Monday, December 31, 2012

Say "Cheese"...and Duck

           When I asked my daughter Kristin to send me a picture of Brooks in his new room, this is what I got.


Seems he’s going through a phase in which he hates to have his picture taken. I can’t blame him. I’m going through that phase myself. The difference is he’ll probably outgrow it. I'll only get worse.

             It’s kind of cute when a toddler throws himself face down on the floor and refuses to have his picture made, but not so much when his grandma does it. And the strategy of ducking right before the camera clicks doesn’t work anymore. It worked thirty years ago when it took weeks to get pictures developed, but in the age of instant photo-gratification, in less than a nano-second people are on to your trick. So through trial, error, and mortification, I’ve developed some coping tactics which—using myself as an example—I’m sharing with those of you who also suffer from photophobia. Feel free to use these the next time people insist you join in the group photo. 

 ·         DON’T stand next to, behind, or anywhere near the youngest, skinniest people in the group.   
        (I use the word skinny as a compliment.)
·         DON’T look at the camera face-on.
·         DON’T expose any more of your body than is absolutely necessary.
·         DON’T wear anything shiny on or near body parts you don’t want emphasized, e.g. thick neck, broad shoulders. (NOTE: If you, like me, have a weakness for bright, shiny things, don’t give up wearing them. Just remove them before having your picture made.)


·         DO hide behind other people or position yourself on the row farthest back.
·         DO, angle your body to the camera.
·         DO cover or camouflage as much as possible those body parts you don’t want emphasized, e.g. thick neck, broad shoulders. 

Another helpful hint is to avoid squinty, “Porky Pig” eyes by smiling only with your lips and holding your eyes open. But a word of caution here: I STRONGLY advise you practice this technique in the mirror before trying it in a picture. Otherwise, you might come out looking scared. Or scary as evidenced below.

Finally, some advice for those annoying headshots we sometimes have to provide. To avoid the expense of professional lighting, photo-shopping, and air-brushing, your best bet is to follow this acronym: KISS (Keep It Small, Stupid). I might be the only person in the country who likes her drivers license picture. In fact, the last time I renewed my license, I asked for re-prints of the photo. The agent informed me she didn’t have the right equipment. That’s unfortunate because those stamp-sized pics are perfect for hiding wrinkles, fine lines, yellowing teeth, thinning hair, enlarged pores...whatever ails ya.
I hope these techniques prove helpful to you. If they do, please let me know, and if you have some of your own, please share. 

Wishing you Health and Happiness in the Shiny New Year!

(And thanks to the fabulously photogenic Inklings for helping me demonstrate my techniques!)


Thursday, December 20, 2012

'Tis the Season to be...Confused?

                        About a week ago, my daughter texted me she’d taken Brooks (her two-year-old) to the library for story time. While there, she helped him pick out two Christmas books—one about Santa Claus, one about the nativity. They read the one about Santa first. Then they read the one about the nativity. Every time they came to a picture of baby Jesus in the manger, Brooks pointed to it and said, “Ho, ho, ho!”

                        My daughter is afraid he might be a bit confused. He probably is, but then he’s only two. I think a lot of Christian adults also get confused about the reason for the season.

                        Wait! Don’t stop reading! I promise this isn't another harangue about how Christmas is too commercial. I happen to like some of that commercialism. I like giving gifts to those I love. I like decorating my house so that it’s cheerful and festive for those who visit. I like preparing a meal my family will enjoy. But it’s a matter of priority. If those activities become my main focus, if they stress me to the point I forget the message of joy and peace the first Christmas was meant to bring, then there’s a problem.

                        So in an effort to remind you—and myself—to slow down, to reflect, to celebrate the true meaning of Christmas, I’m sharing my favorite Christmas carol with you. Every time I hear this song, it brings clarity to the season and reminds me again of God’s amazing gift to us. I pray it does the same for you.




Monday, December 10, 2012

Not a Facebook Christmas

            Last night I put the finishing touches on my Christmas decorations and lingered a few minutes to admire my handiwork. No, it wasn’t a Pinterest-worthy scene, but all the same, I experienced satisfaction. Fairy lights twinkled around the fireplace; the nativity and Santa Clauses were prominently displayed; the tree glimmered with crystal “icicles” re-purposed from a dismantled chandelier.

            If all goes according to plan (does that ever happen?), this Christmas should be happy and fun. My daughter and her family will be joining us. I’m already picturing a chaotic Christmas morning when a toddler lays waste to my decorating efforts. And I’m loving it!

            But in the middle of all this decorating and day-dreaming, my thoughts drift back to Christmas 1990. Even if Facebook had existed then, I wouldn’t have been posting about that one. A long, stressful year was drawing to a close. My husband had lost his job, and we’d moved to a new town. We were living in a rental half the size of our own house, a house still for sale in a sluggish market. My dad was going through chemo treatments for bladder cancer, and my brother was going through a different form of torture, a second divorce. There didn’t seem to be much to celebrate. And yet, what I recall most vividly about that Christmas was a moment of laughter.

            My mother and I were sitting at the table discussing those annoying Christmas newsletters. You know them: We’ve just returned from vacationing in the Bahamas, our son is graduating from Harvard law school, our daughter is engaged to a neurosurgeon. Happy Holidays, Fullofit and Felicity Feelgood.  My mom said she’d considered sending her own newsletter that year: Joe is undergoing chemo, my son-in-law is out of work, my son is getting a divorce...again. “That ought to cheer up folks,” she said. Then we started laughing. Laughing out loud. Belly laughing.

            As we laughed, I realized that in the midst of all that was wrong, so much was right. We had been able to come together as family, we had plenty to eat, we had a warm, comfortable house in which to gather. And we hadn’t completely lost our sense of humor. While we might not have had all we wanted, God had blessed us with all we needed and then some.

            The purpose of this post is not to brag about how good things are for me now but to offer encouragement to those whose Christmas might not be so “jolly” this year. Not all Christmas memories are warm and fuzzy. Not all Christmas experiences call to mind a Norman Rockwell painting. Deaths of loved ones, illnesses, family issues, financial problems, loneliness—all of these situations become intensified when it seems everyone else is celebrating. But even in the middle of our problems and woes, we can claim the promise of Christmas. Not a promise of a pain-free life, but the promise that God shares in our pain and will see us through it.
I wish you and your loved ones a joyful and blessed Christmas.


Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Circle of Friends Christmas Tea: In a Word--Piquant!

         “Are you bringing sweet or savory?” My friend Carol asked me this a week before the Circle of Friends Christmas Tea and Book Exchange. Little did she know that in asking the question, she provided the inspiration for the title of this post.

            I didn’t need to look up the definition of sweet to know that it means pleasing, agreeable, or delightful to the senses. Or, in the case of a person, amiable, kind, or gracious. But savory sent me to just to be sure I had it right. I found that savory also means pleasing and agreeable, but there is an added word—piquant. Piquant? I did another search. These are three definitions I found:

            1.  agreeably pungent or sharp in taste or flavor
            2.  agreeably stimulating, interesting, or attractive
            3.  an interestingly provocative or lively character

            Yes, yes, and yes! Our Christmas Tea is most definitely piquant! We had pungent dishes, attractive (or rather gorgeous!) decorations, stimulating and interesting conversation, and—as we have at every meeting—“interestingly provocative or lively characters.”  

            Since a picture is worth a thousand words—and since at this meeting I actually remembered to take pictures—I’m going to let them show you just how special this occasion is.

Carole's beautiful decorations provided the
perfect setting for the festivities.

Difficult choices for Paula, Anna, and Judy!

Eat your heart out, Martha Stewart!

Three days after knee surgery,
but Shelley was determined not to miss.
Yes, the tea is that special!

Our hostess, Carole.

Elizabeth was excited about her new book, but
we were excited about her announcement!
Check out the "rock" on her ring finger!

Brenda with her new book, Nothing Daunted.

Pat couldn't wait until she got home to
start reading her new book.
A true bibliophile!

There were waay too many great dishes to pick out a favorite, so I decided to give the recipe for Cheryl's Chicken Pot Pie which I promised in my last post. The best way I know to describe what an awesome cook Cheryl is is to compare her to me. Cheryl is the kind of cook who will taste a dish and say, "It's a light cream sauce with a little white wine and just a touch of basil. I can make this." I'm the kind of cook who reads a recipe and says, "Hmmm, sugar, cream cheese, and Oreos...what's not to like?" So while this recipe might look daunting, it's really not if you do it in stages. And the results are well worth the effort!
Cheryl’s Chicken Pot Pie
3-4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
3 cups chicken stock/broth
1 medium onion chopped
3 medium carrots cut into ¼” slices
2 stalks celery chopped
10 ounces baby Portobello or crimini mushrooms sliced thin
2 T soy sauce
1 T tomato paste
6 T butter
6 T flour
1 cup milk
1 T lemon juice
salt & pepper
minced parsley
1 cup frozen peas
2 potatoes
Cook chicken until just done. I sprinkle with Montreal chicken seasoning and bake for about 15 minutes at 350degrees. In Dutch oven add 2 T oil. Add onions, carrots, celery, diced potatoes (unpeeled), salt & pepper. Stir, cover and cook about 8-10 minutes until carrots and potatoes are tender, but not too done. If needed, add a little chicken to pan while cooking. Transfer veggies to bowl with chicken that has been diced or shredded. In same pan add oil and mushrooms. Cook about 5 minutes. Stir in soy sauce and tomato paste and cook until liquid is evaporated. Put mushrooms in bowl with chicken and veggies.
Using same pan, add 6 T butter, Melt. Add 6 T flour and cook 1 minute. Slowly whisk in 2 cups of the chicken stock and the cup of milk. Cook until thick. Then thin down sauce to the thickness you like with the other cup of chicken stock. Add salt & pepper, lemon juice and 2 T parsley. Mix sauce with chicken and veggies. Add frozen peas, Pour in pan. Bake at 425 degrees for 5 minutes. Add crumbles to top and bake another 10-13 minutes until pie dough is brown and done. Add parsley to top.
Crumble Topping
2 cups all purpose flour
2 t baking powder
1 t salt
½ tsp pepper
6 T butter, cut in 1/2'” chunks, chilled
½ cup finely grated parmesan cheese
¾ cup + 2 T half & half or whole milk
Combine flour baking powder, salt & pepper. Sprinkle butter over. Cut in batter with pastry cutter or pulse in food processor to pea size. Stir in parmesan. Add mile and stir just until combined. Crumble mixture into irregular pieces on a cookie sheet. (I put parchment paper on. Bake at 425 for 10-13 minutes. Set aside.
Enjoy! And I wish for you and your loved ones a Joyous Christmas Season!