Thursday, December 31, 2009

It is Good

Tela, Honduras

I sit here pondering, a bit amazed at this past year. A year full of joys and sorrows. Everyday life and true adventure. I am so very grateful to have found this journal to capture it. To spoon off a bit of each experience and preserve it for my family.

A year ago I began, not knowing if my interest would continue or wane. And now, as I scan through the entries of this past year, I am so very humbled to see my life in front of me. There is more beauty in my days than I ever realized. To learn this ... such a gift.

The year is concluding, festive decorations tucking into bins to wait until next time. The cozy glamour of the season giving way to fresh starts and possibilities. I am excited, expectant, and always curious.

So. My three little birds. Here is a year of our lives for you. You are deeply loved by imperfect parents who are learning as they go. Grateful to Him for the gift we have in our family. May you look back upon these memories some day and smile. God is good.

It is good to give thanks to the Lord.
Psalm 92:1

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Yes!

They prayed for snow. It came as no surprise to them that God listened.

And so they reveled,

and delighted,

and tasted,

and felt the need to tidy up after it's regal glory.

And Mama was happy too.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

A Sophisticated Egg

Aunt Dawn gave Lucette a dozen eggs from her chickens. The shells are just the haziest of gray-blue in color.

Her South American chicks from Easter must be quite happy, as they are most prolific egg-layers. Seen here nestled next to brown and white eggs, you can see the subtle hue and air of sophistication.

And if you like eggs, oh my. Just look at those golden, golden yolks. Rich and velvety perfection.

Monday, December 28, 2009

A Flighty Little Skirt

And what young girl wouldn't want to be Little Bo Peep? Yesterday, I dove into my new Christmas sewing book, and fell in love with Anna Maria Horner's Bo Peep skirt. Using just two large rectangles for the front and back, one (cut in half) for the sides, four small rectangles for the side ruffles, and some scraps for edging, it's just the thing to whip up on a lazy Sunday.

I had all of the fabric in my stash already. A thrifted yellow bedsheet, lush and sturdy turquoise cotton, turquoise calico once used to make a blouse for my mother, and some flighty little butterflies.

I chose a contrasting apple green thread just for the fun of it and used french seams on the interior. I had forgotten how lovely they are. So professional looking.

And since I had already done some butterfly embroidery but was just waiting to find the perfect application, we stitched it on in a lovely deconstructed fashion.

All in all I was quite pleased. In the words of Lucette: "It's kinda' funky ... but I like it!"

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Preparing Today for Tomorrow

Busy in the kitchen today. Making chili and cornbread for our last advent celebration this evening and readying Christmas morning breakfast. I'm all about the make-ahead, because you won't find me hovered over the stove during the morning festivities!

An egg-dish and fruit, to be sure, but not complete without our beloved Pumpkin-Apple Streusel Cake! Swiped from some magnificent chef from Bon Appetit years ago, we now consider it ours. And for cakey-love and posterity, a recipe gift to you!

Pumpkin-Apple Streusel Cake

Combine and cook for about 5 minutes:
• 3 T butter
• 4 granny smith apples, peeled, cored and diced

Once browned, add and stir a few more minutes:
• 3 T sugar
• 1 t. cinnamon

Set aside to cool.

Combine:
1.5 c. flour (I use some w.wheat)
1 c. packed brown sugar
.5 c. butter (room temp., cut into pieces)
.5 t. salt

With mixer, beat until mix resembles coarse meal. (This take a bit) Set aside 2/3 cup for topping.

To remaining flour mix, beat in:
.75 c. canned pumpkin
2 T sugar
2 t. pumpkin pie spice
1/3 c. sour cream
1 t. baking soda
2 large eggs

Pour batter into a buttered 9" springform pan, scatter apples evening over top, and sprinkle reserved crumble over apples.

Bake about 1 hour 10 minutes at 350 degrees. Cook on rack for 20 minutes, run knife around sides and release from pan. Keep at room temperature.

Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Anticipation Takes Form

The girls have decorated their rooms in pencil and crayon drawings and I love it. This angel beauty seems quite excited about the Savior's birth, not to mention having the foresight to swipe on a little lip gloss for all her exultations!

One can even spy Rudolph and some elves in mid-frolic surrounded by a dusting of paper snowflakes. We're all abuzz with Christmas spirit over here and my, it's fun.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Frothy Goodness

Oh, I do love me some cappuccino. A few years ago we received a Bialetti Mukka that makes a lovely cup, but I leave the operation of it to Pops. You see, I've only recently painted over an espresso stain on the kitchen ceiling. Be warned, a misaligned valve turns into a coffee rocket.

Now, thanks to my friend Kelly, I've discovered a marvelous trick to creating a cheater cappuccino, frothy foam and all.

First, find yourself a microwave-proof container with a screw top lid (little mason jars work like a charm). Fill it about half full with milk or cream (the fattier the frothier!), screw on the lid tightly, and shake it hard for a good 20 seconds.

Unscrew, place in microwave for a minute (less if you have a fast micro), and foamy goodness will soon be yours. Pour the warm milk into a steamy cup of strong coffee, holding the foam back with a spoon. Top with as much froth as you can handle!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Home Together

Today is our first official day of Christmas break and we are loving it. On the day's agenda? Making sugar cookies and watching White Christmas (which is, perhaps, the best Christmas movie ever).

The girls were dazzled by the costuming and dancing in the film and Peter found it bearable since it offered a few scenes with WWII soldiers. That and he had a vat of legos to busy himself with when the sappy songs started in.

And the sugar cookies? My mother's Betty Crocker recipe that, in my opinion, couldn't get any better. I think there is some magic behind adding powdered sugar, almond extract, and that zippy cream of tartar to a cookie recipe. Mmmm, Mmmm!

• Childhood Sugar Cookies


Mix together well:
• 1.5 c. powdered sugar
• 1 c. butter, softened
• 1 t. almond extract
• 1 egg

Stir in:
• 2.5 c. flour
• 1 t. baking soda
• 1 t. cream of tartar

Refrigerate in plastic wrap until well chilled. Divide in half and roll out.* Cut with cookie cutters and sprinkle with colored sugar (or leave plain and frost later) once placed on parchment lined cookie sheets. Bake at 375 degrees for 7-9 minutes. Frost once cooled.

**Quick Tip! When rolling out for child hands, opt for thicker versus thinner. Will also make the frosting process much, much easier.

• Creamy Vanilla Frosting

Mix:
• 3 c. powdered sugar
• 1/3 c. butter, softened

Beat in vigorously:
• 1.5 t. vanilla
• (about) 2 T milk
• food coloring, if desired

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Favorite Things

A lovely Christmas visit with family today, culminating in a gigantic Hungarian meal. When I say gigantic, I mean virtually three hours of continual eating. We may not be Hungarian, but we certainly felt the international kinship experienced through insanely large portions of delicious food. Gigi treated us to the feast with her typical grace and flair and we all showed our appreciation by stuffing ourselves silly.

And since I had never had it, I ordered the "Schnitzel with Noodles," because we all know it's right up there with brown paper packages tied up with string.

Yes, the day was indeed filled with favorite things.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Smitten with New String

In the spirit of simplifying and enjoying this Christmas season, I'm smitten with my new favorite (and super easy!) way to wrap gifts: Brown wrap paper and candy-cane string.

Toss on a little homemade gift tag or just write directly on the paper with a skinny black sharpie marker and you're good to go! I think they look so adorable, I just want to unwrap all of them myself.

I finally ordered a cone of this baker's twine (and some in a brown and white twist for non-holiday wrappings) after plotting for more than a year. It's a good thing I like it so much, for I now have, seemingly, a lifetime supply. I do hope everyone else likes it too, as they will be getting presents adorned with it for the next decade!

Perhaps it will become my signature wrapping. Oooo ... I kinda' like that idea!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

To Simplify the Holidays

Simplify. That word can sometimes be a bit of a holy grail, but I do like it. Every year when Christmas season rolls around, Pops and I seem to look for more ways we can simplify.

So, how to revel in all of the festive glory and be the picture of calm and relaxation? Hmmm. I actually have no idea. But. Here are some practices we've found to be really helpful for us, at this stage in our lives.

• Say "yes" to down time! Just because you have a day free doesn't mean you should fill it up with holiday plans. Be willing to let fun opportunities pass by so you can fully appreciate those that you purposefully choose. Added bonus? You're making room for spontaneous jigsaw puzzle sessions or Christmas stories by the fire.

• Do it if it is fun. Only if it is fun. Christmas cards? Only if you enjoy the process and won't groan at the postage. Of course we all love to receive them, but nobody will think less of you if you don't send them. Baking cookies? Bring me a plate if you spent a glorious day making them. But if you dread the making, the chilling, the rolling, the cutting, the frosting ... just make some hot chocolate and everyone is still happy.

• Find simple, sustainable traditions that bring Christ into your home. We all have our favorites, but our family is learning to slow the daily pace down enough so we can truly set the focus where we want it to be and simply enjoy the season.

• Let go of the expectations and just enjoy. This is a biggie for me. I'm prone to over-planning which can really be a drag for everyone else. Appreciating the days for how they offer themselves up is a skill I'd really love to make habit.

Care to share ways you simplify your holidays?

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Imagination at Hand

Lucette has a marvelous art teacher. Such a variety of mediums and genres she introduces. Yesterday, my new favorite was sent home. They had studied one of my most favorite children's books of all time, Frances Hodgson Burnett's The Secret Garden.

They dove into the magical world of Mary, Colin, and Dickon and imagined their way onto the page with pencil sketches, ink outlines, and vibrant water colors.

Lucette, seen here as she was dashing out the door this morning, has a fancy imagination.

When I slow down a bit, I am right there with her. Because really. Don't you just wish you could live in her painting? I think the tree looks like a perfectly splendid home.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Snowstorms and Soft Trees

Last year at this time we had a big snow. In our area, anything more than a few inches causes quite a kerfluffle, and we had over 3 feet that was thickly frosted with ice. The "Arctic Blast of 2008" really was quite newsworthy.

Needless to say, all of our ill-equipped vehicles lent to a cozy snowed-in existence for a solid week. While we did enjoy ourselves quite thoroughly, the term stir-crazy did find it's application from time to time.

When I found myself in such a state and tumbled upon these soft tree instructions, I just had to make myself a few. Or a dozen.

Unfortunately for Pops' wool sweater, it was the only green fabric I had on hand. "It has a moth hole and he complains it is much to hot," I justified to myself. "And really, this red and white shirt has a stain I've never been able to get out." Snip, snip, stitch, stitch, and a happy family of plush trees was born.

Personally, I love the reincarnation and my Seuss-like forest. And if the snows decide to storm again this year ... I make no promises to Pops' wardrobe.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Jane in Lilac Flannel

The girls were dreaming of new flannel nightgowns. How can a mother refuse? Jane was to be first, made up in lilac flannel with little pink roses.

I used the same pattern from last year but expanded the pattern margins by about a quarter inch and dropped the sleeve and skirt and hemline to allow for growth. Nightgowns are rather forgiving in the fit.

We added some lace trim,

a creamy pink button from Great-Mother's button tin,

and didn't skimp on the gathering for the puffed sleeves. Oh, little girls are so delicious to dress.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Simmered Orange Peel in Cider

And the computer is functioning again. Hurrah! Well, for now at least, but I'll take it. Thank goodness for Pops or I'd have given up and stared at the continual, yet errant, "loading" message for weeks on end and my vital posts on beverages and housecleaning would never be. Such tragic thought!

Last night, we had the pleasure of hosting our bible study group. A wonderfully diverse group of people whom we have grown to dearly love. Together, we study, converse, and inquire ... and laugh ourselves silly. Such a treat.

Naturally, we had yummies to munch, coffee and tea to offer, but I was most pleased with the big pot of simmering cider. What deliciousness can come from such little effort! Buy a large jug of unfiltered cider at the market, glug it into a stock pot to simmer on the stove, sprinkle in some nutmeg and some orange rind slices, and you've found grand success.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Hung By the Chimney With Care

Peter said to me, "Mom, I really love it when the house is decorated for Christmas. It just makes me feel so ... so nice inside." I know exactly what he means.

Taking an unintended hiatus until our computer woes are over. Something about a bad drive and crashing system. Feeling the nudge to spend this offline interim in the Word and in prayer.

Perhaps this can be a good thing, after all.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

And Why Not?

Peter: Hey, Lucette. Tonight, if we have time, wanna do slow-motion wrestling?

Lucette: Yep.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Wreath Reinvention

Feeling a little bored with our old version, I'm rather pleased with this new take on an Advent "wreath."

The milk glass candy dish was divested of it's lid and bathroom counter cotton balls for some floral oasis foam, moss, and dollar tapers. A candle to be lit at each of the four Advent Sundays and one in the middle to represent Christ's light on Christmas day.

A fun alternative, don't you think?

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Sweaters for the Windows

We have some drafty old windows. Particularly at the front of the house where the girl's bedroom faces. Pops went up to tuck them in for bed the other night and was grossly disturbed at the freezing air that leaked in at the windowsill. So much so, he decided to take matters into his own hands. Next thing I knew, horror upon horrors, he had the packing tape out and was taping the window frame to the windowsill at the seam. Packing tape!

The nice thing about having a husband who isn't particularly motivated by aesthetic is the free reign I get over decorating the house. The bad thing? Incidents with tethered toothpaste, crepe paper attached to the walls with a staple gun (Yes. That actually happened.), or windows that get taped shut.

Since solving the window problem as if it were a UPS package simply insults my sensibilities (Sorry, Honey), I had to come up with something else. To the rescue? Giant dry rice window snakes. Rummaging around in my stash of fabric I found some old flannel to make a liner and some teal wool to slide over top like a long, cozy sweater. A few seams with the machine, funnel in some dry rice (A whopping six pounds, it took!), and there we go.

Snuggled up against the window on the sill, everything is much, much better. Incidently, Jane, my pet-deprived daughter, has found great affection for them and has named the woolen snakes "Juju-bee" and "Pinbird." Well, okay then! All is well once more.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Advent and It's Blessings

Advent season always sneaks up so quickly (this year it started on November 29th!), but it has become a ritual of celebration that our family loves.

When it comes to holiday celebrations and traditions I've found many an inspiration in Martha Zimmerman's Celebrating the Christian Year. Now, I have found one never knows what attempts will actually "stick" and become truly meaningful. Sometimes what is glorious for one family may be agonizingly impossible for another. (I should know, I've tried.) But, if you take Martha's book with the proverbial grain of salt, you may just be able to find a few ideas and twist them to fit your family wonderfully.

One that we particularly like is what we call "Rice and Beans Night." Each Sunday of advent we replace the evening meal that we normally would have with one made of rice and beans. Just boil some brown rice in broth and serve with red beans and a glass of milk. This is to serve as reminder to us of all of those in this world that would be grateful for such a simple meal. You'd think the kids would grumble but I'm always surprised by their enthusiasm.

The money saved by making this our meal is represented by a dollar bill placed above the plate of each person. This gets tucked into our "Blessings Jar" along with any other donated funds from chores or savings. We choose some person or group that we know could use the gift and send it to them after Christmas. It's simple and not a huge amount of money, but a very real way to show the children how they can show love in Christ's name.

After mealtime we sing a Christmas hymn together (this week is O Come, O Come, Emmanuel), clean up, toss on the jammies, light the advent candle, and cuddle under a blanket for the advent reading. Last year I came across a book called Jotham's Journey and it is just excellent. I highly recommend it as a fun way to work through Advent and the real meaning of Christmas.

Reflecting upon all of my attempts to make meaningful experiences and memories for the family, the main thing I've learned is: Keep it simple, keep it fun, and bag it if it's not! It will be interesting to see what traditions continue through the years, what fades, and the birth of the new. Regardless, it's all starts with just being together.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Mad for Plaid

Between the arrival of the Christmas season and my newly purring sewing machine, I just can't stop myself!

I'd been wondering what to make out of this delicious plaid wool yardage from Grandma's stash. First came some coasters backed with a happy holly-red chambray. No longer will my magazines be abused by drippy mugs! And aren't they cute? While unintentional, I like the flirty upbend at the corners.

And then came the zippy pouches. I almost don't want to put these in the shop they are so cute! Vintage metal zippers and a little tabby at the edge.

Wouldn't they even be cute as a little holiday handbag? I'm picturing a trip to the coffee shop with with a fluffy cream scarf and this little honey to stash a bit of cash, Christmas list and pen, and a cheeky tube of lip gloss. Anyone want to meet me for a cappuccino?