It is the small simple things of life that bring us peace.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Wednesday 12.31.2014

Store window, Fredericksburg Texas
I was captivated by these words on the store window. As I stared at them I wondered what their significance was and if they were original or a quote.  I know that they caught my attention because  the advice of the words were what I needed to see.  I know it is time to start something new.

A little checking and I found that they are attributed to Eckhart von Hochheim (1259-1327) who was a German theologian, philosopher and mystic. He was referred to as Meister Eckhart, having the academic title for the Magister in theologia he earned in Paris. He would be tried as a heretic, but is thought to have died before the verdict was announced. I find myself wanting to know more about this man who lived so long ago, yet speaks to me now.

As we come to this last day of 2014, dear readers, I find his words to also be appropriate advice for the coming new year.  New Years day isn't anything really special, there really isn't anything new about it.  But it is a time to mentally reflect on the past year, anticipate the new year and plan to live life as the best you can. Is it time to challenge yourself to try something new?

Strive for happiness and take satisfaction in all that you do.

Happy New Year and
May you experience the magic of beginnings!

Sunday, December 28, 2014

The In-Betwen Time

Right now we are in the week between Christmas Day and New Year's Day.  The in-between time.  The race to Christmas is over, but the Christmas spirit still lingers.  The decorations are still up and I'm still playing Christmas music, but we have another celebration to look forward to and the holiday atmosphere is still here. I almost think of Christmas as a week long celebration that goes from Christmas Eve through New Years Day.

This week has always been just as pleasant to me as the days before Christmas and I suspect that this goes back into my childhood.  Most years we were at my grandparents and this week was spent enjoying Christmas presents, visiting with relatives, going for drives in the country and, weather permitting, taking a winter walk through the pasture or nearby woods.  One holiday was over and another was to come before we had to head home and declare an end to that year's Christmas season.

This week is when people begin making their New Years resolutions.  Time to end one year and start the next with good intentions of new habits.  I've never seriously made New Year's resolutions; although I usually do think of a few things that I should do like organize all those paper pictures stored in random boxes and finish some UFO's in the quilting room. But strangely, this year I've had several experiences that are making me aware that I do need to make one resolution and keep it.

The first event was my inability to concentrate and plan a simple breakfast. I had signed up to provide the buffet-style breakfast for my Sunday School class on the Sunday before Christmas.  I had estimated we would have about 40 people that Sunday (and I was right) and needed to plan for juice, fruit, and then two other items.  I've known about this for weeks, but every  time I started to think about the menu I just drew a blank.  I just couldn't organize my thoughts and make any decisions.  I even looked for some new recipes thinking that would help.  But nothing, nada.  Even in the grocery store I was wandering around for quite a while, picking up items for one dish and then putting them back.  I just couldn't seem to focus, but finally got it together and the breakfast turned out well.  The end result was that I realized that I needed to de-clutter my mind; I just had too many thoughts going too many different ways which was keeping me from focusing.  I resolved to sit down after Christmas and spend some quiet time trying to re-group.  Maybe sit outside with a cup of tea and a notebook, clearing out the mind.

The next event was on Christmas Eve day.  I was to make dessert for our family gathering.  After much debating I decided to make Red Velvet cupcakes, but wasn't sure about what else to make.  So, the result of my indecision was that I ended up going to the grocery store early on Christmas Eve morning to get the things I needed for the cupcakes as well a few other items.  I had decided the night before that if they had a suitable pre-made pie or dessert that I would just buy it. After all, I had not wrapped any gifts and I knew that my time was short. That turned out to be a wise decision and I brought home a lovely (and delicious) pumpkin pie.  But the problem was that in addition to the store being crowded the shelves were pretty empty in some places.  Including the aisle where the baking goods and the necessary red food coloring would be.  I stood there in disbelief looking at the empty shelf.  What, I screamed out to myself, no red food coloring?  Don't they know this is Christmas?  Good grief.....oh, wait.  Really, are you surprised?  What were you thinking, did you really expect to come in here at the last minute and find a much sought after item like red food coloring?  Come on, it is Christmas and red is the color of the season! So I had to re -group and fortunately found a package mix that worked well.  Still in a state of disbelief as I finished the shopping I reminded myself that I had no one to blame but myself for waiting until the very last minute to shop.

As I drove home I continued my conversation with myself and had the clear thought that it is time to get myself organized again and quit living 5 minutes into the future; I have to start planning ahead. Not a bad resolution, is it? It is definitely time to sit down with the tea and a clean page in the notebook and start thinking ahead.  As 2014 comes to a close and I enjoy this in-between week I am finishing up some of those unfinished items on the to do list and getting them out of the way.  I feel like I'm clearing the path in my mind to get back into an organized life.  I'll probably fall off the track and when I do I'm just going to remind myself about the red food coloring episode!

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

And now...

And's Christmas Eve.  A quiet seems to be settling over the world.  Stores are closed and the streets are not so busy. People seem to have retreated, each into their own world.  I've always thought of Christmas Eve as such a peaceful time and, in many ways, I enjoy Christmas Eve day as much as I do Christmas Day.  It is a day of preparation, one final day before the actual Christmas celebration. A day of anticipation followed by a peaceful evening leading into the big day.

Every thing is done. The desserts for tomorrow's lunch are made.  I've been to Christmas Eve services at church.  I've eaten my tamales.  Now, it is time to sit quietly with a glass of wine, Christmas carols are playing and I'm ready to watch the rapidly twinkling lights on my tree (Jaydon set them that way and I've gotten used to their cheery blinking so I've left them alone). So, now it is time to reflect a little, maybe think about past Christmas Eve's and Christmas celebrations. Time to just enjoy the moment.

I finished wrapping presents this afternoon.  As I piled them safely up on the top of the piano I thought that the children will tear these gleefully open in just a few minutes!  But I also remembered that the reason for the season is God's amazing gift to humans, Jesus Christ. The Son of God was born in the lowliest of places, a stable. Shepherds, the lowliest of people, were visited by an angel and a heavenly entourage and told of the baby's birth.  But He came for all peoples.  Mighty Counselor, Prince of Peace, King of Kings and Lord of Lords! "Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!" Luke 2:14   

May your Christmas be blessed with peace and joy.  And may you experience God's love as you celebrate His gift to us.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Santa, I still believe

This Santa stands perpetually in front of a candy store in Fredericksburg, Texas on a year round basis, greeting passerby's with his jolly presence. 

I've always loved the story of Santa Claus and I still do.  I find myself admiring Santa's in many art forms.  I love the Coca-Cola Santas, but find others just as charming. On Saturday while in Fredericksburg a real Santa was sitting inside one of the stores.  As I passed by I smiled and waved and said " Hi Santa!".  He smiled and waved back.  How dear he is!

As soon as I learned to write I remember copying, or attempting to copy, the words to "The Night Before Christmas". I still have the very tattered, scribbled in copy of that storybook that I copied from.  Christmas mornings were always so exciting to wake up and find my stocking filled with an apple, orange and candy cane and toys under the tree.  We never had lavish, excessive gifts, but what was there was still magical to me - it was brought by Santa! When my children were small they and their cousins humored me every Christmas Eve by letting me read the story to them.  I think its beauty was lost on them, but I enjoyed the story.  (Just to note the cousins didn't believe in Santa, so they weren't too excited about the whole idea!)

I find myself still believing in Santa even though I know that a rather round man in a red suit doesn't fly all over the world in one night jumping down chimneys and delivering a bag of toys at each house. No, he isn't real, but I do find joy in the story of Santa and I believe in that concept of doing good and bringing happiness, where possible, to the world. Santa is a happy character that brings smiles to faces of all ages. The endearing man in the red suit does not replace the baby in the manger, but portrays the idea of generosity and giving to bring joy to others.  Indeed, the story and Santa himself seem to bring joy everywhere.

Santa, dear, I still believe!

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Time for a Me Day

I love Christmas and all that goes with the season.  I look forward to it all year, and when Labor Day is over I am already looking to Thanksgiving and then into Christmas.  However, I don't go to a lot of parties and I don't stress myself into a crazy mode.  Years ago I gave up serious cookie baking after I realized that the cookies were either eaten before I got the baking sheets washed or they were thrown out around New Years because no one liked them. 

And, while this year isn't extremely busy I did decide last week that Saturday was going to be a "Me Day".  Have you ever needed one of those?  I made my plans and thought about it all week; I wanted to go to Fredericksburg and wander around and enjoy the holiday spirit in that little town.  Saturday was the day, it was for me.  Several times I almost backed out on myself when I started thinking about all that I had to do.  Even Saturday morning as I sat outside with the dogs enjoying a cup of coffee I wondered if I should postpone my plans for a week. 

After I finally got on the road I realized that I had done the right thing - get out of the house, get out of town, get on the road. I don't know what it is about getting on the road that is so soothing to me. My thoughts just melt away into almost nothing; it is like a cleansing of the mind.  Sometimes my thoughts do wander around and I think that is some kind of sorting process that my brain does. Just to note here that I right now I'm driving 60 miles round trip every day for work - that is a commute and it does not have the same effect that a road trip does!

I decided to take Bentley along with me and he gave me a laugh because he was not a happy camper when I strapped him into a doggie harness in the passenger seat for the first time ever.  He has always ridden in my lap or in a crate in the back with the other dogs and he was not pleased with me at all!  Every time I looked over at him he had this " Mom, how could you do this to me.  I'm so insulted!" look on his face! We drove along, Bentley very unhappy, me listening to Christmas music and letting my thoughts go.
The eyes say it all:  I'M NOT HAPPY OVER HERE!

Taking a dog along made everything a little different.  Since I wasn't sure if there would be any dog friendly place to eat I had made a brown bag lunch.  I also realized that I needed a potty break and after a little consideration decided to just take Bentley along with me into the Visitor's Center restroom.  No problems there and he got a few laughs from women who walked in while we were there!  As always when I have a dog with me people will stop us and we will chat while they pet the dog; I like talking dogs with people and it makes the day friendly. 

But it was a different experience going into little shops with him. I had the doggie stroller and he went into it a few times, but he really doesn't like it.  He tolerates it.  After years of maneuvering a baby stroller it was nothing to roll the doggie stroller through doors and even up and down a few steps.  Every time I did go through a door someone would always help hold the door for us, and I did appreciate the assistance.  However, I avoided several shops as I knew they were small and also I knew they might be crowded.  And, I had to skip the kitchen shop that I enjoy shopping in:  there were three steep steps up with a metal hand rail that divided them and then two very narrow doors to go through.  I looked around for an alternate entrance and there was none.  But all in all I enjoyed having the dog along and it was fun.

Our first stop was at the Dogologie store.  It was busy and there were several large dogs visiting at the same time, so I did put Bentley in the stroller.  We left with a large shopping bag full of good doggie things and Bentley wearing a new jacket (hey, it was just barely 50 degrees with a nice little breeze blowing!).
So what else did we do besides wander in the little shops? 
We spent time in the Marketplatz enjoying the Christmas pyramid and the giant tree.
We ate lunch while sitting on the low wall around the Vereins-Kirche.  The sun had come out but the wind was sharp, so we enjoyed the protection of the building while we ate (Bentley had a handful of treats, if you are wondering what he ate). It was a pleasant, relaxing time and we sat there enjoying the warmth of the sun and watching other visitors enjoy themselves.  Fredericksburg always enchants me and I always find myself wondering what it is like to live there.  The local people are friendly and are passionate about their German heritage. I like the fact that they have done an excellent job of preserving their heritage and are being very progressive in promoting their town as a destination spot. 

After visiting a few more spots I decided to come on home and cut the me day short.  After all, I had left a mountain of laundry, dusting, vacuuming, cleaning. presents to be wrapped, cards to be addressed, unfinished gift projects, and much of life's debris in my house.  Plus, I needed to make a buffet type breakfast to serve 40 people on Sunday morning. I didn't mind coming on home earlier than I planned.  After all, I had had my Me Day and had spent several hours enjoying the festive Christmas spirit in Fredericksburg.  Now I am ready for Christmas!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Friday, December 12, 2014

Another learning lesson

The fifth grader never ceases to amaze me!  When I picked him up this afternoon for our usual Friday night "Gammy-Night" he was working on a little project that involved a shoe box, popsicle sticks, glue, moss, stones, and other assorted things.  We had this conversation:

ME:  What is this? Is it a school project?
J:       It's a Hooverville.
ME:  A what? (I knew what a Hooverville is, but was stunned at this point)
J:       A Hooverville.  Have you ever heard of a president named Herbert Hoover?
ME:   Yes
J:       Well, a lot of people had to live in little communities called Hooverville's while he was president because of the Great Depression. People didn't have much money because there were no jobs. I'm reading a book about this and doing this project.

I'm stunned at this point, really I am.  But what surprised me was the conversation that we launched into.  I asked him about the Great Depression; he knew a lot.  I reminded him about our visit to Mission San Jose(remember Learning a little history) and the fact that the Mission was almost gone and we had discussed the New Deal that created the jobs for the men who worked on rebuilding the walls and the buildings.  We had camped at Bastrop State Park one time and I shared with him that it had been built as part of a program to create jobs so people could work again. And, I shared that the River Walk that we love so much was a part of that program.

As we got in the car I told him about my parents and how frugal they were all their lives because they were children during the Depression.  Really, he asked.  Your parents were children then? So I told him a few stories and as we talked I realized that from his studies and his reading he knew how poor everyone was and how hard life was during that time.  We also talked about the lecture I attended at the Quilt Festival about Making Do, Surviving the Great Depression and how my parents never threw anything away that might possibly be reusable.

Tonight I've pulled up some pictures of Hooverville dwellings and showed him so he would have a better understanding of what he is replicating in his project.  However, I was well pleased that he has such a realistic understanding of that time in history.  I was also pleased that his teacher is covering a subject that is sometimes overlooked or under studied.  And, I'm glad that I can share my love of history and historic buildings with him.  Perhaps someday he, too, will share his love of the past with someone.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Wednesday 12.10.2014

(German Christmas pyramid)
Fredericksburg, Texas

Saturday, December 6, 2014

More tamales

After my recent post on tamales and the comments (thank you, dear ladies) I felt I needed to say a few more words about tamales.  I live in the Tex-Mex capital of the world, or at least I think so, where tamales are made with masa and usually either a pork or beef filling.  They are wrapped in corn shucks that are folded under and then steamed.  Each family (or commercial shop) has their own recipe for seasoning the meat and, as I mentioned before, it is common for the women of the family to gather in December to make many dozens of tamales.  Usually the oldest woman will season the meat mixture.

Many civilizations and cultures have had a form of the tamale that was a part of their diet.  There are many documented variations and names, but always it was some form of dough wrapped around a filling made with locally available ingredients .  Several sources I looked at stated that the tamale was easily portable making it an ideal food for traveling or when there was a need for a portable food source (such as working in a far field).

I grew up eating what my parents referred to as "hot tamales".  We were military with strong ties to Mississippi and for the early part of my life still clung to that great Southern food and hot tamales were occasionally part of our meal plan.  However, I have to note that we did not have access to restaurants or tamale stores.  Our hot tamales came out of....a can.  Yes, we ate canned tamales as we moved around this earth and this picky little eater loved them.  I know I was fascinated with the paper wrappers and the red sauce that came with the little tamales, but I also liked the way they tasted!  I never even thought it odd to be eating tamales out of a can, it was just the way it was.

My family was introduced to Mexican food while we lived in Southern California, and continued to expand our Mexican fare after we moved back to San Antonio.  Even so, we still ate hot tamales out of a can.  I wouldn't taste a real, fresh tamale until a club had a tamale sale after school when I was in high school.  They were warm and delicious and I was a tamale addict!

So how was it that my parents were familiar with hot tamales?  Well, they are common in Mississippi and only recently did I discover this. Greenville bills itself as "The Hot Tamale Capital of the World" and offers a hot tamale festival. Hot tamales are as common as fried chicken and gravy! Usually they are made and sold by individual vendors who often make them in their own kitchens and then sell them from a cart or small building (we refer to them as shacks, but that sounds crude to the unaccustomed ear so just think of them as small buildings). 

The recipes are as varied in the Delta as they are in the Southwest; everyone has their own formula. The difference is that the hot tamales are made with corn meal and are simmered.  Ok, so what is the difference between masa and corn meal?  Masa is a Spanish word for dough and its full title is masa harina or dough flour, in case you are wondering.  It is a finely ground flour-type product. From what I could find both masa and cornmeal are products of maize that has been processed into hominy, but are processed and then ground very differently.  The end result is that they are very different and produce a very different product.

I found several theories as to how tamales came to the Delta.  Most attribute their introduction to the Hispanic migrant farm workers who taught the African-American workers how to make them.  Another theory is that the many men who went to Mexico to fight in the Mexican American War brought the recipes and technique back to their homes and adapted them to use cornmeal.  At any rate another version of the tamale appeared and thrives today.  One final item to share:  in Spanish the singular form is tamal, plural is tamales.