Thursday, 29 December 2011

my top 5 things to do on New Year's Eve

One of my least favourite nights of the year is New Year's Eve. There's just so much pressure to do something fun and exciting and memorable. Who wants to answer the question, "How did YOU bring in the New Year?" with "by sleeping"? But that's what I feel like doing. Just lowering my expectations and having a low intensity evening.

I think that my favourite New Year's Eve was when I was in university and my cousin was home from Vancouver. We had been invited to a few parties, so we went around to all of them that evening, taking photos of ourselves looking bored at each one. It was a blast.

This year, we're looking forward to hanging out with some friends (who also have kids) and returning home around 10:00. So we still have 2 hours to cover before the big minute of exactly midnight. I've come up with some ideas to fill those 2 hours and bring in the new year.

1. sleep. Ah sleep, how do I love thee? There's no way I'd go back to my high school days of staying up all night and then sleeping all day on January 1st. That just sounds like a little taste of hell nowadays.

2. turn off the lights and have a candlelit bath. Read a book in bed.

3. get take-out sushi or dim sum. Have a (quiet) salsa dance in the living room.

4. make a list of 2012 things I'm thankful for.

5. throw out all my ratty towels and underwear.

How are you bringing in 2012?

Monday, 26 December 2011

glimpses of God (last one!)

Here's a photo I took on our first snowfall in December:

angels are everywhere
Wishing you a blessed Christmas with family and friends...

Friday, 23 December 2011

the purge before Christmas (and jam-jams!)

Today I went around my house, throwing out sugar. It feels like the day before Lent instead of the days before Christmas. I recall feeling this way every year around this time - even before the big day (25th) rolls around, I'm all sugared-out. I declared a free-for-all on the gingerbread house, just because I'm sick of looking at it every day. I can feel the cavities growing in my teeth by the minute. Visions of fruit and vegetables and plain old water are dancing in my head.

I was out looking for a candy cane - to fulfill my daughter's wish. Do you know how hard it was to find a plain old candy cane? I couldn't believe it. I finally found one - but not just one, a whole box of cherry flavoured ones. They'll have to do.

But there are many sweets I look forward to. And none of them have raisins or dried fruit of any kind or marishino cherries in them. That's just how picky I am.

My favourite cookie that my Grandma Horst used to make every year are Jam-Jams. I made these last night with my daughter. Just the smell and taste of the dough brings back memories - so much that I had tears in my eyes, missing my grandma. I love traditional foods like this that link us to people and the past. Here's a plate of goodies that represents our household right now: some jam-jams (from my Swiss Mennonite background), some pfeffernusse (from Derek's Russian Mennonite background), and some Afghan baklava (from Shegofa's Afghan background). There we are - right on a dinner plate. And our young daughters get to share them all.

I'm going to share my jam-jam recipe with you - I'm sure you have nothing else to do today except make some more Christmas cookies - you probably don't have enough sugar in the house right now either. I'm sharing it because I don't know how many years in a row I've had to call my mom for this recipe. I seem to misplace it after every Christmas. If I record it here, I'll know where it is for next year (hopefully).

Jam Jams

1/4 cup shortening
3/4 cup butter, at room temperature (or, if you dare, substitute that shortening and butter with a cup of lard)
1 cup brown sugar
6 T molasses
1 t vanilla
2 eggs
4 cups all-purpose flour
2 t baking soda
raspberry jam or apple butter

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.
2. Blend butter, shortening, and sugars. Add molasses, vanilla and eggs and blend well.
3. Add flours sifted with baking soda and mix.
4. Roll out the dough and cut into shapes. (my favourite shape is the sun-type one) Use a thimble to make holes in half of the cookies (those will be the tops of the cookie sandwiches).
5. Bake on greased baking sheet for about 6 minutes. Keep an eye on them - they can overbake very easily!
6. While they're warm, sandwich them together with jam or apple butter. They are soft and keep well.

[adapted from Edna Staebler's Food that Really Schmecks]

What are your favourite treats this time of year? 

Do you have traditional foods that you look forward to? 

Thursday, 22 December 2011

celebrating light

For the last several years, we've been celebrating the winter solstice as a family (because with a birthday and Christmas and New Year's, there aren't enough celebrations in December... :). Last year my brother hosted a solstice party with hearty French onion soup for supper, a bonfire outside, and snow angels and fun in the snow. We're looking forward to another party at my brother's on Friday evening and they're even calling for snow! (fingers crossed)

This year's solstice is officially today - December 22nd. Celebrating the shortest day of the year and the coming of the sun's light has been a meaningful experience for our family. We have paused to think about people for whom this IS a long night - people who are suffering or homeless, people going through hard times, people who have lost loved ones. We have lit candles, sung songs, eaten marshmallows around a fire, prayed, laughed, played, and watched festive movies in our new pjs.

Traditionally, the yuletide was a time to set aside animosities. In Norse tradition, enemies met under a bough of mistletoe to lay down their weapons and declare a truce. So many festivals of light (Hannukah, Christmas, Kwanzaa) are celebrated around December 21st - people gather to celebrate while the sun is miraculously making its way closer to us in the northern hemisphere again - another reason for celebration.

I've heard of other ideas for celebrating the winter solstice:

* turn off the lights in the entire house and eat dinner by candlelight

* make beeswax candles

* give out new pajamas to get everyone through the longest night of the year

* have a bonfire, sing songs, eat roasted marshmallows

* make tin can luminaries

* sing songs about light, like "This little light of mine," "Siyahumba," "Walking in the light," "Children of the light"

* make sugar or gingerbread cookies cut into "light" shapes like candles and stars and suns

* wear glow-in-the-dark bracelets and necklaces from the dollar store

* use glow-in-the-dark fimo sculpting clay or glow-in-the-dark acrylic paint for crafts

* go carolling/wassailing

* offer some wassail (glorified mulled cider with optional brandy) to friends and neighbours

* say a yule prayer at the evening meal, in thanksgiving for all of the year's blessings and in mindfulness of those who have less

Below is our little home movie made in tribute to the turning of this season. The girls are singing the chorus to "Children of the light": We are children, children of the light, we are shining, in the darkness of the night, hope for this world, joy through all the land, touch the heart of everyone, take everybody's hand." The song that's played after that is "The Solstice Carole" written by the Wyrd Sisters, sung by saffie.

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

simple gifts

If you're still scrambling for gifts (perish the thought!), I heard a little rhyme from a friend of mine that I want to pass on. For me, this rhyme helps to simplify gift-giving, and will help to guide me in future years for my kids' gifts (even the ones that just fit in the stockings).

Something you want,
Something you need,
Something to wear,
and something to read.

There! That's it. Brilliant, eh?

Wishing you a week of simple gifting...

Monday, 19 December 2011

glimpses of God

Here's a glimpse from Michelle in Virginia:

Photo credit: Michelle Gyauch Dzema, Virginia, USA

Michelle writes:

This photo was taken this afternoon as i played with my children outside. it was cold and crisp and the sun shining on everything was glorious. i was struck by the wintering azalea plants in our front the late afternoon light painted them with a touch of red. i was struck by the beauty of this plant...long past its summer blossoms, yet still a thing of beauty. it caught my eye, it held my attention, it filled me with wonder. for me, this is a glimpse...

Beautiful - photo and reflection. Thank you, Michelle!

May all of you catch more glimpses as you celebrate this 4th week of Advent! 

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

simple and special celebrations

I think a lot about celebrations at this time of year. One of our daughters has a birthday this coming weekend, and then there's Christmas. I struggle between wanting celebrations to be simple yet special. Sometimes my wish to be special drags me down the not-so-simple road. Sometimes my plans start out simple, and then snowball. Sometimes simple and special feel like 2 very different paths.

This year we're trying to keep things simple as far as gifts go - pjs and stocking stuffers. But today we're leaving for a 2 day mini-vacation to a hotel that's anything but simple, and very special with an indoor waterpark attached to the hotel. Simple goes out the window.

I've been thinking about what was special to me as a kid. When I was about 5, my parents woke me and my brother up in the middle of the night, packed us in the back seat of the pickup truck, and drove to beat a winter storm. We were off to Disney World, and I couldn't imagine anything more exciting than beating a storm to get there.

I still remember things about that trip - like watching the movie "Bambi" at the outdoor theatre at Fort Wilderness Campground, and crying when Bambi's mom was shot. And going on the "It's a small world" ride. And seeing the Country Bear Jamboree.

Kids get so much these days (mine included), and I sometimes wonder what is special. Candy from Hallowe'en hangs on til Christmas (sad but true in our house), Christmas candy til Valentine's, Valentine's til Easter. And food too - what foods are truly special when we, in our northern climate, can get oranges all year round?

How do you celebrate in simple, but special ways?

What are your memories of simple, special holidays?

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

how to survive the mall

I only go to the mall in cases of emergency. Like Christmas.

As I strolled through the mall the other day, I came up with some ways to make my experience more enjoyable. And I will pass them on to you:

1. Look for couples who are 75 or older and are strolling along, holding hands. It will warm your heart.

2. Look for naked mannequins. They're there. It will make you smile. I saw one on the floor of The Bay, totally in pieces, sprawled everywhere. Did you know that the first fashion mannequins were made of papier mache in the mid-19th century in France? Little fun fact.

3. Sing along to a Christmas tune that's blaring.

4. Walk really slowly through the mall, like a Buddhist monk, just for kicks.

5. Tell a cashier that she has a beautiful smile and watch her light up.

6. Tell yourself: I have all the time in the world.

7. If you absolutely must take a child with you to the mall (this only occurs in emergency emergency situations at our house), then teach them these French words: j'aime ├ža. It means: I like/love that. Then they can point to their hearts' content. It sounds so much nicer than "can I have this? I want that. Mommy, please can I have that? Why not? I won't ask for anything else!"

8. Thank your lucky stars you're not with a toddler screaming in the Santa line.

Monday, 12 December 2011

glimpses of God

Something I love about this time of year is that the trees are so bare that you can see the nests. Squirrel nests, bird nests, wasp nests. Down every street, I spy on the trees seeing what secrets they're revealing.

Here's a beautiful glimpse of God:

Photo credit: Jeanette Seiling, Elora, Ontario
Jeanette writes: "Nests are a heart/soul image for me. At this Advent time, I reflect on how I can make a soft centre in my heart-nest where Christ can be born anew."

Wishing you a great 3rd week of Advent!

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

looking back; looking ahead

I was looking in my journal from this time last year. I wrote about my word for 2010 - what the year had meant to me, trying to summarize it in one word. I chose the word "dive" because we had spent 4 months of that year in France, and dove into a new experience. We also dove into an investigation into different kinds of community living and visited 2 ecovillages. A year of a lot of learning and exploring.

Then I tried to choose a word that would lead me into 2011 - prod me on. I couldn't choose one, so I chose two: simplify and connect.

I really like this exercise - of looking back, and looking forward. Of choosing one word to light my way.

So I'm doing it again this year. As 2011 wraps up, I can see how the words "simplify" and "connect" have led me in different ways this past year. I've been inspired to declutter over and over and over again (still not done), to try out blogging as a way of processing ideas and connecting with others, to welcome someone new into our family, and to get better at saying "no" so that I have time for the "yes" things that I really want to do. When I look back, I can see some movement and improvement in some areas where I was yearning for change last year at this time.

The word that keeps popping into my mind for 2012 (can't believe I'm even writing that number!) is: CHERISH. For me, this word has connections to family, friends, community and the earth, and also to the small moments and memories. It means slowing down, breathing evenly, practicing gratefulness, and looking at the world with a sense of wonder.

Some images that say "cherish" to me:

quilts on a clothesline
Eden and a ladybug
Photo credit: Open Shutters Photography
What about you?

What is your word for 2011? What word will light your way in 2012?

Monday, 5 December 2011

glimpses of God

me again. Still looking for small glimpses of God. Are you bored of this yet, or are you seeing some glimpses too?

Here's one glimpse from South Africa.

Karen Suderman writes:

"The mother walking ahead of us looked tired and slightly frazzled, as almost any mother of three would look by the end of the day. I can imagine this was their last stop before going home for the evening. Pick n' Pay, the local grocery store, is the last stop for many on their way home from a busy day. Gathering and herding her children along, her blond hair blowing in the breeze of incoming rain, the mother was working at making this a quick stop.

Coming in the opposite direction, having completed her shopping, was another mother of three. She too looked tired, eager to get home. However, she had encountered a problem. The grocery cart was stuck on a lip of the concrete. Her young daughter pulled with all her might on the front of the cart, her brow furrowed with strain. The mother pushed from the other side of the cart, but to no avail. It was stuck. 

The first mother moved towards the cart and helped the young girl lift it over the lip. It was a simple act. Almost insignificant. But the look of gratitude from the second mother indicated that it was anything but small. 

I love to see moments like this - people reaching out and lending a hand to each other. This incident in the context of South Africa was also significant. It was a white woman who helped a black woman. 

It is wonderful to see these small acts of compassion here. In a country that has such a brutal history of division and oppression along racial lines, it is wonderful to see how people are reaching out in small ways to begin to change that."

And a couple of photos from Karen in South Africa too:

Mpophomeni, South Africa
Zulu homestead, South Africa

Thank you, Karen!

Wishing all of you a wonderful second week of Advent!