31 December 2007

In honor of Hogmanay

Bliadhna mhath ùr!
(Happy New Year!)
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Recipe: Does everyone else already know about these rolls?

This morning, we had some holy-cow-are-these-good cinnamon rolls for breakfast. I think everyone else in the world might already know about them, but I'm completely impressed by a.) their make-ahead ease and b.) their complete deliciousness and c.) their relative cheapness. I love homemade cinnamon rolls as much as the next person, but...ummm....that just doesn't happen very often 'round here. Thus I must share this great alternative. Which also won't happen much 'round here, but more for caloric reasons than anything else. :)
Note: I've seen this recipe for years and been afraid because of the pudding, but today we needed something to celebrate the first day of Christmas vacation when NONE of us have ANYTHING to do, so I decided to try them. I'm a convert. I'm going to start taking them to church on fellowship Sundays -- they're THAT easy.

1 package frozen dinner rolls (I used Kroger brand)
1 package vanilla pudding mix
1 cup brown sugar
1 stick butter, melted

The night before, grease a bundt pan or tube pan of some sort.
Throw rolls into it. Sprinkle very liberally with cinnamon. Then sprinkle vanilla pudding on top. Then sprinkle brown sugar on the rolls. Then pour butter over rolls. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to sit at room temp overnight.
Cook at 325 for 25-30 minutes.
Cool slightly and invert.
Marvel in easy deliciousness.

29 December 2007

A sign of the apocalypse?

I kind of can't believe it, but for the first time in the ten years I've owned my little Christmas tree, it has been taken down before Epiphany.

And if I'm honest -- 10 days after Epiphany.

What does this mean?

26 December 2007

A merry day

Hope y'all had a merry Christmas!
We had a great celebration. On Christmas eve, we had friends over for dinner and then we went to our respective churches for a 7 p.m. service. Our Christmas eve service went well and since we wanted to make it to the 11 p.m. service at the Disciples church across the river, we had the kids open up their presents from us. I had gotten a playhouse for Annalivia and a crawling tube for Daniel when they went on sale after the summer season at Target. I think I spent about $5 on them. They were both a big hit and entertained them pretty well!
We went to church though we were the only morons with children there. We've decided that we will definitely need to go to mass next year. Or the Lutheran version of it. Lessons and Carols is definitely not for kids. Annalivia stayed awake for the ENTIRE thing and was pretty antsy by the singing of Silent Night at the end. Daniel had fallen asleep on the way into the service and woke up as we were getting his coat back on as we were leaving. Annalivia fell asleep before we left the driveway of the church. Daniel took about a block longer.
After the kids were in bed, Dennis and I finished up the presents and exchanged gifts with each other. My sweet husband got me TWO Michael Buble cd's after I mentioned that I liked him a lot. I was really impressed. I also got the Bourne Ultimatum, thereby completing our collection, and some socks and another DVD, and a promise for a big present that is really, really generous. I did not expect that. He got a Carhart and a pair of jeans from me. And a picture collage of me and the kiddos for his office that I forgot to give him 'til this evening.
We were all pretty wiped out on Christmas morning. I was awake at 7 and was the first one up. I finally had to wake everyone else up a little before 8 because we needed to go to Eureka. The kids opened presents. Annalivia got a new baby doll and a wooden musical instrument set. Daniel got a wooden building block train and a wooden tool set. Annalivia immediately commandeered them.
We headed down to Eureka and got to spend some time with Grammy, Gramps and my great aunt, Audrey. I gave Grammy a lap quilt I had made on her sewing machine and Gramps got his customary Baby Swiss cheese from me -- a gift I've been giving him since I was in second grade. Aunt Audrey got homemade shortbread and tea.
Then Dennis and I took the kiddos out in the car to get them to take naps. They fell asleep pretty quickly, so we drove around the area and visited the open Walgreens and coveted farms near Eureka and saw a pretty lovely sunset.
When we returned to Mom and Dad's we had a great meal then opened more presents. We got some really great and useful stuff -- a dustbuster, towels and sheets, electric scissors, and an auto scanner that has Dennis over the moon. It was also just a lot of fun to give presents this year. My dad has learned how to roast meat, so I wrote out some recipes for him and gave him his very own roasting pan. The brothers in law got microbrews and homemade pretzels and nuts. My sister Roo makes great pancakes, so she got multigrain pancake mix and fixings. Kalin got sorority letters that I had my mother-in-law resurrect after I murdered them. And Dennis made my sister Lil a bunch of luminaries from mason jars that we put out at her big, gorgeous house after she left and then lit before she and Jake came home. Mom's present from me is not finished, but Dennis and Jake gave the gift of coordinating a sidewalk-replacement project at the farm next summer. It was just a lot of fun to give presents that mean something. I need to remember this for next year.
We got to sing some carols, which was great, although we didn't get to sing very long. My favorite part of carol-singing was the contribution of my niece, Cleya. She doesn't know the songs or the tunes but still sings VERY loudly in an "ah" with a very sweet and serious expression on her face. It is hilarious. She can sing louder than an entire room of adults. My sister says she does this in church all the time. I would love to be there.
We left really late from Eureka and got home two hours later. I think I fell asleep before the kids. I was SO tired and dear, sweet Dennis drove us home safely, though he had to be as tired as I. We got the kids in bed and dumped the presents on the couch and fell into bed.
And today, Dennis went to work at 5:30 and the kids and I just kind of decompressed, although I will admit, ashamedly, that I was very grumpy mommy today. But Dennis is off for a whole week now and tomorrow is Sistah Hang-Out time and Friday is the McClure family gathering and Saturday is the Stewart gathering and Sunday is church and Monday is New Years' Eve. And somewhere in here a goddaughter to both of us may be born.
So. I may take the week off. I hope everyone out there enjoys these days of Christmas! Blessings to you and yours!

24 December 2007

All tacky-ness aside

Ok, I know this is tacky, but, if you think for a moment, there's a theological significance here that's really quite sweet. The lady who did this was obviously not content to leave Jesus on the concrete. He wasn't able to be seen.
So she elevated him. On a grubby plastic lawn chair, to a spot where he could be easily seen. Can't be missed, actually. Maybe seems a little out of place but definitely makes an impression the one who encounters Him.
Maybe all of us should get out the plastic lawn chairs.
Metaphorically speaking, of course.
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23 December 2007

Need to be shown the cradle?

You've come to the right place!

Come with me to this beautiful downtown church.

Where you can find Jesus...

On the roof.
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21 December 2007

Friday Five: It's Almost Christmas edition

From the RevGals:

What was one of your favorite childhood gifts that you gave?

When my Sublime Aunt and Jetsetter Uncle were dating, we found out that he would be coming to Christmas but we didn't have a present for him. We had at our house, a book of upholstery samples (incidentally given to us by Sublime Aunt) and my sister and I chose two samples: One a manly grey and one a (manly?) purple and, in a matter of minutes, sewed them together. Then we stuffed it with fiberfill and because it didn't yet have that certain je ne sais quoi, I wrote his name in cursive on it. With a crayon.
I think Jetsetter Uncle takes this pillow with him every time he flies anywhere.
What, JU? You don't? You don't have it anymore? You didn't have it 15 minutes after you left the house that day?
Oh, fragile world. C.r.u.m.b.l.i.n.g.
It's probably better this way.

What is one of your favorite Christmas recipes? Bonus points if you share the recipe with us.

I wouldn't say it is my favorite, but it's one I use most often, though interestingly, not so much this year.
Chaotic Christmas
one part Martha Stewart dreams
one part April McClure Stewart inability to plan
one part quirky congregation of older folks who do things like...well...die
one part unpredictable winter weather
Mix together. Sprinkle with perfectionism, computer problems, and Christmas carols.
Let fester.

At the point all seems lost, insert Holy Spirit, Mystery of Incarnation, Candlelight and Communion...

Oh, also helps to add a pinch on the husband's rear. Spices things up. :)

What is a tradition that your family can't do without?

Lucia Nights at Bishop Hill
The Muppets' Christmas Carol
Black Adder's
Christmas Carol
Good live choral music.
Roo and I trying to play Christmas carols on the same piano bench.
The after-dinner naptime wrestling match for the spot by the fire.
A Christmas eve service.

Pastors and other church folk often have very strange traditions dictated by the "work" of the holidays. What happens at your place?
Our church service is early in the evening and when I was unmarried, I would leave directly after the service and stop in Peoria, IL for midnight mass at the cathedral. I haven't done that since Dennis and I have been married and each year I miss just worshiping rather than "performing."
So... this year we are going to make a concerted effort to arrange things so that we can go to the 11 p.m. service at the Disciples church across the river. I find myself needing to be shown the manger by someone else on Christmas eve. Anyone else like that?
If you could just ditch all the traditions and do something unexpected... what would it be?
Sublime Aunt and Jetsetter Uncle took that pillow and went to Hawaii by themselves this year for 10 days. (j/k about the pillow).
I think that would be an ok tradition to start someday.

Time sucker

Hear that sucking sound? That's me falling into the digital scapbooking vortex. How much fun is this?

19 December 2007


Only five days left.
One meeting.
One funeral.
One pageant rehearsal.
One Christmas pageant.
One extra service.
One concert.
One dinner out with my love.
One dinner to host.
Far too few presents wrapped.
Even fewer bought.

But no sermon.
God is so good.

18 December 2007

Alas, only in my head am I...

You Are a Cranberry and Popcorn Strung Tree

Christmas is all about showcasing your creative talents.
From cookies to nicely wrapped presents, your unique creations impress everyone.

Roo had this on her blog. Anyone else? Leave a comment with your link!
What Christmas Tree Are You?

17 December 2007

15 December 2007


The other day, Annalivia asked me to put "three ponytails" in her hair. I knew this meant "pigtails". So I gave her pigtails. It was hard to not touch them. But they lasted almost two hours.
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14 December 2007

So excited!

Oh my goodness, I am so excited! I have just found a choral group in Dixon, just 10 minutes away from me who happens to need the part I sing in such groups and is willing to audition me!
I have been yearning to use my voice again. The last time I sang with any consistency was with a professional group called the Nova Singers in 2005 when I was pregnant with Annalivia. (You can hear them singing one of my favorite Christmas pieces here.) There were two main problems with Nova: 1.) They rehearsed 1 1/2 hours from here. Not fun to drive, especially in the winter and 2.) They usually had only six rehearsals before a concert, which meant learning music almost entirely on one's own. Which would have been fine had I been a.) disciplined or b.) disciplined or c.) disciplined. But I'm wasn't. And I'm not. It was a lot of pressure.
The group I'll audition for is called The Canterbury Singers. They sound lovely. But they also aren't professionals, which is good. I need something that won't wipe me out. And they are also only 10 miles away! And they rehearse and perform in a gorgeous, gorgeous church in Dixon. And they have such a cool name. And the director is familiar with Nova, so he's "quite confident that [he] will be happy to have [me] join [them]"!
Hurrah! I'm so excited!!

12 December 2007

Happy Birthday to my sweetheart!

Today, my sweet love is 38 years old. Because Dennis' company has a very generous "birthday-holiday" policy, Dennis has today off. He's finishing a take-home exam and being climbed on by his children.
He has gotten some good presents -- the hat and shirt in the photo above and an iPod. When he took out the earbuds from the iPod, he went to put them in his ears, then paused and said, "When I put these in my ears, I will immediately become a black silhouette." He may be old, but he sure is clever.
He thinks the best present is to spend time with his little ones and me. And we agree. We are so blessed to have this man in our lives. Happy Birthday, love.

Note: I just want y'all to know that I fully realize that I post terrible photos here. Just don't click on them. Then chalk it up to photographic ignorance and inordinate hubris. And, please, accept my apologies.

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07 December 2007

Lucia Nights

Tonight we went to Bishop Hill to do our traditional eating-of-da-Swedish-meatballs at Lucia Nights. We met my sistah, Lil, and her family and my dad there. We had a great meal at The Red Oak and then headed out into the snow-covered village to enjoy the little shops.
At each one, we were greeted by a Lucia with a crown and homemade cookies.

We saw many a Swedish Christmas tree.

And more of... well, whatever these are...than could possibly ever be sold.
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The only odd thing was that the Nova Singers weren't performing for some reason. And their frigid performance in the Colony Church has been a part of Christmas for so long for our family, that I was kind of saddened by that. But the night was lovely and, other than the lack of a concert, perfect for a candlelit evening at Bishop Hill.


Annalivia and I were talking about Christmas recently and she was telling me about how it is Jesus' birthday and Jesus' mommy was Mary and Jesus' daddy was Joseph and Jesus is in a manger, etc.
I've also been telling her about how Saint Nicholas loved Jesus and gave other people presents because Jesus was God's present to us. (I'm becoming really good at Simple Theology 101.) So I asked Annalivia if she knew who Santa Claus was.
She said, very enthusiastically sort of like a sportscaster might, "YES! He's a... SNOWMAN!!!"
At least she's got the important stuff down.

06 December 2007

The tree rises

Yesterday, while Dennis was at school, I got into the storage closet under the stairs in the basement, dragged out the Christmas stuff, and put up the Christmas tree. It was actually fun; Annalivia was so enthusiastic and was clapping and yelling, "Yaaayyyyy!!" and "You did it, Mommy!!" every time I got a new branch on the tree.
We got it mostly decorated and then Daniel woke up so I went to get him back to sleep.

When I came back, Annalivia had hung the rest of the bells on the tree.

Spacing is clearly not too important.

She played with the nativity set for a long time. Mary and Joseph were kissing here.

The placement of the bells at the bottom of the tree is exciting for another member of the family, too, who can just reach them.

I think this is the last year for the little artificial tree and the completely kid-proof ornaments. I miss my other pretty ones. So, hopefully, next year, we can have a real tree that is large enough to put our actual ornaments on it towards the top. In the meantime, Annalivia is rearranging this one and Daniel is having a good time trying to get his hands on any part of it.

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03 December 2007

Very cool story

I know some of you followed this link from Amy's blog, but I thought it was worth repeating here.

28 November 2007

Imagination running wild

I think one of the neatest things about being a parent is watching my children go through all the stages of development that I just took for granted as an adult -- learning to smile and laugh, playing jokes, responding to scary noises, etc. It's all stuff that I've just always known how to do, as far as I know. It has been so much fun to observe the processes develop from the beginning.
Within the last couple of months, Annalivia has been doing lots of imagining. She can entertain herself for a good, long amount of time with her dolls or Little People or having big conversations, doing all sorts of motions, and running to and fro with her imaginary companions. Sometimes in the morning, she informs me that Kipper and Tiger, Pig and Arnold are here. Or she pretends to have long phone conversations with Uncle Jake or cousin Cleya. Or she practices saying things that she has heard her parents say to pretend people and will come up to me and say things like, "It'll be a couple of minutes, Mommy."
I love to just watch this happening. I try not to enter into the play unless invited and then I try to extract myself pretty quickly so the play can continue. I'm not sure whether that is an "officially approved" method of parenting. But my mother was kind enough to allow her children mental and physical space to explore our own little brains. And I'm grateful for it.
And it is just so delightful to me to discover how that little brain inside my daughter works. It's enchanting.
Playing in the curtains this morning
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27 November 2007

Not quite it

Tonight Annalivia and Daniel and I were heading back from the Quad Cities in the dark and I had just about exhausted my arsenal of car entertainment. Annalivia said, "Let's play Hide and Seek!" Then she proceeded to cover her eyes and count to five, uncover her eyes, and yell, "Gotcha!"
Not quite it, but it sure made Daniel and I laugh.

This pirate has new boots

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26 November 2007

Time flies

I love church time. I love, love, love it. Really. I love how, once one actually gets through November and stewardship campaigns and budget meetings, time just races towards the New Year like water slipping past a dam of leaves. It just seems to seep towards newness of its own volition.

I suppose this could be threatening in some ways because there's just so much stuff to be done between now and then. Bulletins, sermons, services, newsletters, meetings, parties, gatherings... There is indeed a lot to occupy this time.

But I love that this happens at Advent when we celebrate God coming into a world that was not prepared to receive God-made-flesh. I love that despite what flimsy barriers or bullet points on our to-do lists we will try to construct between this time and the fullness-of-time, God will come anyhow. Racing in quickly. Slipping in quietly. Seeping in of God's own volition.

I love church time. It's really God's time. And it's so good to remember that because it's God's time, it's not April's time. And whatever I construct is not as important as the Source flowing over it.

25 November 2007


My sistah, Kali, has photos of the Thanksgiving we missed over at her blog. I'm jealous of the whole thing -- food, presentation, Kalin's ability to compose a photo without total blur. I'm anxiously awaiting part 2.
Also, there's also a really nice totally and completely anonymous and unrelated-to-her commenter over there who thinks I'm cool. That's nice. So unexpected.

22 November 2007

Thanksgiving at our house

Because the kiddos were sick all week, the McStews remained in the northern regions of the state rather than making our customary journey over the river and through the woods to Grammy's house for Thanksgiving. It was a good choice for a couple of reasons: 1. We didn't infect anyone with our diseases. 2. It almost completely and totally cured me of any desire to have Thanksgiving alone with our immediate family anytime in the near future. 3. Dennis and I came to a tacet agreement that I would not try to make his grandmother's macaroni and cheese ever again and he would not let me.
Because originally the meal was to be potluck style and the family in central Illinois was expecting the food I was supposed to prepare to make their meal complete, I cooked yesterday.

I made a bunch of stuff, but this is my favorite Thanksgiving bite -- liver pate on a buttery pretzel. Delish.

For our meal, we declined to have the traditional Thanksgiving fare. I recently had a conversation with Dennis wherein he revealed to me that his favorite food at Thanksgiving was the Macaroni and Cheese. I thought this was interesting because we have never eaten Mac and Cheese at Thanksgiving. But his grandmother made it when he was growing up and he has pined for it since she passed away, so I decided we'd have it.
Problem is, no one ever got Grandma Stewart's recipe. So I cornered a lady at church whose Mac and Cheese Dennis had highly praised and got her to tell me how to do it. And I did indeed follow her directions. To the letter. But it stunk. It was gross and inedible, although Dennis and Annalivia were trying. The thing is, this is about the 6th time I've tried to make Grandma's Mac and Cheese without any real concept of what her M&C, in fact, was like. I'm embarrassed to admit that I might have thrown a mammoth little fit about the failure which prompted Annalivia to tell her mother, "Quit your' fussin', Momma." Being called out by my 2-year old spurred me to action and I made a nice Mac and Cheese like I know how to do and we ate it. And liked it, darn it.

This here is Mac n' Cheese II

We also had squash casserole and clementines for dessert/ centerpiece. It was simple. It worked for us.

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We tried taking family photos with the camera on the tripod and the self-timer counting down. That didn't necessarily work so well.

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Daddy set up a line of dominoes and Annalivia really enjoyed knocking them down.

Daniel enjoyed watching Annalivia knock them down, too.

And he even had fun watching her set them back up again.

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