Thursday, December 23, 2010

Books, prayers, and gratitude

Every year we pack away the Christmas books with the decorations, and when Christmastime comes around again we hungrily unpack them-- it's like seeing old friends!

We have lots of favorite books, but the one I found two years ago at the Goetheanum, On the Way to Christmas, has quickly risen to the top of the heap.

As you can see the illustrations are so lovely, and the message is so simple: We're on our way to Christmas, and everybody-- animal, spirit, plant, and man-- everyone is coming.  I was reading through it again the other day when suddenly I found myself caught-- struck, actually, in a new way.

This page spread really got to me this year:

At the bottom of the page, it says, "And he dropped his club." --It's not a big whammy of a line, but it made me think.  Am I carrying any clubs?  Literally, no, of course not, but figuratively... there's a lot of stuff that I hold onto.  Hurts, resentments, fears, stress, passivity.  Those things aren't much different, are they?  I've been making a conscious effort this year to reach out to people I love and let them know it.  Isn't that what the spirit of Christmas is all about?

I've been thinking about sitting down to write this post for days, and meanwhile, I received a message last night that a dear old friend of ours has just been diagnosed with brain cancer.  He's only 37, and he has a baby son.  The doctors tell him he has less than a year.  It's absolutely heartbreaking.  And I just can't stop crying and praying and sending thoughts of love to him.

This young man has an amazing capacity for love and kindness-- even Kitty Bill, who has always been kind of a mama's boy and wary of strangers, took to him right away and sat on his lap at their first meeting.  And it's just so senseless to me that someone so special can be taken in an instant, whereas people who are infinitely less kind are given the gift of longevity.  And life is such a gift!

But again, despair is a different kind of club, isn't it?  I was reminded by reading a  thoughtful post by the sweet Kelly at Freeflowing Ways how despite what befalls us, we must go on and live.  Truly, truly live!  It is the only way.

So today I will be praying for my dear friend, but not letting despair pull me under.  There are still Christmas cookies to bake, presents to wrap, and a horse's bottom to sew up.  I will be praying for my friend while holding my people tighter today, letting every second count for something.  My heart is open, and I'm just so grateful for every minute.

I appreciate you, my blogging friends and family, and I'm wishing you a very beautiful holiday filled with lots of laughter, health, and love.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Handmade goodness

Shhh!  Don't tell.  But I've been hard at work making Christmas presents.  The snow and ice have kept us indoors for days, and I've already got this wee mouse finished and wrapped up under the tree.  There is going to be one happy little boy Christmas morning when he unwraps his very own Jeremy Mouse!

Kitty Bill has been smitten with the image of Jeremy Mouse fighting the dragon in Reg Down's book The Festival of Stones.  It's only a line drawing, but something about it really touched him deeply.  In the picture Jeremy is brandishing a straw sword and adorned with an oak leaf shield and an acorn cap helmet.  He's preparing to fight the dragon in a celebration of Michaelmas, where we slay our own inner dragons.

This was a very simple toy to make up, combining three easy and free patterns.  For Jeremy I used the Holiday Mouse pattern.  His shield is made from Natural Suburbia's wonderful Autumn Oak Leaf pattern, only I used fingering weight yarn and size US # 2 needles.  Then I embellished it with a bit of embroidery to give it some added color.  The acorn helmet is made from the pattern Wee Twee Tiny Acorn Tutorial, only I made it a little bit bigger than the pattern calls for, then I attached it with a bit of elastic beading string.  The sword is made from straw and string.

Now, those of you who have the newer edition of the Tiptoes series might be asking yourself, "Why on earth did she make Jeremy Mouse gray?  Everyone knows he's brown; he's right there on the cover!"  We don't have the newer books, and if you ask my children, 2 out of 3 would say he's gray.  After seeing the newer covers online, I took a poll.  Kitty Bill was adamant that Jeremy is a gray mouse just like the ones we've been catching in our garage this winter. (Don't worry, we have a catch and release program.)

Sunburst's present is a bit more complicated.  I saw her eying a knit horse in Jan Messent's Knit a Fantasy Story, so I thought I would give it a shot.  I mean, how hard could a horse be?

Really hard, apparently.  The knitting isn't so complex, but the fitting of the pattern just right onto the frame of the horse leaves a bit to be desired.  I've been working at it steadily every night this past week, and in the end I think she'll really like it.  I mean, it's a horse after all.  Sunburst lives and breathes them.

I still haven't figured out what I'm making for Moonshine yet.  I have too many ideas, and at the top of that list sits teeny tiny dolls and a hand-painted matryoshka. We'll see which one I can pull off in time.

Every year I find myself crafting down to the wee hours of Christmas morning.  I don't expect this year will be any different, and why should it be?  I truly enjoy it.  When we lived in the states Einstein and I made nearly every present for them, but once we moved to Europe and found ourselves surrounded by so many lovely natural toys, it became less necessary.  It's incredibly hard to resist an entire store packed full of Ostheimer figures, Käthe Kruse dolls, and Holzkram goodies.  But I'm very careful to remember that the toys they often love best are the ones I make for them.  It's almost as if they can feel the love that went into every stitch, every knit and purl, every hand-painted detail.

Yesterday we spent some time recalling the different ways we celebrated last Christmas, and they got around to remembering their presents.  Easily they remembered the handmade gifts, and then they went very quiet as they tried to remember what else they had unwrapped from under the Christmas tree.  It wasn't a bonanza of store-bought gifts, but surprisingly, it took them a very long time to remember.

The kids just headed out for an hour of sledding fun, so it's time for me to get back to finishing up all this handmade goodness before my time runs out.

Santa Lucia morning

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Holiday cheer and a recipe!

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas...

We've been busy little elves-- rolling beeswax candles, making Christmas cards, opening windows on our Advent calendar, and hanging up decorations.  Mary and Joseph have made their appearance along with our nightly reading materials that take us through Advent: The Light in the Lantern and Mary's Little Donkey.  I can't imagine advent without these books, they really lend so much heart to our home, and the children still light up with every telling.

Another long-standing tradition for us, our felt Advent stockings.  Each one holds a different holiday carol.  We sing our nightly song before we light the Advent candles and read our story.  Singing with my grandmother is one of my favorite memories from childhood, and it touches my heart to see what joyous little singers I have.  There is no sound more precious than the sound of little voices rising up in song!  And we are discovering that at five, Kitty Bill has quite a good memory for song lyrics!

And as always, the girl elves have been busy knitting away.  There are projects going in every corner of the house and lots of whispering going on.

Not all the projects have been started yet, nor the baking, but there is time yet, still plenty of time... or at least that's what I keep telling myself.

It's cold outside, blustery and snowy with lots of ice!  We're trying our best to stay warm and toasty, and when the winter winds blow, our thoughts turn towards food.  The kids have made an unusual request for Christmas dinner-- soup!

I made the mistake of playing around with our pumpkin soup recipe the other day.  Around here folks serve it with cream.  We've always made it with coconut milk.  This time I decided to forgo the milkiness altogether and add in my soup protein standby, ground nuts, and top it with a heavy hand of nutmeg.  Now, my kids are generally very enthusiastic eaters.  And they love pumpkin anything... but this soup?  They went crazy for it.

We finished off the leftovers for lunch today, and there was a general echo of sadness until one of them piped up with the idea of soup for Christmas Eve dinner.  When I acquiesced, they actually cheered.

Best Pumpkin Soup Ever

one medium winter squash (pumpkin, kuri, butternut, etc.) cubed
2 Tbs olive oil
1 large onion
2 cloves fresh garlic
2-3 cups vegetable broth (depends on size of your squash)
1/2 cup ground almonds
sea salt, to taste
ground nutmeg

Saute the onion and garlic in the olive oil.  Toss in the squash, add enough broth so that it reaches the top of the squash, but doesn't cover it completely.  Bring to a boil and simmer until tender (or alternately cook in a pressure cooker for 7-10 minutes).  Puree this, stir in the ground almonds and add sea salt to taste.  Serve with a heavy sprinkling of nutmeg.

It's dairy-free, animal-free, gluten-free goodness... unless of course you serve it with fresh, homemade bread.  But I know you clever folks have got the homemade, gluten-free bread down pat already.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Unexpected joy... and a winner!

Last night we went out to buy our Christmas tree.  To be honest, I wasn't that excited.  I had been lamenting the fact that despite talking about it for the last three Christmases, we still haven't found the place where you can go out into the wilderness and cut down your own.  I've heard it exists, but knowing something exists here and finding out just where it exists are two very, very different things.

There are lots of places to buy trees here-- outside grocery stores with garden centers, outside some churches, and at small village fairs.  But if you want to save about 40 dollars, you can also buy a tree at IKEA.  Last night was the beginning of IKEA's tree sales this season, and that's where we headed.

We had broken most of our drinking glasses, so we had to first walk through the winding path of the store.  As we were nearing the stairs we heard singing.  It was very soft at first, but then it expanded and filled the room before us and took our breath away.

There must have been thirty or more children of varying ages all dressed in white carrying candles.  In the center of this mass of sweet voices was an older girl dressed up as Santa Lucia, her crown of candles blazing bright.  The little boys wore cone hats and carried star wands, like the picture for January (one of my favorites, as shown above) from Elsa Beskow's Around the Year.  They sang about five songs, including Santa Lucia, and then slowly, still singing, they padded barefoot out of the room and down some mysterious hallway.

It was so unexpected and breath-taking, and it actually brought tears to my eyes.  My children had all rushed over to get a closer look, and they came back to where Einstein and I stood, their eyes bright, their faces glowing.

Unexpected joy.  At IKEA.

~ * ~ * ~ * ~

And... we have a WINNER!  I'm pleased to announce that the children have pulled a name out of the hat.  We will be mailing off the mobile and chocolates to:

erin said...

She's just adorable! I'm so glad to have come across your blog. Swiss chocolates too sound simply divine. Congrats on 300 posts.

Thanks everyone for your lovely comments!  Having a giveaway was so much fun, I'm sure we will be doing it again soon.

Until next time, I'm wishing you unexpected joy... you never know where you'll find it!

Monday, December 06, 2010

Thoughts on St. Niklaus Day

"Kind old man, St. Nicholas dear,
Come to my house this year."
-from Mary Thienes-Schunemann's The Christmas Star

My children had a wonderful time discovering treats in their shoes this frosty morning.  Kitty Bill was especially excited because in his short memory there was only one other St. Nicholas Day, last year.  It's so wonderful when their memories start sticking together because that's when the anticipation really starts to take on a life of its own.

Last night they carefully selected carrots and apples for his horse, and Moonshine insisted they leave out a bit of chocolate for St. Nicholas to enjoy himself.  In their boots this morning they each found a clementine, peanuts, and some chocolates.  That's pretty standard fare for Switzerland, but even in the states, St. Nicholas left some variety of nuts, fruit, and chocolates.  But as I understand it, St. Nicholas Day is actually celebrated in a variety of ways here in Switzerland.

According to my neighbors, St. Nicholas makes an appearance in our village on the night of December 5th.  All of the children come, and they sit and listen as he tells a story.  He also calls each and every one of them out on their behavior, both good and bad.  And at some point-- I'm not sure if it's at home in their shoes or at this event, they are given a sack of peanuts and clementines.

Another Swiss friend said that St. Nicholas makes an appearance at their house, coming round to greet their child.  I don't know how it goes there with the shoes or not, but I find it all very interesting.  It seems much more of a personal experience here than our typical shoes and stockings celebrations.  After all, this is their Santi Klaus... kind of.... at least some of them call him that.  The more I learn about our cultural differences, the more there is to learn.

For example, the other night we braved the below freezing temps and enjoyed the Christmas market in Basel, Switzerland.  It just happened to be the night of their traditional Niggi Näggi, a parade of decorated Harley Davidson motorcycles ridden by Santas.  Santas on Harleys.  Strange, no?

However you celebrate this special day, I'm wishing you joy.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Winter Giveaway

That's right, folks.  I'm giving away winter.  ;)

Honestly, it's beyond cold outside.  So many days in a row of below freezing weather just doesn't seem fair.  Tonight it's supposed to be -14 C.  The snow is frozen to the road, and the icicles are ominously long, behaving as if they think it's already January.  Snow covers everything, as you can see.  The locks on the doors are frozen in place, so too are the horses in the field.

Well, okay, I'm only kidding about the horses.  But if you'd like winter, you're welcome to it.

Meanwhile, I'm trying to get back into the crafty spirit so I can make some holiday gifts for my sweet children.  I try to make them something every year.  Last year I made a stuffed dog for Kitty Bill and new dolls for both the girls.  This year?  I am completely out of ideas.  I suppose winter is keeping me inside for a reason.

As for the real giveaway, to celebrate my 300th post, I have this sweet little 'doll under the stars' mobile to share with the lucky winner.  To sweeten the deal, I'll tuck some Swiss chocolates into the package as well.  Goodness knows one can never have enough chocolate.  ;)

Please leave a comment on this post if you'd like a chance to win.  Extra entries if you follow my blog or mention the giveaway on your own blog.  Just let me know in the comments.  And if you're making gifts this year, I'd love to hear about them.  I'll be accepting comments through next Thursday, December 9th, and I'll announce the winner on Friday, December 10th.

Good luck!!

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Greeced Out

Sunburst finished up her study of Ancient Greece in October.  My initial plan was to let it rest after our trip, but she refused to take a break.  This block was the most fun yet!

We ended up with more than we could fit in one main lesson book, so I showed Sunburst how to put together a small accordion-style book (similar to a Greek scroll, but folded-- maybe the blurry picture below helps?).  The smaller book ended up holding the bulk of Greek history (30 - 5x6 inch pages), from the early settlement to the famous battles and leaders.  She included form drawings, portraits, and relevant quotes.  She is really proud of this little book, and her work truly reflects that, both inside and out.

Her regular main lesson book is packed with the mythology and the wonderful stories.  Sunburst read Rosemary Sutcliff's retellings of both Homer's Iliad and Odyssey, then she copied out the beginning of the original Odyssey in Greek.  She also read Padraic Colum's book The Golden Fleece.  They all made it into her main lesson book, as well as the Greek alphabet, a study of Greek columns, a small subset of Greek words, a map, and her sketches from our trip to the Acropolis.  Her enthusiasm for the work and her focus continues to impress and amaze me.  Here's a little sampling:

Here are a few of my chalkboard drawings from The Iliad, The Odyssey, and Perseus, respectively:

We love, love, loved our study of Greece, but a person can only do so much before becoming Greeced out.  ;)  We took a break from history in November (with the minor exception of mathematical history), and we're feeling rested and ready for more.  We're hoping to ease our way into Ancient Roman history next!
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