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.