This blog has permanently moved to a new blogging address. Come on over to
The Potter's Shed!

Saturday, December 31, 2011

My Favorite Movies of 2011

We do love movies at our house and watch plenty.   Here are my favorites from 2011. . . .

Nacho Libre (2006 PG) - Typical Jack Black hilarity.  A silly movie about "Nacho" who was orphaned as a boy and grew up in the monastery where he now serves as the monastery cook.   He has always desired to be a famous wrestler, and begins secretly going out to wrestle in the local wrestling club where he hopes to win fame and fortune and the heart of his love (a very beautiful young nun who has recently arrived at the monastery).  Our whole family enjoyed this movie!

The King's Speech (2010 R) -  Has anyone not heard of this movie?  Story of King George VI who came suddenly and unexpectedly to the throne when his elder brother abdicated in order to marry Wallis Simpson.  This was particularly daunting for George as he had struggled with a severe stutter his entire life.  This movie chronicles him overcoming that stutter.  I love Helena Bonham Carter as his wife, Queen Elizabeth (that's the Queen Mom - current Queen Elizabeth II's mother). Rated R for language and LOTS of it, but within the context it is acceptable.  If you trust your older children not to repeat the bad language that was part of King George's therapy, it would be a great movie for them to watch.

Cold Comfort Farm (1995 PG) - 1930's England is the setting for this drama-comedy about a young woman who goes to stay on a family-owned "farm" (more like a boarding house) where she is the lead caretaker.  The Farm is inhabited by a cast of oddball characters which makes for a lot of craziness.  Based on a 1932 book by Stella Gibbons of the same name.  The cast is phenomenal: Kate Beckinsale, Ian McKellan, Joanna Lumley, Eileen Atkins, Stephen Fry, and loads more faces you'll recognize.  Older teens might enjoy this, but for some reason I seem to remember one scene of drug use (marijuana), but can't find it mentioned in any of the reviews, so maybe I mis-remember!

Stone of Destiny (2008 - PG) - Set in early 1950s.  True story of four young men who plot to steal the Scottish "Stone of Scone" from the British to return it to its rightful place in Scotland.  Funny story and great history.  Great family movie!  Kids should enjoy the excitement of the boys plotting to steal the stone.

Opa! (2005 - PG-13, very brief nudity and some language)  I'd let my kids watch this although I don't think they'd be all that interested.  The nudity is not in a sexual context (we see a man's tush as he jumps in the water to go swimming).  Stars Matthew Modine, whose acting is outshined by his co-star Agni Scott.  Story is about an archeologist  who comes to the Greek island of Patmos in search of a legendary artifact.  In the course of his search he meets and falls in love with a Greek young woman who runs a local eatery.  A sweet romance and comedy.

Rabbit-Proof Fence (2002 - PG) - In the 1930s aboriginal children were systematically removed from their homes and placed in training schools all across Australia.  This is the story of two sisters and a cousin who escape from their school and head home on foot across the Outback.  Kenneth Brannagh stars.

The Syrian Bride (2004 - NR, but I'd say PG) - A family drama and a political one.  Thankfully the political didn't drown out the family.  This is the story of a Druze family on the Israeli side of the Israeli-Syrian border whose daughter is marrying a young man on the Syrian side.  Due to complicated politics, once she crosses the border to marry her new husband, she will never be able to return home to her family, so the marriage is very bittersweet.  Funny, sad, educational.

Serenity (but only if you've watched the Firefly TV series) - :)  If you watch Firefly, you get it...if not no amount of explanation can adequately describe.  If you haven't watched Firefly - DO!  It is still on Netflix streaming, I believe.

A Summer in Genoa (2008 - R) - Colin Firth stars in this movie about a newly widowed man and his two daughters who travel to Genoa for a summer.  The father has been asked to come work in the university.  While there they begin to heal after their mother's sudden death in a car crash.  A slow movie, so if that isn't something you can tolerate, this might not be the movie for you.

The Way Back (2010 - PG-13) - a group of WWII Siberian labor camp escapees attempt to reach freedom.  They travel through Siberia, Gobi Desert, and the Himalayas on foot.  Fantastic scenery.  Rated PG-13, but we would have no qualms about letting our 12 and 15 year old watch this.  One bit of raunchiness (men in the labor camp drawing nude pictures of women) at the very beginning and a very little bit of language, but other than that a very clean movie.

The Lion in Winter (2003 - Not Rated, made for TV, but definitely PG-13 for some brief nudity and one scene with frank sexual language) - Glen Close, Patrick Stewart - remake of 1968 movie which was based on the 1966 Broadway play) - A fictional story based on King Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine. Set during a fictional Christmas Court during which King Henry is trying to determine who will succeed him.  Fantastic acting, as you'd expect from the stars.

Housewife, 49  (2006 - Not Rated, made for TV - PG just due to the subject matter) - a British movie set in WW2 England.  Follows a housewife from the start of the war to the end.  She begins working in a women's auxiliary (to support the war effort) which, over time, gives her confidence in herself.  True story based on a diary kept by the main character.

That Thing You Do (1996- PG) - Tom Hanks wrote, directed, and starred in this sweet movie about a group of young musicians who make it to the "big time" in the 1960's.  Great family movie!  Barely rated PG, in my opinion.  Erik and I had seen this before, but watched it again with our kids who loved it, too.

And the worst movies I've seen in 2011:  Frozen (I wasn't surprised this was bad because it didn't have good Netflix ratings, but thought it might at least be exciting.  Sadly, it wasn't even exciting... it was just stupidly BAD), followed closely by Greenberg (highly rated by the critics), which I thought had NO redeeming qualities.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Nativity Carnival: Keeping Advent -- Dec 28th

Welcome to the Nativity Carnival: Keeping Advent

Each week, Advent through Epiphany, a new "Mr Linky" will be posted for you to share your Nativity Season-related ideas and thoughts from your blog.  (Just copy the link to your post and paste it into the Mr Linky box below.) 

Also, please add a link on your post back to this page, thanks!

We have been thoroughly enjoying a very relaxing Christmas season.  We've slept in, eaten plenty of leftovers, and enjoyed some games and movies.  There were a few traditions we've done without this year: some due to time, some to expenses, but regardless, the first four days of Christmas have been all that we needed.

I will admit one pang of guilt... we did not attend Christmas worship.  We'd so intended to!  However, some family commitments kept us long out of the house on Christmas Eve and by the time dinner was fixed, eaten and cleared, I was fairly wiped out and still looking at gifts to wrap and stockings to fill.  It makes me sad to say it, but I felt great relief when we made the family decision not to attend the midnight service.  As it was we were up until 1am.  (How thankful I am that my children are late sleepers, even on Christmas morning!  We were able to sleep until after 8.)

A blogging friend (whose blog has recently had a bit of attention after a long season of quiet...much understood quiet, but I've missed her!) sent a message out on Christmas Eve that I found so didn't assuage my guilt when I realized we were not going to attend worship, but as the season has rolled on, I've felt the graciousness of the words. . .
Kathleen Norris writes these lines for Christmas Eve and  I'd share it with my dear mother-friends who might be just as busy or more than me this Christmas Eve and tempted to disgruntled thoughts! She writes, 
"How is it possible to bridge the gap between our sorry reality and the glad, grateful recognition of the Incarnation as the mainstay of our faith? We might begin by acknowledging that if we have neglected the spiritual call of Advent for yet another year, and have allowed ourselves to become thoroughly frazzled by December 24, all is not lost. We are, in fact, in very good shape for Christmas.

It is precisely because we are weary, and poor in spirit, that God can touch us with hope. This is not an easy truth. It means that we accept our common lot, and take up our share of the cross. It means that we do not gloss over the evils we confront every day, both within ourselves and without. Our sacrifices may be great. But as the martyred archbishop of El Salvador, Oscar Romero, once said, it is only the poor and hungry, those who know they need someone on their behalf, who can celebrate Christmas."
I was truly poor in spirit and failing in strength that evening.  And while I didn't make it to a worship service that night (and due to the juggling required for sharing facilities we did not have worship on Christmas day) . . .  I feel we have celebrated Christmas as a wonderful feast:  a feast of much needed togetherness.  But I do look forward to worship this weekend!

How have you been celebrating this Christmas season?  And what are your plans for the rest of the 12 about Epiphany?

If you are reading in a feed reader, please click through to the blog for the Mr. Linky posts! 

For those submitting links: 
So that others might enjoy the carnival, don't forget to add a link on your post back to this page, thanks!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas Eve Eve Silliness

The tree is finally decorated!  We love to wait until very late.  In fact we always wait to decorate until our Christmas company has arrived - usually Christmas Eve or Christmas Eve Eve.  

The Tree all decorated, and photographed with a fun trick.  You like?

Farmor teaches Kalliope about the snow globe.

Artemesia is a meticulous ornament hanger.

Kalliope really was fascinated by the snow globe.

Erik helped Kalliope, who loved hanging ornaments this year.  Of course they were all placed on the same limb, so we had to move them around just a wee bit.

For a bit I sat like a queen and handed out ornaments.  Sadly, this didn't last for long.

I love this crazy photo of Artemisia!

I'm not sure why they were decorating Faramir, but he made a good tree.  See me losing steam in the background?


Our tree.  Simple . . . and we love it.

Artemisia is very good at delaying bedtime with silliness.  And her daddy falls for it!

Blessed Christmas Eve!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Nativity Carnival: Keeping Advent -- Dec 18th

Welcome to the Nativity Carnival: Keeping Advent

Each week, Advent through Epiphany, a new "Mr Linky" will be posted for you to share your Nativity Season-related ideas and thoughts from your blog.  (Just copy the link to your post and paste it into the Mr Linky box below.)  NOTE: next week's link will probably posted on Tuesday.

Also, please add a link on your post back to this page, thanks!

My kitchen arrangement (hides the dishes in the sink) all decked out for
Advent (purple and silver additions).  I have Christmas additions ready to be added.

Christmas is only a week away!  I finally have all my gifts purchased, the house is modestly decorated, and I have purchased the ham for Christmas dinner, but that is about IT!

Faramir expressing his feelings about the frozen food section of Wal-Mart.
His face mirrors my feelings!
The tree is still sitting in three pieces waiting to be assembled, and I am PRAYING that all the lights work, because the entire metro area is completely OUT of lights.  Unless you want pink.  Or blue.

Our Saint Nicholas collection on the family room mantle.

Haven't done cards or even the photo to put on the cards...I'm afraid I'm going to have to do an "e-card" this year.  Which would be a step up from last year, but sadly won't be able to go to the many friends for whom we only have mailing addresses.  I keep tell myself that I do have until Jan 5th to get cards delivered, right?!?!

Found this cute little lantern for $5 at Lowe's.  Added the bow and jingle bells, then
stuffed the Christmas lights inside the lantern, too.   Sadly, no fresh pine garland here.

I still have friends' gifts to deliver (Fig Jam made from our fig tree), grocery shopping to do, and gifts to wrap.  And that doesn't include the fun stuff I want to do (go see lights, etc) or the cleaning we need to do for company.

Fresh pine garland - smells so good! We hung sweet little white lights in the garland
to begin with.  But 1/3 of the strand was out!  These were the ONLY white lights I could find.
They aren't wonderful, but they work!
But more importantly, my heart doesn't feel very prepared for Christmas which will be here regardless of my readiness, won't it?

The kitchen mantle: My crochet garland with traditional Swedish straw ornaments.
 I made one of these in white last year and love the way it looks on the tree. 

What was it the narrator of the "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" says?

“And the Grinch, with his Grinch-feet ice cold in the snow, stood puzzling and puzzling, how could it be so? It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags. And he puzzled and puzzled 'till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before. What if Christmas, he thought, doesn't come from a store. What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.” 

And by all means it does.  Lord, help me live into that meaning this year!

If you are reading in a feed reader, please click through to the blog for the Mr. Linky posts! 

For those submitting links: 
So that others might enjoy the carnival, don't forget to add a link on your post back to this page, thanks!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Nativity Carnival : Keeping Advent -- Dec 13th

Welcome to the Nativity Carnival: Keeping Advent

Each Sunday, Advent through Epiphany, a new "Mr Linky" will be posted for you to share your Nativity Season-related ideas and thoughts from your blog.  (Just copy the link to your post and paste it into the Mr Linky box below.)

Also, please add a link on your post back to this page, thanks!

 Feast of Saint Lucy Daybook

outside my window . . . robin's egg blue sky, with wisps of pink, but not from my window.  I'm actually sitting in a small local coffee shop.

listening to . . . Christmas music, a quiet conversation from a couple sitting nearby, rustling of paper from behind the counter.

wearing . . . dark tan sweater with bright red top under, brown "swishy" skirt, bright red knee socks and ankle boots.

so grateful for . . . my husband's much needed vacation!  He's not had one all year (he traveled with us to Arkansas, but worked each day while we played), and he's been working VERY LONG hours for quite a few months.

reading . . . Winter Pascha by Fr Thomas Hopko

thinking . . . about how behind I am on Christmas preparations this year.  My house is still half decorated (we can't find the rest of our lights!), I had to be out this morning (taking Athos to driver's ed), so no St. Lucia delivery by the girls, a good bit of shopping left to do, and still haven't even taken a photo for our Christmas card.

creating . . . made Artemisia a hat (crochet) and now working on a matching one for Kalliope.

around the house . . . the upstairs sitting area has most of our Christmas decorations laying about waiting to find their home.  I do have a lovely Saint Nicholas mantle and the Julbock has found his home on the half wall between the dining room and the family room.  I've got the nativity on the mantle and made a pretty crochet garland to hang the Swedish straw ornaments on (at the mantle).

from the kitchen . . . Maybe Saint Lucy's Saffron Bread today, or at least this week sometime.

real education in our home . . . I'm counting driver's ed as school.  The kid spends 6 hours in class for 5 days this week.  He's learning...that's school, right?

rhythm and beauty in our home . . . regardless of how behind I am, the Christmas decorations I have out do make the house look so lovely.  I just love it!

one of my favorite things . . . crochet garland - so easy, and they have a sweet old-fashionedness to them that I love.

recent milestones . . . Athos started DRIVER'S ED this week.  I am very conflicted about this, of course.  :)

the week ahead . . . bible study Christmas party last night (with awesome opera singers, decorating contests and good food), making Saint Lucy bread today, another Christmas party tomorrow, a special lunch celebration Thursday, and a trip to a historic plantation for their Christmas event on Saturday.

picture thoughts . . . (coming soon) - I needed to get this post up and haven't downloaded photos, yet.  :)

If you are reading in a feed reader, please click through to the blog for the Mr. Linky posts! 

For those submitting links: So that others might enjoy the carnival, don't forget to add a link on your post back to this page, thanks!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Caramelized Onion and Cheddar Souffle

Last night we feasted for Saint Nicholas Day!  I'd planned on making a Caramelized Onion and Cheddar Souffle, but couldn't find the recipe, so I dug out Joy of Cooking and tweaked a basic souffle recipe there.  This isn't a traditional is a little easier, but just as DELICIOUS!

Here's my recipe...

Caramelized Onion and Cheddar Souffle  

2 lg onions (get the sweetest ones you can find - the flatter the sweater), very thinly sliced
1 T olive oil (or so)
2 T butter

In a large saute pan, drizzle the olive oil and drop in the  butter warm over med heat.  When the butter has melted and just starts to bubble, drop in the onions all at once.  Give them a good salting and lower the heat quickly to low.   (The salt, which "sweats" the onions, is essential to this, so be sure to use it!)  Let the onions cook very slowly, stirring regularly until very soft and almost "melty".  This will take 15 minutes, or so...maybe a bit longer?

You can then prepare the souffle (or set the onions aside and use later - I did this to save a little time at dinner.  Started the onions about an hour before and left them covered on the stove until I was ready to make the souffle.)  You want your souffle to be the last thing ready for the table.

Basic "Blender Cheese Souffle" from Joy of Cooking 
(Makes about 6 servings.  Firmer than a fancier souffle - but every bit as delicious!  I don't have a blender, so I used my food processor):

Prepare a souffle baking dish (something round and with fairly high sides...I use a 9in round baking dish with about 4" high sides) by buttering the bottom and sides well.  Dust the sides only with grated parmesan cheese (keeps the souffle from rising too high, and adds flavor, but otherwise not essential).

Preheat oven to 325.

You'll need:
6 oz sharp cheddar cheese (JoC recommends cubed, but I used grated)
1 1/2 c milk
2 T butter
6-8 pieces of crustless bread, torn into large pieces (I used day old french bread with the "crust"...pieces about 1" big)
1/2 tsp salt
dash of pepper
4 egg yolks,
4 egg whites

Have the butter, bread, salt and pepper ready as you need to add them quickly and all at the same time.

Heat the milk just to boiling.  (I accidentally boiled mine, just let it cool a moment before using in the recipe).  Pour milk into blender (or processor) and quickly add the butter, bread, salt and pepper.  Blend (or process) until thickened.

Add the cheese and blend a bit more.

In a large bowl, beat the egg yolks until lemon-colored.  Add the cheese mixture very slowly, beating constantly.

In another large bowl, beat the egg whites until stiff, but not dry.  Fold them into the cheese and egg yolk mixture, gently.  Add the onions.

Pour mixture into your prepared souffle dish and bake 50 minutes or until set.  (It should have a bit of golden amber color on the top and a nice "lift", but won't be way up over the top of the dish.)

Serve quickly for the most drama...but fallen is equally tasty!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Nativity Carnival: Keeping Advent -- Dec 4th

Welcome to the Nativity Carnival: Keeping Advent

Each Sunday, Advent through Epiphany, a new "Mr Linky" will be posted for you to share your Nativity Season-related ideas and thoughts from your blog.  (Just copy the link to your post and paste it into the Mr Linky box below.)

Also, please add a link on your post back to this page, thanks!

(My computer is dead and with it my pictures and plans for this post - just a power cord issue.  So, I'm stuck begging time on my son's computer.  I hope you don't mind a post of links!)

Artemisia said to me yesterday, "I wonder if the animals understood what was going on when Jesus was born in the stable."  What a sweet thought to contemplate.   What do you think?

While you think about about some Advent music? 

Did you read about our Saint Nicholas feast yesterday?  Next week, the 13th, is Saint Lucia Day (and this one).  We'll be celebrating that, too.  Maybe both girls will get to deliver early morning goodies to their brothers and dad this year!

What are you doing to observe Advent this week?

If you are reading in a feed reader, please click through to the blog for the Mr. Linky posts! 

For those submitting links: So that others might enjoy the carnival, don't forget to add a link on your post back to this page, thanks!

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Virtual Advent Tour - Saint Nicholas

What is your first memory of Santa Claus?  Was it in the mall at a "Santa's Workshop"?  Was it in a book or a movie?  Was it setting out cookies or digging through your stocking on Christmas morning?  I'm not sure what my earliest memory of Santa is, but my most clear one is the year Santa actually stopped in for a visit on Christmas Eve.

I must have been around 4 years old...maybe 5 or maybe 3.  I just remember being at a neighbor's home enjoying Christmas Even festivities when the adults began to make a big commotion about something.

"Did you hear that?"
"What could that be?"
"Oh, there's someone on the roof!"
"Could that be Santa Claus?"

Just as it began to dawn on me what they were saying, in the front door walks this huge man in a red outfit...Santa Claus!  I remember feeling a little apprehensive, but after some coaxing I approached him and shared with him what I hoped to get on Christmas.  I have no idea what I asked for!  (Mom, do you remember?)  The magic of the moment melted over me slowly.  It is one of the crystalline childhood memories...something you are certain you'll never forget.

After I had kids, we continued the Santa tradition, but adapted it a bit for our family.  We hoped to take a little bit of the "Santa" hype off of Christmas morning by celebrating Saint Nicholas' Day on December 6th.  This is not a custom that either my husband or I grew up with, but our kids have really come to enjoy it.

So what is our Saint Nicholas celebration like?

Following an old European custom we set out shoes on the night of December 5th to be filled with small gifts by the good Saint during the night.  In the morning, we enjoy a special feast day breakfast (the menu varies, but we ALWAYS have hot cocoa with a candy cane in it).  During the day, the kids and I often make gingerbread cookies.  This is the day the first of our real Christmas decorations come out (before that we ONLY have the Advent wreath and a few other Advent items): a small collection of "Santas" displayed together on our mantle.  Christmas "blooms" in our home with little bits of decorations coming out during the Advent season.

As we've grown into this "new" tradition, we've discovered that getting one or two smallish gifts early in the season really has helped relieve a bit of the "wait" for Christmas.   We also enjoy that by celebrating Saint Nicholas rather than just Santa Claus, we get to celebrate a REAL person's life.  And, most importantly, it provides a little separation between Santa and CHRISTmas.  It isn't Santamas, after all!

Would you like to celebrate Saint Nicholas or just learn more?

Saint Nicholas Day is coming up this week on Tuesday, December 6th.  It doesn't take much to start a new tradition...just do a little research and then gather up your family's shoes (and a few small items to tuck inside them)!

Here are some resources:
:-: The Saint Nicholas Center has a huge website with online stories, book recommendations, crafts, and a catalog.

:-: There are some lovely children's books about Saint Nicholas.  My favorites are:  Saint Nicholas by Ann Tompert and Santa's Favorite Story by Hisako Aoki.

Happy Saint Nicholas Day to you!

  If you enjoy what you read here, poke around my blog a little bit and you'll find lots of other posts about Advent from the past few years: 

(Advent is up currently, I plan to add more during
this upcoming year.  You'll find links to several Advent
Carnivals from past years.)

(note this one began a couple of weeks ago 
and will run through Epiphany, January 6th.)

Monday, November 28, 2011

Daybook: Monday, Nov 28th

outside my window . . .  another gray day has broken.  But I think the gray will bring rain and a change in weather tomorrow - sunny and cool.  I'm ready for the chilly weather!  We had some in October, but November has been much warmer.  Nearly 80 degrees recently!

listening to . . . the train whistle in the far distance, tick tocking....and now "Curious George".  A little one just came to snuggle while I finish my morning preparations.

wearing . . . still in my pajamas!  But I'm planning to wear jeans, a black 3/4 sleeve top with a bright raspberry long sleeve top underneath...and a grey and pale raspberry scarf.

so grateful for . . . my grandmother coming to spend Thanksgiving with us!  I haven't had a REAL visit with her in years...just day trip visits.  I'm so thankful all my children have gotten to know her.

pondering . . . how to encourage Faramir to push on through the last bit of school work before Christmas break.  He's so ready to be DONE.

reading . . . Keeping House, On the Incarnation, still The Orthodox Church, and The Oresteia with my reading group.

thinking . . . about Christmas decorations...and Advent plans...and St. Nicholas Day, just around the corner!

on my iPod . . . loaded some new books:  War and Peace, Wicked, and In the Company of Cheerful Ladies

around the house . . . getting ready for more guests this weekend.  Missionary friends are staying with us while they visit our church.  Oh, and new curtains for the kitchen!  I'm hoping they'll help with the glare (it is a very sunny kitchen) and some noise reduction.

from the kitchen . . . maybe some batches of Spiced Pumpkin Bread for the freezer.

the church year in our home . . . the Advent wreath is up.  Today I'm going to print out some images for our little icon cards.  We plan on using Katherine's Jesse Tree devotions.

one of my favorite things . . . fresh cranberry relish!  I just love the sweet tartness of it.  Why do I only make it at Thanksgiving?

the week ahead . . . back to school for the kids, today Artemisia and I have to go check the lost and found for items she left at church yesterday, CC on Wednesday for the boys, missionary friends arrive Friday with a special dinner and dessert for them to share their work with our friends.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Nativity Carnival: Keeping Advent -- Nov 27th

Welcome to the Nativity Carnival: Keeping Advent

Each Sunday, Advent through Epiphany, a new "Mr Linky" will be posted for you to share your Nativity Season-related ideas and thoughts from your blog.  (Just copy the link to your post and paste it into the Mr Linky box below.)

Also, please add a link on your post back to this page, thanks!

The first Sunday of Advent, and a new liturgical year, is here!  It came in gray and slightly cool at our home...with a batch of cinnamon rolls to coax the kids from their beds and get them out the door in a pleasant mood.  It is always so hard to get up this first Sunday of Advent after the busy-ness of Thanksgiving.  And we only did a little Black Friday shopping!  (Hubby and I went to a few stores looking at rugs and curtains for our kitchen which desperately needs some noise absorbing textiles.  Didn't buy anything, but probably will this week.)

We said good-bye to our Thanksgiving company: my mom, step-dad, and grandmother on Saturday morning.  There were movies and playdates in the afternoon - and very tired kids last night.

This is the first Advent in a long time when we are not about to or have just recently gone through a major life change: in 2008 it was pending adoption travel, in 2009 it was a newly adopted baby, in 2010 a new home (and the flu)...and now...nothing.  Baby has been home for nearly 3 years...and we've been in our new home for a little over a year.  Wow - normalcy....will we know what to do with it?

If it is any indication, I actually have my Advent box emptied, the wreath assembled and some of my Advent books ready to be used as needed.   So, that bodes well!  You'd think someone who has lots of great ideas to share would be totally ready for Advent, right?   ** sigh **

I have managed to put together a menu plan.  Do you menu plan in advance?   I find it REALLY helpful!  Otherwise I wind up wandering around in my pantry, or worse the grocery store, trying to think of SOMETHING to have for dinner.  The trick, I think, is not being married to the menu plan, just dating it.  LOL!  Seriously, though, I just use it as a helpful tool...not at all written in stone.  You'll notice that I plan breakfast and lunches, too.  Since we are home all week together, I plan these meals for the kids.  Hubby and I tend to eat leftovers for our lunches rather than the "kid" food.

So, today, my contribution to the Nativity Carnival is my Menu plan for the Nativity Season.  If there are any recipes that you'd like me to share, just leave a comment!

If you are reading in a feed reader, please click through to the blog for the Mr. Linky posts!

For those submitting links: So that others might enjoy the carnival, don't forget to add a link on your post back to this page, thanks!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Nativity Carnival: Keeping Advent -- Nov 20th

Welcome to the Nativity Carnival: Keeping Advent

Each Sunday, Advent through Epiphany, a new "Mr Linky" will be posted for you to share your Nativity Season-related ideas and thoughts from your blog.  (Just copy the link to your post and paste it into the Mr Linky box below.)

Also, please add a link on your post back to this page, thanks!

Christ the King Sunday, November 20th, 2011

Yesterday was Christ the King Sunday, also known as "Stir Up Sunday".

While I don't have any plans to make a Christmas Pudding, I thought perhaps a recipe that requires some good stirring, but could be made well ahead of Christmas might be in order.  So, I'd like to share with you a recipe for Spiced Pumpkin Bread.  I found this on, so I can take NO credit for it.  This also freezes up beautifully...and that is one thing I love to do this time of year, make easy sweet breads that can be frozen and then brought back out whenever we have company or I need to take a treat to share to a party, etc.  This would also make a nice baked good gift.

Spiced Pumpkin Bread
Makes 2 loaves.

3 c sugar
1 c vegetable oil
3 lg eggs
1 can or pumpkin (16 oz)
3 c all purpose flour
1 tsp ground cloves
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground nutmeg
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 c coarsely chopped nuts (recipe recommended walnuts, I've used pecans.  But I've also omitted these altogether.)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Butter and flour 2 9x5x3 loaf pans.  Beat sugar and oil in large bowl to blend. (I didn't pull out my mixer for this, just used a spoon to mix energetically.)  Mix in eggs and pumpkin.  Sift flour, cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, baking soda, and baking powder into another large bowl.  Stir into pumpkin mixture in 2 additions.  Mix in nuts, if desired.  Divide batter equally between two prepared pans. Bake until knife inserted into the center comes out clean, about 1 hour and 10 minutes.  Transfer pans to racks and cool 10 minutes.  Using a knife, gently release bread from side of pan.  Turn loaves out onto racks and cool completely.

Some feast days coming up in the next couple of weeks:

:-: Saint Clement's feast (November 23rd) - stock up and feast on clementine oranges!  (I wonder if that is why they got this name?  Anyone know?)  He's also the patron saint of blacksmiths and metal workers.  It is the day before Thanksgiving, so I'll be polishing silver.

:-: Saint Andrew's feast (November 30th) - Andrew is a patron of many localities and countries (Scotland, Greece, diocese of Constantinople, Germany), so you have your pick of foods to choose from.  Since we have Scottish roots, we'll probably have something from this tradition.  Might also make some felt "thistles" to pin to our lapels.

:-: And Saint Nicholas Day is only 2 weeks away (Dec 6th)!  Will you be celebrating?  This is a special feast day in our home!

***And finally, I want to point you to a lovely and simple Jesse Tree resource.  I love that these readings are only enough for us to have to do a few nights a week to keep up.  With four children, there was always someone going somewhere...or something coming up that kept us from staying caught up with other Jesse Tree readings.***

If you are reading in a feed reader, please click through to the blog for the Mr. Linky posts!

For those submitting links: So that others might enjoy the carnival, don't forget to add a link on your post back to this page, thanks!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Nativity Carnival: Keeping Advent -- Nov 13th

Welcome to the Nativity Carnival: Keeping Advent

Each Sunday, Advent through Epiphany, a new "Mr Linky" will be posted for you to share your Nativity Season-related ideas and thoughts from your blog.  (Just copy the link to your post and paste it into the Mr Linky box below.)

Also, please add a link on your post back to this page, thanks!

Oh, my have I been grouchy this week.  Every day it seems I notice more and more Christmas decorations going up in grocery stores, department stores, and neighborhoods.  All I can think is, "We've still got eleven days before Thanksgiving, people!"  And in my book, even THAT is too early.  But two weeks before Christmas?  And some stores have been setting out holiday displays for nearly a month now!  It is hard to take.

Our Advent wreath from last year.  Very simple.  Glass taper holders on a cake stand with clear
and purple flat marbles and greenery.

However, did you know that some Christians are just about to begin their preparations for Christmas?  No?  Neither did I until recently.  But these Christians do it right...they actually FAST during Advent.  Imagine that...while the rest of the world "parties on" (with excesses of food, decorations, and activities), these Christians quietly prepare to receive the Incarnation, the Christ Child.  Who are these Christians?  The Eastern Orthodox.  Their Nativity Fast begins on Tuesday, November 15th.  Depending on the church (Greek, Russian, Antiochian, etc) some will fast very strictly (no meat, animal products, or oil) and others allow some animal products to varying degrees.  And even with these restrictions, practices vary based on personal abilities. (You Orthodox out there, please correct me if I get any of this wrong.)

Those of us in the west, particularly we Protestants, could learn a valuable lesson here.  I am finding more and more the truth in the vacuum theory.  Nature abhors a vacuum...and this is true in human nature as well.  When we remove something (fasting before feasting, in this case), our natural tendency is to fill it with something else and of course that would be more feasting!  Protestants (especially American Protestants), in their zeal to "de-Catholicize" their faith, have removed from their practices so many of the traditions of the Church that these vacuums are then filled with junk from the secular culture.  

Kalliope in the very dim light of our Advent devotions. 

God established His Church.  He led the Church Fathers to build a carefully balanced annual cycle of fasting and feasting, and we, in our modern attempts to "correct" those who've gone before, now have a very out-of-balance faith.  It makes you wonder how that has affected us spiritually. 

Advent offers us a chance to regain some of that balance.  I plan to take the time this year to prepare my heart and my home for the Christ Child.  How about you?

If you are reading in a feed reader, please click through to the blog for the Mr. Linky posts!

For those submitting links: So that others might enjoy the carnival, don't forget to add a link on your post back to this page, thanks!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Keeping House: Preface

Honestly, this is a discouraging time to begin reading a book on housekeeping.

My husband has been working 14-16 hours a day, or more, for the past month or two.  He rises and gets to work around 8am and ends his day around 1am or 2am.  Since he works from home, we do have him around to pitch in at breakfast and dinner...and other times during the day.  It certainly eases the load I'd normally be carrying in the home if he were at an office during these hours.

Girls and Daddy carving our jack o'lantern

In addition to that, I've been taking two classes at night and serving as co-coordinator for my church's Women's Retreat.  These commitments, in addition to a heavier homeschool load for all my children, has left me very little time to do housekeeping, much less housecleaning. (And there is a difference!)  There have been moments of housekeeping, but they have been far and few between.

When I came home from the retreat this past weekend, I exhaled and looked around my home.  I am not exaggerating when I say there was an easily visible layer of dust on most of my furniture.  That served as a visible accusation: "You are slacking!"  On the whole I feel our home is barely limping along at the moment.  Home meals are cooked, clothes are managing to get laundered, basic cleaning is being done...but none of this is being accomplished by much more than grudging duty.

When Willa announced that she would be blogging through this book (Keeping House: The Litany of Everyday Living by Margaret Kim Peterson), I made my first "impulse" Kindle purchase.  (oh, my the ease of that transaction is tempting)  I felt in a moment that perhaps joining this book blogging would help me find some inspiration to get my home in order.

Roasting and spicing the pumpkin seeds is our favorite All Hallows Eve tradition! 

I'm thankful we are going slowly through the book, although it is an easy read...and I'm already well past the Preface.  Going slowly will let me keep up with the blogging.

One of my questions going into this is, "Can someone discuss this in a Christian context without over spiritualizing it, making it too abstract to be any use, or, on the other end of the spectrum, without it becoming another example of legalism.  We'll see...

The author began her book by doing informal interviews with her friends.  She found a commonality in their desire to run their homes with "enough predictability and order for it to be easy and pleasurable to invite others in for a visit or a meal."  How many times have you been embarrassed to have someone come to your front door?  You know you *should* invite them in, but where would they sit?  Do you even have a clean glass to offer then a drink?  Surely, most of us have experienced this!  So, it is a common enough desire.  However, is this enough of a reason to keep house?  Our family has to live in that chaos on the other side of the front door, is that appropriate?  Surely, we shouldn't keep house with the main goal to be avoiding embarrassment.

Artemisia and Kalliope dressed as the Winter and Spring Fairy Princesses.
 Good friend the Little Mermaid in the middle.  

Our author, Mrs. Peterson, noticed that each of the women she spoke with felt that "the disciplines involved in feeding and clothing, and sheltering others, beginning with the members of their own households, were profoundly worthwhile...."  Do you feel that way?  Honestly, there are times I see the value and many times I just don't.  I mean, yes, I want to have clean clothes and freshly made food for my family...but do I always feel that it is "profoundly worthwhile"?  No.  Sometimes I just feel it is my duty...and that it keeps me from feeling out of sorts.  And sometimes I just do it because my family expects it to be done!

 As a homeschool mother, I often find that I can relate more to working mothers than stay-at-home mothers who send their children to school outside the home.  I find that I can entirely relate to keeping house in the "leftover bits of time".  I believe this book is written from the perspective of a woman who has a few hours in her home each day to work undistracted.  This is not something most homeschool mothers or working mothers have.  In both these cases, our attention is focused elsewhere for significant portions of the day.  It will be interesting to see if what Mrs. Peterson has to teach us is something that is adaptable to these two family lifestyles.

One quote that struck me, that is true no matter where one works, and no matter how much time one has to devote to housekeeping: "...a Christian home, properly understood,  is never just for one's own family."  If this is the main point and focus of this book, it will have a great deal to say to anyone keeping a home.

"...housekeeping is about practicing sacred disciplines and creating sacred space, for the sake of Christ as we encounter him in our fellow household members and in neighbors, strangers, and guests."  M. K. Peterson, Preface to Keeping House: The Litany of Everyday Life

Be sure to read Willa's first post...and check the comments for other bloggers!

Artemisia and one of her best friends (Dressed as "I Dream of Jeanie") ready for the CANDY!

Friday, November 4, 2011

Willa's blog book club

Willa is reading through Keeping House: A Litany of Everyday Life and plans to blog through it.  She'd love some other bloggers to join her.  I've got the book on my Kindle, so I'm going to at least read and comment on her blog.  I might even manage a blog post here.  The reading schedule she's set is very easy!  Won't you join her?

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Nativity Carnival?

Any bloggers out there interested in a Nativity Season carnival?  I'm thinking: Advent, Christmas and Epiphany.  We've done the Advent Carnival in the past and it was a big success, but I'd love to expand it a bit.  However, I know I won't have time to collect and post links during the holidays. Maybe a weekly "Mr Linkie" (where you add your links yourself) from Nov 20th (the week before Advent starts) until Jan 6th?

If you would be interested in contributing a link, would you leave a comment?  You are welcome to spread the word on your blog, too, in fact I'd be thankful if you would!  If there is enough interest, we're ON!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Fairy Tales for Today

On Saturday, Erik and I took Faramir, Artemisia, and Kalliope to Kings Mountain State Park  and National Military Park in South Carolina.  This is the site of the Battle of Kings Mountain (a Patriot victory - Oct 7, 1780) in which one of our ancestors, Robert Young of Tennessee, is credited with the fatal shot that killed Major Ferguson (the Loyalist commander).  We went to enjoy the fall colors and maybe get a little history.  We definitely got BOTH.

On my way to run an errand recently, I popped on the radio to our local NPR station where a panel of very ardent women were discussing the evil that is the Disney princess empire. One panelist explained her concern that girls get stuck with a princess mentality: looking for a man or money or just really long hair to solve life’s difficulties. They were also quick to point out that the male figures in these stories didn’t fare much better.  What surprised me was that their concern wasn’t just with Disney, it was with the fairy tales even in their original form.

Faramir looking decidedly like a teenager.  Next year, my boy, next year.  We sat in the leaves and enjoyed a picnic lunch. Oh, look!  You can see a tiny corner of someone's sandwich down at the bottom of the picture!

Now, I don't like the disney-ization of fairy tales either, but these women were ready to strip all children's stories of anything that diverged from their political agenda.  We'd be left with stories in which no children lose their mother.  No children are  in any danger.   No ugly creatures are transformed by another's love. No princesses ever need rescue.  No strangers ever offer a poisoned apple.

Artemisia and Faramir race off to explore the homestead at the Living History Farm.  We decided it would be worthwhile to come back when they have the interpreters in the buildings.  (It is "self-guided" most of the time with a few weekends of the year which feature the "farm family".)

It would be safe, I suppose.  But how anemic.  How boring.

These chickens were NOT boring.  Kalliope was particularly interested in these guys.  They clucked and fussed at us.  I think one may have been trying to intimidate us into feeding her.

Fairy tales present opportunities for a child to confront some of their biggest fears, for example being small and helpless in the face of bad people.  Once can see this most clearly in the persistent absence of mothers in fairy tales (only dead mothers and mean stepmothers).  Is this not the epitome of vulnerability to a child?  Fairy tales allow a child to enter into those deep fears, without them being too realistic for comfort, and imagine themselves triumphing by kindness, wit, bravery, and love.

I loved the grey roughness of the wood and the rusty chain contrasted against the clear beauty of the autumn day.

A view across the field toward the barns and pastures.

I know this is not revolutionary thinking.  JRR Tolkein has written about fairy tales. Bruno Bettelheim published The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales.  William J Bennett has compiled volumes of stories that display virtue. GK Chesterton commented on fairy tales in Orthodoxy.   More recently, Vigen Guroian, a theologian, author, and professor of Religious Studies at Univ of Virginia, examined the importance of fairy tales in developing a child's "moral imagination."(a great essay, by the way)

Me and my girls.  That pacifier was becoming Kalliope's best friend by the end of the day when this picture was taken.  She had woken up with a cold and was pretty worn out.

Fairy tales are also just good story-telling.  A good story has a dynamic power which can fire a child's imagination.  When we feed our children’s minds on good stories, those that present Goodness (not just niceness), Truth (not just honesty) and Beauty (not just prettiness), they grow up to be adults who seek those virtues.  Fairy tales are all about Truth and Beauty and Goodness.  Captain Underpants, not so much.

Faramir, Kalliope, Artemisia and Erik watching the cows come home, literally.  

I understand those ladies were just trying to do their best to provide their daughters with "strong role models."  But I would remind them that generations of daughters were able to love fairy tales as children and still manage to grow up to be wise and good mothers, hard workers, and faithful leaders in so many aspects of their lives.  There are more to those fairy tales than just princesses with beautiful dresses and long, flowing hair.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Daybook: Wednesday, Oct 19th

outside my window . . .  it is very drippy.

listening to . . .  a few of Artemisia's friends from Classical Conversations playing upstairs, downstairs, and on the stairs.

wearing . . . dark olive green jeans and a pale purple tank under a tan sweater.

grateful for . . . new, old chairs.  New to me, old to me: they were in my grandmother's home for many years.  We hope to recover them in the near future.

reading . . . Pride and PrejudiceThe Orthodox Church, my most recent "First Things Journal", and the Paul's Epistle to the Romans.

on my iPod . . .  just listened to an interesting show from KERA (Dallas) called "The Case for Boredom."

around the house . . . no more rearranging this week.  Plowed through Artemisia's room sorting clothes and junk.  She just needs a few items to complete some outfits for the fall.

from the kitchen . . . I mentioned last week that I needed to make banana bread, and I did!  Actually made Coconut Banana Bread.  It was delicious!

real education in our home . . . the girls and I read "Ferdinand" last night.  It is one of my favorite books.  I'd forgotten about the "corks" growing on the cork trees.  Artemisia asked, "Is that how cork grows?"  Had to set her straight.

recent milestones . . . Kalliope is now in a booster seat!  Oh, my, a new bed, potty-training and a booster seat all in the last month and a half!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Daybook: Monday, October 10th

outside my window . . .  the woods are really starting to thin out from the thick greenness of summer.  This might be about my favorite moment of autumn: still enough green to highlight the golds and oranges.

listening to . . . NPR, my corn chowder simmering, Kalliope trying to "cook" with me.

wearing . . . jeans, black top with bright blue tank under.

grateful for . . .  a successful backpacking trip for the guys and a relaxing "girls' weekend" for Kalliope, Artemisia and me.

reading . . . Pride and Prejudice, The Orthodox Church, my most recent "First Things Journal", and the Paul's Epistle to the Romans.

creating . . . or rather I created, a pretty silk flower arrangement that somewhat camoflages the mess in my sink.  With a houseful of people all day, our sink ALWAYS has dishes in or around it.  I'm tired of that being the first thing anyone (read: ME) sees when they enter my kitchen.  So, I made this big arrangement.  It is really pretty (pictures?) and does the job.  I love it!

on my iPod . .  . the SAME OLD podcasts because someone has "borrowed" my iPod sync cord again and I cannot find it.  We have three of these cords, and I still can't keep one in my desk without it being "borrowed"!

around the house . . . I rearranged my kitchen this weekend (I love to take on projects like that when hubby is away).  The bookshelves always just looked messy to me, and they still do a little, but in a more elegant way, maybe.  Messy or not - I live them much better.  Also rehung almost every single piece of wall art in my kitchen...and created a new mantle arrangement.  Oh, and turned my kitchen table on an angle, which I love!  My mother started doing this when I was in my teens.  Maybe it is a mother of a teenager thing?

from the kitchen . . . corn chowder with bacon tonight.  Beef Stroganoff Meatballs tomorrow night.  The bunch of very overripe bananas means there might be a batch of banana bread in my future.

real education in our home . . . The backpacking weekend has put us behind schedule.  Everyone spent Friday getting the boys packed up...and I took the day off of school with Artemisia today, too.  It was a good, quiet holiday.

rhythm and beauty in our home . . . an idea I have for that big flower arrangement is to slightly change out   some of the more seasonal pieces throughout the year.  The main pieces are fairly neutral and should look nice with other seasonal colors.

the church year in our home . . . not much been going on in this area.  I have made a few more icon for our little family altar, but we just haven't been using it as much.  One of the problems is that it sits on our buffet in the kitchen and often becomes a dumping place for little bits of nonsense.  I cleared all of that off and then refilled it with a basket of icons and a pretty houseplant.  Maybe that will encourage the family not to use the buffet as a rest stop.

recent milestones . . . Kalliope started potty training this weekend!

the week ahead . . . "Romans" bible study tonight and boys arrive home, CC on Wednesday as usual, Friday we have friends coming over for chili and a marshmallow roast.

picture thoughts . . .

Friday, October 7, 2011

Autumn Fires

Autumn Fires
by Robert Louis Stevenson

In the other gardens
And all up the vale,
From the autumn bonfires
See the smoke trail!

Pleasant summer over
And all the summer flowers,
The red fire blazes,
The gray smoke towers.

Sing a song of seasons!
Something bright in all!
Flowers in the summer,
Fires in the fall!

The kids memorized this poem last fall.  I stumbled across it today and they enjoyed hearing it again.  I wish we'd memorized more poetry!

Friends and fires and smores - they all go well together.

The girls have really enjoyed our newly dug fire pit.  We've had a few fires already and hope to have many more this autumn.  

Our neighbors from across the cul-de-sac came over to enjoy some roasted marshmallows, too.

This is Kalliope with our next-door neighbor.  They are both 3 and already becoming good friends.  Hey, they both like cheese puffs - what more do you need in a friend?

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Turning 3

Our Little Kalliope has moved from Toddler to Preschooler!  She has grown amazingly in the past year.  Here's last year's birthday photo:

And this years:

Notice the blurring of movement...that might say it all.  This girl is a girl IN MOTION!  She's busy talking, and walking, riding and hiding!  

Here are some of our favorite birthday moments . . . 

The kids pulled out the "Welcome Home" banner they'd made to welcome us back from Ghana.  

Kalliope received a sweet zebra pillow pet from  a long-distance family member.  He's very snuggly and is now named "Deeba" (that is Kalliope-speak for "zebra" if you hadn't guessed)

Farmor sent some new clothes and Kalliope was really so excited.  "My clothes?" she kept asking.

Dad-Dad sent a funny blue dinosaur.  Kalliope is very interested in dinosaurs.  She thinks they are dragons and she loves dragons because her favorite movie is "How To Train Your Dragon."

Gram and Fred sent a fun book, "Pete the Cat".  She had been introduced to this story through a YouTube video of the book (author telling the story and singing songs).  We love to dance around with Pete and sing, "I love my white shoes!" 

From her family, Kalliope got her first "American Girl"-style doll!  She was really excited about this doll.  I think it made her feel like a big girl.  And she is.

Bring on the Cake!

Auntie B stopped by to bring a gift, too.  A magnetic doll set!  

The girls went right to work getting the dolls all dressed up.

And from our friends, and fellow Ghana-parents in Cali, a wonderful book to share!

Happy Birthday, Baby Girl!