Bittersweet….

Even though the liturgical season of Christmas isn’t over (not by a long shot!) I’m falling in line with the secular American way of doing things. The lights have come down; the wreath is off the door, and now the tree is coming down too. Last year in this house! It’s been a good Christmas.

Christmas lights 2015
I wanted to create a “river of light” between my house and my neighbor’s – we settled for a puddle around the tree. We both wanted to charge admission to the street.
Outdoor Christmas lights 2015
The lights at my house 2015, The tree with the lights is on the left.
Christmas tree 2015
In the background you see my Christmas tree. Gotta get some better glassware on the table next Christmas.
Christmas tree 2015
Last shot of the tree for Christmas 2015. ‘Til next year!
Advertisements

Welcome to 2016 – and the first recipe of the New Year

Today I’m having friends over to celebrate the New Year with black-eyed peas and cornbread. I found my new favorite cornbread recipe at martysmusings.net:

  • 2 boxes Jiffy corn muffin mix
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 3 eggs, beaten
  • 1/2 cup melted butter or margarine
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 16 oz. creamed corn

Instructions

  1. Mix all ingredients together and pour into greased 9 x 13 baking dish.
  2. Bake at 375 degrees for 35 minutes or until lightly brown.

As Ina Garten would say, How easy is that?

Why all the radio silence….

It’s because life is so busy for the last two years! I have some terrific ideas for blog posts – usually during the middle of the work day – and then once I get home (late) after running errands, get dinner and do any chores – I’m ready to collapse into bed. Darn this time change. I want to hibernate.

So, let’s start over.

Hello friend. (as a dear Toastmaster I once knew used to say.)

Here are some things I’ll be posting about in the days to come:

  • my no-added sugar Christmas
  • 50 things before I turn 50
  • my health journey
  • Toastmasters and the joys of leading volunteer groups

Can’t wait to talk with you soon.

Aunt Jim

Family Reunion – looking back and looking forward

In September 2014 I journeyed to Sioux Falls, S.D. for the Rust Family Reunion. Below is an adaption of a speech I gave to my Toastmasters club about the experience. This September I’ll be lucky enough to do it again.

Tales of time spent with families on vacation have a special place in America’s collective mythology. There’s the car trip across the country beset with hilarious disasters along the way – it’s the subject of books, memoirs and comedies spanning the entire Chevy Chase oeuvre.

Or there’s Thanksgiving and Christmas with the relatives – whether it’s the first turkey dinner with the in-laws, or that holiday right after a hotly contested election. There have been years when I asked my Sunday School class to pray that I wouldn’t strangle any of my kin.

In years past we had the obligatory holiday snaps developed after the trip with which to bore our friends and neighbors. Those of a certain age may remember the slides we had to sit through. Now with Facebook and Instagram we can make our friends jealous (or put them to sleep) while we’re still on the trip! Relax, this will be all stories and no pictures of people you’ve never met.

Last September (2014) I went to see my father’s people at the Rust Family Reunion. Each year his six brothers and sisters gather and spend the better part of a week together. Then on Friday night, as many of their kids, grandkids, great-grandkids AND great-great-grandkids come into town for the buffet dinner at the Royal Fork restaurant. The past few years I’ve been lucky enough to go up for a few days to spend time with a side of the family I hardly ever see – and I was lucky enough to go again in 2014.

The scene is Sioux Falls, S.D. – one of the windiest places in the lower 48. The natives act like it’s still summer, but it was autumn to me! Dad and his siblings were all born on a family farm outside Adrian, Minn., a small community about 45 minutes away. Sioux Falls was their big town, where they went to the Fair and to the State Theatre for movies. Most of the relatives still live within a couple states’ drive, but for us it was a 1,100 mile flight.

Let me introduce you to the case of characters. Aunt Betty Lou is the oldest at 86. She was my roommate for the week at the motel. Uncle LeRoy is the next oldest – he recently turned over day-to-day operations of the Rust Family Farm to my cousin John, the sixth generation Rust to run the place. Next up in the batting order is Aunt Marlys, who drives in five hours with my cousin Tim from outside Fargo, N.D. (The Midwestern states are HUGE.) Uncle Ed – oh, you’ll hear more about him – comes over from Wisconsin with Aunt Elaine. Uncle Bob is next in line, right before my Dad. And Aunt Audrey is the baby of the family at 69. She was a little upset with me for not bringing my swimsuit on this trip – she didn’t want to take a dip in the pool by herself.

Aunt Anne, Uncle Bob’s wife, books rooms for us at the Empire Falls Best Western. It meets all our needs – an extra-large room where we all gather; a free hot breakfast each day with waffles and omelets, and most importantly – this is a key selling point: freshly made cookies each afternoon. Every day the “elders” would send me or Aunt Audrey downstairs to check on the cookie situation. And report back so all the uncles could head downstairs and get cookies.

So what do we do? Well, what do you think a bunch of old people do? We sit around and talk. And drink coffee. And eat home-made munchies that everyone brings to the party, besides the motel-made cookies. And we shop. Fortunately, Empire Mall is within walking distance. Unfortunately, it lies beyond an 8-lane road which handles all the traffic coming into Sioux Falls from Interstate 29. Imagine herding 10 people over the age of 70 across a road like that. I felt like a crossing guard at the Alterra Senior Citizens center. I wanted to yell “Hold hands! Stay with your group!”

Because so many of the folks are getting on, I wanted all the family history,  knowledge and lore only they could share. What was it like growing up? What were Grandma and Grandpa Rust really like?

Uncle Ed stole the show with his tales. Like all the boys, he went into the service soon after high school. Back then, they were eligible for the draft. Uncle Ed served during the Korean War, and once he came home, he had to find a job. Finding a job wasn’t the problem. In five days he went through five jobs. Now before you think he was a wastrel read on as to what these jobs entailed. One was at a cracker company doing all the grunt work. He put in a full 8 hours and decided, I can do better. Next he went to work at the Campbell’s Soup factory in town. Any job where they start you off pulling the chickens off the truck is pretty low on the totem pole. Worse – when your work environment includes something known as the “Blood Room” – Uncle Ed wisely decided to turn in his ID badge and move on to a higher calling.

That next day Uncle Ed joined Uncle Bob at the county road department. Listening to the two of them laugh about that experience, you’d never know that years later they’d both go on to big success in their own businesses.

That was the week – funny family stories, time spent catching up and eating far too much. And guess what – I lied to you. There will be pictures! I’m adding links to previous posts on past family reunions so you can see the town of Sioux Falls (a beautiful place) and the family farm.

The first week of September wasn’t a National Lampoon-style “vacation from hell” at all. I’m so glad I went. If you have older members in your family – take the time now to sit down with them. Or get in the car or plane and go visit! Once they’re gone you’ll wish you had more memories. Thanks to this crazy week I do.

Happy Birthday to a lovely lady

Today, March 5, is my Mom’s birthday.

When I think of Mom, I think of the time the two of us went to Savannah together for the weekend. I was worried about what we’d say to each other for 72 hours of togetherness. It was the first time in some years we’d spent that much time just by ourselves. What would I say to her all weekend? Would it be awkward?

I needn’t have worried. The minute I picked her up she started chatting about anything and everything. She chatted happily all weekend, the extrovert. All I had to do was listen.

Another memory I have of Mom is of her making cocoa for me and my brother after school on cold, rainy days. And of her being the Girl Scout cookie captain for five years running – as well as the Cub Scout den mother for my brother’s pack. (Never forgot one of the Cubs eating so many cupcakes he made himself sick.)

Mom was the modern day Centaur, as Erma Bombeck said – half woman, half station wagon. Or in her case, a light blue 1970 Ford LTD. She chauffeured me and my friends to kindergarten, ballet class, piano rehearsals and later high school band practice.

She was a dedicated worker. She was never late to her job as a nurse – in fact, she’d get uptight about her schedule and be ready 30 minutes before she had to leave for her afternoon shift, just to give herself time to relax. In my memory she didn’t get sick and hardly took time off. At her retirement party the organizers limited the 10 speakers on the program to two minutes each. That was after the presentation of the plaques from the mayor and the governor.

For all her talents, Mom was not Julia Child – and she didn’t pretend or try to be. She was firmly out of the WASP (White Anglo Saxon Protestant) mode of cooking – boil it to death because water is a spice. I couldn’t eat green beans after I left home until I discovered steaming.

But Dad liked his green beans that way – and he was the one she was cooking for, not us kids. She always catered to him, making him a priority. Cookies Dad liked – he got them. Dishes he liked – he got them. Even today she cooks a hot lunch for him most days. Funny tale about that: right after they moved into their current patio home community, Dad got a part-time job at the model home across the street. Mom would cook his lunch and carry it over to him each day at noon. One day the neighbors reported that a few minutes after they saw Mom return home, she was back out the door to go to Dad – with a ketchup bottle in her hand.

Mom understands loyalty, fidelity, service and love. A 54-year marriage (and counting), as well as a 25-year career, is proof.

Happy 75th Birthday, Mom. May you have many, many more.

Mom laughing
Mom (far right) with my Aunts: Anne, Marlys, Audrey and Elaine; at the Rust Family Reunion in Downtown Sioux Falls, Sept. 2012

Quick Takes

Some of my favorite blogs do a “quick takes” style post once a week. This weekend (and week) has been too crazy for me to think of any type of organized topic or essay, so that’s what I’m going with today!

1. Exhaustion

I’m exhausted by my new schedule. Last week was the third week in a row I’ve exercised for 3 days during the week. The workouts are a combination of stretching, some cardio, core work and strength training. One hour each – at 6:30 a.m. Tuesday and Thursday, and 8 a.m. Saturday. Yikes. By 10 p.m. (now) I can barely keep my eyes open. I’ll keep you posted on how well it’s going – but now, I’m getting up those 44 stairs from the ground to my second floor office a lot quicker. I only huff and puff once, at the last landing.

2. Oscars

I’m not watching the Oscars tonight. Why? Not because I’m not interested in who wins … I’ll look online for that info. And I’ll definitely want to see “who wore it best.” What I can’t understand is why, in 21st century America, our biggest award show has to honor entertainers. I’m not trying to disparage actors and others in the movie industry, but just questioning perspective. Where are the dramatic award shows for scientists? Why don’t we have award shows for returning soldiers? Or firefighters? When will an award program for teachers be televised nationally, on broadcast television? I’d like to think that a small business owner who built a business out of nothing and now employs hundreds of people could one day get a big award and the ovation she deserves, too.

3. Angel Food cake

Today I made an angel food cake to celebrate my Mom’s birthday (which is actually March 5. We’re getting in an entire birthday week here!) I used a mix and it tasted great – but it sure looked funny. Not sure what happpened – when I released it from the bundt pan (after cooling it upside down on a bottle like the instruction said) one side of the cake was all fallen in. Nothing a ton of frosting couldn’t fix … if only I was going to frost it. Ah, well, with Cool Whip and berries, it still tasted great.

4. This darn weather

Today it was cold. Yesterday it was colder. Last Thursday it was 32 degrees – and two days before the temperatures reached 70! This is why people get sick! I’m ready for my consistent 80 degree days now, thank you.

5. CBAP prep

So how did my resolution to up my studying go for my Certified Business Analysis Professional exam? Well, this past week: I blew off studying Thursday night (and watched The Big Bang Theory), got too busy to study Saturday and finally forced myself to study today, Sunday. Two hours! Go me.

5. Lunch at work

Salad again … sigh. Sticking to this plan of eating mostly lean meats, fish, chicken and vegetables is hardest at lunch. I don’t think I was made for low-carb. But it is working ….

6. Paleo

That reminds me (and I’m cheating here with this take) – I’m going to have to post on some of the Paleo sites I’ve been reading.

7. Something to make you smile

Here’s a day brightener …. watch this and you’ll feel wonderful! Keep going through the first 90 seconds…then get ready to dance.