Thursday, December 31, 2009

New Year Blue Moon

Last night before I went to sleep, I cranked open the window for a little fresh air.  My eyes glimpsed the sight of the nearly full moon on the snowy white landscape and it was absolutely breathtaking!  I wish you could have seen it.  It was an eerie yet glowing, inviting light that made me want to go for a walk just then.  I should have.  I hope you saw it, but if you didn't, I hope you'll take a little time tonight to look at the New Year's Eve Blue Moon which won't happen again until 2029.  Did you know, however, that blue moons do come around more often than every 19 years?  The next blue moon happens in 2012.  A blue moon simply means that there are two full moons in one month.  The kids and I have been observing the moon and blue moons together for many years and  have always taken note of them in our nature journals.

Yesterday our pastor came by the coffee shop where my Only Daughter works and said, "Hey, did you know that there will be a blue moon on New Year's Eve?  Blue Moons only come around once in a lifetime, you know."

My smart lil girl knew better than that since her family is devoted to sky watching and nature study so she replied, "I'm sorry Pastor, but you're facts are wrong on that.  I've seen a few blue moons in my life and I'm only 23." 

To her retort the pastor remarked with a grin, "Well, you home schooled kids think you're so smart!"

Smart?  Well, let's just say... observant!

Happy New Year Blue Moon!

One in a New Year Blue Moon article

I'm going get my camera out for a NYBM picture tonight and I'll post it here if I get it.  Cross your fingers!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

....the last of these

The New Year is almost here
and the last of these lovely hand dipped chocolates
(a gift from the Middle Child, J)
will be had with coffee this afternoon.
I don't want a bit of temptation left in January.

New Year's Eve will be spent with family, playing cards, burning the Christmas tree, eating good food, laughing and talking, and we'll  be setting off a few fireworks to celebrate another year's passing and a new year's coming.  Together, we always make a Top Ten list of events for the year which is a very good way to review and remember the old year.  The list carries the blessings and gifts, the joys and sadnesses, the people in our lives and those gone from our presence on this earth.
Every day is a gift.  Enjoy each one as He gives it.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Back to basics: the whisk & can opener

My electric hand mixer died.  The whisk came out.  It has been awhile since I've used a hand whisk to mix heavy whipping cream..  Talk about an arm and wrist work out!  If I whisked cream every day I could use enough calories to afford to eat it.  Giada De Laurentiis admits that she had one arm, her right, that was far more muscular than her other due to the constant whisking that she was required to do in cooking school.  I believe it!

This morning the whisking job was not so hard....just waffle batter which I beat with a whisk anyway.  So far I haven't any plans for whisking a dozen egg whites for angel food cake but if I do, I'll pull out the Big Gun -- the Bosch!  He's still running like the Macho Man he is. 

I used to keep a hand-crank beater like this

for times when the electricity was out or when I wanted to beat something quickly.  I ought to look into purchasing another one.  The gears on the one I had before got messed up and I didn't think I needed a replacement.  Plastic gears just don't hold up.   I do love a whisk, but I'd like to find a stainless steel variety.  I like to throw mine in the dishwasher and that makes for a little rust on the ones I own now.  Not nice.

While I'm talking about tried-and-true basic kitchen tools, there's another Kitchen Helper I'm proud to own.  Just this month I decided it was time to retire my Swing Away hand can opener which I had been using in my kitchen for the likes of 10-15 years.  It still worked, but wasn't as sharp as it once was and tended to leave some of the lid attached to the can.  I thought surely I'd never find one like it out there with all the years that had passed by.  Isn't that the way it is?  Well, I went on the Amazon website to look at the can openers that people are using nowadays and to my surprise, I found a Swing Away just like mine!  For $8.99 I replaced Old Reliable with New Reliable.  I even bought four more for stocking stuffers for my kids!  The eyes rolled a bit, but I know one day they will appreciate their Swing Away as much as I do.

"Cut round on the top near to the outer edge with a chisel and hammer."  Directions on a can of roast veal in 1824

Winter feeding...

click photos to enlarge

Livestock gets fed every single day, especially now when there is enough snow on the ground that it doesn't allow for natural grazing.  S and I went out to feed together and so I brought along my camera to click a few wintry pictures of our critters.  Here you see the bucks (male sheep) getting a little bit of alfalfa cake.  Cake is a pressed or compacted feed of grains or in this case, alfalfa, which is high in protein and energy.  We feed alfalfa cake to all our livestock -- cows, bulls, sheep, horses.  We also feed loose grass hay through the winter months.

Ewe Sheep (females) are coming up to the truck for their share of cake.  Some of them are so gentle that they will eat from our hands.  A few of these girls are a bit "wool blind."  That means that the wool has grown over their eyes and makes it difficult for them to see.  Lucky for them, sheep are herd animals and they graze and live in a herd at all times.  They rarely venture off on their own unless they are lambing (having their baby lambs).  The wool blind sheep rely on the voice of their fellow sheep to keep them within the herd.  Sometimes we "eye" the sheep.  That means we shear the wool from their faces so they can see through the winter months since snow and ice can stick to the wool and make it even more difficult for them to see.

The sheep are all circled up eating their cake.  We feed them in a circle or in circles-within-circles depending on how much cake they need.  The circle keeps the sheep together and helps them to find their feed easily.

Here the herd bulls are nibbling on their cake in a track that S made before pouring out his bucket of feed.

I love seeing the hungry cows coming up to us for their feed.  See how perky their ears are?  All attention is on us because we have the breakfast!

 I wanted this picture to be from afar to reveal the wide-openness of our prairie.  Here the mature cows are being fed their daily  hay by tractor.   We went down to feed them cake too.  I love being a rancher's wife.  Did you know Justice Sandra Day O'Connor lived on a cattle ranch in Arizona when she was a girl?   Here's a little biography on SDO.

I wanted to be a cattle rancher when I was young, because it was what I knew and I loved it. 
~Sandra Day O'Connor

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Blizzards and peppermint candy canes....

It has been a cold, windy, blustery, blizzardy Christmas.  The storm we thought was only going to drop 1 or 2 inches of snow and pass on decided to get stuck over us and swirl around and around and dump a whole lotta snow on the plains and hills.  (It feels very North Pole-ish here)  We probably received a foot of new snow on top of what we had but it is very difficult to measure when the winds are whipping at a sustained 35 mph.  Blizzard.  The ski resort that is an hour and a half from us got a whopping 50 inches of snow.  A new record.  The kids are excited to get up there with their snowboards.

We were blessed to get out on Christmas Eve to attend Candlelight Services at our church and then gathered with our kids  at my parents' home for a nice prime rib dinner.  Oh, it was so lovely.  The night was cold, but quiet and calm, just like you would imagine  a Christmas Eve to be.  But after the drive home, the blizzard conditions descended.

Since Christmas Eve, we've been in the house playing lots of cards and cribbage.  I've been sniffling and sniveling with a little cold that just leaves me feeling tired.  Nothing serious, but today I decided I needed some soothing as well as a little decongesting.   I watched one of the boys sucking on a peppermint candy cane and thought it would be just the thing for me.  Peppermint always makes me feel better whether I'm all stuffed up in the nose or if I have a tummy ache.  I thought hot peppermint tea would be just the thing to sooth my throat and nose, but I didn't have any.  I did, however, have a bottle of peppermint oil so I put 2-3 drops in my tea mug and added a little bit of honey and water just off the boil.  It was the perfect soothing treatment I needed.  I also added a few drops of peppermint oil to the pan of water that is on the wood stove adding a little humidity to the dry air in our home.  The smell wafted through the kitchen and living room and just gave everything a fresh "flavor."  I'm feeling  much better.

The blizzard passed this evening at about supper time.  I'm looking forward to a little sunshine tomorrow.
If you have more candy canes than you can eat, check out this recipe for Candy Cane Syrup from Storybook Woods!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Oh Christmas tree...

O Christmas Tree! O Christmas Tree!
How richly God has decked thee!
O Christmas Tree! O Christmas Tree!
How richly God has decked thee!
Thou bidst us true and faithful be,
And trust in God unchangingly.
O Christmas Tree! O Christmas Tree!
How richly God has decked thee!

The Christmas tree carries reminders of loved ones and Christmases past.

The children made Baby Jesus in a walnut shell many years ago.

His name is Wonderful -- Jesus, Son of God.

It is a miracle of miracles that the Infinite
should become an infant.
~Charles Spurgeon

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Blue Christmas....

I sat down this morning to have my cup of coffee in my rocking chair and read from my Bible and as I glanced up to the big window, I saw blue.  I knew that the light was just right to give everything a blue glow and so I lept from my chair to immortalize the very moment and colors.  The first snapshot is with the flash.  Do you see how wonderfully the light reflected upon the falling snow?   Light glitter!

And here, I took the same picture with the flash off.  The landscape still glows with soft blues but not as deeply as the first picture  How blessed are we to see the light in so many different colors and reflections.  I'm thinking of how I should reflect the Light of Jesus who lives in me and through me.

We have been experiencing heavy frost here on the plains and for us, that often means the snapping of branches and limbs from the few trees and the snapping of power poles and lines.  As I was at the chicken coop yesterday afternoon, I walked by the Great Elm that has been providing shade for chickens for probably 100 years and I heard a startling crack and down came a limb from atop the tree.  I've been hoping that this old guardian of the chickens will not lose his great arms, but I know all things cannot live forever.

Great Elm standing over the chicken coop and granary

Last night the power dipped, dipped and dipped again as we sat eating our supper and then all went black.  Thankfully we had a candle lit on the table.  We ate by candle light only and then the men went out to start up the tractors and the generators.  I am always so grateful for Hubs who had the good wisdom to provide us with generators to keep us up and running when the power gives out. Two years ago we were without electricity for 19 days in a row and although we did have a generator, it wasn't much.  Now we are much more prepared to sustain ourselves should it happen again. 

The weatherman is predicting snow and high winds for much of the area so we are assured of a white Christmas and more possible power outages.  White Christmases often mean no travel.  We will see how it all plays out in the couple of days for children getting home and for Christmas Eve services.

Wishing you all the Love and the Light of the World for Christmas.
His name is Emmanuel, Jesus, Lord.

In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.  And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.  ~John 1:4-5

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Crab salad in shells....

The recipe and presentation has all come about due to my sweet son-in-love.  It is his mother's crab salad recipe which she shared with me over M's graduation lunch.  Son-in-love had a crab salad appetizer served in jumbo shells that he told me about.  I thought it was a brilliant idea so I copied, and the results were scrumptious!  The recipe, which I will share, is one of those that must be tasted as you go and may also be altered according to your tastes, but I will list the ingredients for you to mix as you like.  By the way, since we are plains dwellers and our local grocery stores are geared for the ranching community, I settle for the imitation crab without reservation.

Tammy's Crab Salad

1 lb. crab meat or imitation crab
REAL mayonnaise
chopped celery
chopped black olives
chopped green onions
bacon bits
grated Monterrey Jack Cheese
salt & pepper to taste

Mix it to your liking.  The longer the salad sits in the frig, the more the flavors come through.  Serve in cooked jumbo pasta shells.  The salad is also delicious by itself, as a sandwich salad, or rolled in tortillas as a wrap.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Sew Be It generosity....

I recently nominated my friend Joyce from Plain Ol’ Vanilla  to receive recognition for her giving spirit in the arts of sewing at Sew Mama Sew.  Joyce is a retired home school mom and a wonderful sewist who is constantly working to learn new sewing skills and shares her talents with others. This year she started a class for a group of area home school girls who wanted to learn the basic skills of sewing. Joyce organized a whole bevvy of projects for these girls to complete. They are enthusiastically learning and loving the art of sewing which is a gift in itself. Recently a stack of fabric was donated to them and Joyce had the brilliant idea to use the girls’ sewing skills to make pillowcases for The Sheepfold, a shelter for abused and homeless women and children in the area. Joyce, the girls, and their moms gathered for a Pillowcase Party and made 44 cases for the shelter. Not only has Joyce given of her time and her skills, but she has planted the seeds of giving in the hearts of her Sew Be It girls too. Little acorn seeds grow into Big Oaks. Thanks Joyce!  God bless the work of your hands and the gifts from your heart.
Read about the Pillowcase Party here.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Cones, paint and glitter...

It really takes very little to satisfy me...just a few pine cones, some paint and glitter will do the trick.  My son-in-love, Hubs, and I gathered a few pine cones from the forest on our Christmas tree cutting trip this past weekend.  It took a little doing, digging beneath the snow for them, but we came out victorious.  The cones weren't the prettiest, but I fixed that by painting the tips with white paint and then sprinkled on some clear glitter whilst they were still wet.  I scattered a few cones here and there in the house and then decided to make a simple garland with them using a hunk of twine.  I unraveled a long piece of twine and snipped it to the length I thought I wanted (and then some extra for tying).  I simply wove the twine in between the bracts of the cone and tied them on, lining them up next to each other.  I was going to use ribbon and do something like this, but decided I'd keep it simple and rustic.  I'm happy.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Homemade vanilla....

The best tasting hootch vanilla is the homemade stuff.  I've been brewing this batch for about 6 weeks or more and  bottled it up with my own label.  It will get tucked in with some Christmas gifts.  If you've never made homemade vanilla extract, it's easy.

Homemade Vanilla Extract
1 large bottle of cheap vodka
2-4 whole vanilla beans, split lengthwise

Remove the cap from the vodka bottle and slip in the split vanilla beans.  Recap and leave in a dark cupboard for 6-8 weeks.  The longer you leave it, the better.  The vodka will darken and vanilla seeds will float around.  Before bottling, you may like to strain the seeds with a coffee filter through a funnel.  I don't because I think the seeds give the extract more flavor.  You can reuse the beans in another bottle of vodka to make more extract. 

I buy beans cheap on Ebay here.  I usually share an order with my DIL.  I found the amber bottles at Specialty Bottle.  With shipping, a dozen 8 oz. bottles ends up costing about $2 each.

Here's the little "cooker" if you'd like to use the image for your own label.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Feeling owly...

Do you see him?

He was a bit frustrated with me.
I kept trying to get just a little closer
and then he would fly off.
He's giving me the evil eye here.

  Now he's posing just right for me.
Isn't the Great Horned Owl stately and majestic?
Another cold day on the prairie.  We had a high of -2 degrees and tonight we're back down to -10.  I enjoyed my romp through the trees today, but the cold penetrates more than I think and it leaves me tired and a little bit achy in the joints.  I think part of it is age.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Poinsettia stitchery....

I've got my wish.... a little time to stitch!

Here's a poinsettia dish towel I made for a friend.  I like the simplicity of white on red.  I drew the flowers with washable pens so each one is unique.  Outline stitch the flowers and French knots for the centers make this easy and pretty, I think.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Visions of sugar plums become REAL...

I've had visions of "sugar plums" dancing in my head for several weeks.  At last I got a real BITE!


A lady from one of the local livestock newspapers came to interview us today for a story on our ranching outfit and so I had the perfect reason to make the sugar cookies I've been dreaming about eating.  I was so happy -- she ate eight!  What could make a homemaker feel better than that?  (I didn't count, but Hubs did)

Later on my daughter-in-love came with the Grandangel and we had cookies and coffee together.  I love these little afternoon times we have together.

The sugar cookie recipe was my mom's and I've made it ever since I became a mom.  When the kids were little we always made cut-out cookies with this recipe, but now I'm just happy to roll the dough into balls,  roll them in sugar and then flatten with a sugared glass and sprinkle some more sugar sprinkles on top.

Mom's Sugar Cookies

1/2 c. butter, soft
1/2 c. margarine, soft
1 c. shortening
1 c. powdered sugar
1 c. white sugar
2 eggs
1 t. cream of tartar
1 t. baking soda
4 c. flour
1 t. real vanilla

Cream butter, margarine, and shortening together with sugars.  Add eggs and mix some more.  Add dry ingredients and vanilla.  Chill dough for a half hour.  Roll in 1" balls, roll in sugar and then flatten a little with a sugared glass bottom.  Add a few more sugar sprinkles.  Bake at 350* for 8-9 minutes. 
Makes about 5 dozen cookies or more. 

If you'd like to frost these, which I do often, make a glaze with powdered sugar, a little vanilla and milk.  Add more of sugar if it's too runny or more of milk if too thick.  Frost cookies and sprinkle with colored sugars immediately while glaze is wet.  It will dry hard.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Animals in winter....

Another cold, snowy day in the country.  The temperature got up to 6 degrees.  Some of the horses were standing in a row with butts to the north wind.  I think horses in winter are so gorgeous because they grow a thick, velvety coat of hair that insulates them against the cold.

Here's Pete the Paint, the horse I ride most often.  Isn't he handsome?

Laying down some straw bedding for the bull calves.

These bulls are waiting for their fresh bedding to be put out.

Sharptail Grouse
Notice the feathered feet.  I love finding their tracks in the snow.  The Sharptail Grouse always reminds me of the "Partridge in a Pear Tree" from the carol, The Twelve Days of Christmas.  When they perch in the trees they are so large, and funny-looking, like a chicken roosting up high in the treetops. 

Sunday, December 06, 2009


These days in the North Country where I live, the focus is on warmth.  Don't you just love the word warmth?  When you say it, it causes you to speak in a low, whisperish way.  When you think about warmth, what comes to mind?  Wool-lined slippers, puffy down quilts wrapped around your shoulders, sipping hot cocoa with marshmallows, sitting by the fire with your feet up close to it, a knitted cable sweater, or being wrapped up in the arms of your Honey. 

Today it has gone from cold to colder.  The high temperature for the day was 10 degrees and it's been falling little by little this afternoon.  The weatherman says we will go sub-zero tonight.  I've lived up north my whole life and I know what sub-zero feels like and I have never gotten used to it.  It is tolerable if you have the proper clothes for it, but it is never smart to be out in it for long periods of time.  When you live on a ranch like I do, sub-zero means a lot of things that most city and town dwellers might not think about.  For one thing it means that we must  have plenty of fuel -- gasoline, diesel, and firewood.  You never know if or when the power may go out and so we need diesel for the generator and firewood to take the chill off the house; the gasoline is for the pick-up trucks which transport us out to the livestock to feed them and to check on their water. Water freezes hard when it's this cold and stock tanks have a tendency to freeze clear down to the pipes which is really troublesome in winter.  When pipes freeze, we've got a whole other outdoor problem to deal with.  Winter in the country means taking care of  livestock no matter how cold it gets or how deep the snow is.  They need us and it's our responsibility to see that they have enough feed and water to keep their body furnaces stoked and burning.  Another thing that is important when temps go sub-zero is warm clothing for us human creatures.  If you plan on being outdoors for any length of time or if you think you possibly could get stranded, you want plenty of layers of warm clothing.

This afternoon I spent some time with the men outdoors helping them to bed down the livestock pens.  We have large pens of bulls, heifers, and steers that would otherwise sleep on the frozen, hard ground if we didn't roll out some clean, dry straw for them to bed down on.  The old bedding stuff has to be cleaned away and the new straw brought in and spread about.  I don't know how warm straw can be, but it's a decent insulation against the ground.  Youngest Child's and my job today was that of "gate-getter."  Hubs and Firstborn drove tractors to clean pens and  spread straw while we opened and closed gates and kept the critters from getting out.  It's really mindless work and it's darn chilly work if you haven't got the proper clothes on.  Today I hit my base temperature for wearing brown duck overalls.  I should've known better.  Ten degrees is the cold limit for me, and that temperature I have to break out my woollies (heavy wool pants that I pull over my jeans).   I don't know if everyone calls them woollies, but I do.

Back when my cowboy and I were first married, the winter weather was horrendous.  The wind blew strong, the snow was tossed this way and that, and the temperatures were sub-zero more often than not.    Even the thick-hided Hereford cows, who are used to cold northern winters, had frostbite on their noses and ankles. Although we were out in the cold each day, we had a warm truck cab or tractor cab to climb into when it got too cold to bear.  As a 19-year-old new bride who had never lived in the country,  I had never been so cold!   I had lived in the area all my life, but I had never had to work outdoors like this new ranch life required me to do.  It was just the two of us, Hubs and me, doing all the feeding chores and water-breaking chores.  The second Christmas of our marriage,  I bought Hubs a pair of woollies and he really enjoyed them,  but the one thing that he didn't like was how the hay and straw got stuck in the fibers of the wool.  He tolerated them and appreciated their warmth, but after a couple of years, Hubs chose insulated coveralls over the woollies and so I decided to claim the trousers for myself.   After all these years, those same gray woollies with the red pin stripes have served me well and provided warmth.  I didn't put them on for my gate-getter chores today and I'm still suffering the effects of cold legs and buns.  It takes awhile for the fat parts of the body to get fully warmed, doesn't it?

This afternoon as thaw out, I'm thinking "warmth."  After taking hot water out to the chickens and gathering the eggs, I came in and took off the layers of warmth -- a sherpa-lined corduroy coat, a gray hoodie sweatshirt, the turquoise silk scarf from around my neck, the brown duck overalls, insulated mittens and stocking cap, and lastly my boots.  I don't know why somebody can't seem to make boots that can keep feet warm.  Maybe it's impossible to think that feet, the furthest extremity from the heart, standing on sub-zero ground can ever be warm in the winter, or maybe it's because my feet are naturally always cold or because I  forget to put thick socks on before I go outside, but I can't seem to find just the right boot that will keep my feet warm in the winter. Coming into the warm house means my glasses fog up and my nose runs.  I went to the garage to bring in an armload of firewood and then immediately had hot coffee on my mind so I set the electric kettle on to make a good, strong cup.  I love stoking up the fire and bringing up a bright, hot fire from the coals.  A wood fire is absolutely the best fix for warming-up the backside.  I put on my cable knit sweater and buttoned it as I fixed the mug of coffee.  The warmth of hot coffee is penetrating as well as satisfying to the senses, isn't it?  Add a slice of warm coffee cake and you've got pure comfort and warmth.

I wonder how the pioneers ever did it.  They must have always been cold.  I really can't imagine living in log cabin or a tar paper shack with one source of wood heat.  The floors must have been icy cold and the wind  must have seeped in through the cracks in the walls.  No wonder those pioneer women were constantly making quilts and knitting.  The other night when our own bedroom was so cold, I understood  where Clement Clarke Moore (author of The Night Before Christmas) came up with the line,  "Ma in her kerchief and I in my cap had just settled our brains for a long winter's nap."  Can you imagine bundling up for bed with your stocking cap on?  I do love the old-time idea of passing a hot pan of coals over the bedsheets before turning in though!  Lucky me, I have Hubs for that.  He's such a dear and always warms up my side of the bed before I slide in.  He's always hot and I'm always cold, so he just lays on my side and get's it toasty for me.  What comfort.  What warmth.  There's that word again..... warmth.  What does warmth mean to you? What is your favorite way to warm up?  

 handwarmers from Rythm of the Home

Thanks to Storybook Woods for the link to Rhythm of the Home where I found this idea of making handwarmers under the heading of Warmth.  I sure could have used some of these this afternoon. I think handwarmers would make nice little gifts for Christmas. Stay warm.....

Friday, December 04, 2009

We've got to go through it!

We're going on a bear hunt.
We're going to catch a big one.
What a beautiful day!
We're not scared.

Oh-oh! Grass!
Long, wavy grass.
We can't go over it.
We can't go under it.
Oh no!
We've got to go through it!

(excerpt from We're Going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen & Helen Oxenbury)

In this children's picture storybook, a family starts out on an adventure -- a bear hunt -- on a sunny, happy  day.  They have big dreams,  no fear, and they just know that they're going to catch a big one!  Again and again the family hits roadblocks like long, wavy grass and a deep, cold river, that might prevent them from their mission, but together they carry on and go through them all.

Isn't this exactly how Life is?
We plan our days.  We make our lists.  We gather our supplies.  We make the necessary arrangements, and we're off to "Catch a Bear!"  (What a beautiful day!  We're not scared.)  And what happens next?  The phone rings and there's bad news. The box on the truck is smashed by a deer running across the highway (no one is hurt).  Mold is found creeping up the walls at my daughter & son-in-love's rental home.  Some of the livestock is sick, very sick. The waterline is broken and must be dug up and replaced and the high temperature for the coming days will be just 15*.  The dollar is worth 20% less today than in March.  The war in Afghanistan is a war of beliefs -- is it winnable?  The bills come in.  The taxes will be due. Christmas is around the corner.  It's supposed to be a peaceful, joyous time. I have to keep pushing the creative things I want to do to the back burner.  On and on it goes.

Well..... we can't go over it.  We can't go under it. We've got to go through it!  All of it!  Swishy swashy, swishy swashy, swishy swashy, through the tall grass that seems so impassable.  And then there's the big, dark forest to traipse through.....stumble trip, stumble trip, stumble trip!  Once we're through that there comes a swirling, whirling snowstorm.... Hooo woooo, hooo woooo, hooo woooo!  What ever happened to our exclamation in the beginning? "What a beautiful day!"

I can't tell you how many times in the past few weeks and days this little book has come to mind.  For such a simple storyline, it has a lot of wisdom packed between the pages.  The theme, "We've got to go through it," rings so true for me and my family, and I know that eventually we will come out on the other side of the trial we're in at the moment.  We may be dirty, muddy, tired and cold, but we will get through it.  In the meantime we must hang onto one another, we must help and encourage each other, we must go through the "It" together and trust God until we get to the other side.  Jesus promised us that there would be wars and rumors of war, that there would be famine and earthquakes and tribulations of all kinds (like moldy walls and spoiled Christmas presents) but He also promised, "I will never leave you nor forsake you," and that is a promise that we can cling to.

And now for a little quiet time by the fire writing Christmas cards. 

O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear.
Rejoice!  Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee O Israel.


Medieval stained glass at Salisbury Cathedral, UK

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Advent Sunday...

Advent:  Arrival that has been long awaited.  The coming of Christ at the incarnation (God made flesh).  The period including four Sundays before Christmas, the first of which is called Advent Sunday.
Second Advent:  The second coming of the Lord Jesus.

I am not a liturgical Christian today, but I grew up in the Catholic Church and my husband grew up in the Lutheran Church -- both liturgical -- and so together we have strong roots in the rituals, feasts, and fasts of the liturgical church.  It was natural then for us to weave the traditions of our past spiritual lives into the present spiritual fabric of our own family.  Advent is one of those celebrations that has remained within our celebration of the Christmas Season and I'm so grateful that we have kept Advent year after year.  Our children loved the many and varied ways that we built up our Advent anticipation to Christmas Day -- the day when our Savior, Jesus, became the Word Made Flesh and was born a vulnerable and weak human baby, just like us. 

Although I am not one to start the Christmas decorating until well into December, I have been busy making the Advent centerpiece that we will use daily as we read scripture, meditate, sing carols, pray and anticipate the coming of Christmas.  I decided that I would keep my centerpiece very simple this year by using white pillar candles of varied heights and juniper sprigs and berries that I trimmed from "My Woods" and from my father-in-law's yard.  I will use the same juniper boughs and snippets to tuck around other candles and to place in special spots around my house -- on windows and sills, on doors and tables.  If you have evergreens growing in your yard, it is easy to snip a few and place them all around your home and replace them again (several times if necessary) if they should turn dry and brittle.  Before I used any of the juniper greens, I soaked them in my washtub for several hours so they would be well hydrated.  Living on the northern prairies means that generally the fall season is dry and therefore the junipers dry out too.  The good soaking they get brings out their undeniably strong, spicy, fresh scent which infuses Christmas to my senses.

Even though I plan to keep my evergreens embellishments very simple, I found some nice tips on using evergreens indoors, especially if you would like to make beautiful centerpieces or if you want to make your greenery last a long time.  Here is a nice tutorial on how to make an evergreen arrangement using juniper or cedar greenery. There are so many variations from fancy to folksy.  I think I may try my hand at making a centerpiece to give as a gift.....if the results satisfy me.

The four candles of Advent are lit one at a time.  Beginning tonight, Advent Sunday, we light the first candle.  We will continue lighting this same candle every night this week and on the second Sunday of Advent, we will light the first along with a second candle, and so it goes until all four are lit.  On Christmas Day all the candles are lit together announcing that the Light of the World has come!  There are many ways to "do" Advent.  Liturgical churches have their own booklets and readings for the season.  This year we will use the book  The Meaning is in the Waiting by Paula Gooder.  From the back of the book Lauren F. Winner, author of Mudhouse Sabbath and Girl Meets God says:
In this winsome yet provocative Advent devotional...I began to sense something I had not understood before, in any of my other Advent observances -- it is not just we who wait.  God is waiting, too.  "The Lord waits, that He may be gracious to you," says Isaiah, one of the prophets who interests Paula Gooder most.  God waits on us, for our attention, for our visits home; God waits for our vision and our ear.

I am very excited to begin, and tonight's the night!  Will you be joining me and my family in Advent devotions?  I'd love to hear how you keep Christ at the center of the Christmas season.

This is one verse of the song which we love to sing during Advent.  It was first written in Medieval times and then rewritten in Latin and again, it was written in English.  I am so glad that we have the English version, but I would have loved to hear it in it's original Medieval language.

O come, thou Dayspring, come and cheer,
Our spirits by thine advent here;
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
and death's dark shadows put to flight,
Rejoice, rejoice!  Emmanuel 
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

~Medieval Antiphon
Latin Hymn, 1710
Tr. John Mason Neale, 1818-66

Emmanuel.... God with us.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving....

Great is Thy Faithfulness, Lord, unto me.
Thank you Jesus.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Simple things...

When it comes down to it, it's really the simple things that bring the most pleasure in Everyday Life. There is a quote that I think of so often when I am grateful for simple things.  "Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things."  ~Robert Brault in National Enquirer. 

Country Eggs.  Look at these splendid eggs!  They are pullet eggs from my new, young hens.  They've only just started laying the past few weeks and I'm pleased as punch to be on the receiving end of their maturity and hard work.  Notice the brown eggs are smaller than the whites.  The very first eggs laid by a pullet hen are quite small, but in a few weeks, the eggs get bigger and when the hens are fully mature in a year or more, the eggs can be Jumbo in size.  I wonder if this phenomenon applies to humans?  My first baby was 6 lb. 15 oz. and  every baby was a little larger up to my fifth-born who was 10 lbs.

Embroidered Tea Towels.  I know how much time and effort goes into a nicely embroidered tea towel.  The towel that the eggs are drying on was made by my daughter as a birthday gift to me.  Each time I use it, I think of her.  All the kids learned to "sew" by embroidering tea towels and I cherished each one.

Lavender Essential Oil.  A simple thing that makes my household chores more pleasurable.  I add a few drops to my homemade all-purpose cleaner which is just water mixed with a small squirt of dish soap in a spray bottle.  Add a few drops of lavender oil to the rinse cycle of your laundry for heavenly scent on bath towels and wash cloths.  Lavender mist for ironing is also nice.  Just add a few drops to a quart bottle of water and mist clothes as you iron.  Add  5 drops of lavender along with some baking soda to your kitchen sink and pour a kettle of boiling water over it to freshen and clear drains.  Add a few drops to your vacuum cleaner bag the next time you change it and you'll have a nice scent when you clean.  At the end of the day, add a few drops of lavender oil to your bath water for a scent-sational, relaxing soak.

Line-dried bath towels.   You either love them or you hate them.  I like the fresh-air scent that comes with a line-dried towel, but I also appreciate the absorbent, roughness that happens when you dry towels outdoors.  There's nothing like a towel that dries and gives a good back-scratching at the same time.

Real Homemade Vanilla.  If you don't think you can afford REAL vanilla extract, think again.  Just add 2 or 3 or 4 nice vanilla beans, split lengthwise, to a large bottle of cheap vodka.  Let it sit in a dark cupboard for 4-6 weeks and you've got THE best vanilla ever.  You can re-use your vanilla beans over and over.  I buy mine on Ebay here.  It's so much cheaper to buy vanilla beans this way than individually and the FREE shipping is great!  Real vanilla makes nice gifts too.

Whole Nutmegs.  My friend, Clarice, from Storybook Woods got me hooked on whole nutmegs when she sent me some as a gift a long time ago.  What a simple thing.  And what a Big Thing freshly grated nutmeg is to me now.  I have found that nutmegs can be bought at my local health food store (along with lots of other nice spices) for a very good price.  And the quality is usually much better than grocery store spices. I use my micro-plane zester to grate nutmegs over apple crisp, chai tea, yogurt with fruit, whipped cream and a number of other things.

Making do with what you have.  While I was out walking today, I went through this gate and I thought of how many times I've unhooked this horseshoe latch and how ingenious it was of my husband to weld it for the swinging gate. Making do with what you have is a simple thing that I appreciate.

Cupcakes that I didn't bake.  Last night I came home from shopping and a supper date with Hubs and what did I find on the kitchen table?  A plate of chocolate cupcakes with cream cheese centers.  My DIL baked them and brought them over while we were out.  What a sweet, simple pleasure they were along with a cuppa hot, black coffee. Here's her blog:  Lady on the Ranch.

Braun Electric Kettle.  I love, love, love this thing!  I saw my first electric kettle while visiting a friend in England 4 years ago.  I was impressed then and so I searched for just the right one.  Electric kettles were not common in the USA but I  finally found the Braun  on Amazon several years back.  (it wasn't this pricey then) I use it every single day.  When you need hot boiled water fast, this is the ticket.  I used to have a tea kettle that I heated on the stove, but often I would set it to boil and then get distracted elsewhere and forget all about it.  This one shuts off after it's done boiling.  It's also cordless so when it's done, you carry the pot wherever you want without a cord going along with it.  Just the other night I ran out of hot water (too many showers in a row) so I put the kettle on and had steaming hot water for my dishes.  I use it to start my pasta water boiling and of course, it is perfect for my afternoon one-cup of coffee or for the occasional cup of tea or cocoa.

Candles.  In fall and winter, the candles come out.  I love to light them in cold mornings before breakfast or  on cloudy afternoons while I take my coffee.  I also enjoy the glowing light and fragrance in the long, dark evenings. 

Going to bed in a frigid chilly bedroom.  Hubs and I are fresh-air freaks.  We like our bedroom on the cool side when it's time to go to sleep.  When winter comes on, it's hard to keep the windows cracked open all night so my solution is to open a window and shut the door to our bedroom an hour or so before we retire.  That way the bedroom is chilled without the entire house being cold.  We shut the window before going to sleep and the room temperature stays just right, and I don't have to wake up with frostbite on my nose.

Phone calls from my grown kids.  I've heard from all of them today.

Walks in the woods.  Living on the prairie doesn't really allow for a woodsy walk, but the established shelter belts that were planted around the ranch are what I call My Woods.  There are five or six rows of trees in each shelter belt, and they make the nicest places to walk, especially when it's windy and cold.  This is where I walked today.  I was reminded how quiet it gets this time of year.  There is practically no noise now except for my own footfall on the dried grass and leaves.  Most of the birds have migrated and the insects are hibernating.  I always think of this quote when November rolls around.

No fruits, no flowers, no leaves, no birds,
~Thomas Hood

The Lord preserves the simple.  ~Psalm 116:6 

What simple things are you thankful for?

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Right to Hang....

The Right to Hang out the laundry was on the front page of Yahoo News this morning,  and those that hang have got a lot of snooty city folks and housing development administrators' "panties in a wad" due to it's so-called unsightliness.  I'm a long-time clothesline hanger and have been practicing this method of drying since I was a kid at home.  Many "hangers" are finding great savings on their electricity bill and the pleasure that comes from the age-old task of pegging clothes outdoors and breathing in the fragrance of freshly laundered, sun-kissed, wind-whipped sheets, towels and T-shirts.  There's nothing in the world like lying down in your comfy bed with that scrumptious fresh air wafting about your head.

When all the buzz today is "green living" I can only imagine that the restrictions on clotheslines will soon be a thing of the past.  But it makes me wonder how they might try to regulate the method of hanging out?  Will underthings and nighties be restricted to the center lines while towels and sheets hide them between the front and back lines?  Will there be a fine issued when the neighbor's undies are blown off the line and into your shrubbery or when Spot the Dog pulls down the blue jeans from Mrs. Jones's line?  Perhaps they'll find a way to keep things more eye-appealing by requiring all hung towels to be earth tones to match the house paint or perhaps they'll  require sheets hung on Mondays and towels on Tuesdays and no hanging of underthings on the weekends when children are at home.  We surely want to keep clotheslines "G" rated.  Should there be a ban on hanging out when the wind speed is above 25 mph to avoid stray clothes coming of the line?  Surely hanging out will not be allowed to be a free expression of each family, will it?  How did they do it back in the Olden Days without ruffling the neighbors' feathers?  Or were feathers always ruffled no matter the hang out style?

Thank goodness I live in the country where I can hang out my laundry in total freedom, in any fashion and on any day I like.  My main concern about country hanging is dust and dirt, especially when my family members drive through the yard, kicking up gravel and dust which wafts over to the clothesline. Nothing makes me sizzle more than seeing the dirt fly when I've just hung out a load of wet wash on the line.  On warm fall days like today, I have to watch for wasps in the pant legs and arms of the clothes.  They tend to crawl in when the sun gets low and the air starts cooling so a good shake is in order when collecting the clothes from the line.  Other than that, my two neighbors don't mind a bit about my hanging, but I wonder if my style tells any secrets about me?  Enjoy the poem below which will give all you hangers something to think about next time you're pinning things to the clothesline.

The Clothesline

A clothesline was a news forecast
To neighbors passing by.
There were no secrets you could keep
When clothes were hung to dry.
It also was a friendly link
For neighbors always knew
If company had stopped on by
To spend a night or two.
For then you'd see the fancy sheets
and towels on the line;
You'd see the comp'ny tablecloths
With intricate design.
The line announced a baby's birth
To folks who lived inside
As brand new infant clothes were hung
So carefully with pride.
The ages of the children could
So readily be known
By watching how the sizes changed
You'd know how much they'd grown.
It also told when illness struck,
As extra sheets were hung;
Then nightclothes, and a bathrobe, too,
Haphazardly were strung.
It said, "Gone on vacation now"
When lines hung limp and bare.
It told "We're back!" when full lines sagged
With not an inch to spare.
New folks in town were scorned upon
If wash was dingy gray,
As neighbors raised their brows, and looked
Disgustedly away.
But clotheslines now are of the past
For dryers make work less.
Now what goes on inside a home
Is anybody's guess.
I really miss that way of life.
It was a friendly sign
When neighbors knew each other best
By what hung on the line!

~Marilyn Walker


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