Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Happy Almost New Year

Wow. The mountain range that is December and Christmas has been climbed. I am reveling in the reward of the vista at the top which is the memories all the work creates and leaves us with. Anything memorable seems to be a lot of work at the time but afterward yields the delicious bliss of only the good parts remembered.

I do love the last of December and first of January. I love the feeling of tidying up a bit and entering the new year with a fresh start (at least in some parts of the house or my mind). January always says "peace, quiet, rest, and new beginnings to me" although in recent years life can be as busy as the other months. But I still have hope for that rest.....

I can't wait to start my new diary. Hebridean Desk Diary 2014 is one I picked up in Scotland because I love the illustrations of Mairi Hedderwick.

And I have a  Susan Branch mini calendar to enjoy. I'm placing this beside my cozy reading chair in my upstairs personal library (i.e. the corner of my closet that has my bookshelves and my books). And I have a Scottish Islands calendar to hang on my fridge.

I also just started an ESV Journaling Bible (Antique Floral Design) [Bonded Leather] [2009] (Author) ESV Bibles by Crossway Bible from a friend. I love this!!! I don't think I'll be able to stop at just one. What will I do next year? One idea is to pick a theme or topic you want to study and read through the Bible making notes on the sides of anything you find that references your topic. It's like a treasure hunt!

Well, it's time for me to do a little tidying and pretend I am participating in some of the age-old Scottish traditions of Hogmanay. I have a folder full of photos from December and lots of tea trolley reports to give so hopefully I'll make it back to my blog on a more regular basis in the new year.

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Monday, December 23, 2013

Merry Christmas!

I thought I should pop in here and wish you all a Merry Christmas!!!!! Posting has been few and far between this month. My energies have been limited and stretched thin and many non-essentials have dropped from the game plan. Overall we are well, making Christmas memories, and looking forward to the rest that January might bring. I have lots of pictures and things to share and hopefully in the next few weeks I will have time to do so!

I hope each of you that celebrate Christmas will have a special day and collect some lovely memories for the years ahead! And may the the joy of Christ's coming to dwell with man warm your hearts all through the year!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Five Feet High

Life has been too full to find minutes to carve out for blogging (or reading blogs!). I was telling Michael today that my ironing pile is five feet high and he thought that would make a great title for a book. Ha ha! Ironing is not my priority (even though I do enjoy it) but there does come a time when no one has clothes in their closet to wear! That time is just about now.......

We have enjoyed something like eleven days with snow on the ground! Very unusual for Indiana and it has helped to make December feel very festive. We were at Trader's Point Creamery this past Saturday to man our table at the Christmas Market and I so enjoyed the feeling that I was back in Vermont (my birth state).

I just love these cows!!! I am always drawn to cows, I have been since I was a child. I think, again, it is the rural Vermont connection. They are in my blood!

I'm enjoying wearing the red coat a friend handed down to me a few years ago. And of course I try to wear plaid nearly everyday. I finally sat down and made a flower for my own self! Yes! I like it with the red of the coat.

Poor people. I'm always requesting to take pictures of them. It's just fun.

We had so much fun being vendors at the Christmas Market on Saturday! It's just like playing store (remember doing that as a child!). And tonight I even got to play bank -- depositing checks via mobile phone is awesome! It's funny how the things you do as a child often end up in your life as an adult -- I was the child selling homemade cards on the street at age 6 or 7. Christina was the child crocheting wool slippers for us for Christmas -- now she sells artisan versions at Christmas Markets. :) And Emily, hmmmm.....the age gap is too great for me to remember exactly what you liked to do, except that you always were so cute (definitely still the case!).

As for my little family, we keep busy trekking to all our doctor appointments -- it's our family hobby. Thankful today for Laura's initial good report from her MRI that all is stable with the cyst in her head. School is ending in a few days and we will all enjoy the little break. Christmas is around the corner and it would be a good idea if I started baking......but maybe I should tackle the ironing first!

Monday, December 16, 2013

Mondays are for Grace

"Grace is smashing the calculator, 
and using all the broken buttons and pieces to make a mosaic.

Grace is the moment you feel as precious and handmade as every star,
when you feel, finally, at home for the very first time."

-- Shauna Niequist

Monday, December 9, 2013

Mondays are for Grace

"And He shall stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the LORD,
in the majesty of the the name of the LORD his God. 
And they shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth. 

And he shall be their peace."

-- Micah 5:4,5

Friday, December 6, 2013

Scotland: Christmas Past

It seems just a bit un-festive to post pictures about our Scotland trip while we are all trying to get into the holiday mood (rather than summer!). So, I thought I'd pull a few old photos out and talk about Christmas in Scotland.

Some of the first things that come to mind when I think of the Christmases we spent in Scotland are the early nights -- i.e. dark at 4 p.m. I was often in the town every afternoon to do some form of shopping and usually I pushed the buggy home in the dark cold. 

Of course this darkness makes for very romantic looking street scenes such as this view in Edinburgh: car lights, shop windows foggy and glowing from within (and trying to shut early!), and Christmas lights twinkling on the lamp posts or trees.
And then there is the menu of holiday foods that is certainly different from what we are used to in the states: mince pies and Christmas cakes, clooty dumpling and shortbread, party foods like sausage rolls and vol-a-vonts, the essential brussel sprouts and turkey, and the New Year's steak pie. Fortunately, its in my genes to adore this food!

Over the years I had to try my hand at baking these traditions with various results! (including large growths of mold on the Christmas pudding) 

Children's parties are taken seriously and the children DRESS UP! Here is a picture from our Mums and Tots group. Lots and lots of chocolate for the children! (One year Rachel and Andrew received a total of 21 boxes or assortment packages of chocolate!)

One of my favorite introductions was to Clooty Dumpling -- this is a large pudding boiled in a cloth ("clooty") for numerous hours and then enjoyed with custard poured on top. I do find a homemade clooty dumpling very hard to resist! One of these days I'm going to figure out a gluten free version and set aside the afternoon to boil up my own dumpling.

I found the charity shops (thrift stores) to be a great place to find Christmas presents.

I couldn't give up my American sugar cookies though so I always took some time to make vast quantities in varying degrees of beauty depending on time and energy.

 And one year I did attempt the infamous Christmas cake. Michael and I were lucky that we already had an affinity for fruit cake and even better, the British fruit cake is ten times more delicious than any American fruitcake. This was the only year I decorated my cake though. From then on we've always enjoyed ours plain.

 Ten years ago a myriad of Christmas decorations was not easy to come by in your average Scottish town. I had no access to shops like JoAnn Fabrics or even the craft section of Walmart. Our first year I managed to find red candles in the town and then I did a little trimming of our cypress bushes out back and was kindly given some holly from the minister's garden.

Little by little decorations did appear on the shelves in Airdrie, especially after the opening of a pound store. I bought several mini trees for a pound each and then bent them to look like fake garland! This is the fun of not having everything at your fingertips -- it causes you to be creative. And while that creativity does require emotional and physical energy, if you can spare those two things, then the creativity can be a lot of fun!

 All shopping was done with our "family car" -- the double buggy. Up and down the streets, into and out of shops, this is how we got everything home. (Incidentally, no one in the UK bats an eyelid at filling up your stroller with your groceries and then going to the checkout. Here in the US, security would be called the second you put the first thing into your stroller!)

More cookies: this picture gives you an idea of our kitchen which in Scotland includes the washing machine (and we had a clothes dryer too!). Other useful appliances included my electric kettle and the electric steamer.

We did manage to buy a fake tree our first year -- real trees were just beginning to become more popular and were still above our price range. No decorations? Time to make them out of salt dough.

I even got up the courage to go into a narrow little tailor's shop and ask for scraps so I could make stockings and other decorations. At first amusedly shocked, the occupants were happy to oblige and told me to come back the following day when they handed over a nice assortment of bits and bobs.

I think the British Christmas dinner is something akin to our Thanksgiving dinner -- traditional rules! You can pretty much tell the menu of the majority of the population without asking: Roast turkey with bacon-wrapped stuffing, roast potatoes, gravy, bread sauce, brussel sprouts, steamed veg (like carrots), maybe parsnips. And, many people eat their meal in courses: soup or salad to begin, main course, then dessert -- which will be the flaming Christmas pudding. The table is always decorated with Christmas crackers and everyone dons the paper crown inside to eat their dinner. Oh, and there is also the traditional Christmas speech by the Queen to listen to!

We've never had more presents than when we were in Scotland. Everyone in church sent over presents for us. I think it was their way of making us feel at home in a foreign country. We felt very loved.

Just as I took many of my American traditions to Scotland with me, so I've brought some of the Scottish traditions home with me. I think my favorite Christmas treat is the mince pie and after that Christmas pudding and then Christmas cake. And we always listen to the Queen's Speech!

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Words and Wool

Something very unexpected happened this afternoon. I found myself sitting in my cozy nook reading for two hours! Wow! Is that even possible?! The calendar cleared and the idea nagged at me until I gave in to the thought that this might be my only chance this month to enjoy some uninterrupted reading and it might actually be of more benefit to my family that I rest up than that I take care of the laundry, or the decorations, or the untidy house.

So, I settled in with the teapot and the stack of books picked up at the library just an hour earlier. One of my most delicious treats is tucking into the first chapter of the library books I bring home. I might not get further for many days or weeks, but the first chapter will usually tell me if I will love or hate the rest of the book.

I forgot to take a picture of my current handwork but I am nearly finished making this snowflake garland (well, one that is very similar). I can't wait to hang it up on my hutch!

We made another little step in the decoration process today. It took three children each doing bits and pieces but the dining room tree is assembled, lighted, and decorated. Laura did most of the decorations. Don't you just love her clumped together line of ornaments all at her height! I'm almost tempted to just leave them that way. She had SO much fun doing this and kept announcing she was "helping".

And now for the books:

Christmas Joy : A Keepsake Book from the Heart of the Home by Susan Branch was reluctantly returned to the library today. A delight to flip through, this book contains quotes, little memories, recipes, gorgeous watercolors to decorate each page, and lots and lots of good ideas for Christmas.

Christmas at Fairacre by Miss Read contained three short stories centering around the fictitious English town of Fairacre. Since this is "old world" it fit the bill for my Christmas reading.

The Perfect Meal: In Search of the Lost Tastes of France by John Baxter is one of the books I bit into today. So far, so good! (no language and no lewd stories, yet -- just interesting talk about food in France. Long may this continue)

  The Other Side of the Dale by Gervase Phinn was the second book I started today. I think I've found a new author to read through. Set in the same countryside as James Herriot's works, this man tells of his life as a School Inspector. I think I will enjoy the descriptions of the countryside and life in the Yorkshire Dales.

Surprised by Oxford: A Memoir by Carolyn Weber was also begun today. This was the book that I kept on reading and reading. Weber's book tells of her journey to Christianity through the surprising avenue of studying at Oxford University. Can't wait to read more.....

  Fingal O'Reilly, Irish Doctor: An Irish Country Novel by Patrick Taylor was the final book I started. This series is a tradition. Every year about this time (usually January) I get the latest in the series. I read it more because I've read all the others but it involves the lives of country doctors in rural Ireland in the 1960's or so.

Well, I think that's enough books for this week! Now I hope I can find a few more minutes for reading!!

For more ideas on knitting and reading, check out Ginny's Yarn A Long.

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Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Christmas Beginnings

 I feel a bit like yesterday was Thanksgiving and tomorrow is Christmas and I'm not sure how things fit in between. The time moves so quickly and this stage in life means its hard to add something in that's not already part of our normal routine (i.e. decorating for Christmas). I guess it has to happen little by little, here and there!

Today we had the treat of attending the Indiana Repertory Theatre's production of A Christmas Carol. I've always wanted to go and this year Rachel's online school made it possible to get affordable tickets!

We all sat spellbound as the snow fluttered from the ceiling and the actors in their Dickensian outfits began by singing Carol of the Bells. By the end everyone was in awe of how spectacular a "real" production like this is.

And I finally got our new advent calendars hung up properly tonight!

I asked my mom a month ago if she would be willing to paint some new ones for the kids.

Then it was a last minute job to get all the windows filled.

And tonight I cut the mattes so that the calendars will stay nice for many years.

We do love our advent calendars!

And they help make the kitchen/dining room look very festive -- even if we don't have much else done yet. And they make me think of Tasha Tudor, our inspiration for advent calendars and many things Christmas.

Maybe later this week I can even change the mantel and door from fall to Christmas! In the mean time I think reading some more of my Christmas books is a good idea!