Sunday, December 28, 2008

Silent Night
Holy Night
Son of God
Love's Pure Light

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Frugal Friday--use cloth

I know, you've heard me say it over and over, cloth diapers, cloth menstrual pads, cloth this and that and everything else. But today I just want to take a couple of minutes to mention some easy switches that anybody can make (most of them are even ick-free!).

Paper towels --> wash rags. I saw a paper towel ad the other day which boasted that the pt in question could be rinsed out in the sink and re-used, "just like cloth!" and I thought, um, why not just use cloth?! Old t-shirts/sweatshirts, cheap washcloths, or cut up raggedy old towels all make great rags for wiping up messes. I use a dishcloth (ie, a kitchen cloth with the squares/stripes in it) for messes on counters or tables, and I use rags for messes on floors. If it's a mess that would potentially lead to contamination (such as raw meat juice) then I rinse out the cloth in hot water, and take it straight to the laundry. I keep a little tub next to my washing machine for holding wet/dirty cloths until wash day. I wash them in their own little load on HOT, and voila, they're all clean again!
I do have paper towels in my house, and they get used for one thing: greasy foods. That's it. One roll lasts positively ages!

Disinfecting wipes --> see paper towels Sure, spray a little something on them if you want, but really, washable is good!

Napkins --> washcloths

Diaper wipes --> cloth wipes. If you are already washing cloth diapers, then cloth wipes are a logical choice, because you can just drop them in the pail with the diapers! Scraps of flannel, velour, sherpa, birdseye, or terrycloth can easily be serged, zig-zagged, or hemmed to become nice soft baby wipes. Some folks use those thin little "baby washcloths" or cut up old flannel receiving blankets. My mom had a set of washclothes that were designated for diaper duty. Wanna know my favorite thing about using cloth wipes? When I'm ready to use them, I just run them under a little warm water in the sink--warm baby bum!

Kleenex --> cloth nose wipers. Some people do folded handkerchiefs or hankies, but I have always hated the idea of blowing my nose multiple times into the same cloth, and especially of carrying around the slimy snotty cloth in between! My solution? Single-use cloth kleenex! use it once, then drop it in the wash! I took an old t-shirt that was getting holes on the edges, and cut it roughly into squares of about 6x6in (some are as large as 8x8--I didn't measure, I just cut!) They don't fray, so there's no need to hem them or anything--just cut and go! I keep them in a wicker basket on the back of the toilet, and the used ones go in a mesh lingerie bag by the laundry hamper. (On laundry day I just zip it shut, the whole thing goes in the wash--no touching snot! When it's done I just dump the fresh clean cloths back in the basket!)

(you'll notice that I have two baskets--one is for nose-wipes, one is for bum-wipes...they are color coded, so nothing ever gets wiped in the wrong place) (the white hose there is my diaper sprayer) The most beautiful thing about using old t-shirts is that if a wipe ever gets truly nasty, well, I don't feel bad about throwing it away. ☺

Disposable Baby Washclothes --> normal washcloths I just have to ask, does anyone really use the disposable already-have-soap-in-them baby washcloths? Are they insane?!

and here's the grand finale, but please at least read through my explanation before you roll your eyes and declare me insane!
Toilet paper --> bum-wipes (aka "family cloth") First of all, I already have a diaper pail, so anything that would end up on my cloth is the same as what would already be in that pail... Second, I don't use them to wipe so much as to dry...I use a little sprayer like this to wash myself, and then the cloth dries me off. Trust me, it keeps me so much cleaner than that papery stuff, no bits left behind or any of that...and oh, it saves a small fortune too!

Friday, December 26, 2008

Facebook Nurse-In

You know what a nurse-in is, right? It's like a sit-in, only with nursing. ☺
When someone says or does something rude to a breastfeeder, the militant lactivists (lactation activists) of the world unite and go stage a nurse-in. I've always wanted to join one, but never had the chance...until now. So what if it's just a virtual nurse-in, it's a nurse-in, and I'm there!!
<------ I posted this picture on my facebook profile, along with the status "J likes to nurse her kiddo in public, and would like to remind Facebook and everyone else that she has a legal right to do so!" Why are we doing this? Well, a lot of facebookers have been flagging breastfeeding photos as obscene, and facebook takes them down. Now I am a staunch believer in utilizing a certain amount of modesty and deorum when nursing in public, however the only way to normalize nursing in public is to NURSE IN PUBLIC, and a little boob flashing is bound to happen from time to time. Nope, I didn't post a boob-flashing picture, (although I thought about posting this one...Wolf said the other one was better though, and for FB, I had to agree...) but lucky you, you get to see it here. ☺

So, if you're on facebook, and believe in nursing, take a few minutes to go change your profile picture and status to join the nurse-in!

ETA--new status says "J thinks Facebook's sidebar ads show more skin than most breastfeeding pictures...who is 'obscene' now?!"

Kwanzaa


I will be the first to admit that I don't really know much about Kwanzaa, but it starts today and goes through Jan 1, and for those of you who do celebrate (I know at least one of my readers does!), Happy Kwanzaa!
(and if you'd care to enlighten me a bit on the background or traditions of Kwanzaa, or what you do to celebrate it, I'd love to hear!)

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas

(see other reflections on Christ at Internet Cafe Devotions)


(This is not my favorite vocal version of the song, but it is an awesome and moving video compilation)

By the way, if you'd like to see a nice little collection of nativities, I posted a treasury of them here. ☺

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The Nativity

This movie is awesome: simple and powerful. (Although I did also love "The Nativity Story" which came out a couple of years ago.)



For what it's worth, Hebrew has several forms of asking for something (or several forms of "please"). When Joseph is asking at the door of the inn, he uses the word "bavakisha" which is the strongest form... somehow knowing that adds something for me.

And it came to pass that there was no darkness in all that night...

There are many Christmas stories, and many that I like. My family always read several on Christmas Eve, and now I read some of those same ones to my children...but today I want to share just one favorite--my very favorite Christmas story.

It's a true story: the story of Christ's birth from the perspective of those who were living in the Americas.
Around 5 BC, a prophet named Samuel had come to warn and teach the people. They had become forgetful of the teachings of the prophets, and were not following the Lord. Samuel told them that within 5 years the Savior would be born in Judea, and that they would know of His coming because a sign would be given: a day and a night and a day with no darkness. Many people believed Samuel and began to follow the commandments, and to look forward to the coming of Christ, but others did not believe, and they harassed the Christians for their belief. I now quote from 3 Nephi 1, with the key parts highlighted if you are only going to skim it [full text here]:
And it came to pass that in the commencement of the ninety and second year, behold, the prophecies of the prophets began to be fulfilled more fully; for there began to be greater signs and greater miracles wrought among the people.
But there were some who began to say that the time was past for the words to be fulfilled, which were spoken by Samuel, the Lamanite.
And they began to rejoice over their brethren, saying: Behold the time is past, and the words of Samuel are not fulfilled; therefore, your joy and your faith concerning this thing hath been vain.
And it came to pass that they did make a great uproar throughout the land; and the people who believed began to be very sorrowful, lest by any means those things which had been spoken might not come to pass.
But behold, they did watch steadfastly for that day and that night and that day which should be as one day as if there were no night, that they might know that their faith had not been vain.
Now it came to pass that there was a day set apart by the unbelievers, that all those who believed in those traditions should be put to death except the sign should come to pass, which had been given by Samuel the prophet.
Now it came to pass that when Nephi, the son of Nephi, [the current prophet] saw this wickedness of his people, his heart was exceedingly sorrowful.
And it came to pass that he went out and bowed himself down upon the earth, and cried mightily to his God in behalf of his people, yea, those who were about to be destroyed because of their faith in the tradition of their fathers.
And it came to pass that he cried mightily unto the Lord all that day; and behold, the voice of the Lord came unto him, saying:
Lift up your head and be of good cheer; for behold, the time is at hand, and on this night shall the sign be given, and on the morrow come I into the world, to show unto the world that I will fulfil all that which I have caused to be spoken by the mouth of my holy prophets.
Behold, I come unto my own, to fulfil all things which I have made known unto the children of men from the foundation of the world, and to do the will, both fof the Father and of the Son—of the Father because of me, and of the Son because of my flesh. And behold, the time is at hand, and this night shall the sign be given.
And it came to pass that the words which came unto Nephi were fulfilled, according as they had been spoken; for behold, at the going down of the sun there was no darkness; and the people began to be astonished because there was no darkness when the night came.
And there were many, who had not believed the words of the prophets, who fell to the earth and became as if they were dead, for they knew that the great plan of destruction which they had laid for those who believed in the words of the prophets had been frustrated; for the sign which had been given was already at hand.
And they began to know that the Son of God must shortly appear; yea, in fine, all the people upon the face of the whole earth from the west to the east, both in the land north and in the land south, were so exceedingly astonished that they fell to the earth.
For they knew that the prophets had testified of these things for many years, and that the sign which had been given was already at hand; and they began to fear because of their iniquity and their unbelief.
And it came to pass that there was no darkness in all that night, but it was as light as though it was mid-day. And it came to pass that the sun did rise in the morning again, according to its proper order; and they knew that it was the day that the Lord should be born, because of the sign which had been given.
And it had come to pass, yea, all things, every whit, according to the words of the prophets.
And it came to pass also that a new star did appear, according to the word
.
Again I am reminded of light as a symbol of our Savior. A bright star, a night as bright as day... I've written here of my struggles with depression, and they are ongoing, but my posts through the holidays have turned my focus away from the darkness and toward the light. I have decided to give myself the whole season (of winter) to ponder and focus on light, so hopefully I will continue to post some of my thoughts over the coming weeks.
I hope you all have a Merry Christmas, filled with Light and Love!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Still Her Little Child

One of my favorite Christmas songs...

OK, so, I actually like this musician better but the graphics on it were not as good...so maybe listen to the other one while watching this one. ☺

Christmas Songs

Not all Christmas songs are created equal. Some are glorious carols, some are silly, and some are just plain bad. I've always known that I like some better than others, but this year I've been thinking about which ones I like, and why... and you know, it's almost exclusively the sacred carols that I love.
I don't care for the love songs that masquerade as Christmas songs (like Blue Christmas or Winter Wonderland). I don't like the depressing ones (Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas has got to be the worst song ever, did you know that the original lyrics were? They are BAD! But I won't post them here to taint you in case you like the song.) I don't mind Frosty and Rudolph, but given the choice I'll play something a little more grown up like Silver Bells or Bring a Torch Janette Isabella. I don't like the naughty ones (like I'm Getting Nuttin or Santa Baby). I don't like the ones that don't make sense to me (I Saw Three Ships being the classic example). I actually am very tired of We Wish You a Merry Christmas and I have never liked The Christmas Song. How sad am I?!
I guess I am like Mae, who can't turn on the radio at this time of year...

What do I love?
O Holy Night (The chord on "Fall" at the beginning of the chorus gives me chills every time!)
Silent Night (partly because I can sign it...I need to learn it in German though)
What Child is This (which used to bug me because it's not an AABB rhyme scheme, and I was too young to pick up on the ABCBDD pattern, so I thought it was a lame song for not rhyming...but now I get it and I love it)
The Wexford Carol
Carol of the Bells
One King
O Come O Come Emmanuel (I don't know why, since the minor key always feels a little depressing...but I just think it's beautiful)
Still Her Little Child (Ray Boltz)
Mary Did You Know
Mary's Lullabye (Tonight You Are Mine) (a lullabye from Mary, singing that He is a king, and will do and be amazing things...but for tonight he is her little baby)

What are some of your favorites?

Monday, December 22, 2008

Not Me Monday

I ran into this blog carnival weeks ago, but this week I have an entry, so here goes...
Not Me Monday is where we all share things that we certainly didn't do this week (because it would be terrible to admit if we actually did do them, right?!)
So, I'll be brief:
I didn't let my kids eat cookies for breakfast today (because we didn't have a whole bunch of them sitting around from the cookie exchange yesterday), and I definitely didn't eat cookies for breakfast myself.
I don't have more than half of my Christmas sewing to do, because I have not been spending all my time focused on trying to finish knitting the little Bear's sweater (which actually really isn't a gift, it's just something I want to get done). (One cuff to go!)
And I absolutely didn't decide to scrap the family christmas letter this year, only to change my mind on the 20th and throw together a digital one....naw, definitely did NOT do that!

See what everybody else didn't do by visiting here!

Hanukkah can be for Christians too

(I thought I would share portions of a letter sent by a friend of mine...she knows more about this stuff than I do since she is a Christian who celebrates Jewish holidays....)


You don't have to be Jewish to celebrate Hanukkah. There is much in the feast which tells us of Yeshua (Jesus), and as you go through it, you will see certain parallelisms. Because the Biblical Feasts are dated from the lunar calendar, this year in 2008, Hanukkah's first night of the 8 nights, starts on Sunday, December 21. (The Biblical calendar expresses it as the 25th day of the month Kislev). We will give a brief summary first, and then the practical tips will be listed below that.

Brief History: Hanukkah's other names are the Festival of Lights or the Feast of Dedication. This feast commemorates the victory of the Maccabees over the wicked Greek King Antiochus and the Hellenistic Syrians, who were trying to force Jews to bow down to idols, and to stop all Jewish rituals. In 168BCE they seized the Jewish temple, and used it for worshiping Zeus. Some Jews were so full of fear that they did not retaliate; but a small yet tough Jewish family called the Maccabees, led by the priestly Hasmoneans, revolted at Modi'in, and stood up for righteousness, thereby saving the Jewish race. One of them called Mattathius, rose up and slew a fellow Jew who had weakened by offering to comply to pagan worship, thereby betraying the Jews. Mattathius also killed the Greek officer who had demanded Jews worship idols and eat pig, both of which are forbidden in the Torah. (If he had not done this, the Jews would have been wiped out, and our Jewish Messiah Yeshua would never have been born to save us.) After this brave encounter, they found much destruction in the temple, so in 165BCE they cleaned it up and rededicated the ransacked temple that Antiochus had used to put a non-“kosher” pig on the altar. The idea of lighting the candles comes from the fact that a real miracle happened after the Maccabees found only one flask of oil left to light the damaged temple “m'norrah”, and it actually stayed lit for 8 days amidst great celebrations!

Do try to keep your commemoration of the event separate from Christmas. That is easy to do when the dates do not collide, but this year they DO! Here are some guidelines as to how you can celebrate Hanukkah nightly right in your home.
1) Buy or make a “hanukkiah” (haw–noo–KEE-yah). That's a 9 sticked candelabra. Buy enough candles for lighting fresh ones each of the 8 nights = 72. They don't have to be big ones – the little ones are available at Jewish stores, and sometimes at supermarkets. You can buy a “hanukkiah” from a Jewish store on-line [or from etsy]. Sometimes you can find them in second-hand stores too, or make your own!.
2) At nightfall, someone (even a child) lights the first candle – and light the end candle first. You can look up the Hanukkah prayers to read. After this, put out your match and use the end candle, the “shamash” (sha-MASH) , the “servant candle” to light the first candle. (Sometimes it's on the extreme right and sometimes it stands in the centre by itself. Put the “shamash” back into its place. And then stop - don't blow out either candle!) That's all you light the first night. The second night, you add one more, and then the third night, the third one as well, till the last night when ALL the candles are lit – still by the “shamash” which lights all the rest throughout the week – not the SAME candle, as it is fresh each night. To us as Christians, we see the parallelism in our Messiah Who took upon Himself to be a servant to us all, Who “lights” up our lives!
3) Recite the “hallel” - Ps. 11-118.
4) Sing a Hannukah song. Here is one that has a recording, and Hebrew and English words written out below. Or sing any worship song you know that has to do with LIGHT or DEDICATION or STANDING strong. Merla Watson has written several songs for Christians to sing at Hanukkah - here's one called “Father of Lights”. Look it up on our web site: www.mervandmerla.co It's listed under “New Messianic Songs” in a book with many feast songs in it.
5) Cook the traditional food (Google this = Hannukah traditional food or recipes), or order from a Jewish delicatessen or supermarket grocery store ahead of time. First the “latkes” (LAT-kuz) = shredded potato pancakes served with homemade apple sauce, and “suvgani'ot” (soov-ga-nee-OHT) = jelly filled donuts. Recipes of both can be found on the Internet. Just Google it. Lots of folks have a “latke” making party beforehand or as even part of their party the same night.
6) Traditionally, small gifts are exchanged during this time as well.
7) Find a small “dreidel” (special spinning top) at a Jewish store, or order one on-line. It has a big Hebrew letter on each side of its square sides, which is an acronym of 4 Hebrew alphabet letters standing for: “A big miracle happened there!” During the time of persecution in ancient history, while the Jews were really studying Torah, if they heard the Greek soldiers at the door, they quickly snatched their “dreidels” from their pockets, pretending to be playing with them, and not reading Torah. There are “dreidel” games and other Hanukkah games on the Internet.
8) Appoint someone to read the story of Hannukah.
9) If you are part of a community, you could have the festivities at a different home each night.
10) Try to involve kids as much as possible – in the lighting of the “Hannukiah”, in baking cookies, in helping with the cooking or baking, in singing along with the songs, and in playing games with the “dreidel”.


And by the way, Hanukkah is not pronounced "han" as in our word "hand" but you pronounce it "haw" as in "HOLLow". So it would sound "HAW=noo-kaw". Even better if you can do a guttural sound for the first "H" - like the German "iCH" or the Scottish "LOCH Lomond". THERE! You HAVE it! You can find other information about Hanukkah on our web site under the BLOG button or under the FEASTS button.

HAPPY HANUKKAH - for a whole week!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Soup for Solstice

So, we had a soup potluck for solstice. I don't know if that might be better as a vernal equinox celebration, but it's what we did this year. Yummm!

Celebrating Solstice

In Ireland there is a passage tomb called Newgrange. It's the oldest known man-made structure on the planet. On one day of the year--winter solstice--the rising sun shines through the doorway and up the passage to the center chamber. (You can see a short informative clip here, it has clearer images than the embedded one, and also shows just how small and claustrophobic the place is. It wasn't really on solstice though--they have an electric light they use to demonstrate for tourists...the embedded film below is the real thing, which is why I included it here):

(this movie is a 6min compilation taken from the live filming of the event in 2007)

Winter Solstice is the shortest day, and longest night of the year. Although it is traditionally a pagan holiday, I like the idea of celebrating it too, and here is why.

It is the day when darkness begins to recede and light returns--like Christ's Light conquering the darkness of evil.

It reminds me that the darkness of sin can be replace with the light of repentance and forgiveness.

It is a reminder that the darkness of death is only temporary, and will be followed by the light of resurrection.

In short, Winter Solstice reminds me of the Greatest Light of All.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Mannheim Steamroller brings Joy to the World

To keep up the something-holidayish-every-day-this-month...

I grew up with this Christmas music, and it has always been some of my favorite.
Hubby and I went to the live concert for our first anniversary date (thus sharing it today!)...yeah, it's a bunch of old hippies acting half their age, but you know, it was really a lot of fun. And the music is awesome.

Five Years

Five years ago today Hubby and I were sealed for time and all eternity in the Portland Oregon temple. I've been thinking about this for a few months, and how five years seems like a looong time...and on the other hand it's gone by so fast. I can hardly remember what it was like to not be married, and yet it's been less than a 5th of my life. It will be 17 more years before my time as a married woman equals my time as an unmarried one. ☺ So, I thought today I'd share the story of my rings, since it's somewhat unique...

Hubby proposed with a simple solitaire. Classic, elegant, etc etc. He had picked the stone and the band and all that. A couple of days later he explained to me that he had bought a wedding band also, because he had thought it was pretty, but that he did not want me to feel obligated to have it if I would prefer something else. Well, I had been mentally designing my ring since my early teens, and the band he'd picked wasn't a match to my mental images. Pretty--yes, what I wanted--no. More than anything, the sentimental side of me really wanted for us to have matching rings, so since the band had a row of stones, I asked him how he would feel about having a ring with stones...he didn't want stones. So we concluded that we'd do something else, and I figured he'd exchange this ring for whatever we got instead.
Skip forward to actually choosing rings. This was not an easy proposition! I really liked little side stones that wrapped around the diamond, but the setting on my ring was too tall for them. The jeweler offered to set the diamond in a new band, but I am sentimental and wanted the band that Hubby had picked. Finally we found a ring for him that had a three-band look, and we got me two small bands (one to go either side of the solitaire).(This photo shows the height of my setting, and why a wrapped band was not an option. And yes, I know, his ring is WAY too big for my finger, but it was easier to get a clear picture if they were both on one hand)

Several months later I learned that there is an old Swedish tradition of having a three-banded wedding ring--an engagement band, a wedding band, and a band (also given at the wedding) representing motherhood and the children that were to come. I get a kick out of the fact that my ring follows a tradition I had not even known about when I chose it. ☺

But that is not the end of the story! Unknown to me, Hubby did not return that other band. Instead, he turned it into a mother's ring by having one of the diamonds removed, and having Wolf's birthstone put in. He gave it to me on our first Mother's Day (which was particularly moving since I had miscarried less than a month before). After Bear was born we added his birthstone too, and the middle stones are sitting there waiting for the next few siblings. ☺

(I wear it on the other hand, but again, for the sake of the photo...
and yes, I realize that it only has 5 stones, and no, we are not basing our family planning on this ring. If I need to get a new ring at some point I will! ☺)

Friday, December 19, 2008

Frugal Friday: Under the Tree

I hate wrapping paper: it's expensive, it gets torn and wrinkled, and it makes a mess on Christmas morning. If you only use it once, it's wasteful; if you save it and re-use it, it often looks tacky.
I hate those paper gift bags with tissue paper sticking out the top: I think they're ugly, and a lot of times the presents peek out (since they're just dropped in rather than really wrapped).

So today I'm sharing a list of ideas of wrapping alternatives (one of the things I love is that the frugal options are also green!):
  • Make your own gift tags out of construction paper and/or last years Christmas cards [link]
  • Use fabric gift bags (this is what we do) [link to my crafty shop blog where I talked about them] They are super easy, even little kids can wrap/unwrap with ease, and in the off-season we use them for storing breakable ornaments and twinkle lights!
  • Cut up paper shopping bags to be your paper (some are colorful already, others can be decorated with stamping or stickers) [link]
  • Get a roll of plain craft paper (so it's nice and wide), and decorate it--or leave the paper plain and just use pretty ribbons to brighten the package [link]
  • Use old vinyl record covers (very cheap at thrift stores) to make cards or stiff mailing/packing envelopes [link]
  • Use old maps--they are visually interesting, and most of us have some outdated ones (or ones from areas where we no longer live) [link]
  • Reuse those metal cookie/popcorn tins--just wash them out and fill them back up!
  • Save, trim, and re-use regular wrapping paper (though like I said, I think that reusing more than once or twice gets looking tacky pretty fast...)
  • Try newspaper
  • Do you have any other suggestions?! Leave them in the comments!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Holiday Recipe Bazaar

Have you got some good Christmas recipes? I do!! This week is the recipe bazaar at Internet Cafe Devotions...so buzz on over there for lots more recipes!

I've been posting the actual recipes on my cooking blog, but I'll post the stories here, and link to the individual recipes...

Great Grandma's Sugar Cookies
We had been making this recipe for years. It was extremely rich and we loved eating the cookies, but the dough was soft and could be difficult to work with if not chilled well enough (we had to put it back in the fridge between batches). When I was in my late teens, my mother came across another sugar cookie recipe and said "hey, this is almost the same as great-grandmas, except that instead of 1 cup of butter, it has 1 cube..."
...and then the light came on. Somewhere along the line someone had written "1c" instead of 1 cube, and ever since then we'd been doing a double portion of butter in the cookies.
Since then I have opted to use 3/4 cup of butter--halfway in between the two. It maintains the rich flavor of our old recipe, but is much easier to work with.

Cardamom Bread

A Christmas tradition from Scandinavia, braided cardamom bread is not only sweet, but has a unique taste that only cardamom can give. (I've heard some Americans refer to it as cardamin, but as a good Scandinavian, I call it cardamom, or even "kardemomme" which is what it says on my spice jar!)
I grew up with this from my Danish ancestors...imagine my delight to learn that my husband had grown up with an almost identical recipe--from his Finnish ancestors! While our recipes are the same, our methods of eating are different: the Danes frost it and put on maraschino cherries (as pictured) and then tear off chunks from the braid, while the Finns slice it, toast it, and eat it with butter. We all eat it strictly at Christmas--my family saves it for Christmas morning, but my husband's family enjoys it throughout the holiday season. It's a treat I look forward too all year long.

Meltaways

My mother had been making these for years, and told me that she liked them as a Christmas cookie. With sugar cookie snowmen in competition, I could never understand why she felt this was a holiday treat... After I was married I made them one day and my husband said "this is what they make at Christmas in Norway!" Aha!

Soft Shortbread
A lot of us get those tins of danish butter cookies or scottish shortbread...my husband's family gets both. Well, this recipe tastes better than either one, and is much cheaper (and still pretty darn easy to make!)


We also make 'wreaths' (like rice krispy treats, but made with corn flakes and green food coloring and decorated with little red cinnamon candies), homemade fudge, gingerbread men, and occasionally hand-dipped chocolates... But the above few are my favorite.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Advent Spirals (Solstice Spirals)

Winter Solstice is coming in just a few days (December 21). On the last equinox I wrote about seasons and changes, but today I want to discuss ways to observe those cycles.
I feel like the passing of seasons should be observed with contemplation and meditation (I accidentally just typed 'medication'...the passing of seasons should be observed with medication...yeah...) I think God is pleased when we respect and connect with the natural cycles of the world He created for us. I think it helps us connect with the natural cycles within ourselves. I think it helps us connect to Him.

Spirals represent the forces of nature, eternity and transformation [link]. They are linked to circles, which represent wholeness and unity. It should be no surprise then that spirals should be used to represent and celebrate the changing of seasons.

In the Waldorf tradition the advent spiral is made on the floor with pine branches, and candles are set throughout (often apples are used as the candleholders). Each participant has a candle of their own, and walks around through the spiral to the center, lights their candle from the one in the center, and then walks back out, placing their lit candle somewhere along the way. Each person takes a turn and the whole thing is done in silence (ideally after dark, so that the candles can be fully appreciated). This blog post has beautiful pictures as well as a description of the advent spiral at her son's waldorf school.

Here are some pictures from our spiral last year:Wolf lighting his candle (Hubby on the left, on his way out of the spiral...the bald guy on the right is my dad)
Me (with Bear in the sling). It was a windy night and the candles kept going out...it took me about 15 tries to get my candle to light. ☺
My mom and I had read about the waldorf advent spirals, and were excited to do this one last year. The rest of the family obligingly participated, but mom says that none of them want to do it again this year.
I have mixed feelings...like I said, I want to take the time for meditation and contemplation, but I don't know how best to do it. I like the idea of the spiral, but I am interested to hear other ideas too.
Have you ever done an advent/solstice spiral? Tell me about it please! What do you do to celebrate (or at least take note of) the solstice?

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Six (Holiday) Things...

I was tagged by Inspired Mama to do this six things meme.

1. Link to the person who tagged you.
2. Post the rules on your blog.
3. Write six random things about yourself.
4. Tag six people at the end of your post and link to them.
5. Let each person know they've been tagged and leave a comment on their blog.
6. Let the tagger know when your entry is up.

I've actually done almost the same thing (here) just a couple of months ago, and if you've been reading long at all you'll also know that I'm not shy about talking about myself. ☺ SO, I thought I'd take the angle of talking about specifically holidayish stuff...

1--I hate gingerbread men. Really, they are so gross. They smell awful too.

2--Chasing lights give me a headache if they are the the really fast blinky ones (they're ok outside, but I can't have them in the house, say, on the tree!) Out lights are here now and they are the kind where you push a button to change from solid to slow chasing to fast chasing to about 6 other things, and Bear discovered the button, so every time I walk through the room the lights are doing something new on half the tree (there are two strings with separate buttons). It's making me crazy!

3--I resented eggnog for years, because my dad would always make it (from scratch) on Christmas morning, and we all had to wait for him to finish it before we could go out and open presents. (We got our stockings before breakfast, but then had to eat before presents.) The wait might not have mattered if I was one of the ones drinking the eggnog...but dad's eggnog was thin and gross. I had no idea that eggnog could be good until I had some out of a carton when I was in college!

4--I prefer my eggnog (from a carton) with root beer in it. This is what my parents did, and I've tried it with sprite or other less flavorful sodas, and I don't care for it. Give me root beer or I'll pass on the eggnog! (Hubby thinks I'm very very strange.)

5--I adore Jack in the Box's eggnog milkshake that they have at Christmastime. It's the only time they have it, and I have lived outside JitB territory for the last 6 years, and I sure miss those milkshakes. (And yes, I still love their food even though I worked there for a summer in college and ate their food all the time!)

6--One of my family's (as in, my parents and siblings) traditions was that on Christmas afternoon we would watch all the movies we got as gifts. That worked ok the year we got the (original) Star Wars trilogy, but not so well the year we got the 5-pack of The Pink Panther movies...those are just a little too asinine to watch back to back to back!! To this day I can't remember which of the movies is which.

I tag some people I'd like to know a little more about:
Top Hat
Becky at "On Top of the World (or at least really far north)"
Becky N. at TNN
ThrowsLikeAGirl (I'm not sure if I've ever learned her real name!)
Carrie
Mae of "WordDork" (we were roommates, but honestly I'm just really curious what she'll put!)



By the way, on an entirely unrelated note, I made a very cool Northern Lights treasury over on my crafty blog...if you've got a minute, check it out!

Season of Light

You probably noticed my new banner there at the top...Winter 2008, the season of light...
Since posting about Santa Lucia's day this weekend I've been thinking about how so many celebrations at this time of year focus on light. (You haven't even seen the posts I've written for hanukkah and solstice!) I've been thinking about how illogical it is to celebrate Christ's birth at a time of year when we know it could not have really happened (the facts about shepherding teach us that shepherds would have only been in the fields at night in spring or fall, and my own religion teaches that Jesus was born in April). Why then should we celebrate birth and life in winter rather than in spring? Because this is the season of light! All faiths (and non-faiths) seem to recognize that. When the sunlight wanes, we realize its strength, and rejoice in the knowledge of its return. We light candles and fires, and cling to one another in fellowship and love as we walk forward toward the increasing light.
In the dark winter of eternity--the time when we live apart from the One Light--we can cling to one another in fellowship and love, creating our own little lights to share, and walking foward toward the time when His Light will be seen by everyone, and when Lightness and Goodness will rule the universe.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Why Christmas is Nice

This is one of my favorite Christmas stories, and the one we are performing for tonight's school play (which I am in charge of)...

Once upon a time, in the days before anything much was organized, and when people were all pretty much alike and had not yet learned to be doctors or politicians or secretaries or movie stars or optometrists, there were never any holidays, because everyone was too busy.

What they were busy doing was taking STUFF! They spent all of their time either taking stuff, or trying to take stuff, or planning to take stuff from each other, or fixing the walls and fences and barbed-wire in their section of the jungle so no one could take stuff from them.

In those days, it was considered absolutely necessary to have a LOT of stuff, and taking it gave people a stimulating feeling. When they took something especially good (something BIG) the feeling started in the back of their neck and spread down across their back and made a tingle in their left foot. This feeling was pleasant mostly because it was the only feeling anyone ever had, except maybe being scared or hungry.

Several techniques had been developed for taking stuff. These techniques were, first: SWIPING! This was the most difficult because, naturally, few people were foolish enough to leave any of their stuff lying around unguarded.

The second and most popular method was to find someone smaller than you, give them a BASH and take whatever stuff they had at the time.

The third was to find someone your own size, sneak up behind them, and give them an unexpected BASH. Then you could grab their stuff and run like crazy. This method, although dangerous, had the advantage of being healthful as the bashing and running prompted deep breathing and increased heart rate as well as keeping the waistline down.

Now in time the smaller people learned to be very clever at hiding and swiping. And the larger people developed a protective layer of bone across the back of the skulls. And some of the medium-sized discovered they could tell BIG LIES about the amount of stuff they had hidden, and that this was about the same as actually having stuff! And so a status quo came to exist and it balanced out pretty well for everyone... for everyone, that is, except Marvin Ouk.

Marvin Ouk lived in a rather provincial area of the jungle, and his only neighbors were named Gloog, Howk, Murdleigh, and Lester. Now Gloog, Howk, Murdleigh, and Lester had each accumulated about the same amount of stuff. They were all about the same size, and they had equally excellent walls and so it became difficult for them to increase their stuff.

One day, Murdleigh would bash Gloog and take his shirt and an egg beater, but the next day Howk would bash Murdleigh and get his shirt and a fountain pen. And so on ...

They were all getting bashed a great deal, and in the long run there was no percentage in it. So, after a while, they all concentrated mostly on taking stuff from Marvin. This was not an easy thing to do. Marvin was the smallest and the most simple and the least devious of all the people. He didn't even have a proper wall or fence and as a result . . . he had no stuff. In fact, Marvin never had anything! He lived on toadstools, since no one would take them. The only feeling he ever experienced was when no one hit him on the head. He really enjoyed being not hit!

So it wasn't long before Gloog and Howk and Murdleigh and Lester gave up even trying to take stuff from Marvin. It wasn't worth the trouble it took to bash him, because although he bashed easily, Marvin was concussion-prone, and merely fell quietly, face forward, and didn't yell or holler or do anything that was fun.

And so in this part of the village the status became more quo than was suitable. Actually, the status became over-quo’d, and everyone sat behind their walls and got restless.

Murdleigh became particularly uptight about the situation. He was afraid he would lose his skill at taking stuff. So he rushed out and found Marvin Ouk and in his mind he pretended that Marvin was carrying a whole bunch of stuff. He gave Marvin an excellent bash and pretended to take all the imaginary stuff away from him, but it didn't work! He didn't get any feeling or tingle at all!

He went back home and fretted some more. "It didn't work to pretend," he said to himself. And he began to think. Suddenly a big idea came to him. A really big idea. "If I'm going to practice on Marvin, I must have it as close to the 'real thing' as possible. Marvin has got to have some stuff that I can take away from him!" He paused, because he had to make up a word to express the odd idea he had in his head. "Give," he said. "I will give Marvin something first. Then I can take it!"

So Murdleigh searched through all his stuff, and he picked out a spoon with a broken handle, and he went out to find Marvin. When Marvin saw him, he sighed and looked around for a soft spot to fall on. He was, of course, very surprised, even shocked, when Murdleigh stopped in front of him and made no bashing gestures!

"Ouk," said Murdleigh, making a peculiar twist in his face (which later they called a smile), "Ouk, I have some stuff here. I want to . . ." Murdleigh swallowed and continued with some effort. "I want . . . I want . . . I want to GIVE you this stuff." He pushed the spoon forward. Marvin backed away. "Murdleigh has sprung a gasket," he thought to himself. "I better get out of here quickly as he could be dangerous!" But Murdleigh anticipated Marvin's escape, and he seized him by the arm. "Here!" he said, and placed the spoon in Marvin's hand. "I want you to have this!"

Then he stepped back, and he prepared to give Marvin a bash and take the stuff in the usual, approved manner, but before he could do a single thing, before he could move even one muscle, he felt a strange, new feeling. A feeling ten times more powerful than the feeling he always had when he took stuff. It started in the back of his chest, and it spread not just through his back and his left foot, but all over. He began to tingle in both feet and both hands and on top of his head!

The new feeling was so pleasant and so powerful that Murdleigh caught his breath and sat down on the ground. "Ha!" he said and again made that kind of funny twist on his face in Marvin's direction. Marvin ran away.

"Who would have suspected?" said Murdleigh. "Giving stuff is . . . " He searched for a noise he could use to describe all this that was happening. "Oooser?" he said. Then "Meeper?" "Neeper." "Nipper." "Nisser." "NICER!" "Nicer" sounded exactly right. "GIVING stuff," Murdleigh thought, "is a whole lot nicer than taking stuff."

Murdleigh soon found out that part of the new feeling was a desire to let everyone else know about it. So he did. Another great discovery was made. The secret of the new feeling has been passed down from century to century. But sometimes we don't see too much evidence of it except at Christmas time, when instead of bashing and taking, people are smiling and giving, and it feels very nice!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Simple Christmas: Three Gifts

This isn't something we're doing this year, but I do like the idea. I know families who do it every year, and while I don't think we will ever be that family, I would like to do this with our family ever 5 years or so...

If you're tired of the stress and expense commonly associated with the holidays, consider the idea that less can be more...
So, Jesus got three presents, right? Gold, frankincense, and myrrh. So just have three presents for each family member.
Some families even take it an extra step and make the presents fit into categories:
  1. Something for self--this is what most people do--something intended for the recipient alone
  2. Something to share--games or movies for example
  3. Something for Jesus (or to remind them of Jesus)--scripture books or movies, uplifting music CD, etc
I think this idea is a great way to simplify Christmas and help our kids (and ourselves) focus on the less-materialistic side of things. ☺

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Santa Lucia Day


"During the cold months of winter in the far northern countries of Scandinavia, the light and warmth of the sun are felt and seen only a few hours each day, if at all. Through those cold, dark days candles glow in the village windows, reminding all that the light kindled in
homes and hearts cannot be darkened. Over the centuries the source of this light has been commemorated in a beloved Christmas tradition: the procession of Santa Lucia, queen of lights.
"On the 13th of December, a young woman dressed in a white gown and wearing a crown of lingonberry twigs and blazing candles, would carry a torch from farmhouse to farmhouse. To each family she would bring baked goods and warm conversation, before returning home by break of day. Every village had it's own Lucia.
In Norway and Sweden it is still the custom on December 13th for a young girl wearing candles on her head to lead the Santa Lucia procession of lights through the village. The light and hope she brings symbolizes a greater Light: the Light of Life, whose coming we celebrate this Christmas."

~~read by Sissel (famous Norwegian singer) at the 2006 Mormon Tabernacle Choir Christmas Concert
(where she was the guest artist)


While some villages celebrate Santa Lucia day on a grander scale, many scandinavian families celebrate privately. The oldest daughter in the family would dress up early in the morning and bring saffron buns and coffee to the rest of the family as they awoke. I am the oldest daughter in a family of Scandinavian heritage, but I'm sorry to say we never did this tradition...I suspect it has to do with the fact that I was never the early riser of the family. ☺
Incidentally, most celebrators now use electric candles or even paper crowns (with paper candles) rather than actual flames...there were a few too many cases of girls catching their hair on fire!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Frugal Friday: Mail

At this time of year many of us are sending letters, cards, and packages. With letters at 42cents each, it's an expensive proposition! Here are a few ideas that can help you save your pennies.

Letters/Cards
  • Consider sending a digital (email) Christmas letter. You can make it as long as you want, include photos, and even music or recorded voice messages!
  • If you like mailing (and receiving) cards that can go on the wall, consider postcards, which are much cheaper to mail. You can have photo postcards printed, or print your own images and text on cardstock and then cut them apart.
  • If you prefer to send traditional cards, choose them thoughtfully--remember that oversize cards cost extra postage.
Packages
  • The US Postal Service is typically cheaper than FedEx or UPS
  • Recycle your packaging--wrap packages in brown packing paper, black-out or cover-up prior labeling and re-use envelopes or boxes that you've received. It not only saves you money on supplies, it's good for the planet too. ☺
  • Remember that you are paying by the ounce, so if you can make a lighter package, it is cheaper to mail.
  • Use envelopes instead of boxes if you can. If you don't have one the right size, cut down a bigger one and tape it. Packing tape is your friend! One roll will pay for itself after just a few recycled packages
  • If you need a box, try to find a lightweight one (cereal boxes can be split on the seam, turned insideout, and taped...it's a nice lightweight box and hey, you probably already had it sitting around!)
  • Ship via first class if your package is under 1lb--it's much cheaper than priority, and nearly as fast.
  • For heavier packages (over 1lb) send them early and use parcel post--it's MUCH cheaper than priority or express.
  • If you are sending something heavy, consider the flat rate priority mail boxes (the boxes are free, and are the same price no matter how heavy they are). By the way, while flat-rate boxes are convenient, they are usually NOT cheaper than sending the same items via regular priority mail...Flat rate boxes are good for heavy things, but otherwise they are popular for the convenience, not because they are actually a good deal.
Saving Time
If you're concerned about waiting in lines (hey, this is being frugal with your time, right?!)
  • Go to the post office in the morning on a Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday (Mondays, weekends, lunch breaks, and afternoons/evenings are busiest)
  • Use flat rate boxes (ordered here and delivered to your home) you can buy and print off the flat rate postage here.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

O Christmas Tree

Today at Internet Cafe Devotions it's the Christmas tour of homes...in other words, showing off our Christmas decorations!

Now, for starters, you really should pop over here and see this fabulous tree setup. It made me giggle, and giggles are good. ☺

So, if you missed the story about how we got our tree, you really should click over and read it. It's very exciting (and involves me being both Burly and Alaskan!)

We live in extremely rural Alaska (for a clearer understanding of what I mean by 'rural' you should read this or this). All our Christmas stuff is in boxes in my in laws garage 2000 miles away. Last year we spent Christmas with my family, so we didn't need any of our stuff...and this year it just wasn't high enough on the priority list to bring it. So we're having a very homemade Christmas! I did order a couple of strings of twinkle lights, but we've been without a mail plane for a week now, and so the lights have not arrived. So we have just our tree:
(Remember the grand question of how to stand it up without a stand? Enter big bucket with some rocks!) (The presents are in the box for now...it keeps the kiddos and the doggie out of them)
Our trees here have to survive Alaskan winters, so they are pretty sparce as far as branches go. Our tree happened to be growing right next to another one, so it's flat. I'm not joking, here is a side view:
Our tree has homemade strings of popcorn and cranberries (actually craisins); oranges sliced, sprinkled with cloves, then dehydrated in the oven (they smell SO good); and woven paper danish baskets (I made a tutorial about them here). That's it. We do have a paper advent chain next to the tree where we tear off one loop each day...but that's it for the decor this year. Keepin it simple. ☺


Even though I can't really show them to you, I do want to share about a tradition we have for ornaments (I mentioned it in my traditions post)
1--each member of the family has a personalized ornament. Those of you who know me know that I have lost three babies to miscarriage--I have an angel ornament for each of them. All our ornaments are different--mine I have had since childhood, Hubby's is a little viking, Wolf has an angel with his birthstone on it, Bear has (what else) a bear! We also have a crystal heart with "our first christmas" that we were given as a wedding gift--our wedding was a mere 5 days before Christmas, so that worked out well. ☺
2--I am slowly collecting one ornament from each country where our ancestors are from. (I have been buying one each year.) To date I have:
  • a wooden version of the woven heart baskets (Denmark)
  • a straw goat (Sweden or Finland)
  • a viking (Norway)
  • delicate curled wood-shaving stars (Germany)
  • a silver thistle snowflake (Scotland) (we got this just last year, so I actually have it here, and it is serving as our 'star' on top of the tree this year) ------>
I still need Finland/Sweden (whichever one I can find, then the goat will be for the other LOL!), Poland, France, and England...

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Favorite Christmas Movies

Every year there is a new holiday movie (or two or three). I enjoy these movies, but not all of them. I've been thinking this week about the ones I like, and the ones I don't, and why... I guess it would be fair to say that I'm a movie snob to some degree--I can be hard to impress (with my theatre/acting training background and all that), but really it's not about the quality of the acting so much as the quality of the message.

I LIKE
  1. Scrooge (with Albert Finney). It's an awesome rendition of "A Christmas Carol" in fact, it's the first version of that story that I ever liked. I also happen to enjoy all the songs--so far as I can recall, I like every single one. That's pretty rare for me!
  2. The Santa Clause. It's cute, it's fun, and it puts the magic in Christmas. The sequels are pretty silly, but I really like the original one.
  3. It's a Wonderful Life. It's a little bit cheesy, but such a good message...and frankly it's become a piece of our culture's history, so you need to see it if you want to be culturally literate.
  4. Miracle on 34th Street (the old black & white one...I've never seen the new one, so I can't say if it's any good or not) Answers some age-old questions about Kris Kringle (yes, he speaks Danish), Let's just say, "I believe!"
  5. Dr Seuss's How the Grinch Stole Christmas (the old animated one of course) How could anyone not love Boris Karloff's singing and the Dr's original art?!
  6. Muppet Christmas Carol. Because Kermit Cratchet sings the coolest syncopated song ever, and it's funny when the little peons in Scrooge's office bust out a luau.
I DON'T LIKE
(as in, I will go to some length to avoid seeing it)
  1. A Charlie Brown Christmas. This is because I don't like Charlie Brown. I think he's depressing
  2. A Christmas Story. Can we just say dysfunctional family? How can this be considered a classic? Again, depressing.
  3. The Grinch (Jim Carrey). Rude, crude, and just really really pathetic. I was excitedly hoping for something that would live up to the first movie...this didn't live up to anything.
  4. White Christmas. I was really really bored
  5. Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer (the stop-animation one with Burl Ives). Um, I just think it's annoying from one end to the other.
  6. The Nightmare Before Christmas. I didn't even make it to the end. Dark, depressing, creepy...oh wait, it was Tim Burton. No wonder I hated it.
  7. Elf. I had hoped it would be nice--the premise was cute...but EWWWWW. I should know better than to think that Will Farrell would make a clean or quality movie.

What Christmas movies do you love?
Which ones do you not love?
Why?

I'm sure I'm forgetting some, but those are the first ones I thought of (I reserve the right to edit the list a bit if someone comments about a movie I have strong feelings about!!)
This year I want to see Fred Claus. I'm prepared for it to be pretty dumb, but ya always gotta see the new one, you know?

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The Very Best Christmas Present Ever

My dad has been a school teacher for the last 20 years. On the first day of school after Christmas break, all the kids would come in comparing notes of what they got for Christmas. Dad would quiet them down, and say "I only want to hear one thing--what was the best present that you GAVE?"
This attitude is one I maintain. If course it's nice to receive some nice things, but if it is better to give than to receive (and I hope by now you know that I truly believe that it is!), then the focus should not be on how much I've spent or whether I have x number of presents for this person or that, but rather on the quality and sentiment of the gifts I give.

So what is the best present you have given?



I will share mine:

My parents live on a single income (that of a school teacher). There are 9 kids in the family, so the budget is often tight. Once a year (and only once--on Mom's birthday) my parents go out for a nice dinner. Last Christmas, for the first time in 4 years, all of us kids were going to be back home for Christmas. Hubby and I were talking about could we get together to do something nice for my parents, and we had the idea of everybody putting in however much they could afford--even just $1--toward a gift certificate to send Mom and Dad out to dinner someplace nice. So I talked with all my siblings...college students, young parents, jobless teenagers, and one 6 year old (yup, he's a caboose)...some had bigger budgets than others, but everyone (even the 6 year old) contributed a little. When it came down to it, we had come up with more than I had anticipated. So we sent them to the Space Needle. They have lived in the Seattle area for over 20 years, and never been to that iconic rotating restaurant in the sky.
I will never forget the looks on their faces when they opened the envelope and saw the card, and saw that it was literally from ALL of us. Mom cried. Dad sat in silence for a bit, and then said quietly "wow."

Monday, December 8, 2008

Christmas Canon (Trans-Siberian Orchestra)

I love these guys, and this is beautiful.

In the Middle of a Miracle

God does notice us, and he watches over us.
But it is usually through another person that he meets our needs.

~Spencer W Kimball, 1974

This year I had the opportunity to be a part of a miracle.
I had this little scrap of pretty blue fabric with the Star of David on it. It had been tucked away for a couple of years, with the thought that maybe I could make some beanbags or something with it. This year I dug it out and did just that, thinking that beanbags might sell in my etsy shop. I made a little trio of beanbags, took photos, and made the listing...
And then I was reading along in the MDC thread about the Holiday Helpers. I have mentioned before how I like to help with HH. The coordinator mentioned that many people were supplying clothing and gift cards, but they really wanted to try to provide at least one toy for each child on the list, and did anyone have toys they could contribute. I had the immediate urging to ask if there were any Jewish families in need. Why yes, family #63 was Jewish. So I went and read their profile. They have a toddler who is just a few months younger than Bear, and they actually had beanbags specifically on their list of hoped-for items!

Only one family (of over 200) was Jewish.

Only one family had beanbags on their list.

It was the same family.

And I had a trio of perfect Chanukah beanbags sitting in a box under my sewing desk.

I had sewn a set of beanbags with the thought that they might earn me a little money. I didn't know at the time that God was going to use me to bless a family in need. When I learned the truth, I was overwhelmed. Truly, God's tender mercies made a little miracle for this family, and I was just blessed enough to get to be in the middle of it.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

One King

This is one of my favorite Christmas songs. It's by Point of Grace, but I wasn't able to find a youtube of them that I could embed here. (I have their album "A Christmas Story" which is where the song is from, and I heartily recommend it.)
Anyway, this is a rendition done by some sisters in a church...I don't know who they are or where they're from, but they do the song justice.



One king held the frankincense
One king held the myrrh
One king held the purest gold...
and
One King held the hope of the world

Saturday, December 6, 2008

In Which I am a Burly Alaskan Woman

My facebook status as of 4:03pm
I just got back from some SERIOUS BACKWOODS BUSHWHACKING to get a Christmas tree. With a 30lb toddler on my back no less.

CB at 4:05pm December 6
You are a burly Alaskan woman! Nice work!

GC at 4:18pm December 6
You ARE the WOMAN!!!

BN at 4:18pm December 6
That's so traditional Christmas of you! Even if it was tough, I bet it makes for a nice memory. :)
So, we live in a rural area...so rural in fact, that the official policy of the national forest (yes, you got that, federally protected wild forest) is that everyone who lives here is welcome to hike on up and cut themselves a Christmas tree. No charge. I suspect that deer take out more trees annually than Christmas-Tree-hunters.
This morning we bundled everybody up and headed up the mountain. When I say 'up' you should understand that I mean that in a most literal sense...several portions of the 'trail' are 70-80% grade (in other words, you climb up with your hands and feet). Please keep in mind that I did this with a 30 lb toddler on my back...a toddler who kept saying "walk, mommy, I walk!"
The 'trail' is narrow, and substantial portions of it are a stream bed. In other words, when you take a step, you may put your foot into 3 inches of snow; OR you may put your foot into 3 inches of snow AND 3-12 inches of very soft very wet mud; OR you may put your foot into 3 inches of snow, 1/4 inch of slushy ice, and 3-? inches of water. Really really cold water. Walking up this trail is not for the faint of heart--there's a reason I've never gone up it before in the 15 months we've lived here!
I did a lot of holding onto branches of the shrubs and trees we passed...they were wet, they soaked my gloves, but they helped me keep my balance on the steep, wet, slippery, muddy, slushy, unpredictable ground! A few times Bear hollered "ow!" as cold water or a slippery branch flew at him, but for the most part he had the easy part of the trip. I got my pants wet halfway to my knees (but not inside my boots!) and I fell on my tooshie once...not to shabby, all things considered.
Wolf, on the other hand, felt the need to investigate nearly every pond we passed...these are places where the stream pools up...keep in mind that we do live in a rainforest, so there are LOTS of these pools. This pool was frozen over. I watched him poke at it with his stick, then step onto it, then step out toward the middle...then just stand there as the cracking sounds echoed beneath him...then as he fell through he whooped and hopped off. (Of course, he subsequently waded back in...)
Wolf got wet and cold nearly up to his waist.
Hubby, with the tree (which he then carried back down that same precarious trail)
Upon arriving home, I stripped everybody down and threw all the cold, wet, muddy clothes into the washing machine, and stuck both kids in the shower to warm up. Hubby put the kettle on and we all had some hot cocoa.
The tree is relaxing downstairs in a tub of water while we try to figure out how to put it up without a tree stand (since our stand is in a box in storage in Utah).

St Nicholas Day

"Yes Virginia, there IS a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist..."
His real name was Nicholas, and he lived in the third century in what is now Turkey. He was a Catholic Bishop who was imprisoned for his faith. He saved children and sailors and gave money to the poor. He is the patron and protector of children, virgins, sailors, students, paupers, and all who are in trouble or need. December 6th is the anniversary of his death. The story of how a kindly bishop came to be the fat elf Santa Claus can be seen (literally, with lots of pictures) here.

I like to read my children the book "Santa, Are You For Real." It tells the story of a little boy whose friends tell him that there is no santa, so he goes home and asks his dad about it. His father tells him the story of Saint Nicholas, a very real person who loved Jesus and gave to the poor because he knew it was what Jesus would do. It concludes that stories of Saint Nicholas are told in many cultures, and that he has different names in different places--one of them being Santa Claus--and that when we hear those stories we should remember Jesus and His gifts to us, because that is what Nicholas would have wanted us to remember.

If you would like to learn more about St Nicholas or how his day is celebrated, I recommend visiting the Saint Nicholas Center, which has information about St Nicholas, his history, and modern celebrations around the world. You might also like their subpage the Saint Nicholas Center for Kids (which has stories, games and coloring pages).


Incidentally, if you've ever wondered what the real Nicholas looked like...the image below includes several artists renditions, as well as a modern forensic reconstruction (based on Nicholas' actual scull, which was briefly exhumed during repairs to the crypt where he is buried).

Friday, December 5, 2008

Frugal Friday--homemade gifts for kids

The Holiday Season is a notorious time for overspending. Just when we should be feeling warmth and love, many of us are stressed about finances and what to give to whom. So I thought I'd share a few ideas of inexpensive things you can make for kids...

Beanbags!
These are so simple, and because they're small you can even hand-sew them and it won't take very long. I made a tutorial here if you don't feel quite up to freehanding it. ☺

Dress-up clothing
I have made some fancy things like jester's caps and knight's tunics, but even a beginning sewer can make good dress-up clothes.
  • A long scarf or sash requires no sewing at all, and can be looped around like a toga, worn over the head as a veil, or tied like a belt!
  • A cape can be made with a big rectangle and a ribbon across the top.
  • Skirts are two rectangles with elastic at the top.
  • A long robe/dress/tunic can be made with these simple instructions. This other site has more elaborate directions for essentially the same thing (including directions for doing a neck facing). (Please note that both sites are in adult sizes! You can make a child's tunic with less than a yard of fabric, and a full-length dress with under 2 yards.)
  • Some hats are simple and some are more complex, but a no-sew option is to get (or make) a circlet the size of your child's head, then wrap it with lots of ribbons (wrap in or glue on some silk flowers if you like). Tie the ribbons on so they stay, but leave long tails hanging down...your little princess/fairy/gypsy/queen is bound to love it. A mob cap (second one down) is just a big circle with some elastic on it (or here's a fancier version). A chef's hat is a big circle gathered into a wide band. If you're up for a slightly fancier hat, try a bonnet. 
 (a tip for getting large quantities of inexpensive fabric--go to a thrift store and buy old curtains or sheets!)

Puppets
Sock puppets are a classic option, as are finger puppets. Another option is to get some small stuffed animals from a thrift store, make a little hole near the tail, and stick a dowel (or pencil) up into them. Voila, stick puppet! Alternatively, get larger stuffed animals from the thrift store, make a larger slit by the tail, and pull out the stuffing for a hand-in puppet. Finally, try cutting a large gingerbread man-shaped piece of nice stiff felt, and then decorate it. Cut a matching back piece and sew the edges from one outer ankle to the other (don't sew up between the legs of course or you won't be able to put your hand inside!

Lastly, FlyLady has a list of "clutter-free" gift ideas (experiences, many of them free/homemade). Thanks to RasJane for the link!

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