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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.)