Thursday, December 27, 2007

I Found It!

You might ask, "What is 'IT'?"

Well...since moving to Raymondville, I've had a difficult time purchasing meat. The meat departments at our HEB Grocery Store and our Wal-Mart leaves a lot to be desired. My favorite cuts of meat are AWOL-absent without laughing. At least, I'm not laughing. Read the labels and you'll see why. Tripe (beef stomach and intestines), beef tongue, beef and pork feet, ox tails, milanesa (thin cut of cheap steak), fajita meat, skirt steak, short ribs, etc.

Today I found a meat market. They actually have large hunks of meat, and they will cut off whatever cut of meat you want. For I asked for a beef roast and 1-inch thick New York Strip Steaks. I will go back for more. They grind their hamburger fresh daily, and will grind chuck or sirloin on the spot if you request it. AND they are reasonable for the quality of meat you get.

They also have special package deals. I might order the Family Pack next time: chuck roast, steak, pork steak, hamburger, and more.

If this is as good as I think it is, I feel like I've uncovered a gold mine!


Wednesday, December 26, 2007

After-Christmas Sales Anyone?

I have to work today, so I decided to go to our local (very small) Wal-mart in our (very small) town, to fill my shopping basket with (very huge) savings.

I figured if I had to work today, the only way to feel like I was extending my holiday spirit was to buy some items with slashed prices.

Let me tell you some of my deals:

I bought lots of bath and body types of products for half price, and to be honest, the way they were packaged as sets, there's no way I could buy these individually any other time of year for this low of price. This will make good gifts all year round (and nice for my own simple indulgences as well!).

I needed a shower caddy, and found this one gift set that had a chrome shower caddy to hook over the shower head, along with cream bath, bath soap bar, shower gel, body lotion, scrubby puff, and flower shaped soap for only...drum roll please...$2.44! That's right, two dollars and forty-four cents! AND the B&B products came in a green color that will go with my master bath. How cool is that?!

I also purchased some candle sets that I had been eyeing before Christmas but couldn't bring myself to purchase at full price. At half price they were much more enticing! One came in a white ceramic container that will be perfect in my guest bath with hand towels, wash cloths, and B&B products stuffed inside. It also contained the kind of cermaic burner that holds a tea candle below and those wax muffin thingees on top that melt and make the whole house smell good. I had some muffin thingees but nothing to burn them in. Now I do! And the set came with some candles inside mini-tea cups that will work nicely for an upcoming tea.

I purchased foot bath fizzees on the cheap too. Perfect for an upcoming makeover night with our ladies.

I could go one and on, but all I can say is, I bought several pairs of socks for Russ, And a big coffee-flavored gift pack filled with 6 boxes of goodies for him, a stuffed animal, 3 rolls of wrapping paper and tags, 6 bath and body type gift sets and two extra large gift sets of various candles and containers, packing materials, extra tea candles, and a citrus reamer (our grapefruit are ready), all for...(imagine that drum roll again)...under $70!!! I don't even know HOW I managed that, but I'm stoked!

The store was not crowded at all. I started shopping at 7:30 AM and was out the door by 8:15 AM. Now I'm ready to work, with a little extra cheer buzzing around my head and heart!

Merry After-Christmas!

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Angel Tree Ministry

A few weeks ago our church secretary, Mary, introduced us to the ins and outs of Angel Tree Ministry. Different churches and organizations lets the Angel Tree organization know how many children we can provide Christmas presents for. These children have one thing in common--at least one of their parents are in prison, some for hideous crimes like killing one of their own children. These children need a little love and a little levity, especially during a holiday season when they are faced with how different their homes are than other kids in their school. Mary has a PASSION for showing Christ's love to these children. Our church adopted seven children.

Each child had 4 wishes, and so these became ornaments on a special Angel Tree. Some picked up one or more wishes to purchase. Russ and I decided since we have no children of our own, we would love to "adopt" one of the children and purchase everything they wished for. So, I picked up the wish ornaments that said she wanted dress up clothes, pajamas, socks, and "bath" stuff.

I went to Wal-mart and had a BLAST buying for this unknown 6-year-old girl. It was MY treat. I couldn't find playtime dress-up clothes specifically in her size, and the one-size tags scared me. So I purchased a for-real dressy dress in black velvet with a bejeweled bodice. I found a crown and earrings, play jewelry, a furry boa, a scarf, real rings for little girls, tights, socks, a play cell phone with case, a girl's purse stuffed with the jewelry, and some lip and nail products for girls. I put all of this in a princess-style pink mesh hamper and wrapped it up.

Yesterday was the Angel Tree party. Russ did the intro and explained Angel Tree and sort of a mini-sermon on giving. Then I did an interactive Christmas story about all the surprises of that time, and the surprises they had waiting for them. Christmas surprises included: the angel appearing to Mary, the angels appearing to the shepherds, the bright star in the sky, Our God being born in a barn-type environment in a manger rather than in a hospital or palace, and coming down to Earth and being born with SKIN ON so that He can understand us and we have someone to go to. The biggest gift is the LOVE that came with those Christmas surprises, available to each of us no matter our situation. The children really opened up to this and admitted they needed someone like that, someone they can go to, to talk to, who understands.

Then Santa and his 3 elves came in to deliver the presents. These children were so polite that they waited to open their gifts until EVERYONE had theirs. I sat behind my adopted girl and watched her dig into the treasures found in her princess hamper. She was so precious to watch as she pulled out each gift. With the box containing the crown she actually closed her eyes while unwrapping it because she said she wanted it to be a big surprise! She tried on almost all of her items and begged her mom to go try on the dress, but her mom suggested she wait until she got home. That would have been fun to see, though!

It was fun watching ALL of the children open their gifts. They were so grateful and humble. At the end they went around hugging everyone and saying thank you. And then us grown-ups starting hugging each other too.

That old adage of it being better to give than receive is so appropriate here. In less than 2 weeks I've enjoyed 4 after-glow inducing moments: Our open house, Candlelight Communion, Ladies Nite Out, and Angle Tree Party.

It's all good!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

First Ladies Nite Out!

Last night was our first Ladies Nite Out here in Raymondville, TX. Keep in mind, we normally run 25-35 on Wednesday nights (counting men and kids). But I really believed we could have 40 ladies packed into my living room. So, I made sure we had seating for 40 (it's not really faith unless you act like it's going to happen!).

The event started at 6:00 PM. At 5:00 PM women started coming to help out. My 80-year-old Wela (our secretary's mother) even asked for a broom to sweep the leaves from our driveway! The house was abuzz with anticipation. By 5:30 women were POURING in! Keep in mind most Baptists find a way to arrive 5 minutes late to all church functions! :o) My house can seat 20, so we were soon unfolding those church folding chairs I brought home, knowing we would need them. We DID!

We literally did a "count off" by going around the room and numbering ourselves, and we ended up with 37 women. We know of at least 3 who could not make it at the last minute, so that would have been my 40. AMAZING!

But the best part was what happened to the women at the gathering. They let their hair down. They enjoyed fellowship. They pigged out on appetizers and desserts. They got to forget their problems and burdens for two hours and just have a good time. We all left our problems at the door!

Everyone helped make sure everything was just right, and then we enjoyed time just visiting and eating before I started the program. First we all gave our names since so many of us don't know each other yet. Then I read a humorous reading by Liz Curtis Higgs about those dratted fashion tragedies--"leggings." We laughed so hard!

Then I shared my health story, and just how good my life is. You could have heard a pin drop. Normally as I begin to wrap up, I welcome the ladies to ask questions, because by that point they know my life is an open book. Well, I didn't have to open the floor for questions-they just very naturally started raising their hands and asking questions. It was so neat!

I announced the plans for Women's Ministries in 2008. Now the ladies are even more excited than ever! They've never had much to look forward to in the way of activities with just ladies, and in a small town with little to do, monthly fellowship meetings are needful. I told them we would have a Mug and Muffin Makeover Night. They said, "excuse me, WHAT? What is that?!" I explained that we would all bring coffee mugs to exchange, have muffins and other goodies, and enjoy some makeovers. They said, "You have to remember, we are simple country people. This is all new to us. But we are along for the ride!" I told them to hang on because it would be a wild ride, and they all laughed and cheered!

I encouraged the women to be willing to share their stories with others. God never wastes one drop of any type of pain we go through (whether it is physical, heartache, you name it). He always ALWAYS finds a way to get the glory from it IF WE LET HIM. I explained that their special story (each unique) can be used to reflect Christ to others. It doesn't have to be pain-maybe it is victory-or overcoming a circumstance. Whatever it is-God wants us each to be used by Him.

It was so neat as the ladies said goodbye, there was a flow of women coming to me, hugging me, and whispering in my ear, "I have a story to share with you sometime." They could tell I cared, and they felt comfortable letting down their walls with me. THANK YOU LORD!

They didn't leave me with a mess, either! Before I knew it, without me barking out one order or begging one person to stay to help, the ladies just starting folding chairs and stacking them outside, washing dishes, putting away leftovers in ziplock bags. You name it, they did it. I have very little to do today. This in itself is a true gift!

I am still living in the afterglow of a special candlelight communion followed-up with a rip-roaring time at our Ladies Nite Out!

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Dear Santa

One of the e-mail lists I'm on suggested we write 2 things we hope to find under our Christmas tree, and 2 things we hop ISN'T there. Here's what I wrote:

Dear Santa,

I'd love to find under my Christmas Tree
If you would be so kind to me
Some new clothes that will work right now
I'll put them to good use I vow
It's 80 degrees here and I'm hot
My winter clothes are working NOT

Another thing I'd love to see
Right under my own Christmas tree
Is a spa day gift card as a treat
A facial and massage can't be beat
For lotions and potions to be slathered on
Is my wish so that stress-be-gone.

And things I'm wishing NOT to appear
Under my tree this very year
Would be bad health for 2008
For this I would really hate.
And also please oh Santa dear,
Make sure I don't have any fear.
Through Christ I can do all things
As He directs, my life will sing!

Monday, December 10, 2007

Open House/Open Heart

I'm enjoying the wonderful sensation I call the "afterglow" of a hosting an event that went oh-so well! It's our first "Willis Hospitality" on a big scale here in Raymondville.

The time leading up to this day is a blur-interrupted by speed bumps like the broiler not working, the pans and stovetop not being exactly right for making candies and homemade custard pastry cream..and even a deep knife-cut finger. But we made do!

I had a sign-up sheet for those who wanted to bring food to help out-and made the menu so all they had to do was sign their name to the item they wanted to bring-that way we didn't have any repeats. I made the last 7 items on the menu.

The menu included:
vegetable trays with dip
fruit trays with dip
4 bags tortilla chips and 1 jar salsa
crockpot of cocktail meatballs in sauce
crockpot of cocktail sausages in sauce
tortilla roll-up slices
assortment of cookies
Southwest Cheesecake (for cheese spread)
Mini-Sandwich Rolls with Deli Meats and Cheese
Swedish Nuts
Walnut Christmas Toffee
Veggie Pizza
Cranberry Scones
Homemade Cream Puffs with Homemade Custard Pastry Cream
Rumaki (Cocktail Water Chestnuts)

Oh-and I made a punch that went like hotcakes. It's funny because I was concerned I didn't make enough-but Russ said I had plenty because most folks always want iced tea. Not tonight. They were clamoring for the punch, and we had to make more several times. They wanted the recipe, and it was just light lemonade from a mix, and sliced sweetened frozen strawberries, thawed. They were all calling it "that yummy strawberry punch."

I think the hit of the night were the Swedish nuts. I usually make them once or twice a year for church events-because they always go over well. They don't take much skill--just patience because they look so ugly during the cooking phase!

One almost flop was the Christmas Walnut Toffee. It just didn't set up as well as it usually does, and so didn't crack apart sort of like peanut brittle. Instead, the bottom layer never turned to toffee-staying a sort of off-white soft candy. So, Russ cut the candy into squares, like fudge, and the parts that didn't crumbled up he made into little balls. That worked, and looked so festive! And so delicious that no one knew it was a flop that was "repurposed." What would I do without Russ coming up with Plan B?!

Here's the cool part. We walked the neighborhood earlier the week and placed invitations at each home, so that not just our church family were welcomed to our Open House, but our neighbors as well. Some commented on how cute the invitations were (a tri-fold sheet, with a candy cane taped to it that became the hanger for the invitation). I didn't get the guest book going until about a half hour into the party, but I think we had 7 neighbors attend, 8 other non-church guests, and 49 church folks, for a total of 66. Considering we had several families sick and out of town, that was a good number. We normally run about 35-40 on Sunday nights for our regularly scheduled services, to give you a comparison for why we were THRILLED with an attendance of 66! Especially considering getting to know our neighbors.

We always believe our homes are to be used for God's service, and surrender all we have to His service, so we were JAZZED to see it used in this way.

And not meaning to gloat (well...maybe just a little), but the weather was just perfect for the gathering. If anything, it was a little too warm. I think the high today was 86! We set up folding chairs under our carport, and our side porch is adjacent to that, so we placed the 3 tables of food and drink outside-and then allowed them to come in for tours of the home, and to sit and visit. Then, when it was time for our evening service, we just all sat outside (we were going to go in and enjoy the air-conditioning, but with the breeze, it was nice to be outdoors where it was a testimony to the neighborhood.) Our song leader played his guitar and led us in a mixture of secular and faith-based Christmas songs for a little fun and a little inspiration. The carport did a great job of trapping the sound and making it resonate as if we were a trained choir! So beautiful. In fact, I saw some ladies brush a few tears during songs like "O Holy Night" and "The First Noel."

Russ had me read a funny reading about Martha and Mary when Martha was fussing about Mary not helping in the kitchen and then he gave a short devotional on that thought.

Clean up was quick and I had plenty of help.

It was just a great joy to see all the work of the last 2 months culminate in something so uplifting!

Many hugged us tightly as they departed, and told us they had been starved for fellowship and they are so excited to see how much we implement fellowship into our Christian service.

God never made us to be islands unto ourselves-we need each other to get through this time on Earth!

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

What to Write When...

What do you write when you know you need to update your blog, but your supply of words for the day are already spent elsewhere? That's what it's been feeling like lately for me. So, I apologize for the delay in getting an update loaded to the site.

So many good things are happening in our new world. We love the ministry God has called us to, and we are grateful to be here. Already God has given us a sense of purpose and a sense of direction for how He wants us to be His hands and feet and voice.

A funny thing did happen the other day. I spoke to someone who lived elsewhere, and told her I froze the other day in the doctor's office. She didn't realize where I live now, and she asked how much snow we had. She had over 5 inches of snow on the ground, and she WAS freezing. Me? It was 82 degrees outside and the AIR CONDITIONING is what froze me out! I guess I don't have too much room for complaining this time of year, do I?

I've been busy collaborating on writing 2 books and 2 journals. I love it, but it does take a great deal of my creative juices. And I have several PR clients as well. And then there is also the creativity I pour into the ministry. Sometimes I have to make sure I find ways to get refills of creativity so that I don't run dry!

We are preparing for a big Open House this Sunday in our home. We will be delivering invitations to our neighbors in the next couple of days and of course we are spiffing up the house (it has undergone a huge makeover). And I've been pouring over cookbooks to decide what I want to prepare for our fingerfood table (appetizers, sweets, etc.). Many church members are helping out so that it's not all on me, and I appreciate that so much! They are excited because this is the first parsonage open house they can recall. It's our way to give back to the church and show our love to them. Later in the month I'm hosting a Christmas party for the ladies, and that will also be a lot of fun.

I'll try to write more in the days ahead. But for now-just know that I'm still alive and kicking (sometimes LITERALLY kicking!). One thing I need help with is coming up with ways to feel like I'm in the Christmas Season. I need more Christmas Spirit. I've gotten so caught up in my own life that I've let 2 months pass and it's just unreal to me that we are in December. Do you have any tips to help me? I know to take time to think of what Jesus birth' meant to us all. And to enjoy the Christmas lights and music. Also to reminisce about memories of Christmas-past. It's just hard to feel like Christmas when the weather is in the mid-80s and you are surrounded by a tropical paradise. Not that I'm complaining, mind you! In fact, some of you might wish to come for a visit when you are enduring yet another freezing forcast. We have the guest rooms ready!