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

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Thanksgiving Cactus...

She's in bloom again!  She's actually called a Christmas Cactus, but the past two or three years, she has bloomed at Thanksgiving and Easter and sometimes in between times, so I'm really not sure what to call her.   How about Beautiful?  When the trees are all bare and the the majority of the birds have all flown south and the grasses and flowers are all spent, I am blessed and grateful for my little indoor flower garden.  There is no place of honor where she grows.  She prefers the inconspicuous basement corner near the window in my laundry room to any other place in the house.  It's rather cool and very bright there and I guess she likes the climate.  I'd sometimes like to move her out to the main hub of the house, the dining room , but I know she would not be  happy with so much warmth and attention, so the laundry room remains her happy home.  Since I find myself in the laundry room often, I observe and appreciate her ebb and flow of loveliness.  Now and then I will invite a family member or visitor into the laundry room for a peek at her, but mostly, she lives in seclusion. 

I think of her as a gift from God, given especially to me.  He knows how much I love beautiful, growing things, and He knows that the rough and rustic country where I live does not produce blooms like this, but instead, grasses and forbes, with a beauty of their own, but meant mostly for grazing livestock.  I'm not frustrated by that, but I am grateful when I get the treat of such beauty right where I live -- even in the humble place where it prefers to grow -- the laundry room.  In  remote and obscure places, God brings beauty.  He does it in our lives too.

Be still and know that I am God.
~Psalm 46:10

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Sunday dinner.....

Well, here it is. Sunday.  My favorite day of the week.  One of the reasons it's my favorite day is because God gave it to us as a day of rest.  I am always ready for a good rest by the end of the week, aren't you?  I think God was brilliant to come up with the idea and I appreciate that He geve us this sweet gift every single week!  It's up to us to make it a restful, refreshing time.

I have always been big on Sunday Dinner.  We usually have a rather large meal around noon or thereafter, and it comes complete with a nice table setting (nothing fancy, just table cloth and napkins and perhaps candles) and dessert.  I love having the family around the table, relaxing and enjoying the Meal of the Day.  It's THE meal of the day because it's the only one I cook on Sunday.  Why?  Because I need a break from my regular grind too.  I like to prepare Sunday meals that I can do ahead or meals that can be tossed into a crock pot or into the oven to slow cook while we are away at church.  Even if we don't make church, I still like to make Sunday meals this way.

Today we had a most scrumptious meal that is over-the-top simple to make and it tastes like you really fussed.  I am not a gourmet type of cook, but instead I would call myself a home-style cookin' cook.  That doesn't mean I won't try something fancy or gourmet-ish, but generally, my meals are very basic and hearty.  The menu today looked like this:

Apple Tossed Salad
Country Barbecued Ribs
Baked Potatoes and Baked Acorn Squash
Cranberry-Apple Crisp & Ice Cream

Remember all those apples I was telling you about a week or so ago?  The ones I have labored over and peeled and processed until I was ready to throw them to the chickens?  Well, they're back!!!  I'm using what's left in the garage, and since they are still nice and crisp I'll use them as needed, not committing myself to them nor completely releasing myself from them either.  Today I peeled and sliced apples and put them into a buttered casserole dish along with some fresh cranberries.  The recipe for Cranberry Apple Crisp is one of my all-time favorites from Susan Branch.  If you've never had the pleasure of perusing her book Autumn From the Heart of the Home, you really must borrow it or buy it for yourself.  It's packed with fabulous recipes, ideas for making home more homey, sweet quotations and more.  Plus, every single page is hand-drawn and hand-written (and reprinted, of course) by Susan, herself..  I love taking the book out every autumn, and the recipes are so good that I use it all year long.  For a sampling of her recipes, click here.

Cranberry Apple Crisp

4 large green apples, peeled & sliced
1 c. fresh cranberries (I've used frozen and craisins)
3/4 c. brown sugar, packed
1/2 c. flour
1/2 c. oats
3/4 t. cinnamon
3/4 t. nutmeg
1/3 c. butter, softened

Preheat the oven to 375*.  Butter a square baking dish.  Place apple slices and cranberries in the pan.  Mix remaining ingredients well and sprinkle over fruit.  Bake 30-40 minutes or until golden.  Serve warm with ice cream or whipped cream.

I usually mix my crisp up and set it aside to bake later just as I'm pulling the dinner out of the oven.  By the time we are done eating, the crisp will be done and we can have it for dessert hot-out-of-the-oven or wait awhile and eat it warm later on.

The Country Barbecued Ribs are a snap to make when you plan ahead.  I just put my ribs into a cake pan or roaster  and sprinkle them well with salt and pepper, Cover them tightly with foil and bake them at 300* for 3-4 hours.  Drain off all the liquid and fat and either continue cooking in the oven with your barbecue sauce or you may refrigerate them or freeze them for another time.  I refrigerated mine last night, knowing that I would finish cooking them today.  I baked my already-cooked ribs for another 2 hours (covered with foil) on low heat (300*) with the barbecue sauce so the sauce would caramelize onto the ribs and infuse them with flavor.  Here's the sauce I used, but you can use any barbecue sauce you like.

Delicious Barbecue Sauce

1 c. ketchup
1/4 c. lemon juice (fresh is best)
2 T. brown sugar
1 T. soy sauce
1 T. horse radish & mustard (half of each)
1 T. grated onion (or dried minced)
1 1/2 t. salt
1/2 t. pepper
1/4 t. Tabasco sauce or cayenne pepper
1 clove garlic, minced

Simmer this over low heat for about 10 minutes.  It improves with age so store some for later use.

I pour this entire recipe over a 9x13" pan of ribs and cover with foil. Check ribs as they bake to make sure they don't go dry.  If dry, add a little water.  I haven't done it yet, but I think you could finish off the ribs in the crock pot too!

Tip:  When pork ribs are on sale, buy as many as you can and cook them all in large roasters or foil pans.  Drain off the fat and then freeze in portion sizes you want to make when you need a quick meal or for a meal to take.  This method is also nice when cooking for large crowds.

While the ribs are baking for 2 hours, be sure scrub and prick your potatoes, rub them with olive oil and sprinkle with course salt.  Cut your acorn squash in half, remove seeds and place them cut-side down on an oiled baking dish.  Put the veggies in together with the ribs and everything will be ready to eat when the ribs are done.  Adjust the oven temperature and slide the cranberry-apple crisp into the oven whilst you eat dinner and in a half hour, dessert is served!

Enjoy your Sunday Dinner and your Sunday Rest.
And remember.....

It's not what's on the plates that matters,
It's what's on the chairs.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Handmade Holidays...

It's time to start thinking about the holidays, especially if you are making anything by hand.  If you need some excellent ideas for holiday handcrafting, click the 3rd Annual Handmade Holidays link and you'll be thrilled at the choices. 

Check out this cute lunch bag!  A free tutorial is available for you.  This is just one sample of many wonderful and thoughtful projects at Sew Mama Sew.

Happy Crafting!

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Organized chaos....

I am so thrilled with the new stacking storage boxes that I acquired yesterday from the UPS man.  I love that man.  He brings me everything I want!

I searched the world over for the perfect thing to store my embroidery floss in and never could come up with it until one day as I was visiting around the blogs, I came upon an embroiderer's site where she was showing off her stacked  threads and I knew I had finally found the solution to my mismanaged embroidery floss.  I ordered the Snap'n' Stack by Snapware from Amazon and I am in love with these nifty boxes.  I had been storing my embroidery floss in  sandwich sized ziplock bags and tossed them willy-nilly into a larger box.  And now, with my new purchase,  I have beautiful see-through organized chaos.  That's my style.  I don't want too much fiddling around or too much organizing, just a bit of corralling works perfect for me.   

I'm so happy!

Organizing is what you do before you do something, so that when you do it, it is not all mixed up. 
~Florynce Kennedy

Sunday, November 01, 2009


The Milkmaid, Jan Vermeer 

Everything that is done in the world
is done by hope.
~Martin Luther

A favorite family hymn:
A Mighty Fortress is Our God
By Martin Luther

Click to enlarge music


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