Moments of Joy: November 2016

Last month, I described my favorite parts of fall party fun. Today’s story tells of another gathering of friends, this time away from home.

All-Region choir concert filing on stage

My best friend in the world is pregnant.  What a surprise for her and her family, as she and her husband assumed for years that they could not have children.  With her last few nauseous months, and my busy family’s schedule, I have hardly seen my friend this fall.  That changes today, however, because my daughter is participating in an All-Region choir concert near my friend’s house!

I leave the house with a smile on my face, eager to enjoy the afternoon with my buddy and the evening concert.  Forty-five minutes later, I pull into the Target parking lot, search briefly for my friend’s distinctive vehicle, and park near it.  We often meet here as it is on the edge of town, and she frequents the Starbucks coffee shop in the store.

Searching the coffee shop area, she is no where to be found.  A quick phone call later, and I meet her with a big hug in the Christmas decoration area.  We shop, we chat, we share thoughtful conversation that only best friends can, and before long it’s time for the concert.

We luckily find the venue without much trouble and find a parking space near the long line of school buses.  An image of my daughter’s face from this morning flashes into my mind, and I chuckle to myself. The least-favorite part of this day for my daughter was getting up at the crack of dawn to ride the very crowded bus to choir practice.  Overall, the experiences of the day definitely outweigh the inconveniences to her, and she loves the trip every year.  I’m proud that she is so successful each year in this chosen interest of hers (singing).  I’m also thrilled that from this year forward, the public school choir class is at 8 a.m., forcing us to get an early start on our homeschooling each day without any teen fussing about needing “five more minutes” to sleep!

My focus is brought back to the present, as we get out of the vehicle and follow the crowd inside.  This is the first time the All-Region concert has been held at this location, but we easily find our way around and luck into great seats on the third row.  At the last minute, family and friends file in and settle beside us.  I turn to check how my pregnant friend is faring, as evenings are usually her worst time of the day.  Luckily, it’s a good day for her today!

The lights dim and teens begin filing onto the stage.  My daughter is easy to spot in the crowd for a change, due to her burgundy and gold choir robe.  The girls’ typical black dresses weren’t ready in time for today, and this is the first time in all the years of singing that I’ve seen my daughter in a choir robe.  She wasn’t thrilled about it when she tried it on at home the day before, but we had some good laughs joking about how many of us could probably have climbed into the giant costume with her.

After a brief technical difficulty with the microphone (“What?” one person in the back yells, “We can’t hear you!”), the show is under way.  The singing is beautiful!  My daughter seems to do well on all the songs, even the new song they were required to learn earlier today in a different language.  A second choir files onto the stage after my daughter is finished.  One of their songs is an improvised piece, accompanied by bongos. It is interesting and lively, just like the comedic conductor. The final song of the night is a powerful spiritual that elicits booming cheers from the crowd and a couple of tears from my eyes.  What a great show!

It takes a while to reconnect with my daughter and gather our friends before we decide on the spur of the moment to have a late dinner together.  I’m thrilled that my pregnant friend even feels up to eating at this time of day — yay!  So, off we go, trying to follow each other across the busy town in the dark to the restaurant.  On the way, we get briefly separated in traffic and get a close-up view of a departing school bus swiping the side mirror off a small SUV.

Finally making it safely to the restaurant, we prepare to nosh on southern home cooking at Cracker Barrel.  We have a great time asking the waitresses to snap photos of all of us in front of the large, stone fireplace while we wait for the tasty “grub.”  Then we settle back in our chairs, and conversations fly back and forth across the table with lots of smiles and laughter.  My daughter tells the details of her day, with only one sad bit of news to report.  It’s sad to her, anyway…her teacher found it so easy to spot her students among the sea of black dresses and suits that she’s decided they will wear the giant burgundy robes again next year!

We eventually admit we all need to end the fun and head home for bed.  In the restaurant gift shop, we mill around and enjoy a few more minutes together while the tabs are being paid.  I notice a couple of people sneaking up to the register to purchase Christmas gifts after someone “Oooos” or “Aaaaahs” over an item in the store.  A few final hugs are exchanged and another blessed day draws to an end.

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Friendships and Tea Sets

True friends are such a blessing! I wanted to share this sweet post to remind us to count the blessing of friendship every day.

Proverbs 18:24 “there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.”

Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken.”

The Chicken Grandma

Well-Loved Tea Set.JPG

For some reason tonight I am struggling to organize my thoughts.  I keep rearranging them and sorting them out in my mind while I try to get them typed into this post. Perhaps it is because the day was full.  It was full of laughter, joy, sharing and love. The day has left so may thoughts swirling through my brain that it is difficult to know where to start and where to end.

It was a great day spent with two close friends. I have known who these two women are; for probably 16 years.  It is only the last few years that I have really come to know these two women. We met at a Christian retreat and have met at that same retreat for many years.

When you have shared life stories, shared tears and shared laughter you realize what a gift friendship and relationship can be. These…

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Cheese + Cake = Happy

Today, I want to tell you about two things that increase my level of happiness:

good friends and good food!

friends face problems together

photo from groundreport.com

There is a precious lady who has been one of my best friends since I bumped into her during my first hour as a college student.  She was walking down the sidewalk and saw me talking to my parents as they were about to leave.  Being a kind soul, she introduced herself and invited me to go with her and her friends.

Imagine my poor parents releasing their little bird from the nest as their daughter ventures off into semi-adulthood.  They bring me to the campus, help me lug 800 pounds of clothing and supplies up to the ninth floor of the dorm.  With a wistful look of love in their eyes, they give me a final hug goodbye and prepare to drive back home without their “little girl.”

What do these sweet people receive in return?  A glimpse of the back of their daughter’s head as I skip away, calling over my shoulder, “I love you.  See you later.  I’m going with them–bye!”

A couple of weekends later, I even stayed at my new friend’s house, rather than going home to my parents.  I suppose I was merely enjoying being able to spread my wings a little.

(Wow…I dread when that day comes for me and my precious daughter!  It will be here all too soon…)

So begins a story of true friendship spanning over twenty years.  One thing I quickly discovered about my friend is that she and her mother are great cooks, which brings me to the second source of happiness I mentioned:  food!

a rainbow of foods: strawberries, oranges, popcorn, peas, and berries

The only problem with my friend’s cooking talent is that I had trouble duplicating a few of her delicious dishes.  Why?  She rarely measures ingredients!  Aaah!  (At that point in my life, a recipe was required for me to prepare anything other than hot dogs or frozen pizza. Lol.)

One of our favorite things to enjoy–when we were young and skinny and could eat like hogs without expanding until we looked like hogs–was her homemade cheesecake.  After several failed attempts to recreate the delicious dessert, I made her sit down with me to write out a recipe.

Here’s what I got:  “Well, you need three packages of cream cheese, some sour cream, some eggs, some sugar, and a little vanilla…Then it’s just graham crackers and butter for the crust.”  This did not precisely fit my definition of a “recipe.”

Through mild interrogation of my friend and further experimentation on my own, I developed a very close facsimile of her delicious cheesecake which I am glad to share with you.  May it bring as much joy and delight to your palate as it has to me and my family over the years!

In my special, handmade recipe book, I have this dessert titled as “Cheesecake.”  That’s rather boring and doesn’t do justice to the high quality of the dish, so how about this:

“Oh-How-I-Wish-I-Could-Eat-the-Whole-Thing-Right-Now!  New-York-Style  Cheesecake”

CRUST:
1 1/2 – 2 cups graham cracker crumbs
4 – 6 Tbs. melted butter

Mix both together & press into bottom of a 13 X 9 inch glass baking dish.

FILLING:
3 (8oz.) packages cream cheese (softened)
8-16 oz. sour cream
2-3 eggs
1 cup sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
1/8 tsp. salt (don’t add this if your butter is salted)

Beat filling ingredients until creamy (about 3 minutes) and pour into baking dish.  Bake at 350 degrees for 30-35 minutes, then turn off oven (don’t open the door!) & leave cheesecake in oven for one hour (this lets it finish cooking without cracking or drying out around the edges).  It is done when a toothpick comes out clean in center of cheesecake.