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

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Holiday Happenings: Part I

Thanks to the past two snowstorms, two cancelled church services and two snow days I'm totally ready for Christmas.  This might be the only year on record that I don't pull any late nights!  Hooray!  Here's what we've been doing the past few weeks.  I'm really enjoying reconnecting with my crew.

Lighting the Lights

 Nutcracker with GeeGee

 Finally Old Enough to Put up Betty Will's 1930s Doll House

 Rosky and Sugar Cookies with Matka and family

Sister Selfie

 Snow!  A Miracle as far as we're concerned....

The Tree!

 Teacher Cookie Gifts - no help from Mom!

 Santa Lucia

 More Holiday Baking

Monday, December 2, 2013

The Season of Light

We do a lot of celebrating around here between the end of November and the beginning of January.  Most of the year we're busy running the kids to their activities - it's the kind of busy that keeps us apart.  But now, at this time of year, we're busy being busy together.  Here's a run down of the festivities we have planned for the next few weeks.


We're not Jewish, but we like the idea of exposing our kids to faith traditions beyond our own.  It also feels right to celebrate the High Holy Days.  It grounds me to say the blessings and light the lights of Hanukkah.  It's  good to remember God's goodness in the days of the Old Testament as we move into celebrating his Son's birth. 


Every day during Advent we'll light the Advent wreath, read a special Advent devotional and add one more ornament to the Jesse tree.  This is a wonderful family ritual.  It reminds the kids that the reason for the season really has nothing to do with presents, but rather with the gift of the Christ Child.  We put up the nativity on the first Sunday in Advent, but Baby Jesus won't show up there until Christmas Eve.  He'll spend the next four weeks traveling closer to the nativity.  We'll also be preparing a bed of straw for the baby by writing down the kind acts we practice during Advent and adding them to his crib.

St. Nicholas Day

We break tradition around here and do St. Nick's day the first Saturday in December.  The kids will put out carrots and apples for his horses, and they'll receive a few small presents in exchange.  We'll also talk about the legend of how St. Nicholas cared for others.

Santa Lucia Day

Last year Lilly was very excited to do Santa Lucia Day all on her own.  She made the saffron buns and the glogg and had breakfast ready for everyone in the morning.  This year we'll be celebrating Santa Lucia on the second Saturday in December so we don't have to try to make Lutterkasse on a school morning.  Also, we'll be making an electric crown of candles - the girl still has her heart set on a real candle crown, but that will have to wait until she's much, much older.

Winter Solstice

Winter can be such a dark and cold time.  It's lovely to remind ourselves that long summer days will return again soon.  We'll gather some friends, light a big bonfire outside and all of the candles inside,  make a big pot of chili and mulled wine to warm ourselves from the inside and feast on the fruitcake we made on the first day of Advent.  We won't do any of the pagan rituals, but we will talk about how many ancient cultures celebrated the solstice.  It's a good time to review our mythology background (Roman, Egyptian, Greek, Norse and Hopi) and a great excuse to have a winter fire.

Christmas Eve and Christmas Day

For us Christmas Eve is about church, friends and family.  We'll gather for a meal with another transplanted family then head to church for the Candlelight service and kid's program.  We'll round out the evening with carols around our tree and home made eggnog.  Then, in the morning, presents and more food and family.  There's no paper flinging around here - we take our time and watch each person open a present one at a time.  Breakfast is simple - cinnamon buns and a breakfast casserole made the day before - I just pop both in the oven while I'm starting the coffee before presents. 


We're no more African American than we are Jewish - but this year we'll be celebrating Kwanzaa.  Last year Lilly requested that we learn more about this celebration so we got a good book about celebrating Kwanzaa and we're going to give it a whirl.  We'll check back in with you in January and tell you how it went.

Twelfth Night

Did you know that there are actually 12 days of Christmas?  Twelfth Night happens on January 5th (the night before Epiphany begins).  Twelfth Night has become one of my favorite celebrations.  We invite several musically minded families.  They bring their guitars and any remaining Christmas goodies.  Then we share food and fellowship around the tree.  We also invite the kids to come in their PJs and enjoy hot chocolate and a final viewing of their favorite Christmas movies.


With the exception of those goodies that have to be made for the celebration (Pfeffernussen (St. Nick's) and Lutterkassen (Santa Lucia), we try to make as much in advance as we can.   We make a lot of cookies together, so starting on the first Saturday after Thanksgiving the kids and I will make two or three batches of cookies and then store them in the freezer.  It's a great way to spread out the holiday baking.  I'll also start making a dish or two at a time for our other celebrations while I'm busy in the kitchen anyhow.

For recipes and pics from last year click here, here, here,  here and here.

Want ideas for your own family celebrations? 

What do you do to make the holidays a special time for you and your family?

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Tradition! Tradition!

At the beginning of the school year, we asked our 6th graders to write poems based on the George Ellen Lyon's poem "Where I'm From".  As part of the process students were asked to reflect on the things that were important to them and their families:  traditions, stories, special family foods, events, etc.  I'm a reading specialist - so I'm used to having kids balk at writing because of the difficulty of transferring thoughts into the written word.  But this year my students struggled for a different reason - many of them have no family traditions.
Even though I'm about to enter my 40s there are times when I find myself to be woefully na├»ve.  I grew up in a family steeped in tradition - some that existed before my birth, and some that were added when my sister and I were girls.  We're raising our kids in the same kind of environment.  As I watched my students struggle to complete the prewriting questions - I wondered if the way I was raised, and the way our family lives is not the norm.  Doesn't everyone live this way? 
Tradition has always been important to me.  I think that's one of the reasons I cook seasonally - it's another one of my own mini traditions.  I love comparing this year's events to the ones that have come before them, and now I hear my own children making the same comparisons.  There's a lot of "Remember when..." and "I think..." kinds of conversations happening.
My 90 year old grandmother called yesterday to remind me to set my clocks back an hour.  When I answered the phone she didn't say hello, she said... "It's tradition...".  Another one of her favorite phrases - which is now more of a family motto is... "You're building memories".  It's these shared experiences and traditions which hold us together.  They help us learn who we are, they ground us in the love of our families.  They give us shared memories that hold us solidly together.  When the kids leave for college and beyond we'll still be together through our traditions.

Halloween:  Carving and Making Our Own Costumes

Old enough to use the knife herself this year!

The annual make my face look just like my Jack O Lantern picture.

Rollers for Glinda hair

The Headless Horseman and Glinda on her way to the Emerald City (from Wicked) - Love that they both chose literary costumes this year!

Grandma's new friend 

Making Apple Dumplings

 Fall Campout and Hike to Tibet Knob

Over 75 friends joined us for our fall campout weekend to celebrate our friendships and our beautiful fall weather.

Farmer Dan demonstrates his bottle opener cap holder contraption.

Girls on the rocks

Overlook with WV in full color

Crafty Girl is a hobbit

Caramel Apples with the Thy Hand Crew

Actually, I think the adults enjoy this tradition as much as the kids.
What are your favorite family traditions? How do you bond your family together?  Hope you build some memories today.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Falling in Love With the Harvest

We've been making the most of Fall around here....
This is one of the best meals I've made in the past few weeks - it takes advantage of the early fall harvest and the last of the summer.  I simply made a big platter salad and put a simple garlic and herb vinaigrette on the table.  I made some bread sticks as well and everyone was very, very happy.

The kids and I spent a day at the pumpkin patch and then the corn maze.  We loaded up a wheelbarrow with pumpkins, squash and gourds - for both decorating and eating.

We went to the farm this weekend for the annual applesauce party and wood hauling weekend.  The guys hauled three large trailer loads of wood and split two more (5-6 cords).  The kitchen crew canned 75 quarts of applesauce.  We were also able to harvest the bounty of the farm - it felt so fulfilling to bring back so much from the farm, and the satisfied look on my dad's face knowing that our pantry was being filled from his land made the weekend.  This is what we came back with....
From the farm from left to right.... 2 gallons of frozen corn, 1 quart of dark maple syrup, 11/2 bushels of apples, 2 jars of apple butter, 2 jugs of good maple syrup, 1/2 bushel of pears, 1/2 bushel of grapes,  12 quarts of applesauce, 1 bushel of butternut squash and 1/2 bushel of potatoes...  From the Farmer's Market - 5 large cabbages (for sauerkraut and kimchee) and 4 large cauliflower. 
I did haul the canner out one more time for a very limited (3 quarts of pears with Amaretto) project.  But now, I'm really, really done.