Friday, December 30, 2011

jigsaw puzzles

One of my favorite things about being with family over the holidays, is the ability to work jigsaw puzzles with people who love the insanity as much as I do. (Well, my siblings do complain about the ones I bring, but they've yet to start bringing other options so I think they secretly love the challenge.)  Last night at my mother-in-law's house I looked at my watch at 8pm, and then when Bobby said we needed to go and I looked at my watch it was almost 11pm. I was totally flabbergasted.

Tonight will end the last of our Christmas celebrations, and a small part of me is ready to get back to a routine and normalcy. The other part of me feels as if this holiday season has been one emotional roller coaster and I would love a check-out time from reality and life to just emotionally recharge.  And yet I know that life, like puzzles, work best if you take small breaks but keep working toward completion, even if you do feel like you're the missing piece (that your brother stashed in his pocket and took home until the next day) and nothing is ever correctly finished because of you.

Meanwhile, I'm not sure which I like best: borderless puzzles, or puzzles with countless objects inside the picture. We've done both the last two weeks. Straight color scenes/backgrounds continue to be my non-favorite. And if I ever get our last bag unpacked, I might actually post pictures of some of our holiday projects.

Saturday, December 24, 2011


Every time I pack for a trip longer than two days, I can't help but hear my nephew's voice as he helps unload the van..."This is like moving!"  Oh dear one, you have no idea just how much stuff your Aunt Monica has!

But it does sometimes feel that way.  Clothes (both church and everyday), medical supplies, Christmas presents, a bag of things to do/read on the adds up fast! And this time there's the extra unusual things: a rabbit cage, a huge bag of food & bedding. Needless to say, our little van is often full!

This trip will be one of the two we've made in the last 12 years where I've NOT been overly stressed or exhausted before leaving, and I'm looking forward to it.  Traveling is so much easier (in my mind anyway) when I'm not already exhausted before we even leave.

So tonight I'm rejoicing that this trip has the potential to be so much easier, and that 38 is FINALLY over! Broken bones, overcommitment, pain, disaster, I bid you adieu!

Friday, December 23, 2011

a birthday story

What do you get when you combine Christmas caroling in the back of a pickup with a very pregnant deacon's wife?


They say the other deacons and the pastor followed the trail of hay to the hospital.
Somehow they convinced the nurse to carol in the nursery with "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear".
They claim I screamed through it.
I'm still not crazy about that tune.
The words, however, are lovely.

I don't miss that story being re-told every year at church. Some things are worth hearing just once or twice.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

cookie bake

 This last Saturday afternoon Mary Booth and I had the privilege of having a "cookie bake" with the girls from the oldest Jr. Church class. (Kimberly had already left by the time we started the photo shoot.) We had a good time, even if I was exhausted when it was over. :)

 This is one of our two mishaps. My Mom's recipe calls these "russian tea cakes" and they are a very caky-type sugar cookie. There was a miscommunication on which container had flour and which had powdered sugar, so we wound up with almost 5 cups of powdered sugar in this recipe. :) Needless to say, they were super-sweet, a tad chewy when they came out of the oven, and next to impossible to get out of the pan. None of the girls wanted them. By the time they cooled, it was impossible to get them out. Thankfully Mary had the bright idea to soak the whole pan, cookies and all, in hot water. After a few minutes, the whole sheet came out. We had a good laugh over it. Note to self: next year label all containers.
 Gingerbread man.
And a plate of cookies I saved for Bobby. 

My favorite comment of the day: "Let's make these cookies REALLY big, so if Mom says we can have one cookie we can obey but have what we want."  When I went to get the pan, I realized they were NOT joking! One chocolate chip cookie recipe only made about 12 cookies. Yes, these girls know the meaning of supersize! :)

Mary suggested next year we bake gingerbread and sugar cookies in advance, and then just have a decorating party (we didn't have time to decorate anything).  I'm thinking that might not be a bad idea.

May your holiday baking days be joyous and filled with laughter!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

the NC Governor's Mansion

My camera batteries died while were at the Open House, but here's what few photos I did manage to take.

 This pic is a little blurry, but the eagle supported tables in one of my favorite things in the Governor's Mansion.
 The first tree you see upon entering.
 And a close-up of the dogwood flowers that adorned it.

 The stair case has always impressed me, even though it's heavily masculine-looking. I know such detailed work in wood was not easy to do during that time frame, so that makes all the ridges even more impressive. The finials at the end of the staircase have Raleigh's oak symbol craved into each side, and for some reason, that always makes me think the staircase resembles nutcrackers.

 From the NC room...(again, sorry for the blurriness) a wreath made from dried tobacco leaves.

 The mantel in this room is covered in dried flowers and cotton balls. Notice the North Carolina trees below instead of the poinsettias that graced the rest of the mansion?

 And the table centerpiece...made from an Apex bakery, the gingerbread house is in the shape of a tobacco barn (and looks like wood!) and is placed on top of a burlap (tobacco) bag.

 Not sure of the schedule, but various school groups were singing (and they sounded good!) A new group was coming in to look around before singing as we were leaving.

The poinsettias were HUGE...the largest I've ever seen. At first we thought there were several plantings in one pot, but it wasn't. This is ONE plant.

I hate I missed getting photos of the dining room and front room. The dining room was done in an apple/lime green color. They had those tall cylinder vases all along the table, filled with assorted green ornaments, then the next one would be a different type of green ornaments, followed by green apples. The mantle there was also decorated in the same shade of green.  The front room also had a huge tree (matching the other tree in height) but was decorated in majestic colors of gold, silver, purple, and mauve...very ornate.

Oh! I forgot the's tree was covered in ornaments made by children of parents serving overseas (the ones stationed at Ft Bragg and Camp LeJuene).  It was very patriotic, bright, and cheerful.

And outside? Next to the entrance/security gate was a winter-garbed tree (void of leaves) covered in red ornaments. I told Bobby that must be their Charlie Brown tree.

If you've never been to the Governor's Mansion, you can either schedule a tour or watch for Open Houses in the spring or at Christmas. I think it's something everyone would enjoy. Granted, you don't get to see the actual living corridors upstairs, but it's still quite impressive.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

the Wicked Chicken Auction

Every one in a blue moon we head to a small town called Wilson's Mills, where the Calamity Jane's store has a Wicked Chicken Auction every Sunday afternoon. Bobby's geese (we have 4 females left) have started fighting lately, something they've not done in the ten years we've had them. Even the chickens and rooster get upset and try to separate them when it happens. So we headed to the auction in hopes of finding a male goose. They actually had a goose that matches ours, and when the held it up before the bidding started, I was unable to see the tell-tale pouch (females have a saggy bottom on one side after they've laid eggs).  We got the goose for a VERY good price, got home, and realized it was a GIRL.  On the bright side, the four original geese are now so busy trying to keep away from the new goose that they are forgetting to fight.

While there, someone had brought in several boxes of 6 week old animals. Every pair had gone for at least $2 (some as high as 25), so I laughed and told Bobby I was going to bid $1.  I did, and the person behind me bid $1.50.  I thought I was out of the running, but after I turned from laughingly saying something to Bobby, the auctioneer pointed at me and asked for my number. I NEVER in my wildest dreams anticipated bringing these home, but we now have them. Bobby's now threatening to return my birthday presents since we have our new "pets". The first night they slept in the brooder box, and yesterday afternoon I got them a cage as we'll most likely take them to Alabama with us. After we got home last night, I fixed their cage and brought them inside. They keep us up most of the night. And now that Bobby has left for work, they're calm.

I have a feeling I may be in BIG trouble when we get to AL. 8 of the 10 items on my niece's wish list were animals. One of those animals was a rabbit. If it weren't for the fact I want to keep the relationship with my sister happy, I'd put two ribbons on this cage and two tags with the names of her two children and stick it under the Christmas tree. But I have this strange feeling that we might not be quite so welcome at their house if we did that.

At least life is never dull.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

a happy exhausted

For those of you who don't live near us, the property adjoining ours was sold about 6 years ago to our county for the purpose of building an elementary and a middle school. The town of Garner denied the building permit on the elementary school because of a political issue, then politics got VERY ugly around here with the school board getting a Republican majority that behaved very rudely and the NAACP came in full force and responded just as rudely back. Numerous lawsuits and newscasts later (plus a downturn in the economy), the plans for both schools are no longer even listed on the county's website as future school sites. Meanwhile, the county has leased the land to the city of Raleigh as a place to dump storm debris (trees and such) from government locations during the next five years. Our discussions of "what we want as a fence" on the property line stopped being discussions and are now 95% reality.

After evaluating prices and dreams, we finally ordered trees from the National Arbor Day Foundation. Granted, these are seedlings, so it will take at least 5-10 years before they actually look like real trees, but we were able to order ALL of them for the price of one grown tree from a local nursery. The downside? We have to do the work. Needless, to say, I'll be barely moving at the gym tomorrow (if I make it all!).

However, and here's my happy dance coming:

Our property line now consists of 6 hydrangeas, 6 forsythias, 6 crapemyrtles, 4 dogwoods, 1 Japanese maple, 1 smoketree, 1 sassafras, 6 rose of sharon, 1 red maple, and a weeping willow.

5 giant steps away from our property line is 16 southern magnolias (for a natural fenceline) with 10 red cedars on the way. I figure if the county is going to take their time about building, and their "buffer zone" between us and the school was only going to consist of 4 dogwoods and some shrubs, then I could spend $20 and help them out and plant trees in their buffer zone for them. By the time they ever get around to building/or selling, I should have a semi-decent tree/privacy fence in place on the buffer zone they promised in the plans. And if they tear it down, I'll only have lost $20 and one day of my time.

If every thing lives, I should have cool pictures in the spring! :)

FYI: And if you ever wondered, chickens are almost as bad as dogs for digging in the spot you just planned.

Monday, December 12, 2011

use your imagination

I'm at the public library where the computer screen tilts down at you in the most unfriendly fashion and am REALLY missing the comfort of my home "library".  We fried our internet modem Saturday, so it will be Thursday, at the earliest, before you can expect any more posts. I had planned to upload a few pics from our trip to the Governor's Mansion Open House on Saturday, but that will clearly have to wait. Meanwhile, I expect to get quite a bit done this week without the lure of checking e-mail biting into my free time. Hope your holidays are moving according to schedule and that you are remembering the reason we celebrate like crazy. :)

Friday, December 9, 2011

strange gifts :)

I have an unusual sense of humor.
Last year Bobby got a gift that was hysterically funny.

Even funnier was his almost-a-vegetarian niece's facial expression when she found out he actually ATE it. :)

I won't tell you what it REALLY was. You'll just have to wonder. At least until after Christmas.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

the most shocking Christmas book

Skipping Christmas by John Grisham has to be the craziest, most thought provoking, and insane Christmas book I have ever read. It's short. It's not a legal thriller or a "call to reform the justice system" as many of his books are. It's simply about what happens when a modern American family who celebrates Christmas in the traditional American way decides to skip Christmas. Literally.

Like anyone who's ever seen a show on hoarding suddenly decides to clean house, this book will totally flabbergast you into evaluating what you do that is and isn't important about the holidays.

a blow-up Frosty for your roof, anyone? :)

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

my favorite Christmas book

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson remains my all-time favorite Christmas book.  Yes, it's a child's chapter book, but I've not found one to beat it. I found a movie of the book, but we were very disappointed in it. It was made in the 1980's, and I thought the script writing was lame, especially after seeing the Garner Towne Players Youth do a great production based off of this book a few years ago. Evidently, a media group started making plans to write a screen play based off of the book last year, but there's been no word yet as to where or if it will actually be remade. So meanwhile, I'll just continue to read the book every year.

I'm actually getting my Mom a copy. My niece, who is 7, is the angel in their church play. While learning her lines and finding out that she "suddenly appears", she has become convinced for the play to be realistic she MUST be dropped from the ceiling somehow. According to her, everyone knows angels do not just pop out from behind a curtain. She's now on a mission to figure out who is "in charge" at the church so she can get help in being dropped from the ceiling by a rope or bungee cord. Seriously. When I heard this, it reminded me SO much of this book! If you've never read it, I challenge you to do so. You'll never view children's ministry, Christmas programs, or the Christmas story the same way.

Monday, December 5, 2011


Last Wednesday night our church looked at Psalm 139. I've read and known many of these verses most of my life, but have never really broken them down into a contextual analysis. Needless to say, those verses have been on my mind A LOT since this past Wednesday.

A few of the reality checks that brought them back to mind: a blog friend who is fighting cancer mentioned that one of her Thanksgiving praises was also her Christmas wish: more time with her family.

And yesterday, I received an update on a fellow believer, an imprisoned pastor. He was thankful for being allowed an extra 5 minutes every month with his wife. Instead of the allotted 15 minutes a month, the guard was letting him have 20. And this past month, they let him see his wife and small child from behind bars where he could actually semi-hug his son instead of only seeing them through glass. And why is he in jail? He preached and practiced God's Word in a land where it is illegal.

So in the midst of the craziness in this holiday season, while I'm fighting headaches and more pain than usual, these were very poignant reminders of just how quickly and easily my priorities can slip out of focus.

Search me, O God, and know my heart;
Try me and know my anxious thoughts;
And see if there be any hurtful way in me,
And lead me in the everlasting way.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

my favorite Christmas movie

I love Schulz's Peanut gang, and there's nothing better to capture the total American spirit of Christmas than this movie. It gives you the misplaced priorities, the funny scenes, the hyped emotions, out of control Christmas programs and the simple reminder "That's what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown."  There's one or two Christmas movies I've never seen that I hope to watch this year, but I have a hard time foreseeing anything replacing this one!

Friday, December 2, 2011

Christmas memories: Santa Claus

I don't remember ever believing in Santa Claus. I know we never sat in his lap. (Walker County didn't have a mall until I was in middle school!) I know my parents weren't opposed to the notion of Santa, as many of our presents were signed "from Mr. and Mrs. Claus" or "From Santa & His Wife" but I never believed. Maybe because I recognized Daddy's handwriting, maybe because I knew Santa used the same wrapping paper as my parents (or maybe because my little sister found the hidden stash of presents EVERY. SINGLE. YEAR).  But I do know by the time I was in middle school if any of my siblings joined me in making a gift for Mom and Dad, we would sign it "From Santa's elves". 

One Christmas I watched my brother-in-law set things up for his girls, and I asked him if he needed help wrapping presents (a lot of the gifts were unwrapped under the tree).  He looked at me like I was crazy and said "Santa doesn't wrap his presents. He doesn't have time."  I was a bit discomforted at the level to which they took the whole Santa thing, but like a good aunt, I would just listen. When my nieces asked me if Santa was real, I borrowed my cousin's example and replied, "What do you think?"

I think if we had our own children, I would probably be like my parents and let them know about Saint Nicholas and the myths, but I don't think I'd push it as something true that required letters and such. My first year in China, when we had an open house so our students could see American Christmas decorations, almost every group of students would have someone point to the wooden nativity and ask which one was Santa. It was quite sad. Seeing how people the world over know about our beliefs in Santa Claus but not our beliefs in Jesus really bothered me. To this day, the only Santa in my house are two small tree ornaments. Reindeer, snowmen, bears...yes.  And I recognize this is a very personal decision and I certainly don't have a problem with anyone else having Santa decorations, but it's just not for me. My husband was laughing at me yesterday asking just how many nativity sets I was going to use to decorate with this year, and found it funny that I forgot how many I had. But that's a post for another day. :)

Thursday, December 1, 2011

a Jesse tree

The Jesse Tree was created as a response to Christian parents who want their child to fully grasp the meaning of Christmas: the whys and hows of Christ's coming.  I have a family member and many friends who do it yearly with their children, and there may come a year when Bobby and I do it together. Who knows?

Here's what I've written about the Jesse Tree in the past:

And if you're interested in starting this Christmas devotional with your child, this website has free devotionals and ornaments. You do have to subscribe to either her blog or to have it e-mailed to you, though.

Let the Christmas posts commence! :)