Monday, December 16, 2013

A Wedding in December

On Saturday, we attended the wedding of my nephew David and the lovely Kayla.  The reception was held in a renovated barn called "Oak Lane."  Thought I'd share some of the pictures from that fun day!

The venue for the reception--Oak Lane in Oregon, IL

My three nephews who have all gotten married this past year, and their lovely brides

David and Kayla

Hubby and me enjoying the reception

Saturday, December 07, 2013

The Easiest and Most Delicious Beef Stew Ever (Crockpot or Not!)

For me, few things herald the arrival of colder temperatures than beef stew.  (Chili and all things pumpkin go without saying, of course!)

Granted, "my" beef stew recipe is about as basic as you can get...but the results are mouth-watering all the same.  It's kind of hard to ruin the combination of stew meat and tasty veggies.

You can make this for the crockpot or for a big pot on the stove.  Right now, I'm about to start getting ready for work (I just work afternoons.)  My stew is in the crockpot already, with all the flavors mingling nicely.  When I get home from work, all I'll need to do is spoon it into bowls!

Here's the basic recipe, but remember, you can always improvise.  Throw in those left-over veggies in the fridge...have less of this or more of that.  It'll still be yummy.


1 package of stew meat pieces
Seven or eight potatoes, peeled and cut up in chunky pieces
[NOTE:  Since my husband and I are being careful about carbs, I actually use only 1 large potato now, when it's just the two of us.  It still tastes wonderful!]
1 package baby carrots (cut each carrot in half if you wish)
[NOTE:  I used "real" carrots this time.]
1 can mixed vegetables
1 can green beans
1 can corn
1 large can tomato sauce
1 and a half packets beef stew mix
[NOTE: Since my hubby and I are empty-nesters and don't have to make the stew stretch to feed several, I just use one packet of the stew mix]

Brown the stew meat in a little oil. (My mom advocated dipping the pieces in salt-n-peppered flour first, but I don't always take the time to do that.)

 While browning, chop up veggies and put them in the crock pot. Add tomato sauce (you can add a can of diced tomatoes if you like--my family just doesn't like to SEE tomato pieces in anything. Weird, I know.)

Add canned veggies, INCLUDING the juice. (Again, this might also be a good time to get rid of left-over veggies that may be in the fridge and are still good.)

Pepper the meat and add some seasoned salt if you like, then dump in the crockpot with everything else. Add beef stew mix.

When making this in the crock-pot, you probably won't need to add extra liquid...but if you're making it in a big pot, you'll probably need to add at least a cup of water, maybe more. Play it by ear.

If using a crock-pot, cook on HIGH for four or five hours.  If cooking in a pot on the stove, cook on low to medium heat, stirring occasionally, until veggies are tender.

Monday, December 02, 2013

Some of my favorite Christmas music

Some of my favorite sounds of the season...

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)'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 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 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!

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Thanksgiving Memories

Thanksgiving is one of my very favorite holidays.  This one will be bittersweet, as it will be the first one since my mother passed away November 5th.  However, I've spent many Thanksgiving Days away from my mom.  I won't spend the day mourning or grieving.  I'll thank God for giving me 50 plus years with the most wonderful mother ever!

The following is a repeat of a post I did a few years ago (November 2010):

The table ready for Thanksgiving at my mom's house, 2009

Thanksgiving during my growing-up years was always a wonderful celebration. Turkey was the star of the show, always made delectably by my mother.

It wasn't until I grew up and moved away that I really appreciated the fact that my mom had to get up early in the morning, while we were all still snoozing, to get the bird in the oven.

Mashed potatoes, gravy, pumpkin pie, and my mom's 24-hour marshmallow salad were always featured on the menu...and yes, football was always part of the festivities.

Growing up in a Christian home, we always took the time on Thanksgiving to reflect on our blessings and give thanks to God.

When I got married and moved to Illinois, Thanksgiving almost always meant a Swanson family celebration, usually at the the home of one of my husband's older brothers. My sisters-in-law are all amazing cooks, and any Swanson gathering means some delicious eats.

Of course, the turkey reigns supreme, but pies and fudge and all kinds of desserts offer temptation. One of my favorite dishes at Swanson Thanksgivings is my sister-in-law Gail's sweet potatoes, sauteed in butter.

There are always a variety of delicious vegetable casseroles on the menu as well.

If everyone has enough energy and it's not too cold out, we often make time for a walk to make us feel a little better about consuming so many Thanksgiving calories.
And of course, you'll find many family members watching football on TV.

Many times, I've had a smaller Thanksgiving celebration for my immediate family.

A few years ago, my son and his wife and my little grandson Payton were able to come from Texas. We actually had dinner at one of my sister-in-law's homes, but it was my first Thanksgiving as a Type 2 diabetic, and I made some diabetic-friendly desserts--including low-carb pumpkin pie--that were absolutely delicious.
I try to include at least one or two of these at every holiday meal, so I can indulge without feeling too guilty!

My mom's dining room table

My grandson Payton and my niece Arden at their own little table at my mom's house, last Thanksgiving. They love this table! (2009)

The table in my mom's entryway, decorated for the holiday (2009)

Monday, November 25, 2013

The Valley of the Shadow

Cynthia Anne Zarafonetis Garrett
July 9, 1933--November 5, 2013

On November 5th, shortly after 9 in the evening, I got a phone call that will forever change my life.  My precious mother had been found "unresponsive" and it wasn't good.  Shortly afterward, another phone call: "She's gone."

My mother wasn't just any mother--she was, simply, amazing.  Someday I will try to write more coherently and gracefully about her and all she meant to me.  Over 10 years ago, I wrote this tribute to her that makes an attempt at verbalizing the awesomeness that was my mother, but I don't know if it even came close.

On the night she died, I put this on Facebook:

I am devastated. My precious, beautiful mother, Cynthia Garrett, went home to be with the Lord this evening. She simply laid down as if for a nap, and never woke up. I talked to her just this morning and she was cheerful and happy and so alive. I'm so happy for her...she's with my dad, many of her friends and loved ones and her Saviour...but there's a hole in my heart that won't mend until I see her again. 

God has been very real and precious to my family and me in this time of grieving.  We are still able to smile and laugh in the midst of our tears.  We know we'll see her again someday.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Baby Landon is here!

Landon Garrett Swanson, born October 19, 2013

Landon is my third and newest grandchild, and the first one that I was able to be there for his birth! Just as I knew, my heart has expanded to love him every bit as much as I love 6-year-old Payton and almost 4-year -old Josiah.  I'm so glad I was able to spend the first two weeks of Landon's life with him.  Thankfully, I'm going back to Texas for Christmas...I can't wait to see how he's grown and developed by then!

My beautiful daughter-in-law Daylyn shortly after Landon's birth

Josiah is enjoying getting to be a big brother!

All three of the boys with their Uncle Justin (my second son)

My son Jonathan...a proud daddy with his new little son

My heart is bursting with love for this little guy!

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Danny Gokey's "Hope in Front of Me"

Several years ago, in the eighth season of American Idol, one contestant stood out with his soulful voice and his sad backstory.

He was Danny Gokey.  He went on to place third in the competition, but throughout that season, he was shouldering a heavy burden of sorrow and depression over the untimely death of his young wife.

We knew about Danny's faith in God, but we might not know how severely that faith was tested in the aftermath of his wife's passing.

Fast forward over 5 years.  A lot has changed--Danny's still singing, still recording, heading up a foundation (Sophia's Heart) that provides solid, practical help to the homeless and

He's also been blessed with a beautiful wife and a little son.

And now he's sharing encouragement in his new book, "Hope in Front of Me: Find Purpose in Your Darkest Moments."

Danny's words have the ring of authenticity, because he's not just talking about discouragement and depression...he's been there, and lived to tell about it.

I was delighted to interview Danny about that book, as well as to catch up with what's been going on in his life lately and hear about his sophomore album, which he's currently recording.  Hope you'll take a listen!

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Tuesdays with Mr. Moseley

Photo by James L. Standfield via

Are there any teachers in your past that made an enormous, lasting impression on your life? 

Jerry B. Moseley was my history and social studies teacher in sixth and seventh grade in Vidor, Texas in the late sixties.

Through the years, I've often remembered Mr. Moseley as one of my favorite teachers ever...the kind of teacher whose influence remains with a student for the rest of one's life.  He recognized and encouraged my talents and abilities...a wonderful gift from a teacher to a student.

Some time ago, I re-connected with Mr. Moseley. I did a Google search for him, and found a post on a site for victims of Hurricane Rita. 

He was living in a nursing home when the hurricane struck. The staff fled the facility, and while he was shuffled from place to place, looters took all his possessions, including his computer. 

An old Navy friend set him up with a place to live in New York State. However, Mr. Moseley's greatest wish was to spend his last years with his stepdaughter (who he considers his daughter) and her family in Albuquerque, NM. 

That prayer was answered, and he was able to re-locate to Albuquerque.  He is now in worse health, suffering from kidney cancer.

For some time, Mr. Moseley sent out daily e-mails of his writings to friends and relatives.  I believe they are remarkable, not only  in their storytelling ability but in their wit and spirit.  

I decided to start posting these stories on a blog every Tuesday.  Mr. Moseley is now sending me more stories, so I should have a plentiful supply!

The blog is called Turquoise Sky: The Writigs of Jerry B. Moseley.  

I've been struggling to get readership for this blog, as I think these writings deserve as wide an audience as possible.  I provide links on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.  If anyone has any ideas on ways to promote it, can you let me know?

For example, I was wondering if there are blog circles or bloglists that specialize in this kind of blog.

In the meantime, i do hope you'll check it out!

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

A lovely September wedding

Dana and Benjamin

I love weddings!

Last weekend, we attended the wedding of my nephew Benjamin and his lovely Dana.  The ceremony took place at the Mendelssohn Peforming Arts Center, which used to be the First Presbyterian Church.  It was a gorgeous setting.

A definite plus?  My younger son Justin and my daughter Elizabeth, who live in Texas, were both in the wedding party, so I got to enjoy some time with them as well.

Thought you might enjoy some of the pictures!

The Mendelssohn Performing Arts Center

My nephew Jeff, my son Justin and my daughter Elizabeth

The reception was at the Mauh-Nah-Tee-See Country Club

First dance

Dana's dress was so lovely

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