Thursday, December 18, 2014

My Problem with Christmas

Two unexpected things happened to my week yesterday:

1. The heat went out.

2. I found out that the girls have a half day of school on Friday. (Their school usually communicates this information in about eight different ways - I'm not sure how I missed this one.)

I don't know about everyone else, but this week has just about been my undoing.

Following my birthday and Stephen's last week, this week has included an after-school birthday party, 2 school Christmas parties, 14 teacher gifts to prep and deliver, trying to go get my hair done before Christmas, a doctor's appointment, a beloved dog who has not been putting weight on her back-right leg for 10 days and needs to see the vet, 2 car airbags that have been recalled and should be replaced before we travel for Christmas, Christmas cards that I'm stressed out about not getting out sooner - especially with a new address this year - presents to wrap, packages to ship... Sound familiar?

I have a love-hate relationship with this time of year. I love, love, love Christmas, but...

Additionally, I have wrestled this season with Christmas - our Savior's birthday - versus Christmas - parties and presents and decorations galore. What has irked me even more than usual this year is the way that we're made to feel that it's wrong to talk about what Christmas is really all about, as Linus would say. I can't imagine deciding to celebrate Hanukkah because the parties and presents sounded fun to me, only to pull the "politically correct" card on anyone who dared to wish me a "Happy Hanukkah" instead of "Happy Holidays" or talk about the miracle of the oil when all I wanted to do was decorate my house with a menorah and enjoy eight days of gifts. How could I get in a huff about that if I were the one deciding to celebrate their holiday??? Grrr...

Last Sunday, however, our pastor preached one of the best Christmas - or any season - sermons I've ever heard. He opened by talking about not trying to reconcile the commercial Christmas with the real Christmas - attempting to do so will only drive us crazy - they are two different celebrations, and there's nothing wrong with Christians enjoying both. More importantly, he talked about why we need Christmas - the real one - explaining our need for a Savior in a way that brought the Old Testament and the New together with our lives today, touching hearts and minds alike. If you'd care to give it a listen, here's the link:


And so I left church on Sunday, feeling oh-so-Christmassy. Monday was mostly good, but then there was Tuesday. Frantic city. By Wednesday, I was nursing a 48-hour headache, snapping at Stephen, and thinking "I know that this is not what Christmas is all about."

And then our heat went out.

And I found out that the girls will be dismissed from school early on Friday.

And you know what I thought? "Thank you, God, that I am being forced to cancel the rest of my appointments for the week."

So I am sitting at the house, waiting for the repair man to arrive. My hair is not going to get cut today (or at all between now and Christmas). Oh, well.

I will not have time to leave the van at the dealership for four hours on Friday, so we'll have to get that taken care of on Monday.

Which means that while I'm stuck at home, I can finish addressing Christmas cards and wrapping presents (and write this blog post). And I can take our dog to the vet on Friday.

The girls' vacation from school will start sooner than I expected, and I am quite happy to have that much-needed break start a few hours earlier.

My epiphany for the day: The sin is not in enjoying all of the other stuff that goes along with this season; the sin is in not enjoying the season at all. When I'm cranky about doing things that should bring me joy - things that I do truly love to do for others, but are becoming stressful to-dos as the December calendar ticks on - that's when something has really gone wrong with this season. The problem with Christmas is not that others are spending billions of dollars in retail and don't know the point of the season (although I do pray for others to know Christ, too) - my problem with Christmas this week is me.

If there are things on our to-do lists that bring more stress than joy (for us and for our loved ones), may we cross them off - finished or not - and enjoy this season. In our home, we will bake some more cookies, put together wintry puzzles, watch Christmas specials, and read Christmas stories - including those about Santa Claus and the Nutcracker, as well as what happened that night in the manger more than 2000 years ago. May we rest, may we play, may we bring cheer. And may we remember what CHRISTmas really is all about.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Go-To Pasta Salad

We have a pot luck dinner to attend tonight... Actually, they're calling it a "covered dish," but I digress. The entree is barbecue, and we were asked to bring a feed 40 people. Never fear, the best pasta salad in the world is here.

How gorgeous is this?

I first encountered this delicious dish at a baby shower when we were living in Enid, Oklahoma, and my friend, Lauren, was gracious enough to share the recipe. Since then, it has become my go-to recipe for baby showers, bridal showers, pot-lucks, picnics - you name it. It is beautiful, colorful, and absolutely delicious. It can easily be divided to feed your family, or it can be multiplied to feed a crowd. It can (and should) be made ahead, so it's perfect for parties, and the leftovers keep well for several days.

First, get a big pot of water boiling, salt the water, and cook your pasta as directed until al dente - "to the tooth," meaning you don't want to let it get anywhere close to mushy. I've made this salad with linguini, which is lovely, but a little tricky to wrangle onto the fork. Rotini is standard pasta salad fare, but I like to choose something a little less predictable. Bowties (farfalle) work well, but my new favorite is campanelle, which I used today.

Meanwhile, wash and start chopping your veggies. I love to have a wide variety of colors, flavors, and textures in this salad, and so I use about a pint of cherry tomatoes, cut into halves or quarters (depending on the size of the tomatoes); one cucumber, only partly peeled to leave some traces of green, sliced thin, and then cut into quarters; about half of a red onion, cut in half and sliced thin; and one bell pepper, yellow or orange to add more color (this time I used one of each because I doubled the recipe), diced.

Drop the veggies in a large bowl, and add half a bottle of Italian dressing. Then add half a bottle of McCormick Salad Supreme and stir. I also like to add a little freshly-ground black pepper.

Once your pasta has cooked, drain well, and add to the veggie mixture. Do not worry about cooling the pasta - a little heat won't hurt anything, and I think it may actually help to meld the flavors.

Cover and refrigerate overnight - or if you're serving this at dinnertime, you can get away with making it in the morning and refrigerating it all day. (If you're short on fridge space, you might transfer to a gallon-size zip-lock baggie or two.)

Just before serving, stir in the remaining half bottle of Italian dressing.

Fabulous Pasta Salad

  • 1 lb. pasta (Try campanelle, linguini, farfalle, or rotini.)
  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved or quartered
  • 1 cucumber, sliced and quartered
  • 1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 bell pepper, diced
  • 1 bottle of Italian salad dressing (Save half the bottle for just before serving.)
  • 1/2 bottle McCormick Salad Supreme
  • black pepper, to taste
  1. Cook pasta as directed on packaging.
  2. Mix vegetables with half bottle of Italian dressing, McCormick Salad Supreme, and black pepper.
  3. Toss veggie mixture with cooked pasta.
  4. Cover and refrigerate for several hours or overnight.
  5. Just before serving, stir in remaining half bottle of Italian Dressing.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Be still.

How tempting it is to bustle around today!

We have spent the last two weeks sick. Just a cold with a cough, nothing major, but enough to put the brakes on life. Caroline came home early from school a week ago Tuesday and stayed home Wednesday and Thursday of last week. Both girls were at school on Friday, and we had a cough-free night on Saturday night. Then by Sunday, Abigail was coughing and running a fever. Thankfully, her fever broke Sunday night, but she was home Monday {feeling much better and practically bouncing off the walls, mind you}. Her coughs kept us up Monday night, though, and by Tuesday, I had it, too.

As I was getting the girls ready for school Tuesday morning, I told Stephen that it felt somewhat redemptive that after years of stay-at-home mommyhood - years of catching our children's illnesses, yet having to function through those days to take care of them, get meals on the table for them, and generally keep them alive even if I felt like death - for once I was going to take a sick day. They went to school Tuesday, and I watched a movie, took a nap, and didn't do so much as empty the dishwasher until after they came home from school. {Moms of littles take heart - you, too, will get here someday.}

While I know that taking a sick day helped, it was probably not in my best interest to pop out of bed Wednesday morning and hit the ground running. I felt much better...until about noon. Ugh...

Yesterday, I felt better again, attended my Bible study group, but thought, "It's taking an awful lot of effort to be part of the conversation this morning." I think it was a good choice to skip my multiples club meeting last night, even though I really enjoy those women, and they only meet once a month.

The thing is, I have a really hard time being still. Especially when the past two weeks have been spent caring for and being among the sick, I can't help feeling that I'm behind on life right now.

It's not that I have ADD - I know children and adults alike who have to keep moving... or else. It's also not that I have energy that needs to be burned - it's that I feel that every moment of every day has to be productive. I need to get stuff done! I am good about calling it quits after we get the girls to bed, but up until that moment, it's go-go-go.

I've come across stay-at-homers who decide to go back to work, saying that they couldn't stand sitting around the house.  ?!?!?!?  Writing this right now is the most sitting around I ever do. Maybe these other moms don't have a compulsive need to clean? And pull weeds? And cook? And reorganize their closets? And tackle every little job in and around the house that they see? God bless them - I wish I had the ability to just let that stuff go.

And maybe that's what I ought to pray for.

I love the fall. It may be my favorite season. I'm ready for a break from the mosquitoes and the poison ivy, and I just love the cooler {but not yet cold} temperatures and the warm, fiery colors of autumn leaves. Mums? Pumpkin muffins? Apple picking? Yes, please! Sign me up. And don't even get me started on college football. Hooray for fall!

And yet I start to look at our calendar and panic a bit, as the weekends are already filling up. So much to do - so little time!

I'd heard of this little devotional book, Jesus Calling: Enjoying Peace in His Presence, by Sarah Young. I wouldn't expect the library to have such a thing, but lo and behold, they did. It has a short paragraph or two each day with two or three Bible verses. I've been reading it almost every day for about a month, and it is amazing how so many of these devotionals speak so clearly to my state of mind on a given day.

The one for August 10, the day before the girls' first day of school, included the following:
Time spent with Me not only increases your trust; it also helps you discern what is important and what is not. Energy and time are precious, limited entities. Therefore, you need to use them wisely, focusing on what is truly important. As you walk close to Me, saturating your mind with Scriptures, I will show you how to spend your time and energy.

And today's message says, in part:
Quietness and trust accomplish far more than you can imagine...Spending time alone with Me can be a difficult discipline, because it goes against the activity addiction of this age.

And how about this scripture selection for today?

"In repentance and rest is your salvation,
in quietness and trust is your strength." -Isaiah 30:15

I will be purchasing my own copy of Jesus Calling - it's a keeper.