Sunday, December 25, 2016

The New-Born Baby

Merry Christmas and welcome to this series of Christmas blogs. Since the first weekend in December, I have been posting an updated issue of the blogs I wrote five years ago. I thought they were kind of cute, so decided they were worth revisiting. All the pictures are of animals either my daughter or I photographed on our trips to Kenya. I hope you enjoy the pictures and the story.

While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them. (Luke 2:6-7 New International Version)

Visitor: This must be the right place. Excuse me, can you tell me if that is Mary?

 Cow: Yes, it is. With her husband Joseph and their brand-new baby.

Goat: You should have been here earlier. It was like a miracle when the baby was born.

Visitor: Really? Why is that?

Goat: I really can’t put my hoof on it.

Cow: Me either. But it was beautiful. It was like total peace and serenity suddenly came over this stable.

Goat: And this light seemed to be coming straight out of the baby. Only it wasn't a light. I can’t explain it.

Visitor: Then I am pretty disappointed that I missed it. I have been all over the countryside the last few months, looking for Mary. I can’t believe that I finally found her.

Cow: Why have you been looking for her so long and so hard?

Visitor: That’s what I don’t know. I thought I was drawn to her but now that she has the baby, I think that all along it was the baby that I was looking for.

Goat: But here you are and you still don’t know?

Visitor: No, I don’t. But I am going to figure it out before I’m through.

(For some, the answer didn't come from just that night when Jesus was born. You'll have to continue following this story for the next few weeks to see if the visitor finds what he is looking for. Today, however, have a very Merry and Blessed Christmas.) 

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Fourth and Final Cookie

Here it is the fourth and final week of Christmas Cookie countdown, with the most classic cookie of them all.

1 cup butter or margarine
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
2 tablespoons cream (ie skim milk, coz that’s all I have in the house)
1 tablespoon orange rind (or whatever I end up with when I am tired of grating the stupid orange)
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
3 cups flour

Blend the first sixth ingredients together, then slowly add the remaining ingredients. Mix well. Chill for as long as you want to or until you are psyched enough to roll the beasts out.

You’ll notice that I didn’t take any pictures at this stage. A picture of me rolling out cookie dough would be like looking at a crime scene from Criminal Minds. You would be scarred for life.  

You’re supposed to bake them in a 400 degree oven for 5 to 7 minutes. Really? Coz I can get the next pan ready in that amount of time? Nope. I turn the oven down to 375 or even 350 if I am being a putz. Then they bake a lot slower and you can get the next batch rolled out, cut out and panned.  

Oh, yea, and I usually double the recipe to really make it worth the mess. When I was a kid, my mom quadrupled the recipe. The woman was amazing. She could keep up the pace all afternoon and not a speck of flour (or is it a flake of flour?) would stray from under her rolling pin. She was like a machine. 

Every surface in my kitchen, however, including any and all persons passing through, is covered in a layer of white dust, as if it were a coal mine where coal was white instead of black. Or did you read Tuesday’spost? Then you would understand the reference if I called it a white nightmare.

After resting for a few days, I begin the arduous task of frosting and decorating them. I can usually get through about a pan and a half until I have had enough fun with the whole thing.  After that, I don’t much care what they look like. And I still have an ice cream tub full of unfrosted ones. Maybe my kids will work on them when they come home this weekend. . . . Sure, that will happen.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

And All Was Right with the World

Christmas is swiftly approaching and I still have to tell you about my favorite Christmas TV specials. So far, I have posted about “A Charlie Brown Christmas” and “Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer.” Today I have a different spin.

I guess this movie makes the cut because who hasn’t been a kid with one and only one gift on their wish list. Ok, I don’t remember ever being that kid. I remember waking up every Christmas morning oblivious to what might be under the tree, filled with joy that there were presents to unwrap and Christmas cookies to eat. Some details of my childhood are remarkable. Alas, wishes of Christmas past are not.  

Maybe that’s why we all love this movie so much. We want to return to our childhoods and be filled with the hope and expectation of getting that one gift we want.
For Ralphie, it naturally is the Red Ryder Carbine Action 200-shot Range Model air rifle. Which of course is destined to shoot his eye out.

Which brings up the myriad number of quotes we all know: “My brother looked like a tick about to pop.” “I’d gone out of my skull.” “Only I didn’t say fudge.” “He looks like a pink nightmare.” “Schwartz created a slight breach of etiquette by skipping the triple dare and going right for the throat!”Fra-GEE-leh! It must be Italian!” “He worked in profanity the way other artists might work in oils or clay.” “All right! Everybody upstairs! Get dressed! We are going out... to eat.”

Then there are the similarities to our current lives. Well, mine at least. Every night during the winter, when it is cold and we feel sorry for our three outside cats who have heated beds inside the garage, and we let them in the back door, they rush into the house just like the Bumpuses dogs. True story. 

But what matters is that all is right with the world on Christmas day.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Where did your Shepherd Go?

Welcome to this year’s Christmas edition of my Sunday inspirational blogs. For six weeks, starting the first weekend in December, I will be posting an updated issue of the blogs I wrote five years ago. I thought they were kind of cute, so decided they were worth revisiting. All the pictures are of animals either my daughter or I photographed on our trips to Kenya. I hope you enjoy the pictures and the story.

 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.  An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. (Luke 2:8-9 New International Version)

Visitor: Good evening. It’s sure quiet out here.

Sheep 1: Seriously? You should have been ten minutes ago.

Sheep 2: No kidding. It was ridiculous.

Visitor: What happened?

Sheep 1: We were all having a quiet evening, doing some grazing and thinking about laying down to sleep, when all of a sudden, there was this light in the sky.

Sheep 2: And these people were in the sky and they were singing.

Sheep 3: They were angels.

Sheep 2: How do you know what an angel is?

Visitor: It doesn’t matter. Just tell me what happened? This sounds amazing.

Sheep 1: These angels – if that’s what they were – told our shepherds that their Savior was born in Bethlehem and that they should go meet him.

Visitor: Really? What did your shepherds do? 

Sheep 2: They went and left us out here by ourselves.

Sheep 3: I think when angels tell you to do something, you better do it. I think that one of the angels is still up there, watching over us until our shepherds come back.

Sheep 2: Are you nuts? What are you talking about?

Sheep 3: I think there is something magical about tonight.

Visitor:  I do too. Did they say anything else?

Sheep 1: I think one of them said that there is a baby in a manger and his mother is Mary and –

Visitor: What? Did you say Mary? I’ve been looking for a woman named Mary who was going to have a baby.

Sheep 1: Well, you best get going then, I think this is your gal.

Visitor: I just came from Bethlehem, but I guess I will head back there. Thanks for all your help. I hope the remainder of your night is peaceful.

Sheep 2: I do too.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

A Festive Cookie

It is week 3 of my Christmas cookie extravaganza. This week’s cookie is my personal classic, one you may not have heard of.

I must have been a teen-ager when I was going through Mom’s cookbook drawer one year. In addition to her red checkered Better Homes and Gardens spiral bound cookbook, she had a bunch of thin cookbooks with only a dozen or so yellowed pages. I think a lot of them were put out by Gold Medal flour or GW sugar or C&H sugar and also by the UW Extension. Even though I can see them clear as the nose on my face, I can’t conjure up what their titles were.

Anyway, one of these cookbooks was devoted to Christmas cookies. I picked out a recipe that looked the easiest, asked Mom if she could buy me some pecans, and baked up a batch.

They were always one of Dad’s favorites because he said they reminded him of Marzipan. To make him really happy, I would try shaping them into various fruits, just like Marzipan. A few years later, when I ate real Marzipan for the first time, I was like – yuck – this is nothing like my Christmas Balls. Perhaps Dad had just been trying to make me feel special, or perhaps the Marzipan he remembered from Germany, because they were poor, was more like these cookies, than the almond-paste candy.

I’ve never seen this recipe anywhere else. They are similar to Mexican wedding cakes, but made with white sugar instead of powdered sugar and not as crisp. And they look a lot more festive.  In any case, here’s my recipe.

1 cup margarine
2 tsp vanilla
1/3 cup sugar
2 tsp water
2 cups flour
1 cup chopped walnuts (the original recipe called for pecans, but I generally am too cheap to buy them)

Mix all ingredients well. The dough will be solid and thick, if that makes sense. Shape into balls. Once again I use my Pampered Chef scoop, this time the smallest one. Roll in colored sugar. Push into different shapes if desired and you are artsy. Bake at 325 for 20 minutes. Remove from the pans as soon as they come out of the oven or the sugar will stick to the pans. Freezes well. And you’ll need to freeze them or they will disappear on you before Christmas.

Have fun with them and make them in different shapes and colors.   
Can you pick out the bananas? 
These were supposed to be strawberries and apples. Can you tell the difference? 
I even made Green Bay Packer ones for the Hubby. The Wisconsin Badgers ones didn't show up as well because the white sugar gets overpowered by the red. 

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Do we need lights and glitter at Christmas?

 Every Tuesday in December, I’ll post about a different one of my favorite Christmas specials. One look at the piano in my living room should give you a clue of what this week’s show is.
You’ve all seen “A Charlie Brown Christmas” countless times. Right? So I won’t give you a play-by-play. Instead, here are some observations.

The other morning, the DJ’s on the Christian radio station I listen to were talking about “A Charlie Brown Christmas”. One of them commented that when Linus is on the stage reciting Luke chapter 2, verses 8 to 14, he suddenly drops his security blanket. As if knowing that his Savior being born in the city of David on Christmas Eve gives him the security to face the world without any other support.

What I noticed was that near the end of the show, Linus uses his blanket as the tree skirt under Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree. Once again, Linus is secure enough just knowing what the holiday is really all about that he gives his blanket up again.

In thinking about it, though, doesn’t Linus seem to be the most well-adjusted kid in the whole Peanuts ensemble?  

And poor Charlie Brown. All he wants is to find the true meaning of Christmas. Even back in 1965, when this special aired, this time of year was filled with commercialism and the message of spending money. Why can’t we remember what we are really celebrating? It’s not about the lights, or the Christmas cards, or the perfect tree, or the Christmas Queen.

It’s about a tiny baby who brings peace on earth, good will towards men.

One side note however. Isn’t the tree Charlie Brown picks out, with its lone red ornament, a better tree than the perfect triangle of a tree that the gang turns it into when they deck it out in Snoopy’s lights and glitter? Christmas is about a simple message, it doesn't need any lights or glitter either.  

Sunday, December 11, 2016

The Search Continues

Welcome to this year’s Christmas edition of my Sunday inspirational blogs. For six weeks, starting the first Sunday in December, I will post an updated issue of the blogs I posted five years ago. I thought they were kind of cute, so decided they were worth revisiting. All the pictures are of animals either my daughter or I photographed on our trips to Kenya. I hope you enjoy the pictures and the story.

So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child.
Luke 2:4-5 New International Version 

Visitor: Excuse me. It is awful busy in this town.

Donkey: The king wanted to count all of the people in this land, so he told everyone to go back to the town of their ancestors. I guess a lot of people are from Bethlehem.

Visitor: Looks like. I am trying to find a young woman named Mary. I went to Nazareth looking for her, and they told me that she would be here.

Donkey: That’s her and her fiancé Joseph over there. I brought them here. It was a lot easier than the work that I usually do. Even though she’s going to have a baby, she doesn’t weigh as much as the carts I usually pull.

Visitor: I see. Why are she and Joseph talking to that man?

Donkey: They are looking for a place to spend the night. They have relatives in town, but all their houses are filled. I don’t know where they are going to stay.

Visitor: It looks like she could have the baby anytime.

Donkey: If you say so. Who are you anyway?

Visitor: Just someone who is trying to find out who Mary is and why she is so special.

Donkey: I wish I could help you. I could tell right away when I met her that she was special. She told Joseph that she could walk all the way here from Nazareth, but he insisted she ride and that’s why he borrowed me from my owner. I don’t think they have much money. I hope they find a place to stay.

Visitor: What about you? Where will you stay?

Donkey: I’m used to sleeping outside. What about you? Where will you sleep?

Visitor: I don’t know. Even though I have traveled a lot the last few days, I’m not tired. Maybe I will go out into the countryside. Enjoy the peace and quiet away from the city.

Donkey: Well, have a good night and maybe we will meet again.

Visitor: Maybe. In the meantime, I’m going to figure out why I am drawn to this woman Mary. But I guess it will have to wait until morning now. 

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Bake a Legend

Here we are with our second Christmas cookie post of the season. I don’t know what makes these a Christmas staple – I think we should eat them year-round!

The story of these iconic cookies begins when Ohio resident Freda Smith was making peanut butter chocolate chip cookies and too late realized she had no chocolate chips. She did have a bag of Hershey’s Kisses though and stuck them on top of the peanut butter cookies. 

In 1958, she entered her recipe in the ninth annual Pillsbury Bake-off competition. Her cookies didn’t even place. Instead the winner was something called accordion treats, something nobody in this day and age has heard of, I bet.

Moral of the story – winning is not that big a deal and you don’t have to be a winner to become a legend. (I like that. I hope that saying takes off.)

So here’s how I bake up Mrs. Smith’s cookies

1 cup softened margarine
1 cup peanut butter
1 cup white sugar
1 cup packed brown sugar
¼ cup milk
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 eggs 

Blend these first ingredients together. I usually blend together the margarine and peanut butter first, with the margarine warmish so they meld together well. I also use this great Pampered Chef Measure-all cup to measure the peanut butter. Anybody else have a better idea for measuring it and then getting it all out of the measuring cup?

Next add the rest of the items and blend well.

3 ½ cups flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt

Stir in the last three ingredients and mix well.

Shape dough into balls. I scoop out the dough with the medium scoop from Pampered Chef – no I’m not a secret consultant.  These are the only Pampered Chef products I regularly use, besides, of course, my stoneware.

Roll the dough balls in sugar. I, along with the rest of world, generally roll them in white sugar, but I thought I’d try green and red sugar this year to make them more festive.

Bake at 375 for 10 minutes. As soon as they come out of the oven, press a chocolate star into each one. Some recipes call for Hershey’s kisses, but do people really unwrap them all, or can you buy them unwrapped. Also, I kind of like the taste of the stars better.

Slide them off the pans before they cool completely.  

Freeze them as soon as they are completely cool and bury them in the bottom of the freezer or they won’t make it to Christmas!

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Who's Your Favorite Ruminant?

Every Tuesday in December, I plan to post about a different one of my favorite Christmas specials. Today I’ll start with everyone’s favorite ruminant from 1964.

I wanted to begin the month with this show because it seems that when I was a kid, this was the first Christmas special to air on TV. These poor kids today. They can watch their favorite shows anytime they want, just throw in the DVD or pull it up on Netflix. Maybe that’s part of what’s wrong with the younger generation. No sense of waiting and wondering.

I digress.

So why does “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” make my list? For starters, doesn’t it make everyone’s list? We all know the songs. There’s comedy, adventure, romance. And doesn’t everyone always root for the underdog? I’m surprised with so much attention on bullying (and for good reason, don’t get me wrong), that I haven’t heard anything about Rudolph and his friend Hermey being the victims of bullying and what they do to overcome it. (Of course, I do kind of live under a rock, so I miss a lot.)

But then there’s that final scene. Rudolph is hitched to the front of the sleigh. He has saved Christmas. Everyone’s happy. Everyone except a dolly for Sue, Charlie in the Box and the train with square wheels. In fact I just read on some website of 10 facts you didn’t know about Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer that in the original broadcast they never showed what happened to the misfit toys. But there was such an outrage by young viewers, that the following year the producers added that scene with the iconic line from Dolly, “I haven’t any dreams left to dream.”

To which I say, you always have a dream and you have to keep dreaming it. Someday it will come true. It did for the misfit toys and it will for anyone who doesn’t give up.

That’s why Rudolph stands the test of time in my book, and not just because it is the longest running holiday special ever. 

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Have You Heard the News?

Welcome to this year’s Christmas edition of my Sunday inspirational blogs. Every Sunday, for the next six weeks I will post an updated issue of the blogs I posted five years ago. I thought they were kind of cute, so decided they were worth revisiting. All the pictures are of animals either my daughter or I photographed on our trips to Kenya. I hope you enjoy the pictures and the story. 

 All the neighbors were filled with awe, and throughout the hill country of Judea people were talking about all these things. Everyone who heard this wondered about it, asking, “What then is this child going to be?” For the Lord’s hand was with him
Luke 1:65-66 New International Version

Visitor: Excuse me, what is everyone talking about?

Dog: Well, you knew that Zachariah and his wife Elizabeth had a baby, didn’t you?

Visitor: No, I didn’t. I’m new to town.

Dog: They are a really old couple. Nice though. They throw their scrapes out to me. Anyway, they are really old and never had any kids, and then all of a sudden she got pregnant.

Visitor: Really?

Dog: But here’s the really wild part. When Zachariah found out they were going to have a baby, he suddenly couldn’t talk at all.

Visitor: Why was that?

Dog: The people say that it is because he didn’t believe that God could do this. But here’s the rest of the story. Today, when he wrote down that he wanted to name the baby John, suddenly he could talk again. He said that it is because he obeyed God.

Visitor: How did he obey God?

Dog: He named the baby John. Nobody could figure out why. Zachariah said that is the name that God chose for the baby. And that the baby is going to be very special.

Visitor: How is he going to be special?

Dog: I don’t know.

Dog 2: I do.

Visitor: Well, hello, I didn’t see you laying there.

Dog 2: It all has to do with Elizabeth’s cousin. She is going to have a baby too. And they say that baby is going to be even more special than John. John was born to lead the way for Mary’s baby.

Visitor: How do you know that?

Dog 2: Why don’t you go visit Mary and find out.

Visitor: Maybe I will have to do that. Where can I find her?

Dog 2: She lives in Nazareth.

Visitor: Well, thank you both for all of your help. I will have to check this out.