Sunday, December 22, 2013

Favorite Things: Christmas Ornaments (Part Two)

Yesterday I wrote about my teacher ornaments in this post.  It was the first of a two-parter.  Today I'm sharing the ornaments that represent the other aspects of my life.  This post is picture heavy.  You visual learners will appreciate it.

The first is the sequined butterfly.

A friend gave me this about fifteen years ago.  I have a thing for butterflies which is why she gave it to me.  I realize this makes me sound like a ten year old girl.  Maybe I'll write about my thing for butterflies in another post and then you'll understand.  Until then, you can just think I'm like a ten year old girl. 

Speaking of which...

 Okay, this isn't a unicorn (although I do have a unicorn on the tree).  This is Pegasus.  It was on the tree when I was growing up.  I'm not sure where it came from. My mom gave it to me many years ago because I have always loved it.  I remember when we first studied mythology in eighth grade.  The assignment was to summarize the myths we were reading.  The teacher said my summaries were excellent.  Many of the straight A, model students in class had trouble when we did this. It came very naturally to me, as did a love of Greek mythology.  It was one of the first times my writing made me feel special.

I also have an assortment that are related to my children.  They both have engraved "My First Christmas" ornaments that I let them put on the tree every year.

Since then I have tried to let them pick out an ornament of their own every year.  Here are a few of my daughter's...


And my son's...

I have a cardinal to remind me of my Nana who passed away this year.

And I have a couple with pugs to remind me of my beloved Ruby .

This one is my husband's. I bought it for him, and I make him hang it every year.  He used to have a Harley.  I don't want him to be left out.   He needs some representation.

Over the last several years, I've been collecting ornaments from places we've visited.  It's a great way to stop and remember those trips.

Disney World...

Our trip to Tennessee - This came from the large arts and crafts fair there.

And this one is from Ripley's Aquarium.

We have three from three different trips to Holiday World.  These are just too good to pass up when we're there.

This one came from our last trip to Santa Claus, Indiana. There is an archabbey there, St. Meinrad's, that we toured.  This was in the gift shop.

Here's the St. Louis Arch...

 And St. Louis Zoo

I hope to keep adding to this part of the collection on future trips.

This year we had a special Grinch themed supper on the night we watched the Grinch.  The Grinch is hands-down my favorite Christmas special.  I love Dr. Seuss.  He's one of my top 5 children's lit writers.  We put a special ornament on the tree for this new tradition.



Barbie looks a little scared...

I could go on and on, but I'll end with another ornament I bought years ago because it reminded me of the Grinch's heart on the cartoon.

Go out and get a new ornament for your tree this year!  Pick something out that's meaningful to you.  Tell your loved ones why.  Everyone needs a story. Merry Christmas to all! 



Saturday, December 21, 2013

Favorite Things: Christmas Ornaments (Part One)

I love my Christmas tree ornaments.  This will be a two-parter since I sort my ornaments into two categories.  The first category is teacher ornaments.

When I first moved out of my parent's house and had my own Christmas tree, I didn't have a lot of ornaments.  I realize I could have bought a set of color-coordinated ornaments from Wal-Mart, but I didn't want that kind of tree. Trees like that are pretty, but I honestly don't understand people who decorate their trees this way.  For me, everything is a story. The tree tells a story about the people it belongs to, so I'm not sure what a tree decorated with all blue and silver ornaments, ribbons, and lights is saying.  You like blue?  And silver?  You think spheres are awesome?  Okay. 

I had a few things I had bought at craft fairs and discount stores, but it was really kind of sad little collection that didn't tell anything about me.  My tree didn't stay that way for long because I'm a teacher.  As a teacher, you receive an average of three to five new ornaments each Christmas. It's like a holiday law.  My tree started to have a little more character with each passing year.

Of course you get the standard "teacher" ornaments, but there really is a variety in these.

This is one I got last year.

The little boy who gave me this one, "engraved" my name on it himself.

It's nice to get these out each year and remember the kids who gave them to me.  But I also have been gifted with some non-teacher ornaments from students over the years that remind me of those students, despite the fact that there's no mention of me being their teacher.

There's this one given to me by a student who is now a junior in high school...

This one was from a more recent student who got it at a local business in town...

A seven year old boy named P.J. gave me this cute bear. He would be about 20 years old now.

And this one I just got yesterday.  My first black pug ornament!  This was thanks to a student whose grandmother is a friend of mine and knows how much I love my dog...

And then there are the ones that are handmade. 

This little girl has made me an ornament for the past two years. She knows purple is my fave!

The girl who gave me this one inserted a handwritten note...


And the little boy who made this snow queen is probably out of college by now...

This next one is a favorite.

The first grade boy who gave me this had an older sister who was diagnosed with leukemia the year he gave it to me.  It was a rough year for him and his family.  I was his teacher for first and second grade while she underwent treatment.  I took another teaching position the next year and moved to a city far away from them, but I continued to get a Christmas card from them that always pictured him with his two sisters.  The first two years the sister with leukemia had no hair in the pictures.  But the next one I received was a great surprise -her hair had all grown back!  She was in remission!  I always think of them when I get this one out and hang it on the tree.

My tree isn't color-coordinated.  There is no theme.  Wait, that's not true - stories. My tree does have a theme.  It's just not one you can see. 

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Favorite Things: The Pancake Bowl

We had snow overnight.

I love snow.  I know a lot of people hate it.  Do not count me in that group.  It's especially nice if I am home and don't have to travel anywhere.

 After lots of excitement about possibly getting some snow on Friday, we came up empty-handed.  I knew there was a chance for it Saturday night/Sunday morning but figured that wouldn't pan out either.  Guess I was wrong!  I woke up hearing my kids downstairs talking about it while they were looking for our elf, Clara.  I peeked out the window and sure enough, there was the white stuff on the ground.  It wasn't a lot, but it was enough to get them excited.  I love a pleasant surprise.  And speaking of that, here's what Clara brought the kids.

In spite of their excitement about the cookies, I did not let them eat them for breakfast.  But I thought the next best thing would be pancakes.  Out came the pancake bowl.

I ordered this from a catalog years ago when my husband and I started dating.  I realized I had found a man who loved to make breakfast.  And he loved to make breakfast for me.  As in made-to-order, "What would you like this morning?"  Scrambled eggs and English muffin?  French toast?  Waffles? Hash browns?  Pancakes?  The first time he made me French toast, I told him, "Your stock just keeps rising."

I had seen this bowl many times and loved it but resisted since I never made pancakes for myself in the morning.  Now I had a reason to buy it.  I thought the pour spout would be very handy for pouring the batter on the griddle.  It's not.  This has remained the pancake bowl regardless.  If the kids see it out, they know pancakes are forthcoming. 

There's something special about someone making pancakes for you.  Yes, you can buy them frozen or go to IHOP, but it's not the same as someone making them for you.  For years, we used Bisquick and used add-ins like blueberries, chocolate chips, or cinnamon.  Last year, that all changed when I found a copycat recipe on Pinterest for IHOP pancakes.  I was curious if pancakes would be better.  Um, YES.  No comparison

So because it is the season of giving, I'm going to share this recipe with you.  Just try it.  You won't be sorry.  You don't need a special pancake bowl.  You just need someone who cares about you to make them for you or you can make them for someone you care about.  It will make you or them feel loved.  And your stock will rise.  Here's the link or you can get it below.  Enjoy!

IHOP pancakes

1 1/4 c. flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. Baking soda
pinch of salt
1 egg, beaten
1 1/4 c. buttermilk
2 Tbsp. melted butter
1/4 c. sugar

Stir together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Mix the egg with the buttermilk and add to the flour mixture, stirring only until smooth. Add the melted butter and sugar. Fry on a greased griddle. Serves 4.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Favorite Things: Domestic Gift

Another favorite things post!  Read the first one and why I'm doing these posts here.

My Kitchen Aid stand mixer is the focus this week.  It is one of my favorite things, but there's a story that goes along with it.
A thing of beauty is a joy forever.

I love my beautiful mixer.  I love to bake.  I've done posts about it that you can find here and here.  This tool makes a big difference in the way things come together.  My kids will usually come running if they hear it fire up. It's like cats and the electric can opener effect.

The year my husband and I got engaged was the year we spent our first Christmas together.  We met in January, got engaged in July, and married in June.  Fast?  Yes.  When you know, you know.  We've been married eleven years, and I've never been happier.  Anyway, Christmas was a big deal that year for us because it was our first.  One day while we were talking about gifts for each other, I warned him - no domestic presents.  I saw his face fall.  He confessed he had already bought me a Kitchen Aid mixer.  He knew I loved to bake and wanted one.  I felt about an inch tall and was ashamed of being such a brat.  It was a wonderful, thoughtful gift, and I had ruined the surprise.  He offered to take it back, but I wouldn't let him.  I really did want it.  It just never occurred to me he would think to go out and buy me one.  I guess I didn't realize how close he was paying attention.

He ended up giving it to me that night.  This worked out wonderfully since I had yet to make any Christmas cookies.  I had only had a hand me down hand mixer before this.  I couldn't believe how much easier and better this worked.  Professional quality is worth the money, it seems.  Since then I've used it for cakes, both cheese and carrot, mashed potatoes, bread, and countless batches of cookies. 

It seems silly to me now that I didn't want something domestic from him that first Christmas.  Part of what I loved about him was that he was so family and home oriented.  I guess I just wasn't quite ready for him to think of me that way.  Or maybe for me to think of myself that way?  Twelve years later and I'm completely comfortable with both him seeing me this way and seeing myself this way.

Incidentally, he did go out and buy me another present.  Diamond stud earrings and a diamond necklace.  I love those too, but the Kitchen Aid has had a lot more use.  I think of my mixer on the rare occasions I wear the jewelry.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Favorite Things: Come To The Table

This time of year makes me think about The Sound of Music.  I guess that's because it is usually on T.V. at some point during the holiday season. I love a good musical, and although I like The Sound of Music, it's not on my top 5 musical list.  But I do love the song "My Favorite Things" which pops up on the radio quite often during this time of year.  It's not so much the uplifting melody or the imagery the lyrics paint or the clever rhythmic rhyming that I love about this song.  I love that it is so specific, "Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens...brown paper packages tied up with string."  I once read an interview with J.K. Rowling in which she talked about the importance of details in her writing.  She explained that she included things like butter beer, chocolate frogs, and pumpkin pasties in her books because when she was a child reading books, those were the kinds of things she wanted to know.  Details are important.  Specific details are better in my opinion.

With that in mind, I'm going to throw out a few posts called "Favorite Things". No, not like Oprah's list of decadent items that everyone goes ape shit for on her show.  I've seen lots of people on Facebook who are participating in the gratitude challenge and are listing things they are thankful for each day.  I applaud them for that.  I wrote about the necessity of appreciating little specific things in order to be happy in this post.  My idea for these posts, however, is to really get focused on specific items.  Oh, I know we're not supposed to focus on material things.  I understand why.  I get it.   To me, though, tangible things are a veritable roadmap to the intangible. It's easy to forget the intangible which is why symbols are an important part of life. Stay with me here.

So - my dining room table.  What?  Yes, that's right.  My dining room table is one of my favorite things.

My parents purchased this Amish made oak table with two leaves that can be taken in or out and six matching chairs for us when my husband and I bought our first home together.  I owned a house by myself before we were married.  There was no room for a table and chairs in my first house.  There was a breakfast bar you could eat at which worked fine for a single gal who usually ate a bowl of cereal for dinner.  When I got married, we moved the two person K-Mart table I was using as a desk in the second bedroom into what was really the living room and ate there.  Then my daughter was born and we scooted a high chair up to that.

But when my daughter was about nine months old, we bought another house.  We moved in early December.  There was actually a big old space for a dining room table in the new house.  The K-Mart table looked quite out of place and pathetic there, but we had just moved and were not financially able to go out and drop a load of cash on a nice dining room set.  We knew we'd just get by with what we had.  Besides, the new house had an even nicer and larger breakfast bar and my daughter was still in her high chair.  But my parents generously offered to buy us a dining room set as a housewarming gift.  I was working, we still had boxes to unpack, my husband was working second shift, and we had a baby at home.  I did not have time to go out and browse furniture stores.  My mom asked me what kind of finish, shape, and wood we would like.  I told her.  She picked it out.  My mother and I are both fairly decisive people, and this is the way we work best together.  It took over the space of our sad, little K-Mart table with authority.  But we still ate at the breakfast bar most days with my daughter in her high chair at the end of it.

And then Christmas Eve came nearer.  The thought occurred to me that we might actually be able to have Christmas Eve dinner at our house because everyone would have a place to sit down!  I was 33 years old and had never lived in a place where I could do that.  We put in the two leaves and it was like a banquet hall - for us, anyway.  My parents, brother, sister-in-law, and aunt were able to eat at our table with us.  We became the hosts.  Becoming the host of your extended family is an unsung rite of passage these days, I think.  Hmmm... that's a good thought for another series of posts.  But back to my point...

We're now in yet a different house and have two kids who have been old enough to sit at the table for quite some time.  This table houses all kinds of memories now.



Every one of my children's birthday parties has been at this table.

Coloring Easter eggs...

Family Game Night...

Carving pumpkins...

And making Christmas cookies...

Not to mention decorating it for every season like...

The Fourth of July...


Back to school...

And of course, Christmas...

I also love the craftsmanship of this table.  Someone's hard work and skill went into making it.  I cannot build anything.  I have no aptitude for putting things together, so I'm very impressed when someone can.  I'm amazed how the gears turn perfectly against each other to let the table out and how the leaves fit perfectly underneath it.  It will last us a lifetime, God willing.

This table cuts right to the heart of our family.  A lot of what is important in our home happens at this table.  It's probably not the table I'd choose today since we've had it over ten years.  It has some indentations in it (from my son's toddler days when he got hold of an adult sized piece of silverware)and couple of small paint stains from when the kids were little and painted on it.  (Never believe it when kid paint says it washable.) There have been times I've been tempted to go looking for a nice updated, rectangular table in cherry or maybe maple to match the cabinets in the house we're in now.  But I haven't.   And if our house were leveled by a tornado as some people's were today in Illinois, we'd go on without it and buy a new one and thank God that everyone was safe and nothing really important was lost.  But I would be sad at least for a moment about the loss. This table reminds me every day.  I know material things are not the most important things.  They are symbols that remind of us of what is important.  I'm all for something that keeps me aware of that.