Thursday, December 31, 2009

Taking Stock

I first came across the phrase "taking stock" in the book "Betsy Was a Junior," one volume from the beloved Betsy-Tacy series penned by Maud Hart Lovelace. I read those books when I was seven or eight years old, I think. In the opening scene of this particular volume, Betsy is sitting by herself in a row boat on a pond, looking back on her life and thinking about the year ahead (her junior year of high school, which is about to start). “Taking Stock” is the title of the first chapter, and it was the first time I’d come across that phrase.

I like the phrase, and I still take stock myself from time to time.

Today is New Year’s Eve – the last day of 2009, with only one more year to go in this first decade of the 21st century. Now that I am middle-aged, time is really flying!

Today is also my ninth wedding anniversary. I don’t have a good track record when it comes to matrimony, but this marriage is a gift from God and has allowed me the opportunity to grow and to act on lessons learned during a lifetime. God IS merciful and He DOES redeem our poor choices, if only we will open our eyes and recognize it (and accept the gift).

2009 is the year I became an orphan, which is a weird feeling. I still find myself mentally “storing up” things to tell my mother the next time I talk to her, only to be hauled up short when I realize she’s not on this earth any longer.

2009 is the year my fuzzy ideas about eternal life finally became clear. In the process of helping to guide my mother home to her Creator, in the process of her earthly body shutting down, I gained an iron-clad awareness of what makes life eternal. That awareness has deepened my faith in ways I am still discovering. To be truly reconciled once and for all with God through the sacrifice of His Son, Jesus Christ, is the most precious of gifts.

In 2009 I fell in love with my husband all over again. That sounds sappy, but the reality is anything BUT sappy, believe me -- because it isn’t based on warm and fuzzy feelings. It’s a new awareness of the depth of his character and a more profound respect for his spiritual walk with his Creator. He’s really an incredible person. Period. In the (admittedly paraphrased) words of Robin Williams from the movie Good Will Hunting: there are no perfect people, just people who are perfect for you. Amen.

And so we begin 2010. Bring it on!

- Catherine

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Random Dozen - the New Year's version

Hosted by Lid over at 2nd Cup of Coffee:

1. Do you find it gross to share drinks with family? Friends? Not with my husband anyway. But otherwise…. gross.

2. What have you learned this year? (You didn't see a question of that weight coming, did you? At least not for #2.) Well, quite a few things. In no particular order: 1) having a cheering section of friends and family to support you through difficult times is an incredible gift; 2) eternal life is truly a precious gift from God and makes all of this earthly drama worthwhile; 3) Facebook is cool; 4) reconnecting (and staying connected) with your family is important on many levels.

3. When do you dismantle the Christmas decorations? Around New Year’s Day, depending on what day of the week it falls. Probably we’ll take them down on Saturday, January 2nd, this year.

4. Something you wish to accomplish before the end of 2009 is: Enough groundwork (preliminary paperwork) so that I can upload a full proposal to the National Science Foundation by the January 7th deadline.

5. How do you feel about winter (after Christmas)? I’m okay until the end of January or so. After that, I start wishing for warmer weather.

6. Have you participated in after-Christmas sales? Yes. I purchased a replacement Crock Pot the day after Christmas because mine broke two days before Christmas. I’d hoped to score a pre-lit Christmas tree as well, but all the good ones were gone by the time I got there.

7. Do you have plans for New Year's Eve? New Year’s Eve is our wedding anniversary and it is also my father-in-law’s birthday. My mother-in-law is planning to hold a birthday party for Dad this year, so we will go to that (and celebrate our anniversary another time).

8. Is there anything special awaiting you in January? A better exercise regimen, I’m afraid. I’m contemplating the purchase of a Wii system just for that reason. I hate going to the gym but something has GOT to be done here.

9. If your life this year was a movie, what category or genre would it be? (Romance, Comedy, Drama, Thriller, Suspense, Farcical, etc.) Hmmm... can it be a Romantic Dramedy? There was plenty of drama with my mother’s final illness and passing, but I discovered some romance with my husband through the ordeal. And there is always comedy in our family, one way or another.

10. How much time per day do you spend blogging? Please do not lie. I will know. About 30 minutes, I think, would be the average.

11. Who runs your household? Actually, we both do because I work outside the home (well I have a home office, but I work for someone other than myself). When Tim is working on a remodeling or repair project, though, then I take over pretty much all of the household stuff. We have a flexible system, in other words.

12. Share one hope/dream for 2010. That there would be a way for my husband to clear the Hepatitis C virus from his body for good.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Toothsome Tuesday

I managed to lose a filling while eating a hamburger yesterday. Truth to tell, I've been having some intermittent pain from that area of my mouth for the last 6 months, but it wasn't enough to drive me to the dentist. Why, you ask? Because I hate dental work -- I don't even like to have my teeth cleaned because of the resulting nerve pain. (I've tried all the toothpastes available for sensitive teeth -- none have worked for me.)

Our childhood dentist -- a WWII Army Veteran -- set the scene for my lifelong irrational fear. And it just gets worse as I get older. Thanks, Dr. .... well, you know who you are.

I guess I shouldn't complain. The filling in question, by my calculations, was a venerable 40 years old. That's a long time to be clinging to my back tooth and helping to grind up everything I eat. I'd say it gave its all, when all is said and done.

I called around and found a dentist who will use conscious sedation techniques (as well as local anesthetic, of course) when he does the work today.

But I'm still nervous as a cat about it.

Stay tuned...

- Catherine

Monday, December 28, 2009

Not yet

Seems the Christmas festivities all come to a screeching halt on December 26th. Phooey, I say! I'm keeping my decorations up until New Year's weekend because I enjoy them so much. They make a dark winter's day seem a bit less dreary, and I value that with the long winter yet ahead.

We enjoyed our three days of making merry for Christmas, starting with the celebration with our kids on December 23 and moving right through our annual Christmas Day brunch on December 25th. My husband and I found ourselves alone Christmas afternoon and tried to go to a movie -- apparently all of Pocatello had the same idea and the movies were mobbed. And sold out. We went home and enjoyed a DVD on our Christmas gift to each other this year -- the new flatscreen TV in the family room.

- Catherine

Friday, December 25, 2009

So what's it all about?

Hark, the herald angels sing:
"Glory to the newborn King,
Peace on earth and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled."

It's all about this: "God and sinners reconciled." Without Christ's humanity AND divinity, we could never be reconciled with our Creator for all eternity. It's the most amazing gift of all.

Wishing all of you a peaceful holiday and time to reflect on God's grace.

- Catherine

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas Lights

My evening walks this time of year are made much more enjoyable by the Christmas lights that so many have put up in and around their houses. And one of my favorite Christmas memories from childhood is driving around our town and neighboring towns to see the annual displays. We're talking 1960s here, so outdoor Christmas light displays were nowhere near as widespread or elaborate as they are now. It was really a treat because the lights were so beautiful -- like a fairyland -- to our young eyes. (Remember, we didn't have video games or even color TV in those days!)

Gasoline was cheap back then, so this was an inexpensive Christmas entertainment that my parents could provide for us kids.

I remember very few of the displays in particular now, but there is one that stands out in my memory and always will: Fritz Mueller's home in Sea Girt, NJ. My father always saved that for last because it was the grandest by far!

The Mueller house had a long, white colonnade that led from the main house to a summer gazebo. From one end of the ornate colonnade to the other they placed a large, lighted display of Santa and his reindeer. The figures, one per section of the colonnade, were expertly painted to depict a lively St. Nick and a team of joyful reindeer. The most exciting part, though was this: each reindeer moved! (Remember, this is the 1960s!) The up and down motion of each reindeer made them look as though they were leaping forward, pulling Santa's sleigh merrily along. I can promise you that ours was not the only car driving slowly by, children pressed up against the windows, eyes wide with wonder.

I have seen many displays since then -- many that are more lavish than the Mueller house of the 1960s. But none have stayed in my memory the way this one has.

Fast forward to 2009 and I have a new memory of Christmas lights to treasure. Last night we got together for a Christmas celebration with our kids (well, all except Abbi, who is still in Korea). Around 8:00 p.m. all 20(!) of us donned parkas and gloves and trooped 2 1/2 blocks to see a light display that is set to music. The sequence starts with Amazing Grace and moves along through a medley of Christmas songs broadcast on a local radio station. It's really quite something to see in person (I've seen a youtube video that is more elaborate, but the experience is much better in real life). Along with the lights on the house, the homeowners constructed an archway of colored lights along the sidewalk in front of the house. It was a little bit like standing in a fairyland.

Best of all, though, was sharing it with our family, especially the eight grandkids (whose eyes were pretty wide with wonder).

- Catherine

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Horizon Tilted

I meant to blog yesterday, but the day got away from me. Too much work to do (for a paycheck, that is). Last night got away from me, too, partly because I was lost amid a sea of wrapping paper and ribbon, and partly because I had a moment of grief so agonizingly painful that I could hardly function for a while.

I've chosen to be public in the grief process not just because it helps me to get through but also because I hope it might help someone else. Everyone's grieving is unique, but it really does help to know that you are not alone. I've seen people end up being defeated by their grief, lapsing into long-term depression and/or displaying destructive behaviors. I don't want that to happen to me or to anyone else. We can help each other through, and we can be helped by those who comprise our support networks (whether that is online or in person).

Last night grief swept over me in a great wave when I realized that I could no longer regain my sense of place in this world by talking to my mother. I (willingly) moved to the part of the country where my husband is from. And I do love it here for many, many reasons, not the least is because I love my husband. But now and then I feel like a fish out of water. The culture is just that much different from what I'd known for most of my life. And all of the family are Tim's family -- he's known them, if not from the time of his own childhood, then from theirs. I've known them all for just nine years. Not the same thing. Not the same level of knowing. How I wish it could be!

A conversation with my mother could dispel the feeling of disorientation instantly, any time it came up. It wasn't what we talked about that mattered -- it was that we talked, even for just a few minutes. Somehow my sense of place would be restored as I heard her voice and chatted about mundane things. It gave me strength to keep going.

And with that point on the horizon gone for good, I'm struggling.

- Catherine

Friday, December 18, 2009

Friday's Fave Five

Hosted by Susanne at Living to Tell, this is the weekly meme where we reflect on the week that is past and look for five highlights.

So, this week has been and continues to be characterized by some complicated and difficult budget work for my job. In fact, the need to trim $700K from a 5-year budget is, at the moment, blocking out all other needs. I think I've removed any and all extraneous line items, but we are still projecting $700K over the allowed amount.


I've tried to hint to the powers-that-be, but I ain't gettin' anywhere.


Here we are with this week's fave five:

1. The combination of my bread machine and Bob's Red Mill Gluten Free Bread Mix. Bless you, Bob, wherever and whoever you are. Using the gluten free cycle on my bread machine, this bread is as close to the "real" thing as you can imagine. And if you are a celiac, you know how important that is!

2. Our new flatscreen TV (32"). Tim has ventured down to the family room on his own more than once since we bought it, without my trying to lure him. Score!

3. Warmer temperatures. After last week's below-zero blast, this week was a positive heat wave when temps climbed to.... wait for it..... 39 degrees.

4. The ability to concentrate -- my middle-aged, menopause-addled brain has been cooking on all four burners this week. Wow!

5. Carpoolqueen's blog post about Mistaken Identity. Very short, but laugh-out-loud funny. (Yes, I know I included it in an earlier blog post this week, but maybe you didn't see that one!)

Have a great weekend!

- Catherine

Thursday, December 17, 2009

You Know You're From Idaho....

I got this from a friend and it made me smile. It also made me think because, really, I'm not FROM Idaho -- I'm from New Jersey. But my home now is in Idaho, and most of these rang true for me, one way or another. There are probably similar lists for many different states/regions of the country (there is one for NJ for sure).

You know you're from Idaho when:

Someone in a Home Depot store offers you assistance and they don't work there. This has actually happened to me more than once.

You've worn shorts and a parka at the same time. I've never done this, but the teenagers and the college kids do it all the time.

You've had a lengthy telephone conversation with someone who dialed the wrong number. Okay, this one doesn't apply for me. True to my East Coast roots, it was probably a VERY short conversation. But I have seen my husband do it.

"Vacation" means going anywhere south of Salt Lake City for the weekend. True for winter vacations. In the summer, we all head north to Montana and beyond.

You measure distance in hours. TRUE! In NJ we measured by miles because you never knew how long it might take to get somewhere, given the traffic. Out here, I may not know the number of miles between point A and point B, but I know almost to the minute how long it will take me to get there.

You know several people who have hit a deer more than once. The fascination with deer out here really passes me. People get all excited when they see them, and there are some pretty gnarly accidents on the Interstate during mating season. But the only deer I've ever hit was in NJ, when I lived in the Princeton area -- where deer are EVERYWHERE all the time.

You have switched from "heat" to "A/C" and back again in the same day. True -- we do this routinely in the early summer and the fall.

You install security lights on your house and garage but leave both unlocked. This is true, but my NJ roots won't let me leave our house unlocked.

You can drive 75 mph through 2 feet of snow during a raging blizzard without flinching. Well, I can't. But my husband (Idaho native) can -- while I tightly grip the "oh crap" bar above the passenger side window.

You design your kid's Halloween costume to fit over a snowsuit. Not usually in Pocatello, but probably up in Moscow.

The speed limit on the highway is 55 mph, you're going 80, and everyone is still passing you. That must be a typo, because the speed limit on most sections of the Interstates is 75. And yes, I go 80. And yes, they're all passing me. Note: the 55 mph vs.80 mph is true on I-80 around Chicago -- I've experienced that for myself.

Driving is better in the winter because the potholes are filled with snow. Hmm... I've never studied this one, so I don't know.

You know all 4 seasons: almost winter, winter, still winter, and road construction. Okay, in Southeast Idaho, we actually have summer -- but not until July, and it ends in August. By late August, the days are still nice and hot but the evenings and nights are often too cold to be outside without a sweatshirt.

You find 10 degrees "a little chilly". In the dry climate out here, 10 degrees isn't that big a deal. Conversely, neither is 90 degrees all that awful. I love, love, love the absence of humidity!

And that's our geography lesson for today, kids.

- Catherine

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Passing the laughter

Found this blog post through the blog of a fellow blogger (how's that?): It's from Carpoolqueen's blog. So dang funny, I laughed out loud and startled the dog.

- Catherine

Random Dozen -- the Christmas version Part II

Every week, Lid at 2nd Cup of Coffee dreams up a random dozen questions for folks to answer. This week's:

1. Gingerbread: For or against? Discuss. Served warm with a good sauce and a lot of real whipped cream, gingerbread is a very nice winter-weather treat. But absent the appropriate accoutrements, I can live without it.

2. Is it important to you to always stay (live) close to family? I do not live near my own family, nor have I for many years. It’s not that it isn’t important, rather, it’s just more important to be where my husband is, where his youngest (still underage) son is, and where there is work for both of us. When we are retired in 20 years and all of the children are grown, we will re-evaluate the situation, and who knows where we will end up...

3. Which holiday pretend character do you wish really existed? Santa Claus. I’d love to be able to write a letter each year and then have all the presents neatly wrapped and waiting for me on Christmas morning. That would be a lot less work for me, and the presents would probably look a lot better than what I can produce wrapping-wise!

4. Which holiday movie best represents how you feel about Christmas or life? I love all the versions of A Christmas Carol – and I love the book even more. I like the cautionary tale about social justice and the message that anyone, even the most curmudgeonly, can change.

5. Is there a particular Christmas song that you're enjoying now? Any that you're tired of? Enjoying: “How Many Angels” by Catherine Hessler. Tired of: any and all of of Elvis Presley’s recordings of Christmas songs, most especially the very horrible “Blue Christmas.”

6. What is your favorite way to remember those less fortunate at Christmastime? I don’t have a favorite way or a tradition. We do whatever comes up before us in any given year.

7. Does it upset you to see "Xmas" instead of Christmas? How about "Happy Holidays" etc., instead of "Merry Christmas?" “Xmas” is kind of ugly to look at, so, while it doesn’t upset me, it does give me an impression of ugliness that might influence my shopping habits. As for “Happy Holidays” versus “Merry Christmas” – I don’t have a problem with that. Retail stores are not in the business of spreading the Gospel unless their Board of Directors says so. They ARE in the business of making money, and having a more generic greeting for the buying public is part of their marketing strategy. In this country, they are free to do that and are not under any obligation to do otherwise. And I am free to respond with “Merry Christmas” if I wish. I’m also free to be sensitive to someone else’s views in any given situation and choose my greeting appropriately.

8. How many Christmas programs are you attending this month? I don't know - my husband is going to one tonight for one of the grandkids, but I've got something else on my schedule that I can't get out of.

9. Are you dreaming of a white Christmas? Any chance of that dream becoming a reality? I am dreaming of a non-white Christmas, but there is every chance, here in Idaho, of the white stuff coming down in buckets if it so chooses. Last year it snowed a ton on Christmas Day, and everyone crawled across town to the family gatherings. Our annual brunch with extended family was missed by a whole bunch of people who couldn’t make it the 18 miles from their town to ours. And by evening the snow had drifted so high at our end of the block that some of our kids’ cars got stuck in it. At that point, snow is nothing but a nuisance.

10. Tell me about a Christmas present you received as a child. Pics are always nice. Hmm… well, we were pretty poor when I was very young, and I think my mother was hard put to come up with presents some of those years. When I was about 5 or 6, I wanted my own garbage can (what we called a “waste paper basket” in those days – you didn’t put any food garbage in it) in my bedroom so that I didn’t have to walk out to the kitchen to throw something away. When I got up on Christmas morning, there was a pink, metal can with carousel horses painted on it. My brother, who had wanted the same thing, got a blue one. And we were both thrilled, actually, because “Santa” had brought us what we really wanted.

11. How many Christmas parties are you attending this month? I don’t know yet for sure. Including our get-together with our kids, I think four – one will be for my husband’s work, one was for the women at church, and the rest are family parties.

12. How do you keep yourself centered on the significance of Christmas? Lots of different ways, I guess. 1) I’m 51 years old now – years and years of a spiritual journey with God have made it easier to focus on the real meaning of Christmas. 2) My mother’s recent passing has given me a new and deeper perspective on eternal life and just what the Incarnation really meant/means to humankind. 3) At church I am one of the worship leaders, and this month I have concentrated on composing the worship sets so that they contain both familiar carols and customary, modern day praise and worship songs; my hope is to illuminate the meaning of the carols and to bring the sometimes archaic language to life.

If you wish to play along with this meme, you can link your blog to Lid's at 2nd Cup of Coffee (use the Mr. Linky button).

Thanks for reading!

- Catherine

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Grace and grief

I've been reading a book entitled A Grace Disguised by Jerry Sittser -- a book about grief. Back in the early 1990s, Sittser lost three members of his family in a tragic automobile accident -- his mother, his wife and one of their four children all died when a drunk driver plowed into the family van. Because they were in a rural area when the accident occurred, it took an hour for an emergency vehicle to arrive, during which time Sittser watched his wife, his mother, and his daughter die before his eyes.

The book, originally published in 1996, chronicles his journey through grief to where he could finally see God's grace in the situation.

Sittser's loss is much more tragic than mine, and some things in the book deal specifically with loss that is truly catastrophic, but much of the grieving process is the same.

I've come now to the part of the book where Sittser talks about life not being fair, and it is this thought that I have been chewing over for many days now. And not just with regard to grief, but in general terms. Life ISN'T fair, and Sittser correctly says that we shouldn't wish for it to be. For if it were, we would not know God's grace. We don't deserve God's grace, therefore it isn't "fair" either. If fairness were the rule, we might not suffer much but we also would not know the richness of relationship with our God and Father. Life isn't fair -- we do suffer terribly at times -- but, because of the 'unfairness,' we also know the unmerited grace of God.

- Catherine

Monday, December 14, 2009

Togetherness and TV

Our house has numerous TVs -- one in the living room, two(!) in the family room, one in the bedroom of our youngest (#7 in the birth order). If I had my druthers, there would be no TV in the living room, but I can't get that notion past committee, so the largest TV (of course) is in the living room. The drafty, cold living room.

I much prefer sitting in our snug family room with the gas fire, especially when the weather is below zero, as it was last week.

But the TV in the family room was a relic from when I lived alone and it was too small for my husband to see when we sat together on the couch. Truthfully, it WAS annoying to watch a movie or a football game, even to me with my 20/15 vision. So, Tim would opt to watch TV upstairs in the drafty living room and I would be downstairs, preferring a warm fire to a larger TV screen.

In other words, we had a TV separation.

And I started to hate that. The few times that I could lure him to the family room were a real treat for me. #7 would be playing his video games, lying on the floor in front of the room's second TV and his dad and I could snuggle up on the couch to watch a TV show or movie. Family togetherness in the family room. That's what it's all about, right?

I realized that if we were going to get together in our TV watching, we'd have to have a TV that Tim could actually see well enough to enjoy. I started watching the sales and, low and behold, the flatscreen TV prices have started coming down. Couple that with the pre-Christmas sales and there were some good deals to be had this past Saturday.

I dragged both Tim and #7 out the door Saturday morning, promising #7 a lunch at Five Guys Burgers and Fries. Two stores later, we were the proud owners of a 32" flatscreen TV. By that afternoon we were watching a movie. Together. In the family room. What a concept.

I love the TV, I must say -- I can't get over how clear and bright the picture is, even with an old movie (I made them watch White Christmas with me before they moved on to Public Enemy).

Last night's TV viewing selection was the NFL football game. No drafty living room this time! A warm fire, a great picture, and a snuggle on the couch with my man. Now that's living.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Love, Cathy

On the 40th day after my mother's passing, I burned the letters I'd sent to her all those years ago. I'd like to say that I felt something profound as I watched them go up in flames in the old charcoal grill out back. But, in truth, I watched the conflagration of memories rather impassively -- more focused on the fire itself than on the items being consumed.

I will say that, upon reflection and sitting down to write this post, I feel a lightness in my heart. That awful time of my life has been put to rest. The gift is that now I can see how amazing was God's provision for my mother and me in our relationship. If you had asked me 30 years ago if I expected or wanted to take care of my mother, or be with her when she passed from this life, I'd have said an emphatic "no." That she and I came to find a solid and comforting relationship -- one on which she could depend in her later years -- is nothing short of a divine gift.

It's hard to believe that my mother didn't know those letters were still lying around. She deep cleaned her house twice a year Without Fail, so it's really a stretch to think there was anything in her closets or bureaus that she wasn't aware of. I don't know what she intended by holding onto them -- other than that I am sure it wasn't harm. I don't know if she kept them for her own benefit. I DO know that God used the letters for good and that, despite the emotional maelstrom they stirred up when I read through them, a measure of comfort and a sense of closure for that period of life has been received.

Thanks, Mom.
Love, Cathy

Friday, December 11, 2009

Haphazard musings on a Friday

It's Friday at last. With the snowstorm earlier this week and the subsequent arctic temperatures, these five days have dragged by. And I'm feelin' a wee bit snarky, between the cold outside and the headache that I woke up with (with which I woke up).

I usually do a Friday Fave Five here, but somehow I'm just not in the mood. Let's say it's because the arctic temperatures froze my brain for the moment. It's -7 this morning, after all. The forecasters are promising us a veritable heat wave for the weekend -- in the 30s during the day. Woo hoo. Oh, and more snow to come on both Saturday and Sunday.

Yes indeedy, it's the most wonderful time of the year.

I'm still struggling to find the inspiration to finish the Christmas projects that I had planned for the girls this year. My well-stocked craft room awaits me, but when I go in there, I have a hard time envisioning anything. I've been experimenting with the shapes of a new Cricut cartridge, which I hope will spur something creative happening this weekend.

Today marks the 40th day since my mother passed. Weather permitting, I hope to burn those letters today.

I went to the eye doctor for my annual eye exam this week. It's been four years since I had Lasik done, and my vision this time came up 20/15. That's even better than last year, when it was 20/25 -- which beat the year before when it was 20/30. Prior to the surgery, I remember the doctor telling me that, with my vision problems, I probably couldn't expect to ever be better than 20/40. And I was more than willing to accept that, having lived with 20/200 for so long. Really, I just wanted to be able to function at a basic level without the need for lenses of some kind. I wanted to get up in the morning and not have to immediately put glasses on my face. I wanted to feel that I was safe in my own house even if I couldn't find my glasses for some reason. 20/40 would have been great. So that makes 20/15 doubly amazing! The fact that my eyes have continued to improve in the years since the surgery is also amazing!

Everyone seems to have their knickers in a knot about the new Facebook privacy settings -- I've had a couple of messages from frantic strangers warning me that the entire world will be able to stalk me now. But when I access my privacy settings to review them, they are exactly the same as they were before. So what is the problem? Am I missing something here?

I certainly hope everyone has a great weekend -- relaxing and fun. And if you live in the regions of the country that are experiencing cold and snow, stay warm and dry! I'm thinking this will be a good weekend for me to wrap presents while competing with the dog for space.... ahem.... relaxing... in front of the family room fire.

- Catherine

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Baby, It's Cold Outside

It's 5:00 a.m. MST. And it's -12 degrees outside. -12. Minus. Twelve. I can hardly fathom it being this cold, even in Pocatello, Idaho.

The skin on my hands keeps cracking, no matter how much lotion (or what kind) I use. The vent over my kitchen range leaks air and is mighty uncomfortable to be around unless the stove is running at full tilt. The dog and I have a competition to see who can block the gas fire in the family room and hog all the heat.

It's so cold I could shut off the freezer out back and it wouldn't make any difference to the meat.

BUT... but... but... but! There was a little oasis of warmth in my bed last night. No, I'm not talking about my husband -- this is a G-rated blog, after all. And I'm not talking about the dog because he's not allowed to sleep on our bed. I'm talking about our brand new heated mattress pad. Oh, the bliss of that electrical gizmo! I had it set just on Low and it was incredible. The fact that I am up early this morning didn't have anything to do with being cold, I assure you. And my poor feet didn't complain as much when I got out of bed, so perhaps the warmth will help speed up their healing.

I loves me a dual-controlled mattress pad.

And if the dog knew, we'd never get him off our bed.

- Catherine

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Random Dozen -- the Christmas version

Hosted by Lid at 2nd Cup of Coffee, this is the weekly meme of 12 random questions. If you'd like to play along, you can cut and paste the questions into your own blog, and then go to 2nd Cup of Coffee to link in with the Mr. Linky button.

1. Which physical trait do you now accept--maybe not love, but accept--and no longer feel extremely self-conscious about? My nose, which is rather large and has a bump in it (you can see the bump when you look at me from the side). Thanks, Great-Grandmom Sadie.

2. This week Meredith Baxter Birney, best known as the mom on the favorite 80s sitcom "Family Ties" came out of the closet, which led me to formulate this question: Who do you think is/was the best TV mom? Sada Thompson in the TV show “Family.” She was cool but also completely believable.

3. Do you speak any foreign languages? Are there any you'd like to learn? I still have a very small French vocabulary remaining from my high school French language classes, but that’s about it. (I can ask “Ou est le bibliotèque?” and toss off the phrase “Je ne sais quoi” with the best of ‘em.) I’d love to learn to speak Spanish – regional conversation, not textbook version.

4. Who is your personal hero? My husband, without a doubt. He lost his right arm in a farming accident 26 years ago (when he was 27), yet he doesn’t consider himself to be disabled and he can do just about anything a two-handed person can do. He has other chronic health issues that stem from that incident but he never gives up on life. I wish I had half his ability to stick to something and see it through, no matter the odds. Tenacity, thy name is Tim. In addition, to his tenacity, he has grown into a man after God's own heart. I didn't know him in his younger years, but I do know that in his middle age, he truly seeks the Lord and tries to live his life according to God's will. I am very blessed to have him as my husband.

5. What is one holiday food that you find extremely difficult to resist over- indulging in? Magic Cookie Bars are still a real downfall for me. I see them… and then I eat them. All of them. Period.

6. Tell me about a Christmas decoration that has special meaning or sentimental value. I searched high and low for a Nativity scene that I could love. I didn’t want porcelain, or anything too detailed or florid, but neither did I want something completely impressionistic. In a tiny Christmas shop that was going out of business I found their last remaining Nativity scene that is made of a wood-like resin. It has just enough detail for each figurine, but isn’t overly done. Each figure has been minimally painted and everything is done in lovely mellow tones. It’s a great set – very nice to contemplate. Except when my son comes along and re-arranges all the figurines into a football huddle around the baby Jesus. Sometimes there are just no words.....

7. How do you feel about snow? Love/hate. I love it when I can stay inside and not have to deal with it. I hate driving in it.

8. On average, how many hours of sleep do you get each night? Not that I'm jealous of any number over three or anything. You've no need to be jealous of me. These days, I get about six hours on average. Sometimes a lot less and sometimes maybe an hour more (I don’t think I’ve slept more than seven hours straight in a very long time). Last night it was five.

9. Tell me about your first crush. A 4th grade classmate. I thought he was just wonderful and I treasured the penny Valentine that I received from him. In fact, I don’t think I gave up my crush on him until we were in middle school.

10. You're stuck in a room for 2 hours with only a chalkboard and chalk. What will you write/draw? Nothing. I hate the feeling of chalk on my fingers, actually.

11. Do you dress for the current temp or for the day's forecast? Both, I think. In Idaho in the spring and fall, the temperature can climb 40 degrees from low to high in a 24 hour period, so I dress in layers.

12. Favorite Christmas movie is? Just one?! Hmmmm….. I like White Christmas and I like all the versions of A Christmas Carol. I also like A Christmas Story (“You’ll shoot your eye out!”). It’s hard to choose!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Decorating 2009

I discovered something this year about decorating the tree, and it is this: if you are the only one who is going to actually enjoy the process, you should do it on your own. Honestly, by the time we were done, I was more than a little irritated with my menfolk. If it wasn't the texting of the son, it was the whining of the husband about the decorations.


Next year, I either borrow a few young children who will enjoy it with me or I do it myself.

Fair warning, men of the Giesbrecht household!

- Catherine

Friday, December 4, 2009

The letters

A surprise package awaited me on the porch when I got home the other evening. A quick glance showed me that it was from my stepfather, but I couldn't fathom what it might be. My mother and he had so carefully planned everything before her passing that I truly thought I'd brought home every last item I was supposed to inherit.


And, truthfully, I wished this particular package had gone forever astray into some black hole in the U.S. Postal Service system.

Inside the box were letters and cards that she had kept. The cards were mostly from me although a few were from my brother, with dates ranging from the late 1970s to 2001.

It's the letters that are the real issue. These are letters that I wrote to her in the first few years after she divorced my dad, when she was living in Pennsylvania and I was still in New Jersey. Because when my mother left my dad, she did so without warning, without goodbye, and... without us kids. I was 16.

You can imagine the emotions of a 16 year-old girl in that situation. I came home from school to find all of my mother's things cleared out and a note left on the kitchen table. Going back, even at the distance of 35 years, and reliving the feelings of that time is extremely painful.

These letters that I wrote her were cheeky and artificially cheerful -- masking a deep wound that, while it has since scarred over, is still sensitive to the touch.

At the time, I didn't realize just how unhappy I was. In hindsight, when I look at the choices I've made over the years, I can see how deep and far reaching was that one event in our lives. Not that I'm not responsible for my subsequent choices -- I was and I am very much responsible for the way I have lived my life. I could have made better choices along the way.

Thankfully, I've been forgiven by my Father in Heaven. Forgiving myself, though, is another matter on which I'm still working. My choices over the years have created a ripple effect in the lives of others. And not in a good way. The Bible verse about the "sins of the fathers (parents) being visited on the children" is a very, very real principle.

This box of memories is an unexpected and unwelcome wrinkle in the grieving process. It has stirred up a huge hornet's nest of emotion for which I was totally unprepared. One thing that I do know for sure is that the ultimate destination of these letters will be a bonfire outside in the charcoal grill, which will bring some welcome closure and relief. But I also know that I still have emotional ground to cover before the fire can be allowed to consume the memories.

For those who perhaps are wondering, this is a subject I didn't really talk about with my mother. I knew she was hurting and that eventually she came to regret the timeline of her actions. I never wanted to compound that hurt in any way while she was alive on this earth. From the ashes of her leaving our family in 1974 there eventually rose between us a very fine friendship and a very deep love. And now? Now she sees it all perfectly, in God's light. Eventually, I will, too. I'm content with that.

And so it goes.

- Catherine

Friday's Fave Five

Truthfully, I'm going to have to dig deep here to find five faves from the week. And that's because yesterday I received a package in the mail from my stepfather -- it contained many cards that we'd sent to my mother over the years and it contained many letters that I wrote to her in the early years after she left my dad. As I write this Fave Five, I am still processing the emotions resulting from my perusal of those letters. But.. that's another blog post.

So, for now, my Fave Five for this past week:

1. The means to pay for car repairs when they come up.

2. A clean house (I've only just got caught up from the 4 weeks of traveling that I did this Fall).

3. The anticipation of decorating for Christmas -- we pulled the decorations out of storage yesterday and will put them up this Sunday.

4. Friends who respond in times of need.

5. Hobbies that can so completely absorb me that I feel like I've had a mini-vacation.

Have a great weekend! For more Fave Fives, or to play along yourself, go to Susanne's blog at Living to Tell and use the "Mr. Linky" button at the end of her post.

- Catherine

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Summoning up some inspiration

Last night a friend came over to do some card making with me. I have been a scrapbooker and card maker for several years, and doing those things in company with others is always fun. Rather like an old fashioned quilting bee, I think. Your hands are busy and there's a lot of laughter, but there is also plenty of time for talk that can end up digging pretty deep by the end of the night.

Before my mother's passing, I'd been working on some Christmas gifts for my girls (my daughters and daughers-in-law), but since I returned home I've noticed that my creative inspiration is in really, really short supply. The projects sit on my craft table, untouched since early October. I'm not sure if I'll get them done this year after all. I hope so, but inspiration had better strike soon.

The fact that I ever took up paper crafts in the first place is hard to believe. I was the kid in the (1960s) kindergarten class who couldn't color within the lines or cut out a pre-printed shape or keep the paste from smearing all over every inch of her worksheet. I vividly remember how my 5-year old heart would sink whenever our teacher said we'd be "cutting and pasting" in our workbooks. I hated the feeling of having paste up to my elbows and knowing that my classmates could do these tasks so much better than I. When the art teacher arrived on his once or twice a week rounds for art class, I wanted to hide. I swear, my kindergarten arts and crafts experiences scarred me for life, because even now the memories of humiliation are very real.

When I moved to Utah in 2002, I moved to "scrapbook central." The number and size of the craft stores and manufacturing warehouses is quite staggering. Two major companies are based in Utah -- Provo Craft and Making Memories. The semi-annual warehouse sale put on by Making Memories has to be seen to be believed. And the papers are so beautiful! Before I learned how to scrapbook, I would browse through the papers just for the fun of seeing the pretty designs and colors.

My neighbor in Utah eventually taught me how to scrapbook, and she was very generous with her own supplies - I had an abundance of papers, embellishments and tools to work with right from the start. She also shared her knowledge and her artistic taste with me, gently guiding me when things didn't go together quite as I'd envisioned. Over the years I have had a lot of fun making scrapbooks and cards -- some to keep and some to give away as keepsakes for others.

And you don't have to color within the lines or be able to cut a shape by hand. Ha!

Last year it became apparent that there was interest in scrapbooking among some of the women of our church, so it was my turn to take on the role that my neighbor had played. I set up monthly evenings for scrapbooking, and I've opened my own storehouse of supplies to the women who join me. It gives me an excuse to keep buying beautiful papers (something that no scrapbooker can resist, even when a new project is not being contemplated at the time).

I chose to make gift tags last night in order to try out my new Cricut cartridge (snagged it on sale on Black Friday!). The new cartridge makes some cool Christmas shapes, and it felt good to be doing something that required a small amount of creativity. The last several weeks have pretty much been about just keeping my head above water with work, housework and daily life.

Now if I could just get some inspiration to finish those projects for the girls! I'd tell you what those projects are, but I happen to know that at least two of the girls read this blog. So, if I get them done, I'll post pictures after Christmas!

- Catherine

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Random Dozen -- the Wednesday meme

Ta da! A new look for my Blog AND this week's Random Dozen, courtesy of Lid. What more could you ask for?

1. Which Wizard of Oz character are you most like?

The Tin Man. Don’t ask me why because I don’t really know. Maybe because I know I have a brain and I usually have enough courage, but I am not always sure I have a heart? Hmmmm….....

2. When you're deciding what you're going to wear each morning, which item do you select first? Why?

The top – because I have many more of those than bottoms.

3. What kind of animal do you think the world could live without?

Snakes. I have a real phobia – they absolutely scare the crap out of me. Please don’t hate me, animal lovers.

4. How many Christmas trees are in your home?

One. We have enough ornaments for two, but the house isn’t big enough for two. Yet.

5. Would you prefer to be emotionless if it meant you didn't have to feel heartbreak?

There are days when I would cheerfully answer “yes” to that question, but I know the real answer is “no.”

6. Do you ever experience holiday let-down or depression?

I used to, especially right after some change had been made in our lives. But in recent years, with our home life settled, that has finally gone away.

7. Do you like Michael Jackson's music?

I liked some of the stuff he did in the 80s – around the Thriller era – but absolutely nothing after that.

8. Why is it that we never judge people who have their teeth fixed for cosmetic reasons, but every other cosmetic procedure has a stigma?

It seems to me that good teeth are a sign in our society that someone takes basic care of himself/herself and has good hygiene. Other cosmetic procedures, such as facelifts or tummy tucks, are viewed as superfluous and artificial – like flying in the face of nature.

9. Enjoy horseback riding?

I used to, but I had a scare a few years ago and lost my nerve. I still dream of being able to get on and go for a ride, but so far, I can’t make myself do it.

10. Shoes--practical or stylish?

Practical. My feet hurt too much to be really stylish, although I still try for some style where possible. So, no 3-inch heels for me – partly because they are uncomfortable and partly because they would make me taller than my husband. I do look for 1-1 ½ inch heels when I need to wear something dressy, but they have to be comfortable or it’s a total non-starter.

11. What was the name of your first pet? Feel free to post a pic.

My earliest memories growing up are of a dog named Meg and a gray tabby cat named Pixie. Meg was a Dalmation, and a really sweet and smart dog. She saved my (then toddler) brother from going out in the road once – he thought he’d follow Dad to work and my mother had momentarily turned her attention to something else. By the time Mom realized what had happened, Meg had already collared my brother and wouldn’t let him get up off the ground at the end of the driveway.

12. What percentage of your Christmas shopping is done?

About 1/3 as of this writing. Not bad, but I think we might have Christmas a few days early this year due to the kids’ schedules – so I’d better get cracking!

And now, I'm off to have the car repaired. Oh joy.

- Catherine

This meme is hosted by Lid at 2nd Cup of Coffee. You could play along, too, if you wish -- just copy and paste the questions into your own blog, and then, when you've answered the questions, go to the Mr. Linky button at the end of Lid's Random Dozen blog entry. You can link your answers there and also use that to access the blogs of others.

Monday, November 30, 2009

More odd shades of grief

I miss my mother. This morning I drove down to Salt Lake City, getting back to my regular work schedule of two days in the Salt Lake office each week. I ALWAYS talk to my mother right after I get on the Interstate in Idaho.

This was the first time I'd made the drive since returning from Pennsylvania after her funeral.

I miss my mother when I'm driving.

I also miss her in the little, funny things of life. We shared a similar sense of humor (which it took me to adulthood to understand, quite frankly -- but that is another, much more angst-laden blog post). So, it doesn't surprise me that, even as her body was shutting down this life on earth, there was a humorous moment along the way.

Background: The timeline of my mother's illness and decline is that she was still up and around for several hours each day until the four days before she passed. She passed on a Sunday. The last time she was on her feet was the Thursday morning before. By Thursday afternoon, we knew she wouldn't be getting up again, and the hospice nurses made arrangements for a hospital bed to be brought in on Friday. And so it was, and mother was able to walk the five steps from one bed to the other, and that was pretty much it for her.

On Saturday morning, she woke me at 5:15 or so -- I forget why. Her eyes were still closed -- she was so weary at this point -- but she motioned to the hospital bed that she was lying in and said something I couldn't quite catch. After asking her to repeat it another two times, I finally realized that she was asking me, "Did he bring this in by himself?" Of course, my rejoinder was, "Did WHO bring this in by himself? Gus?" (meaning her husband). "No," she replied, "your father."

Well, now... that's a wee bit awkward.

In the split second that followed, I realized I had three options. 1) Remind her that she had not been married to my father for the last THIRTY FIVE years (what ARE you thinking, Mom???), 2) Remind her that my father had passed away nearly three years ago, or 3) Assure her that, indeed, he hadn't brought it in by himself. I opted for #3 and smothered a smile. If Mom had been up to it, she'd probably have enjoyed the humor of my situation there.

And when I remember that moment, I miss her so darn much that I can hardly breathe for a second or so.

- Catherine

Thanksgiving Weekend 2009

I think a list is the only way to describe what I've been up to for the past four days.

1. Thanksgiving Day -- about 80 people and a ton or so of excellent food. Oh, and the family football game played in cold but beautiful weather.

2. Preparations for my sister-in-law's wedding. Tim's five sisters put together a beautiful wedding, from the flowers to the food to Luci's dress. I was a willing worker bee, but we soon discovered that making corsages is not my forté. Instead, I went to work on the food platters, and that was a much better venue for my.... ahem... skills.

3. Shopping at 5:00 a.m. on Friday -- not necessarily because I wanted to, but because my usual insomnia had me up at 4:00 and I thought to myself, why not? As it turns out I scored two pre-lit artificial trees that my sister-in-law had hoped to add to her wedding backdrop (for a measly $30 each), plus some very nice silk poinsettias, also for the wedding, at 50% off. Skipping Wal-Mart, I opted instead for Fred Meyers, a store that is similar to Target (we don't have a Target -- we just have Freddie's). Everyone was very nice as we stood in line outside and chatted. Inside, the employees were terrific and the customers very civilized. I headed for Joann's Fabric Store from there, in time for their 6:00 a.m. opening. People RAN into that store, and it wasn't until I got inside myself that I found out why -- the Cricut (a cutting machine for crafters) was on sale for $75. Fortunately, I already own one of those. The other reason folks ran into Joann's was because fabric was deeply discounted for the morning only -- a very large variety of fabric was marked down to something like $1.00 per yard for the first six hours of Friday morning. I was very glad I didn't have to stand in line for fabric cutting - it snaked around the inside of the store.

4. The wedding was beautiful and went off nearly perfectly. My sisters-in-law outdid themselves, I think.

The bride and groom.

5. Leftovers at my parents-in-law's house yesterday, plus another football game played by the cousins. I love the way the older boys try to include the little kids as much as they can. There were plenty of dazzling passes, to be sure, but there were also plenty of instances where the little kids really got to try to play the game.

6. The distribution of this year's profits from our family's fair booth at the State Fair. We began the meeting with prayer, and there were some difficult conversations as we debated priorities and the division of the money. In the end, consensus was reached on all counts, and everyone was satisfied with the decisions. (And we are still all friends.) We chose to focus, as our outreach, on supporting the work of the Gospel through missions, setting aside some funds for any of our kids going on mission trips this coming year. The rest of the money we made on the booth was put toward financial needs within our extended family. The work at the fair is very hard, both physically and emotionally, but it becomes more than worthwhile when the end result is that we can help to take care of God's work and our own family.

7. Monday morning, here we go!

Friday, November 27, 2009

Friday's Fave Five

Another week and another list of highlights!

1. Thanksgiving day with the family -- most of our kids, all of Tim's siblings, my parents-in-law, countless grandchildren, great-nephews and great-nieces, and, of course, the Family Football Game.

2. The excitement of my sister-in-law's marriage (the wedding is tomorrow). We are so happy for them both!

3. My camera -- the lowliest of the Nikon DX series (a DX40), but an amazing camera nonetheless. I am so glad I treated myself by purchasing it two years ago.

4. The gas fireplace (stove) in our family room -- nicely toasty on a cold day!

5. New friends who came to Thanksgiving dinner with us. A family of 5, they came to our church last week for the first time and we got to talking for a few minutes with them at the kids' activity later that day. Upon finding that they wouldn't be going home (3 hours away) for Thanksgiving, we invited them to ours -- which they declined because they'd already been invited to another Thanksgiving dinner. Only it wasn't "another" dinner -- it was ours -- because they'd been invited by our nephew and his wife. We had a great time getting to know them better yesterday.

This meme is hosted by Susanne at Living to Tell -- you can link up your list with her's by visiting her blog and using the "Mr. Linky" thing-a-ma-bob at the end of her Fave Five post.

Have a great weekend!

- Catherine

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Grandma's evening out

Two years ago I started a tradition of having an evening out at Christmastime with my granddaughter (and eldest grandchild), Kali.  She was 7-going-on-8 at the time, a good age to start this kind of thing. We both like to dress up, so what better choice than a local performance of the Nutcracker?  That first year, she slept through most of the second act, but she enjoyed herself immensely, being out for a grown-up evening.  I had a blast, too. 

The tradition has continued, and last night was our third Christmastime outing – once again to see the Nutcracker.  (Last year we saw a production of A Christmas Carol, brought into town by a professional touring company.)  Off we went, last night, to see a Nutcracker performance put on by a touring company of The Moscow Ballet, and we got to see it in Pocatello's amazing Stephen's Performing Arts Center.  The Stephen’s PAC is a fabulous venue, reputed to have some of the best acoustics in the country. We had seats in the topmost balcony area, right on the railing – a great view of the stage.

I don’t know much about The Moscow Ballet, but Russian ballet companies, in general, have quite a reputation, given the history of ballet in that country.  This was a regional touring arm of The Moscow Ballet.  The principal dancing was really excellent, the costumes were lovely, and the minimalist set (just two elaborate backdrops) was imaginatively designed.

Kali fell asleep again this year -- just the last 15 minutes -- but no matter.  We thoroughly enjoyed our evening “at the ballet,” as we airily pronounced it, dressed in our Christmas finery. I loved making another memory with my eldest grandchild, and I am looking forward to the day when Granddaughter #2 (we have only two so far) is also old enough for such activities.

Kali already wants to know what we’ll be seeing next year. 

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Random Dozen -- the Wednesday meme on Tuesday this week!

The weekly Random Dozen is a day early this week so that we can all be happily getting ready for Thanksgiving and the resulting food coma. If I don't see you here later this week, then please let me wish you a Happy Thanksgiving now!


1. Are you sticking to traditional Thanksgiving foods this year, or are you being culinarily adventurous?

Traditional. My mother-in-law (who is a caterer) always hosts the meal at her home, and we (“we” being about 70 people) are gathering there. I am in charge of making the gluten-free stuffing and the gluten-free dessert for my hubby, his sister, and one of our guests. I’ve experimented with a Sausage-Apple stuffing recipe from my cousin (thank you, Dot and Karen – what a fabulous stuffing!!!). I think it’s a real hit, even with gluten-free bread and gluten-free cornbread as the foundation. Can’t wait to serve it to those who think they will have to go without stuffing on Thanksgiving Day! Ditto the chocolate cake that I’ll be bringing.

2. Tell me something concrete that you're thankful for. (Something you can literally touch, see, etc., not a concept like "hope.")

Automatic air freshener. You walk by and it automatically squirts scent into the air. Neither of the male folk in my house seem to be capable of picking up a can of air freshener and spraying it at.. umm… appropriate times. So.... automatic air freshener in an apple/cinnamon scent = problem solved!

3. You knew the flip side was coming: Share about something intangible that you're thankful for.

The depth and breadth of my husband’s love – he may not be perfect, but he is truly a man after God’s own heart and he has taught me a great deal about love.

4. Share one vivid Thanksgiving memory. It doesn't have to be deep or meaningful, just something that remains etched in your memory.

Last year’s family football game on Thanksgiving Day. The autumn sunlight, the expansive view of the mountains in the distance, and the fun all the cousins had as they played the game…..

5. What is one thing that you know beyond a shadow of a doubt is going to happen this Thanksgiving because it always does, year after year?

I will look at that heavily laden buffet, I will dive in face first, and I will overeat. And then I will kick myself for doing so. It’s a gift.

6. Do your pets get any leftovers?

At my mother-in-law’s house, I don’t know because all the dogs live outside. If we were at my house, absolutely yes. And Hank would know that and be doing his best to look like he’s not begging when he really is. Me: “Hank Williams Jr! No begging!” Hank would then turn his limpid brown eyes upon me, let his ears droop, and I would be vanquished in an instant. That dog has my number.

7. Does your family pray before the big meal? If so, do you join hands while seated, stand, repeat a formal prayer or offer a spontaneous prayer? Who does the praying?

My father-in-law gives thanks before the meal – it is always spontaneous prayer.

8. Will you be watching football in the afternoon? If not, what will you be doing?

We won’t be watching the NFL, but we will be watching our own family football game out on the lawn.

9. There are two distinct camps of people on this issue: How do you feel about oysters in the dressing/stuffing?

I’ve never had oysters in the stuffing, so I don’t know how I feel about it. As long as I don’t have to feel FOR the oysters….. (couldn’t resist, Lid!).

10. Do you consider yourself informed about the first Thanksgiving?

Well, I think so. But it’s not something I’ve studied very much, I must say.

11. Which variety of pie will you be enjoying?

There will be a huge variety of desserts at Thanksgiving – I will probably have a small taste of several, including, but not limited to, pumpkin pie.

12. Do you feel for the turkey?? (This is a humorous throw back question related to the 12th question in another Random Dozen!)

We-ell…. while I didn’t feel for the fish in the previous Random Dozen, I do feel for the turkeys a little bit. Turkey farms can be horrendous places, quite frankly. But I eat it anyway.

If you want to play along with this weekly meme, copy and paste the questions into your own blog (and supply your own answers, of course). Then go to Lid's blog at 2nd Cup of Coffee and use the little "Mr. Linky" button at the end of her Random Dozen post -- that way you can link in your own blog and also read those of others. Kinda like a coffee klatch online!

- Catherine

Monday, November 23, 2009

It's Monday morning in the country

The title is a phrase used over and over again by one of our local radio morning DJs (just substitute the correct day of the week, of course). Funny, that it's all I could think of this morning, and I haven't listened to the radio yet today.

My weekend was a mixed bag of things. The to-do list was an Epic Fail. Not a single thing on the list got done.

On the other hand, I experimented with gluten-free Sausage and Apple stuffing and it was a big hit with the family! So, with my experiment a success, I shall be supplying the gluten-free stuffing at the Thanksgiving dinner my parents-in-law are hosting. I'll also make a gluten-free chocolate cake (using Bob's Red Mill cake mix). I hate to see my hubby and his sister go without the good stuff on Thanksgiving. And, actually, that stuffing is a big success even in its gluten-free form!

My husband was diagnosed with Celiac in December of 2007, so we have been nearly two years on the gluten-free diet in our house. He was so sick before his diagnosis that he thought he was dying. And, actually, he was -- of malnutrition. Celiac is an auto-immune disease that affects the intestinal tract to the point of rendering it impossible for the body to derive any nutrition from food. Tim ate, but his body didn't benefit because of the advanced stage of his auto-immune response. His 5'9" frame was down to 130 pounds and he was cinching his belt in to keep his size 32 jeans on. Within one week of going gluten-free, he felt good again. Within three weeks of going gluten-free, he began regaining weight and his skin color went from pasty gray to normal. He'll never be able to go back to eating wheat, barley or rye (or any products that include those grains or their derivatives), but he eats well at home, and, increasingly, out at some restaurants, too.

Hmmm... Celiac isn't what I'd intended for today's blog post. But there it is. By the way, if you suspect you or anyone you know may have this problem, there is a simple blood test that will show the indicators. The doctor will want a biopsy if the indicators are positive, but the initial test is an easy blood draw. Celiac isn't something you catch, either -- it comes down through DNA, especially through German and Irish extraction.

And please don't be afraid to prepare food for someone who has celiac. There are plenty of free resources available on the Internet that are helpful in explaining the situation and suggesting meals. Plain meat, potatoes and vegetables are always okay (it's what you dress them with that you have to watch). If you ask questions of someone in the know, you won't go wrong.

- Catherine

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Saturday to-do list

The Saturday to-do list is long, long, long. How did this happen? I'm not even sure where to start. Tim is outside raking the last of the leaves and I'm debating between cleaning out my closet or cleaning out my office. I'm afraid either one could take me all day, so whichever job I start, the other will probably remain for a future to-do list. Stay tuned to see which one wins...

Thankfully, tomorrow is the Sabbath and I intend to keep it that way -- i.e. restful. That means football and my two best guys - yeah!

- Catherine

Friday, November 20, 2009

Friday's Fave Five

This weekly meme is hosted by Susanne at Living To Tell the Story.

Can't believe it is Friday already. I'm looking forward to next week, spending time with the family and eating, eating, eating. Oh, and football games, shopping trips, eating, and my sister-in-law's wedding!

In no particular order, these are five favorite things from the past week.

1. Getting to spend a whole evening with my dearest friend in all the world. Every time I see her, I am reminded of how much her friendship has meant to me for the past 25 years.

2. Snagging a free upgrade to fly First Class home from Newark to Salt Lake City. Once again, it ain't about the meal -- it's the acreage.

3. Coming home from a trip to the comfort of my husband's arms. He really is the best!

4. A new chicken recipe that yields gravy To Die For! Oh, and the bird was mighty tasty, too.

5. A phone call from my stepdaughter on a really blue day.

AND, bonus....

6. Being able to cook away my blues. I like to cook, and I've discovered that, on the bad days, it helps me to prepare a good meal. That's how we ended up with an amazing Lemon Chicken dinner last night, and I ended a blue day in a pretty good mood. I'm thankful for a good kitchen and a nearby grocery store.

I've been away for five weekends straight -- the longest ever, I think. I cannot wait to have a normal, family-style weekend, starting tonight!! Have a great weekend everyone!

- Catherine

Addendum for those who are intrigued by the Lemon Chicken recipe (which I got from my friend, Sara, and which uses the cooking method of my cousin, Karen, -- so it's a little bit of a hybrid, and I thank both of you!).

1 whole chicken (the recipe calls for an Oven Stuffer Roaster type, but those are hard to come by in our town, so I used two plump fryers)
1-2 whole lemons (1 small-ish lemon for a plump fryer, probably two small-ish or one medium lemon for an Oven Stuffer Roaster)
Olive oil to brush on and in the chicken.

for the Rub:
1 T kosher salt
1 tsp black pepper
1 T garlic powder

for the giblet broth:
chicken neck, liver, yukky stuff, etc.
1 onion, chopped coarsely
about 10 sprigs of fresh parsley (or dried equivalent)
2 garlic cloves minced
sage and/or poultry seasoning (or what-have-you - bay leaf, maybe?) to taste
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 250 degrees (TWO fifty -- it's a slow oven).

Remove the giblets from the chickens and reserve to make a broth that you will add to your pan drippings for gravy. (If you hate working with the giblets, then you could use canned chicken broth for that part of the gravy-making and skip the whole giblet thing.)

Brush the chicken(s) with olive oil.

Wash the lemons (do not peel), and prick each one all over with a fork (probably 8-10 times).

Combine the ingredients for the rub.
Rub inside the oiled chicken and under the skin of the breast.

Insert the whole lemon(s) into the cavity of the chicken and tie the legs closed, tucking the wings underneath as well.

Roast UNcovered until done, 5-6 hours at 250 degrees (yep, that is a SLOW oven).

In the meantime, combine giblets and the other broth ingredients with enough water to cover.
Simmer the giblets for at least 3 hours or more.

When the chicken is done:
Remove the chicken(s) to a cutting board and tent with foil to rest while you make the gravy. Remove the lemons and discard.

Pour pan drippings into a gravy separator
Reserve enough fat to make a roux with flour (ratio is 1:1). I used 2 T of each.
Cook the roux for a minute, then add all of the de-fatted pan drippings.
As it thickens, you can add giblet broth as needed to get to the right consistency. (I didn't use all my giblet broth last night -- will use it when I make more gravy tonight from the chicken broth I made today and the fat that I reserved.)

The lemon oozes/sprays juice all over the inside of the chicken while it's cooking. The meat is very juicy and the dark meat in particular has a just a slight hint of lemon to it. What's so wonderful about the gravy is that it has this very, very subtle lemon flavor to it -- very fresh -- but it's also very chicken-y. My husband and our guest couldn't get enough of it.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Odd shades of grief

Woke up sad and can't seem to get out of my own way this morning. I have no patience with this process. I've got stuff to do - work, home, family (not necessarily in that order).

I don't have time to sit here crying over last night's dream that my mother and I were on one of our fun trips together (we loved traveling together). I don't have time to weep over the ending of the dream, when I realized that she was going to have go home and die again. Again? Yes - in the dream I knew that I was on borrowed time with her. The added grief at the end (after our lovely trip) was that I'd been at her home with her for her "first" death, and now, because we'd been traveling, I didn't have enough vacation time to go back to her home with her again, for the event that we surely knew was coming.

I woke up sobbing and I've been sitting at my computer ever since, with a short foray to the kitchen to get the oatmeal going for breakfast. Because there is still life to be lived here.

Oh my gosh, how I hate this.

- Catherine

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Random Dozen -- the Wednesday meme

Here are this week's questions in the Random Dozen, thanks to Lid over at 2nd cup of coffee. If you want to play along, copy the questions to your blog, answer them, then go to 2nd Cup of Coffee and use the Mr. Linky thing at the end of the Random Dozen post -- you can link in your blog with everyone else's blog and also use that feature to read the answers of others (which is quite fun).

1. If you could master one sport, what would it be?

Horseback riding. I am the world’s worst rider, but I truly love my horses.

2. When you make a major purchase, do you go with your gut instinct, or do you do research to make an informed decision?

Research first (love the Internet!). Then, if I still have trouble deciding, my gut.

3. There is an old kids' game that says you can find out what your movie star name would be by using your middle name as your first name and the name of the street you grew up on as your last. What is your movie star name?

Elizabeth State Highway. Not very glamorous or cool, I'm afraid. (Actually, it should be Elizabeth State Highway 35. But that is just weird.)

4. Would you rather give up your favorite music or your favorite food?

Hmmm….. depends on what mood I’m in. But probably, I’d be less likely to want to give up my favorite food (I always have music playing in my brain anyway -- can't shut it off).

5. There are two types of banana preferences. One is pristine yellow, almost to the point of being green; the other is spotty and more ripe. Which is your preference?

Neither. Raw bananas (at any stage) give me a hellish stomach ache, so I don’t ever eat them.

6. Your favorite tree is?

Red maple (for the fall foliage, of course).

7. On a scale of 1-10, how tech savvy are you?

A 7, I think. I can’t do much with network administration, but I can work through quite a few problems on my computer, I can edit and upload photographs and documents, and I can use a webcam and VoIP software (how about that for tech savvy!).

8. Has H1N1 touched your family?

Both husband and youngest son had it at the same time in October. I have escaped thus far.

9. Are you an analytical person, or do you just accept things the way they are without questioning or scrutinizing?

Depends on the issue. Some things are too overwhelming to try to analyze, so I don’t even bother. But, overall, I suppose my tendency would be to think it through if I can.

10. Is your personality more like that of a dog, cat, or Koala?

I have the loyalty of a dog but (sometimes) the aloofness of a cat, so that’s another toss up among my answers today. (Koalas, from what I understand, are not as cuddly as they look and can be quite ferocious if cornered in the wild -- I really do like to think I'm not that.)

11. Do you keep in touch with friends you made years ago?

Absolutely! There is one friend with whom I’ve never lost touch – we graduated to email when it became readily available to both of us in the late 90s. I stay in touch with other old friends (whom I’ve recently found again) through Facebook.

12. You are checking out at a grocery store. In the express lane, there are more people than the regular lanes, but of course, their load is less than those in the regular lanes. Which lane do you choose (assuming you qualify for the express lane) and why?

I’d choose the scan-it-yourself ("u-scan") lanes, of which my local grocery stores have at least four in each store. Those lanes tend to move pretty quickly, even when the store is crowded. But if “u-scan” isn’t an option, then I’d choose the conventional Express lane because the line does keep moving with the smaller orders. It drives me a wee bit crazy, when I’ve got a small order, to stand for a long time behind someone who has a week’s worth of their family’s groceries on the belt. At least you have the illusion of fairly speedy progress in the Express lanes, even if your actual time in line isn’t cut down.

- Catherine

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Stages of Grief

Dear God,

I’ve read before that there are stages of grief – some say three, some say five, some say seven – whatever, it’s all the same concept: Grief is complicated and is (often) a lengthy period of working through a wide range of emotions, making progress and then backtracking, making progress and backtracking.

I’m tired of the grieving process already. I am not sleeping well (which You already know, since I’ve been talking to You about it). I wake up in the middle of the night feeling just flat out sad. Not even specifically thinking about my mother – just overwhelmingly sad. Days are better because I have things to keep me busy, despite the sadness.

The experts say that the grief one feels after a loved one dies shouldn’t be put off, shouldn’t be swept under the carpet or denied. You must expeeeer-ience (Nora Desmond drama here) the grief to move beyond it.

With all due respect to the experts, this is an expeeeer-ience I could live without.

I. Don’t. Have. Time.

It used to be that there were specific things one did socially that helped to mark the grieving process: wear black clothing and/or a widow’s cap, refrain from going out in public for a set period of time, wear a black armband, etc. I’m beginning to see some wisdom in those artificial constructs, because they seem, in my opinion, to help the subconscious mind benchmark the process as it unfolds, and provide a glimmer of hope in that life will return to normal at a specific point in time – normal clothing, normal social interaction, etc.

I have a busy career that demands all of my faculties be in working order. I have a husband and son who need me to be in the game at home. I have grown kids who, in varying ways, need me as a fully-functioning member of the family, too. And I have the sinking feeling that I am just in the beginning of this grief thing, with no mile markers to guide me on the trip.

Frankly, there isn’t time for grief, and it scares me and frustrates me to think that I’m going to have to make time, whether I want to or not. Absent the man-made markers that we used to observe, what is this going to look like as it plays out in my life? Brain fog? Uncontrollable weeping? Lack of interest in life? Wishing for death? All of the above? It’d be easier to wear black clothing for three months, a black armband for another three, and then call it good, thank you.

I’m a little bit like my mother in that I want to plan it all out so I know what to expect and when. What is this going to be like – I want to know. Now. And I want it to be over. Now. I’m looking forward to the day when, as Roberta Temes states in her book, Living with an Empty Chair, “Life is no longer one frantic anxiety attack.”

Temes separates the grief stages into behaviors:

Numbness (mechanical functioning and social insulation)
Disorganization (intensely painful feelings of loss)
Reorganization (re-entry into a more 'normal' social life.)

My Father, as You already know, right now I’m into Disorganization -- with the occasional retreat to Numbness. Here’s to Reorganization coming soon, yes?

And maybe I’ll go find myself a black armband, too.


Saturday, November 14, 2009

Saturday meeting

I have a whole day meeting today.

And so I must not blog.... I must not blog..... I must not blog....

- Catherine

Friday, November 13, 2009

Friday's Fave Five

It is Friday the 13th, it's so windy I think the roof might come off this hotel, and I am in New Jersey -- my home state and a land of people who use their cars as instruments of rage and frustration. I think if you can successfully get on and off the NJ Turnpike in North Jersey at rush hour, you should get a medal for bravery and sheer nerve.

Oh, but this is supposed to be a Fave Five, isn't it.....

Happy stuff.


Well, in no particular order, here we go:

1. The prospect of seeing old friends while I'm here.

2. The fact that I got upgraded to First Class for the flight from Salt Lake City to Newark yesterday. It's not even about getting a real meal -- it's about the seat room and leg room. Ahhhhhhh.....

3. A cup of good, strong tea on a windy, stormy morning.

4. The remarkable progress toward recovery that my friend, Kelly, is showing -- the doctors were able to drain the tumor on her liver, and the liver is starting to show signs of life. She still needs a transplant, but this is miraculous, folks! She can actually go home for a while, they think.

5. The laughs I've had this week -- I so need them! (Today's laugh: If you're on Facebook, check this out: scroll to the bottom of the page and click on the link that says English on the lefthand side. In the resulting window, choose "English Pirate" as your language. Too funny!)

Happy weekend, everyone!

- Catherine

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Mouga Schouch

I love family history research. I started working on my family tree back in the 1980s – when you had to travel to far flung official places in order to research the various and sundry records that are now gathered so neatly together on Thank you, LDS Church. Yes, I have the deluxe membership, and I am amazed at how much information is available now for research.

One blogger, in a comment yesterday, said that family history research is like putting together the pieces of a puzzle. She’s right -- and that combination of puzzle and family history is what makes it so intriguing to me. The thrill of the hunt – and what you turn up are your very own ancestors!

My great-great-great grandmother was Mary Ann Schanck, nee Hall. She was married to Jacob Schuyler Schanck, a farmer in Monmouth County, New Jersey. In trying to trace their son, William Gordon Schanck – my great-great grandfather – I must, of necessity, trace Mary Ann and Jacob as well. A specific thorn in my side is that I’ve had no luck locating William in the 1860 U.S. Census, so I pushed back further to look for Jacob and Mary Ann in that same census – for perhaps William, then unmarried, was still living at home in 1860. Alas, I could not find Jacob and Mary Ann through an search, either.

I knew they had to be there because another record had told me so – but that record came from a compiled index, so you can't view the original entries. I was going to have to access the actual 1860 census schedule in order to see the names of everyone living in the household. So I went back to my old sleuthing techniques, pulling up – through -- the entire census schedule for Freehold, New Jersey, in 1860. 98 pages long. That’s a lot of people to read through (and they aren’t alphabetized – the census was written down house by house).

But I was equal to the task.

Lo and behold, I only had to go a mere 16 pages in, and there they were, plain as day on line 27: Jacob S. Schanck and his household. No William, although the other sons, Nelson and Schuyler, were still there. Ah well. I did notice that Mary Ann’s name was rather badly handwritten, but that didn’t explain why Jacob’s household didn’t come up in a regular search of Ancestry’s database for the 1860 census.

What you must realize is that, bless their little hearts, has transcribed EVERY individual entry of EVERY census into their own database, and then cross linked each and every entry to an image of the original census schedule (all of which are handwritten). So, when you search in Ancestry on the name of someone specific, you are actually searching Ancestry’s own database. Once you have located the entry, you can click on a link that will show you the image of the original census schedule page. I can promise you that this was a time-consuming process for the LDS volunteers and staffers who do this on behalf of their church. They’ve had to transcribe millions and millions and millions of handwritten entries from hundreds of years of records from all over the civilized world.

So, I guess they can be forgiven for turning “Schanck” into “Schouch.”

You see, now that I had the original census schedule, I still wanted to know why the entry wasn’t coming through the Ancestry database. I finally searched on Jacob's son’s first name of Nelson (which was clearly written), using no last name, specifically in that town in 1860. The search yielded two Nelsons.

One of which was Nelson..... Schouch.


Schouch is not even close as a "spelled like" or "sounds like" kind of thing (which Ancestry does provide when you do a search). Thus, Jacob had never appeared, even in the broadest of searches on his last name.

And so we come to the title of today's blog entry. Guess who got transcribed as “Mouga Schouch?” That’s right. My great-great-great grandmother, Mary Ann. Really, an educated guess at the original handwriting would arguably have yielded “Mary A.” And a guess by someone inexperienced might have yielded a literal “Mosf A.” at worst. But “Mouga?”

Mouga Schouch.

I laughed until I cried.

- Catherine. (Great-great-great granddaughter of Jacob and Mouga Schouch.)

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Random Dozen -- the Wednesday meme

Thanks to Lid at 2nd cup of Coffee, this week's questions:

1. What was the last song you listened to?

Go, Tell It On the Mountain (as sung by Steven Curtis Chapman). It is time for Christmas music!

2. Have you ever had “buyer’s remorse” over anything?

Yes, with our electric stove. If I could have waited another 3 weeks, the gas line would have been in and I could have purchased a gas stove. But I’d been so long without a stove that I couldn’t wait any longer (we were in the midst of redoing the kitchen at the time). And our plan was to stay in the house only one more year after the kitchen re-do -- which plan, of course, has gone by the wayside since the housing market slumped. Sigh. Should have waited for the gas line to be finished.

3. What is something in your life that you are thankful for now that you didn’t think you would be at the time of the event? (Something that seemed ill-timed, inconvenient or hurtful which turned out to be a good thing)

I’ll have to pass on answering this one. The only incident I can recall right now is too personal to our family to relate on my blog.

4. Do you watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade every year? If so, do you have a favorite float or balloon?

I haven’t watched the parade in probably 25 years.

5. Share a quote, scripture, poem or lyric which has been an inspiration to you lately.

I'll convert their weeping into laughter, lavishing comfort, invading their grief with joy. Jeremiah 31:13 (The Message)

6. This is meant to be a fun question, and this is a G-rated blog, but please share a “guilty pleasure,” something that you enjoy that’s probably not the most edifying, time-worthy or healthy thing you could be indulging in. Did I mention--G rating?

Chocolate. Very pedestrian, but it really is my guilty pleasure -- because if I don't feel like sharing my chocolate, I eat it where no one can see me. So there.

7. What Thanksgiving food are you looking forward to?

Stuffing and cranberry sauce. That’s two, I know – but you HAVE to have them together. Especially combined with a little turkey and gravy on a dinner roll. YUM.

8. What is your favorite book to read to children, or what was your favorite childhood book?

One of my favorite books to read to children is Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs. One of my favorite childhood books was Little Women.

9. Do you collect anything? (Feel free to post a photo.)

Dust bunnies under the furniture. Does that count? Actually, the dust bunnies collect themselves. So, really, I don’t collect anything at all. Not even dust bunnies. (I suddenly feel better about that.)

10. Gift bags or wrapping paper?

Gift bags. What a wonderful invention! I can’t wrap a gift decently for anything – there are always lumps and bumps in the finished product. Gift bags make my gifts look gooooood.

11. Share an after-school memory from when you were younger. What was your routine like on an average day?

From my high school years: (IF I didn’t have an extra-curricular activity that kept me late at school) Get off the bus, walk back to the house, check the note that my mother would have left on the kitchen table re. starting dinner preparations for her. Next, follow the instructions and start dinner (or suffer the consequences). After that – homework in my bedroom.

12. True story: Once, in a job interview, I was asked this question and told there would be no clarifying; I simply had to answer the question: “When you’re fishing, do you feel for the fish?” So what about you? When you're fishing, do you feel for the fish??

The short answer, with no clarification is: no.

That said, this is my blog and I get to clarify if I want to. So, I assumed that “feel for the fish” means “feel bad because I am ending their short little lives by hauling them out of their home.” The answer: If we are talking literal fish – no, I don’t feel for fish; if we are being metaphorical and talking about human beings, then yes, I do feel for them.

- Catherine

Addendum: check out today's blog entry from my cousin, Karen. We have seen each other only once in the last 25 years, we don't confer on answers beforehand, yet our Random Dozen blogs nearly always contain a few identical answers. Uncanny!

Just stuff that I'm thinking about (about which I am thinking)

Tomorrow is the random dozen. Today is just a random list, and probably not very interesting. But here it is anyway:

1. My sister-in-law is getting married on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. Ten years as a widow and single mother -- she deserves this terrific guy that God has brought into her life, believe me. Tim's sisters are coming home from Florida and the Thanksgiving weekend looks to be one family celebration after another this year. And I've got a song to sing! Specifically, I'll be singing "Cherish the Treasure" (originally recorded by Steve Green). This is one song I'd never heard before, not being a fan of the genre of "wedding music" -- but the lyrics are good and my sister-in-law requested it for her big day because it expresses her heart. And I aim to please, so I'm working hard to make this song into something she will remember (in a good way, of course).

2. A dear friend was life-flighted down to Salt Lake City yesterday from her home in Wyoming. Her liver and kidneys have shut down from what may possibly be a bout of meningitis. We don't know what the outcome will be -- her condition is very critical at this time. If you are so inclined, please pray for Kelly.

3. I'm fighting some depression that I assume is a normal part of the grief process. I miss my mother so very much. A friend of mine described his father's death as "the horizon tilting," in that you not only miss the person, but you are also missing a reference point that has always been in your life. That's pretty much how it feels -- the horizon has tilted.

4. Despite #3, this is my favorite time of year -- from now until January. I love the holiday preparations and planning, and I love the weather as it slowly grows colder. I especially love the luminous quality of the late autumn sunlight.

That's it for today -- a rather boring list, I'm afraid. Thanks for stopping by.

- Catherine