What I’ve been up to.

Well, it’s been busy around here, and every time I think, “Oh, I should write a blog post about that!” five things I have to do first always pop up.

But I’m settling on the couch with a cup of coffee this Sunday before undertaking the day’s baking projects to update a little here.

First, life: nothing of any great importance to report.  Just the usual Christmas stuff…making gifts, doing a lot of-cookie baking:

image

…going to Christmas concerts and church events, class holiday parties, the Chelsea parade, where the high school marching band decorates their instruments with lights:

image

and all the usual things that you are probably doing, too.

Suddenly it seems fashionable among certain Christian traditionalists to proclaim that the only way we are supposed to celebrate Christmas is by engaging in spiritual pursuits and religious tradition.  Now, I understand the sentiment and totally agree that the holiday for many folks has turned into an empty, meaningless glut of consumerism.  Yuck.   Among the many things Americans Don’t Need, here are two I saw:

image

You don’t need a yard of cheap candy.

image

You don’t need tacky candy cane underpants.

But when Mrs. Wood even said we ought not put up Christmas trees and just look out the window at the pine tree outside, well…I mean come on, we are celebrating a BIRTHDAY here.  How does one normally celebrate the birth of a baby?  Especially when that baby is a KING, for heaven’s sake?  I dunno, but at my house we’ve put up evergreen wreaths and garlands and twinkly white lights:

image

…and a Christmas tree and silver bells and a glass creche and wooden creche and a Nutcracker doll and…well, you get the picture.  It doesn’t cost much – probably 85% of our Christmas decorations were either given to us as gifts or inherited from elderly relatives who were cleaning out their basements.

Anyway.  What else?  Oh yes, a movie came out this weekend, perhaps you’ve heard of it?  I didn’t go see it, but one of our daughters is a big Star Wars fan and so she and Phil went to see it yesterday. They amused themselves in line with some Star Wars picture app on his phone:

image

And then they got really silly and turned Professor Diggers into a fighter pilot and Miss Ruby into Princess Leia:

imageimage

What I’m reading online: I don’t have a blogroll for this blog, but there has been a lot of really interesting reading material, both in the posts and in the comments at these ten blogs that I read regularly (this does not imply that I necessarily agree with every word written on each site):

So, just a brief post to say hello and that I’m not dead.  I hope to write a few substantive posts over Christmas break.  Hope you and yours are well!

Advertisements

2015 New Year’s Resolutions

My husband doesn’t make New Year’s resolutions; he says it’s pointless because research has shown that within two months, most people have abandoned their goals. I don’t agree with him, though; the way I see it, if I even pursue my goals for two months, that’s better than doing it for zero months, and who knows, maybe I’ll stick with it longer. So, to that end, here are the resolutions I’m making for this year:

1. Get back in the habit of doing devotions and Bible study each day.

This is the most important one. I used to be really good about this, but I got out of the habit over this past chaotic summer and fall while we were moving and settling into our new home. It’s time to stop using that as an excuse, though; I don’t like it when I feel distance in my relationship with God, like I’m ignoring Him and only pursuing Him when I want Him to dispense some favor for me. And I want to get back in the habit of doing daily devotions with our children, too.

Here is a site to get a quick Bible study lesson:

Our Daily Bread: Daily Devotionals

2. Get regular exercise.

I didn’t need to exercise this past fall because of all the physical outdoor labor that needed to be done on our new property. Now that winter has set it, there is less of that kind of work for me to do, but I’ve gotten out of the habit of hitting the treadmill. So I’m starting small by resolving to hop on the treadmill or go for a hike 2-3 times per week for 20-30 minutes.

3. Make my first attempt at making maple syrup from our maple trees.

Philip and I both work full-time, so our attempts at homesteading are mostly of the hobby variety. Still, food production, preparation, and preserving are really useful skills to have, so even though I won’t be able to meet all our syrup needs given our small number of maple trees, I want to learn to do it.  Here are two useful sites:

Tap My Trees

How to Make Maple Syrup

4. Figure out a system for getting home cooked meals made most nights.

Even though I’m working full time and taking the kids to all corners of Washtenaw County for the various activities they are involved in, I need to make sure my husband has food that he likes. Although I have been cooking, it’s been really simple stuff like pasta dishes most nights because I simply haven’t been home at all; as soon as Christmas break began, I got busy in the kitchen, of course, but my husband recently expressed strong displeasure at the lack of well-prepared meat and vegetable dishes that happened over the fall. I got really upset with him at the time because I felt like that was an unfair request, but after calming down, I realized that lack of planning ahead on my part is a big chunk of the problem and that I could get up at 5:00 instead of 5:30 and get the crock pot going if I weren’t sort of lazy about it. So what I need to do is get a planning system in place.

Edited to add: Working full-time is my choice, not something Phil demands of me. He expects me to fulfill my duties to my family first, and if I can’t, then I need to cut back at work. So it’s my own choice to be this busy and it’s on me to make it work or readjust as needed. 🙂

5. Read six books.

I used to love to read, but blogging has tended to drag me away from reading books in favor of reading essays. Essay-reading is fine, but I think it’s beneficial to read longer works that are more in-depth as well. I’m going to start this goal tomorrow by heading out to the library; I go there every week anyway so the children can get things they want, so it shouldn’t be hard to grab a book for myself. I’ll read it before bed instead of wasting time looking at Twitter.

I’d love to hear about your resolutions if you’ve made any!

May your 2015 be a year full of blessings and peace!

Christmas: a time to remember the Nativity and celebrate our traditions.

Let’s start with a bit of (kind of serious) humor, shall we?

Brad Stine: “I remember when people said things like, ‘Merry Christmas’ to each other. EVERYBODY said, ‘Merry Christmas! Hey, Merry Christmas to you, Mr. Lohenstein. Do you know why? Because it wasn’t about a religion, it was about something as a culture that we thought was so valuable, even if I disagreed with the religion behind it, because it was good for ALL of us instead of just me.

But what do people say now? ‘Happy Holidays.’ ‘See, I just say, “Happy Holidays,” because I don’t want to say, “Merry Christmas,” because you don’t believe in Christmas, and I don’t want to offend you, and…*chipmunk noises*'”

Oh, yes, we want to say, ‘Happy Holidays’ because we don’t leave anybody out. Really? How come there’s a ton of holidays in February – nobody says, ‘Happy Holidays’ in February, do they? They say what it is, ‘Happy Valentines’ – OOOO, do you believe in love?

But nobody wants to say, ‘Christmas’! Everything else but ‘Christmas’. Why? I know why. You do, too. It’s because it’s got ‘Christ’ in it, and after 2,000 years He’s still intimidating people. You see, when a religious person says, ‘I am the way,’ people don’t want to hear it. They don’t!

I say you gotta say, ‘Merry Christmas’ because it IS! If you don’t believe in it, fine. But I’ve got a flash for you: Christianity happens to be the religious heritage of my country whether you like it or not…

So if you’re not a Christian, or you don’t like it, and you don’t want Christmas celebrated, God bless you! But let me tell you something: if you think you’re gonna stop me from saying it because it offends you, hey, I’ve got a flash for you: PUT A HELMET ON! It’s my country, too!”

Listening to the choir sing We Three Kings, tears welled up in my eyes and began to overflow. I love Christmas, with the colored lights and shiny ornaments and wrapped gifts, the celebrations and get-togethers and baking marathons, but one of my most favorite parts of Christmas is the music.

Christmas music has always been a tie that binds our people together; nearly everyone knows the lyrics to the traditional carols and songs and can sing them with a bit of nostalgia. I love that sense of shared tradition and culture and was reminded of it this past Monday when our family attended Holiday Nights at Greenfield Village, as a large group of strangers squeezed together in a horse drawn wagon and sang Have a Holly Jolly Christmas and Jingle Bells; later everyone assembled outside the town hall where a small choir led us all in Silent Night, Angels We Have Heard on High, The First Noel, and Joy to the World while fireworks exploded overhead.

My husband and I were just discussing how when we were children, our schools always put on an annual Christmas concert – not a “holiday” concert, mind you, but a Christmas concert. Phil told me that every grade in his school in Dearborn tried to sing their best on The Little Drummer Boy because his principal had once told them that it was his favorite Christmas song. When I was in high school, our ambitious choir director taught us to sing The Hallelujah Chorus and we performed it at Holy Family Catholic Church because our school had no auditorium. The church was lit with candles and filled with wreaths and poinsettias and looked simply magical and mystical, as a church should.

Even if they don’t perform in churches, we have lost something of value in our culture by allowing atheists and Muslim immigrants to say that we cannot have school children learn and sing the traditional Christmas songs. No one is forced to believe or accept anything and could simply view the songs as interesting historical and cultural artifacts if they don’t like the Christian themes in them.  Rather than enriching us, “diversity” in this way has made us poorer, robbing us of our traditions and culture and turning Christmas into nothing but mindless consumerism and glitz, devoid of our shared cultural heritage.

I don’t oppose gift-giving and Christmas glitziness – in fact I rather enjoy those parts of Christmas – but it is important to realize that those parts are just like icing on a cake. Without the cake, all you have is enjoyable but meaningless fluff that leaves you feeling vaguely unfulfilled. The truly meaningful parts of Christmas that will feed your heart and soul are the celebration of the story of Jesus’ birth (and even if you aren’t a Christian, it is a lovely story, but I must remind you that it is in fact actually a true story) and the celebration of shared cultural and family traditions.

Merry Christmas!

 

Feminist Grinches turn the holidays ugly.

How-the-Grinch-Stole-Christmas-dr-seuss-963113_1024_768

In The feminist version of King Midas: everything they touch turns ugly, I wrote:

…feminists turn everything they touch – be it paid work or home-keeping – into miserly ugliness.

But Mrs. Sn0rkmaiden retorted:

I don’t know a single feminist, or any woman for that matter in real life or online who begrudges nurturing their families

I grumbled to myself because I knew that I ought to find specific examples to support my rebuttal, but I was busy and tired and feeling lazy and so I didn’t.

Lo and behold, when I sat down to take a little coffee break just now, I found a link on Dalrock’s blog to a recent article by Jessica Valenti, who is arguably the face of modern feminism, and to whom I must now express my heartfelt thanks for providing me in such a timely manner with the perfect example to support the characterization of feminism as ugly, selfish, and just plain Grinchy.  In No, I will NOT wrap all the presents. Why are women still responsible for the holiday joy? Mrs. Valenti writes:

We all know that women do the majority of domestic work like child care, housework and cooking. But the holidays bring on a whole new set of gendered expectations that make the season less about simply enjoying fun and family and more about enduring consumerism, chores and resentment so that everyone else can enjoy rockin’ around the Christmas tree. (I bet even Mrs Claus gets upset that Santa works one night a year but she’s dealing with hungry elves 24/7. That would be almost enough to make you want to over-indulge in eggnog and hurl yourself in front of a reindeer-pulled sleigh.)

Being the holiday point-person can be drudgery. Making lists, wrapping presents, finding sales to indulge a particularly demanding relative’s requests to Santa … baby, let’s just say the brisk winter weather starts to feel bitter cold outside.

…And it’s not enough that women actually manage to finish all of these chores – we’re also expected to plaster Christmas grins on our faces the whole time, lest the masses think we’re not thrilled with all the wrapping-paper-inflicted paper cuts.

Last month, for example, former Growing Pains star and current evangelist pain in the ass Kirk Cameron posted a video telling women to make sure to show their “joy” when performing their womanly duties:

Let your children, your family, see your joy in the way that you decorate your home this Christmas, in the food that you cook, the songs you sing, the stories you tell, and the traditions you keep.

That was enough to make me want to sing The Most Offensive Christmas Song Ever. I hope Cameron gets nothing for Christmas this year – or better yet, a copy of The Feminine Mystique.

Dear me, we wouldn’t want women to find and express joy in serving our families, now would we! No doubt it is much better to be a sarcastic, complaining bitch.  Surely that will motivate our husbands to lend a hand.

Actually, gentle reader, what your husband wants is probably the same as what mine has expressed a preference for: to be asked.

That’s all most men want. To be asked politely to lend a hand when we are up to our elbows in powdered sugar and need someone to run around the corner to the neighbor’s farm (or to the grocery store) for more eggs.  They don’t want to hear another complaining rendition of Saints and Martyrs, Christmas Cookie Edition; they just want to be asked. Because they didn’t request that we make ten different kinds of cookies, but if we want to do so, they’ll usually happily lend a hand if only they are asked politely.

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to “plaster a Christmas grin” on my face and go finish preparing for our Christmas party, but before I go, let us enjoy listening to my current favorite version of “Mary, Did You Know?”:

Christmas cookie recipe: Buckeyes

One time when it is particularly nice to live within walking distance of a working farm is when you run out of eggs midway through a Christmas-cookie baking marathon.  Mrs. L. just keeps the eggs on the porch, no need to knock dear, just drop your cash in the box and take however many you need…

My mother and grandmother, and who knows, probably even many of my great grandmothers before them, were avid Christmas cookie bakers. My mother and grandmother always made candy cane cookies, Russian tea cakes, gingerbread men, press cookies, goodie bars, and some Polish cookie whose name I can’t remember made with nuts and a honey syrup.

Of course, nearly everyone else’s mother and grandmother made lots of Christmas cookies too back when I was a young girl, and one of my favorite things about Christmas was exchanging plates of homemade treats with friends and neighbors and seeing what other kids’ moms made for Christmas. Our neighbors from the time we moved to Caledonia when I was 13 were the Prices, and Mrs. Price introduced us to a new Christmas cookie, Church Windows, which are made with colored mini marshmallows that are supposed to resemble church stained glass windows. I made these for the first time last year, but my family didn’t much like them.

A few years ago, one of my co-workers gave me a plate of cookies that included a heavenly little cookie she called “buckeyes” because they look like the nuts dropped from the Buckeye tree. I’d never heard of them or tried them, but it turns out they are not uncommon at Christmas. I tried making them the next year, and my family loved them, so they’ve become a staple at our house at the holidays. Here is my recipe to make the ones you see below beside the mini pumpkin-cranberry loaves, but if you don’t like mine, there are lots of other versions of this same recipe available online:

Buckeyes and Pumpkin Bread

My buckeyes and pumpkin-cranberry bread.

Sunshine’s Christmas Buckeyes

  • 3 c crunchy peanut butter (I use the natural kind without hydrogenated oils but any kind will work)
  • 2 c unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 1 t vanilla
  • 12 c powdered sugar
  • 8 c semi-sweet chocolate chips

Directions:

1. In a very large mixing bowl, cream together the softened butter and peanut butter. Beat in the vanilla, then the powdered sugar one cup at a time.

2. Roll into one-inch balls and place on waxed paper to chill. This recipe makes a LOT of cookies, so what I do is use a plastic storage bin and layer the cookie balls in it between layers of waxed paper, snap the lid on tight, then put it in our unheated garage to chill overnight. If you cut this recipe in half, you could probably just layer the cookies on waxed paper on a cookie sheet and put them in the refrigerator. But trust me, you’re going to want the full recipe.

3. When chilled, melt 2-4 cups of the chocolate chips in a class bowl on medium power in 45 second intervals, stirring in between, until melted. You’ll melt more as you need it.

4. Stick a toothpick into each chilled cookie ball and dip into melted chocolate, coating the bottom and sides. Place on waxed paper on cookie sheets to cool. When the chocolate has hardened, layer the buckeyes between sheets of waxed paper in a container with a lid and store in the refrigerator or freezer.

While you are busy in the kitchen, have a listen to one of my favorite versions of “What Child is This?”

 

My favorite version of the Little Drummer Boy.

GOC Angels

2013 Glory of Christmas

 

Alas, still no time to write…

One the reasons I’ve been so busy the past several weeks is because of The Glory of Christmas, our church’s annual Christmas concert and play. The rehearsals start in the beginning of November and by December, we’re ready to do ten performances.  If you live in this area and you’ve never been to GOC, I advise you to check it out next year, as it is a beautiful telling of the Christmas story.

GOC Choir

From Glory of Christmas 2013

This year I had children in the choir and in the drama, so I was driving from our home all the way to Plymouth and spending hours and hours at church. GOC is a huge time commitment but is a major outreach that our church does, and given the number of people who come in lost and go out pursuing God, it’s worth it.

Usually our church keeps tight control over allowing any video to be posted on YouTube, but they did allow my absolute favorite rendition of The Little Drummer Boy from Glory of Christmas 2010 to be posted there. This is an a capella version and the video of the drummer boy, who is actually a boy in our congregation and which I believe was filmed at Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes in northern Michigan, was shown on screens while the song was performed.

To help get you in the Christmas spirit, enjoy…

Got a favorite Christmas song to share? Leave it in the comments!

Break out the good stuff

My mother-in-law told me that she only has a stem or two of her wedding crystal left. The reason for this is because not only has she been quick to organize a social gathering for any occasion but also because she believes in “breaking out the good stuff” – using her prettiest china and nicest crystal for holiday dinners and get-togethers. Her philosophy has always been, “What are you saving it for? If it gets broken, well, that happens sometimes; you might as well enjoy it now because you can’t take it with you.”

I like this philosophy but haven’t really used it. When my husband and I got married, the shop attendant at Hudson’s tried to talk us into registering for Waterford crystal, which truly is gorgeous stuff but at that time cost around $60 per stem. We declined and instead registered for Mikasa crystal, which is also beautiful lead crystal though not quite up to Waterford standards, but it only cost $30 per stem at that time. Because we went with the less expensive crystal, we ended up getting the full set from our generous guests – including the champagne flutes, water goblets, and wine glasses. Of the set, I still have 5 champagne flutes, 5 water goblets, and 8 wine glasses all these years later; when I broke one of the champagne flutes while cleaning up after Thanksgiving, I just smiled and cleaned up the broken glass and blood. I will always have the memory of my sister-in-law pouring champagne which she’d stored out on our deck to keep chilled into that glass. The glass itself means nothing, but the memory of our Thanksgiving together will be with me always.

Throw a party, invite your family, and break out the good stuff. Don’t get upset if something breaks or spills – things are meaningless but people and memories are priceless. Don’t cling to what is worthless and miss what is truly valuable.