Sunday, December 18, 2011

Christmas Traditions

I have always loved Christmas, a LOT.

Growing up, Christmas was truly magical. There were traditions; going to the Christmas tree farm, with saw in hand and cutting down our tree, decorating said tree while we all felt habitually sicker and sicker (years later we would discover we are all allergic to pine trees and half of us are allergic to the gluten and sulphites in the cookies we were scarfing down), baking a kajillion cookies (extra sulphites added), playing the Nutcracker Suite and Holiday Classics records (I'm old, get over it.) and the Midnight Mass cassette tapes (see, not that old).  I clearly remember the excitement we felt on Christmas Eve, tucked in our beds, when no one was stirring, not even a...oh, wait, no.  My mom was definitely up.  Filling stockings, finishing icing the Christmas Stollen bread and making sure there were tater tots for the eggy casserole goodness that passed as our only non-sugar food source until the turkey dinner.

why, yes, the 154 million feet of lighted garland is a pain to fluff and wrap around the banisters. but totally worth it.

We didn't "do" Santa.  My dad had the traumatic experience, as a lad of five, of hiding behind the wing back chair in the living room, to catch Santa and discovering it was his mother putting the presents under the tree.  It was 1950 and Christmas was a sham and his mother a liar.  He started drinking heavily and doubting the existence of God or something along those lines.  So, yeah, we never "did" Santa in our house.

our school does a Kindergarten Polar Express parade every year.  the parents have to make a train car out of a box for their youngling.  this was one of the dodgiest, most slap dash cars there.  people in this town need to get a life.
My family now-a-days don't "do" Santa either.  For many and various reasons that I'm not really interested in debating.  Seriously, immediately following religion and politics, nothing gets people more het up than voicing your views on the jolly old elf.  I think it's really what started WW2.  Poland was all "Santa's the real deal.  You're all killing the magic of Christmas." and Hitler was all "Oh yeah?  Well, the Easter Bunny's a sham too!" and then there was much bloodshed.

Four Little Birds.  Making light of history's darkest hours since 2010.

he was known for his excellent finger strength due to strenuous daily digit exercises.

Anywho, we have shared the real story of Saint Nicholas with our kiddos.  So they know who he is.  And they have been threatened with all kinds of wrath should they utter the truth to any other children.  We have explained that some parents like to "play" Santa with their kids and it's not up to us to interfere.

Last Christmas an older gentleman, standing in line with us at the grocery store checkout, asked Neill (then four) if Santa was coming to his house.  Neill gave him an impatient look and said "Of course not!  Santa's DEAD."

Needless to say, the elderly gentleman looked at me like I had just clubbed a sack of baby seals to death.

My parents didn't need Santa to make Christmas magical.  You know, it really is true that you don't understand how much your parents did for you growing up until you are a parent.  Christmas wasn't magical all on it's own.  My parents made it magical.  They instilled the traditions.  They spent time with us and allowed us to be involved in all the excitement and celebration of our Savior's birth.  They climbed step ladders in the cold to hang big, colored lights on the house (which I still think are pure, unspeakable delight), they spent weeks staying up well past midnight to sew little dresses for our dolls and fairy ballet costumes for us.  And it was all wrapped up and surrounded by what Sufjan Stevens calls "that creepy Christmas feeling".  That other-worldly, Word-become-flesh, God incarnate thing that transports us all from our comfortable suburban reality into a stable where an inexperienced teen girl and a nervous carpenter somehow delivered God himself safely into the world, screaming and covered in amniotic fluid.

"my mother leaves me on the floor under the tree. but aren't I adorable?"

The story of Jesus' birth is very intentional in our celebration of Christmas.  We enjoy our advent calender.  Each day yields a chocolate treat and a couple verses from the first two chapters of the book of Luke.  Candy and scripture is often paired together in my house.  After all, in Biblical times they would give children pieces of honeycomb for memorizes parts of the Torah.  It's ok to teach your children that the Word of God yields good things in our lives.

Every year my kids "help" decorate the tree (admittedly fake. allergies, you know).  They usually hang a couple ornaments and then wander off to play a computer game or spill something sticky.  This year though, they hung every ornament.  Every. German. Hand. Blown. Glass. Ornament.  It was terrifying.  There was such speed and excitement and loudness.  And yet, not a single ornament was broken.  See?  Existence of God proven.

And I am proud of myself.  Because I let them do it and I decided that even if one broke, it wouldn't be the end of the world.  Or even that important.  unless it was the cuckoo clock or the giant mushroom or the bluebird or the weird toadstool gnome guy.

And after they went to bed, I moved half the ornaments up north.  And hid the pickle deep in the branches at the back of the tree.  On Christmas Eve, they go searching for it and whoever finds it gets a little prize.  Usually a forgotten chocolate from a missed day in the advent calender or something equally lame.  I'm only one woman here, people.

every year we have a little snowflake cutting party on the first cold night of winter.

We also make a lot of cookies.  This year I've made one batch regular and a half a batch gluten and dairy free of my favorite recipes.  And so, as a little week before Christmas gift, I will leave you with my recipe for Chocolate Candy Cane Crackles, gluten and dairy free!

yeah, they kinda look like poo, but trust me, they are SOOO delicious.

Chocolate Candy Cane Crackles

1 1/4 c. rice flour (or preferred gluten free flour, fine flour works best)
1/2 c. unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 c. Earth Balance vegan margarine
1/3 c. l. brown sugar, packed
1/3 c. sugar
1 large egg
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla
8 oz. candy canes, finely crushed

1. Preheat oven 350*.  Grease cookie sheet
2. Combine flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt. Whisk to combine until thoroughly mixed.
3. Combine butter and sugars. Cream. Add egg and vanilla, beat to combine.
4. With mixer on low, spoon in dry ingredients; mix to combine. Add crushed candy, mix until evenly combined.
5. Spoon dough into 1" scoops. Place 3" apart and flatten slightly. Bake 10-12 min.
6. Remove sheet from oven and immediately use a metal spatula to neaten any edges where any candy may have melted out. Let cookies cool for 5 minutes on sheet.  Transfer to waxed paper or wire cooling rack.  Makes 4 dozen.

Thanks for the early Christmas present, husband!  I love being able to listen to Pandora through real! speakers while I bake.

Merry Soon-To-Be Christmas!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Talkin' Turkey

Our Thankful Tree for this year:

My favorite leaf?  My niece, Alli, is thankful for mice.  I think because she wanted to draw them.

How was your Thanksgiving?  Or Thursday for non-American readers?

We had a chill dinner at my parent's house.

We normally go up to Justin's relatives in northern California but this year we skipped the long drive because we have a newborn and we are not insane. 

I also normally eat mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie but this year with the new diet I was afraid these were lofty and unreachable dreams. 

The potatoes, maybe.  But I had my pie and I ate it too.  And it was gooood.

Forgive my iPhone picture.  I forgot to bring my camera to dinner.   But we remembered all the kids, so there's that.

So I decided to share the recipe I used to make not only gluten and dairy free pumpkin pie, but also g and d free whipped cream!  Yay!  Enjoy my fellow wheat and dairy challenged friends.

Gluten and Dairy Free Pumpkin Pie

For the crust I used a pie crust mix by The Gluten-Free Pantry.  Order a box here.
I lined my crust with parchment paper and filled it with dry pinto beans at weight and prebaked it 15 minutes at 400*.  Remove and let cool before adding filling.

found here


  • 15 ounces Canned Pumpkin
  • 3/4 cup dark brown sugar

  • 1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger

  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon

  • 1/4 teaspoon all-spice

  • 1/8 teaspoon cloves

  • 3 eggs, lightly beaten

  • 1 cup organic coconut milk

1.Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

2.Combine pumpkin, sugar, freshly grated ginger, cinnamon, all-spice and cloves in a bowl. Stir in eggs. Gradually add coconut milk. Stir ingredients until creamy and smooth.

3.Pour pumpkin mixture into the pie crust. Bake in the middle rack in the center of the oven for about 1 hour (or until knife inserted in the center comes out clean.) Set pumpkin on wire rack to cool for at least 1 hour before serving.

It looked and tasted just like everybody else's pie...maybe better. (sorry, Mom)

Gluten and Dairy Free Whipped Cream
found here

  • 2 cans of coconut milk full fat

  • 1 cup powdered sugar

Place your cans of coconut milk in the refrigerator for a minimum of 24 hours. The longer the better.

Also, place your bowl and whip into the freezer for at least 3 hours to chill.  I used my Kitchen Aid mixer's balloon whisk.
Once you take your bowl and whip out of the freezer and set up the mixer do not waste time. You need to keep the equipment cold. Open the cans at the bottom with a bottle opener to drain off the coconut water. Save this it is great for smoothies. Now open the top of the can all the way and scoop out the thick cream.

Start your mixer on low and move up 1 or 2 notches for speed until you get to moderate. As it starts to whip and increase in volume, gradually add in the powdered sugar. Once it’s mixed and looks fluffy like whipped cream, well you now have whipped cream.

It did taste of coconut for the first couple bites but after that it just tasted whipped creamy.

I'll leave you with two of my reasons for being thankful this year:

Now to decorate for Christmas...

(have I mentioned the sleep deprivation?)

Saturday, September 10, 2011

A Little More "Me"

(Pardon the mess.  Redecorating in process..)

I've mentioned before how much I detest the faux finish in our living/dining room.  It has been a thorn in my side for two and a half years.  That's way too long.  Don't mock my pain.  It's very real.

I mean, check this out:

What color is that?  I named it Effervescent Poopstain. 

Well, we finally got permission from the landlord to paint.   My mom was there in about five seconds with her painting clothes on and yards of plastic drop cloths.

And thanks to her and my sister, Jenny, this is now the beauty I get to daily behold:


These bookcases are totally on their way out.  They were like 20 bucks at Target ten years ago.  On the lookout for super cool/vintage bookcases to paint!

I adore it.  Before the walls were painted I had begun to question my decorating style.  I was all maybe I don't know what I'm doing with my decor.  But now, I'm like THIS is what I was doing!  It makes sense!

The next project to be conquered was the nursery.  First we kicked the 33-year-old out.  Seriously, we love you, Megan. We also got permission to paint these walls!  Wahoo!  Once again, Mom came with her plastic drop cloths and paint rollers and painted the heck out of that nursery. 

Yep, cat's outta the bag!  This is bubba's name.

I also finally finished the bedding.  I am soo pleased with the outcome!

We got the stroller and car seat and the baby shower is next weekend!  I am almost 37 weeks so this is all a bit by the skin of our teeth!  But as of next Sunday, baby can come!


Monday, September 5, 2011

The World's Longest Yard Sale- Part 3

Traditional Kentucky rock walls

Our final day of the yard sale dawned and we set off to tackle a portion of the Kentucky route.  We hit some traditional yard sales and a field sale or two.  We also stopped at a really cool old house, turned boutique, with a barn full of dusty old furniture and tent sales set up all around.

Jenny found a really cool ice blue wooden shipping crate, Jenni found a beautiful antique gate leg table, I found a brand new Angel baby monitor and Mom found some dear small things.

Jenny and Jenni also found an antique table to use as a conference desk in the showroom.  Great deals were had and the trailer was unpacked and repacked one last time before we headed off Highway 127 at Frankfort and back towards Greensboro.

Oh yeah, and we also stopped for ice cream at the Dairy Queen.  Where Jenny and Jenni decided to wash their dusty the bathroom sink.  A couple ladies walked in during these ablutions.  They really didn't know what to do with us, so they pretended it wasn't happening.  Especially when we scrambled to dry off the wet floor with paper towels before they used the sink...

We had one more stop to make on our way home.  Jenni's in-laws in the mountain town of Beattyville, KY had generously offered to let us stay with them.  On the drive up, Jenni told us all about this amazing couple, Allen and Cecile, and about Cecile's parents who built the house that they now live in.

Cecile's father built the house with his own hands, using oak from his acres of land.  Imagine living in a house so solid that the beams and timbers were made of thick cut oak!  Once his house was complete, he not only built a couple barns but an entire second house, just in case.  Having lived through the depression, he knew the value of a back-up plan.

Jenni's husband, Evan, and his brother, used to visit their Grandpa and Granny in Beattyville each summer.  Grandpa built a special room onto the house just for them.  Granny stained and varnished the oaken beams of the high, arched ceiling with it's beautiful tall windows that let in the trees and sunlight of the surrounding wood. 

One summer, Grandpa decided the boys needed to learn to swim.  With no local pool, he decided he'd better build one.  He and the boys dug and constructed a lap pool.  Another summer he decided the boys needed to learn basic construction, so they built a fantastic tree house.  Each year, he planned a new skill to pass onto the boys.

The basement walls are lined with shelves of jars, that Granny kept full with homemade canned goods.  The first time Jenni met Granny, she was up on a ladder, with a rag, scrubbing the eaves of the house.  Or as she said "just warshing the house".  She was already in her eighties.  In fact, she fell of the roof once while cleaning it.  Thankfully she wasn't badly hurt.  I don't know of any other 80-year-old woman who has fallen off a roof, while cleaning it and come away unscathed!  Ok, I don't know of any other 80-year-old woman who fell off a roof...or cleaned one.

When Jenni and Evan were teenagers and dating, her sister and she used to roll their eyes and giggle at Evan and his brother when they would talk to their grandparents on the phone.  The boys would always end their call with "I'm Grandpa's boy!".  Jenni and Mary Beth thought this was a bit ridiculous for big, strapping teenage boys.  They had never been very close to their own grandparents and didn't understand this relationship.

The first time Jenni went out to visit Grandpa and Granny, she was taken right into the family circle.  She felt as loved and wanted as their own grandsons.  At the end of the visit, Grandpa pulled Jenni aside, winked and asked her "Who's girl are you?"

Jenni enthusiastically answered,"I'm Grandpa's girl!"

The cabinet that Cecile's great-grandpa built

the chest of drawers that Cecile's uncle built

The dough trough that Cecile's grandpa carved for her grandma.  She gave it to Jenni.

When first Grandpa and later Granny passed away, Jenni was heartbroken.  She felt that she had finally gotten the kind of grandparents she saw others experience while growing up.  They left an amazing legacy behind them.  One of hard work, love, generosity and kindness.  I felt honored to spend the night beneath the sturdy oak beams of one of the houses that Grandpa built.

Their daughter, Cecile and her husband Allen carry on that legacy.  They moved into the second house when Granny was failing and couldn't live alone any longer.  After she passed away they moved into the main house and have been just as industrious, generous and loving as the parents before them.

The houses were already gorgeous with rich wood and stained glass windows fashioned by Cecile's uncle.  Allen and Cecile have made them even more beautiful with their renovations and decorating.  I loved their home!  But even more so, I loved the sweet presence of the Holy Spirit that just permeates the place.  It spills out of the windows and over the thresholds and I know even their neighbors can feel it. 

We were welcomed like family.  Hugged and spoiled and fed the most amazing dinner.  They told us awesome stories of the places they've been on mission trips, the things they've experienced and how God called them home to tiny Beattyville to minister to their neighbors. 

By the time we were loaded up and ready to leave the next morning, I felt like saying "I'm Grandpa's girl!" too.

We arrived home in Greensboro late.  Too late to get pictures of all our WLYS spoils.  But here is some of it being packed into Jenny and Rob's barn.

Here are my spoils safely home:

1940's tablecloth, never used, original paper label still intact! =$17!

vintage Shiny Brite ornaments- 1 box= 75cents!

It was an amazing trip and a month later, I'm still recovering!

I'll be back soon with photos of the living/dining room makeover!  Hint, hint (I finally got to repaint!).  I also will have pictures of the nursery since it's just about finished!