Vegan Egg Nog

Two years ago, I became reacquainted with a traditional holiday drink, egg nog. During the Christmas season, I enjoyed a nightly cup of the store purchased variety, with a splash of rum added. However, last year, adhering to a plant based lifestyle, I didn’t want to drink egg nog, at least not the sugar laden dairy version with eggs in it. I searched everywhere for a non dairy, sugar free product in the stores, without success. I looked for a recipe online, so I could make it myself, but my search didn’t turn up a good, plant based one.

Today, without any effort on my part, I found a vegan egg nog recipe, posted on a Medical Medium Support Facebook page. I knew it was completely compatible with my chosen diet, and I couldn’t wait to try it. After a busy day, tonight I created my first dairy, egg, sugar and alcohol free egg nog. My daughters teased me, when I mentioned during a group text that I was excited to try this drink, asking me what it was, exactly, since this egg nog doesn’t contain any of the traditional ingredients. It’s more properly a faux egg nog. Or a non nog!

I already had all of the ingredients on hand. Here is the simple recipe, from Incredible Smoothies.

I used unsweetened coconut almond milk. Any non dairy milk would be fine. I have whole cloves so I broke one in two and tossed half into the blender. I purchase very ripe bananas on sale at the grocery store, chop them up, and keep them in the freezer for smoothies and making banana ice cream. I had frozen bananas ready to use.

My new Ninja Blender quickly turned the assembled ingredients into a thick, cold, creamy drink. The frozen bananas sweetened the nog naturally and gave it some body. I added an additional sprinkle of cinnamon across the top, and took my first sip.

This non nog was so good! I preferred to keep it alcohol free as well, however a splash of rum could be added. The cinnamon, nutmeg and clove piece gave it that classic egg nog taste. I could enjoy it without concern about foods on my “no” list.

I am grateful that the plant based egg nog recipe I was searching for last year, found me. In the past 12 months I have come to appreciate a variety of wonderful, health boosting drinks that I can sip on in the evenings. Perhaps because of that, I had not felt compelled to hunt for a healthy egg nog this year. I’m glad for the recipe however. It is a tasty addition to my night time drink choices.

Cheers! And Merry Christmas!

The Shortest of Stories

Tonight’s post celebrates pure fun, bordering on silliness. It became the perfect activity for the end of a busy and joy filled day. The Inspiration Starter that I drew appeared at first to be daunting. I selected:

I have a couple of short stories in my creative brain, just waiting for me to free them. However, today was not the day for that. Those stories require time and thought, crafting and editing. Instead, an idea came to mind to try something that I have wanted to do, just for fun.

Most smart phones have a feature that suggests words for you as you type. My phone has three boxes above the keyboard with word choices. Here is a screenshot that shows the suggested next word as I type:

This feature can be helpful in that it can save time and provide the proper spelling of a word. Granted, the predictive word feature has caused me embarrassment in the past, when my phone automatically supplied the word it thought I wanted. (Ask my son about the text I sent him asking if he wanted to go to a party together…except my phone substituted the word “orgy”, and I hit SEND without catching it!)

What if…I wondered…what if I used the predictive feature to write a short story? A quote from Stephen King popped into my head…

I love that quote! Allowing my phone to shape a short story seemed to carry an element of surprise, much as a kiss in the dark by a stranger would! I was willing to try, and see what happened.

I began the first attempt with the opening word “During…”, and let my phone take it from there. I simply added punctuation when the sentences seemed complete.

I smiled at the result. And it is evident my phone has a memory and has picked up the repetitive use of the word Christmas. It amused me that there were a couple of sentences that referenced grandsons!

Encouraged by that snippet of a story, I tried again, except this time, I let my phone choose the first word. This story made me, literally, laugh out loud. In fact, I chuckle every time I read it. It’s a humorous story.

I noticed that I must use positively charged words a lot…words like wonderful, journey, grateful, blessings and family. My favorite sentence is The first two weeks in my journey I was a little too excited, followed closely by The only problem is that I am not sure if I have a problem. I have been accused of being too happy sometimes!

The part that makes me laugh the most though is the section, The new things for the kids are the grandkids. And…Thank goodness for the kids. The new one is so awesome!

In that shortest of stories, the phrase I am grateful shows up four times. I say and write those words often and my phone knows it. Gratitude is a core belief for me. And the phrase used twice, Yes, it sounds good, comes across like an amen or a so be it. I like that. It is a phrase I type often when responding to people. Seeing the words that popped up in these micro stories gives insight into my own story.

This was a fun little experiment in short story writing. There is nothing publishable here. But I laughed. And I let creativity guide me. And I got a glimpse into my own heart and mind. All good things, tucked into a seemingly random method of creating a story.

In keeping with my experiment, I’ll let predictive text finish up my blog post, typed below in italics.

Thank goodness for new things.

Oliver Conquers the Mall

Yesterday’s Christmas shopping with Oliver was postponed, due to my grandson not feeling well. With Christmas fast approaching the time was limited for a future excursion. I was prepared to become Oliver’s personal shopper this afternoon, communicating via cell phones, and picking up his selections for him. However, Oliver rallied enough to venture out. The Yaya & Grandchild shopping trip was on!

It was obvious, after I picked up this normally energetic boy, that he was still recovering from sinus congestion and drainage. Minutes after we left his house, he was asleep in the car. Is there anything more precious than a sleeping child? It doesn’t matter how old they are, slumber surrounds the child with an aura of beautiful innocence.

I let Oliver sleep. When we arrived at the mall, I sat quietly with him and left the car running. I considered whether I should take him back home, pick up another adult to stay in the car with him as I did a quick shop, or wake him and see what he wanted to do.

I chose to wake him and ask his opinion. He is ten years old now, after all.

Although he was a bit groggy, and asked if he could sit if he needed to, he wanted to shop. I had to admire his spirit and his determination. The ibuprofen he took before leaving the house seemed to be kicking in.

Oliver accomplished his goal…shopping for Christmas gifts for his family…in record time. He made great decisions, in two stores, so that 30 minutes later, we were headed to my house to wrap. His talkative nature and wonderful curiosity had returned, and we chatted during the brief drive and while he wrapped the presents.

This young man always has a question or two for me about real estate. After we talked business, Oliver wondered which animal is my favorite and what song I liked best today.

My heart was full of compassion this afternoon for my grandson, knowing he wasn’t feeling his best. I enjoyed our time together, brief as it was. And when he feels 100% himself again, and has regained his appetite, we will have a Yaya & Grandchild meal together, to make up for the one he passed on today.

I learn so much from my grandchildren. Each one is unique, each has talents and gifts and delightful quirks, each one has much to offer to the world. I won’t see the four younger grandchildren until after Christmas. However, I am grateful that I got to spend one on one time with each of them, shopping, listening, sharing, and laughing.

It has been the merriest of Christmas seasons.

Signs of the Season

My day changed, when my shopping buddy for the afternoon ended up not feeling well. I’m sending healing thoughts to grandson Oliver and I hope that we get to go on his shopping trip tomorrow. Late in the day I headed out to do a little shopping on my own, with the Inspiration Starter I had drawn out of the jar in my pocket.

I selected this slip of paper:

I’m not sure what my intention was when I wrote that starter out in July. However today that piece of paper tucked into my pocket made me very mindful of my surroundings and the signs of the season, which were everywhere.

I was very intentional in the photos that I took. Here are some of the highlights.

The store parking lots were full this afternoon. But these gorgeous lamp posts towered above the cars, the crowds, the busyness. And as the already overcast day became darker, they offered welcome pools of light.

I decided to skip this stop, since I only needed a couple of small gift bags. You can imagine why!

Traffic was steady and heavier than normal for the time of day. Which caused me to sit through this stop light, after I didn’t go to Walmart. I didn’t mind the delay. In fact, being at that red light created a significant opportunity for me.

Unfortunately, homeless people on busy street corners are a sign of the season as well. Joplin, like other cities, has too many people who are in need. We have shelters and wonderful programs that offer assistance. And yet, I saw several people sitting in the chilly drizzle, holding up signs. This man’s sign was lettered with the words: HOMELESS AND DISABLED.

I often feel torn about how to help. I’ve given money, and looked the other way, handed out gift cards, and hurried on through the light rather than stop. It is difficult to know whether every person holding up a sign has legitimate hardships.

Today, being mindful, being so close to Christmas, feeling great compassion in my heart, it didn’t matter whether this man’s needs were legitimate, or not. I couldn’t look away. I couldn’t drive on.

I tapped my horn lightly to get his attention and held up the cash that I had. He walked with difficulty to my car, where the window was lowered. I apologized for honking at him. He said it was okay. After we exchanged a few words, I handed him the cash. And at the exact same time, we both said, “God bless you.” The man dropped his head and bent low, then looked up with tears in his eyes. I immediately had the same response. I can’t explain what happened. But for a moment, we connected, soul to soul. I wished him well, and a warm place to sleep, as the light changed to green. He called out ” thank you, thank you”. I cried as I drove away.

On my way to pick up dinner, I enjoyed Christmas lights…from the joyfully ridiculous dancing Santa in a hula skirt watched over by the gigantic soldier…to gorgeous homes that looked like Christmas card covers.

Santa apparently dines at Cracker Barrel and wears overalls before his big night. And discount prices on Christmas items told their own stories about the approaching holiday.

Tonight, I am working on final Christmas projects and preparing to wrap gifts. As I work, one of my favorite movies, Love Actually, is playing on my laptop. I have two films that I watch every year at this time. This is one of them. As many times as I’ve seen it, there is always something new, some fresh aha. Why? Because I am not the same person who watched it the year before.

I am sipping hot rose hips tea, and enjoying the complex and interconnected stories that are unfolding in the film. Some make me smile. Others make me tear up. A few of the stories break my heart open. Alan Rickman is in this movie, and seeing him is bittersweet. I am reminded of the crucial role he has played in my year, inspiring me with his words.

The signs of the season, they are everywhere. How those signs are interpreted and the stories they tell depend on the heart and mind of the viewer. I am very grateful for that slip of paper that pushed my awareness to a higher level today and helped me to see in a bigger way. This is the season of love and peace, loss and sacrifice, joy and hope. I am so glad there is hope.

Christmas Dominoes

What do I do, in the midst of a busy week, when my washer stops working and there’s laundry to do? I call my mom and ask to come over and use her washer and dryer. And then I text my sister Linda and invite her to hang out with Mom and me and play games. I bring my clothes and laundry supplies and healthy snacks. What is normally a chore morphs into a family fun night.

One thing, of many, that I appreciate about my family is their adaptability and willingness to have fun. Mom and Linda were good sports about an impromptu game night as my clothes went through the magical process of becoming clean in the utility room. We cleared the dining room table and Mom brought out her set of Mexican Train Dominoes.

This game is easy to play, and yet requires some strategy. Each player builds upon her own “train” of dominoes, originating from a central hub, or station. The game begins with the double twelves domino being played, and progresses through to the double blanks. An additional train is created as well, that one can play on if you can’t play on your own train. Each round is over when the first player lays down all of her dominoes. The other players add up their points by counting the dots on their remaining dominoes. At the end of the game, the person with the lowest score wins.

This is a fun game to play. And best of all, the ease of play and pace of the game allows for time to chat and catch up on each other’s journeys. We laugh when my mom mutters, as she eyes her dominoes at the beginning of every round, “What a mess!” We tease Linda when she needs her glasses to distinguish between a domino with four dots or six.

We get caught up in our conversations and forget to play, or wonder whose turn it is. That’s expected and one of the things I love about game nights.

The photo above captures what happens when no one initially selects the double five to lead off the game. We took turns drawing dominoes from the boneyard, until at last Mom picked it up with only three tiles remaining. And note the laundry basket in the lower right corner, with clean, neatly folded clothes accumulating in it.

What a fun way to spend the evening. Had I been doing laundry at home, I would have been multi-tasking, working on other projects or doing housework while my clothes spun through the washer and dryer. It was a nice change of pace to spend family time talking and laughing and playing. Linda won the game. I left with clean clothes. Mom said she enjoyed having two of her girls present for the evening.

My washer will get repaired or I’ll purchase a new one. Whether I’m toting in a basket full of laundry or simply showing up, I want more family fun nights in my future.

Take a New Class

It was rather late in my day, when I suddenly realized two things: 1) I wasn’t sure what I was going to be writing about this evening because 2) I did not draw an Inspiration Starter out of the jar this morning. My work day started the moment I woke up. And these double realizations came about at 6:00 this evening.

Reaching into the Inspiration Starters jar at night requires courage…and trust. The day is spent. There isn’t time to drive to a new town for an adventure or work on a large creative project. I reached into the jar anyway.

This is the slip of paper I drew out:

I smiled. This was very doable. And as it turned out, traveling down this trail as I searched for a class to take led me to an unexpected destination.

I checked out several options for furthering my education, in local shops and online. I found classes on nutrition, painting, photography, cooking, and a variety of artsy crafts. All looked interesting or fun…and yet none “rang my bell”, as Aubrey would say. They didn’t resonate with me.

And then, with my laptop plunked on my lap, I stumbled across a word that directed my path. It got my attention because it is my word for 2018…Story. I’m very excited about next year’s adventure as it is evolving and unfolding.

My new writing journal, with next year’s word and symbol on it.

As the year winds down, and the new year approaches, I experience this overlap of the old word and symbol and the frequent appearance of the new. It is the way life flows for me. When the word story caught my eye, it became a light on the path that drew me onward.

As a result, I found a wonderful website called Story Circle Network…by, for and about women. Visit the website HERE.

Founded in 1997, by Dr. Susan Wittig Albert, Story Circle Network is dedicated to helping women share the stories of their lives through memoir, poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and drama, and to raising public awareness of the importance of women’s personal stories. They carry out their mission through a wealth of resources and activities, including online classes.

I am so excited to have found this place. I feel divinely guided and invited. And just as I was inspired this year by Alan Rickman’s quote, about making life a little more tender and art a little more robust, I will be empowered through Story Circle Network next year as I write stories.

Checking their online classes, I was immediately captivated by this one: The Love of Everyday Things: Telling the Stories of Our Lives by Teresa Cutler-Broyles. This class resonated with me. It begins January 22 and concludes March 5, with weekly writing assignments. Each week I will choose an object in my home and tell its story, its connection to my past or future, to my hopes and dreams and losses, to people or places or memories.

This class is perfect for me, on so many levels.

I’m excited about the class. Even more, I am excited about joining Story Circle Network. I already appreciate what it will offer to me as a member in the upcoming year, and I am eager to discover what I can offer to the network in return.

I love that I was led to this class, this place, because I drew a random slip of paper out of a jar, late in the day. I love that Trust whispered Do it… and belief enabled me to go for it. The beauty and wonder of it all makes my heart beat faster with immense gratitude. Isn’t life a grand adventure?

Gifts of the Season

This afternoon I had the privilege of accompanying grandson Joey on his Christmas shopping trip. The day was overcast, chilly and dreary, however within our car there was joy and light and anticipation as we drove to Joplin.

We quickly established what our stops would be, and tossed around gift ideas for his family, calling in a little additional help from my daughter-in-law, Megan. By the time we had arrived in the first store’s parking lot, Joey had a clear game plan. From there this young man never wavered, finding each item on his mental gift list, and checking it off.

I give the kids an approximate budget, and two things amaze me as they shop. The kids are extremely fair in their purchases. They do their best to spend the same amount on each family member. This practice is the grandkids’ way of showing that they value the people in their lives and see their worth.

And, we find the items that the children have in mind, at the price they want to pay. This form of synchronicity happens over and over…getting an item on sale, finding the last such item at the exact right price. I love the delight that sparkles in their eyes as they exchange knowing looks with me. These shopping trips not only allow my grandchildren to give gifts to their loved ones, they teach them wonderful lessons about the incredible way life can flow.

Joey and I had such fun shopping and talking non-stop, that this Yaya totally failed to capture any of that part of the experience by way of photos! As we arrived at On the Border, the Mexican food restaurant that Joey selected for our meal, I lamented my lapse. Joey teased me about falling down on my one job today, and then laughed it off. He was gracious in allowing me to take extra photos in the restaurant and during our gift wrapping session.

Preparing to leave, after a delicious lunch, and I find my grandson settled in, watching football on a big screen tv.

Joey decided to actually wrap his gifts, rather than drop them into bags and stuff the tops with tissue paper. There is a knack to gift wrapping, and I let Joey experience cutting the paper to size and helped him learn to fold and tape up the ends. He did a great job. We talked about each family member as he wrapped their gifts and how surprised they would be by his selections.

These are special times, shopping with the grandkids. They enjoy selecting and giving the gifts. And they receive beyond getting a gift in return, perhaps without realizing it fully yet. They are learning the value of money, and more importantly, the value of their family members. They learn to make decisions, carry them out and adapt if necessary. There is a sense of accomplishment that each child feels over their little stack of gifts, and the delicious thrill of anticipation as they imagine the recipients opening their surprises.

There are sweet gifts to me also, watching the bright, earnest faces of my grandchildren as they make decisions and purchases. I receive the gifts of their conversations and laughter, their love and gratitude, and the joy of seeing their awareness and mindfulness grow.

It truly is the season of giving…and receiving…and I love sharing it all with these beautiful souls.

Oliver’s Birthday Experience

In the middle of the Yaya and Grandchild Christmas shopping trips, I hit “pause” today for a birthday dinner and shopping experience. Grandson Oliver celebrates his 10th birthday Monday. He will get to go Christmas shopping for his family next Wednesday. We spent the day together on this gorgeous Saturday, focusing on him rather than others.

This grandchild waits very patiently for his birthday excursion at the end of the year. He knows his turn is coming. And he doesn’t mind that his birthday and Christmas are exactly one week apart. A birthday is a birthday, after all. No combined celebrations for him.

As with my other grandkids, Oliver got to choose where he ate his birthday meal and where and how he wanted to spend the birthday money I gave him. We had such a fun day together.

Where the other grandchildren have chosen to spend their money of things that they wanted, or in my oldest grandson’s case, things he needed, Oliver continued down a different path that he initially embarked on last year.

Oliver prefers to do things, rather than purchase things. He chooses to experience fun and create memories over buying more stuff. He selected the mall as his destination, and his birthday celebration began in earnest.

With his birthday cash, he bought a small amount of candy at the mall sweet shop, and an inexpensive remote control helicopter. The rest of his afternoon was spent being an active participant in his own celebration.

Oliver experienced the Spider Jump, a favorite activity for him, where he bounds high into the air and flips forwards and backwards. He tried out the newly set up Virtual Reality pods, selecting a dinosaur park to explore. This boy talked me into joining him. Although the experience was interesting, we both felt it could have been better.

We spent the bulk of our time together at TILT, the arcade located at the mall. Oliver loaded a card there with cash, which he could then easily scan at the various games he played. He joined other kids a couple of times in the laser tag area, drove race cars, went on dangerous virtual missions requiring skill with weapons and beat me several times at air hockey.

I tagged along, cheering him on, watching him play, listening to his lively chatter. This is what I love about these one on one times with the kids, seeing them shine as their unique selves and hearing what’s on their minds.

These was incredibly cool, a mission impossible style crawl across a room full of laser beams. Oliver selected the hardest level…and in 74 seconds was slapping the check point button on the opposite wall, all without breaking a single beam.

We concluded Oliver’s birthday experience at his restaurant of choice, Cracker Barrel. There he enjoyed a hearty breakfast for dinner and a decadent piece of chocolate cake with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. As we dined, we talked.

Oliver is a great conversationalist. He always asks me about my work and what I am currently enjoying in my journey. He asks great questions, like this one that he posed tonight: Yaya, what has been your favorite age? And he followed up with a Tell me why… when I answered.

I love watching this boy as he shifts into a young man. Oliver is thoughtful, polite to the people assisting him, and very curious about the world and the way things work. I am fascinated with his desire to experience his birthday by doing rather than buying items, and I look forward to seeing where this trend of his goes. It is wonderful to see Oliver, younger brother to Joey, older brother to Aubrey, becoming more and more his own person, sure about who he is and what he wants to do.

Happiest of birthdays, Oliver. I appreciate who you are, and who you are becoming. Thank you for spending time with me, sharing your thoughts and your heart and your unique perspectives. I love you!

Winter Band Concert

What a treat this evening, to be in the audience during grandson Jonathan’s band concert debut. This talented young man, who sings, dances and performs in musicals and plays, added a band instrument to his repertoire three months ago, choosing the clarinet.

Tonight the 6th Grade Band opened the winter concert at the Pittsburg Memorial Auditorium.

Looking classy in a white button down shirt, suspenders and a bow tie, Jonathan was front and center on the stage. He did not appear to be at all nervous for his first band concert.

The 6th Grade Band, Jazz Band, and 7th & 8th Grade Band performed under the direction of Mr. Matthew Reimer. He did a fantastic job of introducing each band and explaining their musical numbers. It was easy to see that this dedicated band teacher is building skills in his students that will further their musical talents.

Jonathan and his fellow musicians led off with A Mozart Melody by W.A. Mozart, a readily recognizable tune. Listen to it HERE. Their next selection was Listen to Our Sections by John Higgins. Mr. Reimer explained this piece helps the students learn when to play, and when not to play. Watch it HERE.

Aura Lee by George R. Poulton was musical piece number three. You can experience it HERE. And for their grand finish, the band performed a Christmas classic, Jingle Bells by J.S. Pierpont. Sing along HERE.

I was so proud of Jonathan, and the 6th Grade Band. These children are at the beginning of a musical journey that will take them through hours and hours and hours of practicing and perfecting. Ahead are many performances in marching bands, ensembles and concerts. I am thrilled to have witnessed this auspicious first performance.

Jonathan’s big brother, Dayan, who made it home from the university in time to be present in the audience, began his musical journey in 6th grade as well. I spent the next six years enjoying his concerts and performances. How perfectly timed is Jonathan’s decision to pursue band as well. I have more years ahead to enjoy his performances.

There are powerful life lessons to learn, mastering a musical instrument. Those lessons about playing their parts, focusing on the music in front of them, and allowing the other musicians to play their parts well are apparent to me also as I watch with appreciation and gratitude.

It just would not have felt right this December, without a band concert to attend. Well done, Jonathan. You played beautifully. Bravo!

Joy Multiplied

I truly do love this time of year. From the big family Halloween party at the end of October, to the beginning of a shiny New Year, this is a season of incredible joy and special connections and marvelous fun. At the center of it all is family.

I spent the afternoon and evening with granddaughter Aubrey, on outing two of five of the annual Yaya and Grandchild Christmas shopping tradition.

I can tell my grandchildren are growing up, beyond my observations of how tall they are getting or how mature our conversations have become. Their shopping habits are changing.

As she did for her birthday shopping trip, Aubrey avoided the toy store for our Christmas outing, preferring the mall and a big box type store. She shopped wisely and with great care for her family members, not wanting to waste any time in shops that did not have what she was looking for.

She did pause to point out a cute outfit, in case I needed any gift ideas for her. However, her focus, for the most part, was on others and surprising them with thoughtful purchases.

I love these one on one excursions with each grandchild, following them as they browse, listening to their chatter and observing their gift selection process. Each child is unique and has his or her own way of making decisions.

Aubrey chose Popeye’s for dinner, hungry for their cajun chicken, mildly seasoned for her, mac & cheese and biscuits. We continued conversations we had started in the car, including one on the serious topic of bullying. I questioned her about bullying in her school, and was relieved by her answer. However, we discussed the importance of standing up for ourselves and for others who are being picked on, and that it is always okay to talk to an adult if she notices a child being treated unkindly.

After that conversation, Aubrey found a yellow wrist band on the sidewalk outside of a store, with “No bullying” written on it. She asked about the big word that describes when things connect unexpectedly, leading to a chat about synchronicities! I love the interesting flow of life, and I love Aubrey’s heart.

At my house Aubrey made quick work of wrapping her gifts, writing her own gift tags and selecting bags and tissue paper. And then it was time to take her home, after a successful and fun evening.

I thought again tonight about how magical this season is. For me there is deep gratitude, a recognition of blessings and Divine guidance, and appreciation for gifts that cannot be wrapped, only experienced and held in the heart.

I love the sights and sounds of Christmas, the crisp cold air, the warmth of home, the joy that surrounds me and overflows my heart. And, that joy is magnified and multiplied by these grandchildren who share shopping trips and stories and meals and dreams with me. This is my favorite part of the most wonderful time of the year.