Over the River and Through the Woods….

December 28, 2007


… to GRANDCHILDREN’S house we go! (You sing it your way, I’ll sing it mine.)

We’re leaving this morning for a quick trip that will take us to Missouri to see two of our grandchildren there, Jay and Nikki (they and DIL Mom are visiting Gunny Dad in his tiny apartment for the holidays.  This will make great memories — once the living-in-different-cities-until-the-house-sells period is over), and then to Chicago for Mimi’s birthday, and to enjoy a little time with her and her sisters, Coco and Lulu.

The only one of our grandchildren we won’t get to see is Little Mommy and her husband and baby, who now live in South Carolina.  But, they are wonderful about sending us regular pictures, mostly of baby James, who is absolutely beautiful (says a “disinterested bystander”).

So, we’ll be back sometime on New Year’s Day.  May you all have a safe and happy New Year celebration!

Christmas at the Gas Station

December 26, 2007


Everything about the internet is NOT wonderful, but once in a while I receive a story like this, and it IS wonderful.  I hope it touches you as it did me.

The old man sat in his gas station on a cold Christmas Eve. He hadn’t been anywhere in years since his wife had passed away. It was just another day to him. He didn’t hate Christmas, just couldn’t find a reason to celebrate. He was sitting there looking at the snow that had been falling for the last hour and wondering what it was all about when the door opened and a homeless man stepped through.                Instead of throwing the man out, Old George as he was known by his customers, told the man to come and sit by the heater and warm up. “Thank you, but I don’t mean to intrude,” said the stranger “I see you’re busy, I’ll just go.” “Not without something hot in your belly.” George said.                      He turned and opened a wide mouth Thermos and handed it to the stranger. “It ain’t much, but it’s hot and tasty, “Stew … made it myself. When you’re done, there’s coffee and it’s fresh.”                     

Just at that moment he heard the “ding” of the driveway bell. “Excuse me, be right back,” George said. There in the driveway was an old ’53 Chevy. Steam was rolling out of the front. The driver was panicked. “Mister can you help me!” said the driver, with a deep Spanish accent. “My wife is with child and my car is broken.”                     

George opened the hood. It was bad. The block looked cracked from the cold, the car was dead. “You ain’t going in this thing,” George said as he turned away.                     

“But Mister, please help …” The door of the office closed behind George as he went inside. He went to the office wall and got the keys to his old truck, and went back outside. He walked around the building, opened the garage, started the truck and drove it around to where the couple was waiting. “Here, take my truck,” he said. “She ain’t the best thing you ever looked at, but she runs real good.”                     

George helped put the woman in the truck and watched as it sped off into the night. He turned and walked back inside the office. “Glad I gave ’em the truck, their tires were shot too. That ‘ol truck has brand new .” George thought he was talking to the stranger, but the man had gone. The Thermos was on the desk, empty, with a used coffee cup beside it. “Well, at least he got something in his belly,” George thought.                     

George went back outside to see if the old Chevy would start. It cranked slowly, but it started. He pulled it into the garage where the truck had been. He thought he would tinker with it for something to do. Christmas Eve meant no customers. He discovered that the block hadn’t cracked, it was just the bottom hose on the radiator. “Well, shoot, I can fix this,” he said to himself. So he put a new one on.                   

“Those tires ain’t gonna get ’em through the winter either.” He took the snow treads off of his wife’s old Lincoln. They were like new and he wasn’t going to drive the car anyway.                     

As he was working, he heard shots being fired. He ran outside and beside a police car an officer lay on the cold ground. Bleeding from the left shoulder, the officer moaned, “Please help me.”                     

George helped the officer inside as he remembered the training he had received in the Army as a medic. He knew the wound needed attention. “Pressure to stop the bleeding,” he thought. The uniform company had been there that morning and had left clean shop towels. He used those and duct tape to bind the wound. “Hey, they say duct tape can fix anythin’,” he said, trying to make the policeman feel at ease.                     

“Something for pain,” George thought. All he had were the pills he used for his back. “These ought to work.” He put some water in a cup and gave the policeman the pills. “You hang in there, I’m going to get you an ambulance.”                     

The phone was dead. “Maybe I can get one of your buddies on that there talk box out in your car.” He went out only to find that a bullet had gone into the dashboard destroying the two way radio.                    

He went back in to find the policeman sitting up. “Thanks,” said the officer. “You could have left me there. The guy that shot me is still in the area.”                     

George sat down beside him, “I would never leave an injured man in the Army and I ain’t gonna leave you.” George pulled back the bandage to check for bleeding. “Looks worse than what it is. Bullet passed right through ‘ya. Good thing it missed the important stuff though. I think with time your gonna be right as rain.”                     

George got up and poured a cup of coffee. “How do you take it?” he asked. “None for me,” said the officer. “Oh, yer gonna drink this. Best in the city. Too bad I ain’t got no donuts.” The officer laughed and winced at the same time.                     

The front door of the office flew open. In burst a young man with a gun. “Give me all your cash! Do it now!” the young man yelled. His hand was shaking and George could tell that he had never done anything like this before.                     

“That’s the guy that shot me!” exclaimed the officer.                     

“Son, why are you doing this?” asked George, “You need to put the cannon away. Somebody else might get hurt.”                    

 The young man was confused. “Shut up old man, or I’ll shoot you, too. Now give me the cash!”               

The cop was reaching for his gun. “Put that thing away,” George said to the cop, “we got one too many in here now.”                     

He turned his attention to the young man. “Son, it’s Christmas Eve. If you need money, well then, here. It ain’t much but it’s all I got. Now put that pee shooter away. ”                     

George pulled $150 out of his pocket and handed it to the young man, reaching for the barrel of the gun at the same time. The young man released his grip on the gun, fell to his knees and began to cry. “I’m not very good at this am I? All I wanted was to buy something for my wife and son,” he went on. “I’ve lost my job, my rent is due, my car got repossessed last week .”                     

George handed the gun to the cop. Son, we all get in a bit of squeeze now and then. The road gets hard sometimes, but we make it through the best we can.”                     

He got the young man to his feet, and sat him down on a chair across from the cop. “Sometimes we do stupid things.” George handed the young man a cup of coffee. “Bein’ stupid is one of the things that makes us human. Comin’ in here with a gun ain’t the answer. Now sit there and get warm and we’ll sort this thing out.”                     

The young man had stopped crying. He looked over to the cop. “Sorry I shot you. It just went off. I’m sorry officer.”                     

“Shut up and drink your coffee.” the cop said.                     

George could hear the sounds of sirens outside. A police car and an ambulance skidded to a halt. Two cops came through the door, guns drawn. “Chuck! You ok?” one of the cops asked the wounded officer.                     

“Not bad for a guy who took a bullet. How did you find me?”                     

“GPS locator in the car. Best thing since sliced bread. Who did this?” the other cop asked as he approached the young man.                     

Chuck answered him, “I don’t know. The guy ran off into the dark. Just dropped his gun and ran.”                

George and the young man both looked puzzled at each other.                     

“That guy work here?,” the wounded cop continued. “Yep,” George said, “just hired him this morning. Boy lost his job.”                     

The paramedics came in and loaded Chuck onto the stretcher. The young man leaned over the wounded cop and whispered, “Why?”                     

Chuck just said, “Merry Christmas boy … and you too, George, and thanks for everything .”                     

“Well, looks like you got one doozy of a break there. That ought to solve some of your problems.”                  

George went into the back room and came out with a box. He pulled out a ring box. “Here you go, something for the little woman. I don’t think Martha would mind. She said it would come in handy some day.”                     

The young man looked inside to see the biggest diamond ring he ever saw. “I can’t take this,” said the young man. “It means something to you.”                  

“And now it means something to you,” replied George. “I got my memories. That’s all I need.”                 

George reached into the box again. An airplane, a car and a truck appeared next. They were toys that the oil company had left for him to sell. “Here’s something for that little man of yours.”                     

The young man began to cry again as he handed back the $150 that the old man had handed him earlier.                     

“And what are you supposed to buy Christmas dinner with? You keep that too,” George said, “Now git home to your family.”                    

 The young man turned with tears streaming down his face. “I’ll be here in the morning for work, if that job offer is still good.”                     

“Nope. I’m closed Christmas day,” George said. “See ya the day after.”                     

George turned around to find that the stranger had returned. “Where’d you come from? I thought you left?”                     

“I have been here. I have always been here,” said the stranger. “You say you don’t celebrate Christmas. Why?”                     

“Well, after my wife passed away, I just couldn’t see what all the bother was. Puttin’ up a tree and all seemed a waste of a good pine tree. Bakin’ cookies like I used to with Martha just wasn’t the same by myself and besides I was gettin’ a little chubby.”                     

The stranger put his hand on George’s shoulder. “But you do celebrate the holiday, George.                   

You gave me food and drink and warmed me when I was cold and hungry.                   

The woman with child will bear a son and he will become a great doctor.                   

The policeman you helped will go on to save 19 people from being killed by terrorists.                   

The young man who tried to rob you will make you a rich man and not take any for himself. “That is the spirit of the season and you keep it as good as any man.”                     

George was taken aback by all this stranger had said. “And how do you know all this?” asked the old man.                     

“Trust me, George. I have the inside track on this sort of thing. And when your days are done you will be with Martha again.”                     

The stranger moved toward the door. “If you will excuse me, George, I have to go now. I have to go home where there is a big celebration planned.”                     

George watched as the old leather jacket and the torn pants that the stranger was wearing turned into a white robe. A golden light began to fill the room.                     

“You see, George … it’s My birthday. Merry Christmas.”                     

George fell to his knees and replied, “Happy Birthday, Lord.”                   

Author Unknown

A Humble Day ….

December 24, 2007


During that half awake but still half asleep time when you first start to wake up in the morning, doesn’t life seem a little clearer than during your fully-awake day when your mind is filled with so many distractions?  At least that’s the way it is for me.

When I first awoke this morning, my mind just gradually filled with mistakes and mis-steps I have made.  Things I’ve NOT done that I should have, and vivid recollections of things I HAVE done that I would take back, or revise. 

I had a long, long-time friendship that recently ended with hurt feelings on both sides.  I keep asking myself, how should I have handled that differently. 

Hubby and I have struck a few sour notes during the last few weeks, and I know that it was mostly my fault.  I tend to speak before I think, and not always in a voice that reflects my love.

We missed church yesterday because we had had the family Christmas here on Saturday night, and were too exhausted to go to church on Sunday morning.  Church is a refuge from the world where I hear His Word and have time to pray and reflect on the message — a “filling station” where my soul is “re-fueled.” What does God think when I let “social” get in the way of “eternal?”

So, this morning there were many thoughts running through my head, all making me feel unloving, unlovable and humble.

When times like this occur, there are some things I purposely bring to mind:

First, I believe that one of the ways that the devil pulls us away from God, is by encouraging us to “wallow” in our shortcomings.  He wants us to think that we are so bad that God couldn’t possibly love us. 

I heard a pastor express this so well one time.  He said, “The devil has a game plan that goes like this:  First he TEMPTS you.  Then, after you yield to that temptation, he BLINDS you to the consequences of your actions, so that you will keep on sinning.  Then, if and when you finally do recognize your sin and want to repent, he uses every power available to him to CONVINCE you that you cannot be loved by God because of what you did!  And, if he does convince you — SUCCESS!  You are his!” 

The other thought I call to mind is this:  If we didn’t sin, we wouldn’t need God.  Of course God doesn’t want us to sin, but when we do, it is only when we recognize our sin and confess it, that we understand our NEED for His forgiveness and salvation through the birth and resurrection of Christ!

So, today is a humble day for me.  First, because my mind started the day by so vividly recalling my shortcomings.  But then this evening when we are at the candlelight service celebrating the birth of Christ, I will be freshly humbled because we are celebrating the birth of Christ, who came to SAVE me from my sins!

May the saving grace of Christ who came to save us all, feel very personal to each of us as we celebrate His birth!

Sometimes You Just Have to Buy Stuff to Stock Your Next Garage Sale!

December 23, 2007


IN THEORY, every purchase I make has logic behind it. I don’t like to think of myself as an “impulse” shopper. However, IF I am going to insist that that is the case, I am going to have to do some reallllly fast talking (more accurately, typing), to justify to you the 20 yards of cranberry red tulle I just bought.

It all started with a simple visit to SaYaNyThInG’s blog about a week ago (she’s one of the enjoyable sites I visit regularly). She had posted pictures of her beautiful home  decorated for Christmas, and she also mentioned that she was part of a blog “Christmas Walk” sponsored by Boomama. Well, that really caught my interest, so after enjoying HER pictures, I went to that site too.

There were over 300 homes! Yes, that is three zero zero! All decorated for the holidays. My thinking was, “If all of those wonderful people are going to go to the trouble to decorate their homes, take pictures of them, and then post the pictures, it seems that the least the rest of us can do is “visit” as many of them as possible!” I’m sure you can see my reasoning.

So, for the rest of that evening, and several hours the next evening, I looked at houses. It was realllly fun. I should mention here that I have always considered my dream job to be a realtor. I imagine I would enjoy selling houses too, but my main reason for interest in that profession is the LOOKING at houses.  So, this was right up my alley!

I wasn’t at all intimidated by the large number of homes in the “walk” — at first. But, as I methodically went from one to the next, I realized I probably wasn’t going to make it through all 300. In fact, I think in those two evenings I actually made it through about 30. But, I truly enjoyed all the ones I DID visit. I have been on quite a few “real” Christmas walks, and it always amazes me how unique the decorations are at each house. This was just like that. Some elaborate — some simple, but all done with care. Worth the time to “visit.”

Hubby would probably tell you, if you asked, that the “down side” to me going to Christmas walks has always been that I come home full of ideas! In fact, I have been known to stop, with my “partners’ in crime,” my sisters-in-law, on the WAY HOME from a Christmas walk, to buy things that we could use to reproduce ideas we had seen in a home on the walk.

Well, that “idea” thing happened this time too. Specifically, I saw several homes where they had wrapped white tulle around the bannister of a stairway. I liked that look and had actually seen that done before, but seeing it this time made me think, “Hey, maybe I should try that!” We didn’t have ANYTHING decorating the bannister on OUR stairway because I gave up years ago wrapping it with garland. I just never had the “knack” to make it look good, so I gave up. But, after seeing the tulle-wrapped bannisters, our poor bare bannister suddenly seemed to be a “gap” in our Christmas decorating.

So, the very next day I went to a fabric store to look at tulle. They had it in every color imaginable, and it was on sale — they were practically PAYING people to take it off their hands!! I started out looking at the white and cream, and debating with myself which would look the best.

Isn’t it amazing, when you are shopping, how hard it is to remember colors at home and whether what you are buying will go with what you already have (in clothes, as well as decorating)?

Anyway, as I was debating between the two shades of white, a color I dearly love caught my eye — garnet/cranberry, whatever you want to call it — deep red. The red in the Christmas decorations in our house tend to be this dark red. So, while I couldn’t decide which shade of white would look best, I made a quick decision that this dark red would CERTAINLY go with the decorations we already had.  

Decision made, I took the bolt to the lady with the scissors.  She asked me how much I needed. Since I’m not really familiar with tulle (or material, in general), and the bolt seemed reallly thin, because the material is so thin, I had no idea how much I “needed” — and, of course, part of the problem may have also been that I really had no idea exactly WHAT I was going to do. Anyway, because the lady with the scissors was standing there looking at me expectantly, and a line was forming behind me, I asked how many yards were on a bolt and she said, “20,” and that just sounded right to me, and besides that way there would be no cutting with scissors involved (as you may have read, I HAVE been tramatized recently by very sharp scissors that “turned on me” while I was wrapping gifts). So, I paid for my 20 yards of dark red tulle and headed home to make my bannister “beautiful.”

Several hours later, I had finally wound the tulle in and out, over and under and around the bannister from top to bottom, and stood back to look at my handiwork.  About that time, Hubby arrived home, and he joined me in examining my “project.”  I couldn’t decide whether I liked it or not, so asked what he thought.  Why do I ask his opinion?  He’ll be the first to tell you that he doesn’t have a “decorating” bone in his body, but that doesn’t stop him from having an “opinion.” (a trait we share — our opinions do NOT require much knowledge of the subject!)  He just stood there and looked — and looked.  He didn’t say anything.  I sensed he was picking his words carefully (THAT comes from 42 years of marriage!).  But, I have learned some things in those 42 years too, so, because I could tell he didn’t know exactly what to say, I took a realllly hard look at the bannister’s “wrappings” too, and I did have to admit to myself (and him — I let him off the hook by saying it first, before he had to!) — while the white tulle I had seen on others’ bannisters looked lovely and totally Christmas-appropriate, the dark red tulle just didn’t hit the same “note.”  Frankly, it had a little more of a “dance hall ” look to it!  Rats.  Lots of tulle.  Lots of work.  Nothing to show for it.  Just a note:  When taking it OFF the bannister, I learned that it takes alot longer to take 20 yards of tulle OFF a bannister than it did to put it ON. 

So, now I have 20 yards of tulle in a color I love, with no idea of a project for which it could be used.  Although I had decided a couple years ago that I would no longer have garage sales, I may just have to have one more, so that I can include my tulle.

And, our bare bannister?  I’ve decided it looks just fine “bare.”  I choose to now think of it as “minimalist” and “lovely in its simplicity.” 

May you have a wonderful Christmas, filled with memories of Christmases past and new memories you make with your loved ones — and thankfulness for the ultimated Christmas “gift,” Jesus. 

An Impossible Quest — Unexpected Success!

December 20, 2007


I may be done with shopping for Christmas, but we have some family birthday’s right after Christmas, so the shopping-under-pressure continues.

Mimi in Chicago will be 4 on the 31st (DD helped me pick out her gift a month ago — THANK YOU, DD!), Hubby will be 63 on January 8 and Jay, our grandson, will be 13 the next day (he was Hubby’s BEST 50th birthday present!).

So, I’m still in the “hunt” for presents.

Yesterday morning, I happened to catch just a glimpse on one of the morning news programs of a present they were recommending for boys/men.  They showed a flat box full of colorful “stuff”  and named off several things that could be made from the “stuff” — the only one that I remembered afterwards was, a clock.  And, I thought I heard Toys R Us mentioned.  They had piqued my interest because Jay is a pretty bright kid, and I thought he might enjoy the “engineering” aspect of building things that actually work.  Worth at least looking at for him.

So, later in the morning, with that reallllly sketchy information, I headed out to see if I could find this “box of stuff” as a potential birthday gift for Jay.

The traffic was unbelievable everywhere, but it got even worse as I approached the Mall.  All of the entrances to the Mall had policemen directing traffic, rather than the normal traffic lights.  I’m sure this must be more efficient movement of heavy traffic, but I personally prefer the impartial electric traffic signals.  No matter how “fair” the officer is who is directing traffic, I always feel more comfortable that I’m going to get my “turn” when traffic is being managed by an automatic signal — and not someone who may be distracted by, say, the young chick in the high-end Infiniti. 

Luckily (I thought), at least Toys R Us isn’t in the Mall proper — it’s in an adjacent area of stores.  In reality, I’m not sure that was a good thing — it just meant MORE parking lot driving.  Parking lots seem sooo dangerous.  So many things to watch for — walkers (many times with “darting” small children), cars cutting DIAGONALLY across rows (what are they THINKING!), cars blindly backing out of spaces and then, of course, the idiots who drive waaaay too fast down the rows where all of this darting, driving diagonally and backing out is taking place!  I think I hold my breath most of the time I am driving in a busy parking lot — so, if I’m not killed by another driver, I may die from lack of oxygen. 

Okay.  I finally find parking near Toys R Us, resume breathing and go inside. 

Chaos everywhere.  But I persevere anyway.  Armed with only my skimpy information about what I’m looking for, and blind optimism that I have absolutely no right to have, I wander through the crowds and end up in the special little electronics section.  I don’t see anything like what I had glimpsed on TV in that area and definitely no clerks standing around looking eager to answer questions — no luck there. 

I return to the store proper, and meander through toys.  In case you haven’t noticed, when you “meander” this time of year, you are in danger of being run over, whether driving or walking down a store aisle.  I do encounter a clerk who I give a general idea of what I am looking for, and she suggests the “educational” area.  Ahh, now I can walk with more purpose — I’m looking for something definite — the EDUCATIONAL area.  When I get there, meandering again kicks in.

Then, as luck (more accurately, the grace of God) would have it, I happen upon a young woman clerk who exudes knowledge and helpfulness from her every pore.  Annnnd, she’s carrying a handy-talkie in her hand!  I may have hit the jackpot and actually found a MANAGER (I consider that a stroke of luck, because Managers have usually been there longer than a month, so probably know the merchandise better than the “Christmas help.”  I’ve been the “Christmas help” at a store, so I KNOW how little you can know, and a store will still send you out to “help” the public!) I describe the thingamajiggy I’m looking for.  She goes to a desk with a computer on it.  Apparently she can look up items they have in the store with words describing it — perfect.  So, after questioning me, she puts in “box, transisters.”  “Transister” just sounded like something that would be in that box, don’t you think?  But, Rats. No match.  So then she walks with  me over to the shelves of educational toys and we start looking for the “needle in the haystack.”  As we walk along the shelves she keeps repeating back to me what she’s hearing me say that I’m looking for (actually, she impresses me with her grasp of my search, when I myself am so foggy on the facts).  Anyway, suddenly from out of nowhere, comes a voice that says, “Snap Circuit Set.”  Super Clerk and I both look sharply to our left.  Standing there is an angel, cleverly disguised as a very normal looking, actually very attractive young woman.  I immediately recognized “Snap Circuit Set” as the name of the whatchamacallit I had seen on TV!!   “Angel” says she has bought one for her son at Radio Shack!  And then she apologizes to Super Clerk for “plugging” another store.  Super Clerk, ever the professional, tells Angel that that is perfectly all right, because, by this time, she too is interested in hearing what the name is of the item I described, and she writes it down.  From the little I have learned about her, I wouldn’t be surprised if Toys R Us has Snap Circuit Sets on their shelves soon.

So, I thanked both Super Clerk and Angel for all their help, and, with new purpose, proceeded to my car to drive to Radio Shack.  That was when I realized I didn’t know exactly where there might be a Radio Shack location.  I knew there were several in town — I just didn’t know where.

Thank you God for cell phones.  When I got to the car, I called Hubby, who was slightly grumpy because I got him away from something important he was doing, and asked him to look up the Radio Shack locations and then please call to find out which one had the Snap Circuit Set (while I drove in the general direction of home “awaiting further instructions”).  He made the calls, and called me back with the location.  When I arrived, they had it waiting for me.  Mission accomplished!

I am delighted with the gift we now have for Jay.  But, when I look back at how that whole “search” went, it boggles my mind that I was able to find that product for which I had no name, and hardly any description!  And, of course, I WOULDN’T have found it if it weren’t for — Super Clerk, who cared enough to take the time to help me look for something I had so little information about — for Angel, whose nature was apparently such that when she realized she had knowledge that could help a stranger, she shared it without hesitation — for Toys R Us for having an employee like Super Clerk who represents them so well (she probably deserves a raise, guys) — for Hubby, who had to interrupt his “important work” to be my “tech support,”  and (drum roll) for Radio Shack for having such a cool kit that I KNOW Jay is going to love!!  Hooray!!

I am truly thankful that what started out as an impossible quest, miraculously turned out to be a wonderful success!


You Buy A House. Neighbors Are Free!

December 18, 2007


For almost twenty years, we lived in a farmhouse where our nearest neighbors were a long way away.  Hubby’s brother and sister-in-law lived down the road with a field between us, so we could see each other’s houses, and they were great neighbors, but you definitely couldn’t talk to each other without a phone call or a drive down the road.

And then four years ago, we moved here, to a house in a neighborhood, with, frankly, some concern about having close neighbors, after our years of “wide open spaces.”  But, we have come to feel like we have won some sort of “neighbor lottery.”  We could not have picked nicer neighbors — even if it WERE possible to “pick” your neighbors. 

All of our neighbors are great, but what inspired me to write this is the house next door, and the terrific couple who live there.

The family who lived there when we moved in transferred out of town with his job soon thereafter and the house sat empty for a year and a half.  During that time, I prayed and prayed about that house and who would buy it.  It hadn’t been taken care of, so didn’t “show” very well.  The longer it was on the market, the more I worried about who could possibly see it’s potential, looking past it’s slightly bedraggled yard and not so sparkly clean interior.

Finally, it was bought — and by a wonderful couple — Belinda and Mike — who truly DID see its potential, and set about making it a beautiful home that anyone would be proud of — through lots of long hours and hard work.  And, that isn’t the only way they perked up our neighborhood. 

Mike has a sailboat with a beautiful sail in all the colors of the rainbow.  It is so peaceful to watch him gliding across the lake.  And, they both were so kind to our dog, Akela.  If they were out in their yard, and Akela was out in our yard, one of them would come over and throw the disk for her (her FAVORITE thing in all the world to do!) 

Mike would be mowing, and Akela would take the disk and lay at the very edge of our yard and just watch him.  A not-to-subtle hint.  And, at some point, he would stop and come over and throw for her for a while, and then give her a tummy rub, and then go back to mowing.  The last time I saw him give her a tummy rub was just a week before she died (by that time she was no longer able to chase the disk).  They were both wonderful “friends” to her. 

Belinda and I have slowly gotten to know each other, and what a treat she is!  She is always interesting to talk to — and always interested in what is going on with us.  We happened to see each other at the hair salon we both go to, right after Akela died, and had a little impromptu, tearful “remembering Akela” moment right there in the waiting room. 

Last Sunday afternoon I was baking — a very messy proposition.  I had made chili for lunch and Hubby had eaten some earlier, but I had waited for a “break in the action” before I took time to eat.  So, I had cleared off a spot on the island just large enough for my bowl of chili and glass of milk and was sitting there eating a late lunch, among the clutter of baking, in my flour-dusted old clothes, and Hubby walked in the garage door, calling, “Sandra Ann!!”  Just the way he said it (and, by the way, this is a whole post of its own, but my name is NOT Sandra Ann), I knew before I turned around, that someone was there!  Rats. Messy kitchen.  Messy me. 

Let me disgress for a moment.  We exchange some little edible treat with Mike and Belinda next door and with Jack and Sandy across the street each Christmas.  On Friday night, Jack had come to the door with a Kringle from Wisconsin, which is their delicious gift every year.  It’s a wonderful circle of pastry with a variety of fillings — this year, ours was apple.  Anyway, once he did that, I knew I’d better get our gifts for both of those couples done too.  So, their gifts were some of the baking I had done that afternoon.

As soon as I turned around and saw a smiling Belinda standing at the door with a bag in her hand, I guessed that Jack had inspired her to “get cracking” too and she was here to deliver a Christmas goodie.  Not just ANY Christmas goodie either.  It was a loaf of freshly baked homemade bread, a jar of homemade jelly, and a tin of wonderful hint-of-lemon flavored frosted sugar cookies.    All wrapped very artistically in white butcher paper, done up with dark brown silk ribbon, with red berries.  If I didn’t know already that Belinda had an artistic “bent,” I would have known by how artistic not only the gifts were, but the wrappings. 

Now, this is what I love about Belinda.  She sat right down there on the other stool, in my messy kitchen, drank a soda, and chatted.  Because she is so comfortable to be around, whereever she is, it didn’t bother me at all that my kitchen and I were both a mess!  So, we had a great visit, and she left.  (Taking the blueberry buckle I had made for them with her.  Nice of her to pick up her own gift!)

Okay.  Here’s the reason I’m writing this post about Belinda and Mike today.  This afternoon I took a little nap (that’s one of the great “perks” of being retired).  When I got up, Hubby said that Belinda had stopped by to drop off another gift!  Another gift?!  And then he showed it to me.  It was a very special Christmas tree ornament.  It was a picture of Akela that they had taken.  It was cut in a circle and covered with a circle of beveled glass, with a hole in the top with a ribbon through it.  I was soooo touched.  I called Belinda to thank her, and she said, “We loved her too.” 

Not just neighbors but friends who have demonstrated their friendship through sharing our grief over the loss of our beloved pet.

We are very thankful for our wonderful neighbors.  They may have been “free” — but they are also “priceless!”

I’m DONE Wrapping Gifts! Ouch!

December 18, 2007


You could say the timing was perfect, I guess.

Yesterday morning I finished wrapping the last of our gifts, and Hubby took them to mail.  A great feeling to have that done.

Unfortunately, literally, when I was curling the LAST little piece of ribbon that needed to be curled on the LAST package to be wrapped, with the LAST swipe of the blade of the scissors across that LAST piece of ribbon — I cut a nice gash parallel to the fingernail across the top of my right index finger!

Luckily, I’m left handed, so this isn’t quite the inconvenience it COULD have been.  But it DOES mean that I have a less-than-festive wad of band-aid on the end of my finger!  (A very hard spot to bandage.)

Could have been worse, I guess — and at least I AM done with wrapping.  Hooray!! 

May any mis-steps you make during this hectic time, be little and easily “fixable.”

A Chance Encounter In The Produce Section

December 17, 2007


On Saturday around noon (what was I THINKING?) I was at the nearest super store buying groceries.  I’m not good at estimating numbers, but it seemed to me like THOUSANDS of people were in that store.  All the check-out lines were so long that I stood for a half hour in a line that went all the way back through the purse section.  I had plenty of time to study the purses, and, I have to admit, there WERE some cute ones, if I’d been in the market.  If I had known how long I would wait, I would have picked a line that wound through the BOOK section.  I might have been able to polish off a short novel during the wait.  Anyway — packed store. 

But I did have a chance meeting in the Produce section earlier that brought up a fun memory from a few months ago.  While I was picking out my bananas (green, but not too green, and only four of them, so that I could eat them up before the last one got mushy), a lady smiled and asked if I wasn’t going to speak.  I’m sure she could tell from the look on my face that I was searching my memory banks for who she was.  After she said I probably didn’t recognize her “with her clothes on” (surprising words coming out of the mouth of this very dignified-looking older lady!), I finally did recognize her – she goes to our gym.  And, after she had walked away, I remembered why she might especially remember me — I’m her “hero’s” wife.

At the gym, there is a small sitting area  in one corner of the big room — a square of chairs, with a coffee table in the middle, where there is always a copy of the local newspaper and USA Today.  If I am done exercising, but Hubby is still finishing on his last machine, I will sometimes go to the sitting area and look through USA Today until he is ready to leave.

There is a group at the gym called the Senior Stretchers.  I’m used to encountering a group of these ladies (my impression, from their conversation, is that they are mostly widows)  in the sitting area, where a half dozen or so of them usually congregate before they go into their stretching class.

One day, when I went to the sitting area, the lady I had encountered in Produce, who is one of the Stretchers, had two lovely old bowls that she was passing around to the other ladies sitting there, asking if anyone could get them apart.  When I walked up, she asked me to try too.  They were stuck fast and none of us could make them budge.  I did tell her that I had heard that if you set stuck bowls in a sink of very hot water and then put ice cubes in the inside one, the hot water would make the outside one expand, and the ice would make the inside one contract, and they might come apart.  She had already tried that — no luck.  

She told me that the bowls had actually been her sister’s.  Sis hadn’t been able to get them apart for many years and had just stuck them in the back of a cabinet.  But now Sis was moving to a smaller home and was going to throw them away.   This lady had asked if she could have them instead.  But now, she was to the point that SHE would probably throw them away. 

I hated to see that happen to those really pretty, probably antique, bowls, so I said, “You know, my husband is really good at things like that (“like that” = anything I can’t do myself).  Why don’t we ask him to give them a try?”  Of course, she loved the idea of new hope for the bowls.

So, when Hubby walked over, I told him her dilemma.  She pointed to the bowls she was holding, and told him all the ways she had tried to separate them.  Then she handed the bowls to Hubby. In the twinkling of an eye  — he  ran his fingers around the edge of each bowl — lifted them up to eye level and looked across them like he was sighting in one of his favorite guns — took hold of them with just his finger tips on each of the bowls, not under his arm like most of us do, and popped them apart!

And, the lady said, without missing a beat, “What took you so long.” 

Yes, I remember that lady now.  I love a good punch line, and that was a GREAT one!  Because of that and her line about “not recognizing her with her clothes on,” I think she is someone who must be fun to be around.  

Come to think of it, that group of ladies DO seem like a fun crowd — I may have to join those Senior Stretchers.  But, they’d probably be dissappointed if I didn’t bring their new “hero,” Hubby along, and I’m pretty sure that’s not going to happen. 

Don’t worry Hubby.  You’ll still be my hero, long after these “fans” have forgotten you!

Christmas Morning Sweets: Part 2, Coffee Cakes

December 16, 2007


~~~~~~~~~~Blueberry Buckle~~~~~~~~~~

In large bowl, mix together:  3/4 C. sugar –1/4 C. soft butter –1 egg.

Stir in:  1/2 C. milk –1/2 t. salt.

In another bowl, sift together: 2 C. flour — 2 t. baking powder, and then stir into mixture in big bowl.

Fold in 2 C. frozen blueberries (keep frozen to make stirring in easier).

Spread in greased and floured 9″ baking pan.

Make crumb topping:  1/2 C. sugar — 1/3 C. flour — 1/2 t. cinnamon — 1/4 C. soft butter.  Sprinkle on top.

Bake at 375 degrees for 45-50 minutes. 

Note:  When doubling for 9/13 pan, bake approximately 15 minutes longer.


~~~~~~~~~~Overnight Coffee Cake~~~~~~~~~~

Place still frozen roll dough (24-piece package) in a well-buttered bundt pan.  Pour 1 stick still-hot melted butter evenly over dough pieces.

In small bowl, combine: one 3-oz. package vanilla pudding (not instant) — 1/2 C. brown sugar — 1/2 C. chopped pecans — 1 t. cinnamon.  Sprinkle over top.

Let set on counter overnight.

In the morning, bake at 350 degree for 30 minutes on rack in lowest position in oven.  Invert onto serving plate while hot.


~~~~~~~~~~Cherry Kuchen~~~~~~~~~~

Cream together: 1 stick butter, softened — 8 oz. cream cheese, softened — 1 t. vanilla — 2 eggs — 1 C. sugar.

Sift together and then add:  2 C. flour — 1/2 t. soda — 1 1/2 t. baking powder — 1/2 t. salt.

Spread half of batter in bottom of greased 9×13 pan.  Spread on a can of cherry pie filling.  Add rest of batter on top of that.

Top off with crumbles:  1/2 stick butter, softened — 1/2 C. flour — 1/2 C. sugar — 1/2 t. cinnamon.

Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes.


~~~~~~~~~~German Coffee Cake~~~~~~~~~~

Cream until light:  1 C. softened butter, 1 C. sugar, 2 eggs.

In another bowl, sift together:  2 C. flour — 1/2 t. salt — 1 t. baking powder — 1 t. baking soda.

To creamed mixture, add dry mixture and 1 C. sour cream alternately (end with dry).  Add 1 t. vanilla.  Spread scant half of mixture in bottom of two round cake pans that have been lined with aluminum foil.  Sprinkle on half of the *topping.  Remainder of batter.  Remainder of topping.  Bake at 350 degrees for 30-35 minutes.

*Topping:  1/3 C. brown sugar — 1 t. cinnamon — 1/4 C. sugar — 1 C. chopped pecans

Note: Lining pans with aluminum foil make it sooo easy to remove them from pan, and sooo easy to wrap in more aluminum foil and freeze.  Great to have on hand.


~~~~~~~~~~Mama’s Spiced Applesauce Bread~~~~~~~~~~

In large bowl combine:  1 1/4 C. unsweetened applesauce — 1 C. sugar — 1/2 C. cooking oil — 2 eggs — 3 T. milk

Sift into the bowl:  2 C. flour — 1 t. baking soda — 1/2 t. cinnamon — 1/2 t. baking powder — and 1/4 t. each of salt, nutmeg and allspice.  Beat well.

 Fold in 1/2 C. chopped pecans.  Divide into two greased 9x5x3 loaf pans.

Combine and sprinkle over top:  1/4 C. chopped pecans — 1/4 C. brown sugar — 1/2 t. cinnamon.

Bake approximately 40 minutes at 350 degrees.  Remove from pans and cool on rack.  Wrap and store in frig.

Note:  In case you’re feeling adventuresome — we had a neighbor once who added a tablespoon of cocoa to her applesauce bread batter.  It was a surprise to me that that was verry good!  But, I’m pretty traditional, so I still like plain, old-fashioned applesauce bread the best.

I hope that some of the recipes I’ve given you yesterday and today are ones that might “tweak” your interest.  This is a fun time to bake (and try NEW recipes to bake) because there is always someone you can share them with.

Happy Baking.

Christmas Morning Sweets: Part 1, Rolls

December 15, 2007


~~~~~~~~~~Tea Donuts~~~~~~~~~~

In large mixing bowl, cream together 10 T. softened butter and 1 C. sugar. Add 2 eggs and mix well.

In another bowl, mix:  3 C. flour — 1/2 t. salt — 1/2 t. nutmeg — 4 1/2 t. baking powder.  Add alternately to big bowl with 1 C. milk (Mama’s Rule: to “add alternately” always begin and end with dry ingredients: dry/wet/dry/wet/dry)

Fill greased mini-muffin pans 2/3 full.   Bake at 350 degrees until golden brown (approximately 25 min.)

While baking, melt 2 sticks butter in a saucepan and allow to cool somewhat.  In small mixing bowl, combine 2 C. sugar and 4 t. cinnamon.When muffins are removed from oven, dump them out of tins and allow to cool about 10 minutes.  Then, roll each BRIEFLY in the cool melted butter and then roll in the sugar/cinnamon mix.  Allow to “air dry” for a while before storing in a sealed container.  Makes 6 dozen.All the “cooling” and “air drying” is to avoid these being “mushy.”  But even when they are “mushy” they are wonderful little “gems” for a breakfast buffet.


~~~~~~~~~~Iron Skillet Caramel Rolls~~~~~~~~~~

In a large bowl, mix a pkg. of yellow cake mix (not pudding kind) and 5 C. of flour.

In a small bowl, dissolve 1 pkg. dry yeast in 2 1/2 C. warm water.

Mix liquid into dry mix with a wooden spoon or your hands.  Let rise in a warm place for about 1 hour.

On well-floured surface, roll out dough to 1/2″ thick rectangle.  Butter dough and sprinkle with white sugar, brown sugar and cinnamon.  Roll up long ways and cut into 24 rolls.

HEAVILY butter bottom and sides of two iron skillets (aprox. 1 stick per skillet).  Sprinkle buttered skillets with brown sugar and pecans (whole or pieces).  Put rolls in skillets and let rise for 1 hour.

Bake at 350 degrees for 15-20 minutes, until golden brown.

Remove from oven and immediately turn rolls out of skillets onto plates.  Scrape out any “caramel” that stays on sides of skillets and spread on top of rolls.


~~~~~~~~~~Mini-Cinnamon Rolls~~~~~~~~~~

First, scald 1 C. milk, and then cool to lukewarm.

In a little bowl or cup, dissolve 1 pkg. dry yeast in 1/4 C. lukewarm water.

In a large bowl, combine:  4 C. flour, 1 t. salt and 1/4 C sugar.  Cut in 2 sticks softened butter.

In a small bowl, combine 2 beaten eggs, the scalded milk and the yeast mixture.  Add to the flour mixture.  Combine lightly.  Cover tightly and refrigerate overnight.

To make rolls: 

First, in a small bowl combine 1 C. sugar and 1 t. cinnamon.

Then, divide dough into 4 parts.  Roll out parts one at a time on a floured surface and then  sprinkle with a fourth of the sugar/cinnamon mixture.  Roll up and cut into 1″ pieces.  Place on cookie sheet and flatten with palm of hand. 

Bake at 350 degrees until lightly browned (+-17 minutes).

Immediately remove to wire racks with a cookie sheet or wax paper under them to catch drips of frosting, and drizzle with thin powdered sugar frosting.

Powdered sugar frosting:  2 T. butter, very soft — 1 t. vanilla — 1 1/2 C. powdered sugar — enough milk to make fairly thin frosting.

These store well on the counter in a container with a lid, and are delicious, warm and cold!

Tomorrow:  Coffeecakes and Mama’s Applesauce Bread