hippos doing what?

My favorite holiday “can’t do without it” recipe is called Hippocras

No it does NOT involve hippos.  Ugh.  Think of a hot version of Sangria, heavy on the cinnamon. If you want the history on this yummy beverage, click here

Here’s what I do at home.

  • Set crock pot on counter.
  • Turn on high.
  • Pour in 2 gallons of apple juice
  • Find cheap red wine, pour in at least 2 cups.  You can do more depending on your tastes
  • Taste.
  • Cut up a seedless orange in slices. Remove any seeds, but leave the rinds on.   Add to crock pot.  You can also add some orange juice as well.  But be careful not to add too much orange juice.  It can send the whole tone of the mixture over too much towards the sangria side.  Sangria is fine…for summer.  This isn’t summertime.
  • Add spices to taste.  Spices to choose from are:

Cinnamon STICKS (never add ground spices to a drink mixture.  All they will do is float to the top and get in people’s teeth) If you can’t wait for the cinnamon sticks to work their slow magic just add some Candy Red Hots to the pot.  They will dissolve and give you the taste you were looking for.

Whole Cloves.  Here again, please stay away from the ground spices.  A trick to keep the cloves from floating into your way when you are trying to ladle out your punch is to stick them into the rind of the orange slices when you originally put the orange slices into the crock pot.

Sugar.  Not too much.  this is supposed to be a refreshing cup of cheer, not a sickly sweet dessert in a cup.

  • Stir.
  • Taste.
  • Add more stuff till you get a balance of taste that you find appealing. 
  • Taste some more. 
  • Oh heck, go get a mug and have a bit more.
  • Now go take your mug and sit down on the porch or in front of your fire. There, that’s much better isn’t it?
  • and that’s how you serve it.  Hot and unpretentious.  This is a “kick off your shoes, stretch your feet towards the fire, curl up on the couch” type of beverage. 

There are some side benefits to having Hippocras in a crock pot on your counter:

1.      Your house will smell heavenly!

2.      And if you make sure to turn the crock pot on and let the contents heat all the way up at least once a day, you can keep this going, on the counter all season long.  Yes, you heard me.  All season long.  I normally start a pot of this stuff in early November and keep it going till the end of January.  Just add more liquid (apple juice, wine, orange juice) depending on what it needs.  This means you have an excuse to taste test it at least once a day. 

3.      You are ALWAYS ready for guests….or at least your house will SMELL ready.

You can also make a “virgin” version of this using just cinnamon tea, apple juice, orange juice and the spices.  But I love the warm welcome of a hot mug of wine on a cold fall/winter evening.


So tell me, what is your “I can’t live through the holidays without THIS” recipe?


coming out from behind the tree….

So after the New Year’s Day meltdown what happens next?  Once you admit that you are sad and overwhelmed, where do you go from there?

Well, I got busy. Just in a different way.

  • I got back into Bible study
  • I got back into aerobics class
  • I started my 2011 Siesta Scripture Memory Team notebook
  • and I got snowed in for a week

Yup.  You heard me.  Getting snowed in for a week was the best thing that could have happened to me just now.  Everything came to a screeching halt and we just played.  We enjoyed Ginny.  We snuggled in front of the fireplace, we watched White Christmas, we played with the neighbors, we went for a nature hike, and I didn’t put in a single job application all week.  I just put the whole mess aside and gave myself up to enjoying this rare event of being snowed in.

And trust me, getting snowed in for a solid week in Atlanta is unheard of.

Wanna see photos?

yup.  I kinda thought you might.

This was after only about 2 hours of snow.  We got more than this, but the photo is so pretty, I just had to share.

Martin insisted that I take this shot.  I didn’t think it would turn out, but it ended up being one of the most unique photographs from this snowfall.

the only “flocked” tree I have ever liked….Our outdoor Christmas tree, with lights, covered in snow.

I love the way the colored lights glowed through the snow.

find a happy place.....

This is my happy place.  Snow is falling outside.  I have slippers, wine & cheese, a good book, a sleeping dog, a fire in the fire place, a beautiful Christmas tree.  you will notice that second glass of wine.  It wasn’t for me, but for my wonderful hubby who would come to shove the dog out of his chair and complete my happy place picture.

Our dog Kirby, heading for Narnia…..

Ginny playing in the snow with papa. I didn’t get very many shots of this, mostly because the snow was still coming down and I didn’t want to damage my camera.  So after snapping off a few shots of Ginny and Martin, I put the camera aside and just went out and enjoyed the playtime.

Our front porch.  Out of four steps you can only see ONE set of treads.

Martin and Ginny in front of Grammy’s house.  We hiked the mile to her house because she can’t go for a solid week without seeing her grandbaby.  Plus it gave us a chance to try out our fancy new sledding rig.  cool yes?  We both enjoyed pulling Ginny and the neighbor kids in it.

My parents were both very glad to see us by the way.  They had cabin fever really badly, so an infusion of cuteness really helped.

Ginny getting warm after a day in the snow.  She is turning into quite a ham for the camera.

So wrap up the week and put a bow on it.

Seven solid days of a snow and ice covered driveway made for some concentrated family time.  That might drive other folks insane, but  not me.

This week of being snowed in was exactly what I needed.  No, I don’t think God sent the snow for all of Atlanta just to help my heart, but I know He used this time in my life to quiet me down and say “Child, you have been mourning the past, and yearning for what is behind you, but look.  See?  This is the present.  And it is filed with wonder, beauty and joy.”

the christmas 2010 recap

otherwise known as “it is dark behind the Christmas Tree”

We tried (just like every year) to have a low-key Christmas season but it just didn’t happen.  Between

  • Journey to Bethlehem (which didn’t happen due to inclement weather, but we got to spend a lot of time planning and organizing and being ready for it anyway)
  • co-writing, directing, costuming and staging a new monologue each week in our church services
  • learning to run the ProPresenter booth at church
  • trying to keep up my job application volume (it never pays to let momentum slow down in a job search)
  • choir commitments
  • trying to find time to keep up with aerobics class (this one we let slip)
  • keeping a general structure and schedule for Ginny
  • decorating the house
  • planning a 14 hour drive to Dallas to see Martin’s side of the family
  • Presents
  • Christmas cards/letters
  • wrapping
  • baking
  • eating

my head was spinning.

By New Years day I was a basket case.

We are really no busier than other people I guess, but when you add to all this stuff an underlying current of sadness…I finally lost it.  Martin left the room for a few minutes on New Years Day and when he came back he couldn’t find me.  I was curled up, under and behind the Christmas tree.  The mourning from my job lay-off had finally surfaced and I just didn’t have any more strength to resist it.  It is plain and simple.

I. Want. MY. Job.  Back.

Yes, God is in charge.

Yes, it will all be fine.

But while embracing the changes and relying on God for His good provision, I had skipped over the mourning phase of this whole mess.

Martin eventually found me under the tree and talked to me till he could get me to laugh. Once I was laughing at the whole thing I finally climbed out from under the tree and life went on.  Thank goodness Ginny was at my mom’s for the day.

Why am I telling you this?  Why am I publishing it to the world on a blog?

Because I think this kind of thing happens far more than we like to admit.  Normal people have small dark patches in their lives.  Normal Christians grieve.  Even over things like lost jobs.

Now on to the fun stuff. Wanna see pictures from Christmas and the days following? Of course you do.  Especially when I promise that there are NO photos at all of me curled up behind the Tree. Martin wanted to take one but I wouldn’t let him.  He said I looked cute under there.  Not really what I was going for actually.


whimsical decor in our terracotta and teal bathroom. I think it turned out well.

zoom in to see the actual ornaments. this had a very Whoo-ville feel to me.

Helping Grammy make Jello on Christmas morning

Opening presents

look at me mama! I play mooosic!

Historic Christmas Day Snow. First time in 128 YEARS!!!!

You will notice that this is not much snow really.  But it was enough to count.  Please keep this photo in mind when I show you the snow we got just a few weeks later.

hanging out with Papa in the hotel room

This pretty much sums up most of how we looked on the Texas trip.  Frazzled, tired, but happy.

Ginny and her cousin Emily playing in a fountain. Mama Altie behind them.

it is out of focus, but since Ginny and Emily hardly ever stopped moving, getting them in focus was a bit difficult.

The Russell family photo at the ranch.  Chaotic, loud, and fun.  Thank you Lord for amazingly wonderful in-laws.

Ginny getting to see a player piano at Cousin Harriett's house.

learning to pain ceramics

On the drive home from Texas we stopped overnight in Jackson, MS at a friend’s house.  She has a ceramics shop, so before we left the next day we all went and painted some things.  Ginny will have her very own set of dishes that she painted herself.  She also painted the shop cat, but we didn’t get to bring her home.

More in my next post.  This one is already too long.

Christmas continued

okay, we got the Santa photos done, now on to the rest of Christmas.

first off Christmas Eve was great.  My church does four services.

  • a 4:00 kids service (usually a drama or something that kids will love)
  • a 5:30 traditional with candle-lighting, choirs, advent wreath, etc
  • a 7:00 contemporary
  • and an 11:00 traditional.

Martin had to be available to work the 5:30 and the 11:00.  Now I knew we weren’t going to keep Ginny up till the 11:00 service, even though that one is my favorite, so we planned to go to the 5:30 with the whole family (including my parents, my niece and hopefully my brother).  It turned out to be just myself, Martin and Ginny, but we ran into some friends and ended up sitting with them.  The service was lovely, Ginny enjoyed the candle lighting very much – even though I wouldn’t let her touch the flame.

The “O Holy Night” solo was done by our assistant choir director Blair Brawner and it was gorgeous.  It wasn’t as technically perfect as some I have heard, but it was beautiful.  Even the one time her voice broke…it just made it more of a human sharing moment rather than a performance.

The real highlight for me came after the service was over.  You see I had to go up to our pastor and apologize….  For wearing a Santa hat all during the service.

??? Why was I wearing a Santa hat to a church service when I don’t believe in Santa?

Well I was wearing it initially because I was just being silly.  Martin wears his a lot, and Ginny looked so cute in hers, so I was wearing mine to fit in with my sweet, silly family.

But then, on the way into the sanctuary, I passed by one of the outer doors, the one right next to the “hats, mittens & scarves tree”  This is a 9 foot tall Christmas tree that the members of our church decorate with brand new hats, mittens and scarves all through-out the holiday season.

As I was passing that entrance a blast of cold air hit me.  Really cold air.

I turned around.

there coming in the door was a woman and three kids.

all in shirt sleeves.

I smiled and said “Hi! Welcome!”

She smiled back, glanced at my hat and then at the tree.

“Do you know how we could get a hat or a coat for my kids?”

At which point I realized that I didn’t have a clue how those hats, mittens & scarves were going to be distributed. They disappear every year after Christmas, but I had no idea where they went.  To the Co-op? To a shelter? I had no clue.

“Tell you what, I’ll find out how we can get you some of those hats and stuff.  I know just who to ask, okay?” I said.

“How will I find you?” she asked, as people jostled us apart.

without missing a beat I said “I’m probably the only person in that sanctuary wearing a Santa hat.  I won’t take it off till you find me again and I promise I’ll have an answer for you”

So I asked around, and finally the pastor told me “you just march her right up to that tree and let her have whatever she needs.”

Well thanks to the Santa hat, we re-connected after the service and as I was walking her and the kids to the tree I figured I should make conversation…so I asked

“Have you ever been here before?”

“Well no, not to a service.” she said “But we come to your Journey to Bethlehem thing every  year, so I knew you were nice people”


That was worth every weird look I got for wearing the Santa hat during the service, and every time I have had to explain to my boss why I need those days in December off every year to put up Bethlehem sets and then take them down again. Not to mention all the rehearsals.

So thank you to the people at SUMC who gave hats, mittens and scarves.  And to all the folks who work hard to make Journey a reality each year – it is worth it.  We are reaching people.  People who sometimes need hats, scarves and mittens.

and I dare say, that is a fitting way to celebrate the birth of the Savior.

Merry Christmas.

joy to the world

this year Christmas was both more, and less.

less about presents (though some how the pile for Ginny was bigger than we had planned) and more about people.

We were very deliberate about making time for certain folks and digging time out of our schedule to make certain we sent out the cards, letters and presents.

Martin did Bethlehem as always.  Deirdre got sick and had to stay home.  Which is pretty much how it has been for the last three years running.  I have got to figure out how to stay well from October through January or the Worship Director from our church is never going to forgive me.

We even made time to go see Santa.  Now before anybody gets down on me for this.  Yes, I know, I said we don’t believe in Santa and will not be teaching Ginny to believe in Santa either.  However, that does not mean that she can’t participate in the ritual of getting pictures taken with a guy dressed up as the guy from the story of Santa.

Hence the next few photos…… Of the wrestling match as we tried to get her calmed down enough to take a decent shot.  Thank goodness this particular Mr & Mrs Claus were alone in the store with no line, so we had plenty of time to work with.  Also we are grateful that they are friends of ours…..or at least, they were….before we introduced them to our screaming darling………

mama sits with Santa to try to ease into this.....

mama tried to hand Ginny to Santa. uhoh....

daddy gives it a try

daddy sings, baby calms down

you guys aren't that scary after all.....

I will post photos from the actual Christmas morning tomorrow.

for now, good night.

christmas card photos

I just realized that I have photos of Ginny that I haven’t shared on the blog yet.  What has gotten into me?  I’m neglecting Ginny’s fans! (tongue firmly in cheek here by the way)

These were mostly taken at Target for use on our Christmas cards

classic, white t-shirts, white background.

is it just me or does Ginny look like she is planning a prank here? something about that smile.......

we promised Grand Mama Altie that we would get a shot of Ginny in this chair. I just wish I had seen that her pants leg had gotten pushed up....

we took a bunch with our Christmas clothing on too, but they didn't turn out as well and Martin was having to sing the whole time to keep Ginny smiling

...which makes for some odd expressions.....

this was the final Christmas card.

So there you have it.

By the way, we are very upset that our favorite Target is closing!  It is the only one in Georgia that is closing and they just had to take MY Target !!! Life will never be the same again.

all i want for christmas….

My memory verse for these last two weeks of 2009 is this –

One thing I ask of the LORD, this is what I seek:  that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to seek Him in His temple.

Psalm 27:4

Not a terribly Christmas-y verse is it?

But for me, right now…it works.

See my body has this horrendous habit of getting sick right around the holidays.  Sometime in late November or early December I almost invariably come down with a cold, the cold sinks into my lungs and I spend the next two months hacking, sometimes losing my voice, but mostly sounding like I belong in a ward full of consumptives and tuberculosis patients.

This is very very frustrating for someone whose primary avenue of worship is, and has always been, song.  Singing to God is my highest joy.  Most years, when this sickness hits me I tend to get very angry and frustrated and depressed.  This year, thanks to a song and this particular bible verse I’ve got a different outlook.

There is a song on Travis Cottrell’s album “Found” that is called “Rest”  One of the verses goes like this –

Cure my heart of chasing whirlwinds

Of needing earth to quake

Of wrestling made up angels to keep myself awake

Oh bid my restless wandering heart

To find its pulse in you

In stillness know that you are God

In rest…….

You make me new.

I’ve spent a lot of time this season just letting various songs wash over me.  There is a different message that can be found when I am not spending so much time physically participating but instead participating by listening.  That seems like such a simple thing to say, but for me it has been a hard thing to learn.  In years past my silence has been that of an actively frustrated bystander. Now I choose to deliberately immerse myself in the flood of words and music.

Its kinda of the difference between swimming with the current or being a leaf that the current is moving.  The leaf puts in no effort, but is still moved.

I used to think that if I couldn’t participate in the music that I wouldn’t be moved by it.  I am learning differently this year.