Carol, although I do love the book and I think the George C. Scott version on film is pretty wonderfully made. 

Don't worry, we still got popcorn.  Just no M&Ms.

Mixing Business with Pleasure

Mr. T&C and I work pretty well together, but there is the occasional difference of opinion.  You know, the kind where I'm right and he's wrong?! Kidding.  Really.  Well, a few weeks ago we got a bit crossways with each other, and one of our well-meaning employees (married just over a year, herself) recommended that we go on a date.  Now, honestly, some days I would rather stomp around a bit and turn the thermostat up without telling and eat the last cookie, but there have been times in our union when we intentionally set aside time to be alone and uninterrupted, and it did work out rather nicely, so, we decided we would have a regular Friday date.  Just one hitch.  We have a twelve noon curfew!  So, my date takes Middle and Little to school, and then he picks me up, and we go out.  Some of our dates are more business meeting than anything else--a cup of coffee, a look over each other's calendar, an idea for a clever ad, and it's time to go to work. 

Today, however, we tried to work in a little more date.  We had coffee at home and then browsed through one of our favorite antique malls.  Next, we took a quick turn through the Habitat for Humanity thrift store because you never know what you might find there.  Nothing is what we found today, which was perfect because it's exactly what we could afford! 

We did treat ourselves to an early lunch at The Green Room, which is a new restaurant on Main Street.  We both had a cup of the cauliflower soup, which was quite tasty.  We split an Orchard Sandwich--thinly sliced apples, gorgonzola, toasted walnuts, baby greens, and balsamic vinaigrette on toasted ciabatta bread.   It was really good.  The service was attentive and friendly, and the restaurant is attractive.  After lunch, we did a little window-shopping, and then it was back to our own little corner of Main Street.

If he asks me, I would definitely go out with him again.

Walk on the Wild Side! or why I like T. J. Maxx

Last spring I spotted these Chooka rain boots at TJ Maxx, and after waffling a bit, I decided that for $20 they should be mine.  They are a little "out there" for me, but I thought I would enjoy having them to wear when I walked Maid Marian on rainy days.  So far this week, it's rained four inches, and I have worn these boots plenty.  Making my find all the sweeter was seeing them at Nordstrom's for $80.  Woohoo.

Now, I just need to find a black trench coat to complete my rainy day ensemble.   After all, I already have my NYC Salvation Army umbrella!

And why do you worry about clothes?  See how the lilies of the field grow.  They do not labor or spin.  Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these.  If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will He not much more clothe you?  Matthew 6:28-30

Honoring Veterans

Anchors Aweigh
Blue of the Seven Seas; Gold of God's great sun
Let these our colors be Till all time be done-n-n-ne,
By Severn shore we learn Navy's stern call:
Faith, courage, service true With honor over, honor over all.

Both Mr. T&C's and my fathers served in the United States military.  Mr. T&C's dad left Michigan as an 18-year-old boy to join the Army to serve in World War 2.  He spent most of his tour in Italy, and to this day, he doesn't care for pizza.  He never talked at home about his experiences during the War, but surely they were life-changing.  He and the Mister's mother used to babysit for us often when the children were little.  One afternoon the boys were playing with their green army men, and something about their set-up seemed different to me. I asked a question or two, and Middle, who must have been about four at the time, could tell me the rank and mission of each soldier, based on his stance and weaponry.  When I asked him how he knew so much, Big piped up and said, "Papaw's teaching us."  Later, when Big had to interview a veteran for a school project, he chose his grandfather.  All of us were shocked to learn that "Papaw" had barely escaped with his life on at least two occasions.  In one case, he was awaiting his relief from guard duty when he heard a noise; he stepped outside to see if the noise was the approaching soldier, and seconds later, the guardhouse exploded!  On another occasion, he was guarding a prisoner who had managed to conceal a pistol--again another narrow escape!

My dad  (that's him on the left) served in the Navy during peacetime--after World War 2 and Korea, but before Vietnam.  He sailed the Atlantic, the Carribbean, and the Mediterranean on a destroyer, the USS Bearss, shown above docked in Norfolk.  Several years ago at a fund-raising dinner, Dad had the opportunity to meet Senator Bob Dole, a man and veteran Dad has long admired.  Dad said something about not serving or sacrificing as greatly as others, and Senator Dole wisely said, "You were ready to, and that's what matters." 

 To all who went and to all who were ready to go, thank you.

Back to NYC

Started off  Friday with another tasty breakfast in the Carnegie Lounge of Hotel Wales.  From some hotel literature and my well-worn copy of Access: New York--a great travel guide, by the way--we determined that the Carnegie Lounge used to be called the Pied Piper Room and featured charming murals depicting scenes from "The Pied Piper" and other children's stories.  One of the front desk staff told the Mister that all the murals were removed about a year ago; it seems a shame.  Still the people-watching is quite good from this vantage point--lots of dog-walkers and UE moms pushing strollers and getting little ones off to school.  We left the hotel and headed out into the next day of our adventure, once again walking over to 5th Avenue.  The weather forecast was dismal--cold and rainy, but it wasn't raining yet, so we crossed into Central Park to see what we could see.  Despite the chill, it was wonderful.  We saw the Alice in Wonderland sculpture; the Hans Christian Andersen Ugly Duckling sculpture; and the sculpture of the famous Iditarod winner Balto.  We walked and walked, seeing the conservatory boat pond (Stuart Little), the Dairy Barn, Navy Plaza, and Wollman Rink. It was a delightful walk, and, before we knew it, we had walked almost 40 blocks! 

We stepped out into Grand Army Plaza, did a quick look-see in the lobby of the Plaza Hotel (Eloise could have been there!), and then into FAO Schwarz, where Little had a ball. She zoomed through the Barbies and all the pink stuff, meandered through the vast Lego store, admired the array of art and craft supplies, and finally lost herself in the Schleich toys. After quite a bit of deliberation, she settled on a lionness, a kangaroo, and an Indian for her collection. We settled up and then headed out into the cold. We stopped for a photo with the singing toy soldier at the entrance.Little just loved this place and did not want to leave. Until food came into her mind. When I planned this trip, food was not the focal point, primarily because restaurants are so expensive in NYC. I figured we would find some delis and diners and save the four-star restaurants for another time, and, for the most part, that plan worked well. We found a place called Red Stone Pizzeria on 5th Avenue across from Saks, and we all had a slice of our choice. (Actually the boys had a couple!)

Next stop, the Museum of Modern Art.  Mr T&C and the boys were doubtful about "modern art," but MoMA's collection is really art of the 20th century, so we saw Van Gogh's Starry Night as well as works by Cezanne, Hopper, Warhol, and Mondrian, Little's favorite artist.  We took in two floors of paintings and then we headed to the Architecture and Design floor, which features some of the coolest design in everything from toasters to clothing to furniture to cars. 

We walked a couple of blocks to the west and took a few photos by the amazing lion sculptures at the New York Public Library.  Then, with some encouragement from me, we climbed the well-worn marble steps to see some of the most beautiful architecture ever--gorgeous floors, paneling, moldings, murals, and furniture--and all of it used everyday.  The Rose Reading room was magnificent, and I was soooo curious as to what all those people were studying and reading about.

The day was still cloudy and cold, but we decided to take another shot at seeing the Empire State Building, so we walked down to 34th Street and hopped on the elevator and zoomed to the 86th floor observatory.  I have to interrupt myself here to say, if you are going to NYC and plan to see the Empire State Building and/or any of the major museums, get a City Pass.  You can buy them online at http://www.citypass.com/ or from Costco.  Admissions are close to half what single ticket prices are, and we didn't stand in any lines.  Occasionally, the City Pass entitles you to an extra perk, which was the case at the ESB, where we received the audio tour with our City Pass.  The tour was really interesting and informative--even the children liked it.   The view was amazing.  It was freezing, but, even so we didn't want to leave.  To see the city lights come on--first the bridges, then the Chrysler Building and 30 Rock--was really magical.

The lights of Times Square were beckoning, though, so we headed up to Broadway for the New Amsterdam Theater.  Mr. T&C had visited the theater just as the Walt Disney Co. began its multi-million dollar renovation--he was amazed at the detail of the restoration.  It is a beautiful building.  The show, although darker than the movie, was still terrific.  Little was beside herself.  To see Mary Poppins fly from the stage and over the audience was so exciting. 

After the show, we walked a couple of blocks to Magnolia Bakery, where we each chose a cupcake to take back to the hotel.  Then we hailed a taxi just as the rain began to fall.  The day was "practically perfect" in every way.

Harvest Home

Welcome November!  At last the sun is shining, and the air is not so humid and a bit chilly.  We might even have a fire tonight, and we are having chili for supper.  I've put away the Halloween decorations, but I thought I'd pop a few photos up to help me remember what we did this year.  Also, my fall door decoration seems to be holding up well along with the gourds and striped pumpkins from the farmers' market.

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