Christmas Present

If you’ve read my essay “Christmas Past” (growing up in the 70s) then you know the Christmases I had growing up were simple, family-centered, and very traditional in the area we lived in.  For as long as I’m alive those childhood memories of Christmas will always be a part of me.

Unfortunately once I graduated high school I would never be invited back home for a family Christmas at the farm. Christmases in my late teens and early twenties were pretty lonely– I truly existed on my memories from childhood.  Even though I was in a long-term relationship, I wasn’t invited to his family Christmas until I was twenty-four. I spent seven Christmases alone or working and if I was lucky enough to receive an invitation from friends, I did everything I could to help make their Christmas the best Christmas. Often that meant helping them afford Christmas gifts for children, cleaning for them, and/or preparing Christmas dinner. I felt at the time I had to “buy” my Christmas invitation from “friends.” I never gave much thought to what I was asked to do because I felt so grateful to have somewhere to go for the holidays.

In the early years, I made trips back to the family farm–two of them at Christmas time to drop off gifts for my mom and siblings. Both times I remember going out on the road to travel the two-hour distance in perilous weather. Because I didn’t have a car I had to pay friends for the use of their vehicles. The last time I drove to the farm for Christmas I was nineteen years old and my mother didn’t want to come out and take the gifts. I remember how upset I was, I cried all the way home through a blizzard and never made that trip again.

The last Christmas I had with family was in 1997 at my sister’s home. I remember it was a couple of years after I got married, and I believe just after my step-father had passed away.  Even though my husband and I both enjoyed being with my family for Christmas, nothing was like it had been. I remember feeling like a complete stranger, walking on pins and needles, and feeling out of place. The years I was cast out swept under the rug for this person’s sake or another, and I meant to sit quietly and take it all in and not spoil anyone’s fun.

Throughout the years I’d had to adjust to not being allowed home. I had been forced to push aside and push deep inside all my emotions, and hurt in not being allowed to come home and see family unless of course my step-father was down in the barn still doing chores.  I learned to cope, but it was not easy. For a few years my work kept me busy seven days a week/ fourteen hour a day. As a home health provider (live-in)I was kept busy around the clock. I was also responsible for helping to make the person I took care of and her very large extended family have a wonderful holiday season each year.  Whether it was baking around the clock, decorating, or wrapping a mountain of gifts each year, that’s how I spent Christmas until my early twenties.

Nothing changed when my siblings got married or reached an age where they could reach out and make the decision to reconnect with me. Instead, they chose to carry on the “family tradition” of disownment which hurt even worse. Of course, once my parents disowned me I never saw or talked with my brother again until I was thirty years old. He was eight or nine when I left home. I next saw my sister when she was 24, she had been 15 when I left home. Neither of my siblings would come out and get their gifts from me at Christmas time, they instead expected my mother to gather them up from me. I never heard a thank you, or even if they liked them. But those things never stopped me from wanting to give them more. Though I never received a gift from any of them for all those years, and I surely never expected one, the best one I could have ever received would have been time with them.

I reached a point in my mid-twenties when I realized that even though Christmas time may be about family time, family gatherings, and building family memories this was definitely not going to be my story. I had spent too many holidays looking in windows, crying in driveways, and pleading on telephones for “family” to take me back and include me in their celebrations.

I believed that Christmas miracles were for other people and songs like “I’ll be home for Christmas” just made me sadder, and hope, hope that somehow I’d be forgiven for the reason I was disowned (the person I was in a “relationship” with) never came.

Eventually, in time I made the solemn pledge, I would begin my own traditions, and carry on with Christmas with or without family because in my heart of hearts Christmas was and would always be– a celebration of Jesus Christ’s birthday. No one could take that away from me. He hadn’t disowned me, forgotten me, or cast me out of His family.

And so for several years, it was Jesus and me together at Christmas time. I decorated simply with whatever I’d managed to find at a thrift store and saved all year to buy small gifts for close friends. I also offered help to my friends by way of assisting with holiday meal preparations. Instead of buying my way into an invitation with friends I simply chose better friends who appreciated my company–no materials gifts needed.

From this came me offering a plate of food here and there for people I knew didn’t have food or family to spend Christmas dinner with. And from that came years now of volunteer work in soup kitchens, shelters, and churches.

I was able to turn my hurt, rejection, and pain into the gift of giving. Giving to others took the pain of my not being allowed home away. Giving took my mind off of myself and turned it towards people far more in need of my time, than those who had turned their backs on me.

When I got married I married into a family that took Christmas and gift-taking to a whole new level. The first two Christmases family arguments ensued over someone or another’s idea of how much was spent on their gift. This would not do for me, or for my husband’s and my Christmas. So while we compromised and continued to celebrate with them Dec. 5th (my husband is Dutch), he and I had our own Christmas in our home by ourselves each year after that.

Our Christmas present is a mixture of giving to others, keeping with our own traditions, and including some from Christmas past. First and foremost though it’s about Jesus.  How big our tree is, or how fancy our decor, how many gifts bought or who’s coming to dinner are secondary to our Christmas celebration.

At 53 years of age, I’ve come to terms with a lot. Time goes by so fast– twenty, thirty years are suddenly behind you. In my case, 53 years have gone by and no longer am I 17. So many of my friends have passed away–my best friend growing up, a good friend I had out of high school, roommates I’ve had over time, friends I’ve met from online, and even some of my co-workers (some considerably younger than me) gone too soon. Now not for many years have I been on the outside looking in, and no one, for too long to remember, has made me feel as insignificant and unloved as my own family once did so many years ago. I can’t condone or accept disowning one’s family members for any reason at all. My family was not royalty, or heirs to a fortune and even then I wouldn’t approve of it. Over the years I’ve learned to move forward from that young girl and transition into a functioning young woman and eventually a grown woman up until and into middle age. Older age is not far behind. My life has not been perfect one minute since I’ve been alive and anyone who believes my life is perfect doesn’t know me. I could and may someday write pages about my husband’s and my struggles both financially and with family during our almost 23 years of marriage. We’ve got what little we’ve got today because every day we struggled and never gave up. Each Thanksgiving our thanks is given first to the Lord and second to each other for hanging in there.

Christmas is often a time for family members stress loads to reach an overwhelming state. I experienced this with my husband’s family and their competitive natures at holiday time. Meltdown after meltdown was our typical Christmas day for several years with his family. Each time I longed for the simple times I had growing up. Each year I longed more as each Christmas became one more power struggle between his family members. I will never fully understand the dynamics of some families. Admittedly I am not perfect, and along the way have made some regrettable mistakes. There was a time a few years back where I would have endured a bit more pain from family in order to set some things right.  That time came and went and in the interim, I’ve dealt with a family member whose ability to recognize the truth is impaired and her actions toward me border on levels of pure cruelty. Which of courses reaffirms to me that it was a good thing I never returned to the fold. To a family that thrives on devaluing and disowning one of their own.

I think that everyone in a family should feel valuable. For most of my life, I never quite got over how my siblings got away with everything (including things way worse than I’d ever done), and I’d been severely punished and disowned. It’s one thing for partners, friends, or co-workers to devalue you, though that really hurts too, but quite another when flesh and blood decide they don’t want you around anymore. I would guess for over thirty-five years I felt like less of a human being because of it. I was always waiting for my family to take me back. No doubt had they, they would have found another reason to push me back out. Years later it would be a lie that was very hurtful, told by my sister, maybe to intentionally sabotage my coming back into the fold that stopped me from reconnecting. Her hurtful words of why they hadn’t reconnected with me for almost thirteen years–“we thought you were dead” when all along they had received letters from me and returned them to sender really hurt me to the bone. If she would have said anything other than that I think the outcome would have been different.

Once FB came along it got way easier to connect with long lost family and friends. My experiences with reconnecting with family through FB have been relatively uneventful. I find FB to be a very shallow, disconcerting form of social media and keep connected to it only to keep up to date on places we visit, volunteer at, and for marketing our new business in the coming year. I’ve been fairly disappointed in those I thought I would have some kind of online “friendship” with me, and quite surprised by others who have stepped right up and become true friends to me. I think FB is a lot like the illusions we kid ourselves with. I waxed nostalgia for years about how I grew up–all Norman Rockwell like. But the truth is very little about my upbringing was even close to idyllic and charming. The same goes for the shock and awe of my family when I finally chose to walk away from their ill attempts to win me back. They couldn’t believe that this sweet, nice, and generous person could be so cold and cruel. They hadn’t been around that sweet and generous person for many years– their choice. Luckily, though it took some years to get through the hurt, that sweet and generous person still existed.  Equally as bad as the first attempt the second attempt was also a dishonest one. Suddenly I felt like I was 17 again and finally put an end to it. Judging by the words conveyed to me by this family member her intentions were never honest, I was just being brought back into the fold for a need they needed satisfied. So I passed. Any and every attempt since my first refusal has become more desperate to downright evil. I often think if the roles had been reversed how they would have felt, acted, and moved on watching their family forget them and believe them dead. Deep down I believe my family wishes I would have fulfilled their prophecy of me and that was to end up a drunk or an addict or dead in the bottom of some river. Unfortunately, I’ve done just the opposite and live a happy well-adjusted life surrounded by people who value me as a human being first, and secondly as a friend/family member.

One shouldn’t have to wait for Christmas time to show those around you how much they mean to you, or how much they are loved. For those that don’t have a family– then value your friendships and hold them near. Feeling special, or giving of one’s self shouldn’t just happen once a year. We shouldn’t just hope for miracles at Christmas time but in every day. Social media is overwhelming at this time of year. My head spins looking at the amount of stress some people must be under. Nevermind how much they spend$. Every year I watch it all come to a head, and every year I watch these same people on social media have meltdowns. If all Christmas time ever means to you is stress, maxed out credit cards, and disappointment than that’s all it will ever be.

You’ve probably asked yourself how I, after such amazing childhood memories of Christmas past; and then later heartaches, was able to move forward to share a wonderful Christmas present. Well– here’s a tip or two. 1) Start simple with a strong foundation and build from that. 2) If you don’t have childhood memories of Christmas to fall back on then create some now for future holidays. 3) Don’t try to keep up with the Joneses, because you know what? The Joneses are broke. And stressed out and sick–don’t forget that!!

For many years I couldn’t see the Christmas miracle in my situation, but it was there all along. It was my willingness to reach out to others and give of myself at Christmas time instead of sitting back and wallowing in my own unhappiness. In doing this I was saved from a life of misery and introduced not only to the real reason for the season but also to the gift of giving. With that, I wish you all a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!!

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Christmas movies and other traditions

We can’t go through the holiday season without watching:

The Grinch Stole Christmas- this movie though entertaining also teaches one to feel with their whole heart.

Christmas Vacation- great movie for the soul, for sure a 90-minute laugh fest.

The Nativity Story- tells the story of Mary, Joseph,  Elizabeth, and Jesus.

Christmas Carol- reminds me to make the best of every day and be generous with my time, heart, and love.

Santa Clause 1, 2,3- magic with a side of humor.

One Special Night- romance and family–starting again later in life.

Love Actually- love, all about love.

Food traditions we have- making fudge, rosettes, and spritz. On December 5th we celebrate Sinterklaas Day and we have always loved driving through neighboring towns and looking at Christmas lights. This year I am reading Christmas stories about the Nisse-Norwegian trolls. Very interesting.

What are some of yours?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Story of Nisse-Norwegian Trolls

http://www.trollshop.net/trolls/nissen/

 

Thanksgiving Menu–adding a couple of new dishes to the menu

I’ve been making Thanksgiving dinner since I was 18 years old. For my husband I’ve been making the same Thanksgiving meal almost 23 years. Several years back I decided not to try new dishes for the first time during holiday meal making, because if they don’t turn out then my stress level goes through the roof. Nothing worse than a dish that flopped and there are a minimum of10 hungry people at the table. Every year though I say to myself– “self, I should try something new this year”, but I never do. Until this year when I began prepping our Thanksgiving meal a few weeks in advance with a trial run of mashed cauliflower and a new dessert- pumpkin bundt cake with cream cheese frosting.

The recipes I chose worked great and both the cauliflower and pumpkin bundt cake turned out terrific.

I followed a recipe from Eating Well for Creamy Mashed Cauliflower.

Now, I don’t like garlic. Well, I used to, but I haven’t been able to tolerate it or onions for about five years now. No clue why?

Once my cauliflower was cooked, mashed and creamy I added butter, buttermilk, and nutmeg. Try Nutmeg– I promise you this will become your go to seasoning. It works well on cauliflower that has been steamed or boiled (just sprinkle a little over the top once done) and works great with green beans and brussel sprouts. Just make sure to have a bit of butter worked into the veggies and then lightly sprinkle with nutmeg. In place of butter, if you like, you can use any oil you would normally drizzle on veggies. I would find a good priced quality extra virgin olive oil if you are opposed to adding butter.

My menu looks something like this—

Roasted 16# Turkey
Mashed Potatoes
Mashed Cauliflower
Roasted Brussel Sprouts
Baked Squash drizzled with Maple Syrup
Gluten Free Stuffing
Homemade Parker House Rolls
Pumpkin Bundt Cake
Pecan Pie  

(I love King Arthur Flour recipes– their pecan pie recipe is a big hit everytime I make it)

Until next time Happy Thanksgiving!!!

Tomato Tortellini Soup

I’ve needed this soup lately. This fall has been a bit trying. We live in an area that up until six months ago was fairly quiet. Suddenly construction started around us everywhere. There has been construction on the interstate that starts up at midnight and goes on until we get up. While I realize this is the only time some of these repairs can get done– we get no sleep during these times.  Most of the construction has involved machinery that digs down deep into the cement, tears it up, chews it up, and then a truck backs up (beep, beep, beep) and collects it. Then during the day, there is construction from 6am until 6pm right across the street. On the weekends the property manager for us has been trying to have the driveway and parking lot fixed, so you guessed it over a month now of construction right outside our door. My husband sleeps right through it, me not so much. Six months of this and I’ve reached my limit. Here’s hoping for finished construction projects and long cool nights of sleep in my future.

Here’s the recipe for the Tomato Tortellini Soup 

There is nothing better after a long day of work on little sleep than a good hearty tomato soup. You will love the Tomato Tortellini, it’s easy to make and yummy.

This month has been busy already with processing squash to eat this winter, visiting nearby lavender farms, zoos, even a corn maze, and of course visiting local apple orchards and buying lots, and lots of apples for eating and applesauce.

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I hope your fall is going great!

Summer Meal Planning–7 day meal plan

Tired of having to pay subscription prices for a meal plan? or sign up for tips and tricks and end up inundated with spam emails? Here’s a 7-day meal plan without a catch–no hassles, no subs, and definitely no hidden costs. Summer time is a time where meal planning can get a little hectic. School’s out, and there’s vacation time to plan for and meals tend to be quick meals with little cleanup. Nowadays with all the meal plans available, some right to your front door, why choose to make meals yourself? In my case, for my family’s needs, it came down to saving money and eating local homegrown whole foods. Maybe you don’t have that option available to you, or you don’t have the time to make meals from prep to finish? If you cannot source local homegrown then use what you have–supermarket produce works fine. I’m a big fan of T & A produce and it’s sold in most grocery stores. We eat T & A’s romaine hearts, broccoli, and hydroponic butter lettuce.

Most of the meals in my 7-day meal plan can be prepped the night before. So when you have a little bit of free time, prep the next meal. Also when you cook up ground beef make extra and freeze the extra portion for another meal. I double most recipes and freeze the rest. We have at least 3 meals frozen on hand at any given time that we can grab if time is tight.

Monday-Grilled Hamburgers with Napa cabbage slaw and slowly roasted potato wedges. Prep time-20 minutes. Total cooking time 35-45 minutes depending on how done you want your burgers.

Tuesday– Sausage, red cabbage and roasted sweet potato. Prep time 25 minutes–total time is 1 hour (includes bake time).

Wednesday-Everything but the kitchen sink salad-lettuce, cucumbers, green onions, sliced beets (I use Nellie’s sliced pickled beets vs. fresh beets), avocado, leftover red cabbage slaw and sliced boiled egg with homemade salad dressing. Prep time is 10-15 minutes- chop everything up, boil egg (5 minutes) wash and rinse lettuce & green onions.  You can add cooked chicken, steak or even tuna from tuna packs to make this a heartier salad.

Thursday-Roasted veggie taco with creamy cilantro dressing–recipe here. Total time- 45 minutes.

Friday– Pork Roast in the slow cooker, carrots, and new red potatoes. Prep 10-15 minutes. Total cooking time depends on the size of roast (minimum 4 hours on a low setting) add new red potatoes which are smaller than reg. potatoes during the last 2 hours of slow cooking so that they won’t get mushy before the roast is done.

Saturday-Pulled pork over baked sweet potatoes.  Prep time 5-10 minutes, total cooking time 1 -1/2 hours at 350 degrees for medium-large sweet potatoes.

SundayTeriyaki Chicken and vegetable foil pack for the grill- prep time- 30 minutes..cook time is 1 hour or until chicken is done. **I love this site and you will find several more easy foil pack meals to make plus so many more delicious things to try.**

Recipes-

Homemade Salad Dressing– your best salad dressing ( I use Vegan dressing by Hellman’s), mix 1/4 cup dressing( per 2 people )with a 1/4 teaspoon of salt (or less or not at all) & a tablespoon of granulated sugar and a half cup of milk. Add more milk if you want your dressing thin instead of creamy.  The healthier the salad dressing is that you buy, the healthier your homemade dressing will be. Total time- 5 minutes

Napa Cabbage Slaw– buy a Napa cabbage in the produce department or farmer’s market or local grower that is light green in color. You will also need 2 carrots and ingredients for the homemade salad dressing. I grate the carrots, chop the slaw and mix together with my homemade salad dressing. Use a bit less milk with the dressing because you want the slaw to be able to top your burger! You can add salt and pepper to taste and for extra flavor toss in chopped scallions. Total time- 15 minutes.

Red Cabbage- I use a great recipe from Taste of Home found here.

~~Grocery List~~

Produce department/Farmer’s market/local grower

Napa Cabbage

Red Cabbage

Romaine Hearts Lettuce

Scallions

Green onions

Avocado

Cilantro

Sweet Potatoes

Baking Potatoes

New Red Potatoes

Carrots

Cucumbers

Red Onion

Tomatoes

Yellow & Red Peppers

Zucchini

Lemon

Lime

Meat Department

Pork Roast

Hamburger

Chicken Breast

Sausage

**how much meat you buy will depend on family size**

Dairy

1/2 gallon of milk or 1/2 and 1/2 for salad dressing

Eggs- at least 6 eggs

Butter

Sour Cream

Middle Aisles

Good salad dressing- I’ve used both Just Mayo and Hellman’s Vegan dressing

Hamburger buns

Brown Sugar, soy sauce, cooking rice, sesame oil, chili garlic sauce, 32 oz. chicken broth, ground ginger, olive oil, 15 oz black beans, and Nellie’s sliced pickled beets.

Flour tortillas

I think I’ve remembered to add everything you will need to create these 7 easy meals to the grocery list above. Some meals will work for Paleo diets or even a vegetarian diet. Some can even be made if you are camping. Most take less than 30 minutes prep and there is even a meal that can be made from yesterday’s leftovers.  We eat a lot of meals that are heavy in produce because this is the time of year produce costs the least.  I generally don’t make meals like this in the winter due to not being able to source real fresh produce.  So enjoy these meals now, enjoy the savings, and reap the benefits of these great whole food meals for the next seven days.

Container Gardening Week– #7













Week 7 has been a busy week- suckers to pluck off of tomato plants growing fast and the first of the potato bugs.  Even in a small garden, there is work and diligence needed. I was shocked to see a potato bug–we’re two stories up?  So at this time, I have removed two of them and the leaves they were sitting on in case that is where they laid their eggs.  I have a total of 40 tomatoes on three tomato plants at this time. I purchased my potting soil, tomato gro and fertilizer from Purple Cow Organics and I never ever want to plant another garden if I can’t plant it using these products. Wow, what a difference organic soil and organic fertilizer make!

Right now I am mounding dirt around my potato plants because tubers will only grow in dirt that is around 65 degrees. So it is a must to keep the soil and pot and plant cool. The opposite is needed for tomatoes to turn red. They need hot 75 to 85-degree heat both on the plants and in the soil. Last year I stopped watering my plants for two to three days at a time and all my tomatoes ripened. Tomatoes will keep ripening even when the plant looks half dead.

Our week started out with a trip to the Seed Savers Exchange in Decorah, Iowa. This was a trip we had planned for a couple of years and we really enjoyed seeing the Seed Savers Exchange gardens, fields and visitors center. We stopped at a few other favorite places in Decorah and then made our way back to Wisconsin. Of course, we had to stop at Bauer’s Marketplace in La Crescent, MN because they were having their buy one pot get one pot of flowers or herbs free. We purchased 6 large guinea impatiens and 4 geraniums and paid just over $20.00 for all. Fabulous deal and they had fresh asparagus to boot.

Everything in our container garden has grown double in size in less than two weeks. Plants we thought were going to die haven’t and plants we re-potted from Walmart potting soil, which had fungus gnats in it, are doing way better than we thought. Our garden looks great this year! I’ve harvested two small bouquets of lavender, more to come, and of course we had over a dozen salads from the lettuce. I also crushed the chocolate mint after I dried it and made tea from it. Best tea ever. I will share the recipe next time.  A little over a week ago I planted pumpkins and zinnias which are both up and doing well. My next project is to make some homemade salve or lotion using my lemon thyme. I am hoping for good results and I will share pictures here if successful. That’s all for this week–until next time be well.

Container garden at five weeks!!

I’ve got a whopping eight tomatoes on my plants already. It was kind of hard to show in pictures, but they are there. Tiny 6″ tomatoes plants are now giants. Two plants are planted in a large pot and each one of them is about 14″ tall and fill the entire planter they are kept in. I had two other tomato plants in separate containers that both received frost– one was thrown and the other I kept and have tried to take extra special care of. All of his frost burned foliage fell off and new has replaced it, but he is awful spindly. He stands approx. 2 ft high in the planter he is in. Because of my mistake planting potatoes in too shallow of a pot, I joined five good plants and then used the extra dirt to mount them in one pot. If the plants were growing straight up they would be a foot tall. My shrubs that I bought for downstairs by my front door are growing instead together in a pot on our deck. Currently, they are almost filling the diameter of the pot they are in. Everything looks great and I still attribute that to the soil I planted all of them in–Purple Cow Organics. Plus this week I gave them all a tsp of Purple Cow Bio-Active all-purpose fertilizer. The package says- Purple Cow BioActive All-Purpose Fertilizer is an organic 4-6-4 granular fertilizer which has been inoculated with Mycorrhizal Fungi. These fungi may improve nutrient and water uptake by plants. Safe for pets and kids too!
If I make container gardening sound easy it is anything but–it requires trial and error, patience and constant tending. Instead of relying upon mother nature some of the time for water, I must water my garden almost daily. For me that means carrying pitchers of water through the house to the deck 6-7 times a week. I also use condensation from our air conditioner that drips into a pail on our deck to water the flowers. This year we had to adjust the weight of items on the deck to not place too much weight on it. Two of our small trees were taken downstairs by our front door to assure the weight of our container garden was safe. We are on the north face of the building so we get hit with a lot of wind and sporadic sun.
Most years everything survives, but often most don’t thrive. I keep at it because it is good therapy and I want us to learn how to grow our own food. I’ll be back tomorrow with grilling tips!