Tuesday, December 25, 2012

My Favorite (Best?) Posts of 2012


2012 wasn't my most prolific blogging year.  As I believe most long-term bloggers do, I went through some slumps.  But I believe I did do some quality blogging, and I thought I'd share what I consider my top 5 posts of this past year.

If you're a new follower, I hope you'll check out some of these oldies-but-goodies! In no particular order...

Adventures in Hair-drying - I take the opportunity afforded by Hair Dryer Appreciation day to reminisce about the ridiculously complicated hair styling routine I endured back in the 70s.

Saturday Review of Books: The Hunger Games - My review of "The Hunger Games" (the book, not the movie) was one of my most-read posts of the year...although I read it seemingly much later than everyone else.

Do You Hate Women Because They're Beautiful? - A British journalist's much-publicized article about how tough it is to be gorgeous prompted this post.

Is There an Expiration Date on Beauty? - When a male magazine editor insinuated that women have a "shelf life" when it comes to beauty and fashion, I asked what my readers thought about it.

The Most Famous Lovers of Literature and History - Somehow this ended up on Pinterest, so it has gotten a lot of views. It's a perfect fit for Valentine's Day, a costume party or just to see how many of them you've ever actually heard of.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Another Gold and White Christmas

In a few minutes, I'll have to start getting ready for work. It's raining, but we're expecting a couple of inches of snow today...just enough to make all the Christmas lights look even prettier.

Right now, though, I'm sipping my coffee and enjoying the ambience of my Christmas decorations.

Last year, for the first time, I decided to do most of my Christmas decorating in gold and white.  I did it again this year, but added even more touches.

I'm not a professional decorator, or even as talented as a lot of the blogging and Pinterest ladies, but I thought I'd share what it looks like.

(You'll notice we have no presents under the tree yet! That will change in the next day or two)

I love to set out little stacks of Christmas books here and there.  The one on top here is a Liz Curtis Higgs novel I just won in a blog give-away!

I love this little tree I got very inexpensively at TJ Maxx! The angel was a gift from a  neighbor family for singing in the funeral of their grandmother

This vase was actually based on a Pinterest idea.  In the fall, I put little pumpkins and gourds inside, and added twigs and eucalyptus.  For Christmas, I used gold ornaments, and spray-painted the eucalyptus gold.

Another end table with pretty Christmas books.

The Merry Christmas blocks were hand-painted and cross-stitched by a friend years ago.

I love the gold church...50 per cent off at an after-Christmas sale at Crimson Ridge a few years ago.  

The pretty little box in the foreground was another TJ Maxx find; I think it was around 4 bucks.  

The nativity scene was a gift from my friend Teri.  More about her in a moment...

This little plaque was given to me by my friend Teri over 20 years ago.  This year is has even more meaning, as it's our first Christmas without her husband Ray, our very dear friend who passed away after a bone marrow transplant last May.

Christmas is all about the birth of our Saviour.  But one of the wonderful things about it, is that it makes us stop and think about how much our friends and family mean to us.  Cherish your loved ones more than ever this Christmas!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Look at the beautiful Christmas music

Pinterest has afforded a wealth of Christmas-related images for me this year.  I have a board titled "All Things Christmas," dedicated to ...well...all things Christmas. :)

One thing I've been noticing is the lovely Christmas typography (some of it even free to download and print.)

For your viewing pleasure, some images related to iconic Christmas songs...

Source: flickr.com via Cindy on Pinterest

Source: weheartit.com via Cindy on Pinterest

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Six Healthy AND Tasty Holiday Foods!

Source: houzz.com via Cindy on Pinterest

OK, let's be honest.  Eating is one of the best things about the holidays...how many of your childhood Christmas memories revolve around food?

But everything delicious doesn't have to be naughty.  This list of healthy holiday foods came across my desk at the radio station, from the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston.

It piqued my interest because although I know I'll enjoy some treats, I don't plan to abandon my healthy lifestyle this Christmas.

If you feel the same way, or you have a family member who needs to be careful about their diet for health reasons, check these suggestions out.

Stacy Kennedy is a nutritionist with the Institute.  She tells us,  "When party planning during the holidays, it’s important to have variety. Many of the foods we enjoy around the holidays are not only delicious to eat, but they may also contain cancer-fighting nutrients.”

Kennedy says it's easy to include them in any menu when you know what to look for.

Here's her list:


Hummus is a great substitute for fat and calorie laden dips, and Kennedy says this recipe calls for pine nuts, which are rich in protein, zinc, copper and manganese...all of which are important for a healthy immune system. She adds that legumes, like chickpeas, are a great source of protein and dietary fiber, which can help reduce the risk of cancer and help lower cholesterol.


Here's a good reason to dust off the family nutcracker--The Dana-Farber Cancer Institute article tells us: 

Recent research finds that walnuts may help prevent kidney and colon cancers. In addition, the study suggests that walnuts are a rich source of antioxidants that may help protect cells from oxidative damage. Walnuts contain essential fatty acids, or the so-called “good fats,” which are known to help reduce blood pressure and boost the immune system.

Some good news about this tropical treat:

"Mangoes are naturally sweet and rich in a variety of antioxidants. One of them, lupeol, is thought to rid the body of harmful molecules known as free radicals, which can damage a cell's DNA, triggering some forms of cancer and other diseases. Studies have indicated that mango pulp may lower the risk of prostate cancer, inflammation, arthritis, and diabetes."
Kennedy calls this recipe  "a colorful and refreshing mousse recipe will delight dinner guests."


At Thanksgiving, my daughter-in-law mixed pomegranate seeds with apple slices for a light, refreshing fruit salad. I didn't realize just how good it was for me!

According to the Dana-Farber Institute, "Research suggests that drinking pomegranate juice may be a delicious way to help prevent prostate cancer, as well as prevent the metastasis and spread of prostate cancer cells."

They say this good-for-you Apple and Pomegranate Crisp dessert "is layered with flavonoids, vitamin C, and other antioxidants."


Nutritionist Stacy Kennedy tells us, "Pumpkin is...one of the tastiest ways to enhance the body’s own natural cancer-fighting ability."

She says pumpkins are packed with nutrients called carotenoids, which have been linked to the prevention of colon, prostate, breast, and lung cancer. It’s actually the bright orange color that makes pumpkin rich in nutrients.

One of my favorite healthy pumpkin recipes is this one for ginger-spiced muffins...I've made it many times and love it!

Winter squash

Squash for the holidays? Sure...in this appetizer, Winter Squash Crostini. According to the article, "It’s not only delicious but also a good source of carotenoids. They act to clean out the dangerous free radicals that enter your body from stress or the environment."

Kennedy has some other suggestions to make the holidays healthy:

  • in dips, try substituting sour cream with low-fat plain Greek yogurt
  • go raw with crudites
  • add as many colorful foods as possible
  • get plenty of exercise, and
  • remember, it's a time for celebration, so it's OK to indulge a little!

Do you have any favorite ways that you incorporate these foods into your diet? Let me know in my comments section!

**Thanks to the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute for supplying the information for this post.**

Friday, December 07, 2012

My Own Favorite Christmas Music

In my last two posts, I shared Christmas music favorites from a bunch of my Facebook friends.  Today, I talk about my own faves...

Amy Grant's "Home for Christmas"

I fell in love with this album the first time I heard it several years ago, and it has certainly stood the test of time.  The very traditional arrangements of classic favorites...the gorgeous orchestration, with Amy's pleasant voice...the few "newer" songs that have since become classics as well ("Breath of Heaven," "Grown-up Christmas List)...it's all combined to make this one of my favorite Christmas albums of all time.

4Him "The Season of Love"

It just wouldn't be Christmas for me without this wonderful CD.  It first came out so long ago that the cover picture shows the four guys in full early 90's glory, mullets and all.  But the sound never gets stale.  The gorgeous 4-part harmony, as well as the guys' distinctive solo voices, shine on unique arrangements of traditional favorites as well as others that have also become classics, like "Strange Way to Save the World."

Michael W. Smith's "Christmas" and "Christmastime"

Again, it would not be the Christmas season for me without these two albums.

I wrote about them several years ago:

The arrangements and orchestration (in "Christmastime" are absolutely gorgeous... This is one of my very favorite Christmas albums. It is the perfect, joyous blend of the lighthearted and the reverent. Now I can't imagine the Christmas season without it. 

His first Christmas album, "Christmas," also remains a Christmas season staple for me, but it has a much different tone. The first album is more quiet and worshipful overall. 

Point of Grace "A Christmas Story"

Another really beautiful album that as more than stood the test of time.   Lush, shimmery, angelic female four-part harmony, with a nice balance of the sacred and the secular.

Bryan Duncan "Christmas is Jesus"

There's something unique about Bryan Duncan's voice...I've always loved it.  And his Christmas album is a wonderful blend of traditional and inspirational.  His "Angels We Have Heard on High" is a joyful celebration, while "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day" is thoughtful and hopeful.
The song, "Form of Man," really encapsulates what Christmas really means...God coming down to earth and taking on human form:

Jesus, lowly born, brought riches to the earth
Lord of Heaven coming down, risking human birth
God’s thoughts and ways are not our own and I can’t understand
Why He wrapped His love in flesh and blood and He took the form of man.

Oh, and sometimes...as I wrote in an earlier post...I  just have to listen to Handel's Messiah.

A few years ago, I wrote about going to Trinity Lutheran Church in Rockford and hearing the Messiah performed live...

...Finally, the lights were lowered, and the small orchestra began the overture. I was instantly captivated.
The first song sung by the choir is "And the glory of the Lord." As soon as it began, and the beautiful voices wafted over us in stately and gorgeous harmony, I started crying and didn't stop for the entire length of the song.

It was not only the beauty of the music that caused my awestruck tears...it was the power, the majesty, the dignity, the authority. "And all flesh shall see it together...for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it." 

I love "The Hallelujah Chorus," and it also has a powerful effect on me. But probably my favorite song from Messiah is "For unto us a child is born," and has been since I was in junior high. I don't know what it is that captivates me so much about this piece. I love the intricate harmonies, the amazing run-on vocal phrases that spiral skyward, the joyful elation of the violins. [Do listen to the video below if you have a few moments and have any appreciation at all for classical music.]

I honestly don't think I've ever heard any music with the power to transport me to the heavenlies like Handel's Messiah. If the music in heaven is even slightly more amazing and awe-inspiring--and I believe it will actually be much more so--then we certainly have a lot to look forward to!

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Favorite Christmas Music, Part Deux!

The other day, I asked my Facebook friends to tell me about their favorite Christmas music so I could share the replies on my blog. The response was so terrific, I've had to divide the results into two posts.

Do read through these responses and see if there's any music you'd like to check out. I know I will!

Becky Boys Pulham Carpenters Christmas portrait. Takes me back....WAY back.

John Wolf Jim Brickman and Amy Grant Christmas cd's are favorites around our house

Ashley Leporati Todd I have many..., but mostly I'm enjoying Acoustic December by a local guy (Chris Howell, on iTunes) who graduated from Dallas Theological Seminary several years ago. I'm really into acoustic/instrumental this year. I find it very soothing.I also like Josh Groban's "Noel". He is so gifted!

Ju Lee I like the Kenny G classics Christmas CD. Its just so relaxing and beautiful. I also really like the Casting Crown Christmas CD

Gina Mandala Tenazas Charlie Brown Christmas It brings back so many happy memories.

Jennifer Meier Go Fish Christmas with a capital C. I just really love it.

Paul Olmstead Kenny G: Miracles - The Holiday Album. Just love the selections he placed on this album. Soothing, easy listening.

Amy Sue Burnett Favorite secular album is The Carpenters Christmas Album... especially "Merry Christmas Darling"

Darren Marlar One of my personal favorites is an old one from Christian music... Russ Taff, "A Christmas Song" (which is a strange title for an album, as it sounds like you only get one song on the CD). It's almost twenty years old (yikes!), but I love the jazz combo feel to it, like you're listening to a guy in a nightclub crooning to some Christmas classics.

Source: google.com via Cindy on Pinterest

Rebekah Bartholomee Gooch I love listening to Mannheim Steamroller and more recently, Nathan Burgraff who has a beautiful piano solos

Suellen Salmon Anderson Anything by Jim Brickman...but my favorite Christmas album is Jim's "The Gift". Nothing lovelier than piano music by this man.

Chyleen Robison Phillips I just downloaded the Christmas music from the Peanuts Christmas TV show. Love it! Most of it is instrumental/piano.
Kerry McKnight One of my favorites is Dean Martin. And Sing We Now Of Christmas by The Christmas Revels.

Bob Rub III YoYo Ma's "Songs of Joy and Peace." As a musician, I am amazed at Yo Yo Ma's diversity of styles. I especially love "The Wexford Carol" with Allison Krauss singing.

Tina Hopson Josh Groban, Celtic Woman, Kenny G, I have several piano only sacred Christmas CDs (love love love) Bing Crosby, Mannheim Steamroller. I love Christmas music. My iPod has 240 Christmas songs!

Vicki Walton A very special favorite is Glen Campbell's from the latter 60's. My Momma played it always; today I play the CD and remember my Dad in his chair as he whistled to "There's No Place Like Home." I drive by the home place each year and play that song.

Scot Bertram Marah - "A Christmas Kind of Town" - We listen to it every year on the drive to/from Chicago for Christmas Eve or Christmas Day.

Kimberly Jean Richards Mlejnek later recommended Francesca Batistelli's Christmas CD, especially the song, "Christmas Is."

Thanks so much to everyone who participated in my informal survey!
If you missed it, feel free to leave your recommendations in my comments section!

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Favorite Christmas Music, Part One!

Christmas music! It is, and always has been, one of my favorite things about the season.

Can you imagine Christmas without the iconic songs and carols, both sacred and secular, that fill the air during this time of year?

I do have a small caveat, though.

Too much, too soon?

I admit I enjoy the radio stations that play nothing but Christmas music from Thanksgiving on. MOST of the time. But to quote from a post I wrote a couple of years ago ("Say NO to inferior Christmas music!":
Yes, I love hearing some of those songs over and over. Bing Crosby crooning “White Christmas” will never get old. Most versions of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” are decent; many are excellent…same with “The Christmas Song,” AKA “Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire,” although Mel Torme’s is undoubtedly the best.

But if you’re not Karen Carpenter, don’t even try to sing “Merry Christmas, Darling.” I heard some un-named chanteuse try to do it justice the other day, and not only did it fall pitifully short of the mark, it was actually PITCHY in places!

And trust me, I will be perfectly happy if I never hear another version of the smarmy “Baby, It’s Cold Outside." It’s always been annoyingly cheesey, but I think Nick Lachey and Jessica Simpson’s version took it to new lows.

As for Madonna squeaking and mincing her highly annoying, cringe-inducing, faux Betty-Boop way through “Santa Baby”…well, please just shoot me now.

We all have our favorites

Much as I support radio, I'd rather listen to my favorite Christmas CD's. I'll talk about my personal favorites in a later post, but I thought I'd poll my Facebook friends, and got some interesting answers--so many, in fact, that I'm going to have do post a sequel tomorrow!

Andrea Whitehead: Anything TSO (Trans Siberian Orchestra)

Cindy Long: Relient K "Let It Snow, Baby...Let It Reindeer" and Mannheim Steamroller

Katrina Johns: Muppets Christmas with John Denver...seriously

Stephanie Knigge: Oak Ridge Boys Christmas-- it reminds me of growing up

Tammy Johnson Poulisse: Nat King Cole - Christmas. His voice is so smooth and soothing to me. I close my eyes and feel his brilliant interpretation of words.....

Beverly Garrett Nickson: Kenny and Dolly. Brings back wonderful memories.

Aaron D. Wolf: The Johnny Cash Family Christmas. It's worth it just to hear J.R., June, Mama Maybelle, Carl Perkins and others sitting around talking about Christmas.

Tabitha Brown Pitney: Bing Crosby and Perry Como, because they take me right back to my childhood Chirstmases...back when Christmas came to me and I didn't have to do anything but write a letter to Santa, color in Christmas coloring books, eat bowls of snow and cookies, while watching Rudolph on t.v., shake my gifts to try to guess what they were and then of course open presents on the big day!!

Lisa Garrett Walther: Mariah Carey, Harry Connick, Jr. Two good new ones, Kristen Chenoweth and (even though I don't like the show) last year's Glee Christmas album is really good. It has the prettiest arrangement of "O Holy Night" I have literally ever heard.

Nicole Marshall Barnard: Harry Connick, jr. when my heart finds Christmas... his voice is incredible and I love his style of big band music

Patricia Hunter: JOY - An Irish Christmas with Keith and Kristyn Getty - I love their music in general, and Christmas music with their celtic flavor is perfectly lovely.

Chuck Sweeny: One of the Firestone or Goodyear compilations my dad got every year at his gas station. Those old albums bring back memories of Christmases long ago. I play them every year. Yes, I'm old enough to still have a turntable and a record collection.

Kathy Bigbee Wingo: I always get out my James Taylor Christmas CD first and play it the most. It has sacred, secular and lots of different music styles. Great instrumentation and ~ as always ~ a great voice.

Stay tuned for tomorrow's post for the rest of my Facebook friends' Christmas music recommendations!

Meantime, I'd love to hear your faves in the comments section!

Monday, December 03, 2012

I'm in love with a beautiful Christmas book: Update

A couple of years ago, I posted on my book blog about a beautiful Christmas book that I had found for 5 dollars at a local dollar store.  Since then, I've gotten some more information about this book and its availability.  

I also have a little addendum to make that happened just a couple of weeks ago during Thanksgiving.

Here you go:

As a little girl, I loved Christmas anthology books. Nothing made me happier on a December day than to snuggle up with a big, beautifully-illustrated book full of Christmas stories, songs and poems.

That's why I was so delighted to find this Christmas Treasury at a local dollar store for 5 dollars. I liked it so much, I bought three of them...one for me to read to my grandsons, one for two of my little nieces, and one for two little friends of the family.

(Click on any photo to view larger)

Tom Newsom beautifully illustrates "The Night Before Christmas."

I love the fact that there are several songs in the book, complete with music.

The book includes several Victorian-style illustrations and poems as well.

Among the prettiest illustrations in the book are by an illustrator named Pat Thompson, about whom I was able to find frustratingly little online. Making it even more confusing is that there is also a children's illusrator named Pat Thomson...without the P. I'd love to know more about this artist.

Another lovely Pat Thompson illustration in the book's rendition of "The Nutcracker."

Another Pat Thompson illustration in "The Velveteen Rabbit."

Another by Pat Thompson

A Pat Thompson illustration in the Christmas Story

How about you? Do you have a favorite Christmas book? Let me know about it in my comments section!

UPDATE: I posted this a little two years ago, and one person was able to give me a little more info about artist Pat Thompson. "Sparrow1" commented:

"Pat Thompson is an artist in Franklin , TN with Southgate Studios. I was trying to remember which book she illustrated to pass the info along to a friend when I came upon your blog. In years past I have taken pastel classes from her and consider her a both a very fine artist and a lovely friend."

Very cool!

UPDATE 2: You can order this book on Amazon! It's about 18 dollars, but this gorgeous book is well worth it. Here's the link.


When I originally bought this book, I envisioned keeping it here and reading it to my grandchildren when they visited during the holidays.

Well, my grandsons, almost 6 year old Payton and 3 year old Josiah, were excited about me reading "Twas the Night Before Christmas" to them from this book when they were recently here for Thanksgiving.

They live in Texas and I live in Illinois, so I treasure the times we get to spend together.

I read the poem and then we thumbed through the pages and I showed them some of the beautiful illustrations.  Both of them love books and love to be read to.  Payton was excited to see the illustrated Christmas story, as he's been practicing to be in a Christmas program at church.

When I mentioned that I had bought the book specifically for them, but that I would keep it at my house, Payton asked, "Why can't we take it home?"

Why indeed? He promised that he would have his parents read to him from the book during the holidays, and I know my daughter-in-law will make sure that it's kept nice.

I wrote in the front of the book, giving it to Payton and Josiah with all my love. I hope they enjoy it for years to come.

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