Als ich wisse das Morgen der Erde enden wuerde, immernoch wurd ich mein Apfelbaum pflanzen.

Even if I knew the world would perish tomorrow, I would still plant my apple tree. - Martin Luther

"Factory work's easier on the back, and I don't mind it, understand, but a man becomes what he does. Got to watch that. That's why I keep at farmin' although the crops haven't ever throve. It's the doin' that's important." Madison Wheeler in Blue Highways by William Least Heat Moon

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Awake, Awake and Greet the New Morn

Nativity Hand Sculpted by my Uncle the Wild Man of the Mountain
Awake! awake, and greet the new morn,
an angel heralds its dawning,
sing out your joy, for Christ will be born,
God's gift, this Child of our longing.
Christ comes as a baby weak and poor,
to bring all hearts together,
to open wide the heavenly door,
and live here inside us forever.

To everyone who sorrows or fears,
Emmanuel comes asinging;
the humble song is quiet and clear,
but fills the earth with its ringing.
Music to heal the broken soul
and hymns of loving kindness,
the thunder of the anthems roll
to shatter all hate and injustice.

In deepest night Christ's coming shall be,
when all the world is despairing.
Where people long to love and be free,
Christ comes to speak of God's caring.
A soul without voice breaks forth in song,
a lame one leaps in wonder,
the weak are raised above the strong,
and weapons are broken asunder.

Rejoice, rejoice, take heart in the night,
though winds blow wildly and cheerless,
the rising sun shall crown you with light,
be strong and loving and fearless.
Love be our song and love our prayer,
and love, our endless story,
may God fill every day we share,
and bring us at last into glory.

Music: Rejoice, Rejoice Marty Haugen (20th C)
Words: Marty Haugen (20th C)
Sequence: Cathouse Pandemonium, Ltd.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

A Christmas Poem and December Festivities Update

It's the last Sunday in Advent.  Are you ready?  Have you managed to take care of the details of Christmas, so you can spend the time focusing on your family and loved ones?  Not the time of giving them stuff, but the gift of giving them your time. 
Although it feels like I've been getting ready for Christmas forever this year, I'm so glad I did so many tasks in advance.  It means that our Christmas break will really be about spending time together.  I'm relaxed and ready to spend lots of time enjoying each other. 

What we've been up to in December....

A Weekend at the Farm with Grandma

My sister has been decorating my grandma's house for almost 30 years.  Before my grandfather passed away it was a job they did together.  She still misses him when she decorates, but it helps to have the kids there to help.  They have fun with their Aunt, and Grandma is always so excited to have her house so pretty.

Farm Tree

We're very frugal people about many things.  One of them is our tree.  Although the choices are getting slimmer every year, we still prefer to pick a tree from my parent's farm.  Farmer Dan cuts and loads the tree, and the price is certainly right (FREE)!


Making Roshky and Sugar Cookies with Matka

As expected, grandma gave me instructions the whole time.  It's such a wonderful day with her. She chatters away, and then laughs at herself when she tells me how to make cookies I've been making with her since I was five. 
Apricot filled Rosky
Nut filled Rosky
Decorating these cookies takes some serious concentration.
We decorate cookies for each person in the family.  These face cookies are our sugar selves. 
My Aunt tried to share a cookie tray with Matka.  Matka kept stealing the cookies that Aunt Deb planned to decorate.  It was very funny.
It was a rainy day, so Farmer Dan was not hunting.  He got creative with the cookie dough and did some free hand sculpting until we chased him out of the kitchen.

Fun Days at Home

Tree Decorating

No matter how humble, once a tree has lights and ornaments on it becomes a thing of beauty and peace.


We had a great time celebrating Hanukkah this year.  Highlights included lighting the menorah and saying the blessing most nights ( I think we missed two nights), eating copious amounts of latkes and playing dreidel after dinner while we waited for the candles to burn down.  I feel that celebrating Hanukkah really increased the kids capacity to tolerate and appreciate religions other than our own.  We'll definitely be keeping this as one of our December celebration traditions.
Latkes and Apfelpankuchen (German Oven Apple Pancake)

Santa Lucia Day

This was a new one for us, but one that Reading Girl really enjoyed.  She really, really wanted to wear a crown of real candles, but I nixed that idea.  We prepped the dough the night before, but she insisted on doing everything else herself.  She got up really early and baked the Santa Lucia breads on her own and made hot glogg.  We decided though that it's too much for a school day, so next year we'll be doing Santa Lucia the second weekend in December.

Solstice Bonfire

Another new event was having a bonfire on the night of the Winter Solstice.  It was a very cold and windy night, but we enjoyed time around the fire with friends drinking hot wassail.  Then when we got too cold, we moved inside, turned off all the lights in the house (with the exception of the Christmas tree lights) and lit all of the candles.  It was a delightful way to kick off our holiday celebrations.  I think we'll be doing this one every year too.

Winter Crock Pot Wassail

Add to crock pot
4 beers (I used 2 Harp and 2 Pumpkin Wheat because that's what we had).
1 bottle of sweet red wine or port
1/2 c. (or 1 c. if you like things sweeter) of brown sugar
1 orange sliced
bag of mulling spices (if you don't have mulling spices put in fresh ginger and a few cinnamon sticks)

Loving God, Help us remember the birth of Jesus,
that we may share in the song of the angels,
the gladness of the shepherds,
and worship of the wise men.

Close the door of hate
and open the door of love all over the world.
Let kindness come with every gift and good desires with every greeting.
Deliver us from evil by the blessing which Christ brings,
and teach us to be merry with clear hearts.
May the Christmas morning make us happy to be thy children,
and Christmas evening bring us to our beds with grateful thoughts,
forgiving and forgiven, for Jesus' sake. Amen.

- Robert Louis Stevenson

What have you been up to this December?  Did you do anything new?  Whatever you did, from the simple to the complex, I hope you had plenty of time to enjoy each other. 
Blessings to you and your family in the new year.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

For Jesse and his Dad who didn't get to make their own...

Neil Heslin, 50, father of six-year old Jesse Lewis, told the New York Post that he had been planning to visit his son's class Friday afternoon to make gingerbread houses. "I dropped him off at school at 9am. He went happily," Heslin said. "That was the last I saw of him."

and in New York,

One of my favorite holiday traditions is making gingerbread people and a gingerbread house with my kids.  It's a great way to spend time together, and it uses up the last of the Halloween candy.

Give yourself several days to complete this project. We usually make the dough on Friday night, bake on Saturday morning, decorate the people and assemble the house on Saturday afternoon, and decorate the house on Sunday afternoon.  We generally do this the weekend before Christmas, and amazingly, the children in my life tell me it still tastes great when we eat it on the 24th.  I'll have to take their word for it.

The gingerbread cookie dough is my Aunt Mary's.  I've been making and eating gingerbread boys and girls since before I can remember.  Their one of the required cookies at our house.  They make it feel like Christmas, and they return me to my own childhood.

If you don't have a gingerbread dough that you love, use this one.  I've given it to several friends over the years and they always say that it makes the best gingerbread cookies they've ever eaten.

Making and decorating the gingerbread house does create quiet a mess in your kitchen.  Luckily, my children now know how to use a broom, and I sort of give up on house cleaning the week and a half before Christmas.  One of my favorite gifts from the Woodsman is a full house cleaning - which he does on Christmas Eve afternoon, right before guests arrive for dinner.  This means the house is clean, clutter free and relaxing for Christmas Day, so I don't sweat the baking mess.  Time with my giggly children is so worth the crunch of sugar underfoot.

Make the dough the night before you plan to bake.  It needs to chill for at least 12 hours. 

Aunt Mary's Gingerbread Cookies

1/3 c. Crisco
1/3 c. brown sugar
1 egg
2 cups dark molasses

cream together using an electric mixer

In another bowl, sift together
2 3/4 c. flour
1 t. salt
1 t. baking soda
1 t. ginger (fresh works best - but powdered is OK too)
2 t. cinnamon

Add dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and mix.
Chill overnight.
Roll out to about 1/4 inch thick.

Bake at 350 for about 8-10 minutes.  They should be firm and bouncy when they are done. 

Roll the dough out 1/8 inch thick (I put a bit of flour and sugar down on the counter first).  Farmer Dan made these rolling boards for me years ago.  They ensure that my dough doesn't get too thin.

Cut out and bake.  They're done when you press down on the gingerbread and the cookie springs back (no finger impression left).  Bake house pieces longer.  You want these to be a bit crispy so your house will be structurally sound when you put it together.

I used to use my own icing, but this is one time where I buy the commercial stuff.  It just sticks together better.  You need good mortar.  Ice the edges thickly, then have a helper hold the pieces together while you stick them together. Ice the bottoms too.  You want your house to stick onto the board (here I used a cutting board covered in freezer paper).
Be careful when placing the roof.  This is the trickiest part.  Some years we need to use a small can to hold the roof in place while the icing dries.

Let it dry overnight.  This ensures that you don't shift the house pieces apart when you decorate.

When you have the house assembled, it's time to ice the people.  I make a simple sugar icing (just powdered sugar thinned with a bit of milk) and add food coloring until it's the desired color.  We then paint on outfits.  The little cookies just get dipped in the icing. Let these sit out on the counter until they're fully dry.

The next day cover the whole house in icing and then let the kids decorate away.  My two use leftover Halloween candy.  It's a great way to empty out the candy jars before Christmas.

We always take our house to church on Christmas Eve for our congregational cookie share.  It's great - other kids help eat all that sugar (sorry church friend moms).

One year my kiddos are going to be too old to do this, but for now I'll savor this afternoon.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Apple Dumplings and Caramel Apples

I've decided to start another blog.  I want to talk about gun control reform and about improving the state of mental health in our country, but this blog is not the place to do so.  Please follow me at I Just Wanted A Little More Time With You.  Maybe together we can make a difference.
Here, in this space, I need to share some happiness. 

Apple Dumplings

Step 1:  Core and peel apples
Apple dumplings are one of my favorite childhood desserts.  When I was a kid my sister, mom and I would spend a Sunday afternoon making dozens of apple dumplings to put into the freezer.  Now, my kids and I carry on the tradition.

I love knowing that there are 3 1/2 dozen apple dumplings sitting in my freezer.  We don't go out to dinner at a restaurant very often, but we do spend many of our weekend evenings having dinner at one of our friend's houses.  Frequently I'm asked to bring dessert - with apple dumplings in the freezer dessert is done.

Apple dumplings also show up on our table when we're having chili or another South Western meal that needs a little something more.  We don't usually have dessert unless we have company, but there is something wonderful and comforting and loving about smelling that warm cinnamon smell waft out of the oven.  Sometimes a winter evening calls out for apple dumplings - and I don't feel too bad about giving this to the kids because at least they're getting a whole apple in there, right?

Step 2: Roll out pie dough and cut it into squares (how large depends on the size of your apples).   Place the apple on the center of the square and add cinnamon sugar and butter to the center.

Step 3:  Carefully wrap the pie dough around the apple.

Step 3 1/2:  Sneak butter and sugar when your mom isn't looking

Step 4:  Put some in a greased baking dish for supper.  Put the rest (unbaked) in freezer bags and freeze them.  They will wait happily until you want them on a cold night.

Step 5:  Make glaze and pour over top.  Bake (baste with the glaze every 15 minutes).

Apple Dumpling Glaze

In a small saucepan add 1 c. water, 11/2 T butter, 1/2 t. cinnamon and 1/2 c. sugar.  Stir, then bring to a boil.  Boil for three minutes.  Pour over the top of the dumplings.  This recipe is good for four dumplings.  If you're making more double, or triple it as needed.

I bake my dumplings at 375 for 45 minutes.  If you're pulling them out of the freezer let them sit on top of the counter for about 30 min. before baking.

Step 6:  Pour Milk over top and eat

 Caramel Apples

For the past few years when Jane and her family come to visit we've made caramel apples.  The kids love making them, and they're very easy.  You can certainly make your own caramel, but this time I just used the caramels from the store.  
Have the kids unwrap the caramels from a 14 oz. package.  Add 2 T milk to them and put them in the microwave for a minute, stir and then micro for one more minute.  (You can also do this on the stove - just keep the heat low). 
Put craft sticks into the top of the apples and then dip them into the caramel.  You have to work fast here.  
Place the apples on a tray and let the kids decorate them with sprinkles.  If you want a version for yourself chopped hazelnuts and chocolate make a great combination.

They're a little messy, but don't let that make you miss a single bite of the goodness!

Monday, December 17, 2012

Walking in the Darkness - Heading Toward the Light

At the moment I'm sitting in a peaceful living room with lights on the Christmas tree.  The silence is interrupted every few moments by the infectious laughter of my seven year old son who is busy reading Captain Underpants to himself in his room.  Most likely, before I'm done writing this post, he'll come out and crawl into my lap.  Because he'll say, "I just wanted a little more time with you." 

I just wanted a little more time with you - what everyone thinks when a loved one is gone. 

I just wanted a little more time with you.

I wrote most of this post today, at school, on my lunch break after watching several memorial interviews with parents who had their children stolen from them in such a heartbreaking, and violent manner. 

I connect, as I think every parent in this country does, with their sorrow as parents.  Always, always our first focus as parents is the safety of our children - with their happiness right behind.  I feel, as I'm sure many of you do, inadequate.  I want to be able to do something.  I want to be able to make a difference.  I want, more than anything, to have the story turn out differently.

I also connect with this tragedy as a teacher.  For a long, long time after Columbine I kept my classroom door locked at all times.  I always knew where my keys were and every year I wanted to stay home on April 20th.  I haven't felt like that for years.  Today, I locked my classroom door again.  Today, I didn't want to be in school.   

I believe that our school is as safe as it can be.  I believe that the people I work with would have protected the children in their charge at all costs like the teachers at Sandy Hook.  I believe the same is true about the teachers at my children's school.  I believe the same is true about all the schools and all the teachers in this country.  We do what we do, first and foremost, because we love our children.

This afternoon my students and I discussed the Choose Your Own Adventure books.  Do you remember those?  At the bottom of the page, you got to make a choice.  How you chose determined the outcome of the story. 

But we can't, no matter how fervently we wish we could, change this story.  But, maybe, just maybe, we can start to change the conversation in this country. 

Gandhi said that we should be the change we wish to see in the world.  I'm not sure how my small voice can make a difference, but as a parent, and as a teacher, I must try.  Make your voice heard.  Write letters.  Sign petitions.  Remember. 

Psalm 27
Of David.
1The Lord is my light and my salvation—
whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life—
of whom shall I be afraid?
2When evil men advance against me
to devour my flesh,
when my enemies and my foes attack me,
they will stumble and fall.
3Though an army besiege me,
my heart will not fear;
though war break out against me,
even then will I be confident.
4One thing I ask of the Lord,
this is what I seek:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
all the days of my life,
to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord
and to seek him in his temple.
5For in the day of trouble
he will keep me safe in his dwelling;
he will hide me in the shelter of his tabernacle
and set me high upon a rock.
6Then my head will be exalted
above the enemies who surround me;
at his tabernacle will I sacrifice with shouts of joy;
I will sing and make music to the Lord.
7Hear my voice when I call, O Lord;
be merciful to me and answer me.
8My heart says of you, “Seek his face!”
Your face, Lord, I will seek.
9Do not hide your face from me,
do not turn your servant away in anger;
you have been my helper.
Do not reject me or forsake me,
O God my Savior.
10Though my father and mother forsake me,
the Lord will receive me.
11Teach me your way, O Lord;
lead me in a straight path
because of my oppressors.
12Do not turn me over to the desire of my foes,
for false witnesses rise up against me,
breathing out violence.
13I am still confident of this:
I will see the goodness of the Lord
in the land of the living.
14Wait for the Lord;
be strong and take heart
and wait for the Lord.

I don't know about the rest of you, but I'm having incredible difficulty working today.  I have many tasks to accomplish, and yet my non-teaching time, time without students, has been primarily filled with reading about the victims of Friday's terrible, terrible tragedy.  

I want to be able to do something, anything to ease the pain of the parents, siblings, grandparents, and friends who have lost such precious angels.

I'm also clock watching today.  The end of the day will not come fast enough today.  I don't think I'll feel even remotely settled until my own babies are in my sight, and my students are safely home.

I'm thankful, so thankful for the blessings I'm able to hold in my arms, and yet so full of sorrow for those poor, poor people in Newtown.  

Do you ever feel guilty for the blessings that abound in your life?  Today, is one of those days.

There are a few actions I can take.  I'm going to remember.  Even though it makes me incredibly sad, I'm going to keep watching the parent interviews, and keep looking at the pictures of their much beloved children.  I can't comfort those families, but I can honor the ones they've lost by paying tribute to their memories.

I'm going to pray. 

I'm going to find a way to make my voice heard so that the voice of parents is louder than the voice of the gun lobby. 

We need to find a way to make our country a safer place.  We need to find a way to make our country a place where people with mental illness can afford to be treated.  We need to find a way to make sure no one else has to suffer the way Newtown is suffering.  

Many comforting and wise words were written today.  One of the best I read came from Jane at Thy Hand.

"So, if possible, let us embrace grief and sorrow in one hand and hope and light in the other." 


Anne Marie



Sunday, December 2, 2012


What I think of as the tedious (and sometimes stressful) aspects of getting ready for Christmas are 95 %  finished - Christmas cards, house decorating, present buying and wrapping.  This means I can really spend the next three weeks just focusing on spending time with my family, and spending time reflecting on the reason for the season. 
We have a lot of holiday traditions.  Some of them were imported from my own childhood, but many of them have been created by our family.  Every year we seem to add new ones.  I remember having great difficulty waiting for Christmas as a child.  It felt like Christmas would never get here.  Some of our traditions help the kids wait.  Some of the traditions help us all anticipate.
A new tradition this year was to decorate  and really clean the inside of the house before Thanksgiving.  In previous years I'd resisted having the decorations up so early, but I'm really enjoying having them up already.
We also started making cookies much earlier this year.  We give a lot of cookies as gifts, and we never seem to be able to limit ourselves to making just one or two kinds - so in years past we've had major cookie baking marathons which were fun when they started, but frustrating and exhausting by the time they were over.  I've really enjoyed the time the kids and I have spent in the kitchen this year - this is partly because the kids are older, and partly because we're only doing two varieties as a time.
My parents will be down this year for Christmas Day - this has inspired me to make a traditional Dickens type Christmas Day meal (the plum pudding is steaming as I write).  I'll let you know how that turns out.

Holidays and Holy Days

St. Nick's Day

My Aunt Joyce started celebrating St. Nick's Day with my sister and I when we were tiny.  My mother then continued the tradition - although she calls it Mrs. St. Nick's day.  Mrs St. Nick even found her way to my college dorm room via a room mate.  Now that's love.  At our house, on the Friday night closest to St. Nicholas day, the kids put out their shoes and load them up with apples and carrots.  I then put small treats and a few new Christmas books in their boots for them to find in the morning.  This year one of the treats was an advent calendar with chocolate and a scripture reading for each day in December leading up to Christmas.


Starting on the first Sunday in Advent we light an advent candle, and do an Advent reading.  We all enjoy having this devotional time together, and love the anticipation built when moving to the next new candle.
This year we're also adding a new tradition.  We'll be creating a Jesse Tree (making ornaments and reading a short daily Jesse Tree poem).
The base was created out of a pine round; the greens are rosemary, sage and lavender.


We have no Jewish roots, but like to expose the kids to other faiths.  Hannukah is a natural fit.  We'll make latkes, play dreidel for chocolate gelt, read Hannukah books and light a small mennorah. 

 Santa Lucia Day

We're adding a new tradition this year.  On December 13th we'll have gingerbread for breakfast and welcome back the light - I think we'll skip the crown of candles.  Firemarshal Farmer Dan would have a heart attack.
Here's a great link for information and ideas for both St. Nicholas and Santa Lucia Day.

Also, on December 13th, and continuing until the 24th, we'll open one present from our stockings.  The presents have riddles on them about the content of the package.  Some of the presents are coupons for family activities - like a lantern tour of our local living history museum, a holiday concert, a holiday movie night, and maybe - if we get snow - an early season night on the slopes.

Next weekend we'll head to my parent's farm to bake a traditional Slovak cookie - Roshke.   My 89 year old grandmother is still able to bake with us.  I've been making these cookies with her since I was a little girl.  Now I'm the main baker, and she's the helper, but she still gives me instructions the whole time.  While we're there Farmer Dan will also help me cut the tree we tagged at Thanksgiving, then we'll tie it on top the roof and bring it home to Virginia.

Our tree is decorated with ornaments bought on our travels.  We always decorate it together, and enjoy remembering with each other.

Later that week the kids and I will take the extra greens, and some holly branches (also from the farm) and we'll decorate the outside.  I usually also manage to make a fresh green wreath.  Wreath making is something I learned from my dad - just one more tradition.

Once the tree is up we'll light the candles, light the tree and sing carols.  It's one way to ensure that we enjoy the tree, and it's another way to spend time together.

Christmas celebrations won't end on the 25th either.  We'll mark the next two weeks celebrating with friends and family.  This year we hope to have a 12th night celebration (the night before Epiphany) to sing our last carols, eat the last of the cookies and drink the last of the eggnog. 

I'm sure some people will look at this list and think I'm insane - all of these traditions make for a really busy December.  It's true - it does make the month busy.  But somehow, it doesn't feel busy or stressful.  We do most of these traditions together.  We build memories and forge bonds with our traditions.  Christmas reminds me how blessed I am.  This is probably the last post I'll put up for a while.  I'm going to be too busy making memories.
White Chocolate Cranberry Oatmeal and Peppermint Chocolate Pinwheels

Monday, November 26, 2012

Getting in the Spirit... Focusing on the Reason

I just can't help myself.  I've set my Pandora to Christmas music.  It's calming and uplifting at the same time.  I have a new favorite that I wanted to share.

There are 27 days until Christmas Eve.  I'm right on track with where I'd like to be.  I have a few Christmas cards to write.  I'm done shopping.  I'm wrapping presents for about 20 min. each evening so there's no big rush, and I have all of the materials for the gifts I'm making.

This week/weekend I plan to focus on finishing up the projects I intend to use as gifts.  That might include making that batch of pumpkin butter and the batch of apple pie jelly.  We'll see how the weekend goes.  We'll also start celbrating in earnest.  The advent calendars will come out, and the first candle on the advent wreath will be lit. 

I feel so relaxed this year.  It's not just being ready early.  It's also having a clear plan and being organized.  I'm also decluttering as I go - thank you Fly Lady, so my house is getting cleaner and more peaceful each day.  I don't know about you, but a house without a lot of stuff, and with that stuff in the right place makes me relaxed.

Yesterday the kids and I did cookie baking number two.  We made Chewy Chocolate Gingerbread cookies - a recipe from Jane at Thy Hand.  I follow her recipe, but I double it.  These are my favorite cookies.  We also made Rice Crispy Treats.  I think you all know about this one, but just in case you don't, here's a link.  I love being in the kitchen with my kids, but it does drive me just a little bit crazy when they keep munching on the ingredients.  I swear they wash their hands every time they stick their little paws in their mouths.  But, no matter how many times I remind them that we are baking for other people they just can't resist.  Anyone have any ideas?

Eating the sugar is half the fun. 

Licking the butter is the other half.