Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Health and Wellness Report

I am VERY happy to report that the echocardiogram (also called an echo stress test) I had on Monday was normal. I have the green light to exercise away!

As for what I experienced a couple weeks ago, I'm not sure. It could have been a random incident of SVT (supraventricular tachycardia) or a result of too much thyroid medication. (My doc now has me on the lowest dose possible.) Whatever it was, it galvanized my resolve to get rid of my extra weight. For good!

So the snowshoe trips are back on. My plan is to go on 2 snowshoe/hiking outings each month in training to climb the Wellsville Mountains on September 12th. Here's a nice view of them in springtime:

I'm referring to the Wellsville hike as my personal Everest. Hmmm. Maybe I'll even re-read Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer. Or maybe not.

The cool thing about making the Wellsville Mountains a part of my fitness goal is that I can look out my front windows and see them everyday. See them when I'm running errands in my car. See them when I'm taking the dog on a walk. I've always loved them, but I'm guessing that now they'll mean even more to me!

Have a Happy New Year!

Healthy and Wellness Report . . .

I am VERY happy to report that the echocardiogram (also called an echo stress test) I had on Monday was normal. I have the green light to exercise away!

As for what I experienced a couple weeks ago, I'm not sure. It could have been a random incident of SVT (supraventricular tachycardia) or a result of too much thyroid medication. (My doc now has me on the lowest dose possible.) Whatever it was, it galvanized my resolve to get rid of my extra weight. For good!

So the snowshoe trips are back on. My plan is to go on 2 snowshoe/hiking outings each month in training to climb the Wellsvilles on September 12th. Got that? September 12th. Put it on your calendar and plan to come with me!

I hope to sit down soon with my Cache Trails book and come up with a schedule of outings. When I get it all figured out, I'll post it. If any work with your schedule and you'd like to join me, I'd LOVE to have you come along. I'm referring to the Wellsville hike as my personal Everest. Hmmm. Maybe I'll even re-read Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer. Or maybe not.

The cool thing about making the Wellsville Mountains a part of my fitness goal is that I can look out my front windows and see them everyday. See them when I'm running errands in my car. See them when I'm taking the dog on a walk. I've always loved them, but I'm guessing that now they'll mean even more to me!

Have a Happy New Year!

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Low Carbing through Weight Watchers . . .

I gave myself an early Christmas present this week. On Monday I re-joined Weight Watchers.

I originally joined Weight Watchers in February 2006 and steadily lost weight through September '06. My low weight was 164. Down 40 pounds from a joining weight of 204.

First I was trying to reach a goal weight of 150 lbs. But after a YEAR of trying, I was still stuck at 167 lbs. or so. I had my doctor write me a new weight goal of 168, but by then I weighed 170+ lbs. Still, I kept at it. But instead of losing, I was slowing gaining. Finally, after over 2 year with Weight Watchers, I quit. I was tired of paying money to gain weight.

That's not the only reason I quit. I also came to the realization that I was using WW as a crutch. It was almost as if I believed that as long as I was paying and going, I would lose weight.

So why am I back? Because I recognize that WW is an excellent tool. Not a cruch, but a tool. I need the accountability of weighing in each week. I also think that the face to face support of members at meetings is motivating for me. Plus, I've come to realize that a strict low, low carb diet just isn't for me.

But I haven't given up on low carb combletely. When I read "Low Carb Dieting for Dummies" it reminded me a lot of the Core Plan at WW. (Now WW has combined Flex and Core into the Momentum plan.) Fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, non-fat dairy and healthy fats worked for me once. I'm banking on them working again.

One thing is certain, I won't quit trying to lose weight until I'm back down under 170 lbs. It's a sensible weight for me given my P.C.O.S. and heredity.

Better is the enemy of good enough.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

My Versions of Popular Christmas Carols

(All I Want for Christmas Is) To Lose Some Weight
All I want for Christmas is to lose some weight, to lose some weight,
Yes, to lose some weight.
Gee, if I could only seem to lose some weight,
I'd truly have a Merry Christmas.
It seems I always have to say, "No thanks, I'll just have vegetables for dinner."
Gosh, oh gee, how happy I'd be if I were only thinner!
All I want for Christmas is to lose some weight, to lose some weight,
Yes, to lose some weight.
Gee, if I could only seem to lose some weight,
I'd truly have a Merry Christmas.

Down in my Wallet (sung to "Up on the Housetop)
Down in my wallet I look and pause -- It is worth it to play Santa Claus?
Up and down the aisles buying lot of toys -- All for the little ones' Christmas joys.
Ho, ho, ho -- Where'd the money go?
Ho, ho, ho -- Where'd the money go?
After the register goes ching, ching, ching -- Down in my wallet I don't see a thing!

Ruby the Red-faced Parent (sung to "Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer)
Ruby the red-faced parent had a very loud-mouthed son.
And everywhere she took him, he offended everyone.
All of the time she'd tell him, "It's impolite to speak so loud."
But still he kept on saying things heard even above a crowd.
Then one fateful shopping trip, Junior was heard to say:
"Mom, that lady sure looks fat. How do you think she got like that?"
Then how his mother wished that she could somehow disappear.
Under her breath she told him, "You are grounded for a year!"

Down the Hall (sung to "Deck the Halls") -- a tribute to mothers
Down the hall the kids come shrieking. Fa-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la.
I think the baby's diaper's leaking. Fa-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la.
My toddler's void of all apparel. Fa-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la.
I guess I'll sing this Christmas carol. Fa-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la.

A Few of Our Favorite Things . . .

It finally came . . . the annual neighborhood gift from the Tippetts. And again, they've outdone themselves. Yes, those are a plate of plain rice cakes wrapped in cellophane. And here's the note that came with them. (Once again, a classic!)

On December 26th of last year our Family Christmas committee met and began throwing out ideas for the gift we would give in the coming year. Our committee knew that if we were to be considered like the house that gives out full size candy bars at Halloween, we couldn't waste any time. This year the committee came to the conclusion because of the financial conditions of the world we would give a versatile gift -- homemade rice cakes.

We failed to find a recipe for homemade rice cakes. Quaker apparently doesn't want anybody to find out their secret formula. We decided that each member of the committee would taste a rice cake then discern by taste the ingredients in them. We unanimously came to the conclusion on the main ingredient. They are called rice cakes, but we determined it was probably to throw you off so you couldn't make your own. We figured the main ingredient was a small rice-shaped type of Styrofoam. We tested various types of Styrofoam until we found one similar in color and which had no taste. This had to be it! With tiny stencils we carved the little rice shaped Styrofoam pieces to add to the mix. It was hard to tell if the second most dominating taste was a heavy paper or cardboard. We decided to go with paper. We took common notebook paper and shredded it and re-shredded it until it turned into a powdery substance. (We hoped the ink wouldn't create any health problems, but would enchance the color of our cakes.) After identifying the two main indredients we knew there must be a binding material to hold these items together. We cheated a little by simply asking local physicians, "What type of glue has no taste and would not be harmful if eaten in small circular amounts?" Our family formula was created over months and months of mixing and testing. We then took the perfect mix and threw batch after batch into the dryer to ensure every ounce of moisture was removed. Once all the moisture was removed, we then placed the dried, tasteless material onto a flat pan and again with stencils we cut the cakes into a perfect circle. It should go without saying that we sang during each phase of this project our favorite family song, "Whistle while you work."

Oh, how we hope that the kids haven't already devoured them. They're much more than a treat. There's been more than one family night when our activity was kick ball or baseball and we didn't have any bases. We simply grabbed four homemade cakes from the pantry and then it was "play ball!" Brush them off and then set them back in the pantry or just enjoy them after the game. Playing indoor hocky and need a puck? Tired of scratching your hardwood floors while playing shuffleboard in the hall? Can't afford clay pigeons for shooting practice? No, they won't break! Just look for the hole to see if you hit your mark then shoot at them again and again. Take an ear swab with a little soap to clean the gun powder residue from the holes to make them safe enough for the grandkids to snack on.

Short on cash for decorations for the Holidays? No problem. Take three of these cakes, put one on top of the other. Place a small hat on the top cake and, voila, you have a snowman to hang on your front door to greet all your friends and neighbors. Hurry fast so you won't be thought of as a copycat. Do you have bald spots on the Christmas tree? Take a handful of cakes, paint them with bright colors, and hang them all over the tree. Oh, what a difference! (Remember take a 30 grit sand paper to remove the paint and get them back into the pantry for future use.)

They're not justs for recreation and decoration. They're a great food storage item. They have no shelf life. Nobody can identify a good one from an expired one. They beauty is that one cake could possibly feed a family of four for up to a month. Remember one tiny piece of cake will expand up to thirty time its size with a little water.

We could go on and on about this glorious circular delight, but the point really is -- we are happy to give the gift filled with a little Styrofoam, a little paper, a little glue and a lot of love.

Love, The Tippetts Family

And now, a little something to say, "Merry Christmas" fellow bloggers:

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Family Book Recommendations -- Our Gift to You!

Those of you who live in our neighborhood, know that for our neighborhood Christmas gift we donated money to our local library and then supplied our friends and neighbors with bookmarks and a list of our favorite (or recently read) books. Here's what we wrote:

Read the best books first, or you may not have a chance to read them at all.
— Henry David Thoreau

The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who can’t read them.”
— Mark Twain

A Few of Our Favorite Books

The Lord’s Way, Dallin H. Oaks
All These Things Shall Give Thee Experience, Neal A. Maxwell
Beekeeping for Dummies

A Redbird Christmas, Fannie Flagg
The Host, Stephenie Meyer
Fitzwilliam Darcy, Gentleman (series), Pamela Aidan
An Assembly Such as This
Duty & Desire
These Three Remain
Life of Pi, Yann Martel
Peace Like a River, Leif Enger
The Penderwicks on Gardam Street, (2nd in series), Jeanne Birdsall
An Incomplete Revenge (most recent release in the Maisie Dobbs series), Jacqueline Winspear

All 3 Hansen Children
Peter and the Starcatchers, Dave Barry
Peter and the Shadow Thieves
Peter and the Secret of Rundoon

Stormbreaker (Alex Rider series), Anthony Horowitz
Lord of the Rings series, J.R.R. Tolkien
Johnny Miller: I call the shots
Mike Weir: Road to the Masters

Loula Belle
Tennis Shoes Among the Nephites, (series) Chris Heimerdinger
Midnight for Charlie Bone (series), Jenny Nimmo

Geronimo Stilton (series)
Books by Gordon Korman
The Sixth Grade Nickname Game

Merry Christmas!

Honest Scrap

Thanks to Suko for giving me the Honest Scrap award. Here are 10 honest things about myself:

1. I am very gifted at the fine art of belching on demand.
2. I have taught the skill to my children.
3. Hubby can't do it. We tell him it's because it's genetic.
4. I maintain that the ability to burp properly prevented me from experiencing heart burn while pregnant.
5. I'll quit blogging about burping any time now.
6. Blogging about burping beats blogging about weight loss -- especially when you haven't been losing weight.
7. It also beats thinking about Holter monitoring results that weren't normal and wondering what could be wrong with my heart.
8. Sometimes I do really well Pollyanna-izing about my health challenges.
9. And sometimes I am just sick and tired of feeling sick and tired.
10. Time spent with my dog always takes my mind off my troubles.

Monday, December 15, 2008

What's for dinner?

This post is for anyone who is looking for ideas on what to make for dinner. (Hi, Alison!)

Here's a copy of our menu from last week. We followed it fairly well. One in a row.

And finally, here are some delicious recipes that my family likes. Enjoy!

Traditional Fried Rice

4 c. cold, cooked rice
3 to 4 eggs
¼ tsp. salt
4 Tbsp. canola oil (or other veg. oil)
2 whole green onions, thinly sliced
1 green pepper, diced
1 ½ c. ham, or shrimp, BBQ pork, chicken, etc.
½ c. frozen peas, thawed
2 Tbsp. + soy sauce (Kikkoman is our fave)

Rub cooked rice with wet hands to separate the grains. Beat eggs with ¼ tsp. salt. In a large skillet or wok heat 1 Tbsp. oil over medium heat. Add green onion and green pepper and stir-fry for about 30 seconds. Add eggs and stir and cook until soft curds form; remove from pan and set aside.

Heat another Tbsp. oil in pan. Add ham or other meat, and peas. Stir-fry for 2 min. to heat thoroughly; remove from pan and set aside. Heat the remaining 2 Tbsp. of oil in the pan. Add the rice and stir-fry for 2 minutes to heat through. Stir in soy sauce, meat mixture, and egg mixture. Fold in until the eggs are in small pieces. Season with additional soy sauce if desired. Serves 4 to 5 people.

(Don’t worry too much about the proportions. Just add away. We like our with a bit of extra egg and ham.)

Sweet and Sour Chicken

6 split boneless/skinless chicken breasts, cut

Rinse chicken and pat dry. Cut into strips. Dip in a slightly beaten egg and then in flour. Brown in hot oil. Place in casserole dish.

2 chicken bouillon cubes (2 tsp. powder)
1 c. hot water
1 ½ c. brown sugar
2 Tbsp. soy sauce
2/3 c. vinegar
2/3 c. catsup

Pour over chicken. Bake 1 hour at 350 degrees (do not cover). Baste half way through cooking time. Serve over rice.

Macaroni and Beef Bake

2 Tbsp. cooking oil
2 tbsp. ground beef
2/3 c. finely chopped onion
1/3 pound (1 c.) elbow macaroni
3 ¼ c. tomato juice (or V-8 variety)
1 ½ c. cheddar cheese, grated
1 ½ tsp. chili powder
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat oil in frying pan and brown ground beef and macaroni. (If you’re using a non-stick pan, skip the oil.) Add tomato juice, tomato soup, chili powder, salt and pepper.

Bake in a large casserole (9x13 glass pan works too) at 350 degrees for about 1 hour or until macaroni is tender. Cover with cheese and return to oven until cheese melts. Makes 8 servings.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Using Oprah's weight gain as part of my weight loss motivation

I feel for Oprah. Sure, she may be a billionaire. She may have a home in the Bahamas and wealth untold. But she also has regained 40 pounds to reach the 200 pound mark. And it's all over the newspapers, magazines and internet. She gains her weight in the public eye.

I'm just grateful that my weight gain trend isn't on the front page of my local paper. It's bad enough to watch the scale climbing ever upward without uncaring millions knowing about it.

Oprah and I have a lot in common. We've been obese. We've lost a lot of weight and looked really good. And we've gained it back. A number of times. Oh, and we both have thyroid problems. (We both have the gift of gab as well.)

(Note: As I was typing that last line I hit the 's' key instead of the 'b' key when typing gab. For a moment there, Oprah and I both had the gift of gas. . . . Must. Stop. Laughing.)

A-hem. Serious again. Any moment now.

Dang. I can't get serious again. The 'gift of gas' line really blew my whole plan of writing an inspiring post about how I'm going to stop my recent trend of gaining weight by conquering my personal Mt. Everest -- hiking the Wellsville mountains. I was going to write about how Oprah will no doubt hire a personal trainer and pay nutrition experts to help her lose weight. I, on the other hand, will go the low-cost route and use hiking and snowshoeing to reach the same ends.

The same ends.

Gift of gas.

I'd better stop while I'm ahead.

Let it snow! Let it snow! Let it snow!

Ooooh! I'm so excited! It's snowing. I mean SNOWING! At the moment I'm typing this at the computer with a steaming cup of herbal tea sitting nearby, it's a blizzard outside. The snow is blowing in maybe 15 degrees above horizontal. Every now and then a gust of wind sends the snow off the eaves in thick billowy waves.

I'm loving it! Yes, I do need to head out to our Relief Society Christmas breakfast in 50 minutes. But that will only make me more excited. I'll be thankful to have a front-wheel drive car to get me to the church safe and sound. But after it's stopped snowing, I'll be thankful for my truck. Yes, it has available four-wheel drive, but mostly it's rear-wheel drive. Which means it's great for doing fishtails and donuts.

(Note: Earlier this week I drove the truck to drop off Bug for basketball at the church. There was a snowy area of the parking lot that is on the north side of a line of lilac bushes. I decided to let it help me get turned around. Wheee! It was a bit more helpful than I had thought it would be. A group of cub scouts saw my free-wheeling turnabout method and watched with open mouths. I was grinning from ear to ear. Bug was a bit distrubed, but in the end thought it was fun too.)

Yes, I love snow!

Friday, December 12, 2008

A little lightness for Friday

Flashlight Girl forwarded me this video. I thought it was funny. I'll be looking forward to the kids' bedtimes. They can't sass me in their sleep. At least when they're sleeping I know they're not ignoring me. (I'm just sure that I was never a grumpy attitudinal teenager. Never. Not me.)

A few of mom's favorite things by Hillary Weeks

Monday, December 08, 2008

Fitness Goal: Prepare to Hike to the Wellsville Cone

I've found a goal to help me focus my health and wellness efforts. My goal is to hike to the top of the Wellsville Cone in September of 2009. Here are the specifics of the hike from "Cache Trails -- 2004 edition."

Deep Canyon Trail to Wellsville Ridge Trail

Distance: 6.1 miles up the Deep Canyon trail and along the Wellsville Ridge to the Wellsville Cone

Rating: Strenuous

Elevation Gain: 4,070 ft.

I plan to purchase the maps of the hiking area, maybe even post them as additional motivation to keep me on track. I haven't sat down to create a detailed game plan yet, but I'm going to start by walking everyday with my dog and gradually increase our walking time. Twice a month I'll do a hike in the nearby mountains, starting easy and working my way to longer and more difficult hikes.

During the winter I'll snow shoe and come spring and summer I should be well on my way to better health and stamina. Because the hike is steep and strenuous, I'm going to feel it in my knees. I'm planning to do weight training that will focus on building my leg muscles to support my knees.

I also think it would be fun to invite the Young Women in my ward to join in my hikes. We can do some of the easier ones in preparation for girls' camp. I'm also planning to invite them to join me on the final hike up the Wellsville mountains. I wish that I'd had the opportunity to hike them when I was younger, back when my body actually worked.

But it's not too late for me. I'm excited about this hike like I've not been excited about anything in a long time! Yeeha! Watch me go!

Writing a Book on Patience While Grumpy -- Patience Report #8

I'm writing a book on patience. Now pick youself up off the floor and stop laughing. I'm serious. Not very patient, but serious.

Who better to write a book on acquiring patience than someone who lacks but desires patience? That's me.

Here are some possible titles: (Tell me which you like best -- or make new suggestions)

-- Give Me Strength: A Mother's Journey Toward Patience
-- In Pursuit of Patience
-- On the Path to Patience
-- Patience, please! (Pretty please)

I figure that the best time to write about patience is when I'm grumpy. Mostly because I've been grumpy a lot lately, and if I wait for a patient mood to strike before I begin writing, this book won't get written.

So here goes.

In my dreams for this book on patience, Deseret Book will publish it. (Despite having customer service problems -- as STM has discovered.) And they'll include me in their line-up of Time Out for Women speakers. And because one of my favorite publishers/speakers for Deseret Book is Mary Ellen Edmunds, I'm going to take a page out of her book and write on a serious topic but not take myself too seriously.

In my quest to acquire patience, I've been collecting quotes on patience. They have given me much to think about. I've been thinking that I might get more written on patience if I cite a quote and then write my reaction to it. So, that's what today's entry is. A quote and thoughts on patience.

Two persons who have chosen each other out of all the [rest] with the design to be each other's mutual comfort and entertainment, have, in that action, bound themselves to be good-humored, affable, discreet, forgiving, PATIENT, and joyful, with respect to each other's frailties and perfections, to the end of their lives.
-- Joseph Addison

This quote struck me as humorous and true. First of all because it points out that we have chosen our mates for comfort and also for entertainment. I'd never thought about marriage as entertainment. Which made me think about what is entertaining about my own dear husband. His inability to find things immediately came to mind. It's such a pervasive quality that it has ceased to be annoying and has become comical. Also, the wool boot liners that he wears as slippers are entertaining. Ditto the "Mickey Mouse" winter boots he brought to our marriage. And I'll never forget the first time I saw him push his glasses further onto his nose without his hands, using only his cheeks by alternating winks and eye squints. We were engaged at the time. It should have alerted me to the tremendous entertainment value in the man I had agreed to marry.

The quote above gets a little more serious when it lists the qualities that we have agreed to exercise in relation to our spouse's frailities and perfections. I got a little hung up on the line, "frailities and perfections." I understand the need to be good humored, affable, discrete, forgiving and patient in relation to frailities. But perfections?

Actually, now that I think about it, my grumpy mood this morning had a lot to do with my husband's perfections. Namely his perfect digestive system and metabolism. I'm waiting to find out the results of allergy testing that will determine if I'm allergic to something I'm eating. In the meantime, I'm avoiding things with flour and chocolate. But Hubby made brownies last night. There were a couple left this morning for the girls -- a reminder that I can't eat them. And the rest of the family can. Oh, and when I do eat sweets, I blow up like a blimp. But the rest of my family doesn't.

I have a sneaking suspicion that I'm in for a long road of learning to be patient with my family's perfections. Sigh. I'm not there yet -- not when the Christmas season keeps throwing sweets our way.

If I were Pollyanna (hey, that could be a good book title, "If I Were Pollyanna") I'd look for something to be happy about. So here goes . . .

I'm glad that none of my family members have diabetes. Not only would I have to re-think what we eat, what I make, but I'd also have to learn to give shots and pokes to my loved ones. I'd rather not eat sweets than contemplate giving insulin injections to a member of my family.

I'm grateful Hubby doesn't have my metabolism. One is enough. (Besides, if I work this right, I might just be able to get him to take over the cooking of desserts. Maybe even a few more categories.)

I'm also glad that my children don't struggle with their weight. Sure Bug would like to weigh more, but none of them are overweight. If, for some reason, one person in every family had to be overweight, I'd want it to be me. I wouldn't want anyone else in my family to battle the bulge.

Pollyanna would probably do a better job of letting her husband comfort her. My man tried to cheer me this morning, but I pushed his efforts away. (Sorry, honey. I'll do better.)

I also have ideas on how Hubby and I can better entertain each other -- we can deliberately over-play some of our frailties (him: lecturing / me: devising new job charts) and exchange knowing looks when the kids bite the bait. That ought to be entertaining.

In the meantime, I can enjoy the non-food aspects of Christmas: wonderful music, inspiring stories of giving, writing Christmas cards, wrapping gifts, getting gifts together for friends and neighbors, singing carols, anonymous giving.

Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Perspective -- Inner Beauty Thoughts

I got on the scale yesterday. I'll have to let Charlie know that I did not lose weight over Thanksgiving. But I didn't gain weight either. The scale read the same this Monday as it did last Monday. And in between I've been chowing down on carbs.

I'm finding it supremely difficult to balance my low-carb lifestyle with being a wife and mother. Honestly, I'm the only one in my household with a sensitivity to carbs. The rest of the gang seems to handle them just fine.

I'm having a tough time trying to maintain beloved holiday traditions, such as hanging gingerbread cookies on our Christmas tree, with eating low-carb. Once I sample the sweets, it's downhill from there. (Note: No one has noticed that I haven't made a Christmas countdown garland filled with M&Ms. I guess that's one carbilicious tradition that we can ditch.)

In the midst of this holiday angst, my husband came across a section in Neal A. Maxwell's book, "All These Things Shall Give Thee Experience" that hit home. Here are three quotes that resonated with me.

"How ironic it is to envy someone who has a pretty figure but who is a spiritual cripple."

"Think for a moment how different it would be if people took on that physical appearance which would reflect distinctly how well they are doing spiritually.... When the outer person reflected the inner person, whom would we applaud? And whom would we pity?"

"The faithful but perhaps plump woman whose nails are worn but who is a giving mother, wife, and neighbor has a queenly beauty and a regal way, if we would but see her as she really is; her beauty will not be taken from her by the passing years."

Rustic Christmas Tree -- inexpensive too!

I used my discretionary money that had been accumulating and bought my first artificial Christmas tree -- prelit! I love it! We put it up after Thanksgiving and decorated it the next day.

The only thing I needed to buy was the raffia for the garland. (It cost $1.58 at WalMart.) The red twigs came from our dogwood bushes. I trimmed them a couple weeks ago and saved the beautiful red branches.

The berry-looking sprigs are rose hips that I trimmed from a wild bush growing along a canal that I pass everyday when I walk my youngest to school. A few years ago I put fresh spruce cuttings, rose hips and some other berry-looking cuttings above my kitchen cabinets, along our mantle, and above the entertainment center. It was beautiful (and free!) but dried out and was a real pain to clean up. The rose hips, however, are pretty mess free. Ditto the dogwood.

About the cookies . . . Way back when I was in college and dated Dave Fenton, I saw his mother's tree hung with gingerbread cookies with white piping. I loved it! And got the recipe. I didn't marry Dave, but I've been using his mom's Swedish Rolled Ginger Cookie recipe to decorate our Christmas trees since 1995 (maybe even a couple years more). Here it is:

Swedish Rolled Ginger Cookies

1 c. shortening
1 c. granulated sugar
1 c. molasses
1 egg
2 Tbsp. vinegar
3 3/4 c. flour
2 - 3 tsp. ground ginger
1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. ground cloves
1/2 tsp. salt

Cream shortening and sugar. Beat in molasses, egg, and vinegar. Stir in flour w/ ginger, soda, cinnamon, clobes and salt; Mix well. Chill 3 hours.

Generously flour surface and roll dough to 1/8 inch thickness. Cut into shapes. Place 1" apart on greased cookie sheet. Bake at 375 for 8 min. (5 to 6 min. if you're not planning to hang them). If hanging, make hole in each cookie before removing from baking sheet. (I use a pair of clean needle-nose pliers.) Let cookies cool completely on wire rack.

For icing: I only use milk and powdered sugar. (This year I added vanilla so that my icing would be off-white to match the raffia.) It needs to be fairly thick so that it won't run when you work with it. Put a large spoonful into a ziplock sandwich bag. Cut a tiny corner off the bottom of bag and use as a pastry bag. Let your kids help! This year I mandated a lot of outlined cookies, but most years we go wild with icing and have a variety of designs on the tree.

This is what my tree will look like by the time Christmas rolls around. You see, part of our tradition is to let the kids eat the cookies off the tree up until Christmas -- one a day. Then on Christmas Eve we take the remaining cookies off and either eat them or leave them for Santa.

Note: I knew we'd miss the smell of pine after years of having real Christmas trees. So I've been looking for a plug-in pine scent to use with our new tree. (Safety Man insists that candles are too dangerous. Even candle warmers don't make the cut for him.) I found the perfect scent at Bath and Body Works. It's heavenly! (If you look closely at the top photo of the tree, you'll see the scentport plugged in at the bottom right.)