Sunday, November 30, 2008


I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet the words repeat
Of peace on earth, good will to men.
(Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882)

The last day of November has arrived and one of my favorite times of year has begun. I love snow, crisp winter days, mountains, evergreens, and singing Christmas music.

As the oldest child growing up, I remember a lot about how our family Christmas traditions developed over the years. My parents grew up in families of German ancestry. When I was little my father's parents still spoke German at home, and went to church services in German. As newlyweds my parents moved from the Midwest to California, far away from their large extended families. So I think a lot of what we did was taken from my parents' memories of Christmas.

Our celebration of Christmas Eve in particular was different from most of my friends when I was young. We kids always participated in the Childrens' Service at our church in the late afternoons. Usually singing or reciting, or I'd be roped into playing the flute for hymns. After the service we'd go home and get ready for our favorite part of Christmas. Mom made a cold supper of hors d'oeuvres, including cold meats, cheese, crackers, shrimp cocktails, mandarin oranges, raw veggies with dip, herring in cream sauce, smoked oysters, pumpernickel bread, and olives. Dad would make his specialty of broiled bacon-wrapped water chestnuts. As we got older, putting together this special most-favorite meal of the year became a well-practiced ritual we all learned to help with.

After dinner we'd take our drinks and a tray of assorted homemade cookies, fudge, and fruitcake into the living room to sit around the Christmas tree. Our relatives out in the Midwest sent boxes of gifts to us every year. I think rather than have those overshadowed by Santa's presents on Christmas morning, my parents started the tradition of opening the relatives' gifts on Christmas Eve.

Dad played Santa, handing out the gifts one by one. He'd borrow a big reel-to-reel tape recorder from school and each of us would open a gift in turn, saying what it was and thanking the relative who gave it. Later the tape was mailed to the relatives. As technology progressed, it became a Super-8 movie, then a video cassette, and so on. All to share the joy with those far-away aunts, uncles and grandparents who'd been kind enough to mail us presents. Probably a lot easier for Mom than getting us to write thank-yous! We children loved this ritual. We thought it made Christmas last much longer. Who could complain about two days of opening presents! I think we came to like the night before more than Christmas Day.

About 11pm we'd all get wrapped up in our coats again and go to the Candlelight Carol service at church. It made for a long day, but it probably helped us sleep in later the next morning! 7:00 am instead of 6:00!

One thing I've added to my holiday preparations is making a wreath. That's was my project today. This time I used a plain grapevine wreath from the craft store, rather than a wire frame. I cut various evergreens and other things from around the garden to decorate it. This year is juniper and rose hips, with a string of battery-powered LED lights and a red cardinal. I think it turned out pretty nice. I have some ideas for adding different things, but I didn't manage to get the extra flower arranging supplies in time. Next year.

In a couple weeks my sister and I are going to have a cookie-making day. It's the day before the last Scottish dance class of the year, lucky for me. We'll make Kourabeides and frosted Datenut-spice cut-outs. The Kourabeides take 45 minutes in the oven then more time to roll in powdered sugar, so we'll just make a double batch of dough and take it home to do on our own. The cut-outs really need at least two people, especially when it comes to frosting them. I'll also make fudge, another pumpkin pie from scratch, and maybe some other cookies on another day. I bought the Fine Cooking "Cookies" magazine today and some of those recipes look pretty good.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving to All

Hope your holiday weekend is all you want it to be.

Hubby's oldest daughter and grandchild are coming to our house for T-day. My sister and her daughter are also coming. So it's going to be a lively day with two toddlers running around. We'll be having turkey for the third time in two months. Good thing we like it!

I'm scrambling to finish up things for work before the four day weekend. That's always fun (not). Then there's shopping and cleaning for the guests arriving tomorrow. I'm hoping to go see a movie with my sister on Saturday, and do a bit of gardening. The big project is to make a wreath. I've got the grapevine base, I just need to get the greenery attached and make it look pretty. This is a bit later than I usually do it, so I hope I can still find some reasonable berries and rose hips out there! We've had a lot of frost and fog this week. But no snow.

We did have some snow fall last Saturday night but of course it didn't stick. At least it gave some moisture.

Happy holiday.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008


A leaf out in the back yard this morning. There was a lot of frost. Had to park out on the driveway when I got home last night, and then forgot to put my car in the car port. Came out this morning to completely iced-up windows. So I've now had the first window scrape of the season. Brrr!

We're looking forward this weekend to having dinner with my parents and sister at her house on Friday. Then on Saturday is the Thistle & Ghillies annual St. Andrews dinner, dance and ceilidh. I think hubby is doing a ceilidh act this year. I haven't thought of anything. I'll be busy enough the rest of the evening anyway.

It's going to be very busy work-wise until the 26th. I need to finish most of the work I have going by then. Lots of interviews and typing!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Hambo and Turkey

Another busy weekend. I guess that's going to be what it's like now the holidays are close.

Last night hubby and I went to the monthly Contra dance. There was a Hambo dance workshop beforehand, so we did that too. It was fun. I think I picked it up again fairly easily, though it's been at least 15 years since I first learned it. The women's part, once you get the hang of the turning step and find the right timing, goes pretty well. I'm not sure I could reliably do the man's part, though it's nearly the same except for the timing. I'd have to work on that a bit.

The contra dance was fun too. The callers chose more advanced dances that were really fun, with Contra-corners, lots of hays, and different set orientations. They had a new (to us) band over from Idaho Falls, Bandage a Trois. One of them is Dave Seelander, who I gathered is a much-admired accordion player. They played some great tunes - mostly Scandinavian - so the music had a Russian and Klezmer flavor to it. Really lively.

After the dance there was a jam session. We mostly listened. Then I started to fall asleep (it was 1:00 am after all), so we went home. We needed to get enough rest for our early family Thanksgiving dinner today.

My parents arrived in town on Monday. They're staying with my sister, but today we're all getting together at our house for turkey dinner. I've made pumpkin (Kabocha squash actually) pie from scratch, and Ken is roasting the turkey. He found a 22lb one at the store, so we're hoping there will be enough leftovers that Victoria can take some home with her. We're also doing stuffing, mashed potatoes and sweet potatoes. Brenda and the folks are bringing salad, vegetables, bread and cake. There should be plenty of food!

They should be here any time.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

44th President of the United States

President Barack Obama.

Finally the election is over. God bless us all. I'm very hopeful we've made the right decision.

If you haven't seen it, you might look at the blog post I wrote on January 21, 2008, before Obama was very well known here in Idaho, the reddest of the red states. Although I'm skeptical of most politicians, I have some hope that some of the "wishes" in that post may come true.

I only hope our new president can get us all involved to help do what needs to be done. It's up to all of us.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Blessed All Saints Day / Samhain

On this day that celebrates the end of the harvest, we continued storing away garden produce. During the week hubby cut the last of the grapes, mashed, then let them sit a few days. Today he strained the juice and put it in a vat to begin the wine-making process. There's not a lot - perhaps a gallon or so. But it'll be a good way to learn the method. We're hoping for more grapes next year.

Tomorrow I want to dig up the gladiolus bulbs, and dig out the black raspberry. It didn't produce any fruit worth speaking of this year, even though I managed to prune it properly. It set a few berries, but when I tried some they were dry and mostly seed. I waited to see if they would get riper but they just dried up and disappeared. So out it comes! I may plant another red raspberry in spring, or just wait to see if the one already there produces enough canes to fill the space. That might be easiest. Hard to imagine having too many raspberries!

I made chili this evening using some of the peppers I roasted. Only a minor ingredient, but it was still fun to use those rather than opening a can. The freezer is full of bags of frozen garden produce, including roasted peppers, roasted beets, pesto, tomato sauce, raspberries and green beans. We really need to put some of it out in the big freezer.

Next weekend my Aikido dojo is hosts Hiroshi Ikeda Sensei for a three-day seminar. I wanted to go to the Scottish Country Dance weekend at Asilomar, CA, this weekend, but couldn't afford to do both. Since I'm supposedly testing for 3rd kyu sometime in the next few months, the Aikido weekend made more sense (cheaper as well). So this evening all my dancing friends are there at Asilomar Retreat Center, dancing away at the Ball, after walking on the beach this afternoon. *sigh*

The pictures show our oak tree. The top one is today, the second one is October 20th. What a difference 10 days and some wind has made! It's been in the mid 60's all week, though we had some rain yesterday and today. I hope we'll have some real winter weather soon.