Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Worketh Willingly With Her Hands

I know several women who regulary turn to Proverbs 31 to meditate upon the verses and remind themselves of some of the virtues that make a godly woman's price "far above rubies." I regularly recognize how I fall so short, and I desire to do better in my walk. So, I have returned to focusing on one verse of this chapter each evening before going to sleep.

I am captivated by all of the details included in this text, but in recent years, I've become especially intrigued by four verses in particular.

Pr 31:13, 19, 22, 24
She seeketh wool, and flax, and worketh willingly with her hands.
She layeth her hands to the spindle, and her hands hold the distaff.
She maketh herself coverings of tapestry; her clothing is silk and purple.
She maketh fine linen, and selleth it; and delivereth girdles unto the merchant.

Even though I've always been interested in craft projects, I have often felt behind in some of the areas mentioned above. Home Ec class was wonderful for me, and I was thrilled to sew with a sewing machine, learn about the different stitches, and experiment with different material. But, as soon as those semesters were over, my access to a sewing machine would once again cease. I was blessed to have some special times with Grandma Stremmel who showed me how to use her old black sewing machine before her health declined, and I treasure those memories. And, once in a blue moon, Mom would have to bring out her machine to fix something. However, we never had a special place so that it could stay out and so that Mom could teach me what she knew about making clothes. I wish I knew more. Thankfully, Sister Tracy who is a very good seamstress has taken Lydia and me under her wing in the past few months, and I now have a used machine of my own so that I may experiment. Hopefully, some new creations will be made this spring... ones that I can actually wear.

Several ladies are turning back to the art of knitting and crocheting. I've even seen a TV special which featured celebrities, such as Julia Roberts, Sarah Jessica Parker, Cameron Diaz, and Vanna White, who reportedly knit as a hobby. My dad is the one who crochets in our family, and he makes the most beautiful afghans. (A gorgeous one he made me is displayed on the corner of my loveseat.) Dad learned from my grandma. I remember both of them trying to teach me, but I could never pick it up. I could make a chain as long as anybody would want, but it seems my patience ran out when it came to creating that second row. I really need to try it again so that I am able to learn from Dad.

There are so many other talents in this area that I hope to attain, so I have a lot of work to do in the future. Until then, I've turned back to a special skill that Mom taught me when I was very young: embroidery. I regret that I have not created anything in recent years, but it used to be my habit to work on some big projects in January, February and March each year. When the days are short and sunlight is scarce, it is simple for my mind to wander and dwell on topics on which it shouldn't. I feel so much better when I have a project to work toward and when I can accomplish something with my hands. So, in the last 3 weeks, I've stayed busy in the evenings with these:

It is odd to look at these pictures and see so little as results - yet know how many hours have been spent with a needle in my hand.

The red rose pillowcase set is one of my current projects and will be given to one of my close friends who has a red bedroom. The caterpillar quilted bib is for my college friend in California who is expecting her first child this spring. The white-on-white S pillowcases are for me. I made a set for Ketra's brother and new sister-in-law for their wedding in December and decided I'd like some just like them. These small stitches took quite a bit of time! I really need to work on the consistency of my stitch sizes and my satin stitches.
Here is the finished product of the sunflower that was a work in progress above. It has been attached to a big paperclip to create a bookmark, and I am going to give this to Miss Lydia tonight at church. I also have a different design I am working on to create a bookmark for Miss Tasha.

It is often like a treasure hunt in my house - as I can step down into my basement and find items that were in storage and that I have not seen for years. I was so happy to finally find my "embroidery box" this winter and all of the embroidery floss, pillowcases, iron-on patterns, and hoops that it contained. Many of these projects were bought years ago in kits made for beginners, so I started with them. And, thankfully, I am seeing some improvement in my work over time.

I love the homemade items that my friends and family have given to me, and I often lament the turn away from this tradition. For instance, when I was young and would attend bridal and baby showers, it would be commonplace for the guest of honor to receive handmade gifts - especially from the older women in attendance. Now, showers are quite different, and I miss the old days. Hopefully, I am not alone in this, and I am thankful Mom has taught me not only to embroider but to appreciate these special gifts.

While these types of skills are definitely not the most important areas in which I need to work to be a better follower of Christ, I pray God blesses me to become more skilled in these areas and in better keeping a home.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

There She Is...

Last night, Country Music Television presented the 2007 Miss America Pageant, and some of the ladies from church were more excited than ever about this occasion because we were heading to a.... (Can you believe it?!?!?) MISS AMERICA PARTY! (For those who have taped the pageant and have not watched it yet, do not fear. There will be no spoilers about the results in this post.)

Tracy and I had talked about having a crazy party for a couple of years. And, we were finally able to have one. It was a really special and really fun night of "girl time", and Tracy was definitely the hostess with the mostest! We hope this will be our FIRST ANNUAL party, with many more to come!

After searching through our closets in our quest to find our most gawdy prom, homecoming, and bridesmaids dresses, it was time to add the necessary bling through jewelry and other accessories, tease and Aquanet our hair, and then apply Miss-America-1980's-style eyeliner, blush and lipstick.

As soon as we arrived at the event, we chose a state to represent and designed our very own state sash to wear throughout the evening. Here is the table, set up with all of the supplies we'd need for creating the sashes and crowns. Paint in silver, gold, pearlescent, and pastels with glitter, stars, beads and bangles. And, throughout the night, we ate the most delicious food. Tracy went all out for us... and then we pigged out - like none of the Miss America contestants could! Just delicious - complete with gold plates and napkins.
Then, the pageant was starting, so we had to get down to business during the opening introductions... trying to guess which contestants (of the 52) would be making it to the round of 10 finalists. Sister Sandy won by picking 5 of the 10 and received her choice of the beautifully wrapped and mysterious door prizes. (The first clue tag eluded to something that each contestant needs to keep lipstick off their teeth, and the prize was a small tube of Vaseline.) This picture was taken near the end of the night and does not do justice to the pretty setting that was created in the living room as we ate and watched Mario Lopez emcee. The contests and conversations continued throughout the telecast, while we attempted to pick the most beautiful gowns, best answers, what type of talent the last 5 contestants would perform, who would make the cut for the final 3, and who, eventually, would become Miss America 2007. Tracy provided everything that a Miss America would need...from eyelash curlers to hair the prizes, and it was a wonderful evening.

We were happy to be able to cheer on an acquaintance, as Miss Wisconsin (Meghan Coffey) is the good friend and baton twirling coach of church friends, Alexis and Melissa Malloy. Their mother, Sister Marsha Baker Malloy, wrote to tell me that the family was planning to head to Las Vegas to cheer on Meghan. While Meghan, unfortunately, did not make the top 10, it has been interesting to read about her experiences through her behind-the-scenes blog.

Here are the two most beautiful belles of the ball last night:

Tressa in her fancy dress as the self-selected Miss South Carolina and Abi donning her crown and wondering, "What in the world is going on in our house this evening?" (She probably enjoyed the snacks more than anyone!)

A highlight was being able to call Miss Tasha who was, sadly, away at school and who could not attend the event. But, after Tasha returned to her room after her night course, we were able to watch the pageant together while keeping her on the speaker phone. (We miss you, Tasha.)

As the evening came to a close, we knew it was time to leave but it was difficult to do so. It was wonderful just to have some girl time with good friends. Each of us was sent away with a pink and white rose as a token from the evening, and they were gorgeous - just like every little detail of the party. We were sad that more of our friends from church, playgroup, school, and work could not join us, but we were thankful for the special time. Besides, they can always attend next year... when we plan to have our Second Annual Miss America Party!

Original words to Miss America theme song:
There she is, Miss America
There she is, your ideal
The dream of a million girls who are more than pretty
Can come true in Atlantic City
For she may turn out to be the Queen of femininity

There she is, Miss America
There she is, your ideal
With so many beauties she took the town by storm
With her all-American face and form

And there she is
Walking on air, she is
Fairest of the fair, she is
There she is - Miss America

Monday, January 29, 2007

Birthday Boy: AARON!

The end of this last week was hectic (therefore, no posts here) because of various projects going on at work and because I was preparing to head home for a couple of days. As far as my brother Aaron was concerned, I was going to Canton to help Mom with some house projects and to meet Aaron and Ketra out for dinner for a low-key 30th birthday celebration with our mom and dad. But, behind the scenes, an elaborate scheme had been put in place and coordinated by Ketra for a surprise party on Saturday night. And, each of us had many humorous discussions with Aaron about the "restaurant choice" for dinner (which was never going to occur), the "projects" with which Dad needed help (to keep Aaron busy and away from the house), the "work" Ketra needed to finish for her job (so she could pick up food and set up the party), and the "errands" Mom and I were running around Peoria (so we could help Ketra and Tina, Ketra's mom). So, we could not wait for Aaron's reaction as he would walk in and realize he was entering his own surprise party.

Right as he is opening the pocket door and discovering the surprise...
The Birthday Boy (now a full-fledged Birthday Man) taking it all in and realizing all of the funny things that had been going on behind his back.

Mom, Dad, Andy (Ketra's brother), and Cami (Andy's wife) remain in their "surprise stances" with their horns while Aaron tries to take in everything around him. Of course, the party theme was centered on The Simpsons.
It was wonderful for our two families to spend some time together, which we're not often able to do. Jeff (Ketra's dad) and Ketra enjoy some of the delicious food, while the proud moms (Phyllis and Tina) pose for a photo. (We truly missed Joel (Ketra's youngest brother) and Natalie (Joel's fiancé.))

Little did Aaron know, a second round of surprises was headed his way. Mr. Stremmel's fellow teachers congregated at the school basketball game and came to the house together later in the evening. You should have seen the look on Aaron's face as the large group filed through the door. Aaron received some gifts that were very...
* touching (red picture album of Aaron's life from Mom and Dad)
* useful (baseball shoes from Jeff and Tina for 2007 season)
* funny (including "Stremmel Simpson" character from art teacher "Bell" and The Office Dwight Schrute bobblehead doll from band teacher, "Seymour")
* ...well, very much wanted (iPod from Ketra)

Here, a few of the teachers watch Aaron check out his iPod. After a lot of talking, more snacking, and some delicious fudgy-chocolate cake, the night was capped off with a stirring (and competitive) round of Pictionary. It was a wonderful celebration for a wonderful brother! Happy 30th Birthday, Aaron. (His birthday is really today, January 29.)

I regret that I failed to take a picture of Aaron AND Ketra, which I had intended all evening. But, instead, I guess we have the next best thing. On Sunday, Aaron sits down to recall all of Saturday's funny events in a heart-to-heart with his buddy, Bart.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Trivial Matters

This past Friday night, I was thrilled to hang out in Belleville with my close college friend, Mike (far left). I was also excited to catch up with Mike's hometown friend and Millikin alum, Tony (2nd from left, making Mike laugh) and get to know his wife, Christa (far end of table, center), yet another Millikin grad. I met many new friends who grew up in Belleville with Christa. Even better yet, all of us were attending a trivia night competition!

I don't know if "trivia nights" are popular in other locations, but they are happening all of the time in the St. Louis area. Usually organized by schools, churches, or community organizations, these can be great fundraisers. The sponsors set a participant limit per table (usually 8 to 12 people), a fee for entering ($10 - 20 per person), and special features for that trivia night. Some offer silent auctions, free beverages for all participants, free gourmet desserts throughout the evening, 50/50 drawings, and grand prizes for super-hard trivia questions. Participants usually bring snacks to share with their teammates (in picture, see guacamole made by yours truly), and the fun begins.

Each trivia night I've attended has 10 rounds of 10 questions. The moderator reads the questions, and each team fills in the blanks on their answer sheet. Then, the organizing committee gets to the really hard work: picking up the answer sheet from each table, distributing a new answer sheet to each table, delivering the previous round's answers to the designated scorers, grading the sheets, and displaying the scores for all to view. As you can see, this was a particularly large competition (the Elks club was packed!), and all of the proceeds went to the local school district and to a local police officer who was injured in the line of duty.

In the end, we didn't do too badly. In fact, our team finished in the top 20%, I believe. We were doing very well for ourselves...and started heading downhill with terrible results in the 8th and 9th rounds. Thankfully, we - as Table 28 - had a strong finish in the 10th round and ended with 749. It was a thrill to see nearby Table 29 finish in first place with a whopping 903 and see the top 3 tables donate all of their prize money to the officer in need.

It was a really fun night. Not only did the trivia cover all sorts of topics (baseball MVPs, local celebrities, angels in the bible, academy awards winners, worst dressed lists, Illinois towns and history, and TV's single dads, just to name a few), it was wonderful to spend time with good people and be in a community that felt like home.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Sleep Sweetly In This Quiet Room

Sleep sweetly in this quiet room,
O thou, whoe'er thou art,
And let no mournful yesterdays
Disturb thy peaceful heart;
Nor let tomorrow scare thy rest
With thoughts of coming ill,
Thy Maker is thy Changeless Friend,
His love surrounds thee still.
Forget thyself and all the world,
Put out each feverish light,
The stars are watching overhead
Sleep sweetly then. Good night.

- Victor Hugo?
- Ellen M. Huntington Gates?
- Unknown?

Whoever the author, beautiful sentiments.
I must read this more often and meditate on this before bedtimes.

Friday, January 19, 2007


Fighting against the New Orleans Saints for the NFC Championship ...


Dad has heard rumors that they are bringing back the Super Bowl Shuffle. I don't know if they can do it better - or more ridiculously - than the original. You gotta love Walter Payton, Jim McMahon, Refrigerator Perry and the 80's. (OK. Maybe you don't.)

Thursday, January 18, 2007


When I'm sitting on the benches in the mall, waiting for my prescriptions at the pharmacy, or doing any number of things by myself, I'm always more aware of the chit-chat around me. Without attempting, I learn about the most fascinating topics, which opens up more opportunities to learn and look up words on and Wikipedia. (I know. I'm weird.)

About 3 weeks before Christmas, I overheard one woman repeating a word to her friend. A suggestion for a Christmas present - if she could order it online quickly enough, "as there are no stores or museums that carry them in the area." It seemed it was a toy. It seemed it was unique. It seemed her kids love it... or them... whatever the case was. It was one weird word - whatever it was.

With determination, I repeated the word over and over and over in my head as I completed my last errand in Books-a-million and marched to the car. This was a strong effort so that I would remember the term until I reached my office the next morning. (My home computer was still on the blink.) But, as soon as I got caught up in the jumbled mess of baby registries at Babies R Us, I realized the mystical-sounding name had exited my head as quickly as it had entered. And, on the long dreary drive to my abode, I lamented the fun that could have been had in finding the mysterious toy. Maybe my life would not be complete without it. Maybe my young friends NEEDED this fascinating item. Maybe this would be an answer to an upcoming crossword puzzle or trivia competition. My thoughts whirled. Mostly they centered on, 'why in the world didn't I take out a pen from my purse and write down the name phonetically?' Bugaboo. Bibliol. Blobby. NO! None of these were right! More frustration. So close, yet so far away.

(...7 weeks pass...)

Then, in another surprising feat of my subconscious, I awoke out of a dream this morning (after not having consciously thought of it since Christmas) with the name on the tip of my tongue. Actually, it was on all of my tongue. BILIBO.

So, here it is. The treasure. The pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. (You're right. It isn't that fascinating, is it?!?!) But, nonetheless, this is the Bilibo. You can check out the site to see its friends, Bilibo mini and Babal. And you can watch the movie to see children having a wonderful time with Bilibo.

(Honestly, to me, it resembles one of those old angular seats from the 80's that were mounted on the back of bicycles so that mommies could ride around with their babies. But, HEY! Maybe it's a ton of fun.) Know anyone who owns one of these?

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Français en Anglais

Our language is a hodge-podge of words with origins from all over the globe. And, many of those words have been given a little tweak so they no longer sound exactly the way citizens from the "homeland" once pronounced it. Not until the last few years, however, did I realized how many French terms entered the scene much later and which haven't been tweaked at all (or only subtly.)

When I use these types of terms, sometimes I get the strangest looks. (Am I pronouncing the words and phrases correctly? Did I not use the term in the way it is intended? Or, do they just not know what that means?) But, I'm used to receiving strange looks. So, the worst part for me is when *I* hear one or read one in a book and don't have a clue what it means. So, I thought I'd start a list of some (from the most common to the rarely used), and I would like your help - not only in helping me compile the list, but also in correcting my mistakes or providing better definitions. Pronunciations would also be of help. Here are a few that have come to mind or come up in conversation over the past few days.

à la carte (ah luh kahrt)
literally, on the or from the card (or menu)
with a separate price for each dish offered on the menu rather than a list of preset multi-course meals at fixed prices

à la mode (ah luh mohd)
literally, of the fashion
in or according to the fashion; served with ice cream

apéritif (ah-per-i-teef)
a small drink of alcoholic liquor (often wine) taken to stimulate the appetite before a meal

carte blanche (kart blahNsh)
literally, blank or white card;
full permission; unconditional authority

crudité (kroo-di-tey)
literally, rawness or raw vegetable
an appetizer consisting of a variety of raw vegetables, usually cut into strips or bite-size pieces, and served with a dip

décolletage (dey-kol-tahzh or dey-kol-uh-tahzh) or
décolleté (dey-kol-tey, dey-kol-uh-tey)
Leaving the neck and shoulders uncovered; cut low in the neck, or low-necked, as a dress;

faux pas (foh pah)
literally, false step
a slip or blunder in etiquette, manners, or conduct; an embarrassing social blunder or indiscretion; (It is my understanding this is rarely used in France anymore... instead using the word gaffe)

hors d’oeuvres (or duhrv)
literally, outside of or before the work
appetizer; food served before the main course of a meal, equivalent of Italian atipasto

papier-mâché (pa-pyey-mah-shey) or
paper-mâché (pey-per-muh-shey)
literally, chewed paper
combination of paper and glue, usually applied to an object when wet, forming a strong, hard substance when dry, often painted or varnished; also meaning false, pretentious or easily destroyed

pièce de résistance (pyes duh rey-zee-stahns)
literally, piece with staying power or longevity
the most noteworthy or prized feature, aspect, event, article, etc., of a series or group; special item or attraction; outstanding accomplishment; principle dish of a meal

sangfroid (sahn-frwa)
literally, cold blood
Coolness and composure, especially in trying circumstances

Some of these are extremely common. However, I am trying to better know and use some of the less common that pop up from time to time. I'll be trying to keep track of them as I think of them or hear them, but can you contribute to the cause?

Monday, January 15, 2007

Two Of My Favorite Chefs

Could you resist anything made in the kitchen by this pair? I couldn't!

Here's Tressa and Tracy with the aprons I gave them for Christmas.

This Saturday, while we were attending a special reception for Sister Sandy's son, Aaron, it was wonderful to see Tressa seeking me out - running at me full force - to let me know she had worn her apron that day while making Rice Krispie Treats! I'm so happy that she is enjoying being a helper to her mama - especially with another little one on the way!

I was trying to think ahead by having an extra apron made so that Tressa could grow into it and allow Abigail to wear her current one. But, we'll have to wait and see if God reveals another little Mama's Helper or a Daddy's Helper in May. Can't wait!

Never Alone

Ps 37:23-15 The steps of a good man are ordered by the LORD: and he delighteth in his way. Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down: for the LORD upholdeth him with his hand. I have been young, and now am old; yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread.

Ps 9:9-10 The LORD also will be a refuge for the oppressed, a refuge in times of trouble. And they that know thy name will put their trust in thee: for thou, LORD, hast not forsaken them that seek thee.

Heb 13:5 Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.

Joh 14:16-18 And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever; Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you. I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you.

Ps 46:1 ...God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.

Ps 40:17 But I am poor and needy; yet the Lord thinketh upon me: thou art my help and my deliverer; make no tarrying, O my God.

Hymn: Never Alone
Lyrics: Ludie D. Pickett (1897)
I’ve seen the lightning flashing, I’ve heard the thunder roll.
I’ve felt sin’s breakers dashing, which almost conquered my soul.
I’ve heard the voice of my Savior, bidding me still to fight on.
He promised never to leave me, never to leave me alone!

The world’s fierce winds are blowing, temptation sharp and keen.
I have a peace in knowing my Savior stands between.
He stands to shield me from danger when my friends are all gone.
He promised never to leave me, never to leave me alone!

When in affliction’s valley I tread the road of care,
My Savior helps me carry the cross so heavy to bear;
Though all around me is darkness, earthly joys all flown;
My Savior whispers His promise, never to leave me alone!

No, never alone, no never alone,
He promised never to leave me, Never to leave me alone.
No, never alone, no never alone.
He promised never to leave me, Never to leave me alone.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Birthday Girl: LIZ!

Here she is.... the soon-to-be Mrs. York with her intended, after a long, fun day in the hot sun.

Her future is so bright, she's gotta wear shades! :)

Lord willing, it's going to be a big, fantastic year with many big, fantastic events. But, today, we're pausing to wish Elizabeth J. a very very happy happy birthday birthday! (We pray it is doubly wonderful this year!) We miss you!

Bedazzled By My GeMagic

This is one of funniest items I received for Christmas, a GeMagic (similar to, but not to be confused with, the Bedazzler. You may have seen the GeMagic on infomercials that are often shown in the middle of the afternoon or at 2 and 3 in the morning.) Just thinking about it makes me laugh - as I wasn't expecting it. But, Mom and Dad thought I'd want to add it to my collection of craft gadgets. Because of a hectic schedule, I haven't had much time to spend working with it yet. But, last night, I was determined to make something crafty. And, the GeMagic was right there!

After a few trials and many errors, I think I got the hang of it. It's a tad more time consuming than I thought, but I think it will be fun to use in decorating some brightly colored canvas bags I just ordered. I kept thinking up outrageous ideas at home with Mom and often could not stop laughing. (Don't worry. You won't see any rhinestone-covered denim jackets on me anytime soon.) Mom kept reminding me that a little goes a long way and it can be used to add subtle details to various items. We'll see.

Here's the design (from their pre-made stencils) I made last night on a lightweight mesh-type bag. Hopefully, you can tell it is supposed to be a ladybug. Not bad for my first try. Now, I just need to go buy many more small jewels and studs... as I will run out very soon if I keep making new designs on bags.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Not Fooling Anybody

Recently, I ran across this hilarious site, Not Fooling Anybody, which exposes the feeble efforts of some business owners while changing one corporation's custom-made building into a new business. You'll have to see it for yourself.

(Note: Since making this post, I've learned the site contains a few objectionable comments. I apologize - as I had remained focused on the restaurant pictures. Please proceed with caution.)

This was especially exciting to me because I knew there was a treasure trove of these specimens within a 3 mile radius of my work site. So, yesterday, I set out with the digital camera to capture two of my favorites. Think these will eventually be accepted by the Not Fooling Anybody site?

West End Diving (formerly Hardee's)

My favorite features are creatively-constructed "Learn Scuba" and "Snorkel Supplies" signs within the parking lot (formerly the Enter Here and Exit Here signs)...

...Not excluding the addition of a scuba diver over the usual rectangular Hardee's sign.

The owners use their drive-through lane as a storage place for their shovel truck.

My second favorite transformation was, I believe, an actual success. At the intersection of the interstate and the main road that leads to my workplace, the meeting place for the John Calvin Presbyterian Church is located. Clearly, this is a former Circuit City store. But, the members chose to install windows and cover the tell-tale red brick tower facade with a suitable tan color before erecting a cross and the church name. Since the members have moved here, it is evident the building has been a true blessing to them.

It seems they were not the only church that had this idea. So you can compare, here is a plexiglass version (instead of stone or cement) of the Circuit City storefront.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Little Pink Houses For You And Me

Still recapping the multi-state trip from the 2nd weekend of December (if you can believe it.)

This is Brother John.
He considers himself a minimalist.
He hopes to live simply after making his next move.
He reads books like Tiny Book of Tiny Houses, Living Small, A Little House of My Own, and Little House on a Small Planet.

So, on our way out of Greenwood, MS, John requested that we make a few "important stops" as he very much wanted to show some things to Lydia and me. Little did we know, we were on our way to what first looked like a storage lot for lawnmower sheds. After a closer look, we realized we could be looking at the future home of Brother John!

Here's what Brother John may look like someday while coming out to greet the mailman or maybe church members who are visiting. (Hopefully, it won't be a large family visiting! Where will all of them sit?)

Here are a few more views:
The head-on front view. Lydia and I tried to offer suggestions for how he could "homey it up"... like painting the shutters and front door the same bright color and adding a window box. I don't think he plans on implementing those.

Here's John, stooping to see out the window of his future loft and bedroom.

This is dark, but it might provide some perspective. I am standing in the very back of the house, and Lydia is standing the opposite corner right by the door.

I was a little skeptical at first, but I realize more and more on how focused we are about having STUFF. (I should be speaking for myself. I am focused on having STUFF much more than I should!) So, I can completely appreciate what Brother John means when he tells me he can everything he needs in one of these little houses and less easily be tempted to have more than he needs. (Besides, where would he put it?) Research shows that small houses are best suited and most appreciated by people under 25 and over 45 - namely individuals without children or whose children have already left the nest. And, the savings in electricity and gas must be huge.

For more information on this growing interest, please check out the sites for Small House Society and the Mobile Hermitage, along with leaders of this movement, Jay Shafer and Gregory Paul Johnson.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

The Oxford Illustrated Jane Austen

Thanks to the mention by Queen Shenaynay from The Beehive, I received exactly what she assured would be a delight:
Six Janes for Christmas.

Even more thanks goes to the two little cuties who gave them to me, Tressa and Abigail. And even more and more gratitude goes out to their mama, Tracy, who surely did all of the ordering, packing, and wrapping... and who appreciates how much I was wanting a set of Jane Austen books.

The entire set is beautiful, and I have been experiencing a grand time while reading solely the Introductory Notes. But now, I have jumped head-first into Persuasion, one of her shorter books which I have not yet read. So far, it is wonderful. I love learning about new characters - especially those dreamed up by Jane Austen.

This past Saturday, Lydia, Tasha, Tracy and I gathered at my house for a Jane Austen evening with a viewing of Pride and Prejudice. While it was our intention to watch the 6-part BBC/A&E mini-series version (1995), time would not permit. Plus, we realized, two of us had not seen the newer 2-hour motion picture version (2005) and two of us were anxiously awaiting a time to see it again. So, we had a lovely session of "girl time" with dinner and a movie. And, we are working on scheduling some dates to watch many other movies based on Austen's works, including that 6-part Pride and Prejudice.

I did not read much Austen in my early years. In fact, it was not until the end of high school that I understood much about her writing, and it is only in recent years that I have come to love her books. So, I am a ashamed to admit how little I know about her, her characters, and especially the history of the time in which she (and her characters) lived. I probably should be even more ashamed of this next confession but will admit it anyway: I just purchased - and have already learned a wealth of information from - Jane Austen for Dummies. Its author is Joan Elizabeth Klingel Ray, PhD who is also the President of JASNA, the Jane Austen Society of North America. If you'd like a good taste of what she has to say, please consider trying a few samples from the book:
First Excerpt (First Chapter)
Second Excerpt (Index)
Third Excerpt (Contents - At A Glance and Detailed)

To all of you who are better versed in all things Jane, I would appreciate knowing your thoughts on what Dr. Ray has written.

"Seven years would be insufficient to make some people acquainted with each other, and seven days are more than enough for others." (Sense and Sensibility) It might take seven years (or more) to know your works properly, Miss Austen. But, I loved you from the start.

". . . provided that nothing like useful knowledge could be gained from them, provided they were all story and no reflection, she had never any objection to books at all." (Northanger Abbey) Not true for me... especially with one of Jane's stories.

Am I ecstatic about this gift? "Yes, yes, a thousand times yes!" (Pride and Prejudice)

"There is nothing like staying at home for real comfort." (Emma) ...especially when with a good book.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Sunday... at Church, at a Concert, With Friends

Sunday was a marvelous day. First of all, our new friends from Sacred Harp, Paul and Shirley Figura, made our day by worshipping with us at Little Flock Primitive Baptist Church. Secondly, we heard a good sermon on the duties of mothers. The day kept skipping along wonderfully with a particularly delicious lunch and beautiful singing (if we do say so ourselves) in the afternoon.
But, no matter how well we blended our voices, it was nothing compared to the beautiful melodies and harmonies heard during the next portion of the day: our attendance at the Millikin University Choir concert. Since my undergrad degrees were obtained at Millikin, I was familiar with the high quality of performance, and I am happy that more and more friends have been able to share in the blessing of hearing them year after year. The University Choir has begun its annual winter tour and once again visited our area. So, ten of us set out after services to attend. Because of the dark setting within a nearby Catholic church sanctuary, this photo is not the greatest. But, hopefully you can see my good friends (L to R) Tracy, Lydia with Tressa, Tasha, Jeff with Abigail, Joshua, Chris, and Alan.

The University Choir (during their winter tour) always features many classical, worship, spiritual, and historial Christmas selections. However, a highlight of the concert was hearing the University Choir perform Pseudo-Yoik by Finnish composer, Jaakko Mäntyjärvi. I had heard it at least twice before and had forgotten what a unique treat it is. This partial recording does not do justice to this oddly beautiful piece.

New Vocabulary Term: YOIK

We continued the wonderful afternoon at a cookie and punch reception for Millikin alumni and friends. There, I was able to catch up with long-time friends, Mike Engelhardt and Dr. Janice Devore. Jan was the Dean of Students when I attended college and was my mentor as I continued my studies in Higher Education Administration. Today, she serves as the Millkin University Director of Alumni Relations.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Because All Of The Cool Kids Are Doing It

Not usually one to bow to peer pressure, I decided to make an exception in this case and make one of these neato keen quizzes. No matter if you know me a little or a lottle, don't be afraid to give it a try. (And, from what I've observed, there's no harm in entering your email address to take the quiz. But, if you want to be super-safe, try making up one.)

Take the Quiz: Weird and (Maybe) Unknown Facts about Strem

Thursday, January 04, 2007

A Band-Aid and A Kleenex

My family is always working on some kind of puzzle or game together. Remember my post from some time ago about the objects containing first names? (That's a nice rug in front of your door, Matt! DOOR MAT) When some of we cousins don't see each other except for maybe twice a year, several of us attempt to remember our new contributions for several months until we can add our thought to the family list.

Well, we have another "puzzle" to which we constantly return. I don't know for sure who brought it up years ago, but I think it was Uncle Roger. His idea: to make a list of everyday items that are generally referred to by a brand name instead of a general name. Because the items in the title of this post are probably the two most common, my brother and I usually call this the Band-Aid Game or the Kleenex Principle.
Band-Aid instead of Adhesive Bandage
Kleenex instead of Facial Tissue

I realize these tendencies can vary from family to family and from region to region. For instance, even though most people from central Illinois say the term "pop" and southern Illinois citizens usually say "soda", I know many in the south use the term "Coke" (brand name) for the general "carbonated soft drink." (Would you like a Coke? Yes. What kind? A Sprite.)

My brother has now taken this list to the students in his physics, chemistry and math classes, and they are trying to add to it. It's interesting how different generations think of different answers. I thought we could focus on these for a few days and make a list of our own.

I think I'll keep track of mine on a Post-it Note. ;)