Back When the Sun Used to Shine

December 26

I’ve been thinking about when the sun used to shine here.  Been thinking about that week of luscious weather we had a month ago. If I had known then that we’d be living in perpetual rain and clouds, I probably would’ve slept in my hammock.  Fog, warmth, light and golden leaves. Each day brought a new hue to the vegetation around us.  That last bout of sunshine, it seemed, was the last week before all the maples and oaks took their winter sleep.  Those hardwoods knew that frosty, wet days were coming and they wanted nothing to do with them.  But, we remain here… in busyness and darkness.

I’m holding onto these memories of fall…


That mellow afternoon incandescence… how magical!

Since November I’ve lost my sun glasses and rediscovered my raincoat. 

No more leaping and dancing in the golden rays.  Instead, its dashing madly from building to car to avoid bad hair and soggy shoes.

Brown and gold have given way to slate and pepper.  Sunshine has been enveloped by cloud.  Baggy eyes are the new squint.

Looking back over these photos reminds me that there’s a sun out there.  Somewhere.  Azure skies and warmth will return; thank God.  Green will replace grey and black.

The cycle will repeat and I know I will complain in August: “I’m so tired of all this dang sunshine!”

For now, though, I’m recollecting fondly those days when the sun used to shine. 

Paleo and Vegan: Vegan Bowl Night

Paleo and Vegan:  Vegan Bowls

It’s a Thing!

Not knowing what to call this recipe, I’ve landed on the name vegan bowls.  Basically, vegan bowl night is when we set out various cooked and raw vegetables, a carbohydrate and some toppings and people make their own meal.   You probably do something like this in your home.  If not, maybe our recent vegan bowl night will inspire you to prepare this meal during Advent or anytime.

When I made this meal earlier this week, I had several veggies in the refrigerator drawer that needed eating.  We had beets that needed roasting, yellow and zucchini squash that needed sautéing and left- over edamame that needed finishing.  While the veggies were prepping, I cooked up a skillet of quinoa. We had a pile of aging arugula that needed to be eaten as well.  For the fish eaters, we had a piece of leftover snapper to set on top. 

Here’s how I made the beets:  I peeled four beets and cut them into cubes.  Then, drizzled the cubes with avocado oil and sprinkled them with salt and pepper.  Next, I placed them into a 400 degree oven for about 30 minutes. 

To make the squash:  I cut large slices of squash and sautéed them until crisp-tender in avocado oil, garlic salt and pepper.

To make the quinoa:  I first sautéed about a cup of quinoa in avocado oil for 4 – 5 minutes allowing the grains to pop and get a little browned.  Then, I poured vegetable broth over the quinoa and stirred the whole business while I turned the heat down to low simmer.  I cooked the grains for about 15 minutes until the grains were softened. 

Next, I set out the arugula salad, heated the edamame and arranged several bottles of flavored vinegars and olive oil on the kitchen island. 

40 minutes is what it took to prepare all these vegan bowl elements!  I called the troops to come for dinner and they dug in to a warm, savory comforting meal. 

It’s fun to have special Christmas bowls for these Advent meals.  I found some festive bowls at an estate sale recently and setting those out for vegan bowl night creates a special mood and anticipation for Nativity.  As we each create our bowl, there is light conversation and laughter.  Everyone in the family comes to the kitchen ready to catch up from a long day of school, sports and work. 

There are probably a thousand variations you could make to this recipe, as many variations as there are vegetables and carbs.  Sometimes, we use brown or white rice.  Sometimes, I make a peanut sauce or a teriyaki sauce to go on top.  The best part: This meal has a high rating at my house because each person makes their own bowl.  

I hope these ideas inspire you to create your own vegan bowl creations during the season.



Giving As Its Own Reward

Two lessons on true generosity from the life of St. Nicholas

You know of a man named Nicholas. Father Christmas, he is called.  Or, Santa Claus, Kris Kringle or ‘Weihnachtsmann.’  In Japanese, his name is ‘Hoteiosho,’ which means “priest who gives gifts.”  In the West, his name has become synonymous with gift giving during the Christmas season.  In the United States, as early as November, we see Santa Claus actors, jolly and plump, sitting on big red thrones, sitting patiently as children tell their secret Christmas wishes.   Many of us remember that rotund and rosy cheeked Santa, throwing back an ice, cold Coca Cola, reminding us that if we drink Coke, we too will be rosy and happy.

Drink Coca Cola

Yet, before commercialism morphed Saint Nicholas into that supernatural conductor of 8 tiny reindeer, he was known as a holy and kind man.  He was a devout believer in Jesus and a staunch defender of the Christian faith even during the persecutions of Diocletian.  Some say he even worked miracles in the name of Christ.  

So, what can a man who lived over 1700 years ago teach us about true generosity?  I studied into the life of St. Nicholas’s to find out.

The first lesson I learned came from this fact: St. Nicholas gave anonymously.  One historical account says that Nicholas dropped bags of coins inside the windows of poor people living in his small village.  He always made his drops at night so that he wouldn’t be discovered.  Nicholas operated out of humility, not wanting to be recognized for his good deeds. Rather, he allowed himself to become an instrument of God’s provision.  I can learn a thing or two about humility from St. Nicholas. 

For example, time is that one luxury-gift that I have to offer.  So, here is how it might go in my kitchen sometimes:

“Honey, did you see how bad those dishes were last night?  It took me over an hour to scrub all the pots and load all the nasty dishes in by myself. Then, I had to wipe the counters and take out the stinky trash.” This is the spoken part.  The unspoken part: “You did good marrying me, a self-sacrificing woman who cooks and cleans for you, and takes care of your children while you get to manage your own time!”

St. Nicholas giving a lesson to the children 

Now, applying the St. Nicholas rule of humility: “Honey, how was your day?  I’ve got the kitchen ready so that we can sit down for a few minutes and catch up over a glass of tea.”

The first scenario felt like justice.  Yes!!  But, in the end, my rant was just a big banner saying: Look at me.  I’m great.

In the second scenario, I offered my time but didn’t draw attention to my giving it.  Instead, the act of serving provided a quiet and calm environment for us to restore after a long day.  Not drawing attention to ourselves is an act of generosity that we can learn from this godly man.

The second lesson comes from this fact: St. Nicholas didn’t have strings attached when he gave to others. He gave without reservation and he gave out of his abundance. Another historical account tells that St.Nicholas was born into a wealthy family.  He inherited a large sum of money from his parents and gave that money freely to those in need. It is said that he gave away his entire inheritance to the poor. 

I’m going to assume that St. Nicholas didn’t say, “I’m going to let you borrow my mower, if you let your son work in my yard for the day.”  He also didn’t check the credentials of the folks he gave his money to. He just gave and he didn’t expect to get a single thing in return.  Now, that is the mark of a truly generous person.   Giving is its own reward!  

So, how can I apply these admonitions with my friends and family?  I can invite people over for dinner that I know will never invite me in return. I can be patient with my kids when they make mistakes.  I can give a couple of bills to the person in the Walmart parking lot who is trying to scam me into thinking she’s pregnant with twins and due to give birth at any moment.  God can work through me too, if I allow Him to do it.  

So, in this season of Advent, as we prepare for the birth of our Savior, let’s look to St. Nicholas to teach us how to be truly generous with our time and our money and ourselves.  Generosity doesn’t have to be this thing we serve down at the soup kitchen.  Generosity can be the thing  we offer right here in our homes and neighborhoods, blessing our family and neighbors with our time and our love, letting go of that desire to be recognized and reciprocated. 

St. Nicholas

From Noon Til Three! Three Hours at the Antique Road Show

Copper Pots

Cool junk, oddities, kiche, re-purposed things, collections, and bargains. Retired couples, decorators and artists!   These are what brought us to the Northlake 400 Antique Show in north metro Atlanta.  The first weekend of December was the annual Christmas Market, a visual delight.  

It’s a decent road trip up to the show, so we had to get mentally prepared.  First, we grabbed some snacks and traveling beverages for the ride.  Then, I invited a friend to keep me company in the front seat while Gabe finished his math in the back seat.  Thankfully gas was cheap because I drove the Suburban and its an hour away!!
After an hour of traffic and twisty roads we arrived at the ticket booth.
“$3 a person,” said the attendant as I rolled down the window. 
“You bet,” I said.  “And I have cash too,” I smiled. 
“These tickets are good all weekend,” the attendant said as he handed me the paper stubs.
I looked at my friend, Mary Lyn and we both knew these next 3 hours would have to do as there was no traveling back out here!
“We can do it!” I told her as we emerged, excited, from the truck.

Now, if we were no-nonsense shoppers, on a mission, we would’ve needed a strategy to approach this shopping maze in the short time we had available.  However, this was no serious mission.  It was an adventure.  It was three hours of amusement and buying the few gifts I found was the bonus. 
This year, there weren’t too many vendors outside, so we buzzed right into the enormous building which houses a million vendors of every kind. 

Half of the fun for me is watching my son’s reaction to all that is here.  Many of the vendors specialize in one particular item or niche. There’s the map guy, the extroverted whisky guy, the cross lady, the wood man.  There’s the couple that sells old toys and the old woman that deals in lace.  Characters in their own right, these folks are more than happy to share their life’s collections and interests.  When you talk to the wood man, and touch his cedars, he runs and grabs his binder to show you a photo of where he cut the tree and the saw he used to do it.  This year I discovered a booth with a woman who sold nothing but ribbons, gobs of ribbons of every shape and size and texture. 

“Come back in January,” said the ribbon lady.  “Everything will be on sale.”

We had lots of little conversations like this with the vendors.  Of course, they loved Gabe and gave him free stuff.  Who doesn’t like a blonde 12 year old wearing a braided knit hat?
One lady said to Gabe, “Come over here.”
Relucantly, but with a knowing kind of smile, Gabe walked over and the lady said, “Do you like squishies?”  
At that, the lady whipped out a bag that could have only been made in China, and gave him a foamy and slightly used Eagle toy. 
Gabe smiled and said, “Thanks.” 
He took the toy, turned it over in his hand, looked at me and whispered, “The neck is split open. But don’t say anything.” 
We waved and thanked and moved on.  

Gabe enjoyed the vendor with the keys and knobs.  Knobs for your drawers, your water faucets, and your front doors.

A mounted, young buck caught Gabe’s eye and he pointed it out, “Mom! That deer’s rack is ridiculous.”
“Your’e right!” I said.  “He looks mighty proud to have such a petite set of antlers.”
“I bet you can buy him cheap,” he said.
We laughed and stood wondering at how he came to be in a place like this. 

If you like furniture, this was the place to be.  Big and small, weird and cool, it is here. 
Finally, after making our way through Halls A – F, our feet gave out and we had to eat and take a break.
Somehow, we managed to get out of there after only 3 hours.  
On the way home, after more mom conversations and math, we decided that this was a total blast.
“Maybe we can come up here next month,” someone said.
Who knows? I thought. 

Two days later, I found a decapitated, squishy eagle’s head in the rear seat of the burb. 

That’s when I knew we’d have to go back next December.
Wouldn’t miss it.