be the Christmas tree…

It’s been an “interesting” week. I was feeling marvelous on Sunday, when I got slammed with an ocular migraine that put the “aura” into both eyes, rendering me almost blind. Well, it was very bright in there, but I couldn’t read my text book or write any notes about what I was reading. So, studying had to take a back seat for a while, until my vision cleared. The thing about this type of migraine is that it doesn’t always turn into a headache. Unfortunately, I not only got a bad headache, but I was feeling queasy as well. And when you can’t eat much, for me, being hungry will make a headache worse. 12351762_10153712583099976_309084352_oAnyway, I fought through it and kept studying, and then survived yesterday’s exam. Not without having lingering aches in my head, but at least I could eat normal food again and stop drinking ginger tea. I say all this to led up to a more cheerful outlook for the week, now that the worst exam is over, in a way, since I absolutely abominate in-class essay exams. Now, I have two take-home exams to write, and one will be long… but at least I can pace myself.12334250_10153704798709976_403542948_oAlso, I was in bed before nine o’clock last night, though I didn’t turn the light out until about 10pm. No studying, just some relaxing and then a much-needed ELEVEN hours of sleep. Yup, you heard that right. I woke up this morning, feeling amazing, and praying that this lasts for the whole week. Also, as soon as the pressure was off from my first exam, I had time to relax and goof off with my phone. Hence, the selfie that I’m posting down below. 12355785_10153713456899976_2145821784_oBut since one method of relaxing for me is still taking pictures, I thought I’d include one that I took on campus, while waiting for my brother to pick me up. That’s one thing that I absolutely love about winter, how the bare branches are outlined against the sky… and then the sky can take on so many colors and even textures. Of course, anyone who reads my posts regularly already knows that I have something of a tree addiction. Hopefully, I’ll be taking my “real” camera out during the break, and having some fun with it.12342901_10153703881964976_2099653931_o12334524_10153706594024976_1998174422_oEvery Christmas, I manage to start taking pictures of the Christmas tree, even though some of the same ornaments always end up in the shot. I love how the lights reflect on the snowmen and snowflakes… and, of course, I had nothing to do with decorating the tree this year, so I have to help remind myself that Christmas is actually coming. School keeps me so busy that it really doesn’t feel real. So, staring at my pictures does help.12334462_10153712084099976_799253162_oLast night, I was playing with selfies and trying to get some reflections of the Christmas lights on my glasses, when I came across a filter that changed my hair color in that lighting. I always wondered what my hair would look like, if it were blue or green, didn’t you? So, here you go, my attempt to be a chameleon and blend into the Christmas tree. Well, that is, if my hair is green. If it’s blue, then I really shouldn’t blend, right? I could’ve put the pic in full-size, but the lighting was quite dim… so, too grainy. Now, I have to stop goofing off and start writing my take-home exam for my South America class. If I get it finished in good order, and turn it in early, then I will have a full 24 hrs to study for my math exam, which is tomorrow night. 12355957_10153713708489976_449474971_oHave a great week, and I hope to keep coming back on here more regularly over the Christmas break. Oh, and if you are also taking exams this week or next, then I wish you luck on those, also! : )12351802_10153712586354976_775561797_o

a holiday-of-hearts…

I’ve never paid much attention to Valentine’s Day. Before I went to Australia, I was working on my own during the camp off-season, having a limited social life that didn’t bring such things to my attention. If I noticed beforehand, it would be because I paid attention to the holidays listed on my ten different Lord of the Rings and Star Wars calendars. But then again, I didn’t buy those to check out the holidays, I bought them for the pictures.IMG_8794

This time of year, I’m usually becoming aware of the Cadbury creme eggs and other Easter candy that’s arriving in the grocery stores, not whether Walmart is carrying more red roses than usual. You have to steel yourself to walk by the dangerous candy, not worry that a Valentine will jump off the shelf into your cart.

And then I remembered last year. I was writing a post about love, dating, and marriage that turned into a slight rant about online dating. Well, maybe “rant” isn’t the right word, but I had some decided opinions on the subject. All of this, without realizing that Valentine’s Day was approaching. Honest! So, I hurried up my writing, and made sure it was posted on that day. What better way to get some new viewers to my blog?  ; )

So, I’ve just re-read my “i’m no dating guru” post. It made me want to laugh AND wonder exactly how steamed I was over the subject of online dating. To get me to be honest about my non-dating history, that episode of looking into online dating must’ve really set me off. I write better if I really FEEL something about the subject (either adoration, frustration, or rage, for example). And a year later, what I wrote still applies. All of it. I could have written that post yesterday, because everything I said is still true, about me and what I think concerning love, dating, and marriage. And everyone should STILL put their best foot forward, in life and love, whether you’re online or in person.

In the past year, I have explored the online dating scene once more, but I eventually got bored/annoyed with it. Please note that I said with “it”, the actual program, not that I get easily bored/annoyed with guys. I enjoy talking to people and getting to know them, if they give me a chance.

I found that the profiles had remained the same and the guys still suggested that you just need to “shoot them an e-mail”, if you’re interested. Whatever happened to deciding to chase a girl, in good earnest? These websites don’t seem to discourage their potential daters from this lackadaisical attitude. As helpful as online dating may be to people that live in a place where it’s very hard to meet people, the potential dater still need to be ready for a relationship, in order to make a serious try at getting to know someone.

Which leads me back to good old meeting-people-the-normal-way, and getting to know them. It’s never easy. I do extremely well when I’m on my “home turf”, and welcoming all the newbies to my favorite camps and conferences. In these places, I’m the regular that knows all the ropes, runs up and down the boardwalks for fun, and jumps up and down with excitement over new attendees. In places that I’m not so comfortable, I’m more of a wallflower, but I’m working on it. One day at a time, one step at a time, and very thankful for all the friendships that I already have.

I think I got off track. Did I have a track, to start with? I’m not sure. In the end, whether you celebrate Valentine’s Day or not, whether you get flowers or a card, be thankful for the friends and loved ones that you already have. If you don’t have a significant other, then don’t forget to call your parents and tell them you love them. Or your best friend. We would all be better off if we remembered to show love on other days of the year, and on this holiday-of-hearts, you can still show love to your friends and family. Some days, everybody could use a hug. Don’t forget that love is an action, so act on it, and brighten someone else’s day!

blessings of the New Year…

One year ago, I was in Australia, and I was sick. I had made it through Christmas without my family, been welcomed by my friends in Brisbane for a few weeks, and traveled extensively beforehand. My brain never could comprehend that it really was Christmas, because for one thing, it was HOT outside. Christmas is not supposed to take place during the summer, if you’re an American, and it never did completely click.DSC_0738

It started with an earache. If you read my blog post about Magnetic Island, I walked to the chemist’s (pharmacy) to get some hydrogen peroxide and ended up running back to the bus station in the noonday sun. The results of that were not only near prostration for this non-runner, but that I lost my library book, which has never ceased to irk me. The symptoms went away, and then returned with a vengeance on Christmas Eve Day. Who wants to be at the after-hours clinic on Christmas Eve? Not me. But my friend’s mom cheerfully called every doctor in town and then took me to the hospital.DSC_0740

At that point, I was willing to take anything to get rid of the pain, because it hurt so badly, I couldn’t move my jaw. Despite the delicious Christmas dinner my friends cooked, I wasn’t able to enjoy it properly. I slept the afternoon away and then talked to my family on Skype, during their Christmas morning.DSC_0745

Over the next two weeks, I regretted that medication like I’ve never regretted anything before. I wanted my earache back, because the side effects… caused everything to go through my system quickly, leaving nothing to sustain me. I had to eat and drink every few hours and I didn’t want to eat or drink. Over the next two weeks, I visited another doctor on New Year’s Eve, and he wasn’t able to help, and I ended up flying back to Emerald early, because Aussie roads don’t have regular rest stops, like in the U.S. That’s the only plane ride where I ever got motion sick, and I finally understood what my friends regularly go through.DSC_0748

I arrived back in Emerald and went to my local doctor, immediately. I trusted him to fix this problem, because I knew him from my last several illnesses AND since I didn’t think I could take much more. I lost ten pounds in two weeks and was starting to think that going on a drip sounded good.

When I arrived back at my Aussie family’s house, they were all delighted to see me, and there is something to be said about going on a trip, in order to make those you love excited to see you when you return. My Bub’s face, when she saw me, made it worth it to come back. The adults helped me haul my luggage upstairs, because I didn’t have the strength to do it. And once inside my room, I found two boxes from the United States waiting for me.DSC_0749

On Christmas morning, when I spoke to my mom, I joked with her that she should fill my stocking and hang onto it until I arrived home in May. She gave some sort of noncommittal answer, but I never really picked up on it. So, when I opened my Christmas box, I was unprepared to find my stocking in that box. There were other gifts, but for some time, I saw nothing else. That stocking had been mine since I was a baby, and while my brain could not be convinced by the calendar that it was Christmas, that stocking certainly could.DSC_0750

I picked that stocking up and hugged it like it was my only hope of survival, while I bawled like a baby. I had nothing left, no energy, no defenses against those tears. Being sick had taken it out of me, and if I couldn’t have my mom or my entire family, that stocking was the next best thing. Thankfully, there wasn’t anything breakable in it, because it was a while before I could let it go. But, of course, between opening all my gifts in that box, and the other box my friends had sent me, I did a lot of crying.DSC_0751

This story ends happily. The medicine finally kicked in, and my bosses stopped worrying that I wasn’t going to make it. My mom stopped trying to figure out whether she could get overnight plane tickets to Australia. I started to like the idea of eating and drinking again, and hope I never take it for granted again.

Maybe this seems like an odd story to share on New Year’s Eve, but I’ve been thinking about it for some time. Not only because I was too embarrassed to tell it LAST year, but because of the memories that surfaced this year, when I saw my Christmas stocking. Such a little thing to break through the walls to being homesick or being overly emotional. But then again, it’s not really a little thing. This year, my mom’s gift of two children’s books that I remember from Australia almost made me crack again, but I held it together. I hugged those two books hard, instead of crying on them.DSC_0753

I hope you all have memories of both recent Christmases and far distant New Years, memories that touch you to the core. Memories of family and friends, loved ones present and presently-in-heaven. And if you don’t have any of these memories that you treasure close to your heart, I hope that you’ll make some to share with those you love, in the future. Everyone should have those moments that they cherish and remember.DSC_0755

Now, I can see the humor in my episodes of illness. I can treasure the memory of my Aussie friends that took care of me while I was sick (and I was sick several times, while I was over there). I can even stand the inevitable teasing over getting mono, while in Australia. And I can cherish the reminder of how dear my family is to me, no matter where we are, at home or overseas.

As you celebrate this New Year, make some good new memories to share with your children, grandchildren, nieces, and nephews, or share some happy remembrances with your friends of many years. Don’t forget to tell them all how much you love them. Be thankful for them all, and may your New Year truly be blessed.DSC_0756

haul out the Christmas cookies…

What would Christmas be like without the cookies? Our waistlines would probably be thinner, I suppose, but who worries about such things during the holidays? Don’t answer that. Our family got a head start on the Christmas baking and eating, because my mom was making some to mail to my youngest brother (he’s in the Air Force), and some for my older brother’s graduation party. So, some of the cookies were well on their way or already baked by the time I arrived home from work.DSC_0513

DSC_0491But the afternoon that press cookies were the order of business, my hands were in demand, as soon as I arrived home. Some of you may remember my press cookie mishaps (“cookie ups & downs”), while in Australia, but that is not generally how things work out. Normally, we make up the dough, I grab a stool to sit on, and then I whip out several trays of tiny Christmas trees, pinwheels, and wreaths.DSC_0496

DSC_0502Our press cookies are made with an old-fashioned Mirro cookie press, with a twist handle (or knob?), instead of a button or trigger like some of the more modern ones. My family has never used anything different to make them, as they work beautifully, year after year. In fact, I make a habit of wandering through antique stores, looking for this particular Mirro brand press, so that when my brothers get married, they’ll still be able to have them.DSC_0514

DSC_0505My hand quickly got tired of all the twisting, but we finished all of those trays. Thankfully, we had a back-up press, when the first one had a part break. It’s funny how the knack of turning the press returns to your hands, just like riding a bicycle. If you let too much dough come out, you get a more squashed piece of dough, with a design printed on top. But if you do it just right, you get the actual shape of the tree (or pinwheel or wreath), almost in danger of coming apart into separate branches.DSC_0510

DSC_0517On Saturday, as soon as I woke up (I sleep late), I joined in the making of the cut-out sugar cookies. If you’re looking for the recipe to either of these, they’re both in the link listed above. My cousin recently commented on the tediousness of making these, but if you don’t have a helper, it definitely takes longer. My mom did the rolling out of the dough and cutting out the bells, trees, and stars, and I was on oven duty.DSC_0518

DSC_0521You must understand, in our house, we don’t condone the use or making of cookies that are crunchy. They have to be just barely cooked and have not a hint of brown in them, to be perfect. Underdone is perfectly acceptable, because all cookies are supposed to be soft. So, basically, you have to stalk the oven, and make sure you pull them in time, every time. But I’ve been helping with this branch of baking for at least twenty years, so I am perfectly trustworthy when it comes to bringing out the beautifully baked delicacies. Nothing got burnt on my watch.DSC_0525

DSC_0529When we finally finished the baking, the icing was started for both the press cookies and the cut-outs. Same icing, we just use milk to “water down” the icing for the press cookies. When my brothers and I were younger, this was our favorite part, mixing up several colors in the icing and liberally coating the cookies with icing. There were several years when (to my mom’s horror) we mixed up horrible versions of purple and neon pink for some of them.DSC_0531

DSC_0532This time around, though we stuck with mostly white and green for all the press cookies, I managed to put too much blue in the icing for the cut-outs. I blame it on using the food coloring “gel”, whereas we used to use a food coloring that was liquid. You had to use a lot of it to make a good color. So, I got a very rich blue, but considering the other icing colors were in the pastel range, I think it balanced out quite nicely. And at the end of it, we combined the leftover blues and greens, resulting in a more turquoise color.DSC_0533

DSC_0543Funny thing is, I can look at all the cut-outs, and tell exactly who iced them. Since you have to use knives on these, it’s a little more difficult than dipping the press cookies. Mom’s tend to be thinly iced, and beautifully spread to the points of all the stars, like an artist would. She doesn’t like icing as much as the rest of us, so she ices them accordingly.DSC_0544

DSC_0545Mine were more liberally iced, up until the end, when I ran out and my last ten were spread so thin it looked like I’d used paint on them, instead of icing. And, of course, mine were all blue. Matt was having a little more trouble, as he seemed to be trying to ice both of his hands, as well as the sides of the cookies. But the icing lovers in our house will like his best, because they had more icing than mine, even.DSC_0546

DSC_0554This is not to say that our icing activities were accident-free. For some reason, I couldn’t get my knife to stay on the edge of my bowl, so I kept shrieking when it fell off, and caught it in my lap. Or when it hit the floor. I was a little worried that the blue would stain the carpet, but it came off. Of course, my clothes were in need of washing, afterwards, because I managed to get a lot of icing on myself, too.DSC_0568

DSC_0547These two kinds of cookies were not the only ones made during the last few weeks, but I wasn’t around for some of the rest. Scandinavian thumbprint cookies (to be filled with jam), Russian tea cakes (or snowballs or wedding cookies), peanut blossoms, mini pecan pies, and Mrs. Fields cookies made up the rest of the assortment. Of course, Mrs. Fields cookies are NOT Christmas cookies in our house, but they were mainly for Joe’s Christmas box. It’s kind of interesting how this particular Dinger household doesn’t do chocolate chip cookies for Christmas, but our Dinger cousins do. Traditions are strange and wonderful things, wouldn’t you say?DSC_0508

Now, all this writing about dessert has made me hungry. I think I’ll go have a cut-out Christmas tree. What are you munching on this Christmas season? If you don’t hear from me sooner, have a blessed and wonderfully Merry Christmas with your friends and loved ones!DSC_0553

this time of year…

Though I’m in Australia, and find it practically impossible to remember that Christmas is coming (if it was 80 degrees, every day, would you remember?), I occasionally manage to beat that piece of information into my head. Ok, to be honest, when I was living in PA, I had trouble remembering, too, even if it was snowing hard and I was vacuuming pine needles from under the Christmas tree, in the Inn.

The only times I really remember is when I’m at home, helping to do the usual decorating for our house. So, I don’t know if the decorating has started without me, yet, but I know they’ll get to the same stuff soon, this year.

I start the night off right by filling a CD changer with my favorite Christmas discs, and the first one to blast off is always Celine Dion. That would usually be followed by some of my “modern” favorites for Christmas, Billy Gilman, Michael Crawford, Linda Eder, Hayley Westenra, and several others. But the other changers would be loaded with Trans-Siberian Orchestra, Mannheim Steamroller, and then the classics. And Handel’s The Messiah is always ready to be played.

So, while the sounds of Celine Dion fill the room, with me singing along, at the top of my lungs, my brothers start putting the Christmas tree together, while I get all the Christmas lights out and string them across the floor. If part of a string’s out, I’ll spend ages trying to figure out which bulb is causing the problem, and more often than not, I succeed. It’s fun!

Once the tree has been assembled, the boys clear out, having lost interest in decorating the tree, sometime back when they were under the age of ten. Mom and I take over, putting the lights on the tree, then several strings of red beads, and then it’s time to bring up the boxes of ornaments, if we haven’t done so already.

Over the next day or two, we decide which ornaments are going up, as some of the older or more worn out ornaments get left in the boxes. By this time, the small tree for the front hall has been brought up. This tree, which is a little shorter than I am, has only white lights, so we put all the white, silver and gold ornaments on it. Also, anything fragile or very beautiful. The more fun and colorful ornaments go on the big tree.

When the trees are up, the manger scenes and other decorations come out, as well. We definitely get into the spirit of decorating for Christmas, inside the house, but you will not find an abundance of Santa Clauses. Snowmen are more our thing.

So, this is what my house probably looks like right now, or at least it will soon. But I’m not going to be there to see it. Not this year.

Oh, and even with all the craziness of decorating for Christmas, my brothers and I still manage to get out for some target shooting, now and then. This is my target from last year, around this time.  : )  But I got more ammo for Christmas, to replace what I used on my targets.  : )