Married to the Empire

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas

It didn't all get done, but that's okay. It's about celebrating the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, not about how many cute projects we can create or the amazing gifts we can give. When all is said and done, I'm just happy to be in a loving marriage, have a wonderful family, belong to a fabulous Bible-believing church, and have the freedom to worship the Lord openly. I have everything I need, some of what I want, and I'm blessed to have enough to share with others.

My sincere wish for all of you is that you have a beautiful Christmas with your loved ones and remember the real reason we celebrate.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Weekend Highlights

We celebrated Christmas (and my birthday) with friends on Friday night. We always do a gift exchange, so I did my traditional baking of bread. I've had too much going on this December, so I didn't go all out like I did last year. Everyone only received one loaf this time around. Oh well. I don't love them any less.

Everyone was also supposed to get an ornament made from Sculpey and some rubber stamping, but I planned things poorly. I was going to pop them in a cooled-down oven after I baked bread, but then I remembered that I had to make a potato dish to bring to dinner. So, I foolishly attempted to bake the ornaments in the toaster oven. Common sense should have told me that when something has to bake at a low 130 degrees F, it shouldn't go into a toaster oven that doesn't have a baking temperature lower than 200 degrees F. But a woman in a serious time crunch scoffs at such things. And then regrets it...

Burned ornaments are now in the trash.

Saturday was mostly open, other than an appointment in the morning. It was wonderful finally having a day without obligations! I haven't had one of those since Thanksgiving. Yikes! I took full advantage and sat around watching movies and reading. The kitchen was a wreck, but I was too busy relaxing to care!

Sunday we had some down time with our youth. The middle schoolers played a biblical trivia game and ate donuts in morning small group, then we just hung out with the youth in the evening and ate food and played games. For the record, Wii Music is actually quite fun and a good group game. The kids loved the handbells on it. We had 2 Wiis set up in the worship center with Wii Sports on the second screen. It was nice to relax with the kids after spending the past few months preparing for their Christmas program.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Christmas Cards

Anyone else way behind on sending them out? And there are still no wrapped presents under the tree. I've never been so far behind on Christmas stuff before.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Triple Duty Dinner

I don't know about anyone else, but this Christmas season has proved to be pretty stressful for me. With this being the first year that we did a big Christmas program with the youth, I had a lot on my plate. And now I'm way behind on my own Christmas stuff.

I had a bit of a dilemma tonight. I had praise team rehearsal at church at 6pm (when I'm usually at home preparing dinner), but I also needed to bring a meal to a couple from church who are recovering from a very bad car accident, and I needed to make something for Steven to bring to the office potluck tomorrow. Yikes!

I realized that the family at church is from Louisiana, which is also where I spent many of my childhood years. I figured they probably like red beans and rice, but I did check with their daughter first to make sure of this. (They do.) So, I decided to make that tonight. My recipe came from my sister, who said it came from Southern Living. It fills my 4-quart crockpot.

New Orleans Red Beans and Rice

1 lb. dried red beans
7 cups water
1 green bell pepper, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
3 celery stalks, chopped
3 garlic cloves, chopped
1/2 lb. andouille sausage, sliced
3 Tbls. Creole seasoning
Hot cooked rice
Garnish: sliced green onions

Place first 8 ingredients in a 4-quart slow cooker. Cook, covered, on HIGH 7 hours or until beans are tender. Serve with hot cooked rice. Garnish, if desired. Yield: 3 quarts

In my smaller crockpot, I cooked 2 cups of brown rice with 4 cups of water. It makes enough rice to go with all those beans.

I packaged up a lot of it for our friends, we ate some for our dinner, and the rest went in that blue bowl pictured up top for Steven to take to work. Best of all, it was minimal effort to make!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Gift of Relaxation on the Cheap

We did a generic gift exchange with Steven's family over the weekend. That's where the women all brought a girl gift, and the men all brought a guy gift, then we picked a number and received the present with the same number. The general price range for each gift was $25.

One thing I love about gift giving is the search for ways to give lavish-looking gifts without paying too much. My gift for the family gift exchange was no different. I decided to give a relaxation basket.

I included:
~a lavender-scented candle (Taylor of London) for a bargain $5
~homemade French lavender body scrub (using this recipe)
~homemade French lavender soap (using melt-and-pour glycerin soap I already had)
~a pair of super-cozy, sweater-like socks bought on sale for only $3.49 (down from $12)
~a tin of chamomile tea for $2.50 (originally $5)
~a new-looking hardback book called Tea Time with God found for a mere $2 at a thrift store
~a pretty basket with stars and pearls for only $4, on sale from the original $10

Total cost: $17
Cost if everything was purchased at full price: $52

Now, admittedly, this doesn't count the cost of the ingredients for the bath scrub. I purchased epsom salts, essential oil from the health-food store, and a big bottle of sunflower oil. However, the essential oil will be used for many projects (including the soap I made), and the epsom salts and oil will make several jars of body scrub. So, initial output is a little high (I'm too lazy to do a cost estimate on this since it would involve digging out receipts), but only a small portion of the ingredients are used for a single jar.

The basket was well recieved, and I enjoyed putting it together.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Crazy Christmas Weekend

The blog is a bit neglected lately, but that's because the Christmas season is upon us in full force. Things started on Thursday when our church small group met for dinner and a Christmas movie. I'd promised my homemade macaroni and cheese to my friend Aubrey, who has been bugging me for it for quite some time. So, in addition to bringing a dish to share with the group, I made a special pan just for Aubrey. You can see his reaction:

He was funny because he just sat and hovered over his pan for the longest time. It's always nice to make someone's day!

Friday night we attended the local high school's performance of Scrooge. Three of the kids in our youth group were in it. After the play we walked over to the basketball game, as one of our boys was playing in that. We caught the last minute-and-a-half to see them win!

Saturday we had Christmas with Steven's family. I met his stepbrother for the first time ever. It was a fun time with family.

Then came Sunday. The youth group has been working hard for several months on a dessert-theater production called Christmas Is... Through skits, monologues, music, dance, and puppetry, they presented what Christmas is to some people, and what it really means for Christians. They did an amazing job with their performances.

I was in charge of the dessert portion of the evening. I had volunteers bring desserts, and the kids helped me set up tables, put together trays, pour drinks, etc. Then they served everything. I was so proud of them. Their attitudes were fantastic, they were looking for ways to help, and I received many compliments tonight on how well everything went. This program was a lot of work, but we pulled it off beautifully. And at the end of the show, my sweet students gave me a gift card to The Cheesecake Factory and a framed and matted photo of the group. They all signed the mat. I nearly cried when they presented it to me. I have the best kids! I forgot to take any pictures until nearly the end of the program, but here are some shots of the packed room and some of the stuff on stage:

As this event was also a fundraiser for youth camp next summer, we were pleased that when the money was counted at the end of the night, the kids had earned nearly $900!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Christmas Crafting: Gifts

If you're related to me and younger than 12 years old, stop reading right now!

That said, I spent the day with all that fabric I got out a couple of weeks ago. I've had this fabric since July, but in true procrastinator fashion, I didn't sew with it until yesterday. That means I was feeling a little stressed and panicky because this stuff has to make it to England by the 25th!

What I wound up making were these:

Each of my nieces is getting a bed pocket. They tuck under the mattress, which holds them in place, then the pocket part hangs over the edge. You can put books or whatever else in them. I'm also sending some goodies to go in the pockets, but I'll keep that a mystery just in case certain somebodies have ignored the warning at the top of the post.

The one problem I'm left with? I greatly overestimated how much fabric I would need. I bought 8 yards, but only used 4. I have plans to make some lavender-filled sachets for my closet, but that isn't going to take up much fabric. Any ideas for what to do with 4 yards of lavender cotton fabric? (And keep in mind that my sewing skills are mostly limited to straight lines. But I rock the mitered corner!)

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Super-Cool Birthday Present

As is tradition in my family, we celebrated my birthday early. (When your birthday is on Christmas Day, it's nice to celebrate at a different date. But still have birthday cake on the actual day.) We ate at Pappadeaux (also tradition), and I received presents.

Look what I now own!

My sweet husband set it up for me:

We spent a good amount of time playing with it. I tried the yoga program and a skiing game. Steven must have tried practically everything else. I think he likes my present even more than I do! It's pretty neat how it calculates your BMI and helps you set goals. Should be a pretty fun way to work out.

Oh, I also got a new pink sweater. But somehow, that seems anticlimactic to mention. (However, I love it!)

And because I'm a terrible aunt who did birthday posts for all but her youngest niece, here's a picture of my sweet little Ashley who turned 5 yesterday:

This sweet little 6th-generation Texan (on our side of the family) now sports an adorable British accent since they moved to England when she was only 2-1/2. I miss her. A lot.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Neiman-Marcus Adolphus Children's Parade 2008

The 501st Legion, along with a few members of the Rebel Legion, were in the Neiman-Marcus Adolphus Children's Parade in downtown Dallas on Saturday. The parade benefits Children's Medical Center of Dallas and is a lot of fun.

Also in attendance was R2-D2, who was a very big hit. Before the parade started, I was walking with the girlfriend of one of the other stormtroopers and searching for the guys. We ran into R2 and his owner and operator, Wayne, so we walked alongside R2's trailer for a while and chatted. It was so funny to hear all the other groups that we passed shouting out to R2 and asking Wayne questions. Several members of the Hardin-Simmons band ran over to take photos with R2, as did several other people. I decided to take a photo with him, as well (notice the super-cute hat I got from Amy of Pretty Shiny!):

The Dallas Stars hockey players weren't far from the stormtroopers before the parade, so a couple of the stormtroopers walked over and asked me to take their picture with them:

Steven wears his Imperial officer uniform for the parade so that he can help lead the march. He wanted more stormtroopers, so he lent out his armor to his coworker Brian:

A few images of the guys from the parade itself:

The stormtroopers were mobbed after the parade for photos. Since Imperial officers are never as popular as masked characters, I took a moment when no one was asking for him to take a picture with my hubby:

And finally, I'll leave you with the television footage of the stormtroopers at the parade:

Monday, December 8, 2008

Stormtroopers, Miss America, and Kidney Disease

The stormtroopers went to Children's Medical Center of Dallas on Friday for the party the hospital holds for the kids on the day before the Neiman-Marcus Adolphus Children's Parade. They bring some of the patients down to enjoy a time of doing crafts and meeting some of their favorite characters. The stormtroopers are always a big hit.

Miss America, Kirsten Haglund, was also in attendance. She posed with R2-D2, Boba Fett, Darth Vader, and my stormtrooper, all wearing her crown. Not many women can say that their husbands have worn Miss America's crown!

My sweet husband sat down to make crowns with the kids. I was laughing because he wound up with pink glitter stuck to his stormtrooper gloves.

A hospital worker asked my stormtrooper, Darth Vader, and R2-D2 to make room visits. As we were getting into the elevator, she told the guys that she was taking them to the cancer and renal/dialysis wards, and they needed to say something if they got queasy at the site of blood and IVs and stuff. I commented that Steven can't be, as dialysis could be in his future someday. She asked why, and Steven told her that he has IgA Nephropathy (a form of kidney disease). She said, "Oh, then you have something in common with these kids!"

We went up to the dialysis room, and Steven was chatting with a Star Wars fan who was hooked up to the dialysis machine. After a moment Steven told the boy, "You know, I have kidney disease, too." The little boy's eyes became huge, and he said, "You do?!" Even stormtroopers have to deal with medical problems. They bumped fists, and Steven moved on to the next patient.

We found out that there is a kidney camp in May where the kids can hang out with other kids dealing with kidney disease. The hospital worker told me it would be so great if a stormtrooper with kidney disease could come out and spend time with the kids. We're going to try to make that happen. I'd never been able to thank God before that my husband is sick, but Friday, I thanked him for the first time.

Finally, I'll leave you with the sweetest image of the day. As we walked down a hospital corridor, we ran into a nurse walking with a little boy. The boy got so excited about seeing Darth Vader, and he came over to take Vader's hand. They walked down the hall hand-in-hand until the boy reached his destination.

Thursday, December 4, 2008


Steven has been a bit overwhelmed the past few months. He's PR officer for his garrison of the 501st Legion, he's an elder of our church, and his job became more demanding after so many workers were laid off. So much on his plate has left him feeling a tad discouraged, especially with the stormtrooper thing.

The guys are in the Neiman-Marcus Adolphus Children's Parade this weekend. Steven struggled just to get enough guys to sign up to be in it. For a while, it looked like they were going to have to drop out because not enough people were saying they'd participate. He found it all rather discouraging.

But I received the sweetest phone call this afternoon that makes things seem brighter. The woman in charge of the parade lineup called to get our mailing address. She's wanting to send Steven a thank-you note for all his hard work, and especially to thank him for going to the children's party at the hospital tomorrow. She said it really touches her heart when people who are in the nationally-broadcast parade are willing to do stuff for the children when there aren't video cameras broadcasting it all, especially as it means so much to the children. Everyone loves seeing stormtroopers and Darth Vader.

I thanked her for her call and told her that her encouragement means a lot. I think just knowing that his efforts are appreciated, and especially giving some small joy to sick children makes it all worthwhile. I'm very proud of my stormtrooper!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008


I'm totally addicted to Christmas magazines. It's a sickness. And I have a very fat magazine file box full of them from previous years. That doesn't even count my December Martha Stewart magazines. I just can't get enough of all the Christmas potential.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Christmas Prep: Behind the Scenes

Our youth group is performing a Christmas dessert theater on December 14th called Christmas Is... The kids will be singing and performing skits about the true meaning of Christmas. It's a fundraiser for youth camp next summer. They've been working hard on this, and I think it's going to be great.

Apart from singing a solo and helping with the youth choir, my role in this is handling the dessert portion of the evening. Sounds easy enough, but I'm finding that it's a lot of work. So many little details that have to be taken care of. And some big ones, too.

I spent Monday morning at the church sorting through our stash of Christmas tablecloths. Besides making sure we had enough for our tables on the 14th, I had to call our women's ministry leader to make sure I wasn't taking stuff that the women would need this weekend for their party. (I took 20 tablecloths home to wash.) I also had to check to see if we need plates, utensils, coffee, tea, sugar, etc. Plan centerpieces. Find enough people to sign up to donate desserts. Make a plan for how people will be seated when they come in. Have a game plan for how the kids will serve the guests. Basically, make sure that everything is in place for that evening so that things run as smoothly as possible.

Hospitality is definitely not my spiritual gift. Kudos to those of you who possess this gift because you make it look so easy! I don't think I'd ever realized just how much work goes on behind the scenes.

Monday, December 1, 2008

A Well-Needed Break

It's funny how you can have a bit of a vacation without really going anywhere. Steven had a 4-day weekend with the Thanksgiving holiday, and we had a wonderful time with each other, our families, and our friends. Best of all, I didn't have to cook!

Thanksgiving morning started off badly, though. We were lazily lounging in bed when my FIL called at 10:07am. I'd had Steven call the night before to find out what time we were to be there for Thanksgiving dinner, but no one was home. I'd assumed it would be the usual 5:30pm. Instead, FIL called us back the next morning to say that dinner was at noon. This wouldn't be a problem except that that I was supposed to bring a pie. More specifically, a sugar-free apple pie. I assumed I'd have all day to make it.

So, our morning started with my flying out of bed and yelling at my husband to get up because he's helping me peel apples! He found me most unpleasant to be around, I have to confess.

I'm proud to report that we made it on time with a freshly-baked apple pie in hand.

Steven and me with his mom and dad:

Friday we spent an obscene amount of money, and very little of it was on Christmas gifts. But getting an $800 suit for only $200 was one of the many great finds of the day. (Steven actually needed a new suit; we weren't just out to spend money with no real plan.) We're not the insane types who get up while it's still dark, though. No deal is worth that! I think we headed out around noon.

We had a wonderful belated Thanksgiving dinner at my parents' house on Friday night with my cousin's family. Then we had dinner at the home of friends on Saturday.

We even had a little bit of a vacation from church. We still attended Sunday morning, but the youth classes were cancelled for the morning (no teaching!), and we didn't have to go back Sunday night for more youth stuff. We've been busily preparing for a Christmas dessert theater fundraiser, so it was nice to get a little break from all that.

And now the frantic rush to get all the Christmas stuff done begins...