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Archive for December, 2009

She, with her copper-colored hair who has survived two breast surgeries and now faces a diagnosis of stomach cancer, hugs me and thanks me for the emotional uplift. I did not know her before she walked into the store looking for clothes to wear for the summer. She is buying clothes for a season she may not see, but is positively projecting her future. I tell her the story of my grandmother who had lung cancer, who denied she had anything but rheumatism, and who managed to live years beyond her original grim diagnosis. She is misty-eyed, yet smiling while listening to my story. We hug again and she leaves the store. I silently thank her for her courageous presence on this earth.

She sits in her wheel chair and waves goodbye from the window. I watch her as she blows kisses to my daughter and me as we drive away from the senior care center. Our hearts are sad that we can’t take her with us, but she does not belong to us and is destined to live in that place for the rest of her life. She has just told us that she “loves us so much.” Her words warm my heart and I silently thank her for allowing us into her life.

She wanders through the store refusing help from others. She approaches me and asks me about the unique sizing. In a matter-of-fact manner I relay the information to her. She looks me in the eye and softly says, “My husband is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s.” She tells me of the difficulties of being his caretaker and how she cannot leave him. I tell her she must take time to care for herself. We discuss this matter a bit more. How can I speak of things I do not know? The words seem to flow from my mouth. Then with a look of resignation, she weaves her way back through the racks of clothes and is gone. I silently thank her for her lesson on devotion.

She steps off the plane and my family says, “Is that her?” She is the wife and mother who has not been seen for over two decades. She is the grandmother who only knows of her grandchildren by the photos she’s kept safe in a basket back at home. She comes towards me with opened arms and utters my Chinese name “Lai Jyuh.” Her arms bear the strength of a woman who once hid in the mountains from the communists, yet as they wrap around me, I feel the soft tenderness of unconditional love. I silently thank her for sharing her love with me.

These are mere samplings of encounters with women, some complete strangers and some dear to me, that have enlightened my soul. Each encounter is like a shimmery thread that I have taken and gently woven into a beautiful fabric that wraps around my heart. I give humble thanks to each and every “She” who has passed my way.

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Laundry piles appear like colorful stalagmites strewn across floors, remains from indulgent holiday meals teeter on top of each other in the refrigerator, and unsent Christmas greetings are now destined to be new year’s greetings. Christmas has come and gone in its usual blur of activities. Have you ever noticed that during this time of the year there is never enough time? Einstein had his own theory on relativity, but here are a few of my perspectives on holiday time.

One thought is that the days are shorter. The winter solstice brings the shortest day – December 21st – and the longest night of the year. Plain and simple, there are just fewer daylight hours to get things accomplished.

But upon reflection, it seems to me this frustration with lack of time has more to do with gender. Every holiday season, in an attempt to gain control over holiday preparations, I delegate duties to my hubby. Two people can accomplish twice as much as one, right? Not so! As hard as my husband tries, he can only do about one-tenth of what I usually do. Plus, he needs direct supervision and constant reminding of his little holiday “to do” list. In all fairness, I just move faster, think ahead, don’t sleep, and most importantly, don’t watch sports on the television. I think, in general, men just don’t sweat the holiday details like women do. An example of this, my husband was in charge of putting up our exterior Christmas lights. This year only two little tiny bushes got lit and instead of searching for where he stored last year’s lights, he went out and bought new lights. This happens every year! I’m sure after he and I pass away, our kids are going to find nests of Christmas lights all over the house and in the garage! And while I’m on the subject of delegating chores out to men, why is it they always have to ask, “What needs to be done?” Can’t they just look around at the chaos and make an educated guess?

Along the same thought line, I think women tend to be the keeper of their family’s holiday spirit. That’s a lot of pressure. They set the images that will be remembered for a lifetime. They decorate the house, brainstorm for thoughtful presents, reach out to friends in correspondence and at gatherings, plan menus, and try to give back to the community. When my kids look back on the Christmases of their youth, they better have sparkles in their eyes!

Admittedly, I am a holiday overachiever. The holidays are a difficult season for me because I can easily get carried away with creative ideas. Over the years I’ve worked on becoming a more “go with the flow” holiday person. My decorations this year reflected a minimalist’s attitude and there were no visions of sugarplums dancing in my head. Next year, I vow to start my holiday preparations earlier, prioritize my creative projects, and delegate twice as much to my husband, but be more willing to accept the fact that his standard is different than mine. I have a rubber stamp that reads, “Once upon a time . . . there was more time.” That sentiment may be true, but next year I will again strive to balance my time and let myself enjoy all the wonders of the holidays.

Hope yours were merry.

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Crystal snowflakes sparkle as they dangle from chandeliers, Santa guides his sleigh from high above his lookout in the family room, and Christmas fairies gently perch on the mantle above the stove top to supervise holiday cooking. My home seems to come alive during the holidays.

One of the first things I rush to decorate every year is my kitchen tree. It’s a small tree that stands near my bookcase of cookbooks and it’s covered with measuring spoons and measuring cups, cinnamon hearts and gingerbread men, cookie cutters tied with ribbons, and cookie dough ornaments. It’s a happy, homey-type of tree.

Some of my fondest memories are centered around Christmas trees. As a young child I remember stringing the giant and hot Christmas lights around and around the tree and then throwing the lead tinsel up in the air and watching it land on little precipices of evergreen.

Then when I got married, a Christmas tree became a luxury item, because we lived off of my meager salary while my husband was in graduate school. We bought a tree to decorate – it was only a three-footer, but it was our first three-foot tree! And amazingly enough, when we stood it on a crate it became a five-foot giant! With no money for ornaments, I remember crafting my own out of dough, wood, and whatever material I could find cheaply. For the garland, I patted myself on the back for cleverly thinking of stringing foam packing peanuts on dental floss. From far away my garland really did resemble strands of popcorn.

With the birth of each of my children came new tree decorating traditions. Every year I purchased an ornament for each child that represented some milestone in his life for that year. Our family tree has become filled with Sesame Street characters, Disney characters, unique child-crafted ornaments made from pine cones, macaroni, toilet paper rolls, etc., dog-related ornaments, sports-related paraphernalia, ornaments picked up from our family vacations, school mascots, symbolic ornaments such as cars (representing driver’s licenses) and mini beer steins or mini champagne bottles (celebrating 21st birthdays). You name it and we probably have it on our tree! As old as my kids are now, they still ask me what their ornament for the year is and I have to admit it is getting more difficult to find those special ornaments that represent significant moments in their adult lives!

Would I trade my family’s memory tree filled with rag-tag, random ornaments for a designer tree? Never in a million years! When I first decided to have a tree like this for our family, my thought was that as each child grew up and finally had a home of his own, he could take his childhood collection of ornaments with him. Hopefully, as he reflects on his ornaments, each child will remember the happy moments in his life and the love our family shares.

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The holidays are creeping ever so close, but don’t panic! I’ve got a couple of thoughts and ideas for you.

#1 – Send E-Holiday Greetings
Last year in an effort to reduce the amount of paper goods going to landfills, I sent email Christmas greetings to 95% of my friends and family. Those that I didn’t have email addresses for received snail-mail versions. The email greetings had all the components of my usual holiday greeting – a family photo and a newsletter. For me the unexpected bonus of sending this type of correspondence was all of the spontaneous email replies from friends and family that I normally only heard from during our annual Christmas card exchange. No stamps and no addressing of envelopes are involved and no paper products go to landfill, but still all the best wishes of the holiday season are sent to those I care about. In my mind this is the best of both worlds.

#2 – Gift Idea
Do you have someone on your shopping list that spends a fair amount of time commuting to and from school or work? Consider giving this person a book on CD. My family has long been fans of listening to classics and thrillers while in riding in the car. When my kids were young they listened to cassette tapes of children’s classics such as Anne of the Green Gables, Hatchet, The Odyssey, and Lord of the Rings.

Along this line you can also give a subscription to Audible.com. Different subscription rates provide for different numbers of free downloads of books per month or per year. New book releases can be downloaded to your computer to be burned to a CD and/or downloaded to your iPod for listening. The cost is significantly lower than the cost of a new audio book.

#3 – Recipe for Bath Salts
What about treating a friend or yourself to a spa treatment, but at home? Homemade bath salts are easy to make! Put 3 cups of Epsom salts in a large glass bowl or large glass jar. In a smaller glass container mix together 1 tablespoon of glycerin, a few drops of food coloring, and enough essential oil to attain the desired intensity of fragrance. Add the perfumed liquid mixture into the salt crystals and mix thoroughly. This mixture should be stored in a glass container with a lid. Make a tag or label describing the contents of the jar and directions for its use (add 3 heaping tablespoons to your bath). Some recipes for bath salts also include a quarter cup of sea salt and/or a couple of tablespoons of baking soda.

#4 – A Healthy Gift Idea
For seven years I have subscribed to the Nutrition Action Healthletter which is published 10 times a year by the Center for Science in the Public Interest or CSPI for the nominal fee of $24. Packed in roughly 20 pages are easily understood articles on diet, health and food safety, latest updates on food and health supplements, columns on recent studies, and nutritional comparisons of products. The most recent issue featured articles titled Seven Facts You May Not Know About Exercise and What the Label Doesn’t Tell You. The knowledge gained from this periodical enables readers to make better and healthier life choices.

#5 – Definition of Joy
I define joy as a sustained sense of well-being and internal peace – a connection to what matters. Oprah Winfrey

Have a joyous weekend!

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As I roamed through store after store one year searching for a Christmas tree skirt that was proportional to my large tree and that matched my decor, I became frustrated because all I could find were dinky little tree skirts at exorbitant prices. Then a thought occurred to me, “What about using a round tablecloth as a tree skirt?”

Tablecloths can be found in a variety of diameters, fabrics, and colors and you’re more likely to find a tablecloth that matches your home’s decor than a tree skirt! Consider purchasing a round tablecloth at stores like T.J. Maxx, Ross, Marshall’s or Tuesday Morning.

Here’s how I convert tablecloths into tree skirts:
1. Fold the tablecloth in half, then in quarters, and finally in eighths.
2. With a pair of fabric scissors or very sharp scissors, cut the point off the top of the folded fabric following the curve of the hemmed edge to create the hole for the tree trunk. Depending on the diameter of your tree trunk you’ll want to cut about one to two inches from the point, because when you finally open up the fabric, you’ll have a two to four inch hole.
3. Next while the fabric is still folded in eighths, cut a fold from the bottom of the hem all the way up to the cut you just made. This provides an opening in the tablecloth that enables you to drape it around the tree.
4. Using Mighty Mendit, a product advertised on television, you can glue some type of braiding or trim around the raw edge of the center hole and the two cut edges of the side opening. An alternative to this is folding the raw edges under a half-inch and hemming them on your sewing machine. A third option is to just leave the edges raw and tuck them under every year so that no one notices them. As you can probably guess, this is the option I’ve always chosen!

Note: The photo shows a 70″ round tablecloth around the base of a 9′ tree.

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Preparing home cooked meals can be challenging during the holiday season. There’s so much to do and so little time. Isn’t it just easier to order out or grab some fast food these days? Well, what about this – get out that crock pot of yours and cook dinner while you shop or wrap? It’s multitasking at it’s best!

Here’s an easy recipe for chicken cooked in a crock pot. It’s called Linnell’s No-Fuss Chicken. I don’t remember the origins of this recipe, so I guessing that it’s probably a conglomeration of recipes that I adapted. It’s certainly not a gourmet dish, but it’s tasty and easy!

2/3 C flour
1 tsp rubbed sage
1 tsp dried basil
1 tsp seasoned salt
1 chicken (2.5-3 lbs.), cut up
3 T butter
olive oil
1 can cream of chicken soup
1 envelope Lipton’s Onion Soup
Approximately 2 cups fat free half & half or chicken broth

Directions: In a shallow bowl, combine flour, sage, basil, and seasoned salt. Rinse and pat chicken dry. Cut chicken into pieces. Coat chicken pieces with flour mixture. In a large skillet, melt butter and a couple of swigs of olive oil. Brown chicken on all sides.

Spray crock liner with a vegetable spray and put browned pieces in the crock pot with largest pieces on the bottom. In a medium-sized mixing bowl, stir together the cream of chicken soup and the onion soup. Stir in the fat free half & half or the chicken broth. Pour the soup mixture over chicken. Cover and cook on high for 2 to 2.5 hours until the juices run clear.

Serve on a bed of rice or noodles.

Note: This is a clean out your vegetable bin recipe. Any vegetables such as carrots, bell peppers, zucchini, celery, broccoli, onions, mushrooms etc. can be added. Wash, cut, and place veggies on top of the meat before cooking.

Go ahead and go shopping for a couple of hours. Dinner will be waiting for you when you return home!

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The spirit of sharing and giving can be found everywhere.

#1 – Free Printable Gift Tags
There are many websites that provide free printable gift tags for all occasions. Just do a Google search for free printable gift tags and select the page that you want to print. Insert white card stock into your color printer, print, and cut out! Here’s a site that had cute Christmas tags.

#2 – Baking Tip
With holiday baking in full swing, consider this tip: Cookies will spread during baking if you’ve allowed the butter to get too soft, so refrigerate your dough for a couple of hours before baking. Bottom line: When putting a sheet of cookies into the oven to bake, the cooler the cookie dough, the less it will spread.

#3 – Looking for a Unique Gift That Gives Back?
My cousin Laurie is a high school principal. She, along with her daughters Alison and Kelly, and friend Nancy, an intervention specialist, have started a project called BeBuddies. Laurie and her team create one-of-a-kind, handmade BeBuddies. They are asking people to, “Please adopt one this holiday season and support youth who are finding ways to develop their skills and avoid further contact with the juvenile justice system. Every dollar from the sale of BeBuddies will bring resources to teens from 14-18 who are on probation.” Suggested adoption fee for a very cute and unique BeBuddy is $20.00. For more information email BeBuddies@gmail.com. Adopt a BeBuddy and help high-risk youth!

#4 – Christmas Tree Trivia – True or False
A. Christmas trees have been sold commercially in the United States since about 1850.
B. It is considered bad luck to put up your Christmas tree before the 1st of December.
C. In the first week, a tree in your home will consume as much as a quart of water per day.
D. Christmas trees are grown in all 50 states including Hawaii and Alaska.
E. Thomas Edison’s assistants came up with the idea of electric lights for Christmas trees.
F. Christmas trees generally take 6-8 years to mature.
G. You should never burn your Christmas tree in the fireplace. It can contribute to creosote buildup.

Answers: All true!

#5 – Perspectives on Stress From Catherine Pulsifer
When you find yourself stressed, ask yourself one question: Will this matter in 5 years from now? If yes, then do something about the situation. If no, then let it go.

Things could be a lot worse, the stress of the situation always could be worse, but I am alive and I have a lot to be thankful for – so I shall not waste my days with stress and frustrations – Life is too short!

I’m in a holidaze, but hope your holiday season is stress free!

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