Sunday, December 27, 2015

6 Favorite Christmas Treats

One: peppermint chewy candies 

The only store-bought item on my list. Couldn't find them this year. Had to dig out the stash I buried in the cabinet. I like anything peppermint. These candies have a Christmas tree in the middle. For Valentine's, a heart. Maybe stores will sell them in February.

Two: Mom's cranberry relish 

As a child, I never ate it, but after my sister Brenda served it one time at Thanksgiving, because she knew our nephew Michael liked it, I tried some. Now I make it for my family. My little nephew-in-law Wesley couldn't get enough of it one year for Thanksgiving at my mother-in-law's. It's quite a sight when I make it though. I have to stand on a chair to smash it down into the attachment to the mixer. Nothing makes me feel short like that does.

Three: peanut blossom cookies
The ones with the chocolate kiss on top made with a bit of cream peanut butter. I prefer Mrs. Elmer Hofer's recipe in the old Hutterthal Church cookbook that Mom gave me when I moved out on my own. I'll be making my second batch of these during Christmas break.

Four: fudge 
Simple ingredients from Laura Goosen's recipe. She was our pastor's wife when I was an elementary student. Wrote about her famous bun recipe here. I have to freeze this fudge it to cut it otherwise it's too gooey. One small piece satisfies me for hours.

Five: cheese ball 
Mom's recipe with pimentos. Son-in-law Nate almost ate half of it in one setting the other day he liked it so much. My niece-in-law Amy in South Dakota loves it when I make this at Christmas time.

Six:  Mom's fruitcake 
Yes. Fruitcake. I make it every year for my seventh graders. because of "A Christmas Memory," a short story we study by Truman Capote. Kids gag, spit it out, eat it fast to get it over with. I tell them it's okay, they don't have to like it, and that they won't hurt my feelings.
But many do the opposite and come back for more at the end of the day. Past students hear I've brought it again and pop in for leftovers. And teachers peek in to say, "If you have enough, may I please have a piece?" And of course, I oblige. This too is my mom's recipe in that old church cookbook.

What I didn't list 
Notice I didn't say sugar cookies? I do enjoy the melt-in-your-mouth ones made by my friend Paula Voth, but I cannot make them. My husband and step-daughter Brittany joke that I'm not good at making the simple things: mac and cheese from a box, eggs, pancakes—so it doesn't surprise me that I can't make these.
Mom couldn't make them either, but that didn't stop my Kansas sister Brenda and me from trying sugar cookies one holiday season. We took them home to the family in South Dakota. People didn't seem interested in eating a Christmas stocking that looked like a cowboy boot, so they got dumped to the hogs.
I also enjoy homemade caramel, but this too, Mom and I couldn't master. Janice Peterson, the mother of my childhood friend and classmate Adele, made incredible caramel. I have the recipe in a classroom cookbook from third grade. Each of us brought family recipes for Mrs. Gilchrist to organize in a cookbook that we gave to our moms for Christmas. I need to find that thing and try the caramels again.

Soon holiday celebrations will cease and so will the treat making. No. Wait. Valentine's Day brings more of the same. I'll make more fudge. And peanut blossom cookies. And look for the peppermint chew candies in the stores. Then after that, it's Easter. Oh, how I love solid chocolate bunnies! And peeps. And candy message hearts. And Russell Stovers.

Oh, how my sweet tooth rules. I have a mouth full of cavities, capped teeth, and an implant to show for it too—but that's due to not brushing my teeth when I was little and lying to Mom about it.

What are your favorite holiday treats? Which ones are the must-makes? Which ones belong in the hog pen? Are there some holiday treats you make all year round?

Saturday, December 19, 2015

My Worst Christmas Gift Ever

I asked my seventh grade students about the worst present they've ever received at Christmas time. The discussion came up while reading my favorite tear-jerker holiday story, "A Christmas Memory" by Truman Capote.

Responses: a phone book, a sack of dog poop, a gift card with $1 on it. Not the greatest of Christmas gifts.

After hearing those, my worst-present-ever story isn't so bad, but I'm going to tell it anyway. Not out of ingratitude, out of humor.

I'd asked for typewriter one year because I loved to type. I had the "every good man must come to the aid of his country" phrase down. Piano playing from age eight came in handy when typing. After counting my errors on an exercise one day, I had typed 90-some words a minute in Mrs. Zieman's business class at HHS

So, I wanted a typewriter. Bad. Begged for one. Really begged. I knew that's what was in the rectangular heavy box under the tree when I was a young high school student.

To my dismay, that's not what was in it. No modern Smith Corona for me.

It was an electronic foot soaker. My dad's idea.

Grandma Katie, my mom's mom who'd lived with us when I was younger, frequently soaked her feet in a tub of sudsy hot water. I would do it too. Read more about Grandma Katie here. Long after Grandma was out of the house, I still soaked my feet. In fact, I still do it today. It's especially relaxing with a cup of hot tea, a dog or two, and a good book or the remote tuned to the Lifetime Movie Channel.

With the foot soaker gift, my observant father believed he was giving me, his teenage daughter, a present she'd appreciate, but the snotty only used it once. Mom was scared I'd electrocute myself.

So that was my worst Christmas present ever.

I did end up getting a typewriter—maybe for my birthday that summer—and in typical Dad-fashion, it was the Cadillac of typewriters. He tends to go overboard on things. Gets the deluxe version when the typical will do. I married a man just like him. I'm lucky, but I admit, the unappreciative girl comes out in me sometimes.

My best Christmas present? If we're taking about material things, I'm not sure I have one. But the best present was Jesus Christ whose birth is celebrated by Christians around the world. I call Him Savior. He is the one still shaping this girl into the woman He wants her to be.

And with that I say, Merry Christmas!

How about you? Want to reveal your least favorite Christmas present? Who was it from? Why did they give it to you? Or, maybe you want to share the worse gift you've ever given. 

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Part 2: Inside the Life of a State Trooper

My niece Colleen shares her December 8th birthday with her husband Jason. He's a Nebraska State Trooper, and for the last couple of years, she's been a school secretary. They live in Norfolk, Nebraska, with their three daughters and their dog named Copper. 

The two met in Omaha while attending Grace University. After 16 years of marriage, this couple is physically fit and financially responsible.

I thought it'd be interesting for them to share their lives with the readers of the blog, so I interviewed them about their occupations and interests. Click here for Part 1.

Last week Jason shared how he'd impacted a man's life. Now for a person that impacted him.

Here's a photo that I took with a young girl while walking through a local carnival one night. A little girl walked up to me and asked, “Will you take a picture with me?” My reply was, “Of course, sweetie.”

Her mother posted this comment and picture that night:

“This is my daughter, Faith, at the Carnival tonight here in Norfolk. We have taught our daughter to respect our local law enforcement. That they are here to keep us safe and to protect us. They should not be feared. Her smile reflects all that we have instilled in her and will continue to do so. What was really cool? She asked to take a picture with him! Such a sweet man. Nebraska's Finest! Stay Safe, Blue!” 
This photo hit 1,000 likes in a week on Facebook. It captured many thoughts and comments and led to multiple discussions about law enforcement and their relationship with the public. 

This was my reply and share:
"Got my picture taken with this sweet young lady tonight. In light of so much turmoil in our nation with law enforcement, this little girl reminds us the type of relationships that we can have with trust, respect, and confidence for each other.” 

These are just a few instances of how rewarding my career in law enforcement has been. I am thankful to be serving the citizens of our great state Nebraska.

What have you taught your daughters about your weapons?
I have carried weapons for over 13 years and my girls have never asked me if they could see my gun. They understand that guns are dangerous and require great responsibility and training to carry or use. They believe the gun on my belt is for my own safety or for the safety and well-being of those I have sworn to protect.
It’s not complicated with my girls. They have never shown interest or desired to shoot, and I am okay with that. It just does not register in their world. Their life is already full of band/orchestra, athletics, academics, church, friends, and family. I would like to take them out and shoot someday but we aren't in a hurry.
As the wife of a trooper, Co, how would you ask people to pray for you, Jason, and the girls?
As a wife I always pray that God would keep Jason safe. I try not to dwell on the ongoing issues and try not to focus on the “what ifs.” I pray that God would help him to make wise decisions and to know how to talk to people in a way that would not escalate the situation.

If Jason is safe, that keeps the girls and me safe. So I guess for the girls and me, our prayer request would be that we would just trust God with Jason and help us to know that God has our best interests at heart and in mind. And whatever happens, God will take care of us.

Sometimes I’ll wake up in the middle of the night, and Jason won’t be home from work when he should have been. I usually say a quick prayer before trying to go back to sleep.

Any challenges or difficulties of being the school secretary in your child's public school? What do the girls think about it?
I haven’t found anything challenging or difficult about being the secretary at their school. I love it and knowing they are there with me even if I don’t see them except when they pass by. The only thing would be trying to separate or distinguish from being a parent in the Parent Group and being an employee and trying not to take on too many responsibilities. The girls seem to love it because if they need something or something happened I am right there to help them with it. I only have one daughter left with me and she has 1 1/2 years left there.
What got you two interesting in the concepts Dave Ramsey teaches? What was going on in your life at the time you started the baby steps? Explain your role in teaching others (if you have one).
We took Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University through our church in 2008. It transformed our thinking about money, budgeting, and planning for the future.

We had just paid off our van and were going through the same vicious cycle about filling up our credit card and then paying it off each month. Towards the end of the month we would run out of money and just keep putting it on our credit card for the next month and then pay it off when pay day came.

It seemed we always had more month than money at the end of the month. It was frustrating. We never paid interest on our cards and always paid it off, but it was like we were always a month behind. We just wanted to catch up so we wouldn’t have to use the credit card.

Once we went through the class and took it to heart and did the steps, it has been amazing. It has made a drastic change in our marriage. There have not been money issues since really. We do our budget each month together. We stick to it and have the same goals, so it is wonderful.
We have facilitated Financial Peace University for four years, putting 80-plus families through. We are looking at doing another class in January of 2016. It’s awesome helping people with the same issues we had and seeing them getting out of debt and getting their financial lives in order.
This is no doubt one of the most important issues in marriage. Jesus talked about money, stewardship, and possessions more than any other teaching. Two-thirds of His parables cover this important issue and the Bible contains over 2000 verses about it. If it is important to God, then it should be important to us.
Benjamin Franklin once said, “When you run into debt, you give to another power over your liberty.” That sounds a lot like Proverbs 22:7 which says, “The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower becomes the lender’s slave.”

Advice for young couples trying to stay physically fit? Any tips or suggestions for workouts?

We love staying in shape because it just makes us feel better about ourselves and our outlook on life. It keeps us healthy. We want to be able to play with the girls and keep up with them, although now, Leah [their eldest daughter] is faster than us.

It’s just easier sometimes for us to work out at home since the girls are there, but sometimes we like to change it up. It is hard to get workouts in though when the girls each have activities in the evenings that we need to get them to, so sometimes I just have to look at the week and schedule it in.

Jason and I walk or run together as often as we can, sometimes twice a day in the summer, when it’s nice out. If he's not around, I usually try and run outside or go to the Y and do a class there or do Insanity videos at home. Jason likes to go to the Y to workout or do TapOut videos at home.

What's the weirdest thing you two have done to celebrate your December 8th birthday?
Nothing too weird. We don’t usually buy each other gifts. We just go out to eat. Nothing huge, but if it gets me out of cooking, it works for me. 

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Inside the Life of a State Trooper: Part I

My niece Colleen shares her birthday with her husband Jason. He's a Nebraska State Trooper, and for the last couple of years, she's been a school secretary. They live in Norfolk, Nebraska, with their three daughters and their dog named Copper. 

The two met in Omaha while attending Grace University. After 16 years of marriage, this couple is physically fit and financially responsible. I thought it'd be interesting for them to share their lives with the readers of the blog, so I interviewed them about their occupations and interests. 

This is Part 1. Part 2 will run next week. 
As a state trooper, Jason, you've competed at the national level for vehicle inspection. What all does that entail? Describe the highest level of recognition earned for this.
I was privileged and honored to represent the Nebraska State Patrol in the 2006, 2007, and 2009 North American Inspector’s Championships in New Orleans, Minneapolis, and Pittsburgh. I competed at the state level, placing first place, and then moving on to the National competition in these cities. My best placement overall was 14th in the Nation. The competition consists of a personal interview, hazardous materials table top exercise, a level one inspection, motor coach inspection, and a cargo tank inspection. 

What's the toughest part about being in law enforcement today?
Where do I start? You work nights, weekends, and holidays in law enforcement just like those in the healthcare field and fire/rescue. I respond to bad situations such as tornadoes, floods and, fatality crashes. Overall, I feel the schedule can be most challenging and demanding especially when you have a growing family with spouses that work. For the first 10 years of our child rearing, Colleen was able to stay home--which we loved. Money was tight but we tried to live within our means on a written budget. I would not have traded it for anything. 

Having a supportive spouse as I do, minimizes the tough schedule at times of working early, working late, changing days off, and being gone for training for days at a time. I absolutely love what I do!
The key to all of this in our family is communication. With communication, everybody is on the same page and plays by the same schedule. We can make arrangements and adjustments accordingly and not on a whim which usually leads to frustration and complications in the breakdown of communication. Colleen tries to keep up with my schedule, and I attempt to keep up with hers. We are both committed in our relationship to each other and to our girls.
Another tough part is the unknown of my career. I pray daily that God would give me great discretion and judgment in my interactions with people and in both good and bad situations.
I have gone hands-on with people. I have intentionally disabled cars with police maneuvers. I have arrested subjects for numerous offenses. I take my job and oath very seriously and am always cognizant of the great responsibility and authority given to me by God and the citizens that I serve.
Officer Jason Petty
As a young trooper, I would say a “policeman’s prayer” which I prayed religiously for many years before I started every shift. I believe now it’s not only the words that I speak to God but the meditation of my heart to Him that I strive for today. I believe God is with me if I say a wordy prayer or not. He has promised to never leave me nor forsake me, and His presence is with me wherever I go and whatever I do. My prayers now are pretty basic such as, “keep me safe” and “give me great discernment.”

I do covet and am thankful for the prayers of those committed to pray for me on a regular basis.

Law enforcement now days has gotten a bad rap in the presseven in the Midwest. What's the most positive experience you've encountered in the last couple years?

I meet and talk with more people in one day than some do in a month. I am afraid my list of positive experiences with these people would exceed this blog! I meet people in their worst times or moments which can affect the rest of their lives negatively or positively. 
For example, nearly six years ago, I was working traffic around the same time as today, November 24, in 2009. I clocked a vehicle at a high rate of speed who I turned on and the chase was on. The vehicle tried to elude me by pulling into a long driveway that led to a farm house. I continued up the road past the house where I observed a man running away from his vehicle. The man was apprehended and arrested for numerous charges including third offense DUI.
Fast forward six years. I pulled this same man over who I recognized right away. Conversation led to him being arrested that day. The man finally realized it was me and jokingly said, “So you are the little **** that caught me.”
The man then said something I will never forget, “You saved my life that day.” 

This man was a chronic alcoholic and went into treatment after being released from jail. A manwhose marriage, family, and body were suffering the consequences of years of alcohol use and abusehad found serenity and healing.
Most times, you never know the impact that you make on people’s lives, but every once in a while, you get to find out. 

Next Week: another trooper story from Jason, Co's job, the couple's involvement with Dave Ramsey Financial Peace Ministries, and their workout routine to stay physically fit.