Wednesday, December 29, 2010

hello 35


Today I woke up with two pimples on my chin.

Happy birthday to me.

Thankfully, I had a hot pot of coffee and fun DVDs waiting for me from my husband, and dozens of Facebook notifications in my e-mail Inbox.  Friends were already wishing me well, and I had barely rubbed the sleep out of my eyes.

What's that Bible verse in 1 Peter that talks about love covering a multitude of sins?  In this case, it distracted me from my vanity and wrapped me up in a warm embrace.

In fact, I found myself simultaneously laughing and crying most of the day, as I checked my e-mail and phone every hour to discover more words of kindness and encouragement, inside joke references, and funny videos ranging from a singing pug dog to animated cake and SpongeBob SquarePants.

Humor and love is everywhere.  Today I felt like it was all for me, filling up my heart and Facebook Wall.

When my hubby got home from work, he whisked me away to a new vegan restaurant in Akron I've been dying to try called VegiTerranean.  It's owned by Chrissie Hynde of The Pretenders and has received glowing reviews online.

Oh boy, it did not disappoint!  Our dinner started with a glass of prosecco, truffled wild mushroom & caramelized cippolini bruschetta, a cup of butternut squash puree with an apple cider gastrique, and a plate of delicious foccacia bread with garlic & rosemary oil, and ended with two dinner specials: the harvest risotto for me, and the spinach fettuccine with hedgehog mushrooms, roasted artichokes & tomatoes, and vegan sausage for my beloved.


I'll just let you soak in that meal description for a minute.

I am reminded of an expression Garrison Keillor always says about his Powdermilk Biscuits, "Heavens, they're tasty and expeditious!"  While our food was lacking in the speed department (not a bad thing on a romantic date), it was high on the flavor scale.

After our gorgeous dinner, we raced back to our house to find the surprise Chris had been teasing me with for most of the week.  Our friends, Anna & Steven, baked me a cake in our kitchen.  Not just any cake, a red velvet cake.  It was still slightly warm when we cut in to it and was covered in cream cheese frosting.  Yum.  We devoured our portions and headed to the theatre to see the new Reece Witherspoon/Owen Wilson dramedy, which was not short on laughs.

Following our goodbyes, Chris and I polished off most of the dessert, while watching one of the DVDs he gave me.

(Can you tell we like movies.. and cake?)

As I sit here and reflect on this day, this year, and who I am becoming, I can't help but smile.  Sure, I'm thicker around the middle than I'd like, my skin still produces pimples, and I am plenty aware of my brokenness.  Yet, God continues to speak to me, refine me, and show me the best parts of this life.

How can I not smile out of delight and gratitude?

Even with the blemishes and broken hearts, there is beauty and there is hope.  Plus, I relish the adventure.

Happy birthday to me!

Monday, December 27, 2010

tradition


© photo credit: sundancecatalog.com

Does your family have any holiday traditions?

I ask this question a lot during the colder months. I am genuinely interested in hearing the answer, and the stories. Thanksgiving and Christmas are the two warmest holidays of the year, in my opinion, and are meant to be shared.

Chris and I stayed in Ohio for both occasions, and enjoyed participating in other people's traditions. From food, to games, neighborhood lights, pajama pants, and the retelling of family memories.

Since we're usually with one of our families this time of year, we haven't established any traditions of our own. But, I can tell you that my most loved Kelly family traditions included the annual Christmas Eve candlelight service at church, opening presents a day before my friends opened theirs, treat-filled stockings (with a mandarin orange in the toe), Santa's special gift for each of us on Christmas morning, and Lit'l Smokies.

Yes, those cute baby cocktail sausages cooked in plum sauce were a part of most of my Christmases growing up.

Ah, love at first bite.

My sister even honored me at her wedding by having the caterers include a crock of Lit'l Smokies at the reception. How sweet is that? So, true to form, I bought two packages of the Hillshire Farms mini meats and cooked them up for us while we watched a Criminal Minds marathon on TV.

Not to worry, we spent the first part of Christmas with the Sandor/Kemp clan, and were sure to call our families before the day was through.


I suppose there is one tradition that hubby and I can claim as our own: giving and receiving Christmas cards. Having lived in three different states and shared three different churches together, including the communities before we were wed, childhood and family friends, and our relatives, we have collected a number of loved ones over the years. We cherish them all, and celebrating the year's end together in this way is especially meaningful to us.

Upon receipt, we read the sentiments, smile at how big the children are getting, and tape the cards to a chosen wall in the house.




Then, we leave them up until spring.

Last year, we didn't get to display the cards for as many months, because we were preparing for our move to the midwest. So, this year they will adorn the French doors in our dining room and the wall across from the fridge, and we will say a prayer for our dear friends every day.

Don't be surprised if you catch me talking to the photos.

Side note: I found this website listing Christmas traditions from around the world. Maybe it will help you get a head start on next year's celebration.

Happy holidays!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

tis the season


© photo credit: myrecipes.com

I have a sweet tooth. In a serious way.

This time of year, my indulgences are fudge and English toffee. Blame it on being introduced to both when I was a child (the latter in the form of gold foil-wrapped Almond Roca) and my tastes growing like my hair and waistline.   I can't help it.  The pure buttery crunchy goodness and rich fudgey fudgey-ness just taste so good.  Somehow, I manage to abstain from these treats throughout the rest of the year, but come December, it's all I crave.

In addition to eggnog, and another viewing of the movie Elf, toffee and fudge top my list.  Thankfully, I have friends and family who know this about me and share their best handmade candies with us every Christmas.

Now that we live in Ohio, and my husband is a pastor and music teacher, we are up to our eyeballs in homemade goodies.  Chris has an attraction for more savory items, which means I rarely have to share the dessert.

Even as I type this, I'm eating fudge pieces like they're popcorn.

Other indulgences people have this time of year are holiday light displays and decorated trees.  Have you noticed?  Several of the authors of blogs I follow have posted pictures of their family trees this week, and their friends' family trees.

True, Christmas trees are a staple in most houses, especially here in the midwest.  I was quite happy to see this pink-colored tree at Target last week.  It made me smile, as I remembered one of my former coworkers in Southern California who purchased a pink flocked tree every year for her livingroom.

Chris and I talked about getting a tree, but never did.

Instead, I bought two baby potted sprigs (with frosted pinecones) from Walmart and displayed them accordingly.  The one on our diningroom table has attracted the most attention, as it hosts the ornaments we received as gifts this year:

Laughter and charity are also prominent during this season.  I happen to favor both, but laughter has a special place in my bones.  Which makes me appreciate custom license plates like this one I saw two days ago while driving to the post office:

What are your holiday delights?  Are they edible?  Visual?  Wearable? Laughable?   Well, if they're anything like mine, you will be falling in to a sugar coma soon.

Tis the season, after all.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

holiday cheer

When I say the words 'holiday cheer,' what images come to mind?

Do they include dancing angels, animated stars, and an auditorium full of tubas? If so, then you just pictured the highlights from our weekend.

For starters, one of the girls in my junior high group at church sang in her school's winter choral performance, wearing matching black & white attire, made complete with a pair of sassy black boots. The music was mostly traditional with a splash of sea shanty (thanks to the boys' choir), and a retelling of Santa coming down the chimney by a pajama-clad choir of eighth graders.

It all gave me happy flashbacks to my younger ensemble days:

Melanie 'embrace the pink' Gardiner, Rodney Good & his son RJ, along with 495 other musicians from across the state, performed in 'Tuba Christmas': a festive tuba concert/sing-a-long made popular in 1974 as a tribute to the late artist/teacher, William J. Bell. I closed my eyes during the first song, hoping to soak in that unique low brass sound:


The conductor's name is Tucker Jolly (I know, right?), and I just so happened to find a video on YouTube from yesterday's performance. Yes, the players dressed up their instruments in tinsel & twinkle lights, and it's tradition for the audience to shake bells and rattle keys during the song, 'Jingle Bells.' I don't remember if it was after this carol or the next when I shouted "Tuba Forever!"

It seemed appropriate at the time.

Then there was the dance show, displaying the talents of young people from a private dance company called 'Praise His Name with Dancing (including another one of my junior high girls).' This production was long and colorful and included almost every style of dance:

The angels were lovely with their billowing sleeves and pointe shoes, and the little ones they brought up from the audience during intermission were as precious as you would imagine them to be, even if they had a hard time focusing on their direction:


Today, we were involved with the Christmas play at our church called 'Star of Wonder.' I could write an entire blog post about this production, as it reminded me of that story by Barbara Robinson called 'The Best Christmas Pageant Ever.'

Well, not the play itself, but the preparation for the play.

Minus the Herdmans.

This morning I arrived early to the church, at the request of my friend Lisa who was one of the make-up artists for the show. I told her I was better at moral support than I was make-up, but that I would gladly come to help out. I ended up shadowing one of the directors and became her wardrobe assistant for both services.

True to form, the kids arrived with unapologetic energy and an eagerness to perform. They had their make-up applied first, then we dressed them, applied accessories with safety pins & bobby pins, and then tried (with futility) to keep them all quiet behind the door leading to the sanctuary. It was a controlled chaos that made me want and never want children of my own.

The camels were elaborately painted cardboard cut-outs, the baby Jesus was a Cabbage Patch doll, Joseph was played by a boy who also played a shepherd, and the sheep were cutely dressed preschoolers with black paint for noses, rosy red cheeks made of rouge, and fluffy sheep costumes. Even with one sheep having a meltdown (on account of nerves), one of the lead characters fighting a stomach flu, and another one losing a tooth minutes before the second performance, the show went on.. and was a success.


© photo credit: onewaystreet.com

My two favorite moments happened when 1.) Joseph/Shepherd told me in a forced whisper (as I was helping him with his costume change behind the stage curtain), 'I am so excited I could scream!,' and 2.) before the show, in response to Joseph teasing her about being 'married' to him, the young girl who played Mary replied to him saying, 'no I'm not, we're just actors.'

I have to say, this darling girl who played the role of Jesus' mother did so with such reverence. Her costume required the most pinning (in an attempt to make her head covering look flow-y and *Madonna-like without falling off). She experienced the most poking and prodding and, the entire time she was being adjusted, she was very serious and held the baby 'Jesus' as if he were real. She even mentioned to me that "Mary was 13, or almost 13, when she had Jesus and I'm 10, which is pretty close." I smiled then, feeling like we had shared an insightful look in to the birth of our Lord and Savior. A tender moment.

After I affirmed her statement, I asked her if she was ready to be a mom. The look she gave me was priceless. It was part disgust and part disdain and was accompanied by a curt, 'no.'

Good choice, dear one.

*(art not entertainer)

Thursday, December 16, 2010

cup of hope


Cups Cafe is a Christian non-profit coffeeshop that shows love to the community by providing free beverages, pastries, sandwiches, soup, pantry items, and whatever else gets donated by area churches and neighbors, including two of their most popular items: Kool-Aid and ramen noodles.

This was my second time doing an outreach event here.  The first was giving facial treatments with our church's Spa Ministry team, and this time it was serving a pre-Christmas ham dinner with kids from our Revolve youth program.  As with my first visit, I felt honored to offer my heart and hands to folks who came in from the cold looking for something warm to eat and a place to rest.

Tim Van Arsdale runs the cafe and talks easily about his passion for showing kindness to anyone and everyone in need.  What started as a popular watering hole built from a train car, turned in to a donation-based coffeehouse seeking to fill a need in the city, namely a safe space for teenagers to come hang out without judgement or expectation.


© photo credit: cupscafe.org

It does my heart well to see this place alive and reaching people, to which Tim has a wealth of stories and testimonies for the telling.  He and his family live by faith and are confident that the cafe will serve a purpose for as long as it is needed.

So far, the locals have been blessed one by one, including all of the volunteers that work with Tim to make Cups Cafe a welcoming place. The shop is over a year old and going strong.

Serving hope - one cup at a time.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

birthday boy


Every year I like to surprise my husband with something for his birthday. It's a tradition he has grown to love, and is something I have refined over the years. The surprises have ranged from a new guitar to weekends away with friends, private chefs and dinner trains, scavenger hunts and live theatre.

This year, I decided I wanted a whole day with him to myself.

Monday was his birthday and, conveniently, his regular day off from work. When he woke up, there were two wrapped presents on the kitchen counter waiting for him. One was a French press coffeemaker and the other was a DVD of his favorite right-now comedienne, Maria Bamford. I had the fixin's for cinnamon rolls in the refrigerator, so I whipped them up while he brewed us coffee, and we sat together in our pajamas watching the comedy show and snow falling outside our window.

It fast became one of my top five ways to ease in to a morning.

Our next stop was a couples massage at a nearby spa. This is one of our favorite things to do together, and boy, were we both overdue for a kneading! The spa was warm and inviting and every bit relaxing. The nice thing about having a snow storm outside was that the parking lot was scarce and we were the only patrons in the place. I have a feeling the therapists went over their scheduled time with us because of this, and we weren't complaining. If you've ever had a good massage, you know how gooey you feel inside after the session is over. With pillow crease lines on your cheeks and unkempt hair, you end your treatment with a deep sigh and a goofy grin.

Yeah, that was us.

The true adventure came after the spa when we took our newly limbered bodies on the road, in blizzard-like weather, to Cleveland for an early dinner at Michael Symon's B Spot restaurant. The roads were icy and snow was actually blowing sideways over the freeway. Perhaps we should have turned around when we noticed several cars in the median (facing the wrong direction), more than a few sets of red and blue police lights lining the roadway attending to fender benders, or the fact that the mail didn't come that day due to snow (what?). Instead, we smiled our way to Cleveland and marveled at how well Kat handled the elements.


The risk was worth it, as we dove in to our gourmet burgers and delighted in their perfectly balanced flavors. Chris had the Chilly Willy and I had the Symon Says (think: bologna & coleslaw - oh yes!). We included a basket of lime & cilantro chicken wings and some Lola fries. I like the snarky personality of the place, including a fresh pickle bar that you are not allowed to access until you have received your order, and there are no substitutions allowed to your meal.. ever. Rumor has it, Symon is opening a new location in Strongsville.

I'm in.


After our marvelous nosh, we braved the weather back home, kicked our shoes off for a bit, and then headed back out to the theatre to see the new Angelina Jolie/Johnny Depp caper called The Tourist. It was a satisfying ending to a satisfying day.

The photo that opened this post is of a dish of brownies our young adults' group made for Chris on Sunday at our bi-monthly lunch meeting. They arranged the whole thing, complete with ice cream, candles, and a birthday card.

Turns out, I'm not the only one who likes to surprise my better half.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

bell ringer

© photo credit: buyeurekasprings.com

"Santa's coming!" is a phrase my friend, Sue Warnke, says this time of year. She exclaims it with such flair, you can't help but smile.

This is one of the things I think of when I think of Christmas, along with the smell of chimney smoke outside, eggnog lattes, Salvation Army bell ringers, and holiday lights.

What reminds you that Christmas is near?

Is it funny robot statues constructed out of mailing boxes, like the one at our local post office?:


Or is it hearing Christmas classics over the sound system at your neighborhood grocery chain? (If you're lucky, you have a guy at your store who plays his keyboard by the deli section):



Perhaps it's the snow on your backyard bird house, wreaths on your neighbors' front doors, poinsettias and nativity scenes lining the stage at your church, pinecones & evergreen sprigs that somehow found their way inside your house, untangling and sorting through strands of twinkle lights, or the twenty five bags of clothing and shoes you collected to send to missionaries in Ukraine that is sitting in piles in your basement waiting to be packed for shipping?


Wait, what were we talking about?

Oh yeah, Santa's coming!

Tonight I joined several older folks from our church for a round of Christmas caroling in the community. My group went to Medina Hospital and we walked each floor while we sang, including a few special numbers for one of our fellow congregants in Room 205 and a little girl in the pediatric wing. The sweet child was a tiny bit overwhelmed at all the faces grinning at her, but seemed to warm up to us after we sang 'the moose song' that one of our members (an elementary school teacher) came up with on the fly. I quite like the idea of including a song about a moose with songs about snow, sleigh bells and a baby in a manger.

Well, whatever it is that reminds you of Christmas, I hope it's something wonderful. I hope you experience joy and love shown to you freely this holiday season, and that you do the same for others.

After all, sharing is caring.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

police blotter: pranks & hooligans


STOLEN SWING: A swing was apparently removed from the hinges and stolen April 10 or 11 from a set at Sam Masi Park. Police have no suspects in the case and the value of the swing is unknown.

BURGLARY: A resident reported June 21 that a group of kids went into his garage and stole 30 packs of Natural Light beer. The resident said that his neighbors saw the kids running away with the beer.

EXPLOSIVES, OAK BARK TRAIL: A man reported June 30 that someone threw a bottle of pop that exploded at his front door. Police determined that the bottle of pop was actually a Drano bomb. The culprits didn’t put it together properly so it didn’t explode with as much force as was possible.

EXPLOSION: Police and fire officials were called to a home Saturday after a refrigerator exploded. The explosion blew the door off of the refrigerator, but no one was injured.

THEFT, CEDAR ROAD: A Cleveland man, 42, was arrested for theft after he left without paying for food items Saturday at Whole Foods Market, 13998 Cedar. He took a plate of chicken wings, two croissants and a can of pop.

THEFT, PEARL ROAD: A man reported Friday that someone had stolen the gutters and downspouts off of his house overnight.

HANDCUFFS, BRONSON: Locking up your babysitter? Sure, we all thought about it when we were kids. If you were a babysitter, you probably had thoughts of locking up the kids. On Aug. 23, a babysitter at a Bronson Street home called police around 10:35 a.m. reporting that she needed help removing a handcuff that would not unlock. Police responded and unlocked the handcuff. It was not specified whether the children or babysitter were wearing the manacles.

RAILROAD TIE, FALLING OAKS: A Falling Oaks resident told police that someone had placed a railroad tie across her driveway and in her yard sometime on Sept. 5. An officer responded and removed the railroad tie from her driveway and placed it in the front yard. Police have no suspects in the case.

ALARM, W. LIBERTY: A woman, who was in search of a Bible study in the area, had her good intentions spoiled on Sept. 8. She set off an alarm at a W. Liberty St. church while looking for the Bible study around 7:15 p.m., causing police to respond to the location.

VANDALISM, EDGAR LANE: A resident reported several forks stuck in his lawn and his bushes covered in toilet paper. The victim suspects that the incident may be related to an anonymous letter he received three years ago complaining about the appearance of his property.

UFO?: Police witnessed multiple glow-in-the-dark objects flying in Ken Cleveland Park around 10 p.m., Sept. 29. Was it a UFO over Medina? Hardly. Upon further investigation, officers found several individuals flying glow-in-the-dark planes in the park. The subjects were advised that the park would close at 11 p.m.

SENIOR PICTURES, MEDINA ST.: Who knew a student’s senior pictures could draw the attention of police? On Oct. 3, officers spotted a company taking an individual’s senior pictures on a set of railroad tracks on Medina Street. Police told the company to move from the tracks.
BOWLING BALL, W. LIBERTY: A caller told police that there was a random bowling ball resting on the sidewalk in front of a W. Liberty St. restaurant around 2 p.m., Oct. 8. An officer responded and took the unattended bowling ball into property. Apparently, someone got confused and bowled down the wrong type of alley.
DISTURBANCE, CENTER ROAD: A 19-year-old Garfield Avenue man was arrested at 3:06 p.m. Oct. 19 after reportedly causing a disturbance at a Radio Shack store. The man reportedly began using obscene language and claimed to be a millionaire who wanted to buy the whole store. The man reportedly resisted officers during the arrest and had to be placed in a restraint chair at the police department during booking. A knife was also found in the man’s pocket. He was charged with disorderly conduct, trespassing, resisting arrest and carrying a concealed weapon.

VANDALISM, CHAPMAN: A suspect used a sharp object to scratch the words “the love” into the hood of a vehicle that was parked in a Chapman Lane apartment complex lot Oct. 30. No arrests were made in the case.

GHOST ATTACK, GRANGER ROAD: A woman on Granger Road ran outside naked from the waist down yelling for a neighbor to call police because she was shot and then passed out. A rescue squad was called to the scene and found the woman unconscious and without any gunshot wounds. When she came to, she was in the emergency room at Medina General Hospital and claimed to have been attacked by ghosts. She refused medical treatment.

CRIMINAL DAMAGE: On Saturday, a male resident reported damage to his property overnight. He told police that he noticed someone had knocked over lawn ornaments in his backyard. Two ceramic dogs and a ceramic gnome were harmed, with one dog suffering a broken ear.
Welcome to Ohio.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

snow day 2


Okay, so I got a little bit of teasing from my friends here in Ohio and those in Seattle telling me that the first snowfall we had was "nothing."  I kind of expected it.

Well, this was the scene yesterday morning:



Notice the depth of snow along the walkway. I took these pictures around 7:45am while Chris shoveled the driveway and another man from our neighborhood cleared the sidewalk with his snow thrower (I just learned what that machine is called, by the way). Their work was not in vain, even though the snow kept falling and covering their tracks. We were able to leave the house for work.

I am amazed at the way snow is managed around here. Unlike Seattle, which ends up in a big cluttered mess of cars in accidents, drivers stranded, and a city confused; the midwest knows how to handle snow.

Snow plows are at the ready and come out in droves, roadways are cleared and re-cleared, salt is bought by the pound, neighbors help neighbors, and 'snow days' are few, so children don't have to make up as many days of school in the spring. It really is a sight to see. If you can make it out of your driveway, driving is generally not as perilous as you would think.  Everyone I've seen respects the weather and other drivers on the road.

Did I tell you we bought a Ford Escape last summer? My first car (registered in my name) and a beauty. She is dark grey in color and handles the snow like a dream.

I call her BattleKat (Kat for short).


Apparently, we live in the Lake Effect region, which makes the snowfall that much more exciting and abundant. Everyone keeps telling me I'll get tired of this eventually, which may be true.

This week I am enamored of it.