Wednesday, December 31, 2014

A New Year Past

{From the archives 12/31/2010}
We really only celebrate two "official" eves these days, Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve.  My two sisters and my Mom and Dad & I usually opened our Christmas presents on what we affectionately referred to as "Christmas Eve Eve" which left the more official days in December for celebrating with extended family. Perhaps it is that tradition that is responsible for my fondness for the eves.
There is so much more wrapped up in the eve of something than in its just being the literal "day before" another day which is, merely by force of calendar supposed to be more special.  An eve holds both the promise of what the next day will bring yet holds as well the distinct honor of being a meaningful day itself.

Consider Christmas Eve, the lights both of candle and of the eye of a child shine in honor of what Christmas Day will be, yet shine they do on Christmas Eve and not on Christmas day.

 On Christmas Day, there is the sense of joy and celebration, of arrival, of dare I say relief (?), of excitement and gratitude.  On Christmas Day, the flicker of the Christmas Eve candle has grown into the bonfire of Christmas Day.  As Christmas Day grows into Christmas Night there is no anticipation left to carry into the morrow, no expectation of specialness to come just a pleasant placement into the heart of the memories that have been made.
Ah, but as the hours of Christmas Eve grow late, the heart grows softer, beats a bit faster, and becomes more ready to experience that which is to come...

New Year's Eve, whose very title, indicates that it belongs to the celebration of the New Year, holds little to looking back on the old year to which, by the calendar, it belongs.  Like Christmas Eve, New Year's Eve is full of anticipation and expectation of the next day and all that the New Year might be. As the New Year's Eve clock marches toward midnight, acceptance of last year's accomplishments yields to the eagerness to make newer and more purposeful tracks on tomorrow's freshly fallen, unblemished year. On the eve, the accomplishment of living better is looked forward to but is not yet taken to task. The idea of doing better is not yet confused with the reality of a tinge of failure here and there on the eve.  On the eve the possibilities are unspoiled and unconquered.  On New Year's Day the conquering must begin. 

 "... in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us." ~Romans 8:37

So, friends and loved ones I wish you a special New Year's Eve and a Happy New Year, filled with living better, loving more, and laughing deeply!   

Monday, December 29, 2014

The Books of My Year

Last year ended with another defeat in the annual book reading contest with my Boy. Another defeat, the second in a row. This year I determined to be the winner, unfortunately my Boy enjoys the term "Three-peat" and was equally determined.

As the year rolled on we'd check on one another's progress:

"How many have you read?"

"Seventeen, how 'bout you?"

"20 {grin}"

Then we left for our August sabbatical which allowed for lots of reading time while we sat next to each other in doors and out of doors early in the mornings, during long afternoons and into long quiet evenings. Each of us reading for the sheer pleasure of it AND with certain victory in sight.

"How many have you read?"

"Thirty-four, how 'bout you?"

"Thirty {grimace}"

Somewhere around November I decided that I would keep my number private, remembering that last year the Boy, knowing my number read JUST enough to beat me. I figured this year I'd make sure to be ahead by at least five books that the BOY didn't know about to insure my victory. The problem with my plan is that somewhere around November my Boy quit sharing his number with me so I am not certain how many books equal five books more.

This was not the only problem...

...there was Thanksgiving and Christmas and cookies and wrapping and cookies and to the best of my knowledge (according to my many spies) at this date, the Boy and I are ALL TIED UP!

My sister Becky has provided a mystery prize for the winner which makes this year's competition the first one with a prize that is more than bragging rights.

{Thanks Aunt Becky!}

Soooooo I've read a book or two this year and here are the ones (in no particular order) that warmed my heart or rang my bell or made me smile or made my heart beat just a little faster or maybe a little bit of each of those:


The Storied Life of A.J. Fickry (click on title to go to the Amazon link for each book)

Written by Gabrielle Zevin. A CHARMER of a book. If you love books I can't imagine that this book wouldn't make you happy or like me sad...that it ended way too soon. This book earned it's own post here at The Wright Place earlier this spring.

The Rosie Project

Graeme Simsion has written a fun book with a unique central figure in Don Tillman who is searching for a bride using a scientific questionaire and formula. Full of colorful characters and lots of other "colorfulness," Rosie will surely make you grin. 

Station Eleven

Emily St. John Mandel had written three books before Station Eleven but all indications are that this one is her breakout novel. Writing about Amazon's "Best Book of September" Neal Thompson says, 
“No more ballgames played under floodlights,” Emily St. John Mandel writes in this smart and sober homage to life’s smaller pleasures, brutally erased by an apocalypse. “No more trains running under the surface of cities ... No more cities ... No more Internet ... No more avatars.” What’s touching about the world of Station Eleven is its ode to what survived, in particular the music and plays performed for wasteland communities by a roving Shakespeare troupe, the Traveling Symphony, whose members form a wounded family of sorts. The story shifts deftly between the fraught post-apocalyptic world and, twenty years earlier, just before the apocalypse, the death of a famous actor, which has a rippling effect across the decades."
I didn't find the book nearly as dark as I'd feared it would be and the writing was lovely. Give this one a try, you won't be disappointed.


Have we talked about Marilynne Robinson? She's a brain who can write for real readers...except for her essays which may well be understandable to real readers but which are completely above my comprehension but I still like how she writes all of those essays that I don't quite get because the writing!! So good. This year the MUCH awaited Lila was released. Lila is the third book in Robinson's trilogy often referred to as The Gilead Trilogy (Home, Gilead, Lila). You don't necessarily need to have read Gilead first, but I think it will enhance your experience with Lila. I heard recently that you don't read Robinson's work to enter her stories, you read her work so that you can live the stories through her characters. This is one to read slowly and savor.

The Book of the Dun Cow

I've always known of Walter Wangerin Jr. because I read his writing about marriage over 20 years ago. The man can put words on a page in an arresting way for sure but what I am just amazed about is that in The Book of the Dun Cow he managed to write a book that kept me enthralled and the teenagers engaged and Kate enjoying and Molly...Molly was so sad when it ended and has over the last months followed me around with the book begging me to read it again to her. It is written for adults. It is an allegory. It is phenomenal. As I read it aloud to the kids the story helped to heal some tender places in me. I was not surprised to find it on this list of 10 Books That Heal You a few months ago. You can find this as an ebook for Kindle for $2.99 here. It will be the most unique book you've read in some time, but you'll be better off for having read it.

Dear Mr. Knightley

A modernization of one of my favorite books of all time Daddy Long Legs (by Jean Webster ). Written in letters to Mr. Knightley the story's protagonist is the beneficiary of a scholarship based on one condition: that she write regular letters to the person anonymously granting the money for her education. The novel is well done and will make your heart pitter patter as you come to a few enlightening conclusions far before the scholarly letter writer.

Small Blessings

This book has the same feel as The Storied Life of A. J. Fickry  but with a much different storyline. The happy reviews for Martha Woodroof's charming work go something like this:
"Woodroof nails the debut novel: This warm, wise tale leaves a smile long after the final page is turned." —People Magazine
“This book is a charmer: quirky, clear-hearted and effervescent.” —
“A warm, caring and thoroughly entertaining debut that reads remarkably well.” —Library Journal (starred review)

"Along with dark humor and a confident command of story, strong characters and absurdist twists add to the fun.” —Publishers Weekly
"A delightful tale about what happens when good intentions go well." —Good Housekeeping
{And these too: All the Light We Cannot See...beautiful, written with light! The Time In Between...loved everything about is huge and it ended too soon.}


Let's Take the Long Way Home by Gail Caldwell 

This is a beautiful book about friendship between two writers who meet at a dog obedience class they've taken with, of course, their dogs which figure largely in the story but in a way that won't at all bother a non-animal sort of reader. If, however, you are an animal lover, you will enjoy this true tale all the more. The friendship displayed on these pages made me want to be a better friend.

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King

Stephen King!?!? Are you kidding me? Am I kidding you? No, neither of us is kidding. This is the only book of King's I've ever read and it was so excellent that I was tempted, though for a short while only, to attempt another of his books...I do not have the stomach for his others though. I loved this book. It helped me, it made me laugh, and it made my family laugh as I read King's very funny description of his not very funny life-threatening experience of being hit by a car while walking down a country road. With warmth and humor King tells the tale of how he tells his tales and also of his rise to writing fame. 

Pursue the Intentional Life by Jean Fleming

The best spiritual growth book of my year. I wrote about it here for the Nourish Series. I am planning on beginning it again in the new year. So so good. I can't think of a soul who wouldn't benefit from the wisdom on these pages.

{And... True Companion: Thoughts on Being A Pastor's Wife; The Nesting Place: It Doesn't have to be Perfect to be Beautiful}

There are ten of the books {and four others} that made my 2014 more special but so many more added to my days. All of my books to date are listed here at

Happy Happy New Year! I wish you many happy reads in 2015!

Now ...I'm off to dive into my current book...there's still time in 2014 for me to attempt an upset!

If you, like me, are crazy for year end booklists head over to Modern Mrs. Darcy's Best Books blog post for list upon list upon list. It's the perfect place to plan your reading for 2015! 

Saturday, December 27, 2014

The Post-Christmas Post

It's two days after Christmas and there are still leftovers in the fridge, lights on the tree, and fresh toys and games and clothes to be enjoyed. We have been loved on by our families we have visited with friends, we have enjoyed the pleasure of a gift card or two, and we are ever so gently turning our attentions toward the new year...but first I want to sit and ponder this Christmas for just for a few moments more...

There was a sweet Christmas play...

...there were cookies...

...and more cookies...

...and cookie helpers...

...for a Christmas Cookie Reception...

There was Christmas with cousins just a few days before...

 Then Christmas day...

...listening intently as Dad read the last Advent reading before opening gifts... ;-)

Then there were the gifts.

Teenager-y clothes gifts...

Gifts that required driving to other towns to obtain...

Gifts that brought great joy...

Gifts that promise adventure and luxury...

...and gifts WHO are precious...

There were grandparents...

Then there was Christmas dinner.

There is one more Christmas memory I'd like to record...actually, I've already recorded it from around the corner when a little girl thought she was alone and it is easily my favorite thing from this season...

...because if there is no Christmas story and no Christmas Savior...none of the rest of Christmas matters at all...

...but there IS the Christmas story and there IS a Christmas Savior. 

"The Christmas candle burns hot...,giving its brilliant light, because Christmas goes on forever. Because we have Jesus with us--the greatest Gift of unfailing, unbeatable, unstoppable love that we can keep unwrapping all our days." ~Ann Voskamp

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Peanut Butter Popcorn for snacking and sharing...

My grandma was a peanut butter fanatic. I foggily remember that after achieving a goal in Weight Watchers all she wanted was a spoonful of the stuff. Grandma had recipes for delicious chunky peanut butter cookies (sent to my college dorm) and a slick peanut butter fudge, but my favorite peanut butter creation of hers continues to be her peanut butter popcorn. This year the kids and I decided to change up our teacher gifting this year and give the popcorn in place of the snicker doodles.

We enjoyed the change if just for a year and we had fun working together (mostly) to make Granny's recipe and show our teachers we appreciate their work on our behalf.

The recipe is simple, requires few ingredients, and makes quite a bit of very addictive peanut butter popcorn. Here's how we make it:

What you'll need:

1 cup sugar
1/2 cup honey
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1 cup peanut butter (go high quality here, no thin runny stuff)
1 teaspoon vanilla
Popcorn, popped*

*I pop a full 1 cup of kernels and I think it ends up yielding somewhere between 12-15 cups of popped corn. The more popcorn you use, the thinner covering of peanut butter sauce, the less popcorn, the thicker the sauce covering.

Here's what to do...

While you cook the sauce, have your clean-handed kids sort out any unpopped kernels (it would NOT be a gift for one of the recipients to break a tooth on a tough kernel!).

{Popcorn pictured is from 2-3 batches of popcorn.}

Next in a medium-sized saucepan combine the sugar, corn syrup...

...and honey.

Stir well to combine.

Heat to a hard boil and allow to boil for two minutes.

You'll absolutely want to set a timer. Over-boiling just wouldn't be prudent!!

{This timer comes with a quick read thermometer and is beyond useful...super gift idea for the chef in your life!}

When your timer buzzes the end of two minutes, remove from heat and add the peanut butter...

...and the vanilla.

Stir, stir, stir until very smooth making sure all the peanut butter clumps are melted.

Put the popcorn in a large bowl or on a cookie sheet and pour the peanut butter sauce over it immediately.

Then stir until sauce is distributed evenly through popcorn paying particular attention to the bottom of the pan where the sauce will pool if left to its own devices!

Allow popcorn to cool for about 10-15 minutes and then place in desired containers...

Label them and watch as your kids get to enjoy giving their gifts!

NOTE: You may want to make extra OR decide not to sample even one kernel because once you start eating it...well, just go on ahead and make the extra batch.

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