Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas!


Photo taken of sky over Orlando by Todd Onderdonk!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Jesus is the Reason...

I learned a lesson on Sunday when I set out to bake an award-winning, multi-layer Southern Living white chocolate cake. Nothing good has come out of my kitchen since 1993, so I'm not quite sure what possessed me to attempt the Martha Stewart thing. But I wanted to provide this outstanding baked treat to a few people for Christmas and attempted a "dry run" with the family to make sure it tasted as good as it looked.

After three-and-a-half hours that left my kitchen looking like an encounter with the Unibomber, the cake that flung from my oven tasted like leather smells and had the texture of a 14-day-old bagel.

"I think we need some ice cream here," I mournfully said to Todd. No doubt sensitive to the subtle quiver in my lower lip, Todd bolted for the freezer and returned with a gallon of Blue Bell Pralines and Cream. The kind of ice cream that fixes most anything.

"Do you want this on the side?" he gently asked.

"Please pile it on the top," I croaked.

Then I waited. And waited. And waited. The ice cream clung to the surface like a bobber on the lake.

"It won't even soak in!" I wailed. It was then I realized I had just baked a patent-pending recipe for tire traction on frozen asphalt.

Disappointed but undaunted, I tossed my award-winning cake into the trash and set myself in front of google to search for "five-star cookies." What emerged was a winning recipe for pumpkin drops. It didn't seem too Christmasy, but, after my cake disaster, I just wanted something people could actually consider eating. After a trip to Walmart for the new ingredients and about two more hours in the kitchen, I slid from the oven two cookie sheets of brownish orange lumps that bore a striking resemblance to East Texas dirt.

"Who wants to try these?" I cried. Todd and the boys exchanged worried glances. Baking project number two was an unmitigated flop.

I could see now grief just streaking Todd's face (no doubt contemplating his own front-yard disaster the day before involving the re-stringing of the lights on our swivel-headed lawn reindeer. "It's not as easy as it looks," Todd explained as he gestured to the metal creature on the lawn that looked a bit like a sheep with alopicea and rickets.)

So here we languish in Colleyville with a trash can full of baked goods they wouldn't throw at a Medieval prisoner and a lawn ornament that is borderline frightening to young children. Then it occurred to me, at last, that I was losing my way this Christmas. That Jesus is the reason and He was nowhere in my limited sight.

So, yesterday, I pulled out my trusty Sugar Cookie recipe and decided to go with what I know works. In the background, I had my laptop playing Dallas Theological Seminary (DTS) sermons, including this amazing fusion of improvisational music and preaching by Richard Allen Farmer. I could feel all the stress of the baking and the shopping and the field trips and the recitals and all the other stuff we pile on top of Christmas just melt away. Talking to a friend this morning, she suggested that Jesus be brought into every activity we engage in, whether we are stringing lights or waiting in a long check-out line. I believe this is the key to maintaining our focus and our grace at this time of the year, and the true source of our joy.

Question: Where is Jesus in Christmas preparations for you?

World's Best Sugar Cookies



An oldie but goody from the vault...

I found a recipe for "The World's Best Sugar Cookies" on cooks.com. These cookies are incredible. My friends and I think it may have something to do with the combination of oil, powdered sugar and butter.

If you use this recipe for cut-out cookies: the dough is airy and the cookies are very fragile. I wouldn't advise making super thin cookies; go a little thicker to avoid breakage. Use chilled dough and a metal spatula (I use a smaller cake server) to transfer cookie dough from your work surface to the cookie sheet. Also, I remove from the oven right at 10 minutes to avoid over-baking.

Enjoy!

WORLD'S BEST SUGAR COOKIES
Printed from COOKS.COM

Ingredients

1 c. butter
1 c. vegetable oil
1 c. sugar
1 c. powdered sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
2 beaten eggs
5 c. flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. cream of tartar

Cream butter, oil and sugars; add vanilla. Stir in eggs and beat well, add dry ingredients and chill. Roll in walnut size ball, flatten with glass dipped in sugar. Bake at 350 degrees for 10-12 minutes. Very crisp. Half of a recipe makes a lot.

Frosting (optional)

1/4 cup butter
1 tsp. vanilla
2 T milk
2 cups powdered sugar
Food colorings

p.s. Making a big batch of cookies this Christmas? Don't forget the "unsung heroes" who work so hard behind-the-scenes on our behalf-- e.g., the mail carriers, refuse collectors, and all those wonderful folks in the many service industries we've come to rely upon. Imagine the world without them!

(Pic by georgie grd; see flickr.com for restrictions.)

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Sonrise Upate!

Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus. 1 Thess. 5:16-18

Hello, friends! We are back from an action-packed Florida Thanksgiving. It's been a tough month for Life Group with our collective travels, appointments, sick kids, etc. Let's pray that next Tuesday is a go... we'll continue with plans to share our three-minute "stories." Then the following week, we'll examine the three aspects of worldliness that we threatened to talk about a few weeks ago!

In lieu of getting together this week, I would ask you to perpetuate the "thanksgiving" spirit. In a kind of reverse but potentially revealing fashion. Pick one of the following exercises to reflect on this week:

Exercise 1: What and Why?

Typically, when we gather around the Thanksgiving table and throughout the day, we focus on God's blessings. For me, it's a bit like a kaleidoscope. So much to fathom and process that I don't stop in a meaningful way on any one blessing to seriously reflect and process. They're all just kind of colorfully morphing around in my mind. Everything from the goodness of God to Starbuck's Special Anniversary Blend. At the risk of sounding dismissive, that's honestly how it often goes for me. As I run through all the blessings brought to mind, the sublime and the mundane often get dumped into a big, old mental sieve where the intensity of gratitude for any one thing can become diluted. I'm challenging myself to re-visit and really ponder some of the key things I'm thankful for. I would encourage you, also, to freeze frame on one or two blessings this week. Thank God for what He has provided. Meditate on the provision. Then ask yourself why you are thankful for whatever it is.

Exercise 2: Oops! I forgot to say "thanks" for...

Ask God to help you discern what are you ungrateful for! What or where is the blessing that you take for granted? Thank God for whatever insight He provides in this area. Then imagine a world without it (or him or her...) and look for ways to show your appreciation today!

If you want to attempt a cyberspace "chat," hit "comments" and let's discuss! You have to sign up for a google account... it's self-explanatory... and you can identify yourself or hide behind the cloak of anonymity if you'd rather!

Love, Sarah

on my iPod... Lose My Soul by Toby Mac