You'll wish that summer
could always
be here!

Do ordinary things with extraordinary love.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Keeping Christmas: The Third Day

Tuesday Tales

A weekly peek at what we're reading.
Post your peek in the comments and share your favorite books!

Anne is reading A Child's Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas

Not many those mornings trod the piling streets: an old man always, fawn-bowlered, yellow-gloved and, at this time of year, with spats of snow, would take his constitutional to the white bowling green and back, as he would take it wet or fine on Christmas Day or Doomsday; sometimes two hale young men, with big pipes blazing, no overcoats and wind-blown scarfs, would trudge, unspeaking, down to the forlorn sea, to work up an appetite, to blow away the fumes, who knows, to walk into the waves until nothing of them was left but the two curling smoke clouds of their inextinguishable briars.

Holly is still reading The Christmas Doll by Elvira Woodruff

Never in all her life had Lucy imagined such splendor, such beauty!  For there in the window were dolls in striped satin balancing on wires and dolls with straw bonnets and baskets of flowers.  There were miniature lady dolls looking most prim and proper and fancy wax dolls in frilly dresses with fine crystal necklaces.  Sweet-faced baby dolls slept in their cradles, while golden-haired porcelain dolls took their tea at a little table.

Lily is reading The Cats' Pajamas by Frances Brundage

The next day Mother Puss said to her kittens, "Now, do be careful of your pretty new pajamas while I go to market -- and don't go outside the gate!"

Monday, December 27, 2010

Winter Treats

Like many parts of the world, we have had an unusal amount of snow this week.  My husband often reminisces about the snow cream his mother used to make in rural Virginia, and so today I made it for him.  He went outside and filled our largest mixing bowl with clean snow.  Meanwhile, I stirred together one cup of milk, half a cup of sugar, and a teaspoon of vanilla.  When Ron came back in I poured the milk mixture into the bowl of snow and stirred it around.  It was really tasty!  Not like ice cream -- maybe more like sorbet -- but surprisingly good.  We all had seconds!  And it brought back happy memories for Ron.

This week we have also been enjoying a reindeer cake.  I try to make this before Christmas but this year I ran out of time.  Another reason to be glad the Christmas season lasts beyond December 25!  I use a pound cake mix and bake it in a lamb pan.  The antlers are broken pretzels.  Not the most photogenic reindeer, but a yummy one.

Keeping Christmas: The Second Day

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Keeping Christmas: The First Day

We celebrate Christmas, and we celebrate Epiphany, and in between we celebrate a patron saint's feast day and New Year's Day.  But this year I wanted to make the entire Christmas season festive and celebratory, and so for the first time we are enjoying The Twelve Days of Christmas with bits of verse and fun, small gifts.

We also made a point of reading Good King Wenceslas by Mary Reed Newland -- not only was today "the feast of Stephen" -- we were also able to look out our window at snow that "lay round about, deep and crisp and even."

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas Day 2010

For a child is born,
The world rejoices.
Shepherds and angels proclaim his birth.
This is Jesus, the Lord,
Our Savior and brother,
Bearing God's peace to the earth.

Our homemade Advent wreath with all candles lit.

God our Father, it is Christmas at last.  Thank you for this big celebration.  We are happy because you have given us your greatest gift of love: Jesus, your Son.  We welcome Jesus and we thank you for all the love, hope, and peace he brings us.  Help us to be like Jesus and bring love, hope and peace to each other.  Let the love in our family reach out to everyone we meet today, and tomorrow, and every day.  Amen.

(Please note that the prayers and images that we use for our Advent wreath prayer cube came from somewhere else, but unfortunately I don't remember where.)

Image at top of post from Bartholomew's Blessing by Stephanie S. Tolan.  Lyrics from "The Nativity Carol" by Francis Patrick O'Brien.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Winter Solstice

Do you celebrate each new season?  We try to do something special to mark the day of transition from one season to the next.  Sometimes we work on nature-inspired crafts, like leaf printing or sun prints.  Sometimes we eat special foods or visit the local botanical garden.

Our celebration of the Winter Solstice this year was fairly low-key.  Normally we would have changed the contents of the nature tray, but its space is currently occupied by our birdhouse Advent calendar.  I hung our winter Madonna -- Our Lady of the Snows -- in our entry way.  Baby Jesus with his sweet mittens always makes me smile!

As the short day ended and the long night began, Holly and Lily each received gifts of cute new pajamas and new flashlights.  After supper we went for a flashlight walk -- it was COLD, so this was a quick scurry around the block rather than a leisurely stroll.  We came back home and had freshly baked apple cider cake and hot chocolate while I read The Longest Night by Marion Dane Bauer.  And then we went to bed.

And so one season slipped peacefully into the next.

Tuesday Tales

A weekly peek at what we're reading.
Post your peek in the comments and share your favorite books!

Anne is reading Christmas Tales by Miss Read

Mrs. Berry's stern gaze, which had been directed to a point about six feet from the ground, at a height where her enemy's head should reasonably have been, now fell almost two feet to rest upon a pale, wretched urchin dressed in a streaming wet raincoat.

At his feet lay Mrs. Berry's cake tin, luckily right way up, with her cherished Madeira cake exposed to the night air. The lid of the cake tin lay two yards away, where it had crashed in the turmoil.

"Pick that up!" said Mrs. Berry in a terrible voice, pointing imperiously with the poker.

Holly is reading The Christmas Doll by Elvira Woodruff

Lucy felt a pang of longing as she watched the kindhearted woman walk away.  If only she and Glory could go with her.  If only they had someone as strong and kindly as the washerwoman to show them the way.  But it was a momentary wish.  For Lucy had learned early on in her life that she was to be the only one they could depend on.  And she knew that somehow it was up to her to find the courage to see them through this dangerous turn their lives had taken.

Lily is reading There Was No Snow on Christmas Eve by Pam Munoz Ryan

Instead, a desert zephyr blew
and palm fronds sang a rustling tune,
to welcome the awaited birth.

Counting Up to Christmas

Here is the final Advent calendar we are enjoying this year: The Story of Christmas.

This is a set of 24 little jewel-toned books that tell the Biblical story of Christmas.  Each little book has a gold cord so you can hang them on your tree.

We open our Advent calendars in the evening, right before bed.  What I love about this one is that it brings a note of spirituality into even the craziest of December days.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Fourth Sunday of Advent

How dark outside!
but see -- a star's in the sky;
Mary and Joseph are passing by.
So let's light a candle to welcome them
as they go on their way to Bethlehem.

Our homemade Advent wreath with four candles lit.

We are eager for your birthday, Lord Jesus.  We love the ornaments on the tree and the decorations all around.  We love the making and the wrapping, and the happy secrets we keep.  But most of all we love you, Lord.  We love you for loving us so much that you wanted to be a human being just like us.

(Please note that the prayers and images that we use for our Advent wreath prayer cube came from somewhere else, but unfortunately I don't remember where.)

Friday, December 17, 2010

Counting Up to Christmas

This Advent calendar also appears annually in our house.  24 doors hide 24 birds -- an assortment of bluejays, cardinals, goldfinches, robins, and one or two varieties we can't quite identify.  On Christmas Day a white dove appears to perch on the roof.

This calendar always puts me in mind of The Birds' Christmas Carol, a sweet and sentimental story by Kate Douglas Wiggin that actually has nothing to do with birds.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Reference Shelf: A Time to Keep

A Time to Keep: The Tasha Tudor Book of Holidays
written and illustrated by Tasha Tudor

Christmas Eve was a magical time.  When dark fell we stepped into the starlit night to follow a winding path lighted by candles to an enchanting creche in the woods.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Tuesday Tales

A weekly peek at what we're reading.
Post your peek in the comments and share your favorite books!

Anne is reading
Prayers from the Ark by Carmen Bernos de Gasztold, translated by Rumer Godden

Give me time to eat.

Give me time to plod.

Give me time to sleep.

Give me time to think.

Holly is reading
Kirsten's Surprise by Janet Shaw

The next time Kirsten peeked over the edge of the blanket all she could see was white.  Snow swirled up from the fields like spray blown from the tops of waves.  Drifts shifted and moved as Blackie stepped along.  Papa's beard was filled with snow, his mustache was white with it.  His eyes were blue slits under his snow-caked eyebrows.

"Where's the road, Papa?" Kirsten asked.

Lily is reading
Harold at the North Pole by Crockett Johnson

He wondered how the moon would look on top of a Christmas tree, as an ornament.

It looked fine over the tree. And the tree also looked fine under the moon.

December 14: Holly's Birthday!

Happy Birthday, Holly!



Monday, December 13, 2010

December 13: Saint Lucy

Lucy, a young teenager, was martyred for her beliefs in early 4th century Sicily.  In medieval times she is said to have appeared on a boat in Lake Vaanern, bringing sacks of wheat to starving Swedes.  She has been a popular saint in Sweden ever since.

Lucy's name -- Lucia -- comes from the Latin word for "light."  Her feast day comes on one of the darkest days of late autumn, and in Sweden, where nights are particularly cold and dark, there is a delightful custom on the feast of St. Lucy.  The oldest daughter in the house wakes up early and prepares breakfast for her family.  Then, wearing a white nightdress and a crown of burning candles, she carries a tray of food from room to room, waking and feeding her sleeping family.

We are not Swedish, but it's hard not to feel captivated by this custom.  However -- a crown of burning candles?  A candlelit breakfast on a school day?  This has always seemed daunting to me, but this year it occured to me that we don't have to follow "the rules."

First, we decided to celebrate during the evening of December 12 -- the vigil of the feast.  Our evening began with a lovely service of lessons and carols at church.  After supper I read Lucia, Saint of Light and then, before bedtime, I gave each of my daughters a homemade "crown" with battery-operated candles.  Together we prepared trays of cinnamon rolls and Christmas cookies and I made some hot chocolate.  We put some Swedish Christmas music on the cd player and the girls carried the trays into the dining room.  Cookies and cocoa by candlelight!  Simple and magical and definitely something we will do again next year.


Counting Up to Christmas

It's not entirely accurate to say this is our favorite Advent calendar -- we love them all for different reasons -- but this is one we pull out year after year, and each time we see something we hadn't noticed before.  This one is too big to fit on our scanner, so this is just a portion of it.  Presenting the Mr.Cookie Baker calendar, designed by writer and illustrator Monica Wellington:

We are huge fans of Monica Wellington's bright, happy, and delightful books.  This calendar is based on this book:

and as it says on the back:

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Third Sunday of Advent

How dark outside!
but see -- a star's in the sky;
Mary and Joseph are passing by.
So let's light a candle to welcome them
as they go on their way to Bethlehem.

Our homemade Advent wreath with three candles lit.

Mary, for you this time before Jesus' birthday was a quiet time, a growing time.  Now we are all waiting for your Son, Jesus.

(Please note that the prayers and images that we use for our Advent wreath prayer cube came from somewhere else, but unfortunately I don't remember where.)

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Counting Up to Christmas

Here's another delightful Advent calendar that we are enjoying this year -- also courtesy of Aunt Martha!  Two sisters look out their window on Christmas Eve, hoping to catch a glimpse of Santa.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

December 6: Saint Nicholas

The feast of Saint Nicholas, Bishop of Myra

Nicholas was born toward the end of the third century.  He was ordained a priest, and appointed abbot of a monastery.

Nicholas was very generous to the poor.  Once he heard that a man who had become very poor intended to abandon his three daughters to a life of sin.  He went out by night, flung a bag of gold into the window of the sleeping father, and hurried away.

St. Nicholas is regarded as the special patron of children; the word Santa Claus comes from his name.  He died at Myra in the year 342.

(St. Nicholas image and text from the New Picture Book of Saints by Rev. Lawrence G. Lovasik, S.V.D.)

Our celebration of the Feast of Saint Nicholas has grown over the years.  Although many families follow the Dutch custom of leaving shoes out for the good saint to fill with treats, we have not consistently done that.  Frankly, I can't deal with the idea of candy and chocolate -- even wrapped up -- being put into stinky shoes!  So we have developed other traditions.

The Saint Nicholas nutcracker goes on display, along with a framed picture of the saint leading a group of children to a nativity scene.  This year for the first time I followed the suggestion of the St. Nicholas Center and added a miter and crosier to a large chocolate Santa.

We also usually read The Saint Who Became Santa Claus by Evelyn Bence.

Because Nicholas was from Myra, in modern-day Turkey, some years I prepare revani -- a sweet, moist cake -- for dessert (see recipe below).  This year we went out for the evening to a local production of the Gingerbread Boy, so there was no time for baking.  Instead, we came home and I announced it was time for a special St. Nicholas Day treat.  "Is it him?" Lily asked excitedly, pointing to our chocolate "Bishop of Myra."  And indeed it was -- we happily devoured him, along with Pepperidge Farm Gingerman cookies and hot chocolate. 

For the past several years we have made a point to "be St. Nicholas for others" and gather together toys to donate to a local charity.  This is the hardest part of the day for our girls, but they always rise to the occasion.  This year we brought a bag of stuffed friends to the nearest Catholic Charities office.  The sting of loss is mitigated a little because December 6 always sees the return of the Playmobil Santa House and this jolly old elf -- a relic from my childhood -- from their hideaway in the attic.

Our St. Nicholas Day celebrations began in a small way years ago, but have expanded as we've learned more about the saint and found new ways to celebrate.  It's now one of the highlights of Advent for us.


1 cup + 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
500 ml water
4-5 drops lemon or orange juice or vanilla extract

Wet ingredients:
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 eggs

Dry ingredients:
1/2 cup semolina or farina
2/3 cup flour
1 tablespoon baking powder

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Boil the syrup ingredients for a few minutes, then put aside and keep warm.

Use a mixer to blend the wet ingredients for a few minutes.  Then whisk the dry ingredients together in another bowl.  Combine the two thoroughly, again using the mixer.

Grease the bottom and sides of an 8 x 8 x 2" baking dish and pour in the batter.

Bake at 375 degrees F. for 25 minutes.

Pour the warm syrup on top while the cake is still warm.  Use a ladle to do this and make sure to do it slowly so the cake absorbs the syrup evenly.

Let cool and serve with whipped cream.  Keep this dessert refrigerated.