Sunday, December 24, 2006

Cookie Baking With Mom

Every year, Mom and I try to bake cookies together around Christmas time. Some years, we do it when I am home for the Stremmel Famiy Christmas celebration, and some years, we make them directly before Christmas. I was able to return home early Saturday morning, and right away we set in on our tradition. In fact, because I had a later departure than planned, Mom had alread begun so we could have a running head start on our multi-hour tradition. This year, instead of returning to our family favorites, we tried all new recipes. We baked for 7 hours on Saturday and completed the task today with two additional hours. We had some ups and downs with these particular cookies, many times improvising as we went along, and these aren't our best looking creations. But, in the end, we are happy with the tasty results. Here's a picture of the cookie trays we made up for the Strode family (my sister-in-law's parents), the Juliusson family (my hometown best friend's family), and the Stremmel family (for our get-together on Christmas day at Uncle Dick and Aunt Billie's house.)

Here are a few of the new recipes that will be added to our ever-growing "favorites" list:
Chocolate Covered Orange Balls (Dad's favorite)
Raspberry Swirls (My favorite)
Four Spice Crackles (Mom's favorite)

Our most trying creation, Peanut Butter Christmas Mice, did not turn out well at all. You will see some pictures on the recipe site... and then you will see the flattened creatures with licorice tails on our trays. Ours still look a little like mice and they're kind of cute, but clearly, something went wrong. Maybe we can figure this out, but we are so tired of mouse troubles that we may not try again until next year.

Stremmel Family Christmas 2006

Last Saturday, December 16, I traveled back to Canton to attend the "Stremmel Family Christmas." This is the gathering we have for the family of Sheldon and Ruby Stremmel, my grandparents, and usually there are almost 60 family members in attendance. Unfortunately, many had conflicts this year, so our gathering was a little smaller than usual. But, we had a fun time. We can no longer meet in anyone's home because our group is so large, so we meet in the union hall for mom's work, enjoy a potluck dinner, and carry out our usual traditions of stealing gifts in our gift exchange game and singing Christmas carols. Here are a few highlights:

I don't know what is so funny, but Dad's really cracking up. (Bill found it completely boring, though. That's quite a yawn!)

Jennifer, David, Aunt Billie, and Uncle Dick Stremmel wait for our next activity. Poor Uncle Dick looks like someone took a swing at him at the party, but he's recuperating from eye surgery.

Our cousin Steve goes down the line for the gift exchange game to see what everyone has. Will he steal a gift from one of the men, or will he pick a new one? Our family can be pretty vicious about these $5-7 gifts!

It's time for the Christmas carols, so Kathryn and Krysten join Uncle Dennie at the piano. Aunt Norma watches with her Polaroid from across the room so she can capture some memories.

The whole family joins in on the singing with our traditional red song sheets. We don't know what has made Mom so tickled.

Taryn and Trey wait for their cue for the big finale, The Twelve Days of Christmas. Family members draw a sheet from a pile to see what solo they have. This brother and sister decided on a duet. Uncle Dick Brown, however, takes his part alone and stuns us all with his musical timing.

If Aaron participates, he always tries to find something near the end of the song... so he was happy when he drew "Ten Lords -a- Leaping." Uncle Roger is ready to take on the all-important "Five Golden Rings" part, but for some reason, he kept looking at his sheet.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Guilty Pleasure: Trick My Truck

When I had expanded cable, it seemed I could never keep track of what was on or when I could see "my shows." After some modifications to my budget, however, I switched to basic cable and the number of available channels on my TV greatly decreased. For over two years now, I've received the 4 main network channels, WB/UPN/CB, many home shopping networks, a Spanish channel, a few religious networks, the TV Guide Channel....and CMT! (Country Music Television)

I cannot tell you how happy I was that CMT was included in the package. While I don't like some of the shows, I like watching the majoriy of the specials that are regularly aired. And, much to my surprise (and probably everyone else's), I just can't get enough of Trick My Truck.

I don't know why I love this show so much. I don't I even know one single trucker. But, CMT sometimes even shows marathons, and I can sit and watch for hours - even the episodes I've already seen.

It's a poorly acted reality show (oxymoron), and the unrefined "cast" (also known as the Chrome Shop Mafia) goofs around a lot. (OK. Maybe I am starting to realize why I like this show.) A professional trucker with a rundown big rig is usually nominated by a loving family member or friend to have their truck "tricked" (customized) into completely loaded dream rig. Each episode covers one truck and all of the repairs that are made to that vehicle, and the results are astounding.

My favorite "character" on the show is Ryno. He's the custom airbrush painter, and I can't even begin to describe his work. Hope you can check out some of the episodes to see his masterpieces.
Other favorite parts of each episode:
  • The bad acting (which is pretty much 95% of all episodes.) Each time an individual is surprised when finding out that his or her truck will be tricked, the whole team meets the unsuspecting individual at a particular truck stop in Joplin. I have no idea how the real surprise plays out, but the very bad acting performed by the customizing team (and usually the surprised individuals) in re-enacting the surprise makes me want to look away from the screen..... yet, I just cannot do it!
  • Listening for grammatical errors
  • Anytime "Scrapyard Dog" starts up his blow torch
  • Anytime Rob is installing a sound or entertainment system or a neat gadget into the sleeper portion of the truck
  • At the end of each episode, the trucker return to see what the cast has done to their rig. The team goes through the truck from head to tail to show off the customizations before the trucker gets in the seat to leave. For some reason, I love watching Bryan, the lead man, wave his fingers to direct the truck out of the shed while telling the trucker "We'll be seein' ya."

So, understanding all of this, you may understand why I actually let out a little squeal last week when driving to the post office during my lunch hour... after seeing this beauty! It was situated in the parking lot of a nearby strip mall - just one mile from my office!
Immediately I recognized this as the truck "Fort Stockton" that was designed for Ed and Linda Stockton, a driving duo. As grandparents, these two truckers hate being away from their grandchildren so often and wanted to have a rig that would be fun for and reflect their love for the kids. The Chrome Shop Mafia gave them just that - and much more - in this "tree house truck."
Even their little poodle has a special window of its very own - directly on the passenger side door. I was surprised to see that this very episode will be shown on CMT TONIGHT - in the middle of a MARATHON! So, consider checking it out if you are able or see this episode recap page (with pictures) for details. Even more information about the series can be found by reading this interview with two members of the cast. (Remember, grammar is not a strong point.) The new season of "Trick My Truck" is scheduled to begin in January 2007.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Greenwood Primitive Baptist Church

Trip Recap: Dec 10, 2006

After departing the Smith residence, we headed into Greenwood to worship with the members of Greenwood Primitive Baptist Church. We were fortunate to have met some at our November Meeting and have heard so many good things about the rest from Brother John. As always, it is wonderful to meet new brothers and sisters that you feel like you've known forever. We were able to meet some visitors, find out about the family connections, and have wonderful services together.

After services we headed to a nearby nursing home that the church visits the 2nd Sunday of each month. We sang hymns and carols, and the young ones handed out treat bags to the residents who came to sing with us. I miss the days when our own church did that. Pictured above, some of the members group together so I can take a picture before we depart.

Here are two friends who are especially close to Brother John, and they made Lydia and me feel so welcome. We cannot wait to visit with you again, Callie Lane and Julia Love!

Música Fantástica

After I arrived at home late last night, I surfed the channels a bit to try to find some music to listen to before going to bed. I usually find some peaceful symphony music or something that will help me unwind from the day. While I was flying by The Late Show with David Letterman, I heard that a guitar duo would be playing after the commercial break. So, I decided to stay through the break to see what the group was all about.

I was mezmerized and immediately fell in love with the music of Rodrigo y Gabriela. Their self-titled CD was released in October, and I plan to buy it as soon as possible. I cannot fully explain the fusion that this duo has between rock and flamenco. I can only try to persuade you to check them out. I believe that neither of these clips does them justice - especially in showing their playing up close as they were shown on The Late Show. But, he's great at quick finger work, while she adds exciting strumming and beating rhythms throughout the songs. They made their American TV debut on the Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson back in October, and you can see that clip here.

Or, you can view this version of Diablo Rojo (below) or many other performances at

If I can find a copy of the Late Show performance from last night, I will try to post it as soon as possible.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Visiting the Smiths

Trip Recap: December 9 & 10, 2006

We couldn't wait to get to the home of Brother Joe and Sister Clovis Smith. Of course, Brother John had stayed with them several times during his visits to the Greenwood Church. Sister Lydia and I had the pleasure of meeting them at our November meeting when they visited Little Flock Church for the first time, and we wanted to know them better.

Brother and Sister Smith welcomed us into their home with open arms. While sitting in their beautiful living room, it was wonderful to hear stories about how they met in school, how their families had migrated to the Delta, their experiences within the church, interesting neighbors, and their children. We had a such a nice evening listening, laughing and swapping stories. It is such a blessing to now call Brother Joe and Sister Clovis our friends.

One most interesting parts of the evening came when they shared the story of how they moved their old home to the location where it now sits. The story goes that 3 sisters of a local family had rights to the house, but it could not be worked out as to whom the house should be given. This is a beautiful home which is believed to have been built sometime between 1830 and 1870. (Various sources have differing dates.) Because the sisters could not come to a solution, they decided to sell it to the Smiths. But, the Smiths needed to move it and found a wonderful piece of land where it is now situated.

You should hear the funny twists and turns that the family and moving company went through to finally get it placed at the back end of this pecan grove. We laughed so hard that our eyes were watering! As Sister Clovis explains, even though it is funny now, many of the details were heart-wrenching at the time. And, it was easy for them to see God clearing the way - literally - at each twist and turn so that the house could be moved and so the Smiths could live in it.

That evening, we stayed up way too late talking, but we knew the next day would be rushed so we tried to take advantage of the time. Sister Clovis enjoys going to auctions, and the home is filled with beautiful antiques. I could have looked at the dishes and furniture for hours! After a good night's sleep and a delicious breakfast, we headed off to church. The visit to the Smiths' house was way too short, and we cannot wait to go back for another visit!

Friday, December 15, 2006

Making A List, Checking It Twice

Now is the time for the annual task of making, checking, deleting, correcting, and adding to the Christmas card lists. Well, I'm sure I am behind most everyone, so it's probably way past the right time for this. And, this year, I guess I am sending out mostly "New Year postcards" instead of "Christmas cards." So, maybe, just maybe, I'm right on time. I don't know how this goes for others, but this project has turned into quite a chore for me.

The problems?

  • I've moved too much and am still struggling to feel completely settled. I have little slips of paper that people have given me with their addresses on them. My address book is packed, and I am trying to find room to add more information. (Maybe that's what I should have asked for on my Christmas list... a super-huge address book.)
  • Some of my friends have moved as often as I have. So, I'm smart enough to keep writing everything in pencil. But, when I look at an address, I sometimes don't know if the one I am seeing is the new new one, the new old one, the old new one, or the old old one.
  • And, I admit it. I sometimes can't keep track of some of my old friends' children's names - especially when number of children > 6 or when our visits are years apart. I'm usually VERY good at remembering, but last night I was really struggling. And, part of the time, I couldn't even fit all of the names onto the card.
  • Each year, I waste hours thumbing through all of my addresses to find the ones to whom I want to send cards.
  • So, in an effort to streamline the effort, I finally made a database exclusively for Christmas card sending. It took me a total of 6 hours to complete all of the entering, editing, double-checking, going back through old emails, and calling Mom to verify. It then took me quite a while to set up the address template and print the cards. It's been work this week. But, in all, I think I saved a lot of time for myself for future years, and it's worth it. I love receiving cards in the mail, and I love sending notes to those who I care about - even friends who can now correspond only once a year.

    I'm halfway through writing my personal notes on the cards. (HAND CRAMPS!) So, in moments, I'll be taking a break and heading out to the post office to purchase stamps before my early lunch hour ends. Hopefully, it won't be too rushed there. There was a long line at the post office this morning... and the people I saw looked extremely aggravated.

    In light of this errand, I thought I'd post a "funny" that was sent to me by my aunt today.

    A woman goes to the post office to buy stamps for her Christmas cards.

    She says to the clerk, "May I have 50 Christmas stamps?"

    The clerk says, "What denomination?"

    The woman says, "God, please help us. Has it come to this? Give me 6 Catholic, 12 Presbyterian, 10 Lutheran and 22 Baptists."

    (I have no idea what I'd be asking for! Guess I'd better go back through my database before heading to the post office.) :)

    Down at the Crossroads

    Folklore whispers that blues guitarist Robert Johnson met the devil at a set of Mississippi Delta crossroads to set up a trade: his soul for the incredible singing and playing talent that made the man a blues legend. One of the initial inductees to the Blues Hall of Fame in 1980 and an inductee into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Johnson recorded 29 songs, and his hard life was reflected in his lyrics. After passing away at 27 years old in 1938, Johnson is still remembered as the "Grandaddy of Rock and Roll" and as a blues pioneer. Eric Clapton considers him "the most important blues musician who ever lived." While is it often argued whether he was original compared to his contemporaries, one cannot ignore his influence. Many homages and referencesare made to Johnson in today's pop culture. "O Brother, Where Art Thou?", for instance, featured a character, Tommy Johnson, who was largely a tribute to Robert Johnson. It is difficult for me to ignore his recordings, as I love the emotion that is conveyed in the sliding of notes in both his voice and his guitar. Small selections of his songs can be heard here. I recognize that this style isn't for everyone, but I really enjoy it.

    Trip Recap: December 9, 2006

    It seemed like a long drive from Arkansas to Mississippi during our trip, and John and Lydia took turns napping while I tried to take in the changes of terrain and scenery. Thankfully, I was able to enjoy a little "Prairie Home Companion" on NPR while traveling along. As we approached Greenwood, Brother John mentioned that blues legend Robert Johnson was from this area and is believed to be buried at the small church that we'll pass directly before the Smith home (our destination that evening.) I was very excited to hear this, as I have been greatly influenced by my father in loving blues and jazz. And, I could not wait to see as much as possible of the area during our short time there.

    This church (Mount Zion), small cemetery, and Robert Johnson tribute marker are situated less than one mile before the the turn to the Smiths' house. I was thrilled that we were able to visit this site during our visit. You may also see a small glimpse of how flat the land is. We could see for miles all around us.
    Click on the pictures for a larger view of the memorial's panels.

    If you are in Greenwood, visiting Three Deuces, the place where B.B. King first performed on the radio and the home of the Greenwood Blues Heritage Museum & Gallery, is said to be worth one's time. The museum's primary focus is, of course, the life and music of Robert Johnson. (Be sure to play the short movie on the site to see inside and enjoy some blues.) If you would like to discover more about Robert Johnson, please consider taking the Delta Blues Tour. Or, you may choose to find the documentary, "The Search for Robert Johnson" and the book, Escaping the Delta. I cannot wait for my next trip back to Mississippi so I can do some more exploring.... and some more listening to great music.

    Thursday, December 14, 2006

    Desiring A Good Work

    Trip Recap: December 8 & 9, 2006

    The first leg of our trip was centered around attending the ordination of our good friend and dear brother in the church, Brother Steve Woods. It was my first time to visit the Fort Smith Primitive Baptist Church, and each of us was welcomed warmly during our time there.

    On Friday evening, we learned through the sermons that were presented by Elder Charles Surbaugh (Isaiah 2:1-5 "O house of Jacob, com ye, and let us walk in the light of the Lord", the covenant between God the Father, the Son, and the Spirit, and the new testament church) and Elder Adam Green (Hebrews 9:13-15 "And for this cause He is the mediator of the new testament, that by means of death, for the redemption of the transgresions that were under the first testament, they which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance", that God the Father required the currency of man (Christ) to pay the debt of man (sin).) Those thoughts have very much remained on my mind throughout the week.

    When we returned for the the ordination services the next morning, the church building was packed with brothers and sisters from several states. It is wonderful to see so many good friends in one place and so strongly feel God's presence in the room. The ordination was carried out with Elder James Isaacs being nominated to question the candidate, Brother Woods. I have not witnessed a better questioning session... extremely detailed and thorough... good in following the biblical outline for the qualifications and traits to be held by an elder (or bishop).

    1Ti 3:1 ¶ This is a true saying, If a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work.
    2 A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach;
    3 Not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre; but patient, not a brawler, not covetous;
    4 One that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity;
    5 (For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?)
    6 Not a novice, lest being lifted up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil.
    7 Moreover he must have a good report of them which are without; lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.

    As Elder Isaacs read through this portion of scripture, pausing at each comma to question the church representative or candidate, I reflected on the men that I know who turn to these pages regularly to remind themselves of the standards by which they are trying to live each day - not necessarily to be worthy of the office of elder, but striving to be a obedient man before God... just as I know many women who regularly meditate on Proverbs 31. I appreciated the way Elder Isaacs questioned the church and Brother Steve on these matters (and many other doctrinal matters) so that no points were grouped together and each point noted in this passage of scripture was given full attention. Brother Steve cited several scriptures in his answers before Elder Steve Jackson presented a charge surrounding I Thessalonians 4:9-11 "that ye study to be quiet." The highlight for me was as it always is in an ordination service: when the fellow elders and deacons of the presbytery kneeled while surrounding Brother Steve, laying hands on him, while a prayer is being sent up to God to bless him in his work as a pastor and teacher. Many tears were shed and embraces were shared between the men before the congregation passed through to share their happiness with Brother Steve and Sister Susan. One of my biggest regrets from our trip was that I was not able to take a picture of the two of them, but I believe John, Lydia and I will remember that service for many years to come.

    Even though our visits have been limited (there's never enough time to talk about everything about which we'd like to talk), I am very thankful for the discussions Brother Steve and I have shared and for our friendship. As we continue to pray for you, may God richly bless you in your calling, Brother Steve!

    Wednesday, December 13, 2006

    Beautiful Balloons!

    I'll interrupt the recapping of the trip to bring you a report from last night.

    I forgot how much fun school programs are - especially those of pre-schoolers! It was time for one of the area school districts to highlight their little ones, and one of those very talented youngsters is my friend, Tressa. The evening was built around the theme of storytelling. So, a wonderful storyteller was on hand to entertain the children while a reading specialist offered tips for better storytelling to the parents. The district gave away free books to the families, and we enjoyed good cookies and fruit punch (right out of those miniature cartons that usually hold milk.) The evening's highlight was "the program" - a story of a music box that was told by a teacher, accompanied on autoharp by another teacher, and presented in sign language by Tressa's Mama, Tracy. As each set of characters (dancing bears, toy soldiers, model trains, etc.) was introduced in the story, each preschool class stood up and danced and sang to the music that was played for that particular character. Then, it was time for the "play group" (pre-pre-school), and time for the beautiful floating balloons! I'm partial, but I think this was the most beautiful that I saw.

    Little Abigail wasn't quite sure about what was going on, and she wouldn't keep her balloon on for very long. But, she sure had a fun time running around the "cafetorium" and modeling her new coat!

    All Smiles

    Trip Recap: December 8, 2006

    I was all smiles when I discovered we'd be able to stay at the Green house during our trip to Arkansas. It was going to be a short visit, but we were determined to make it a great visit! It seemed that fun was had by all... whether it was while taking the bedroom tour, looking at pretty dolls, drawing pictures, demonstrating reading skills or wrestling moves, visiting the family dog in the backyard, singing songs, enjoying a delicious breakfast pizza together, or showing off lost teeth (at least, the places where the teeth used to be.) These are four of my most favorite smiles in the world!
    (OK, OK! I realize one little lady is not all that "smiley" here. She was a little camera shy before having her hair fixed before church. But, I promise you, she was smiling the rest of the time!)

    After the young ones headed to bed on Friday night, the "adults" continued the smiles while playing my new DVD Clue game that I received from my cousins at Thanksgiving. Sister Ashlie is a big fan of Clue, and we should have known! She WON! Brother Adam fought off his usual urge of submitting his guesses too early in the game. (Maybe it was because he was distracted while imitating the voices of the butler and the detective on the DVD.)

    A word of caution to those trying the new DVD Clue game for the first time: the instructions seem long and tedious. But, after a quick reading to understand the basics, the DVD will lead you through most of the game. We had a slow start... but really got going and had a ton of fun by the end. And, at 1:00 a.m., Sister Ashlie was rewarded with solving the case!

    Thank you, friends, for always being so welcoming and wonderful. I miss you already.

    Tuesday, December 12, 2006

    Six State Trip

    Last Friday, Brother John, Sister Lydia and I left on a trip together, and we ended up driving through six states on our whirlwind trip while visiting with several friends, attending worship services, and enjoying the scenery along the way.

    I asked Brother John and Sister Lydia to "group up" so that I could take a nice picture of my traveling companions.

    We started in Illinois (1), of course. Then, we headed southwest on interstate 44 through the state of Missouri (2) before heading south to the Fort Smith, Arkansas (3). After a short "detour" into the state of Oklahoma (4), we attended services Friday night and stayed with our good friends, Adam, Ashlie, Michael, Jacob, Allison, and Audrey. We were warmly welcomed, as usual! By Saturday morning, we were back at the Fort Smith Primitive Baptist Church for the ordination services of Brother Steve Woods...who is now also Elder Steve Woods. Directly after the services, we were sad to depart so quickly... but excited to head east to Greenwood, Mississippi (5) to the home of Brother Joe and Sister Clovis Smith. After visiting into the night, we arose to attend services and meet most of the members within the Greenwood Primitive Baptist Church. We also enjoyed a nice meal and sang hymns with the members and residents of a nearby nursing home before heading north toward home. Once again, we were hesitant to leave but anxious for the final leg of our trip. We were thinking we could stop somewhere for Sunday evening services on the way home... and finally decided we'd just head on to Memphis, Tennessee (6) for services at Grace Chapel. After services, we were delighted to be invited to Timothy and Meredith's home for a wonderful meal, and we had such a fun time getting better acquainted with members of Grace Chapel and Guess family. Sister Lydia, Brother John, and I reminisced for the next 5 hours about the wonderful highlights of our trip before arriving home after 3:00 a.m. Monday morning. I cannot wait to share those highlights with you over the next few days, so stay tuned for pictures and details.

    We were tired from all of the driving and short nights of sleep, but I can't imagine a better way to spend a few days... than to worship and enjoy fellowship with our church friends across the country. God blessed us with safety, outstanding messages from the pulpit, and wonderful memories that will surely stay with us for years to come. Thank you to all of our brothers and sisters in the church for making us feel so welcome at each stop! We hope we can return the favor when you come to Edwardsville for a visit!

    Thursday, December 07, 2006

    My Little Sister

    Most of you have seen me go on and on about my little brother here (even though he's not so little anymore.) But, you might not know that I have a little sister, too. I DO! A couple of years ago, I went to Big Brothers Big Sisters and asked if I could please be given a little sister in their program. After that, a staff member came to visit me in my home and asked me many questions about myself, my interests, and my hopes for a little sister. It took over a year, but I was finally placed with a wonderful girl. Her first name is very unique (a family name), and her middle name is Tosha. So, she goes by Tosha most of the time, and here she is:

    Tosha is very outgoing, and she loves to go to new places and try new things. I think these are some of the many reasons that we were paired together. Lately, we've been trying a lot of new places to eat together. We've also been working on figuring tips for meals, and Tosha is trying to teach me all about the happenings at her high school. Her life is very different than mine was when I was 16.

    Tosha is also very kind and considerate. She has a great role model in her "Granny Rosie." Granny adopted Tosha and her four siblings quite a few years ago, and she thanks God every day for her grandchildren and the many blessings in her life. Before that occurred, however, Tosha spent many days away from school to take care of her younger siblings when her mother was not able to do so. That's why Tosha is a freshman and a little behind in school compared to other 16 year olds. It's not because she isn't bright, however! She's very sharp, and she's very determined to excel in academics. I have also met Tosha's mom (who is doing very well), her great grandmother and great grandfather (extremely kind individuals), and her sister and three brothers (super fun!)...along with Tosha's two best friends, her twin cousins Marie and Rosalie.

    Tonight, we're meeting to work on a big project that Tosha has for English class. For the past few months, she has been writing chapters about her life, and now she is being asked to illustrate these chapters in pictures, symbols and words in a scrapbook format. Tosha knows that I love these kinds of creative projects and she needs help, so we're happy to work on it together.

    Tosha means so much to me, and I hope that many of you are able to meet her very soon. I also hope - if you have some free time, some talents to share with a younger person who needs a little extra help, and a loving heart for children - each of you will consider becoming a Big Brother or Big Sister in your area.

    Wednesday, December 06, 2006

    Surprise at the Back Door

    Each night, when I come home, I drive into my long driveway, and I enter my back door. I follow a regular routine of taking off my shoes (in winter), placing my shoes on a rug, setting down my bag and books, hanging up my coat, feeding the cats, etc. And sooner or later, I walk to my front door, open it, and reach out to my mailbox to retrieve my mail - all without stepping outside because I am not wearing shoes and don't want my socks to get wet in the ice and snow.

    This has gotten me in trouble more than once.

    Last night, I was happy that I noticed - just as I was pulling in the driveway - that a box was sitting on my front porch. It was a book for which I had been waiting a couple weeks. Treasury of Vintage Homekeeping Skills by Mrs. Martha Greene. So, after retrieving the book when I retrieved the mail, I was happy with myself for not leaving it out there for days.

    Little did I know... there was a small note attached to the outside of my front door instructing me to go next door to my neighbors' house to pick up a package that had been left for me. (But, oblivious, I went on with puttering around the house, doing dishes, folding laundry, and reading my new book.)

    Hours later, I heard my back windows shake. Since I have old wooden windows (on pulleys), the window panes often rattle when there's a lot of wind. After the first time, I really didn't give it a second thought. I heard it again. "Wow! It must be much more windy than I thought!" Then, again. DUH! Someone's pounding on my back door. (My back doorbell battery needs to be replaced.) But, there are no cars around. I was expecting no company. Who could it be?

    I opened the door (after trying to get a peek from behind my shade) to my neighbor, Mike. (He's the one with the beautiful, meticulously-kept yard... who isn't so thrilled about my Sweet Gum tree or the hundreds of leaves it sheds just to blow into his yard.) He informed me of the note on my front door...and the fact that this "package" had been left with his wife early in the day.

    I was so shocked to receive the kind gift of a gorgeous bouquet of white flowers in a dark blue vase. I love it! It was sent by the Zimmerman family - as a thank you for allowing them to stay with me during the power outage. As I tried to stress over and over, it was probably more of a pleasure for me than they can imagine. I loved their company over the weekend and miss having them with me. Thank you so much for the beautiful posies! I love them, and they look wonderful in my dining room! THANK YOU! THANK YOU!

    Tuesday, December 05, 2006

    The Blessing of a Storm

    I have been reminded several times today how God is watching out for us and guiding us even when we feel most helpless, most alone, and that we are in the roughest storms of life. I was then reminded to turn to a poem that has meant a lot to me in recent years, one that feels like it is my own story. I hope you will enjoy it - whether it is new to you or a review of what you've read in the past.

    The Blessing of a Storm

    I did not know His love before,
    The way I know it now.
    I could not see my need for Him,
    My pride would not allow.
    I had it all, without a care,
    The "self-sufficient" lie.
    My path was smooth, my sea was still,
    Not a cloud was in my sky.

    I thought I knew His love for me,
    I thought I'd seen His grace,
    I thought I did not need to grow,
    I thought I'd found my place.
    But then the way grew rough and dark,
    The storm clouds quickly rolled;
    The waves began to rock my ship,
    I found I had no hold.

    The ship that I had built myself
    Was made of foolish pride.
    It fell apart and left me bare,
    With nowhere else to hide.
    I had no strength or faith to face
    The trials that lay ahead,
    And so I simply spoke His name
    And bowed my weary head.

    His loving arms enveloped me,
    And then He helped me stand.
    He said, "You still must face this storm,
    But I will hold your hand."
    So through the dark and lonely night
    He guided me through pain.
    I could not see the light of day
    Or when the storm might wane.

    Yet through the pain and endless tears,
    My faith began to grow.
    I could not see it at the time,
    But my light began to glow.
    I saw God's love in brand new light,
    His grace and mercy, too.
    For only when all self was gone
    Could Jesus' love shine through.

    It was not easy in the storm,
    I sometimes wondered "Why?"
    At times I thought, "I can’t go on."
    I'd hurt, and doubt, and cry.
    But Jesus never left my side,
    He guided me each day.
    Through pain and strife, and fire and flood,
    He helped me all the way.

    And now I see as ne'er before
    How great His love can be,
    How in my weakness He is strong,
    How Jesus cares for me!
    He worked it all out for my good,
    Although the way was rough.
    He sent only what I could bear,
    And then He said, "Enough!"

    He raised His hand and said, "Be still!"
    He made the storm clouds cease.
    He opened up the gates of joy
    And flooded me with peace.
    I saw His face now clearer still,
    I felt His presence strong,
    I found anew His faithfulness,
    He never did me wrong.

    And now I know more storms will come,
    But only for my good,
    For pain and tears have helped me grow
    As naught else ever could.
    I still have so much more to learn
    As Jesus works in me;
    If in the storm I'll love Him more,
    That's where I want to be!

    Wendy Greiner Lefko ©1996

    Psalm 139: 9-10
    If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea; Even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me.

    I Peter 1:6-8
    Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations: That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ: Whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory:

    I Peter 4:12-14
    Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ's sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy. If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye; for the spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you: on their part he is evil spoken of, but on your part he is glorified.

    James 1:2-4
    My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing

    Romans 5:1-5
    Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; And patience, experience; and experience, hope: And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.

    Monday, December 04, 2006

    Abigail's First Birthday & Storm Update

    Since the ice storm last Thursday evening, hundreds of thousands of homes in this area have been without power. Please pray for all of the electricity, cable, and phone workers who are doing repairs... along with the many families who are trying to keep warm. Thankfully, little by little, power is being restored.

    Jeff, Tracy, Tressa and Abigail came over to my house on Friday to stay over since they had no electricity (therefore, no heat) at their home. The challenge? Abigail's first birthday party and brunch was scheduled to be held at their home the very next morning. The solution? Since their power still wasn't restored by then, everyone was called and asked to come on over to my house.

    Abi is very funny, and her eyes are so expressive. You can usually tell what she's feeling with just one glance. She's becoming better and better with using sign language for food, milk, all done, more, etc. And, she is cuter than ever! We can't wait until she says more words. Abi's life basically centers around being amused by her family (especially her sister, Tressa) and eating (and yelling for) CHEERIOS! So, Jeff and Tracy thought that Cheerios would be a great party theme for this first birthday! We think all of the church folks, the children and their parents had a fun time!

    Here's the birthday girl who is getting ready to devour her cake. What a cutie!
    Tracy is soooo good at decorating cakes. This one is quite plain compared to most of her creations, but we think this expressed the theme very well. This was a very delicious half yellow, half chocolate cake. And, yes...(because I know most of you must be wondering), that bowl is made out of cake. It is covered with red icing, the milk part is white icing, the cheerios were thrown on top, and Abi's spoon was inserted for the final touch. Pip pip cheerio, Abigail!

    This is definitely the "AFTER" shot. Abi sure LOVED that icing!! YUMMY!

    After the party wrapped up, we had an enjoyable day resting around the house, trying to stay warm, and watching movies. Because our church building was without power on Sunday, we met at a local funeral home (right by our pastor's house) for worship and heard a great sermon on the responsibilities of a father and husband. We weren't able to hold our usual noon "potluck" meal because most of the members still didn't have power to be able to cook, so we drove to Highland to enjoy a delicious lunch together at Farmer's Restaurant. You should have seen how many tables were strewn together. What a bunch! Jeff and Tracy were relieved to discover that their power was restored, so they left my house. It was kind of sad for me as I enjoyed having the company for a few days, but I know they were relieved to finally go home. We also received the good news that Sister Elaine and Brother Tom, Sister Wandena and family, and Sister Barb and Brother Paul all received their power back late Saturday or late Sunday. We're still praying for Brother Alan and his parents, my boss Phillip and his wife Shelley, and so many others we know from church, from work, and around the area who don't have power.

    Friday, December 01, 2006

    Easton Farm Memories

    We lived on a farm outside Easton, IL from the time I was 4 until I was almost 8. Dad was a farmhand, and we lived in the big farmhouse on the farm. I always remember that time fondly, and I often miss country life.

    It seems I started out being a pet lover at a very early age. By this time, I had already known our dogs Jasper (our Pekingese), Moe, and Sparky (our black lab) - along with the many cats and ducks I had in pens and in the barn. Here is a picture of Snowball and me sitting on the back steps of the farmhouse. (And, yes, those are socks with sandals!)

    Here's another picture taken right around the same time, and this was my first day of attending school. I remember it clearly, and I love this picture of my brother and me. Mom had us pose on the porch while we waited for the bus. And, often Mom and Aaron would wave at me from the front porch or the front window while I entered or exited the bus. It was always so nice to have them sending me off and greeting me when I came back home each afternoon. I loved school, but I always missed Mom, Dad, and Aaron when I was there. (Ahhh... more socks with sandals!)

    Here's one more. I always thought Aaron was such an adorable little boy! Seeing this picture make me smile. We are sitting in the big recliner at the house of our neighbors, Paul and Norma Sebade, and they were always so kind to look after us on the rare occasion that Mom needed to go somewhere. Mr. and Mrs. Sebade raised pigs at the farm across the road from us. The pigs were always fun to see and play with, but the smell wasn't that great! Aaron and I would have fun visiting with the Sebades and their children. (Too bad we can't see my feet in these pictures. But, we can see some of Aaron's cute clothes: the Snoopy shirt!)

    Last, but not least: the formal picture. Doesn't it look like we love each other SO MUCH? Aaron...again, adorable. It seems we must have had some sort of wholesale contact for these "bow barrettes" so that we'd have them in bulk in every color. WOW! (Anyone want to take a guess on what I was probably wearing on my feet? If I were a bettin' woman, I'd go with white socks and white sandals.) See, this is the same look that I had for the first day of school, sans the pigtails. The back of my picture says that Aaron is 2 years and 2 months old here, so I'd be 5 and 1/2 years old in March of 1979. I believe Aaron is sportin' the look of one of Mom's very own custom hair cuts.

    Storm Scenes from Strem's Place, Part One

    Here are some of the shots from down the street and around my neighborhood. All through the night, I could hear the limbs cracking, ice crashing, and power lines going down. I live in one of the oldest sections of Edwardsville, so we have very old and very tall trees. Little by little, power went out section by section all around me. You'll see a picture of a young tree in my neighbor's yard. It was a beautiful tree with maroon leaves...they called it a plum tree. But, it looks like it might be a total loss. Some of my neighbors have so much clean-up to do...and have lost some beautiful trees. (Click or double click on any picture to see a larger version.)

    At about 4:30 a.m., the fire trucks started going around the neighborhoods to assess the damage and try to move limbs, if possible. So, there is yellow tape all over my neighborhood. I had to find a route out of it. And, I had to wait until some men came out of their houses so that they could help me move limbs out of the road. Most of them were trying to stay inside their houses to save their heat - since they had no power.

    Storm Scenes from Strem's Place, Part Two

    Here's a picture of my bridal wreath bush. It usually looks almost exactly like my forsythia bush (directly below)...which stands next to it.

    Despite all of the damage to the homes, yards, and trees, there is a lot of beauty too. Here are some pictures of my neighbor's Japanese maple tree, the sweet gum balls on my sweet gum tree in my back yard, and the power line right in front of my house.