Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year, friends! Bonne Année, mes amis!
How are you celebrating the birth of a brand new year?
We'll be hanging out at home, ringing in 2010 with an armload of fireworks and a glass of Todd's muscadine wine.
Whatever your plans, I wish you much happiness and good health. (So ignore Santa's gift of lung cancer in the video, s'il vous plaît!)
Love, Becky

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas!

Painting by Frederico Barocci, 1597.
Thank you, friends, for all you mean to me. I'm so thankful for each of you, and I hope your holiday is full of peace and laughter.
Merry Christmas to you!
Love, Becky

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

When Christmas Jumps the Tracks

Is your Christmas train rolling along on schedule or veering out of control?
If you're like me, you have this beautiful idea in your head of all the things your family must do together before you can check the box that a nice Christmas was had by all.
Things like decorating gingerbread houses...

Or decking the halls, (check) or taking a drive to see the lights. (Check, even though somebody in our car got grouchy.)
Sometimes I'm so in the throws of getting all these things organized that I end up doing something stupid. Yey for stupidity, because it stops me in my tracks and forces me to S L O W down and remember what Christmas is really for.

What stupidity, you ask?
Last night I spent forty five minutes trying to find gifts for the kids that I had hidden entirely too well. I did finally find them, thank goodness.
But my Super Big Stupid Thing of 2009 happened on Monday. At at the hour we were supposed to be sitting in the cold roasting marshmallows and having the grand solstice celebration I had bragged about on Monday, I was a twisted mess on my bed, trying not to faint or throw a fit while my husband tried for an hour and a half to get a splinter out of my right pointer finger. I got it in a mad rush to cross one more thing off my To Do list. I was just going to clean the extra leaf of our dinning room table and rammed a splinter of veneer into my flesh. I'm not a good patient and it really hurt, but my sweet husband is an incredibly patient man. I'm so thankful for him.
So after it was out, I sat on the bed, held my poor finger, and watched Christmas movies. And you know what? People showed up and sat with me. It was just what I needed.

We moved solstice to Tuesday night.
It was a roaring success!

The s'mores were worth the wait.

Now on to other things...
I love that Christmas is full of surprises. (Though I'd be glad to stick to the happy ones. No splinters, please.)
I got a big surprise yesterday!
I entered a little contest over at on Monday (before the splinter) and guess what! I won a $250 gift card!! Whoo hoo! Ree Drummond, the Pioneer Woman herself, randomly picked my name. Do you know Ree? I've known her from way back (okay, maybe a couple of years) before she published her cookbook and got all famous, jet setting to appear on TV with Paula Deen and Bonnie Hunt. The cookbook looks great, doesn't it?

Thank you, Ree!
Are you feeling lucky? She's got a couple more drawings this week. Why not enter? And while you're there, explore her blog a little. She's great at keeping life real, showing the dirty dishes along with the gorgeous food.

Today I'm happy that Christmas comes whether our house is in magazine style perfection or life is a royal mess.
Have a wonderful Wednesday, y'all!
Love, Becky

Monday, December 21, 2009

Christmas by Candlelight. And My Pagan Baptist Husband. / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
(Great job, KevinOQ. What a terrific photo!)

Last night was the Lessons and Carols service at our church, and I must confess, I didn't really feel like going. No, I hadn't turned into Mrs. Grinch, with termites in my smile and garlic in my soul. It had been a busy weekend, we'd already been to Sunday school and church that morning, and I just wanted to slouch around the house and finish the crossword and try not to think about how many calories I'd ingested in all those Christmas cookies I saved from Tanner. Plus, I occasionally like to pretend I'm a hermit. The service attracts huge crowds of people I've never even seen before, and lots of folks get there an hour early just to secure a pew up front.
Ugh, crowds.
Also, there's the candle thing. It's probably because of the years I spent teaching chemistry, but the thought of hundreds of candles held by preschoolers and old people with shaky hands and women with so much made me nervous. Or maybe it was an excuse.
I just didn't feel like fooling with the whole thing.

"But it's the candlelight service," Sarah said. "You don't really want to miss that."
I sort of did, to tell the truth. But we went anyway.

It was exquisite.
The children reading the scripture, the big extended families taking up entire pews, the little ones bouncing off the walls, the glow of the candlelight on faces of people I've loved since my college student was a pink newborn.

I love how the sanctuary gets darker and darker as the lessons and carols advance, until virtually the only light is the one flickering from the advent wreath. Then, as we take the light from the Christ candle and share it with each other, the room brightens again. What a lovely symbol!

That reminds me. The winter solstice is today. Did you know?
I'm so glad that early Christians chose to put Christmas right around the time of the pagan celebration of the winter solstice, the return of light after the longest night of the year. In fact my wonderfully geeky husband is so delighted with the timing that a few years ago he started an annual bonfire celebration in our backyard. It's a chance to trade the Christmas cookies for marshmallow roasting for a night, and to celebrate the transition of darkness into light.
We may be the only Baptists on the block adding a little solstice to our Christmas cheer, but it seems to me like a perfect fit.

In case you're not planning to fire up your own yule log, I brought you one. Enjoy the light!
Love, Becky

Friday, December 18, 2009

My Dog Is a Bad Boy

This blog post was supposed to be all about my favorite Christmas treat: the Moravian White Christmas Cookie. I was going to tell you about how my mom always baked dozens of them when I was growing up,filling our house and my childhood Christmas memories with the scent of nutmeg. I was going to explain that to decorate them is really gilding the lily, that they're perfect in their naked state, maybe a little brown around the edges for a husband who likes everything slightly burned.
I was going to say all that. And include photos.
So I put three cookies on a plate, shoved all the wrapping paper to the other end of the dining room table, and pulled the camera up to my face.

The first photo I took was terrible.
I'm going to show it to you just for evidence, but shield your eyes from the glare, okay?

See what I mean? Sorry. For some reason I always do that with the first pic with a flash. I should really care more about learning how to use that camera.
But that's not why I'm showing you the photo. Notice that there are three cookies on that plate, right? Three.
A teddy bear, a slightly off kilter Christmas tree, and an angel.
But in the first photo there are two. WHAT HAPPENED?

I'll show you what happened.
I got ready to take my second pic, and...see for yourself.

Honest! That wasn't posed. At the exact moment I took the photo, Tanner the Slobber Dog attacked my plate of cookies!
Bad, bad dog.
(But on a different subject, what a good photo that is. Just look at his doggy eyelashes.)
Back to the scolding. Bad dog.
Here's pic #3.

How's that for a naughty boy? He doesn't even have the decency to run under the table or look the least bit sorry.
In fact, he gave the edge of the table a lick, just in case he missed a few crumbs.

Oh Tanner.
It's a good thing we love you so much.
Now go back to your daily routine. I'm putting the cookies out of your reach.

Have a great Friday, y'all, and a super weekend!
And if you've got time to bake, here's a cookie that just might become a tradition at your house.

Moravian White Cookies (as opposed to the brown ones they serve at Old Salem in Winston Salem, NC)
3cups sifted all purpose flour
1tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp nutmeg
3/4 cups butter, soft
1 1/4 cups sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
Mix together the flour, baking powder, salt and nutmeg. In a separate bowl, cream the butter with the sugar. Add the eggs and vanilla and mix well. Slowly incorporate all the dry ingredients.
Refrigerate the dough overnight or several hours. When you're ready to bake, preheat the oven to 400 F. Roll out the dough to 1/8 inch thick and cut into shapes with floured cookie cutters. Place on ungreased cookie sheets. Bake about 8 minutes or just until light brown around the edges. (Or browner, if you're married to Todd Ramsey.)
Makes about 5 dozen.
Love, Becky

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

O Come Emmanuel / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
Earlier this week I heard from a very dear friend of some tragic news in her family. Her brother, who had just been diagnosed with lung cancer in late October, took his own life over the weekend. Apparently he had an MRI and found out Thursday or Friday that his cancer had spread to the bone. He didn't want to put his family through any more pain.

Of course his family's hearts are broken. If you're one who prays, won't you remember my friend, her other brother, and her sweet parents?

In this beautiful season of Happy Happy and God's most glorious gift to the world, so many of us are suffering with grief and disappointment, hopelessness and pain. We desperately need Emmanuel to come now more than ever. Ours is a hurting world. That's the whole reason Christmas came anyway, right?

My friends, I wish for you a season of only joy. May the blues of Christmas be found only in your lights and wrapping paper.

Love, Becky

Monday, December 14, 2009

What's Your Favorite Carol, Carol?

Do you cats like to sing?

These gorgeous ladies from my church circle do.

And no, that's not Santa there on the couch, far right. That's me, with the combination of incredibly poor posture and the pinkish sweater that gives me either a nine month old fetus or Santa's jelly belly, which I really don't have. (Not much of one, that is.) I would have used a different photo, but the other one made me look like Santa had replaced the eggnog with straight rum, no ice.

So back to the caroling.
I had the best time at our Christmas party last week because guess what we did.
No, I'm not talking about the Christmas trees and stars we tore out of paper with our eyes closed.
We stood around the piano and sang Christmas carols!
Yes we did! Silly ones, holy ones, ones we knew the words to and others we didn't. (Hint: for ones you don't know, just mouth the word watermelon over and over again and no one will know the difference.) Singing carols at the piano was SO FUN! I plan to force my family to do it! You heard right, kids! It's going to be great!
Sorry for all the exclamation points, but they're absolutely necessary.

What about you? Do you do this, or does the cheese factor of such a Norman Rockwell moment frighten you a bit? I say, DIVE INTO the cheesiness. Embrace it. You'll be surprised how it fills your heart with Christmas joy.

Before you go, a couple questions. Which carol would you insist on singing? One that drives you crazy? Favorite new one? Old one?

As for me, here's my list of notables:
Silver Bells--from the Christmas album my family used to play
Little Donkey--taught to me by a British friend during our French life
Il est né le Divin Enfant--also from our French life. It's so lovely.
Silent Night--no explanation necessary. It's not Christmas without it, sung by candlelight.
But in my opinion, you can leave We Three Kings off the list. I love the melody, but my brain won't stop replacing the words with "tried to smoke a rubber cigar. It was loaded and exploded..."

Now it's your turn. Please share!
And while you're at it, won't you learn the words to the carol below? It's one of my favorites and nobody knows it.
Love, Becky

Friday, December 11, 2009

Paper Magic

Hi Ho Silver! Does your inner genius need a jolt?
Follow me over to Jayme McGowan's blog, Roadside Projects, and watch the dial of your meter-o'-creativity spin out of control! What a wonder-land!
Take a look at the magic she works with paper.

Her art is like a good book, transporting you to another world.
How perfect! The title of the above work is A Good Book. You can find it in this good book here.

Wouldn't it be fun to find that under your tree Christmas morning?
Or better yet, one of her creations!
You can find them at her etsy shop. And if you can't afford the original works, you can buy yourself a print.
I'm in love with this one.

But I like the movement of this one too.

Time to go!

If only I had that magic bicycle! Think how quickly I could get my Christmas errands done on that!

Have a terrific Friday and a super weekend, y'all!
Love, Becky

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

What's Your Favorite Christmas TV Special?

And Merry Christmas to you too!

I don't know about you, but I have such mixed up feelings about television. Some days I'd gladly chuck our sets to the curb if it weren't for the mutiny I'd cause in my household. Other days I want to wrap my arms around my television and give it a great smooch. Like on Sunday nights, after Mad Men, or on Saturday nights, after the British comedies on PBS. Or during THE ENTIRE CHRISTMAS SEASON!

Every year I can't wait to curl up in my bed with my youngest child and watch Pig Pen promise to be a very neat innkeeper, Winter Warlock cry tears of regret, and Snow Miser and Heat Miser bicker on the phone while Mrs. Claus plays peacemaker. It makes my toes curl with happiness.

So what about you? What's your favorite Christmas show on TV? Do share!
Have a wonder-full Wednesday, y'all!
Love, Becky

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Inman Hijacked My Weekend. Yey!

Did you trim your tree this weekend?
My tannenbaum has been crouching naked in my living room since Thanksgiving, and I had such lovely visions of circling the tree with my family on Saturday, hot cocoa in hand, warm in the glow of the Christmas lights and the memories.
Unfortunately, it didn't happen. Yet. (I still have hope.)
But something glorious did happen, something completely selfish, though my family didn't seem to notice or mind (except at dinner time.) The something made me feel rested and satisfied and ready for Christmas: a book took over Decorating Day.

The book is Cold Mountain. Yes, the one that came out way back before Sam was even born, the book that sent Todd over the moon. He begged me to read it and promised that I'd love it so much that I'd want to name the child in my womb Ava or Inman.
I was unmoved. I have this problem that whenever books get lots of hype, I can't make myself read them, no matter how glowing the reviews. I always give in after the hoopla has died down, once nobody wants to gush about them anymore. I don't know why I'm like that.

Anyway, I noticed it on a bookshelf on Friday afternoon, and finished reading the last page around 11 pm Saturday night. The tree was still naked, the laundry piles had grown, and my family was in serious need of vitamins, but I felt completely elevated, improved, just by reading the words, by knowing the characters and their story.

Maybe I'm just basking in the afterglow, but Cold Mountain gave me all that great writing can offer: an opportunity to deepen my experience with courage and honor, hope and pride, compassion and pity and sacrifice. (William Faulkner's words, not mine. :) ) After loving the book so much, I'm not sure I want to see the movie. Did you see it? What did you think? The trailer is beautiful, but it makes the story out to be all about the Civil War, which it's really not. Though this clip has got to be the most romantic scene of all time. (Have a cold washcloth handy if you dare to watch it. It will make you swoon.)

Cold Mountain made me think of two other novels that recently moved me deeply, that also depict broken people trying to survive, to make the best of life that they can, to find beauty and truth and love. You probably read them long ago but I'll share them just the same, along with a few non fiction books I've enjoyed this year. Won't you tell me your latest faves? Now that I'm all rested, I'm ready to go shopping. Books make the perfect gift!
First, the two novels:

You must read this beautiful book. It's set in Crosby, Maine, and the thirteen short stories are linked together through the character of Olive Kitteridge. If I didn't know she was a fictional character, I'd swear she must be a distant cousin to grumpy Madame Mallet, from the pages of my French life. I've already read this book twice and have started on a third time. Hopefully I can hold off until after Christmas, or I may never get my cards sent out!

This is a horrifying, amazing book. It will stun and disgust you, but I don't know that I've ever any depiction more beautiful of the love a father has for his son.

So those are my three favorite works of fiction I've read this year.
But there are works of non fiction that I've loved as well, all memoir. (Surprise, surprise. My favorite genre.)

When Timothy Tyson was ten years old, a young black man was murdered in Timothy's hometown of Oxford, North Carolina. This is the story of his quest to understand what happened. I'll never be able to forget this book, nor would I want to.

I found this book in my church library, took it home and promptly fell in love with it. It's #1 on my Christmas list. (Listening, Santa?) It's all about finding the sacred in everyday life, my favorite topic in the whole wide world.

I finished this book a few weeks ago, one woman's collection of stories of grace, discovered all over the world.

And lastly, this sweet one.

The cover and title are PERFECT! It's the memoir of a Southern Baptist preacher's kid, and it's hilarious and touching and I loved every minute.

Won't you share your favorite books of the year with me?
Have a wonder-full Monday, y'all!
Love, Becky
PS. If you've got a teen girl on your list or just enjoy young adult fiction, you've got to look at the Miracle Girl series. I LOVED Anne and May's chic lit books, so I knew they'd be good. I've only read the first one so far, but I found it smart, witty, and true to life. (And having teens in my house, I should know.) Plus they're friends of mine and lovely people. Go Anne and May!
And go Cold Mountain! Better late than never!

Friday, December 4, 2009

Phantom of the Inn...Would You Believe It?

Do you believe in ghosts? (Besides the Holy one, I mean.)
If you asked me, I'd say, "Of course not," but I still might check behind the shower curtain when nobody's looking. (I'd be more worried about Norman Bates than any of Casper's relatives.)

After all, everybody knows that ghosts only show up in Scooby Doo mysteries, and then they're not really ghosts at all but the work of mentally deranged innkeepers who would have gotten away with it if it weren't for those meddling kids.

I've always assumed that ghosts and ghost busters are only in the movies (along with the Stay Puft marshmallow man.) People see what they want to see, don't they?
But then my completely sane husband came home yesterday from a business trip to Nova Scotia with a story that's rattled me a bit.
See what you think.

Whenever Todd goes to Nova Scotia, the Michelin travel people reserve him a room at the Blomidon Inn, the local bed and breakfast pictured in the Courier & Ives scene above. I should tell you that my husband is not really a B&B kind of guy. He'd rather have a big TV in the room than rocking chairs on the porch, and he doesn't cotton to sitting with a table full of stranger ladies for tea. We did B&B's plenty in France, and it was a lovely way to spend a vacation once we got used to it, but when he works? Not so much.
When he works, he wants to work, sleep, then repeat. So he just ignores the doilies. It's always worked out fine.

And why shouldn't it be fine?
Look at the beautiful rooms!

The place is full of gorgeous antiques, big fluffy beds that require a step stool...

Tons of mahoghany and teak...

Flickr photo by west.advocate
And plenty of old paintings with googly eyes that follow you all around, just like in Scooby Doo. (Do you see a pattern here?)
Check out the eyes in the painting above. Those belong to Captain Burgess, the wealthy sea captain and ship builder who built the stately Victorian as a home for his family.

"I felt uneasy the whole night," Todd told me. "I know it sounds crazy, but it felt like somebody else was in the room. I hardly slept."
If you know my husband, then you know that he's built like a football player and is very brave. (Except for the time years ago when we heard a noise in the garage and he threw me out in front of him when he opened the door. But I promised I wouldn't bring that up again.)
He flipped channels and dozed on and off, all night long.

So the next morning at the factory, he told a coworker about his rough night. The coworker wasn't surprised one bit, and shared a couple stories of his own. One involved a mutual friend of theirs (a PhD chemist, if that helps you believe it.) She stayed in Captain Burgess' room on her last business trip and woke up around 3 am to find Captain Burgess standing at the foot of the bed!
"Why are you in my bed?" the image asked her.
She promptly threw her things in a suitcase, ran to her rental car, and checked into a different hotel.

Crazy, huh? A waitress at the inn said it happens all the time.
What do you think? Do you believe it, or should we track down the innkeeper and check for a mask?

Have a great weekend, y'all!
Love, Becky
PS. Now I can't stop thinking about this...

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Invasion of the Elves

In the craziness of the Christmas season, I keep trying to call forth the peace and stillness that the shepherds might have shared on the silent grazing fields. But then I remember that the angels came and kind of blew that away with heavenly Joy.
Now, if I could just focus on the joy part, and not so much on the nutty run-around-like-a-chicken-with-my-head-cut-off part.

So in the spirit of Christmas JOY, enjoy dancing with Santa's helpers. Maybe when they're done with their fun, they can attack our To Do lists!
Have a fabulous Wednesday, y'all!
Love, Becky