Saturday, December 20, 2008

Christmas Tree

I'm going nuts. I want so badly to water the tree!

This is our first year ever to have a fake tree. There's something unsettling about its not being real. For instance, I miss the piney smell. And yet, there was neither money nor time to buy a real tree. In the middle of January last year, we found a very nice artificial tree on clearance, for less money than one real tree would cost. Thinking ahead, I bought the fake tree.

It's actually very pretty. We tend to get Charlie-Brown trees. This one is NOT our typical scraggly penny-pinching tree.

I was surprised to discover that our arms and hands were poked and scratched from the artificial tree just as much as from the real ones. But what confuses me is the sudden panic out of nowhere: "Oh no! It's been a long time since I watered the tree! I better do it right away before it sucks up all the water and goes dry!!!" And then I realize that there's no place to put water. Gary told me that I could put a bucket or dish under the tree so that I'd have a place to pour water, y'know, just to satisfy that craving.

The tree went up very early this year -- the evening of the 12th. For quite a few years we've been setting up the tree around the 22nd, give or take a day. I don't know how I would've pulled off the tree set-up. So Gary took it upon himself to tackle this Christmas-decoration project. With Lessons & Carols this weekend and a very long choir practice the previous day, and with the kids here from out of town, and with Gary and the boys working every day until 5:00 on the 24th, the tree set-up had to be last weekend, or not at all. It was so nice of Gary to come up with the plan for decorating, and nice of Andrew to do so much to build and fluff the tree and then to put all the lights on.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Lighten the Darkness

The collect from Sunday implores that God would lighten the darkness of our hearts by His gracious visitation.

After a cruddy day on Wednesday, it is such a relief that He does indeed answer those prayers. Church on Wednesday night, the sacraments, a long choir rehearsal full of Christmas hymnody, and then a Thursday morning of Matins and Bible study...

It may not solve any of the problems, but
His visitation does indeed lighten the darkness of our hearts.

What was that Luther said about music driving away the devil?

Snow Day

We worked hard to be clearing the driveway this morning, even as the snow continued to pour down. I figured with 8" on the ground and no sign of letting up, we might as well start to whittle away at the snow-dump.
At 10:30, Andrew and Paul's boss called to say that their "late-start day" was being morphed into a "don't-come-in day."

When the snow plows finally came through the neighborhood at 11:30, Philip cleared the blockage of the entry to the driveway and headed off to work. He figured once he got onto the state and US highways, it should be much better than on the little dead-end roads in our neighborhood. Uh,... didn't work that way. He got out on the big road and it was worse than our little streets. He turned around and came back.

Gary never did head in to the office. But the company had warned people last night to be sure to take home their laptop computers and charged-up cell phones so that they could work from home today if necessary. It was necessary. So here's where Gary spent most of the day

But, hey, it's cool that he got paid! And he got to be around Alia today. Even though his attention was focused on work, how could you not smile as somebody passed through the room with a little darlin'?

Beer Bread

I don't have self-rising flour in the house. Beer bread is a standard recipe that is recorded in nearly every church ladies' cookbook I own. And rightly so -- it's delicious and simple! But the recipes all call for self-rising flour.

Seeing as how we spent time shoveling snow and making goo-goo eyes at Alia today, I didn't get around to making bread. And with company in the house, breakfast toast and lunch sandwiches depleted the supply of bread in the freezer. Oops. Quickie bread for supper it is:

1 ½ cups ww flour
1 ½ cups white flour
1 Tbsp sugar
1 Tbsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 can beer
1/4 cup water
1/2 stick melted butter

Thanks to Farmgirl, I found a recipe that doesn't call for self-rising flour. Hooray!

Mix the dry ingredients. Add the beer and extra water. (If you're making the bread with white flour only, you don't need the extra liquid.) Beat. Pour into well-greased 9x5" loaf pan. Pour melted butter over the top of the batter. Bake at 375° for about an hour. Let cool in pan about 10 minutes before removing bread to cooling rack.

Birthday Dinner

In a convenient confluence of dates, it just so happens that two wonderful men (with absolutely wonderful wives) happen to have birthdays just a day or so apart from mine. Two years ago we celebrated together at a rib restaurant. Last year Gary and I were too wiped out from life to even think of celebrating. This year I hoped to spend the birthday money from my mommy & daddy at a nearby restaurant with an awesome atmosphere and blow-ya-away food. Happily, it turns out that Kathy has been wanting to visit this restaurant for thirty years ... no, no, I know you don't believe she could've wanted anything for 30 years, but believe it or not, we are that old.

Laura and I forgot our cameras, but Kathy remembered, and here's what she got:

Today's Laugh

It was the end of the day when I parked my police van in front of the station. As I gathered my equipment, my K-9 partner, Jake, was barking, and I saw a little boy staring in at me, "Is that a dog you got back there?" he asked.
"It sure is," I replied.
Puzzled, the boy looked at me and then towards the back of the van. Finally he said, "What'd he do?"

A little girl was watching her parents dress for a party. When she saw her dad donning his tuxedo, she warned, "Daddy, you shouldn't wear that suit."
"And why not, darling?"
"You know that it always gives you a headache the next morning. "

While walking along the sidewalk in front of his church, our minister heard the intoning of a prayer that nearly made his collar wilt. Apparently, his 5-year-old son and his playmates had found a dead robin. Feeling that proper burial should be performed, they had secured a small box and cotton batting, then dug a hole and made ready for the disposal of the deceased. The minister's son was chosen to say the appropriate prayers and with sonorous dignity intoned his version of what he thought his father always said: "Glory be to the Faaather, and unto the Sonnn, and into the hole he goooes."

A little boy opened the big family bible. He was fascinated as he fingered through the old pages. Suddenly, something fell out of the Bible. He picked up the object and looked at it. What he saw was an old leaf that had been pressed in between the pages.
"Mama, look what I found," the boy called out.
"What have you got there, dear?"
With astonishment in the young boy's voice, he answered, "I think it's Adam's underwear.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Today's Laugh

When Melody sent along these kids jokes, she said they're old, but worth laughing over again.

A woman was trying hard to get the ketchup out of the jar. During her struggle, the phone rang so she asked her 4-year-old daughter to answer it. "Mommy can't come to the phone to talk to you right now. She's hitting the bottle."

I was driving with my three young children one warm summer evening when a woman in the convertible ahead of us stood up and waved. She was stark naked! As I was reeling from the shock, I heard my 5-year-old shout from the back seat, "Mom! That lady isn't wearing a seat belt!"

While taking a routine vandalism report at an elementary school, I was interrupted by a little girl about 6 years old. Looking up and down at my uniform, she asked, "Are you a cop?"
"Yes," I answered and continued writing the report.
"My mother said if I ever needed help I should ask the police. Is that right?"
"Yes, that's right," I told her.
"Well, then," she said as she extended her foot toward me, "would you please tie my shoe?"

While working for an organization that delivers lunches to elderly shut-ins, I used to take my 4-year-old daughter on my afternoon rounds. She was unfailingly intrigued by the various appliances of old age, particularly the canes, walkers and wheelchairs. One day I found her staring at a pair of false teeth soaking in a glass. As I braced myself for the inevitable barrage of
questions, she merely turned and whispered, "The tooth fairy will never believe this!"

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Outdoor Refrigerators

We know lots of people who have fridges in their garage. What we didn't know was that refrigerators don't work outdoors in Wisconsin winters. After Thanksgiving we began finding the contents of the freezer (no meat, whew!, just bread and shredded cheese and juice and ice cubes and lard) way softer than we expected. And the apples and carrots in the fridge froze. What's up with that?

Fretting that we needed a repairman, I planned to ask some of the moms at chapel. Karen was the first I asked, and she has an outdoor fridge, and she knew just what I was talking about. They too were surprised their first year here. She told me not to call for service; she made that mistake already; there's nothing the repairman can do. Our only option is to bring the machine indoors, or treat it like a large Igloo cooler.

So now my job involves figuring out which fridge items won't be harmed if they're frozen (butter, lunchmeat, cheeses, beer) and reconfiguring where stuff is stored. Oh my goodness... this means I'll need to remember where stuff is so that I can find it again later.

We're discovering that it's a lot easier to simply put the food & drinks right outside the back door on the floor of the garage than to traipse all the way to the other side of the garage to fetch a refrigerated item that ended up freezing anyhow. And, hey, that apple-cider slushie last night wasn't so bad!

Not Looking Good

I think my first mistake yesterday was going shopping. Maggie has been dying to use the gift card she got as a Christmas present at Gary's company's Christmas party. Because I had to pick up Andrew from work yesterday, I figured we'd already be out, and in the direction of the Target, so I could let Maggie spend her money.

I hate shopping any time. I hate it more in December.

The store didn't have what she had been longing for, so she browsed dvd's until she found something reasonable. Andrew wanted to hold out for what he really wanted instead of "settling." So we came up with a plan. I would buy something using his gift card, give him the cash, and take him to another store which would be likely to have what he wanted. As we've gotten closer to Christmas, I have been getting a little stressed over the acknowledgment that we can't really do presents this year. So I thought getting one $30 item for the whole family to share and enjoy would put something under the tree to unwrap. Maggie wouldn't go along with the buy-out plan; she had videos she wanted, and she really has a hard time leaving a store with money in her pocket when once she's got it in her mind that she's being permitted to spend.

So we go to the geek store for Andrew to spend his money. Surprisingly, they didn't have the items he was searching for. (But according to Murphy's Law, we're not really surprised, are we?) And of course, they carried the items that Maggie originally had wanted to purchase from Target. So we talked about buying Choice#1 and going back to Target to return Choice#2. But nooooooo, she wants to keep Choice#2 too.

I am not happy.

By now, we had time to make it back to town for chapel, but only if we skipped Aldi and continued to live with no bananas in the house. Okay, we can make it another couple of days without bananas.

So we go home and start the turkey for supper. Two hours later than intended ... because of shopping [ugh]. And then we had the heat turned off.

Of course, it was a cloudy day, and it began snowing.

Shortly after I discover the lukewarm non-roasting turkey, Gary arrives home. Someone promptly tells him about the Christmas present that would've been a surprise only to the daddy. But at least there would've been one person who got to unwrap something and be pleased. Okay, so we knock that plan outta the water.

We're hearing weather predictions that make me skeptical as to whether we will get to see Katie's family this weekend. I haven't been counting on their being able to make it because, after all, it is December in Wisconsin. We're supposed to get 6-12" of wet, heavy snow from middle of the night Thu/Fri until noon Friday. Then we're supposed to get another dump on Sat/Sun. Yesterday's snowfall was forecast at 1-3". We got 4". At least it was light and powdery this time. But so far this winter, we have always gotten the upper limit of what was forecast, or more. So I think we'll spend the whole weekend shoveling.

And then this morning we head off to chapel. The car sounds funny. Must be the bumpy roads because of the snow. But as the sound worsened, I got suspicious. Got out at a stop sign and checked. A flat tire. Not a little flat. Totally flat. The rim was on the ground. Okay, so the girl has to figure out how to change a tire on icy roads when it's 5°. Got that taken care and drove home. Suspicious because of the flat tires from two weeks ago, I checked around. I had changed one front tire on the Mercury; the other front tire was very very low too. Checked the Camry, and one of its front tires is completely flat.

I should be resilient. Other people have dinners ruined. Other people go Christmas shopping. Other people have flat tires. What's the big deal? You fix the problem the best you can. You sigh over the spoiled Christmas surprises and go on. But all I want to do is curl up in the corner and cry.

I should get out the bike-tire pump first,
and fill those car tires

in case I need to run away from home later.

Today's Laugh

A man owned a small ranch in Montana. The Montana Wage & Hour Dept. claimed he was not paying proper wages to his help and sent an agent out to interview him.

"I need a list of your employees and how much you pay them," demanded the agent.

"Well," replied the rancher, "There's my ranch hand who's been with me for 3 years. I pay him $600 a week plus free room and board. The cook has been here for 18 months, and I pay her $500 per week plus free room and board. Then there's the half-wit who works about 18 hours every day and does about 90% of all the work around here. He makes about $10 per week, pays his own room and board and I buy him a bottle of bourbon every Saturday night."

"That's the guy I want to talk to, the half-wit," says the agent.

"That would be me," replied the rancher.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Oven Off

You teach them to turn off the lights when they leave a room.
You teach them to turn off the oven when they're done baking.
You teach them to pick up their dirty clothes.

Sometimes they do.

Sometimes they don't.

The big problem comes, though, when they DO when they OUGHTN'T. It's not good to turn off the oven when somebody is still cooking something in it.

After a long day where quite a few things went wrong, it got to be 6:30 and we were all starved. (Ended up skipping lunch because of some of those things that went wrong.) It was about time for the turkey breast to be finished roasting. So I grabbed the meat thermometer and went to check....

and found a cold oven and a lukewarm turkey. Turns out we cooked the turkey long enough to get it up to a nice, comfy, bacteria-incubating temperature, and then turned off the oven's heat and left the turkey to sit. So I started roasting the huge turkey breast at 6:30. What else ya gonna do? At that point, you can't put it back in the refrigerator.

I had been longing to go to bed tonight about 7:30 or 8:00. I was so tired. And here it is 11:00 and I'm still dealing with broth and drippings and carving, and cleaning up greasy messes. And I'm hungry. I haven't had lunch and I haven't had supper. I think surely there must be a turkey sandwich that can find its way to my mouth before I hit the sack.

I want for tomorrow to be better.

Choosing the Choir Director

Back at our previous home, I was missing being in choir. There wasn't a choir at church, and it had been many, many years since I'd been able to sing in a group. I considered joining Sweet Adelines. Eventually, though, I gave up on the idea because of time commitment, dues, and not knowing what we'd sing and whether I'd be okay with it.

Now that I'm in choir again, I'm realizing how important that is. The pieces for choir get stuck in my head. My son goes around the house, singing his bass line. Maggie (who isn't even in choir) has learned the soprano and bass lines for some of our songs for Lessons and Carols, just because she hears them so often. Good grief, I even dream my choir music.

And think about when teens are in a musical at school. How many decades does that music stick with them?

If music has the power to stay in my head that long, and fill my mind so pervasively, I guess I'd better only be in choirs where I know I can depend on the director to give me music that I'm okay LIVING WITH.

Monday, December 15, 2008

His Name Is John

Our Bible story today was the birth of John and the Benedictus. During chapel, one of the questions Pastor asked the kids was, "What does John mean?"

We're lucky he doesn't call on my kids during chapel, because Maggie leaned over to me and whispered the answer, ....


By the way, for those who don't have the footnotes in their study Bibles instantly available, the answer was "God is gracious."

I Did It

It took two hours of procrastinating, but I did it.
I kicked myself out of the house to go on my exercise-walk.

Yes, it's wickedly cold out there.
Yes, it's windy.
No, I did NOT want to go out.
Yes, I did bundle up in multiple layers, with the only exposed skin being my eyelids. (So much for any vitamin D benefits.)
No, I do not want to know what the neighbors thought when they occasionally saw me walking backwards down the street so that I could hide my face temporarily from the rush of icy wind. (My poor little face was covered with only two layers of clothing, and neither of them wool.)

But there was SUN, glorious sun, streaming into my eyeballs. And with my lack of exercise-walks over the past week (too exhausted and achy from snow-shoveling) and with what the lack of sunshine has been doing to me, I figure I HAVE to go out, no matter how cold, if my sun-god* is making an appearance today.

I wish I could get myself moving out the door without two hours of trying to talk myself into it. I know I need it. I know what the consequences are when I avoid the outdoor exercise and am shorted on sunshine. But right now, I'm just pleased as punch that I actually DID IT today.

Shall I aim for tomorrow and make it two days in a row?

* footnote -- As Luther says in the Large Catechism, a god is whatever we cannot live without, the thing we look to for comfort and help.

Hearts of the Fathers

The last verses in the Old Testament are
Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet
before the coming of the great and terrible day of the Lord.
And he will turn
the hearts of the fathers to the children,
and the hearts of the children to their fathers.
lest I come and strike the earth with a curse.

For many years, Elijah Company (no longer in business) was unequivocally my favorite homeschool supplier. When they first opened for business, I don't think there was one single item in their catalog that wasn't perfect for our family. Of course, I couldn't buy and use everything they offered: not enough money and not enough time in the day. But it was ALL excellent material. That was when their catalog was only a couple of dozen pages. The business grew, and they began to carry some items that reflected their theology a little more strongly, so no longer was I thrilled with everything in their catalog, but it was still the best place to shop for books and games and kits.

The key Bible verse for the company (and the source of the company name) was that verse from Malachi quoted up above. They --like many among American Christians-- were committed to strengthening the family, and encouraging dads to spend more time with their kids, especially their sons, so that godly men could be raised up in this country.

Now, I am not against strong families. And I am not against dads spending time with their kids; actually, Gary's new job has been hard for us this past year because of the decreased time he has with the family. But somehow, that verse always bothered me. The point of sending the fore-runner was to strengthen families? That doesn't sound right. If the dads and the kids don't love each other, God will bring curses upon us? Somehow, this seems a little off-base. Not that I'm against their conclusions, but I don't believe that "family time" is what God's will and Christianity are primarily about.

Today our prayers included the story of John's birth and the Benedictus. Pastor started us in Malachi so that we could see how Zachariah's song was grounded in Malachi's prophecy. He said that this final verse is about people believing the promise made to our father Abraham: "and in you and in your Seed all the families of the earth will be blessed." This verse is about people trusting the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. This verse if about listening to our fathers in the faith, the patriarchs and the prophets and the psalmists and now even the apostles and martyrs.

Suddenly, this verse makes sense like it never did before.

Today's Laugh

Quotes from Dilbertesque bosses:

We know that communication is a problem, but the company is not going to discuss it with the employees.

E-mail is not to be used to pass on information or data. It should be used only for company business.

No one will believe you solved this problem in one day! We've been working on it for months. Now, go act busy for a few weeks and I'll let you know when it's time to tell them.

Teamwork is a lot of people doing what I say.

This project is so important, we can't let things that are more important interfere with it.

and the best one:
As of tomorrow, employees will only be able to access the building using individual security cards. Pictures will be taken next Wednesday and employees will receive their cards in two weeks

Sunday, December 14, 2008

John's Ministry

I don't know about you, but I grew up thinking that John the Baptist was a fire-n-brimstone preacher. He was the one who showed people their sin and preached law, Law, LAW.

But then a couple of years ago, Pastor pointed out that John's preaching was summarized precisely the same way as Jesus'. (See Matthew 3:12 and 4:17.)

And then there's the head-scratcher over why all these people were flocking out to hear John's preaching (Luke 3:7) if all he was doing was condemning them.

But then, last Sunday, we heard in Mark 1 that John came baptizing in the wilderness and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

John wasn't preaching only the Law. Yes, he condemned sin. But he called sinners to repentance so that they might be forgiven. He preached the Gospel too!


Early in September, Gary was at a company picnic, playing kickball, and injured his finger. He was in a splint for six weeks. The finger didn't heel correctly, and now our doctor is checking into the possibility of surgery. (Gary is thinking he's just going to forego the surgery and live with the misshapen finger, as long as they can get the pain under control without surgery.)

Just as the splint was coming off, he injured his shoulder while moving lumber for his deck-project.

Now, with today's warm spell, Gary decides that steaks on the grill would be a lovely idea. Baked potatoes. Slow-fried, caramelized onions. Marinated rib-eyes. Spinach salad. Steamed mixed veggies. And leftover birthday [cheese]cake. Sounds marvelous, right?

It almost was.
Then a gust of wind blew through the garage and slammed the door on Gary's hand as he was headed to the grill. He screamed and headed for the bathroom sink, yelling for a bandaid. When I brought him the box of bandaids, I about lost it when I saw what he was washing under the running water. We decided pretty darn quick that this was nothing to mess with at home.

One finger was banged up by the door slam. The other was seriously cut. And broken. (Oh, gosh, I'm getting queasy again. Gotta think about it to write about it.... Urgh.) So now he's all bandaged up. On antibiotics because the risk of infection in open fractures is so great, especially in the hand, and they don't want the bone getting infected. On Vicodin too, for the pain. Needing a follow-up appointment tomorrow afternoon or Tuesday morning.

Well, when we got home, the steaks had marinated an extra four hours, and they were even tastier than they would've been at a proper dinner-time.

Don't play kickball.
Don't have a deck.
Don't grill some yummy lunch.
Don't have fun.
It's too dangerous.

(PS to the children who grew up in my house: You know your mother's hang-up with slammed doors. Your father was commenting on that in ER today.)

Narrow Skirts

Those pencil-skirts are supposed to show off curves. Gary likes it when I try on narrow skirts; he thinks they look nice on me.

I like full skirts. I like the way they look on me and on other people. But there's more: a woman can actually move in a fuller skirt.

Today I wore a red plaid jumper that's very cute ... but the skirt is relatively narrow. I kept finding myself stuck. I was putzing at one end of the kitchen counter, and tried to take one step over to the sink to drop something there, and my skirt constrained me. I was trying to walk very fast (that is, taking extra long strides) on my way from the ER parking lot into the hospital today, and my skirt constrained me. Getting into the car was easy enough on the passenger side, but hard on the driver's side.

Of course, Gary's ever-helpful suggestion is that my narrow skirts need to be shortened. If the hemline is up above my knees, the skirt wouldn't interfere when I need to take big steps.

Ain't he helpful?

The Great Exchange

New hymnal:
He undertakes a great exchange,
puts on our human frame,
and in return gives us His realm,
His glory, and His name.

Old hymnal:
A wondrous change which He does make!
He takes our flesh and blood,
and He conceals for sinners' sake
His majesty of God.
He serves that I a lord may be;
a great exchange indeed!
Could Jesus' love do more for me
to help me in my need?

Y'know, in Luther, the blessed exchange (or great exchange) is that my sin was imputed to Christ, and His holiness is imputed to me. The great exchange is about the substitutionary atonement.

I realize that Christ's incarnation is a necessary component of the great exchange. If He were not man, the exchange wouldn't "work" because then Man would not die for sin, and we men would not have the holiness of the Man.

But I'm still struggling with this "definition" of the great exchange which makes it be about Jesus' becoming Man so that we could have heaven. I mean, there's nothing really wrong with it, but it leaves out so much that was in the TLH version. Particularly that Jesus became not just man, but was made the sinful man in our place. And if I'm understanding it right, I don't think this LSB/LW definition is really what the phrase means when we read it elsewhere in theology. Those two stanzas from TLH were some of the most solid, year-round proclamation of the Gospel as I puttered about my life for the last decade or so. Somehow I have to find a way to invest all that [blessed] "baggage" into the new wording.

Today's Laugh

A Lutheran preacher and his wife decided to get a new dog. Ever mindful of the congregation, they knew the dog must also be a Lutheran. They visited kennel after kennel and explained their needs. Finally, they found a kennel whose owner assured them he had just the dog they wanted. The owner brought the dog to meet the pastor and his wife.

"Fetch the Bible," he commanded. The dog bounded to the bookshelf, scrutinized the books, located the Bible, and brought it to the owner. "Now find Psalm 23," he commanded.

The dog dropped the Bible to the floor, and showing marvelous dexterity with his paws, leafed through and finding the correct passage, pointed to it with his paw. The pastor and his wife were very impressed and purchased the dog.

That evening, a group of church members came to visit. The pastor and his wife began to show off the dog, having him locate several Bible verses. The visitors were very impressed.

One man asked, "Can he do regular dog tricks, too?"

I haven't tried yet," the pastor replied.

He pointed his finger at the dog. "HEEL!" the pastor commanded. The dog immediately jumped on a chair, placed one paw on the pastor's forehead and began to howl. The pastor looked at his wife in shock and said, "Good Lord! He's Pentecostal!"

Hat tip: Rebellious Pastor's Wife from a long time ago