Time to Plant the Annuals

Mother’s Day is the calendar marker for planting annuals in the flower beds around our house, so I’ll be getting my hands dirty this week. We’re trying some new things this year, and we’ll see how it goes. Pictures of the real flowers will come later. The ones below are stock photos showing the ideal.

For the front and side flower beds, I got red and yellow Zinnias to plant, with a few lavenders poking through. They stand about 12” tall right now and supposedly do well in the sun. I chose them to match the color and vibrancy of the tulips, which I adored while they were here. Hopefully they’ll do just as well.

In front of the Zinnias will go the shorter red and white petunias. Last year’s impatiens didn’t do very well, so we’re giving these a try. The flowers are a bit larger than the imaptiens, so if they thrive, the beds will look nice when they emerge.

For the hanging baskets (4 on the front porch, 4 on the back patio, and 2 on my mother-in-law’s patio), we’re trying red, white, and purple wave petunias this year. It will take a while for them to start “waving,” but they’re much cheaper when you assemble the baskets yourself. I suppose it will be my lesson in patience this year. Alas, like Veruca Salt in Willy Wonka, “I want it now!”

My mother-in-law will also get a bed of yellow French marigolds. They are her favorites, and we think she may still have enough capacity to putter around and enjoy them this year.

Below are some unrelated pictures that recently caught my eye. The first is my summer home. 🙂 The second is my summer transportation. 🙂 And the third is a brain teaser. Can you tell what it is? (If you get stumped, turn your phone, tablet, or laptop upside down.)

Have a great week!

Blooming Boldly

Ralph Walderson Emerson once said, “The earth laughs in flowers.” If that’s true, then my front yard is howling with delight right now. I’m so thrilled with how our red and yellow tulips have flourished this year. I had to take some snaps earlier today since they don’t last very long. Fortunately, new and different blooms will come after the tulips have had their day.

Off to celebrate my son’s birthday. And pretend I can sing. (There’s something magical about a karaoke microphone, right?)

Have a great weekend!

‘You Don’t Have to Be a Star, Baby, to Be in My Show’

It was Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis Jr. who sang that line, “You don’t have to be a star, baby, to be in my show.” It’s a good thing, too, or I’d be up the creak without a microphone. Indeed, I discovered last night that the best way to kill a classic is for me to sing it. But, oh, the “song-icide” can be so much fun. 

We’ll be hosting a birthday party for our son this weekend, and the main activity is a karaoke event with his friends. Last night he came over, and we set up the equipment in our family room to test it and make sure it all works. One thing led to another, so for nearly three hours we added song after song to the queue, and we sang ourselves raspy over the course of the night. My selections included:

  • “Bohemian Rhapsody” (Queen)
  • “My Heart Will Go On” (Celine Dion)
  • “Theme from the Brady Bunch” (Sherwood Schwartz)
  • “Footloose” (Kenny Loggins)
  • “New York, New York” (Frank Sinatra)
  • “Y.M.C.A.” (Village People)
  • “Climb Every Mountain” (The Sound of Music)
  • “Kiss the Girl” and “Part of Your World” (The Little Mermaid)
  • “Somewhere in the Night” (Barry Manilow)
  • “I Will Always Love You” (Whitney Houston)
  • “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant” (Billy Joel)

And that’s just the tip of the iceburg of all the songs we attempted. Worse than my singing was the misguided attempt (by me) to dance during “Footloose.” All digital evidence of the spectacle has been destroyed. But the funniest moment was injecting Scuttle’s throaty little descant into “Kiss the Girl.” I may have ruptured something laughing at myself.

I didn’t realize how much fun karaoke could be, or how much I needed to blow off a little steam after the crazy schedule I’ve been keeping lately (not to mention the awfulness of the pandemic year). As King Solomon once said, “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones” (Prov 17:22). 

All my life I’ve wanted to be a singer in the worst possible way. I can finally say that I’ve reached my goal.

Image Credits: CuteWallpaper.org

A Few Updates at the End of a Glorious Week

1. Holy Week 2021 was a rich and meaningful time for our church family. In the midst of building a new church website, processing all the paperwork for a new corporation, assisting in a friend’s baptism and commissioning service, learning a new educational learning platform, and getting a helpful education on important legal matters, we held the full range of traditional Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday services and activities. I was blessed, challenged, and encouraged by getting to lead and participate in these incredible worship experiences. They always give me so much to “treasure” and “ponder” in my heart, as Mary did while watching her Son in action.

2. Somewhere in the middle of all that activity, I turned another year older, and my family and friends spoiled me. It was a week of visits, gifts, and feastings on top of an otherwise excellent year of health. I’ve been walking, swimming, eating right, and losing lots of pounds. If I can get back on track first thing tomorrow, and resume my disciplines without any more splurges, I may be able to see my abs by July. I know—that’s such a guy goal, right? But I haven’t been able to do that in decades, so I’m going for it. I usually collapse right about now in the journey, so we’ll see how it goes. Thanks in advance for cheering me on!

3. My daughter and I went to Hobby Lobby on Tuesday to get a bunch of knickknacks for the lighted bookshelves in our newly renovated living room. That project went a lot better and took a lot longer than we had originally thought, but nothing compares to the marathon bathroom renovation project that’s now in full swing. Our goal was to have it done by Christmas when the extended family gathered last December for the holidays, but only now is it finally getting close to being finished. The upside is that I wound up getting some cool recessed lighting in my home office as a side benefit. If all goes well, the bathroom will be done in three weeks, and then we can turn our attention to the basement library/podcast studio.

4. My 2013 Ford Edge SEL was on the verge of turning 100k miles, so I replaced it last Friday before it lost its trade-in value. It had a mineral gray exterior and a black interior with heated leather seats. It was a good car, and I enjoyed driving it for three and a half years. Last week I got a 2018 Ford Edge Titanium at a great price and less than 20k miles. (Hey, I like Edges!) It has a shiny white exterior, a cool moonroof, and a two-tone interior with heated leather seats. It’s loaded with features and handles well. I’m looking forward to connecting my devices, learning the display, and discovering all the features I’ve read about but haven’t gotten to try yet.

5. For years I’ve described myself as “an incurable Philadelphia Phillies fan,” but I may have just found the cure. I’m thoroughly disgusted by what the MLB pulled in re-locating the All-Star Game because of Georgia’s new voting law. What lunacy. I’m delighted that the Phils swept the Braves this weekend, but my interest in professional sports has taken a deep nosedive over the past decade. This was the straw that broke the camel’s back. I’m tired of politics in sports and will no longer support the industry. There are plenty of other things I can do with my time. For example, my son just got me a training session at the local gun range for my birthday, so we have that to look forward to—in between binging on episodes of the Sherlock series (Cumberbatch/Freeman). Then it’s on to the local Rod & Gun Club to improve my skills.

6. So as not to end on a down note, I’m finally re-energized to go “all-in” on the research and writing of my second dissertation. Those things are just painful to write, but I love my subject matter, and my upcoming schedule should allow for some serious progress. If I’m not on here a lot in the coming months, that’s the reason. But I’ll still read as many of your comments and posts as I possibly can. 

Be blessed, one and all, in the risen Christ. You are at the heart of God’s heart.

The Most Expensive Christmas Caroling Trip Ever

I got my Edge back today. No, I’m not talking about a resurgence of my personal mojo; I’m talking about my Ford Edge. They had it in the shop all week. Here’s why. Every year our extended family strolls around the neighborhood singing Christmas carols and delivering cookies. We try to pay particular attention to those who are sick, newly widowed, or facing some kind of challenge.

Last December there was snow on the ground at the time, so we took my car to certain locations, knowing my mother-in-law wouldn’t be able to navigate the treacherous footing at night. Well, she probably would have navigated the footing a lot better than I navigated the driveway. 

Unbeknownst to me, my son-in-law had parked his black jeep in the driveway, and I backed my SUV out of the garage, right into his. 

Fa la la la la. 

It was totally my fault, and I felt terrible about it. 

I was finally able to get it repaired today, to the tune of $1,433.97, so I feel crummy about it all over again. But, hey, they washed it—both the inside and outside—and it looks a lot better than it has all winter.

Next time, though, I’ll wash it myself and save a pile of money.

Image Credit: newsweek.com.

Random Thoughts as a New Season Approaches

1. One of the benefits of living in Pennsylvania is getting to experience the delightful change of seasons throughout the year. The shifts here are significant enough to be noticeable but not extreme enough to be intolerable. Fall is my favorite—the look, the smell, the colors, the feel—but all of them have their benefits. This week it looks like we’ll emerge from the long, frigid winter, but with PA you never really know. Still, it’ll be nice to take a break from snow duty for a while, although I love snow. Of course, the approach of spring means lawn mowing is right around the corner, right?

2. I saw a great sign at the pool today: “Whatever you’re planning to do today, do it with the confidence of a 4-year-old in a Batman cape.” Yes! That was all the inspiration I needed to swim 2500 meters (100 laps). It probably wasn’t pretty, but I made it. So what if my shoulders feel like melted butter? “I am Batman.” Ha! Speaking of which, I didn’t plan it this way, but I have five different pairs of Speedo jammers—one for each day of the week. So, now I start out with black on Monday and get lighter as the week unfolds. Maybe I should end with dark blue instead of red if I’m going to be Batman.

3. Relatedly, research indicates that six-year-olds laugh an average of 300 times a day. By comparison, adults laugh 15-100 times a day. Be six again.

4. I’m having fun decorating the newly renovated living room, even as renovations begin on the bathroom. Just got a framed print called “Winter Mist,” which works perfectly in the room, along with a set of tiered candle holders and bookends with an oil-rubbed bronze look. Just a few more items to get and/or set out, and the project will be complete.

5. I recently saw a fun screen shot of somebody’s Network Preferences dialog box. Apparently, there’s a feud between two households sending messages to each other by how they name their wi-fi connections. Check out the last two listings. As a bonus, notice how the computer also commits a grammatical boo-boo. It should read, “None of your preferred networks is available.” (Not being snarky; we all make mistakes. I’m just surprised that this got past the editors and showed up on a computer.)

6. I got a kick out of this recent “Brevity” cartoon by Dan Thompson. I see Genghis Khan, Chaka Khan, and (I think) Star Trek Kahn. Nicely done, Dan. I guess we can call it your ComiKhan. (Sorry.)

7. A horse is a horse, of course, but there’s something majestic about this one. I’d love to learn how to ride better—though not while the horse is in this position.

8. Less majestic and far more pompous is the house cat. Mrs. Mosby, my daughter’s cat, is getting bigger and slightly more friendly, but she still cops an attitude on a fairly regular basis. This comic could have been drawn by her.

9. Speaking of animals, “Perhaps the butterfly is a proof that you can go through a great deal of darkness yet still become something beautiful” (B. Taplin).

Be blessed and have a great rest of the week!

Image Credits: qz.com; wallpaperflare.com; shutterstock.com; missionbreakout.london; alldiamondpainting.com; Cláudio Diaz mejias.

Not Quite Home on the Range Yet

Last night I sinned. Multiple times. My son and son-in-law were with me at the time. They sinned, too, and we all had a great time doing it. Let me explain. We were celebrating my son-in-law’s birthday, so we went to a shooting range before dinner, cake, and gift giving. It’s something Micah enjoys, though he doesn’t have a lot of opportunity to do it, so we surprised him with a round at Enck’s Gun Barn. My son Drew also has more experience than I do in this area, making me the rookie of the bunch. 

I’ve shot pistols before, but only a few times in the distant past and only at Coke cans set up in the woods near my brother-in-law’s house in North Carolina. Last night we used a rifle—a Ruger AR-556, which is considerably louder than a pistol, though the kickback isn’t bad at all. Given my lack of experience, I was hoping to just get my shots on the paper target!

I didn’t get a bullseye this time, but all my shots were inside the 8 and 9 rings, and one even nicked the center circle. Not bad for a beginner. But all three of us kept missing the mark, which is one of the biblical metaphors for sin. There are many other images, too, but this one is prominent.

Judges 20:15-16 says, “At once the Benjamites mobilized twenty-six thousand swordsmen from their towns, in addition to seven hundred chosen men from those living in Gibeah. Among all these soldiers there were seven hundred chosen men who were left-handed, each of whom could sling a stone at a hair and not miss [ḥǎṭṭāʾṯ].”

The word ḥǎṭṭāʾṯ is a general word for sin, usually having the sense of missing the mark, going astray, offending, or ignoring something required by God’s law (e.g., Gen 40:1; Jdgs 20:16; Neh 13:26; etc.). It can also mean “sin offering” (e.g., Exod 29:4).

King David prays in Psalm 51:2, “Cleanse me [ṭāhēr] from my sin [ḥǎṭṭāʾṯ].” The word ṭāhēr means to “be clean,” “cleanse,” “purify,” or “pronounce clean,” as from a defiling condition. It can have a ritual context (e.g., Lev 11:32), or it can refer to the actual cleansing of impurities (e.g., Naaman’s leprosy in 2 Kgs 5:10). 

It can also refer to the removal of impurities from metal (e.g., refined gold and silver in Mal 3:3). Therefore, the word does not necessarily have a sacramental connotation (contra Goldingay, etc.) or even a ceremonial connotation (contra Wilson, the ESV Study Bible, etc.). Indeed, David’s hope of forgiveness rests on nothing ceremonial (cf. vv. 16-17). The sense of his prayer in v. 2 is, “Purify me from my defiling sin.”

Because of his mercy, grace, and compassion (Ps 51:1), God can certainly do that. And because David came to him humbly, he did. “The Lord has taken away your sin,” said Nathan the prophet. You are not going to die” (2 Sam 12:13-14). David later wrote, “Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven” (Ps 32:1).

Interestingly enough, all three of us last night were landing our initial shots low and to the right of the bullseye. That would seem to suggest a sighting issue on the gun. Our Range Safety Officer (RSO) helped us make the necessary adjustments to shoot more accurately. He also helped me with my stance and positioning vis-à-vis the target. He was patient, kind, and supportive, not condescending at all toward this novice.

Probably my biggest challenge as a shooter is the fact that I’m left-eye dominant trying to shoot from a right hander’s position. My impulse, then, is to use my left eye to align the sights, but that doesn’t work when you’re pressing your right cheek to the gun stock. Here again, the RSO was perceptive and gave me some suggestions to help me “not sin.”

Our night at the range caused me to think about the fact that we’re in this spiritual journey together. “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23), which is why judging and condescension are out of place in the Christian life. Smug self-righteousness is just a way to justify our anger at other people because they sin differently than we do.

Our natural misalignments and daily temptations to “miss the mark” don’t go away when others scold us, humiliate us, or impose their asceticisms on us (Col 2:21-23). They tend to dissipate when those with a little more experience help us learn how to aim higher. 

We are pilgrims on a journey
We are brothers on the road
We are here to help each other

Walk the mile and bear the load

The RSO actually showed me last night how to be a better pastor. Lord knows, I need ongoing training.

Image Credits: pexels.com; nationalinterest.org; aurrpc.com.

Grantchester: My Newest Detective Binge

Readers of TNL will likely know of my affection for detective, crime solving, courtroom, and spy shows, along with a few period dramas from time to time. My latest binge is Grantchester on PBS’s Masterpiece. The British detective series is set in 1950s Cambridge, England, and features the Anglican vicar Sidney Chambers (James Norton) developing a side sleuthing gig with Detective Inspector Geordie Keating (Robson Green). 

Father Chambers apparently gets replaced in a future season with a new vicar, William Davenport (Tom Brittney), but I’m just getting started. The best way to describe the series is “one part Endeavour smooshed together with one part Father Brown.” So far so good. My recent previous binges in this genre have included:

  • Alias (Jennifer Garner)
  • Sherlock (Benedict Cumberbatch)
  • The Mentalist (Simon Baker)
  • Covert Affairs (Piper Perabo)
  • Broadchurch (David Tennant)
  • Blue Bloods (Tom Selleck)
  • Poirot (David Suchet)
  • Father Brown (Mark Williams)
  • Endeavour (Shaun Evans)
  • Inspector Morse (John Thaw)
  • Inspector Lewis (Kevin Whately)
  • Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries (Essie Davis)
  • Columbo (Peter Falk)

Past and ongoing binges in the period-piece genre include:

  • Victoria (Jenna Coleman, Tom Hughes)
  • The Crown (Claire Foy, Olivia Colman)
  • Reign (Adelaide Kane, Toby Regbo, Megan Follows)
  • Downton Abbey (Hugh Bonneville, Maggie Smith)
  • Pride & Prejudice (Jennifer Ehle, Colin Firth)
  • Sense & Sensibility (Hattie Morahan, Dominic Cooper)

And then there’s Stranger Things (Winona Ryder, Millie Bobby Brown), which is in a class by itself, and the ubiquitous NCIS and Law & Order. Oh, and the Friday night Marvel binge with my son. (My waning love of professional sports has made more space for the arts and a better use of my brain.)

What are your favorite binges?

UPDATE (01.15.2021): As it turns out, Grantchester is rather slow moving, only marginally interesting, and unfortunately overt in its socio-political agenda. I’m not sure I’ll continue with it. Worst of all (for this genre, anyway), the viewer can never really solve the crime beforehand because important clues are concealed until the end. Where’s the fun in that?

Image Credits: mypostcard.com; medium.com.

Happy Taste Buds at Christmas

I may be rolling into the New Year. My sister-in-law, who’s an expert baker, brought a trove of goodies to our house for the Christmas break. Alas, my tongue is craving more than my stomach can handle. Among her delectable treats are:

  • Pizzelles
  • Pinwheel Snickerdoodles
  • Shortbread Cookies
  • Buckeyes
  • Pecan Tassies
  • Peanut Butter Cookies
  • Yule Log Cake Roll
  • Chocolate Covered Pretzel Sticks
  • Butterscotch Smoothies
  • Other Assorted Cookies

Joan is a high-power exec at her company, so it’s a wonder she has the time to do all this work. And not just do it but do it well. Her husband John is an expert bread maker and a boss at the grill. So, I’m raising the white flag today because I can’t come close to competing with these skills. (Not that this is a competition.) 

I will say, however, that my peanut butter blossoms—topped with Wilbur buds—are right up there in taste. And, as I like to say: Chocolate is proof of God’s existence. Peanut butter is proof of God’s power. And the two together are proof of God’s goodness.

All of this divinity, however, is giving me a sugar headache!

A Couple of Gift Pics

I mentioned yesterday that I got way too many gifts for Christmas—all of them special and much appreciated—with two from my kids that truly captured my heart. Here are snaps of those two gifts.

The wooden Phillies mug on the right is made in the shape of—and out of the same material as—an MLB bat. It’s so tall I needed a chopstick to stir the creamer! Drew has a way of getting us the most unique gifts—the kinds of things we would never buy for ourselves but bring a smile to our hearts when he gives them.

My daughter and son-in-law choked me up with a canvas made on their cricut that says, “Fall on your knees, Oh hear the angel voices, Oh night divine, Oh night when Christ was born,” a line from my mom’s favorite Christmas carol, “O Holy Night,” the same one we were singing to her when she passed away. Next year, Lord willing, I’ll write more about that carol and its history. It was an awful lot of work for Bethany and Micah to put this together.

It was a memorable day. (We even had a bit of snow for a few hours!) The greatest gift of course, was the child in the manger. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son.”

UPDATE: I forgot to mention that Andrew also made each of our likenesses into a 3D-printed comic figure. (I am Batman, haha!) We’re still waiting for the USPS to deliver them, but we have printouts of what they will look like. How in the world did I get such creative kids?

Image Credit: wallpaperfx.com.

And He Is in the Manger Now

I hope your Christmas was as delightful as ours. The morning was quite leisurely—just hanging out in our pajamas and waiting for our daughter and her husband to arrive. Our son stayed over night last night after the Christmas Eve service, and we watched It’s a Wonderful Life together before going to bed. He and I had wonderful conversations and plenty of laughs this morning.

That was after I got up at 4:30 a.m. to place baby Jesus in the manger. Knowing of our tradition, my son-in-law last night placed Mary in a supine position (unbeknownst to me) to simulate her posture in labor. I chuckled when I saw it this morning, but I wasn’t sure at that point who the culprit was. I found out later it was Micah. I told him that Mary probably delivered her child on a birthing stool while holding onto an overhead rope. He said he’ll try to simulate that next year, and we’re all eager to see what he comes up with!

I made hot cinnamon rolls for breakfast, and we had a special blend of Brazilian coffee to help wake up. I then set out all the Christmas candy and goodies we’ll be grazing on over the next several days when the out-of-town family members arrive tomorrow. Many of these treats were selected because they’re the same kinds we had in my childood:

Milk and dark choloclate Wilbur buds; milk and dark choloclate covered pretzels; red and green Hershey kisses; red and green M&Ms; red and green peanut butter cups; chocolate filled straws; nonpareils; and choclate-mint truffles. The cookie collection includes peanut butter blossoms, sugar cutouts, and chocolate chips.

Before we opened our gifts, I read the story of the Magi from Matthew 2. I got a bit emotional—as I do almost every year—because I was reading from the Bible that belonged to my dearly departed father-in-law, who was also a pastor. We then gathered around the manger to remember Emmanuel, “God with us.” After that, the kids served as elves and distributed the gifts.

There are far too many presents to mention here, but I’ll note two from the kids that captured my heart. First, my son gave me an incredibly unique wooden Phillies mug—made out of an actual bat! I can’t wait to try it tomorrow morning! My daughter and son-in-law made me a gift that got me super choked up. It’s a cricut canvas that says, “Fall on your knees, O hear the angel voices.” That’s a line from the hauntingly beautiful Christmas carol “O Holy Night,” the same one we were singing to my mom when she passed away. 

We then had Christmas dinner, which consisted of oven-baked turkey, Pennsylvania Dutch potato filling, green beans, dried (Cope’s) corn, salad, crescent rolls, apple pie, and sparkling cider. All of us are stuffed. And grateful.

We’re now watching a movie as the day winds down. It was Micah’s turn to make the selction this year, and he chose Elf, which is one of his favorites.

I’m so glad we don’t live in a world where it’s “always winter and never Christmas,” to borrow a phrase from C. S. Lewis. Rather, the manger is full. And so are our hearts. 

Thank you, Jesus.

Image Credit: shutterstock.com.

Christmas Eve 2020: ‘She’s Still the Same Girl’

“It’s the most wonderful time of the year.” And the most frazzled, too! But it’s a good frazzle. I wouldn’t trade it for the world. Final preparations are now being made in the sanctuary and on the sermon for the candlelight service tonight at church. We’ll be on-ground and online this year because of the virus.

Final cleaning and food preparation is also taking place in our home, as we’ll be having more guests than we did for Thanksgiving. With my mother-in-law’s cognition declining, her kids and grandkids want to gather while she still knows who they are. It’s a good reminder for all of us to live life to the fullest while we have a life to live.

Lorena is a godly woman, and she’s most like herself when she prays. I’ve asked her several times not to say, “Amen” so we can all enjoy “the old her” longer. But she forgets and says, “Amen,” anyway! 

Lorena Moore, holding the Christmas flowers she just received from her brother Tony, who lives in California.

The “new her” is still her, and we seek to honor her for who she is. God’s entire point in giving the fifth commandment through Moses was so Israel would be a good place for people to grow old. Our calling is now to live out that same vision for Lorena.

It’s often challenging (e.g., answering the same question dozens of times; adding an hour or two to cookie baking, etc.), but the Golden Rule helps keep us on track. I might be old some day, too, so I need to treat her the same way I would want to be treated if I were in a similar situation. Most of the time that approach works well, but I have lost my patience a few times. Thank God for the Savior, whose birth we celebrate tonight and tomorrow.

I also think of that poignant Twila Paris song, “Same Girl” in regard to Lorena. It captures well how I want to regard her, even today.

Look behind the lines till you remember
She’s still the same girl

So, there are lots of emotions swirling around today. There’s the awe and wonder of the incarnation. There’s the “thrill of hope” in the salvation that Jesus brings. There’s the joy and laughter of extended family members gathering to celebrate. There’s the pain and disappointment of suffering and loss. 

And then, of course, there’s a lot of nostalgia this time of year, too. Emotional triggers can come in the form of seeing old Christmas decorations, hearing old Christmas songs, writing out new Christmas cards, and smelling great Christmas recipes we don’t make the rest of the year.

One trigger for me is an old Santa pin that my siblings and I used to wear this time of year. You could pull a string, and his red nose would light up. It’s a silly thing, really. A worthless trinket. But it touches something inside me, although I’m not exactly sure what.

The Santa pin on the left is my original—now well worn and aged. The one on the right is a re-make. 

Maybe it’s the extra love we felt as kids at Christmas. Dad was a little nicer at that time, and mom was a pargon of positivity. We could also stay up later and eat more junk food. And, of course, we got a few gifts. What’s not to like about Christmas when you’re a kid?

In any event, I’ve met quite a few folks who had these pins growing up, and they always brighten up when they talk about them. They’re usually connected to pleasant memories “of Christmas long, long ago.” (We’re all getting older, aren’t we?)

So, yes, it’s the most wonderful time of the year—even when life is hard. “For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.”

I can hardly wait to fall on my knees tonight.

Picture with me if you can
A little girl in a younger land
Running, playing, laughing
Growing stronger
Now the aging limbs have failed
And the rosy cheeks are paled
Look behind the lines till you remember

She’s still the same girl
Flying down the hill
She’s still the same girl
Memories vivid still
Listen to her story
And her eyes will glow
She’s still the same girl
And she needs you so

Picture with me if you will
A long white dress and a wedding veil
Two young dreamers pledge their love together
Now her lifelong friend is gone
And she spends her days alone
Look behind the lines till you remember

She’s still the same girl
Walking down the aisle
She’s still the same girl
With the shining smile
Listen to her story
And her eyes will glow
She’s still the same girl

Same girl
She’s still the same girl
Wiser for the years
She’s still the same girl
Stronger for the tears
Listen to her story
And your heart will glow
She’s still the same girl
And we need her so
She’s still the same girl
And she needs you so

This Year’s Christmas Cookie Adventure

After all these years, I’m still learning the secrets of baking. Not just the recipes, but the techniques as well—things like temperature, pressure, consistency, mixing, cooling, decorating, and so forth. Let’s just say I have a long way to go! Here are the “win, place, and show” awards for this year’s Christmas cookie adventure.

Win—Peanut Butter Blossoms

The best cookie this year turned out to be the peanut butter blossoms. They’re delicious! We used an online recipe this time around and deviated from the instructions only by putting Wilbur Buds on top of them instead of Hershey Kisses. Half got the dark chocolate buds, and half got the milk chocolate. Readers of TNL will know that I’ll be eating the dark chocolate ones first! Everything about this particular cookie—the look, smell, taste, and ease of preparation—was top notch.

Place—Sugar Cut Outs

The sugar cookies turned out to be wonderful this year, too. They’re just a whole lot of work. And, sheesh, the flour can wind up in the strangest places! With all the rolling, cutting, trimming, and re-rolling of excess dough, the process can get tiring after several hours. We used my Nana’s cookie cutters, which always puts a lump in my throat. They may be 60-70 years old by now, and they bring back a lot of beautiful memories. She was a gem of kindness, and I was always in awe of her baking skills. We put red and green sugar sprinkles on the cut outs. They’re fun to look at and fun to eat!

Show—Chocolate Chip Cookies

Oh, what a near disaster! The chilled dough seemed “spot on” in terms of consistency (and taste), but I must have botched the recipe somehow. The first tray didn’t bake correctly, leaving us with greasy blobs of unrecognizability all over the oven. (I now know what a pregnant amoeba looks like.) I semi-rescued the rest of the dough with added flour and baking soda, and the subsequent bakes were okay-ish. Still, I was frustrated. Chocolate chip cookies have never been a problem before. Ugh!

My frustration led to other miscues on my part (e.g., kitchen spills, misplaced utensils, etc.), which just made me more disappointed with myself. I was not at the top of my game for part of the night, so I never got around to whipping up the snickerdoodles. 

* – bottom lip out – *

The unseen benefit was the reminder—once again—of how much I need a Savior. Fortunately, we have one in Jesus. The cookies were made in his honor, anyway. Eating them this year will be a kind of communion with him. But most of them will be given away to the neighbors when we go Christmas caroling tonight.

Except the chocolate chip cookies. Those are staying here. They’re not ready for prime time.

But, hey, two out of three ain’t bad!

Throwback Thursday: My Earliest Pictures

My apologies for the fading, but these photos go all the way back. They are, in fact, the first pictures ever taken of me as a newly minted Valentino. I’m not aware of any photos that were taken prior to #1 and #2 below.

1. This picture is the first day in my new home. I was thirteen months old at the time, and fresh out of foster care. The blond curls have since given way to brown waves.

2. Jumping on the bed is a skill every little boy should master. Apparently I’m not too upset here that my new parents were acquiring photographic evidence of my crime. Maybe I’m accusing them of fake news.

3. Eight months later I had my first Christmas in the Valentino home. I adored my Nana (mom’s mom), who lived just four houses down the street from us. That allowed for many visits and lots of love shared between us.

4. I’m shown here with my older brother, Bob, who passed away far too young in 2004. Note the aluminum Christmas tree and color wheel in the background that I’ve written about recently on TNL. I seem more eager to open gifts than my brother.

Random Thoughts as SNOWVID-20 Comes to Say Hello

1. I’m catching my breath after a long semester—just sitting here enjoying the sights, sounds, tastes, and smells of the season. Jim Carrey’s A Christmas Carol was playing last night in the background, but I couldn’t watch it because I was finishing up my last class. The animation in that production is amazing (even if dark in tone and temperature), so I’m going to have to catch it later. Right now, the grading marathon begins.

2. The countertop is loaded with Christmas cookie ingredients, all waiting to be mixed in the right proportions and then baked to perfection. Most ingredients don’t taste too good on their own, but together they form a delightful treat that’s not to be missed this time of year. There’s probably a sermon illustration in there somewhere—isolation vs. interaction, and all that.

3. I’m eating a Mint Milano cookie even as I contemplate the homemade delights to come—chocolate chip, sugar, and peanut butter cookies to start. Snicker doodles and sand tarts could make an appearcnce, too, but we’ll see. Either way, Nana’s old fashioned cookie cutters are ready to go. She was a kind and gracious woman who taught me the real meaning of Christmas when I was very young. She always lit a babyberry candle on Christmas Eve to serve as the birthday candle for Jesus.

4. I changed a car battery in 24° F weather today. Didn’t mind at all since the wind wasn’t blowing. Fall is my favorite season, and winter is a close second. Spring is very nice, and summer brings up the rear. (I’m not for hot.) Snow can be both beautiful and fun, but I always want peole to stay safe on the roads. I’m hoping the snowstorm that began an hour ago doesn’t wreak too much havoc on our region. Pennsylvania has had enough challenges for one year. Nevertheless, let it snow!

5. Firewood for the new fireplace is stacked and ready to go. We have a real one and a simulated one. Both are lovely, and both are flanked by Christmas trees right now. Gifts are piling up in the living room, and the nativity set is prominently dispalyed, minus the baby Jesus. His due date this year is December 25, though some years we grant him preemie status.

6. Speaking of nativity scenes, I’m fast becoming a fan of the 1515 painting by an obscure artist depicting the first Christmas, titled The Adoration of the Christ Child. The angel next to Mary and the shepherd in the focal center both display facial features associated with Down syndrome. Yes, Jesus came for the preemies, the Downs, the miscarried, the stillborn, and orphans like me. All are precious in his sight.

7. I’m looking forward to wrapping up the grading, celebrating our Savior’s birth, and then diving into the dissertation full bore. As noted in a previous post, that’s nearly a full-time job, so I’ll have to cut back on my TNL frequency for several months. I’ll stay as engaged as I can, though, since I love to write. I find it therapeutic, clarifying, and devotional. Academic writing, however, is another matter. That’s just tedious and painful, but there’ll be no more degrees after this, so I might as well go out with a bang.

8. Here’s a delightful song called “Memories” as performed by the One Voice Children’s Choir. It lifted my spirits and made me smile. Maybe you’ll enjoy it, too. We don’t all have photographic memories, but we all have phonographic memories. 

9. Finally, in all of our merry making this time of year, it’s good to remember that the cradle led to the cross. And the cross led to the empty tomb. And the empty tomb led to the ascension. And the ascension led to the pouring out of the Holy Spirit. Some day, history itself will culminate in the return of Christ for his people. But how to convey all that in one picture? Here’s one church’s noble attempt:

Praying for the safety, health, and joy of all who pass by TNL from time to time. Thank you!

Be blessed.

Image Credits: downsyndromeprenataltesting.com; shutterstock.com.