Always be yourself. Unless you can be a pirate. Then always be a pirate.
So you won't believe what I'm about to tell you. But I can prove it.
My black-hearted pirate self has been thoughtfully and humorously rendered, caricature style, in an intricately-detailed custom-made hand-carved figure so marvelously authentic, so brilliantly wrought, that upon receipt of same into my hands, it became an instant heirloom.
A classic, as it were.
When the undertaker closes the lid on me? My kids will fight over who inherits this.
Not all treasure is silver and gold, mate.
To avoid confusion -- and a potentially irreparable rift in the family -- I shall amend my Last Will and Testament immediately, bequeathing said objet d'art to the Columbia Museum of Art, which institution shall likely display it in a permanent collection devoted to local noodles.
There, for all of posterity, not only those who survive me but the public at large may view and marvel at this extraordinary creation.
Allow me to explain how it came to be.
For several years -- practically my whole blogging life -- I have read and enjoyed the blog of one Mari Bruins of Allendale, Michigan.
Reading My Little Corner of the World is a delight because of the friendship I treasure with its owner, a kind and special lady whom I have never had the honor of meeting in person but who, for several reasons, is important to me nonetheless.
Those fortunate enough to have become acquainted with Mari through her blog have seen many instances of the enormous God-given talent of her husband, Bob, in the area of wood carvings.
He makes furniture and stuff too. Yeah. Bob's skill is not confined to whittling, no matter how elaborate.
In his meticulously-kept woodworking shop, I do believe Bob Bruins could make just about anything except maybe an atomic bomb.
So it was that, years ago upon marveling at pictures of Bob's wood carvings displayed and discussed on Mari's blog, I may have mentioned that I sure would like to someday own a pirate carving.
As in, wouldn't it be neat if Bob carved a pirate that I could maybe buy, if I could afford it? Because I don't know what it costs to commission a Robert Bruins original carving, but if it isn't a lot, it should be.
I promptly forgot all about the whole thing. Until last Friday night.
That's when I came home to find a box on the floor beside my desk where TG had put it after retrieving it from beside the front door, where FedEx had put it.
I could tell by the return address that the package had originated from a business in Allendale, Michigan. A business where, from reading his wife's blog, I know Bob Bruins is a manager.
Still, you could have blown me down with a feather when, upon unwrapping the box and a second box contained within the first box, my own pirate self in effigy emerged.
A hand-carved Jenny the Pirate standing approximately ten inches high, with a plate affixed identifying said treasure as such.
An original signed Robert Bruins art piece. My very own original signed Robert Bruins art piece.
I was a touch overwhelmed. TG and Erica were present when I opened my gift and honestly, their peals of laughter told me that Bob and Mari Bruins had pulled off a major coup.
So naturally I summoned the two miscreants on me pirate cellie and we had a conference call in which Mari revealed amid much chuckling on all sides that she'd never forgotten my stated wish to own a Robert Bruins carving in the form of a pirate.
And at some point in time this now quickly-waning calendar twelvemonth, Mari suggested to her beloved that this be the year when he created said pirate.
Bob chimed in, claiming he enjoyed making the pirate so much (using a photo of me to approximate my eyebrows, my rouged cheeks, my red-lipsticked lips, my black hair, my large-ish nose, and my curmudgeonly gaze, if not technically my normal wardrobe), that he was amused to the point of laughter multiple times during the process.
Robert Bruins is positively an elf! Aided and abetted by his sweet but cagey wife. She/they may be pirates same as me.
But don't you love my pirate attire, non-standard for me as it is? The coat, the crossbody belt, the red vest, the white ruffled blouse? Also I am sporting gold pirate swag on each hand.
Jenny the Pirate's sword is magnificent, and the hat -- well. Pirate perfection.
You'll notice the boots, clearly of well-traveled genuine leather, a must-have for any pirate worth his/her salt, and the wood planks on which they are poised -- the deck, no doubt, of a beautiful boat. Ship.
Uh-oh. One or two pieces of eight seem to have escaped from the pirate's well-stuffed parcel of pelf.
Apparently there's a leak.
Even so, never shall I be without my effects. And the whole thing has that wonderful wood-and-varnish smell. I love it to the entire ocean and back.
When you have a moment, check out Bob's website By His Hands: Caricature Carvings by Robert Bruins.
So named due to Bob's giving all the credit to his Creator for the talent in his own hands.
In fact, Bob places a minuscule but significant handprint somewhere on each of his custom creations.
A special card affixed by a bit of twine to my pirate's leg reads:
When God formed man he figuratively left his hand prints on his creation. Genesis 1:27 says we are made in the image of God, reflecting his attributes and ways.
"By His Hands" carvings are the outcome of the creative gift God has given me. The mini hand print you will find on my pieces is there to give credit where it is due, to God alone.
Jenny the Pirate's tiny symbolic handprint is strategically placed on its shoulder, where I most often need gentle nudges in the right direction.
As it should be.
Ever shall this magnificent and unique gift be displayed with love and pride in my home.
Thank you from the bottom of my heart, Bob -- you're a diamond, mate -- and Mari too. I may be a black sheep and a really bad egg, but I'm a truly grateful pirate.
Now bring me that horizon.
Happy Monday ~ Merry Week-Before-Christmas
Last week I promised to share the results of the Audrey/Dagny photo shoot with you this Monday, and I did. You may see those photos here.
I've got Christmas music blaring -- here in the family room through hidden speakers and outside on the deck, emanating from our speakers that look like rocks.
You're welcome, neighborhood.
My large main Christmas tree is sparkling a few feet away. A second Christmas tree twinkles in the kitchen.
Christmas presents are scattered beneath the Christmas trees.
The front of my house is decorated with Christmas lights, Christmas greenery, and a pointedly Christmasy door ornament.
There are Christmas cards waiting to be addressed.
There is Christmas wrapping paper and various related accoutrement sitting at the ready to be flung around Christmas gifts large and small.
In my email sit Christmas wish-lists that I requested from my children.
The Christmas menu is planned and although the Christmas food-foraging list has not yet been committed to paper, it soon will be.
And that reminds me: I still need to go Christmas shopping.
That's because it's Christmas.
Not merely a season. Not just another holiday. Not winter solstice. Not winter break.
It is Christmastime.
Have you gone abroad -- at school, to work, to the marketplace both real and virtual, even to church, in some cases -- looking for Christmas and been offered, instead, all manner of lame, diluted euphemisms?
Worse yet, have you been indirectly shamed into not mentioning it by name? Have you bought into that particularly vile tentacle of political correctness?
Like most people, I've loved this time of year ever since I was a little kid with more nonsense in me than actual awareness of the significance attached to such events.
We didn't go to church so I was dumb as a box of hair when it came to what lots of things really meant.
So what was special about that early spring Sunday? Dressing up (maybe) and a basketful of jellybeans and chocolate bunnies. The thirty-first of October? Dressing up (certainly) and begging enough candy to rot both my own teeth and our dog's.
The fourth of July? Beach time. Mosquito bites and sparklers. The fourth Thursday in November? All manner of edible treats particular to that day, especially when we went over the bayou and through the woods to my grandmother's house in Baton Rouge.
Christmas? Getting stuff. Presents. Some Sanny Claus thrown in for effect.
Wait. Is there more?
As I learned when I was a young teenager, there is more: The purpose of Christmas is to celebrate the birth of Christ. It's a day on which we celebrate not what we can get, but what He freely gave.
Yet as years pile upon years, it seems the world is more determined than ever to mark the month of December with observance of anything and everything but the Baby born in a manger.
On Sunday morning I was getting ready for church, which I do upstairs, in a bedroom across the hall from our guest room. One of my offices, as it were.
There's a TV in the guest room so I flicked it on and turned to the DirecTV channel that purports to play music of the season. My ears were eager for O Come All Ye Faithful, O Holy Night, Hark! The Herald Angels Sing, and Away in a Manger.
An hour elapsed in which I gradually became bathed, perfumed, hosieried, robed, powdered, mascaraed, coiffed, bejeweled, shod, and gloved. And I accomplished same all by me onesie, my lady-in-waiting having weekends off.
It was while reaching for a lightweight shawl and turning off the TV, preparing to join my TG and go to church, that I realized: In an entire hour of "seasonal" music, the only mention of anything non-secular had been when Alvin and the Chipmunks enjoined us to give thanks to the Lord above because Santa Claus comes tonight.
Shopping was mentioned, and being home for Christmas, and seasonal depression, and chestnuts roasting on an open fire, and it being cold outside, and letting it snow, and rocking around the Christmas tree, and walking in a winter wonderland, and dashing through the snow, and long winters' naps and road trips to visit relatives, and Santa Baby, and Mommy kissing Santa Claus, and jingling bells and mistletoe.
Baby Jesus never made the playlist. No room for Him there.
Later I complained to Erica about it. She replied that she was having a hard time getting any clerk in a retail setting to say Merry Christmas back to her when she first said it to them.
Forget them ever saying it first. If that happens to you, I hope you'll tell me about it, because I'm pretty sure it's forbidden by most if not all store managers, for an employee to offer that greeting to a customer.
But that is not all. Now, someone saying it back when the customer says it -- which I do each and every time I shop during December -- becomes a notable event.
Now, I haven't been Christmas shopping yet (except online) so the opportunity hasn't presented itself.
But that very night TG and I swung by a major retailer so that I could pick up, among other items, Christmas cards and Christmas boxes (in which I plan to put Christmas presents to arrange under the Christmas trees).
And when we checked out, I said Merry Christmas! to our very efficient and pleasant cashier. It was latish; I'm sure she was tired and ready to go home.
But I got the biggest smile. Merry Christmas to you! she said. And it made my heart glad.
I'll stop soon -- you have that to look forward to -- but not before I make a solemn promise, both to myself and to you and to whomever else may be remotely interested:
I won't spend money on Christmas presents, swelling the coffers of retailers who aggressively promote the spending of Christmas dollars at their outlets, if said retailer refuses to acknowledge that what this spending and celebrating is all about, is Christmas.
All they have to do is use the word! In print in their advertisements and throughout their store. And verbally: Say it! Say the word Christmas. Say Merry Christmas, not Happy Holidays. Because the word Christmas contains the name of Christ, without Whom there is no reason to say it at all.
Let's be honest: If His name sticks in their throats, my debit card sticks in my wallet.
Because although the season definitely does have to do with the start of winter, with invocations of Santa Claus, with spending money you don't have to buy stuff people don't need, with ice skating and hot chocolate and mittens and jingle bells and twinkly lights and sappy movies, with gingerbread houses and greenery, with snowmen and reindeer and bulging sleighs, with sugarplums and nutcrackers and traveling home for pumpkin pie, and with folks being simultaneously happier and sadder than usual, none of those things are the main message.
Certainly the parties and eating too much and drinking too much, the use of the sacred holiday of Christmas as (another) excuse to imbibe and indulge, is not the point.
Christmas celebrates the birth of the Savior of the world (even if He was not born on December 25th).
No matter what anyone says (or doesn't say), no matter how thoroughly the purpose for celebrating Christmas -- and even the word itself, offensive as it is to some -- is suppressed and ignored and covered with glitter that's not even close to being gold, they'll never succeed in changing what it really means.
And no matter how much red you wear or how blue you feel or how silver the bells or how much white you dream of, those things won't get you to the heart of Christmas.
But even that is okay. Do you want to know why? Because in the end (as at the beginning), it is what it is.
No amount of turning a deliberately deaf ear and a stubbornly blind eye, of making a point to ignore the reality of Christmas, or the Christ of Christmas, will alter the eventual outcome, which He has planned and for which He was born.
Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.
= Matthew 1:23 =
I pray this Christmas we will listen for that beautiful word, and say it both reverently and with joy, and savor it both on our tongues and in our innermost selves.
I plan to pursue and promote both its lovely timelessness and its eternal relevance, practicing forgiveness for those who don't understand and gratitude for those who do.
That is all for now.
As you know I meant to take a bunch of cute candids of the grandkids over Thanksgiving.
I envisioned a perfectly sharp and heartrendingly adorable photo of the four of them smiling into the camera, all faces wreathed in joyful abandon, nobody frowning or looking at the ground.
I'd planned to caption it Merry Christmas! For you.
That didn't actually happen. I cooked for two days, and then we ate -- sort of, if you don't count the throwing up at the table incident (no; not me) -- what I'd cooked, and then it was too dark to take pictures.
And I was too tired anyway. Instead, to relax I went outside and installed multicolored lights on the porch railing. I love the seamless segue from Thanksgiving to Christmas.
But on the next day -- Friday -- we all embarked on a planned photo shoot to take the annual Christmas card picture of my daughter Stephanie's family.
This is something TG and I did each year when the kids were much younger: around Thanksgiving we'd go somewhere local and pose up and someone would be pressganged into snapping our picture and I'd pick the one most flattering to me, and we'd go with that one for our card.
I insisted on said arrangement for lots of years -- favoring many eager recipients with an updated picture of our branch of the Weber clan just in time for Christmas -- before, around 1995, finally giving up.
That's because whenever I would suggest it was time to capture the annual family photo, TG would begin acting as though he'd rather be kicking a radioactive can on Pluto.
Miserable. He doesn't like posing for picutres. And it shows.
Consequently it has been awhile since all of us -- if you don't count a couple of casual snaps taken over the last decade or so -- appeared all together in any sort of posed portrait.
So I packed up the tripod and the Nikon D7000 and the remote control so that I could operate said camera without being behind it, and we set out for downtown Columbia.
It was a very cold day, highs only in the mid forties, but there was considerable sun so naturally we scheduled the shoot for late afternoon.
The light, don't you know. There's love in the air at that time of day.
My grandchildren -- all except Dagny -- served as standard-bearers for the time-honored tradition of wearing classic argyle, which I thought was all kinds of cute.
Melanie and Allissa got new pale-pink tights and new black dressy shoes for the occasion.
I am prejudiced but I think the Bixlers are the cutest little family. They love being together and it shows. My son-in-law has never balked at posing for the Christmas photo.
But it's no pose when I tell you that everybody had a good time. It was cold and we worked fast, but there was merriment in the air. (I don't do Black Friday; I only do the First Day of Christmas.)
We'll pose up again in a few weeks when we all gather in North Carolina to celebrate our Melanie's tenth birthday.
I'll make sure to get plenty of sweet pictures of double-digit girl, our precious Melly Belle.
Meanwhile be patient until Monday, when I share with you the results of my Christmas card shoot with Audrey and Dagny. To tide you over, there's a sneak peek on my Instagram if you care to look.
And that is all for now.
Happy Thursday ~ Merry Christmas
Wot? Wait a second. December second?
It's not November no more? That means it's Christmas!
Yay my first Christmas! Outside the womb, that is. Wow guys. What a concept.
I wonder if my presents will bring as much joy to me this year as my presence has brought to others this year.
I seriously doubt it.
And that is all for now.
Happy Tuesday ~ Merry Christmas Everybody
Nobody has asked me what I was so busy whipping up in the kitchen on Saturday.
But even in the absence of nudgings, goosings, coaxings, and arm-twistings, I am prepared to disclose the details of my weekend culinary activities.
You may recall that for several years I walked the earth oven-less.
Short story. Not remotely riveting for all its brevity.
Suffice it to say, I compensated surprisingly well -- just think Crock-Pots, lots of them -- but now that I have a brand-new oven, I jolly well use it.
As a matter of fact scarcely a calendar day elapses that I don't fire up my feisty, shiny new oven, prompting me to wonder more than once:
What did I ever do without an oven?
But the question is rhetorical. What I did year after year was, I made do.
What I did not do was, I didn't bake my annual dozen-or-so loaves of banana-nut bread, with a few pumpkin loaves thrown in for the sake of variety.
This sort of thing has been a tradition for me since time out of mind.
At Thanksgiving and Christmas when one remembers certain family members, friends, and acquaintances, and feels compelled to give them a little something to enjoy in the festive holiday mood, a loaf of homemade banana-nut bread is a brilliant solution.
Also the way I do it, it's absurdly easy.
That's because I go semi-homemade.
And this being the season of sharing, here's my recipe:
SEMI-HOMEMADE BANANA-NUT BREAD
1 box Pillsbury Quick Bread (or generic brand) mix, banana (or pumpkin) flavor
(IF you use PQB brand in banana flavor, below are the exact directions. If you use another brand or make the pumpkin kind, read the box.)
(On second thought, read the box anyway.)
1/4 cup oil (I have used both canola and olive, the light-flavored kind)
1 cup water (I use buttermilk, or whole milk, never water, but you can)
1/2 cup (or more) walnut pieces (optional, but necessary if you're going for banana-nut bread)
1 fresh ripe banana, mashed (optional but if you want it to be like mine, don't leave this out)
Mix everything together well but don't overmix. I beat the eggs first but you don't have to.
Spray your loaf pan (glass works best) with cooking spray. Pour the batter into the prepared pan.
Bake in 375-degree oven for 45-50 minutes. I lay a piece of aluminum foil over the top for the last 5-10 minutes so the crust on top doesn't burn.
Test with a toothpick or cake tester. It's done when only moist crumbs emerge.
Cool, then wrap in foil to keep fresh.
If you make pumpkin bread instead of banana, use a generous dollop of canned pumpkin (not pumpkin pie mix) in place of the mashed banana.
You can also just as easily make muffins from this recipe. Again: For exact directions, read the box.
I make these breads two-at-a-time. It takes twice the ingredients but only one (big) mixing bowl and exactly the same amount of effort, and then you have a loaf to give and a loaf to keep. Or two loaves to give. Or keep.
While I was making bread on Saturday, I also made cranberry sauce from scratch.
No Crock-Pot will made to feel irrelevant or superfluous on my watch.
This is another impressive recipe that is ridiculously simple to make, but elegant either as an addition to your holiday table or to give away jarred in a cute bag along with a freshly-baked loaf.
HOMEMADE CRANBERRY SAUCE
2 packages FRESH whole cranberries (12 ounces each)
1 cup granulated white sugar
1 cup light (or dark) brown sugar
1 cup fresh (not from concentrate) orange juice
1/2 cup water
2 Tablespoons grated fresh ginger
1 cup sweetened DRIED cranberries
1 Tablespoon lemon (or orange) zest
In a Crock-Pot, mix together the FRESH cranberries, the sugars, the OJ, the water, and the grated ginger.
Cook on HIGH for three hours or so, until the cranberries have popped open.
Uncover, stir, and cook for 30 more minutes.
Unplug Crock-Pot. Add sweetened DRIED cranberries and lemon zest. Stir well.
Over the next several hours, allow the sauce to cool and thicken. Stir often.
Transfer to a glass dish with tight-fitting lid and chill in refrigerator overnight.
This is an extremely sweet-tart sauce best enjoyed sparingly.
Serve cold beside the turkey and dressing, or, to give as a gift, put a cupful in a pretty jar with some frilly embellishment or other.
So that's what I've been up to and I'll bet you're busy fixing a bunch of good stuff in your kitchen too.
Meanwhile things are taking brilliant shape around here, which basically involves me reminding TG for the third time to get the Christmas stuff down from the attic, and working hard to retain my festive mood while de-tangling last year's strands of Christmas lights.
All of my babies will be here for Thanksgiving. Won't you have fun looking at the pictures?
Speaking of pictures, tonight TG and I will (very carefully) remove the table-top glass and prop it off to the side so that I may rearrange the photos and add more.
As yet Baby Dagny is not represented there, a situation that must be remedied before Thursday.
Also I'd like to work in several more recent pictures of my other three littles, and a few shots of Andrew in and around the KC-135 and his unit.
Everything is in a state of flux but soon enough the dust will settle. Best relax and enjoy the ride.
And that is all for now.
Happy Tuesday ~ Happy Thanksgiving Week
On Saturday I was in the kitchen, preparing various homemade goodies, when I began mentally concocting a Thanksgiving centerpiece for our dining table.
The family are all arriving on Wednesday; everything must be festive.
I already had some real fake flowers (they're not really flowers but let's face it, neither are they figments of the imagination) that, for a few falls past, augmented by real fake leaves and ferns, adorned our front door.
Having tired of that arrangement, this year I put up an appropriately autumny wreath purchased for twenty dollars at a local retailer.
Thirty seconds to cut off the tag, throw it onto the door, and you're done.
As a bonus feature, the birds won't nest in a wreath as readily as they used to camp out on my door-bucket flower arrangements. I don't think.
Although -- here's a tip -- the red-white-blue patriotic flowers that filled my door bucket last summer were free from nests because I added a pinwheel. Birds don't like shiny things, especially when the shiny things move.
So anyway those "flowers" were chilling upstairs in one of my many offices and I decided to haul them out.
Having done that, I went to the cupboard and retrieved a teapot that doesn't often see the light of day.
(An acquaintance who once told me she could out-Martha-Stewart Martha Stewart with one hand tied behind her back, her feet in cement, and without turning a hair, taught me that odd numbers please the eye whereas even numbers generally do not.)
I may not be able to lay a finger on the hem of (either) Martha's garment, but I can count.
Six is even, though, you may be thinking. Yes. But seven is odd. Remember the teapot? Do keep up.
Having assembled all of that stuff, I got some scissors and proceeded to turn the stalks-of-three flowers into individual flowers.
Ouch. That maneuver is tough on the aforementioned fingers. Perhaps I need a Martha-Stewarty tool for hacking through the stems of real fake flowers.
At any rate I now have a glassy flowery lineup marching down the center of my eighty-four-inch table, the one plastered with treasured photos and topped with yet more glass.
For Thanksgiving dinner I think I'll group the vinegar-bottle vases on the buffet and let the teapot go solo, flanked by candles.
So ... spiffy or iffy? You decide.
Should you find the result of my burst of creativity to be tacky, however, kindly keep it to yourself. Audrey came over and made a strange face in its direction; I'm pretty sure she was trying not to laugh out loud.
If you like it though, feel free to steal my idea in any fashion that suits your fancy.
It's all I have to bring today.
It’s all I have to bring today —
This, and my heart beside —
This, and my heart, and all the fields —
And all the meadows wide —
Be sure you count — should I forget
Some one the sum could tell —
This, and my heart, and all the Bees
Which in the Clover dwell.
= Emily Dickinson =
Happy Monday ~ Happy Thanksgiving Week
Congratulations are in order to Senior Airman Andrew Weber.
Several weeks ago, Andrew embarked on an arduous course of study that, upon its completion in early December, will result in his promotion to Staff Sergeant.
His father and sisters and I are very proud of his achievements. More than that, we are grateful for all that this sweet and dedicated young man means to our family.
Happy Friday ~ Happy Weekend