Wednesday, December 28, 2011

::creeping slowly by::

This week has been slowly creeping by -- which is a very good thing.

There has been much happiness occuring this week.

First of all, I got to see those lovely ladies [my cousins] + Oma and Opa + Aunt Sue + my other cousin, John Ruben.

Second of all, I got my white watch.  I haven't ever had a "nice" watch and I used some Christmas money to get one.  Bliss.

Thirdly, Lawry's for dinner on Tuesday night with the fam.  No pics to prove it, either.

Fourthly, let's all say it together -- organization galore.

This girl has been supa-busy organizing.  I finally put away all, all, all of my teaching stuff, housewares and kitchen items that have been accumulated, and books, books, books.  Everything is stored nicely in bins and put in storage.

[dusts off hands with a satisfied look]

Also...I found this pin....while decluttering....

I was so very, very proud of that pin when I was a little girl.  My brothers were wrestlers and I loved going to their meets on Saturdays.

Now, the pin has found a safe and happy home on the pin board in my room.  Hopefully, I never misplace it again.

And lastly, I get to babysit Friday night.  I haven't seen the kiddos for a week now.  I can't wait to see all their Christmas presents.

2012, bring it.  I'm ready.  This is going to be a fantastic year.  I just know it and have been praying towards that end.


Friday, December 23, 2011

::Friend Friday::Rachel::

Yay! Another episode of Friend Friday.  Today, I'd like to introduce you to Rachel.  I have actually met her.  :) Last September, my brother and I made a trip to PA to visit the Sight and Sound Theater and also so I could meet a few of my blog friends at Lehigh Valley Baptist Church.  There I met Rachel.  She is now living in Botswana...but really, I should stop talking so you can hear from her.

Hi, I'm Rachel! I'm a 26 year-old who is serving with my parents as missionaries to Botswana. Two years ago when they began to consider moving here, they asked my younger brother and I what we would like to do. We both responded that of course we were going with them! I mean, who wants to stay in the States when you have the opportunity to live in Africa?

I've long loved Africa and her people, and though I don't know how long I'll be able to stay here (I'm still waiting on my paperwork to come through), I'm enjoying every moment that I can! 

Botswana is a small country in southern Africa, just north of the country of South Africa. It is mostly desert, but it has nice parts too. :) We live in Francistown, which is about half an hour away from the Zimbabwe border. Because of this, we get to work with a lot of Zimbabweans too. We are about seven hours from a brother who lives in South Africa and about six hours from Victoria Falls. The longer I live in Africa, the more I am coming to view a six hour trip as a short thing!

As I said, my younger brother and I are here with my parents. I have two older brothers, both married and with several children. One lives in Pennsylvania and the other in South Africa. It's a rare and special thing when we are all on the same continent together.

This Christmas is actually my third Christmas in Botswana. Rebecca asked me a few questions about what it is like to have Christmas here, so I hope you enjoy!

--How do those in Botswana celebrate Christmas?  Is it much different than America?

The people in Botswana love Christmas, but it is obviously celebrated a little differently! For one, the temperature last year peaked out at 120 on Christmas Day, so that's a little odd to this Pennsylvania-raised and snow-loving girl! Since the beginning of November, stores have been decorating with lights, tinsel, and big fake Santas. They play Christmas music, and it is odd to be shopping summer fruits while listening to "Let It Snow" at the grocery store. As with most holidays here, people celebrate it by going back to their home villages to visit extended family. If they can afford it, there will be a big meal and gifts. Most people get some sort of Christmas bonus at their job, and use that to buy up their supplies for the holiday. Of course, this includes a LOT of alcohol. We live down the street from a big warehouse-style grocery store (think Costco). All day long, people stream out of the parking lot with carts FULL of alcoholic drinks. This weekend there will be lots of long and loud parties. It is so sad to see that even though they might not understand Christmas, or even all the traditions that I normally associate with Christmas, they have got a good hold on the greed that surrounds the holiday. People will beg, borrow, and steal as much as they can so that they can have a good holiday. This means it is the most dangerous time of year for us, as Americans, because we are looked upon as the rich and wealthy. (If only they knew!) In the States, I think this same thing is a problem, but most people can charge up their credit cards, looking for the 'perfect holiday.' Here, no one has credit cards, so they have to have the cash. We're extra careful right now, and won't leave our house unattended until after Christmas.

Statistically, Botswana is actually one of the wealthier countries in Africa. They don't have the same poverty that other countries struggle with and their education system is very good. However, there is also a 50% HIV+ rate, and a lot of unemployment (also a lot of refugees from Zimbabwe that will work for lower wages, which doesn't help create employment for the citizens). All this means there are lots of problems with depression and drinking. You can imagine how a holiday that is supposed to be happy and family-oriented could just be a sad reminder to some that their life is not at all fulfilled. If only they understood the TRUE meaning of Christmas! But that’s why we’re here. :)

--What do you miss the most about Christmas in the States?

I miss the cooler weather, the snow, and all the social things that usually surround Christmas at our church. Obviously, I miss the days of having all of my immediate family in the same place for Christmas. :) One of my friends wrote me and said that they are going caroling this week, our church just put on a Christmas cantata, and I've always enjoyed when Christmas fell on a Sunday, so I'm especially missing my church family this year. 

Last year, I really missed the baking that usually surrounds Christmas. When it is regularly over 100 degrees and your poor air conditioners are working overtime, the last thing you want to do is turn on the oven. It was unusually hot and dry (the rains had not yet started, which usually tempers the high heat), so we only did one day of baking sugar cookies. This year, the Lord gave me a special blessing by giving us one week of thunderstorms before Christmas. This means that the temperature was lowered and there wasn't really anywhere to go when it was raining so hard. We did a LOT of baking in that week, let me tell you!

 --What are Christmas foods that you can duplicate in Botswana?

Just about everything. :) Of course, everything has to be made from scratch... completely! But the longer I live here, the more I enjoy that aspect of things. I really enjoy learning how to make things completely from scratch. Thus far this Christmas season, we've made Thin Mint Cookies, Poptarts, Carrot Cake, Sugar Cookies, several types of pies, and lots and lots of coffee drinks. Just about anything from Starbucks, we've learned to duplicate. :) Ha!

Our Christmas menu this year probably won't be a turkey with all the fixings. Although that is 'traditional' for our family, we have started to make some new traditions, now that we live in a country of summer Christmas. (And I've only seen a turkey for sale once!) Instead, we usually opt to have a big cookout, called a braai (bry). Our meal is decidedly Fourth of July in style - steak and chicken on the grill, baked beans, salads and maybe some homeade rolls for good measure. We haven't yet decided on a dessert, mostly because it will just be the four of us on Christmas Day and we are traveling the day after, so we don't want a lot of leftovers. We'll probably make some homeade root beer and some homeade egg nog.

One thing I can tell you - when you do learn to make things by scratch, you soon prefer that to the convenient foods in the States. It just tastes so much better, and it's nice knowing exactly what is in the food that you are eating!

I thought it would be fun to share one of my recipes with you, but since Christmas is in just two days, I thought I would keep it simple. How about seasoned pretzels? These are easy-peasy and a great thing to whip up for people to snack on while they wait for the big Christmas meal to be finished. Or save the recipe for your New Year’s party… or just make a batch for yourself. I can guarantee that they are addictive. When we lived in the States, I made these all the time and it was our favorite go-to snack. Since we can’t get pretzels here, much less big sourdough pretzels, they are more of a special treat now. We always stuff a few bags of pretzels in the top of our bags when we travel back and forth… they are so light and don’t take up much room. Then we ration them out over the year. However, we’ve been experimenting with sourdough lately and have a good starter that is consistently growing. So hard pretzels is on our list of things to soon try. :)

Seasoned Pretzels

1 16-oz bag of hard sourdough pretzels, broken into pieces
(you could buy the bag of little nuggets to save time, but it is better to have the big ones broken up, as it helps them absorb the dressing)
1/2 cup oil (I use olive)
3 Tbsp ranch dressing mix (we make our own from scratch… you can google lots of recipes for that if you don’t want to buy it. I always add extra garlic to mine :)

Mix the oil and dressing, then pour over your pretzel pieces. Stir them so that the dressing coats the pretzels well. Bake on a cookie sheet at 350 degrees, stirring every five minutes. I usually leave mine in for twenty minutes, just because I like them super crispy. But you can take them out in just ten minutes or so if you prefer… totally up to you!

Try not to eat them all in one sitting!

All that aside, we all know that Christmas isn't about all the trimmings. It isn't about the gifts or the parties or the special meals. It isn't about the decorations or the music... it's about Jesus Christ.

The fact that our God - so powerful, so mighty, so awe-some - would come in the form of a tiny, helpless baby. Well, that fact just cannot be fully comprehended by my finite mind! The fact that our God loved ME so much that He would do that - it humbles me. Whenever I am feeling lonely or sad that I'm not experiencing "Christmas" as I grew up with, I spend some time thinking on that thought. He LOVED me enough to do that for me. That truly is the meaning of Christmas.

Merry Christmas to all the Cotton+Wood readers! Thanks for reading my babbling. :)

ps...Thanks for the recipe, Rachel.  I've had these pretzels before and they are delish but, I've never tracked down the recipe.  I can't wait to make these s-o-o-n!


Thursday, December 22, 2011


...I'm a hack on my Mom's Mac.  Yes, my Mom is the new owner of a MacBook Pro.  She said I could use it whenever.  I said....Uh, thanks.  But, no thanks.  I do not want to become addicted to the wonderful Mac world.

However, I have not blogged this week.  Sad, sad news.  So I resorted to using the fun, fun Photobooth feature.

Not that there isn't anything to blog about.  The past week and a half has included but not been limited to:
--Christmas school play
--Christmas baking + distributing
--Christmas concert
--Christmas banquet
--Christmas shopping
--Christmas wrapping
--Christmas eating + eating + eating

But I thought I'd simply entertain you with the above picture.

Yes, I'm still a blogger.

Yes, there will be a Friend Friday post tomorrow.

Yes, I'm on Christmas break.  [well, sort of...I have to work tomorrow morning.]

Yes, I'm going to my grandparents' house.

Is there anything else you'd like to ask me?

Ask away, darlings.....


Saturday, December 17, 2011

::Saturday sweetness::

This year, I have been wanting to use craft paper to wrap my gifts.  Simple + pretty.

I saw somewhere on the webs a picture of craft paper wrapped gifts and tied with yarn.  I got to wrapping yesterday and am quite pleased with the results.  I don't think the chevron gift tag in the photo above quite matches.....:)

How is your Christmas shopping coming along?  I am half-way done and of the gifts I have left, I know exactly what I want to buy.  I think I may head out this afternoon and get everything finished!

I also wanted to pass along a discount code if you are a reader of Beneath My Heart.  [hint, hint]  Traci is such a sweetheart.  [That's why I advertise with her.]

Also, Danielle did a product review for me and you can read about it here.  I love my garlands.  Several weeks ago, I visited a local antiques store and came out with some treasures of books.  I can't wait to dig into them and make something beautiful.  I'm just a bit hesitant that I don't mess up a very good thing.

Lastly, I have some blog buds that are coming to visit in a few weeks.  Excited + nervous + happy + excited.  :)


Oh....and woah, peeps. >>> Check out the follower button over there on the sidebar!! >>>Welcome, all you new readers. :)

Friday, December 16, 2011

::Friend Friday::Jolene::

The blogger for today is the sweet and lovely Jolene. I found her blog a while ago; I actually can't remember how, when, or where. But it's been fun reading about her life as a missionary to Ukraine with her husband and kids. I asked her a whole bunch of questions and she so generously answered them all.  

Welcome, Jolene!

December 25th is an ordinary day in Ukraine.  Hard to believe, I know, but it is true.  All of the Christmas holiday traditions Americans are accustomed to are celebrated here in Ukraine…. only at New Year’s.  In America we have a Christmas tree, gifts, Santa Claus, a big holiday meal, etc… on December 25th.  The Ukrainians have a New Year’s tree, gifts, Grandfather Frost, a big holiday meal, fireworks, etc… on December 31st.  Christmas Day for Ukrainians is January 7th.  Why January 7th?   Because they follow the Julius calendar which puts Christmas two weeks later than we Americans celebrate it.  However, Christmas Day here is just a religious holiday and celebrated on a very small scale in comparison to the way we celebrate it in America.  But, I will tell you… we have  nothing to boast about when it comes to celebrating New Year’s.  Ukrainians, hands down, outdo us when it comes to celebrating this day on the calendar!

I miss family.  My hubby comes from a big family of eight children.  To date, there are already 30 grandchildren, and it is the hardest for us to know when everyone is getting together and we are not there.  Those years that we are able to be together are just that much more sweeter, though!

I have a special place in my heart for a gingerbread man pillow I bought a few years ago and get out each Christmas.  It reminds me of a time many years ago when my bus captain (I was a bus kid and my bus captain was just a college student) brought two stuffed gingerbread men to our home as gifts for my sister and I.  The stuffed gingerbread men weren’t even new, but they were the first earthly gifts anyone from our church had ever given us, and he had come to our home specifically for the purpose of giving them to us.  I will never forget how loved I felt that day.

This is a hard one, but I would have to say that last year’s Christmas was the best to date.  We were back in the states for me to give birth to our fourth baby, Micah.  Since everyone else in hubby’s family are also missionaries, we are all sort of “homeless” when we are on American soil.  Many of us happened to be back in the states for various reasons, and we wanted to get together for Christmas.  But the problem was where?  A little country church in Forney, Texas gave us their entire building, set up a large Christmas tree for us, gifts, stockings for all of the kids, and let us just take over.  Classrooms were turned into bedrooms, using blow-up air mattresses and lots of the kids slept on church pews!  What fun for everyone to be together!  {And, I can’t say I’ve ever felt closer to Jesus on Christmas Day by being in church all day!}

 [Christmas, 2010]

When you have children, everything about Christmas is magical!  But some of the extras we enjoy on top of all of the customary traditions are giving the kids new pajamas on Christmas Eve to wear to bed that night.  We also like to have a birthday cake for Jesus in addition to all of the other desserts on Christmas Day!

Many thanks, Rebecca for hosting me on your blog!  Merry Christmas to you and all of your friends from your missionary friend in Ukraine!

With Love from Ukraine,

Jolene has an amazing testimony and many of her extended family are missionaries, as well!!!  Read her blog to get to know her better.


Thursday, December 15, 2011


If it was socially acceptable, this is how I would roll every single day.

White, long-sleeved t-shirt, scarf, denim/corduroy skirt [minus the glasses and the pony] plus a to-go cup of mint tea from Uptown Cafe.

Every single day.

One of the most common mis-perceptions of me is that I have a huge closet filled with tons of clothes, which to me is mildly amusing.

I like [crave, need] simplicity.

New Year's goals have already been on my mind. Have they been on yours? So it got me thinking....why in the world do we wait until January 1st to implement new habits or goals? Why not get a jump-start? Not a full-fledged pledge on December 15th but dipping a toe into the proverbial water of change.

The word more typically does not mean to simplify.

But if I said more simplicity, more contentment, more Jesus, more Holy Spirit obedience, all of a sudden, more of one thing means a whole lot less of another.

I think my word for 2012 is going to be more.  More simplicity and a whole lot less fluff.


Wednesday, December 14, 2011

::Cold Hands, Warm Hearts Swap::

I recently participated in a swap. I missed the Cold Hands, Warm Hearts swap last year. But when Ilene and Sandy mentioned they were doing another one, I jumped at the chance.

Actually, this is the second swap of the Christmas season.   

The first swap was a bit of a dud...shhhhSo I was a bit leary about opening up my second package.  In fact, I may have said I would never do another swap again and get burrrrrrrrrned like I did.

B.U.T., when I opened my package from Megan, my hopes were boistered that there are lovely swap partners in the world.

Looooook what I received....
...packaged so cutely.

Gloves!!!  That I've worn already.  I love them.

A big, fat bar of lovely smelling soap.  I'm a sucker for bar soap, especially the fancy kind.  This is right up my alley.

And last but definitely not least, a lovely, sparkly ornament.

Thank you so much, Megan, for such a delightful package.  And I mean that from the bottom of my heart!

She has a shop where she sells some cute prints.  Take a look!

...This one makes me chuckle.

...An adorable little love print

...And I love state prints.  Even though I'm not from Ohio [strictly a Hoosier, at the moment], this print is adorable!

Have a wonderful, lovely day everyone.  It's raining like the Dickens and there is no snow in the forecast for the next ten days.  I'm not very confident this is going to be a white Christmas.


Friday, December 9, 2011

::friend friday::Kali::

I am barely squeaking in Friend Friday.  Friday is almost over...! 

The internet was not working this morning due to a new phone line we had installed. Then after work today, we went to Chicago for dinner. 

So here I am 45 minutes before Saturday. I'd like to introduce to you Kali from It's a Wonderful Life!

She is sharing with us a recipe!

Hello! I thought I'd share a recipe that we usually make around Christmas time. Caramel Popcorn...Yum! It's the perfect snack and it's great to give as a simple gift, too!

2 cups brown sugar
1/2 cup corn syrup
2 sticks butter
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp cream of tartar
Dash of salt
8 qts of non-buttered popcorn

Mix sugar, syrup, and butter. Boil 5 minutes. (As tempting as it may be, do NOT stir while it's boiling.) Remove from heat. Add baking soda, cream of tartar, and salt. Pour immediately over popcorn. Mix until popcorn is completely covered with caramel and bake for 1 hour at 200 degrees. Put on wax paper, separate, and enjoy!

You could even take it to the next level by drizzling your favorite chocolate over it. Mmmm! We love this popcorn, and hope you will too! 

That sounds delicious and I was just thinking about popcorn yesterday and how I would love to take Kali and Maggie to a very well-known popcorn place in Chicago when they come visit!!

Have a wonderful weekend!


Thursday, December 8, 2011

::Christmas decorations::

Today, I'm linking up with Gussy and the Inspiration Workshop!
Gussy Sews Inspiration Workshop!

The past several years, our family has gotten a fraser fir.  I la-la-love those trees.  No prickly needles for me!  Apparently....we dumped all of our lights last year.  So Dad had to run to the store and get some new ones.  Among our new lights are small, round bulbs.  I love them!!  I was so excited to see a different strand of lights on the tree....a nice change.

My grandparents got my parents a new nativity set a few years ago.  The old, familiar one is tucked away in storage for either my brother or I to take one day.  It has too many memories attached to just give it away or discard it.

 I love this centerpiece from our local florist in town, Shady Lawn.  [I also happen to work a bit there each week....just a bit biased.]

A family that we minister to through our local church gave this sweet little figurine to my parents last week.  I know it will always hold special memories for us.

These big thangs came from my grandparents house down in Mobile.  Ah...I miss that place. And I don't think such perfect, large pinecones can be found up North.

On my way out the door to take a few outside pics....looking a little crummy.  :)

A wreath on our porch door.  We're a little wreath-happy around here.  This is one of many....also purchased at Shady Lawn.

We have a [small] barn.  It makes me feel like I live in the country.  The wreaths on the doors seal the deal.

What's your favorite Christmas decoration?

For me, I love the decorations that we pull out year after year.  I can't wait to have my own place, though, and pull out the things I have accumulated.  :)


Tuesday, December 6, 2011

::good morning coffee chat::

Yep, same coffee cup as last week. :)

So, the first thing I would tell you over coffee this morning is my cookie exchange. I should be wild with frenzy because of all the things I have to prepare. But strangely, I'm not. That is a very good thing. I plan to finish this blog post and march upstairs and get cooking.

I would also tell you that yesterday was my Dad's birthday. We went out for dinner and on the way we saw about 12 cop cars. That is not a lie or an exaggeration. We saw six speeding down the highway and they had surrounded a semi farther down the road. I'm sure it will be in the papes today. Then, we took a wrong turn in a neighborhood and saw about six more at a house. Coincidence? Connection? I don't know but it was very interesting. My Dad is sooooOOOO awesome. I love him so much. There were lots of laughs at dinner, too.

The last thing I would tell you is that tomorrow will be 13 years since my Mom was diagnosed with leukemia. Our world was pretty rocked and that is a very nice understatement. The farther we get away from her illness, the more I am grateful for the gift of my Mom. So unbelievably grateful it makes me ache sometimes.

What would you tell me over coffee?

Linking up with Amy...


Monday, December 5, 2011

::zoo lights::

Friday night, a group of us went to Lincoln Park Zoo to see the lights. I've heard that the zoo puts on a beautiful showing of lights but I've never seen it.  That changed on Friday night.  :)

It was great fun and the lights were spectacular.

We got there a bit later than we planned so I think we were just a bit rushed.  However, we did walk the entire zoo and saw a few animals in the process.

This big guy got lots of attention.  A few minutes before I snapped this picture, he had his head on his paw.  It was.....cute.

I got some practice snapping lights at night photos. 

We ate at Five Guys -- a first for most of us.

There were altogether toooooo  many laughs.

It's a blessing to be with other fun, godly young people!

How was your weekend?