Christmas Confession

Confession time. I actually toyed with the idea of not putting up a Christmas tree this year.

Now, as Paul Harvey would say, here’s the rest of the story…

We’re not celebrating Christmas with the family until next month because of timing and other families’ celebrations. It just gets to be too hard on the kids and grandkids.

Odds are, we probably won’t see them until then (insert sad face here). Not complaining; just stating fact. And, since we have no parties planned here either, I thought maybe, just maybe, I should not ‘bother’. After all, it will be ‘just the two of us.’ I asked Nick his opinion last weekend and got “it’s up to you,” in response. (sigh). Decorating the tree has always (always) been a special part of our family tradition for the Advent season. I normally am chomping at the bit to put the tree up right after Thanksgiving. After all, it’s time. A happy time. An expectant time: Jesus’ birth is coming. Family will be all around – even if not on Christmas, soon afterwards. All is right with the world. But somehow, this year, the looming, extra-length emptiness has been lingering around my heart and making even the smallest Christmas efforts seem monumental.

I even thought about putting up a smaller, table top tree on our dining room table instead of the big tree. That’s tough for me to admit because it takes me back to the year when my folks quit putting up a full sized, real tree in THEIR house. I can distinctly remember walking into their living room that year and seeing a little tree – it had to be the cut-off top of a tree – perched on their entertainment center. Sharp disappointment hit me – it was the end of an era and I knew it. At that exact moment, somehow, it hit me – the recognition that they had passed a point and would not be returning. I knew that the end (of their lives) was much closer than the beginning (does that make sense?).

While in a store last weekend I stopped in front of their display of various sizes and designs of little pre-lit trees. It made me sad to look at them. I waited to see if anything ‘hit’ me. Nothing did. “Why not just wait and see if you feel like putting up our tree sometime between now and Christmas,” my personal ‘wise man’ said as he stood beside me, looking at my sad boo-boo face. “I don’t think all of these are going to go anywhere.”

So, every night this week, I sat in our living room, looking at the corner where the Christmas tree normally sits by now. The rocking chair there seemed to mock me. Normally, it’s fine. But now, not. Nothing seemed right. Maybe I should decorate the rocker instead, a part of my brain mocked. Oh, shut up, I told myself.

Then, this morning, it hit me full force. WHAM! Tears down my cheeks. The whole she-bang. Listened to Christmas music and cried through every song. Sadness and probably a bit of self pity, but I managed to turn it into joy when I realized the real reason for our Christmas season. How selfish I was being by not wanting to truly celebrate our Savior’s birth!

So, the tree went up tonight. Here it is, in all it’s glory, with our precious Nativity scene underneath it. IMG_2371 (2)

Recipes and Life

Funny thing about recipes – some people follow them to a tee; others use them as a guideline and still others look them up and go off entirely on their own. Kind of reminds me of life…

Me? Well, I am a blend of the first two. You see, my mom was a good cook but somewhat lacking in the motherhood skills, so I did not know how to cook when I married my first husband. My mother in law at the time, a German farmer’s wife, taught me how to cook and bake. She used basic spices, cooked hearty lunches and dinners that always included desserts and spent many hours in the farm kitchen preparing meals that gave her family plenty of calories to burn for the hours spent outside in all weather. I learned those skills from her but was very young and quite unsure of myself, so I followed recipes diligently and was blissfully unaware of the culinary possibilities that existed outside my realm.

Fast forward to today. Re-married to a guy who grew up with a mother who was an awful cook; a guy who took cooking classes as basic survival skills and expanded that knowledge to every spice and seasoning known to man (or so it seems). He’s a guy who may start off using a recipe as a guideline but will almost always head off on his own, unfettered and unafraid. Because, as he says, if it doesn’t turn out, we can always make something else or go out. Recipes are more of a suggestion to him…again, that mimics life…

Over the years, he’s learned not to stand over me in the kitchen giving hints or trying to gently guide me (gently is the operative term there, as I am sure he thinks of it that way, whereas I feel a freight train pushing and pulling me toward a derailment). Leave me with my recipes and my instincts. I’ve developed into a more creative cook over the years but I still like a good recipe. I may deviate a bit, but when starting out in a new realm, I’ll follow one pretty darn closely to be sure I get the knack of it before invoking the ‘imagination clause’.

Yesterday, I went to my recipe box (I know, I know, pretty much ‘old school, right?) to look for my recipe for piecrust. We had been talking about pie crusts at my cousin’s last weekend during our Lefse Fest and someone asked me to share it with them, as it is extremely flaky and tasty. Now, before we go too far, I have to tell you, I do keep some new recipes on my computer and have entire CDs from Weight Watchers and other sources. So don’t think I am adverse to using technology for collecting my favorites.

But while looking for my piecrust recipe, I pulled out a chocolate crinkles recipe written by my first husband’s grandmother. IMG_2328_edited-1
It was one of the first ones she gave me. It’s written in her distinctive handwriting and I hear her voice as I read her words…she’s been gone many years… I found the rhubarb cake recipe from my ex Mother in Law (she’s now in an assisted living center and no longer cooks or bakes)IMG_2331_edited-1
…a Texas hash recipe from my husband’s Auntie Vi, in her handwritingIMG_2333_edited-1, recipes from my cousins
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IMG_2335_edited-1 and sisters in lawIMG_2334_edited-1, another aunt IMG_2329_edited-1 and my own handwritten (well used) ones as wellIMG_2330_edited-1.

I even have all the recipe cards from a friend’s mother who passed. His girls did not want the recipes, so I gladly took them. I cherish them all and think of her whenever I use one of them.

To me, recipe cards are more than just ‘recipes’, although even if that’s all they were, it would be sufficient. Recipe cards are ways to pass down traditions in the very best sense of the word.

And recipes themselves give us whatever we want: they can provide the foundation and framework and building directions for your masterpiece, full sets of blueprints per se, or can be design suggestions for the creative minds.

When I think of my life and how I approach challenges and opportunities, I tend to follow directions – but that doesn’t mean I’m tied to a recipe that doesn’t allow any substitutions. I believe we can’t be paralyzed by the fear of change in our lives or our recipes. So, embrace the mysteries that present themselves to you and use all the spices and seasonings at your fingertips to create your own personal masterpiece…YOU!