Tuesday, December 31, 2019

A Few Things To Think On As We Bring In The New Year

I've intentionally taken some time for quiet this week. There is just something about the week between Christmas and New Year's that fosters quiet and stillness, at least for me. This year, with New Year's falling on Wednesday, it feels like we get a few bonus days as we are quickly into the weekend.  I'm claiming them, anyway! Not that I'll sit around and do nothing, the laundry still piles up, and I'm making some treats for New Year's Eve and our traditional New Year's Day meal of ham, collards, black eyed peas and cornbread. But I've put off other things, like returns and paperwork until next Monday, when life will resume a more normal pace. I'll be ready by then, I always am. I enjoy times of rest and reflection, but there is something to be said for rhythm and order, too.

I found the little print out you see in the picture above in my papers this week. It was something I included in a little seasonal book I put together for myself a few years ago. And while I'm not big on resolutions, I do find that lingering over a few goals and ideas a worthy assignment this time of year, and I thought you might enjoy considering them for yourself. I like this list because its doable, not some grand goal that I'm going to feel like a failure for not accomplishing. Just simple things like "a book I'd like to read", "a place I'd like to visit" . . . all things I'll be doing anyway, so why not be intentional when planning for them? If you'd like a copy for yourself you'll find the link at the bottom of this post.

Happy New Years Eve, my friends!  I pray your year is blessed!

(Click the link to download your copy!)


Sunday, December 22, 2019

Tabula Rasa - A Night to Plan And Dream!

Well, rather without expecting too, I've created another gift for you today that I hope you will enjoy!

Tabula Rasa, "a clean slate", is a night that I set aside each year, typically in the week between Christmas and New Year's.  It is a night to reflect on the year ahead, and with intention, to make room for our goals, dreams and the secret longings of our heart that we would like to see fulfilled in the coming year.

I first read about Tabula Rasa and the idea of setting aside an evening to dream, in Sarah Ban Breathnach's book, Romancing the Ordinary. I thought it was a lovely idea, and I've set aside an evening to observe it almost every year since. Some years I created a little booklet, much like the one I'm linking too here, to help to guide me as a plan and dream. If you've never observed Tabula Rasa and aren't really sure you understand, I've included a page that will guide you through how to use the pages at the end of the publication.

Such things many not even be your cup of tea, and I certainly understand. I did make it up in colors and using graphics that I prefer, and since red and green (also black), are my favorite colors and I like holly and evergreens year round, it may feel a little Christmasy for some. It may not suit you at all, and in that case, I encourage you to use a pretty notebook you may already have and just use the publication as a guide. You could even create your own forms, if you wish, in colors that are more to your liking! But since I went to all the trouble to make it up, I thought I would share!

Enjoy!

Thursday, December 19, 2019

A Christmas Gift For You - A Cup of Cheer

This time of year, with Christmas fast approaching and winter on the wings, I often like to make up a special drink for a family celebration, or as a special treat for myself in the afternoon. I've collected a number of wonderful recipes over the past few years, and while this isn't all inclusive, I've chosen a dozen plus one of my favorites and compiled them into a lovely little book. I want to gift it to you, my loyal readers, in appreciation for your support as I have muddled my way through the world of blogging this year, and thankfully, found my way back to my roots. I hope that you will try one or two of these recipes, and find a favorite among them. Please let me know if you do make one up, I'd love to hear!

Until then, blessings to you and yours!

Download A Cup of Cheer

**NOTE**
I wanted to let you know, if you were following them, that I archived the O Antiphon
posts. I am so sorry. Doing all of this last minute, I was afraid that with everything
I have going on that might happen, and it did. I fell behind. And since I don't like
not doing things well (ok, PERFECT! I need to get over that), I would rather not
start something I can't finish.  So, it's easy to google The O Antiphons and find the
information, and **hopefully** (I have a plan), next year I'll be more on top of things.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Old Fashioned Sugar Cookies

As far as sugar cookies go, I've never had much luck.  Of the ones that "claimed" they wouldn't spread, one of them held to that but they were tasteless and in spite of shortening the baking time, insisted upon coming out hard and crunchy. If you like hard, crunchy, tasteless sugar cookies, let me know, I've got the recipe for you!

But the recipe I'm sharing with you today is NOT that recipe, and after years of trial, error and failure, THESE are by far the best I've ever made! They will not spread, they hold their form, so you can be sure that the finished product won't be much different than the raw dough. Just place them about an inch to an inch and a half apart (because ALL dough spreads a **little** when it bakes), and you'll be good to go. I tend to cut my cookies a little on the thick side and mine did come out a little puffy, but I noticed that after they sat on the cooling rack a bit, even that wasn't an issue. This cookie is PERFECTION! At least in my book. Something else I always do (with most cookies), is to take them it out of the oven at the minimum recommended time (sometimes I even take it out a little sooner). I want a golden bottom on my cookies and no crunch, at least, not for my sugar cookies. This recipe also makes a LOT of cookies. I rolled out and cut half the dough and put the rest in the freezer, which makes me happy because I think I'm going to want these more than once a year. They are perfect just as they are and I can see them being nice with a cup of tea in the afternoon. I used small cutters, so they ended up being just a little bite, which is plenty for me! Later this week I'll adorn them with a simple white glaze and a sprinkle of sugar, just to dress them up a little for the holidays, but overall, I'd be eating them as is. But just in case you do want to dress yours up, I included a recipe for frosting.

OLD FASHIONED SUGAR COOKIES
2 cup shortening (Crisco)
2 1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons orange zest, grated
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 eggs
1/4 cup orange juice
6 cups all purpose flour
4 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon peppermint extract

Cream together shortening, sugar, orange zest, vanilla, and peppermint extract. Add eggs to creamed mixture; mix well. Add orange juice and mix. Sift flour, baking powder and salt; add to creamed mixture and blend. Cover and chill for at least two hours.

Once chilled, roll dough to 1/8 to 1/4” thick on lightly floured surface. Cut out with your favorite cookie cutters and place on an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake at 375° for 7-10 minutes. Cool before removing from cookie sheet; ice when cool.

Sugar Cookie Frosting
3 cups powdered sugar
3-4 Tablespoons milk
2 Tablespoons light corn syrup
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Gel food coloring (optional)
Additional candies and sprinkles for decorating

Combine sugar, 2 Tablespoons of milk, corn syrup, and vanilla extract in a medium-sized bowl and stir until combined. If frosting is too thick, add more milk, about a teaspoon at a time, until the frosting is thick but pipeable. If you accidentally add too much milk, add powdered sugar until desired texture is reached.

If coloring the frosting, divide into bowls and color as desired.Transfer frosting to a piping bag with a Wilton 5 piping tip.

Pipe frosting on cookies and decorate as desired. Allow frosting to harden before eating. (Timinig varies depending on consistency and humidity).

Store cookies at room temperature in an airtight container.

 

Monday, December 16, 2019

In Hushed Anticipation - Observing The Season of Advent - Fourth Sunday

FOURTH SUNDAY OF ADVENT
Sunday, December 22, 2019

Introductory Hymn
Missa Rorate Coeli. Listen, here.

Introit: Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice! The Lord is near.

- Philippians 4:4-5 (Roman Missal)

Gaudete in Domino semper: iterum dico, gaudete: modestia vestra nota sit omnibus hominibus: Dominus prope est. Nihil solliciti sitis: sed in omni oratione petitiones vestrae innotescant apud Deum.

Ps. Benedixisti, Domine, terram tuam: avertisti captivitatem Iacob.(Graduale Romanum)

The Reading of the Word and The Lighting of the Candle
Micah 5:2-5
John 3:16-19

The Candle of Love
Light the Advent candle four
Think of joy forever more
Christ child in a stable born
Gift of love that Christmas morn.

Candle, candle burning bright
Shining in the cold winter night
Candle, candle burning bright
Fill our hearts with Christmas light.


Hymn
O Little Town of Bethlehem

Hand Crafts 
Winter Simmering Potpourri
2-3 cinnamon Sticks
1 cup dried cranberries or fresh
1 cup cried Orange Slices or you can use the rind or even fresh slices
1 tbsp clove
1 tbsp allspice
3-4 sprigs rosemary
1 tbsp cinnamon chips (optional)

Place water in a pot until about 1/2 of the way full and then add the ingredients.
Bring water to a slight boil and then turn the stove down to low heat.
Continue to simmer for an hour or two, replenishing water as needed.

Christmas Scented Heart Shaped Salt Dough Ornaments
2 cups plain flour
1 cup salt
1 cup water
2 tsp ground ginger
2 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp ground clove
2 tsp nutmeg
10 drops orange essential oil (optional but it adds to the amazing smell)

1. Mix the flour, salt, spices and the orange essential oil if you are using it.
2. Then, slowly add the water until you have a workable piece of dough. You don’t want it to be gooey and sticky, so I always
start with a little bit less water and add if I need more. The dough should be close to the consistency of play-dough.
3. Roll out the dough and cut out the desired shape that you want for your ornaments. If you are hanging the ornaments, you will need to use a skewer, straw or something to create the hole for your string.

1. Place the ornaments on a baking sheet and put in the oven at the lowest temperature possible. My oven was set to 170 degrees.
2. Bake the scented salt dough ornaments for 1 hour, then, flip them over and bake another hour.
3. Lastly, remove them from the oven and allow to cool. Then, be creative because you can leave them plain, paint them, create a garland, tie them on packages or simply use as ornaments.

Recipes
Orange Birthday Cake for Jesus
2 1/2 cups flour
1 3/4 cups sugar
1 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup oil (extra-virgin olive oil, canola, vegetable, coconut, or blood orange evoo)
1 cup fresh orange juice
3 eggs
1 cup sour cream
1 - 2 teaspoons orange zest

Orange Cream Cheese Frosting:
1 cup butter softened
1 - 8- ounce pkg. cream cheese softened
4 cups powdered sugar
2 Tablespoons fresh orange juice

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a large mixing bowl, stir flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.
In another mixing bowl, cream oil, orange juice, eggs, sour cream, and orange zest until completely mixed.

Fold in dry ingredients, mixing only until combined.

Pour into greased (3) 8-inch or (2) 9-inch cake pans.

Bake for 19-21 minutes, depending on the size of pan used. To test if the cakes are done, insert a toothpick in the center of the cake. If it comes out clean, the cakes are done. Let cool for 15 minutes before removing from pans.

To make frosting:
In a large mixing bowl, cream together butter and cream cheese for 4 minutes until light and fluffy. Scrape down sides of the bowl halfway through mixing. Stir in powdered sugar, orange zest, and orange juice.

Once cakes are cooled, frost with orange cream cheese frosting

Old Fashioned Egg Nog
12 medium egg yolk
1.5 cups or 320 g white granulated sugar
4 cups or 1 liter of 4% or full fat milk
2 cups or 500 ml heavy cream (31% fat or higher)
one teaspoon ground nutmeg, or adjust to taste,
one teaspoon good quality vanilla extract
Equipment Needed
blender
large bowl
whisk

Place the egg yolks and white sugar into the blender. Blend for about 2 minutes or until the mix thickens up. Pour the yolk-sugar mix into a large bowl, whisk in milk and cream. Continue mixing until the sugar has completely dissolved. Sprinkle in the nutmeg and pour in the vanilla, mix until well incorporated. Taste and adjust nutmeg if desired.
Chill until ready to serve. Sprinkle ground cinnamon over each cup before serving.

NOTES
1. The recipe calls for raw eggs. Consume at your own risk.
2. Whole fat milk and heavy cream yield thicker and better tasting eggnog.
3. For alcoholic version add a cup of good quality brandy or rum after nutmeg and vanilla has been added. Whisk again until
brandy/rum is well incorporated into the eggnog.

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Saint Lucy's Day - December 13

I apologize profusely that once again I am posting these links and resources at the midnight hour, but hopefully, if you haven't already, you'll be able to borrow from a few of these quick ideas to create a special celebration for your family.

December 13th (tomorrow) is the Feast of St. Lucy, also known as St. Lucia Day (Luciadagen) in Sweden

In Sweden, the oldest daughter of a family will wake up before dawn on St. Lucy's Day and dress in a white gown for purity, often with a red sash as a sign of martyrdom. On her head she will wear a wreath of greenery and lit candles, and she is often accompanied by "starboys," her small brothers who are dressed in white gowns and cone-shaped hats that are decorated with gold stars, and carrying star-tipped wands. "St. Lucy" will go around her house and wake up her family to serve them special St. Lucy Day foods." - from Fisheaters

Traditionally the special food is known as Lucia Buns, which is saffron bread, you can find a recipe here. This recipe calls for the bread to be topped with almonds, but I've seen others that called for dried cranberries, grapes or dates. I personally think the dried cranberries add a lovely touch.

Please note (as we did this almost every year), it is also perfectly fine to subsititute the bread with something much simpler, such as . . . canned cinnamon rolls, and apparently we were not the only ones as I've seen literally dozens of posts over the years where families did the same. I did particularly like this idea, however, of braiding the canned dough to form a ring. I don't think I was that creative when my girls were growing up, I just baked them as is, placed them in a circle on the plate and adorned them with candles, which is fine to do as well! The traditional Lucia Buns are shaped into an S, which you will find here, and you could do the same with the cinnamon roll dough. There is no wrong way to make them, so do what is right for your family based upon your time and needs.

We also never had the white dress, red sash, not even the ivy crown with candles, although I always wanted to and "planned to do it next year". Not being a part of a church community that recognizes such things, keeping up with the liturgy was often difficult for me, especially when the girls were little and we were busy with homeschool. Saint Lucy's day was one of those celebrations that was often overlooked, though always with regret because I do find the observance of it quite lovely.

So if your daughter happens to have a white dress, you could easily purchase a length of red ribbon (easy to find this time of year), to make a sash, and as for the crown, there are several lovely options that you can make up in a pinch, including this one made from paper, which I think it lovely and probably my favorite.  There are also instructions for some quick and simple star boy hats for the boys. I always thought the crown would be lovely to make out of felt, but I never got a round to it. You can find an example, and a free pattern, here. But for this year, since I waited SO late to post, you can also find this lovely free printable crown, here.

Other ideas that I've seen that would be easy to pull off are . . .

Apple Star Ornaments - I've always associated stars with St. Lucy, as well, because of the star boys.

or you could make these, which sound delicious and look lovely, too!

Orange and Chocolate Star Cookies

I also found this lovely vintage Betsy McCall paper doll, depicting her celebrating St. Lucy's day. Might be fun to print out for your girls!

Here is a lovely you tube video of the traditional song being sung by a children's choir in Paris, and below are the words to the song.

Santa Lucia, Thy light is glowing,
Through darkest winter night, Comfort bestowing,
Dreams float on wings of night, Comes then the morning light,
Santa Lucia, Santa Lucia

Through silent winter gloom, Thy song comes winging to
Waken the earth anew, Glad carols bringing,
Come thou, oh Queen of Night,
Wearing thy crown so bright,
Santa Lucia, Santa Lucia

Santa Lucia, Christmas fore-telling,
Fill hearts with hope and cheer, Dark fear dispelling,
Bring to the world's call,
Peace and good will to all,
Santa Lucia, Santa Lucia



Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Plans For The Winter Solstice - Part 2

Good Tuesday morning, my friends, and welcome! Today's post is a continuation of my previous post, Winter Solstice Part 1, where I discussed a few of the ways we have celebrated this lovely day in the past, and how I am carrying on those traditions into the present.  Today I am going to continue on that theme, and share with you some ideas for a few crafts you can make, and books you can enjoy reading together to add to your festivities.  I'll also include the recipe for Grammy's Cabbage Soup that I mentioned in my previous post, but now, on to the crafts!

❅ ORANGE CLOVE POMANDERS

One of my favorite crafts to enjoy on this day is making orange clove pomanders. This is such a
lovely craft, and they look so pretty when you place several in a basket along with a few little springs of greenery. One little trick I'll share with you that makes studding them with cloves a little easier, is to mark your design with an ice pick or perhaps a wooden skewer, and then insert the cloves into the holes.  These are great fun to make, and they smell absolutely wonderful! I usually dust mine with a bit of ground cloves as well, and the fragrance is just divine. They look equally as pretty tied up with a length of red ribbon and hung in just the right spot. I plan to set out a few in a little basket, as well as tie up one or two in some black and white checked fabric strips for a little primitive touch.

❅ SOLSTICE LANTERNS

This year I plan to make a solstice lantern, and **maybe** I can even entice Kate to join in the fun! I came across this idea several years ago, inspired by this post. You will find the instructions for how to make them there, but I am going to variate a little in making mine.

Instead of sequins, I plan to use shapes cut from black construction paper. Following are links to the templates I plan to use. There are a number of designs for stars, here,  and here are a few for the moon, and finally, here is the one I think I'll be using as my pattern for the sun. My thought is that I will print the templates out and trace around them on the construction paper. If you need to adjust the size of the images,  just right click on the image and save it as a picture and then insert them into a document and adjust the size. I hope that makes sense. If you happen to have them, stickers might be another option, especially for the stars, and you could use scrapbook paper to make the shapes, as well!

I also plan to add a wreath of greenery around the top, and perhaps, a handle. I thought it might be nice to take the lanterns and go out on a solstice evening walk. I know I discussed this idea in my previous post, so you could either choose to time your walk just as the sun is about to set, or even later in the evening when it is dark.  The lanterns would also look lovely without a handle, sitting on a shelf or to adorn your dining room table while you enjoy a hot bowl of Grammy's Cabbage Soup! Here's the recipe.

❅ GRAMMY'S CABBAGE SOUP

1-2 pounds of pork, roast or loin
4 medium carrots, cut into 1/4-inch slices (2 cups)
 2 medium stalks celery, chopped (1 cup)
1 medium potato, peeled and cubed
1 medium onion, chopped (1/2 cup)
4 cups chopped cabbage (about 1 medium head)
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
4 cups water
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper (you can use less if you don't like it too spicy!)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
4 chicken bouillon cubes
1 can (28 ounces) crushed tomatoes, undrained

Mix all ingredients in 3 1/2- to 6-quart slow cooker. Cover and cook on low heat setting 8 to 9 hours (or high heat setting 4 to 5 hours) or until pork and vegetables are tender.

And now onto the books!

❅ BOOKS FOR CHILDREN (AND ADULTS, TOO!)  

❅ Dear Rebecca, Winter Is Here
by Jean Craighead George

This little book is my absolute all time favorite for sharing with children on this day.  But who am I kidding? I read it again on the winter solstice every year, and probably will again and again!

I am going to share two passages from this book with you that illustrate why I love this particular one so much!  Among other things is that it is presented as a letter between a grandmother and her granddaughter, a sweet sentiment that makes the read all the more lovely!


"Dear Rebecca, I turned on the lights to eat breakfast this morning and put on my coat to go outside. Winter is here. It was brought by by little hands of darkness. Each little hand is a few minutes long. In summer they began bringing winter.  They pulled the night over the edges of the dawn and dusk and made the days shorter.  On June 21, while you were cooling under the house, winter began."

and towards the end, is this lovely passage;

"I light the fire in my fireplace.  You sing jolly songs with your friends. And while you are singing, summer begins. On the 22nd of December, little hands of light begin to push back the edges of the darkness minute by minute. Before very long, you will take off your shoes and and jump over bluebells. I will eat my breakfast outdoors in the sunshine. The birds will return as the days grow longer. The frogs and turtles will come out of the warm mud, and the next thing you know, I'll be writing. Dear Rebecca, summer is here!"

Oh my! I don't know if these words move you as they move me, but they just thrill me!  Perhaps it is grounded in my love of the changing of the seasons, or memories of my own grandmother, though I don't recall her ever writing me a single letter! But I think at the heart of it, it is the kind of grandmother I hope to be. Sharing snippets of my day, things I observed in nature, quotes and passages from books, with my own grandchildren, even in letters! They may find it fun when they are young, or leave the letters unopened in their teens, perhaps. But I do hope they will keep them, and that one day, when they are older, they will be able to return to those sweet sentiments and meet with me again, even after I am gone. I don't mean to sound glum, I really think the idea is lovely. I know I love having things that once belonged my grandmother, and if I had personal letters, that would be all the sweeter!

But now, before I forget, here are a few other books we've enjoyed over the years, all of which are lovely to share with the littles in your life, or even for yourself!  I know for me, I will never grow too old to enjoy a beautifully illustrated picture book!

❅ The Shortest Day
by Wendy Pfeffer

❅ The Winter Solstice
by Millbrook Press

❅ The Return of the Light: Twelve Tales From Around The World For The Winter Solstice
by De Capo Press

The following titles do not focus on the solstice, but make lovely reads on this day.

 The Story of the Snow Children
by Sibylle von Olfers

❅ The Tomten
by Astrid Lindgren

And now, my friends, I will close.  I do have a few other books, more along the lines of the history and how to celebrate line and geared more toward adults, that I want to share with you, but I am going to wait and share them another day.  Today I hope to finally get around to baking some cookies!  I pray that your day is blessed and that you have been inspired to indulge in your own celebrations!  And if you have your own traditions for celebrating the solstice, please leave a comment and share them with us!

Until then,
Kim

Monday, December 9, 2019

Plans For The Winter Solstice - Part 1


"Early nightfall. Crisp mornings. The sharp silhouette of leaf-bare branches. Orion marching across the evening sky. These are some familiar signs of winter. We often speak of turning inward during these darker months, becoming quiet and introspective, staying home more often, sleeping longer. Yet there’s another side to winter that contrasts with our natural inclination to rest and contemplate—a side that insists we shop til we drop, eat and drink more than we care to, and rush around busy airports. Regardless of our spiritual or cultural heritage, if we live in North America today there’s a good chance we find ourselves caught up, perhaps involuntarily or out of habit, in a commercial swirl known as “the holidays” that leaves us depleted in more ways than one."

- Susan Wasinger, Mother Earth Living

Enter, the winter solstice, which will officially arrive on Saturday, December 21 at 11:19 p.m. This day is one that holds special meaning to me, if for no other reason than I LOVE winter! I've always said that autumn is my favorite, but to be honest, I think I love winter equally as well.  Of course Christmas isn't far behind, but there is just something about the winter solstice, the shortest day and the longest night of the year, that is special to me.

We have observed this day over the years with various, simple celebrations, but as the girls have grown up, my celebrations have become much more personal in nature. Building upon the traditions of the past and adding a few new, "just for me" touches,  I have made the observance and celebration of this day, for the most part, very much my own.  And so today, I thought I would take some time to share some of these traditions, both past and present, in the hopes that you might be inspired to indulge in your own celebrations. I will warn you now, this post is LONG, and it's only Part 1! Did I mention this was one of my favorite days? But before I get into the how to celebrate, lets first begin with why.

The winter solstice is the shortest day and the longest night of the year, meaning there are less hours of daylight and more hours of darkness on this day than on any other. This is in contrast, of course, with the summer solstice when there are more hours of daylight and less hours of darkness, the longest day of the year.  The world solstice comes from two Latin words: sol meaning "sun" and sistere meaning "to stand still" because it appeared as though the sun and moon had stopped moving across the sky.

"This longest night of the year, followed by a renewal of the sun, demonstrates the cyclical order of the cosmos. In this way, celebrating the solstice can be a beautiful remembrance that our lives are part of a larger order, always changing, always renewing."

- Richard Heinberg, Celebrating the Solstice: Honoring the Earth’s Seasonal Rhythms through Festival and Ceremony

Many years ago, for fear that the days might be becoming darker and that the the sun might never return, our ancestors began observing a number of customs that were designed to hopefully entice the sun from departing.

THE BATTLE OF THE HOLLY KING AND THE OAK KING

One story tells of the battle of the Holly King (The King of Winter/Darkness) and The Oak King (The King of Summer/Light).   This battle takes place twice a year, on the summer and winter solstice,
At the summer solstice (around June 21—the longest day and the shortest night) the days begin to shorten and the Holly King defeats the Oak King and reigns supreme in the dark times (or days getting shorter). But in December, following the winter solstice, the days begin to lengthen and the Oak King conquers the Holly King and reigns during the light times.  As odd as this may sound, and you may, perhaps think they have it backwards, but the truth is that the winter solstice actually welcomes summer, as with each successive day the light gradually increases and the days become longer.  And then in the summer the opposite happens, and the days following the summer solstice gradually become shorter.  So as you can see, our ancestors needn't have feared that the sun would not return!

Though I have never done so, I've always thought it might be sweet to make a couple of peg dolls in the form of the Holly King and the Oak King a have them displayed somewhere on a shelf, perhaps.  You can then share the story of the battle of the two kings with your children or grandchildren, and then the reigning king could be replaced on the shelf and the other tucked away until it is time to battle once again.

❅ SOLSTICE BONFIRES

Many traditions include a bonfire, and this is one that we observed a few times over the years.  The idea is that the offering of warmth and light might appeal to the sun to warm the earth once again. One custom suggests that each person write down one habit they want to rid themselves of in the coming year and throw it into the bonfire.  If you decide to build a bonfire, it might be fun to make up some of the these spicy fire starters in the days before your celebration.  It might make your start up a little easier, and the fire starters themselves are quite lovely!

❅ THE SOLSTICE SPIRAL

The solstice spiral is one my favorite observances for this most special day, and is a celebration of the return of the light!  Solstice Spirals are popular in Waldorf schools, and you can read about that, here for context.

I do a much smaller table top version for my observance, using apples with white birthday candles, and in a pinch, I have also used tea lights and the presentation was just as lovely. I typically set it out on the kitchen table the night before so that it serves as a sweet reminder that we are cycling into a new season. This helps to build the anticipation, especially for young children. Then when the sun sets, I light the candles and allow them burn for awhile, our own little celebration of the return of the sun.

❅ A WINTER SOLSTICE WALK

This is a new tradition that I began last year and I plan to make it a regular part of my observance.  Thankfully we live in an area that plentiful with woods, and it makes for a lovely setting.  Last year I went early in afternoon to soak in the last rays of sunshine before the early darkness set in.  But this year I am considering taking it about thirty or forty five minutes before sunset.  I like the idea of returning to the warmth and shelter of home, lighting the candles on my solstice spiral, and then enjoying a festive meal, which I'll share more about below!  If you do decided to make your own solstice spiral, large or small, going on a walk might also serve the purpose of collecting some greenery.  And now, about my meal plans!

Traditionally, I always make a big pot of Grammy's Cabbage Soup.  Everyone in our family loves this hearty soup, which I really consider more of a stew, it's much heartier!  Although I was considering trying out this recipe, Crock Pot Cranberry Orange Pork Tenderloin, I think I might save it for the new year and stick with tradition. There is just something about keeping the menu simple that appeals to me, and I like the **homeyness** of a pot of stew.  I think I'll find a nice loaf of bread and serve it up with a cheese spread.  Once I have the particulars of my menu figured out, I'll post more about that.

But regardless of the main course, it wouldn't be the winter solstice without gingerbread and lemon sauce.  Gingerbread conjures memories from my childhood, when my grandmother would make it for me every time we visited!  I especially enjoy it during the long winter months, and traditionally make it for the time each season for the winter solstice.

❅ GINGERBREAD WITH LEMON SAUCE

Ginger is a favorite solstice and holiday spice, and gingerbread is a favorite from my childhood.  My grandmother made it for me often, and I always think of her when I make it today. And though I enjoy gingerbread throughout the year, I traditionally always make a loaf on the winter solstice.  Here's the recipe I have used for years.

Gingerbread
1 cup shortening
1 cup sugar
1 cup molasses
2 large eggs
3 cups all-purpose flour
1-1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1-1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup hot water

Lemon Sauce
1/2 cup sugar
2 teaspoons cornstarch
Dash salt
Dash nutmeg
1 cup half-and-half cream
2 large egg yolks, beaten
2 tablespoons butter
3 to 4 tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest

Preheat oven to 350°.

Beat shortening, sugar, molasses and eggs until well blended. Combine next five ingredients; add to molasses mixture alternately with hot water.

Pour into a greased 13x9-in. baking pan. Bake until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, 35-40 minutes. Cool on a wire rack.

Meanwhile, for lemon sauce, combine first five ingredients in a small saucepan until smooth. Cook and stir over medium-high heat until thickened and bubbly. Reduce heat; cook and stir 2 minutes longer. Remove from heat.

Stir a small amount of hot filling into egg yolks; return all to pan, stirring constantly. Bring to a gentle boil; cook and stir 2 minutes longer. Remove from heat. Gently stir in butter, lemon juice and zest, increasing juice if needed to thin sauce. Serve with warm cake. Refrigerate leftover sauce.

And while spiced cider has been our traditional beverage of choice, this year I'm giving serious consideration to this recipe for winter lemonade!  I may do dual service and enjoy a cup of cider over tea earlier in the day.

Another observance I began last year is eating dinner by candlelight.  In todays world, illuminated by  gadgets and technology, and faces aglow with constant media all hours of the day and night, the winter solstice is an opportunity to pause and give tribute to the natural rhythms of life.

And NOW, I am going to close and I will continue in a second post with ideas for crafting, books to read and enjoy, as well as the recipe for the soup I mentioned above!  Two recipes in one post is just making this too long, even for my "wordy" self. And just so you'll know, I realize I have only covered the first three Sundays of Advent. I'll have the fourth Sunday up this week!

Until then, my friends!  I pray your day is blessed!

Sunday, December 8, 2019

In The Pause -
What's Happening Behind The Screen In This Season

Good Sunday morning, and a beautiful one it is here in this valley that I love! The temps dipped into the high 20's this morning. A welcome change from the mid 50's we've seen most of the week.  It's a little hard to be inspired to bake cookies when I have the windows opened! But, I will say it made for a nice evening at a local outdoor event we attended this past Friday night, as well as a carriage ride downtown yesterday. No, I'm not hard to please AT ALL! I just want what I want, right? Cold on days I'm baking, and warm on days that I am out. :)

That being said, I realize it's been a little quiet around here this week, which honestly was not my intent, but somehow it feels right. Now that I'm getting comfortable in this space again, I find myself wanting to share with you, but the reality is, I don't want to just write about life, but to truly live it! Finding that balance can be hard at times. I have learned already that to really share all that I want, especially during this season, I probably need to start writing some of those posts during summer. The "experts" would say I should be working weeks ahead of schedule, but I fired them. :) It is hard for me to explain, really, but my spirit stirs when I write, the words can't be contained, and to try to force that would mean to lose my soul. At least that's how it feels, and I'm not willing to sacrifice that. This blog will bless those whom it is meant to bless, and the beauty in that is that it is not even my work, that belongs to the Lord. My duty is show up and write as I feel led to write and to rest in the pause. And so I hope you will join me both here as I share from my heart, but likewise in the pause.

With that, the only baking I managed this week were these sweet, simple little peanut butter cookies.  I had planned a lot more, but as I said, I just couldn't motivate myself to heat up the kitchen when I had the windows open. This coming week it looks like it may be a **little** colder and I hope to get a lot more done, either that, or I'll just have make it work! These peanut butter cookies are so simple and easy, a great recipe to make with your littles who are just learning their way around in the kitchen. The flavor and texture is so good, people will think you put a lot more work into them!

SMALL BATCH OLD FASHIONED PEANUT BUTTER COOKIES

1 cup sugar
1 cup peanut butter
1 egg

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Stir the ingredients together until smooth. Scoop onto a parchment or Silpat lined baking sheet. (Roll into 1" balls with your hands, if you do not have a scoop.) Press down with the back of a fork and then press again from the opposite direction, to form the criss-cross pattern on top.

These cookies will not spread at all. You can bake the full recipe on a single tray if you would like. Bake for 12 minutes and then let cool on the tray for 1-2 minutes before removing to a wire rack to finish cooling. Store in an airtight container.

Yields: About 14-16 cookies

NOTE: I typically take out about 2 Tablespoons of the peanut butter for a slightly less dense cookie.  They turn out a little softer that way, which is how we prefer them.  I always store my cookies with 1/2 slice of bread in the container to help them maintain their softness.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

The Feast of Saint Nicholas

I am, sadly, late in posting this. Thanksgiving was so late this year that I'm struggling a bit to stay on top of ALL that happens just after it! I usually have a week, or at least a few days to prepare, but this year it is all happening rather suddenly.

That being said, this Friday, December 6 is the The Feast of Saint Nicholas, which is one of my favorite days of the Advent season.  So I'm going to throw a LOT of idea at you in the hopes that if you decide to observe and celebrate it, you'll find at least a few of them doable. I am not even sure what our plans are at this point, though I did pick up a cute pair of seasonal socks for Kate last night, along with a little bag of gold coins. I've got my eye on a few books I'm considering adding to my personal library, but I'm going to wait until after a make a quick trip to Charlottesville tomorrow before I make any final decisions. If I do buy them I'll order them on Friday at best! And before I ramble on too long, here's a bit about the history of this feast day, as well as ideas that you can borrow from to observe and celebrate it!

~ Enjoy!

HISTORY - from the St. Nicholas Center
As we wait for God to become incarnate, we look to the whole body of Christ, past and present, for models of embodied faith. The commemoration of saints has been a part of Christian worship since the second century.

Today we remember Saint Nicholas, who was the Bishop of Myra in the province of Lycia during the fourth century. Very little is known about his life, but he is remembered as a man of great faith and compassion. He was also a fierce advocate for those who had been unjustly condemned. But he left behind no writings: the legends surrounding his life are all we have.

Nicholas is most well known in the West as the beloved patron saint of children and gift-giving. His connection to the American character of Santa Claus is faint, but it can be traced. According to tradition, Nicholas’ parents died when he was young, leaving him a large sum of money. With his inheritance, Nicholas practiced charity, helping those in need.

One legend in particular illustrates his generosity: a family in his community was desperate; the father had lost all of his money and had been unable to find husbands for his three daughters. The daughters were in danger of being given over to prostitution or another form of degradation when, one night, Nicholas appeared at their home. He tossed three bags of gold into the open window (or down the chimney, in some versions)—thereby saving them from a terrible fate. This tale is probably the source of his eventual connection to the tradition of gift-giving at Christmas.

The custom of giving gifts on Saint Nicholas’ feast day probably originated in Europe among Protestants. The Reformation had led many Protestants to all but abandon the remembrance of the saints. But Saint Nicholas remained a popular figure, especially among children, who received gifts in his name on December 6. The custom spread with immigration to North America when Dutch children told their English-speaking friends about “Sinter Klaas,” the bishop in red vestments who brought them surprises on his feast day. The American mispronunciation—Santa Claus—eventually took on a life of its own. This jolly Saint Nick also delivered gifts through the chimney, but on Christmas rather than the saint’s day. He wore a red suit rather than liturgical vestments, though he still vaguely resembled the old depictions of Nicholas, which showed him with bald head and full beard.

Aside from the obvious disparities between Saint Nicholas and the secular Santa Claus, perhaps the most poignant difference between them can be seen in the nature of the gifts they give. While Santa has his bundle of toys, the gift that Saint Nicholas gives is nothing short of freedom from poverty and desperation. The life of Saint Nicholas is an example of faith made flesh in actions of true charity.

GIVING
Ways you can observed The Feast of St. Nicholas with your family
- Collect gently used toys no longer needed and donate them to a local women's shelter.
- Or, make a donation to Toys For Tots
- Participate in Operation Christmas Child

CELEBRATING
- Have your children leave their shoes by the fireplace or at a designated location in your home on the night before the feast day (December 5).  After they have gone to bed fill them with gold coins (Affiliate Link), if you don't need a pound, I've seen individual bags for $1 at Target and Walmart. You can also include an orange, some nuts and a new pair of Christmas socks, or a new Christmas ornament for each child for the tree. Other ideas could include a chocolate Santa or a new Santa mug for drinking hot chocolate in during the season.These are the items we traditionally included when the girls were younger. In our homeschooling years it was also traditionally the day that we added seasonal Christmas books to our home library.

Here are a few suggestion:

Books Related to Saint Nicholas 
(All listings are Affiliate Links)
- The Real Santa Claus
- Saint Nicholas: The Real Story of the Christmas Legend
- The True Saint Nicholas: Why He Matters To Christmas
- Saint Nicholas And The Nine Gold Coins
- The Miracle of Saint Nicholas
- The Legend of St. Nicholas

Books Related to Santa Claus
(All listings are Affiliate Links)
- Yes, Virginia There Is A Santa Claus
- The Santa Claus Chronicles: Heartwarming Tales From A Real Life Santa
- Jolly Old Santa Claus
- Santa Claus: The Book of Secrets
- Santa Claus: The Book of Secrets Coloring Book
- Dear Santa: Children's Christmas Letters and Wishes 1870-1920
- The Night Before Christmas
- The Night Before Christmas - My favorite edition!
- The Night Before Christmas - illustrated by Gennady Spirin, another favorite!
- The Book of Santa Claus - beautiful vintage illustrations!

We also include movies from time to time, and while there are any number of movies related to Santa Claus (just Google!), I always preferred movies such as these; (I'll be posting a list of my favorite seasonal /Christmas movies this weekend!
Movies Related to Santa Claus
(Unless noted, All listings are Affiliate Links)
- Yes, Virginia, There Is A Santa Claus - Beautiful Movie
- Christmas Story (not the one with the leg lamp!) - Available free if you have Prime! (Non-Affiliate)

Food for The Feast Day
- Make a Candy Cane Coffee Cake for breakfast, or this Cherry Cheese version.
- Or, you might prefer St. Nicholas Day Donuts, or a Mini Stack of Santa Pancakes.
- We traditionally made these cute Santa pancakes!
- Along with at hot mug of Saint Nicholas Hot Cocoa, you could also make these to give as gifts!
- Make some Nutter Butter St. Nicholas cookies, so cute!
- This Miter Cake is lovely and would be nice if you were hosting a St. Nicholas Day gathering with friends!
- We made Santa Shakes for years, but for the life of me I cannot find the recipe, but this Candy Cane Shake is similar, and would be fun to share while watching a special movies

Special Touches
- Join together for a Saint Nicholas feast day devotional, here are some resources to assist you.
- You might also want to include, A Prayer to Saint Nicholas.
- Jessica at Shower of Roses has made these lovely images of Saint Nicholas to adorn your gold coins with.
- Make this cute Saint Nicholas ornament.

More Ideas and Inspiration!
You can find more information about St. Nicholas including ways to celebrate at The St, Nicholas Center, as well as Catholic Icing.


Monday, December 2, 2019

Still and Simple

Last week was a whirlwind of activity, from preparing for Thanksgiving in the days before, and for Christmas in the days after, I think I was on my feet for 8+ hours several days in a row, and yesterday, my body was feeling it.

But then, not surprisingly on the first day of the Advent season, the first day of The Year of the Lord, everything settled into a still and simple silence. Our church body did not meet yesterday, and so we were gifted with a slow Sunday of quiet reflection. It rained, a slow steady rain for most of the day, cool, but not so much that we couldn't keep the patio door cracked a bit to let in some of that brisk wintry air. We're weird like that, we prefer for the air around us to be cold as we huddle under thermal pajamas and blankets. We haven't turned on the heater once this season, so far.  Every year it seems we stretch it out longer and longer, so much that I'm beginning to wonder if we'll turn it on at all this year. We shall see.

Because in past years our Sunday Advent readings have often gone unobserved, this year in addition to putting out our candle display (I'll share that later), I made up these little devotionals, one for each Sunday of Advent. After I printed them and cut them out, I then rolled each one into a tiny scroll, tied it with a pretty red ribbon and tucked them inside the little drawstring bag you see there in the corner.  I lightly numbered each one on the outside, and last night we unrolled the first one, shared the scripture together, lit the candle and listened to the most beautiful almost haunting rendition of O Come, O Come Emmanuel I've ever heard.  It's become a tradition to listen to it every Sunday leading up to Christmas. Beautiful.

Earlier in the week I had casually mentioned in a conversation with Bill that I had never seen real mistletoe before. I didn't mean anything by it, just stating a fact, really, but unbeknownst to me, he took it to heart.

And so on Saturday night after returning home from a long day of work, he came bearing gifts, fresh mistletoe and holly branches that he had purchased earlier in the day at the market.  And let me just say, I am in love! I never knew mistletoe was so beautiful, and it's sad, really, that its poisonous.  I was going to hang it above the doorways, as tradition would call for, but it's especially dangerous if a pet ingests the small berries, so that will have to wait until closer to Christmas. For now I have it tucked in water in a pretty mason jar (I moved it from the one shown in this photo), and sitting on the coffee table with our Advent candle display.  Every time I look at it, I smile. This man, I really have to watch myself when I say I've never seen, done or want something. He's all about making my dreams come true.

I began my personal Advent devotional this morning. I am reading the book All Creation Waits (Affiliate Link) and I even purchased a devotional supplement, Unearthing Wonder: A Family Guide to Advent published by Peaceful Press (Non-Affiliate). Even though it is designed primarily for families with young children, in all of my years of homeschooling one thing I've learned is that learning and knowledge knows no limits when it comes to age, and we adults are equally as influenced at times by the simple words that can be found within the pages of "children's" books. In fact, children's literature is probably my favorite genre. Call me a kid at heart, I'll proudly wear the banner! And this case is no exception.

Each day of Advent the book and devotional focus on a different animal, and it began with the painted turtle. Painted turtles are rather special to me because my husband has a mild affection for them. But before reading this devotional I was, honestly, a bit repulsed by them. Something about that long neck sticking out of that shell, I don't care for frogs, either. But the illustration that was used in today's devotional touched me in a profound way. Did you know that every year on a day in late fall, a painted turtle takes one last deep breath before it plunges into the pond and burrows down deep in the warm mud at the bottom where it then remains for six months?

"She found her bottom place, closed her eyes and dug into the mud. She buried herself. And then pulled into her shell, encased in darkness . . .
AND SETTLED INTO A DEEP STILLNESS.

Encased beneath the frigid waters,

EVERYTHING IN HER HAS GONE SO STILL, SHE DOESN'T NEED TO BREATHE.

The iced over pond will soon be empty of oxygen. Sunk in the bottom muds, she slows herself beyond breath in a place where breath is not possible. 

It is her one work.

It is the radical simplicity of this act that will save her, and deep within it, at the heart of her stillness, something she has no need to name, but something we might call . . .

TRUST

that one day, yes, the world will warm again, and with it her life."

- All Creation Waits: The Advent Mystery of New Beginnings

I don't know about you, but for me, I don't think I'll ever look upon a painted turtle in the same way again.

It settles itself in a place so deep, so near death, and yet it is this RADICAL SIMPLICITY, that saves her. Were she to remain above water, she would freeze to death, or become so lethargic that she would become easy prey. And so she dives into the deep, dark mud, depleted of oxygen, and trusts that He, Yahweh, will sustain her, Her ability to squelch the urge to rush up to the surface to draw a breath, allows her to live.

It becomes, her salvation.

I don't ever want to forget the lesson I learned from this passage. From the turtles ability to sense the seasons and to be . . .

STILL AND SIMPLE 

when it is needed.

"Stillness and simplicity can surely save us from stress and anxiety, and from a Christmas that is characterized by anything but peace on earth good will to men."

- Unearthing Wonder: A Family Guide To Advent

This Advent, I am vowing to remember the turtle, and follow in its slow and simple path. In these long, cold days of darkness, I want to pull in the warmth all around me and trust that the sun will return, that truly, the SON will return! To become so still and so dependent upon the Father, that I almost forget to breathe, and trust Him to sustain me! Yah - Breathe in, Weh - Breathe out.  Have you ever considered, that the very sound of our breathing speaks His name?

"I will wait in patience and praise you more and more!"

- Psalm 71:14