Thursday, December 06, 2007

A Visit From St. Nicholas

In our house St. Nicholas is St. Nicholas - the good Bishop from Myra who rides a white horse. Santa Claus is Santa Claus - that jolly fellow who brings gifts wrapped in gold paper sometime during the wee hours of Christmas morning. St. Nicholas reminds us during this sometimes hectic season to keep our hearts focused on the Babe that we remember each Christmas.

On the Eve of Dec. 5th we get out two pairs of Papa's dress shoes and shine them up. Each child has a little stocking and in that stocking goes each child's letter to Santa Claus. St. Nicholas is kind enough to drop the stockings off at the North Pole on his way back to the starry Heavens. We light the candles on Mother Mary's path and hear the same story that goes so nicely with our Advent Garden. A carrot for St. Nicholas' horse and a couple of cookies are left for our saintly friend.
The next morning we find St. Nicholas and his horse have arrived in the Advent Garden! I made both these figures years ago. St. Nicholas is made from the pattern found in The Nature Corner (hint - the same pattern in different colors also makes a lovely St. Patrick). The horse is from the pattern found in Feltcraft. I have used both these books many, many times.

The stockings are gone and in their place Papa's shoes are overflowing with fruit and nuts. My children have such fun piling up on Mama's bed and cracking nuts and feasting on St. Nicholas' gifts. St. Nicholas' gift to me is that breakfast on this morning in pretty much taken care of! This year St. Nicholas left packages of dried figs. Later in the day my oldest daughter scooped out the insides and filled them with melted dark chocolate and then dipped them - they will be a nice addition to a Christmas Tea with friends on Friday. We enjoy more stories about St. Nicholas and I was happy to find a coloring page with St. Nicholas and his horse.

One year my children asked me why St. Nicholas doesn't visit all the children we know - well you do have to invite him and you have to be prepared to love Mother Mary and help her prepare for Jesus' birthday!

If you haven't invited him yet to your house - why not do so next year? The St. Nicholas Center is a wonderful place to get started for ideas.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Counting the Days!

It is the first Sunday in Advent and our tabletop Advent Garden is ready. The children have been out today so they will come home and find the table ready for them. Here is a sequesnce of pictures to show how I put the scene together.
First I cover our little corner table with burlap and secure in place with some larger stones. I also put up a dark blue wool cloth in the background. In the back under the burlap there is a small corner shelf that give a place for other visitors to stand (like St. Nichoals in a few days!).
Next I lay out a path of stars that have been cut from double sided card (gold/silver). There is one star for each day.Next I line the star path with snip of evergreen and decorate with smaller stones, shells, dried flowers. Mother Mary waits at the beginning of the path and the empty manger waits in the middle.
Lastly I use safety pins to attach three woolly angels in the dark night sky. The wings are fanned out a bit and stick nicely to the wool fabric.
Once Mother Mary steps onto a star it turns to gold and the next night the star she leaves will get a tea light candle to be lit on each subsequent night. I try to do this each evening and light the table during our family bedtime story.I have these smaller yellow stars that the children can place in the night sky for good deeds or small sacrifices. The glitter on them sticks to the wool fabric with just a little rubbing.

This is just one of our treasured Advent traditions - the idea is an adaptation of the larger Advent spiral described in All Year Round.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

The Tale of a Free Turkey

The grocery stores in our area offer you a coupon for a free turkey based on your spending at their store. We took a slightly different route. My husband found eight turkeys for sale on Craig's List in our area. Apparently this family raised the turkeys to help keep ticks down and their children enjoyed the birds while they were young. But let me tell you a grown turkey can be a bit intimidating - not to mention eight of them!

We've bought organic pasture raised turkeys from a friend in the past but he's had trouble lately with predators killing off the young birds. There are not too many critters who would take on these rather large birds so my hubby bought the lot and brought them over to our friend's farm.

It was a joy to see them when we made our regular weekly visit to the farm. There were two hens and six grand toms who made quite a show for us. These Broad Breasted Bronze toms would fluff up all their feathers, spread their tails, and the blue of their faces would get even brighter. They all had a dear mother goose who watched over them. They would follow her everywhere.

This past Saturday my husband and our friend prepared them all for this coming Thanksgiving Day. It was a lot of work but my husband and our friend each had four turkeys to show for their efforts. We kept two and sold two which covered the original cost of the turkeys. This was a win/win situation for everyone. The person who raised the birds originally got something for his family's time and effort. We don't have the space to raise our own turkeys but we were able to put out the money to buy them. Our friend had the land but lacked the funds to purchase the turkeys. And we did qualify for a free turkey from the store - which we hope to be able to donate to a local food pantry.

I did have to kid my dear husband a little bit - while some husbands are wheeling and dealing stocks and bonds my dear hubby is already working on next year's turkey plans!

Thursday, November 01, 2007

I like to take away all the Halloween decorations before the morning of All Saints Day - but what to do with our Jack O' Lanterns? Some years we ceremoniously present them to our chickens for a feast - other years they've barely made it to the compost due to warm weather.

This year the pumpkins were still in pretty good shape so we used some pictures that came in the mail to honor some of our favorite Saints.

We took our Jack-O'Lanterns and cut around the face to leave a large opening. We cut out our images and arranged them between wax paper and then I ironed it together. I trimmed and bent the wax papered image to fit in the pumpkin opening and lit our candles (a small votive in a glass jar). I think we found a new tradition!

Monday, October 29, 2007

Our Halloween Paper Mache!

Supplies -

Oval shaped balloons
Paper mache paste
Old paint brushes - wider brush is easier
Rolls of crepe paper - we used yellow, orange, and "gold" (didn't look very gold to me)

This paper mache project was inspired by the Oct. 2001 issue of Martha Stewart Living and it has probably been that long since I have made them. Gather your supplies, and prepare areas and children for a sticky mess.

You start with a balloon - a regular oval shape works great for pumpkins. For a skull I used an oval shape that I then wrapped masking tape around to give it more of a skull shape (below). For rounder shapes you can blow up the balloon to size and then tape down any protrusions. Don't worry about covering the tied knot - later you will need a place to cut the balloon out and and insert your light or candle.

With your paint brush, brush a thin layer of paste onto the balloon, then place your strip or piece of crepe paper on the paste and cover paper with another thin layer of paste. It is like using a decoupage technique. Below Hannah is crafting covers for our lights in the dining room using ripped pieces of crepe paper in different shapes. She has also used some bats that were cut out of black tissue paper.
For the pumpkins you use longer strips in overlapping colors -
For the skull I used shorter strips in different directions and gave it more of a massage with my finger tips to get the look of fine lines.

I recommend three layers of crepe paper - it goes quicker than you would think - no need to let layers dry in between new layers. Once you have your layers finished, hang by the knot to dry (we used a bit of string hung across our bay window). I would give the forms a good 24 hours or more to dry - drying time may be more or less depending on the moisture in the air and also the thickness of your paste. Then comes the scary part...
Pinch your knot and cut a hole in the balloon - allow the air to escape slowly - your form may collapse slightly but don't worry - after you remove the balloon you can simply blow air back into the form restoring it's original shape.

Here's some of our finished products -
For the above light covers a large hole was cut both in the bottom and the top of the dried form - use light bulbs of 40 watts or less (ours were candle flame shaped.
The pumpkin shapes were turned into lanterns. We sketched the faces with pencil and carefully cut them out - the hole at the top was enlarged. I hot glued a metal canning jar rim to the inside bottom of each pumpkin. On the replaceable lid I hot glued a small tea light. The handle is a length of florist wire thread through each side that had been reinforced on the inside with a bit of masking tape. Our boys carried these on a lantern walk and this picture doesn't quite do them justice when they are lit up in the dark.And finally the skull was used as a decoration for Hannah's Eerie Evening With Edgar Allan Poe.
The face was cut out and a hole was cut in the bottom and the top (to let out heat). The skull was placed over a tea light in a votive glass and set in a Terra cotta pot.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

The five year-old at dinner "I like the know that stuff that you stuff in the big hole in the chicken...what's that stuff?"

Dad - "Ah, that would be the stuffing, would you like some?"

Monday, October 22, 2007

I think you know a book qualifies as living literature when it brings another time and place so close your almost there. We truly loved being whisked back in time and across the sea in "Little House in the Highlands" by Melissa Wiley. Believe me - it's not always easy to find books that truly interest children ages 5, 8, 11, and 13 - but this book had something for everyone. Hannah (13) our budding young herbalist and beginning piper would surely love anything set in Scotland - but put in a mysterious figure like Auld Mary and a description of making haggis and you've got a teen enjoying a book just as much as her 5 and 8 year-old brothers.

But Katie (age 11) was truly inspired by Martha and her doll Lady Flora. Her knitting needles have been still all summer, but after hearing about Lady Flora, I think Katie wanted to do something a little extra for her own Lady Lydia picture above. She simply casted on a needle full of stitches and knit two stitches together at the beginning and end of every row. The next day Lady Lydia was sporting a new shawl for the coming cool weather (or at least I imagine it will come to our corner of NJ eventually - we're all still in shorts!). And a pink sweater is also in the works. No patterns - she's just knitting away what comes to mind. Here's the back view -

Friday, October 19, 2007

Each Autumn our family becomes consumed in a large apple related project - for years it was making applesauce but when our favorite source for apples raised their prices beyond our means we thought our autumn apple days were over. But then my daughter received this book for her birthday.

Apple cider vinegar! My husband noticed that a lot of apples from our CSA went to compost. For one reason and another a large quantity of apples were not suitable for distribution - so my husband, always looking for an opportunity, asked if he could have a crate of them. Between The Little House Cookbook and our other favorite The Encyclopedia of Country Living we gleaned enough information to start our first batch - which was a great success!

Now this year we have the "mother" from last year to aid the mega batch we've started.....

We have the food grade barrels and lots of apples....

And eager hands for trimming and chopping.....

Hmm seems like a rather large chipmunk in the background joined in for this particular task!

We managed to nearly fill one of those huge barrels (we did split the batch into two barrels to aid aeration - not to mention the need to maneuver these things).

Hubby estimates a yield of about 40 gall0ns of vinegar. Now you might be asking yourself - "what on earth are they going to do with 40 gallons of apple cider vinegar?" Most of it will actually be bottled and sold at the CSA - for our efforts we will keep a couple of gallons for ourselves. But we hope that our vinegar operation will benefit the garden by supplementing the gardeners' continuing education fund.

This project will also become the basis of our next science block - acids, bases, and fermentation!

Everything must be saved, nothing wasted of all the summer's bounty. Even the apples cores were saved for making vinegar.....Farmer Boy

Our leftover scraps were either composted or happily fed to some chickens and pigs we know!

Friday, June 08, 2007

My girls and I had a great time making cookies and assorted goodies for my sister's baby shower. I found some great cookie molds at house on the hill, inc.

These molded cookies that feature a boy on a stork were made with a Springerle cookie recipe from the International Cookie Cookbook by Nancy Baggett (scroll down a bit). I adjusted the recipe a bit - using anise extract instead of the whole anise seeds. For an extra special touch (for an extra special day) we coated the back with bittersweet chocolate.

These cookies show a mother rocking her baby in a cradle. We used the same cookbook to make a slightly spicy Speculaas cookie and lightly dusted them with powdered sugar.

For our first try at molded cookies I think they came out very well and were easier than I thought they would be - they do take a little time and patience but they were a big hit. I look forward to sweetening our whole year with other cookie molds from House on the Hill.

And again we consulted the International Cookie Cookbook for one of our favorite sugar cookie recipes. We used a baby bottle shaped cookie cutter that I had ordered (along with some other lovely things) from Hope Chest Legacy.

Aunt Laura is expecting a little girl and our secret for the pink icing is beet juice! If you have a suggestion for a natural blue please let us know.

Monday, May 07, 2007

He is happy who is helped by Jacob's God,
whose hope is in the Lord his God,
who alone made heaven and earth,
the seas and all they contain. - from Psalm 146

I couldn't help but smile as I read these words this morning - we had a wonderful day yesterday at Island Beach State Park - from the our youngest child....who caught a littler fish
To a bigger child with a bigger fish
To an even bigger child with an even Bigger fish...

To the BIGGEST of all (hmmm now would that reference be to the fish or the "child"!)Guess what we are having for dinner tonight!

A big hurray for Papa who caught his first keeper sized Striper!

Friday, April 27, 2007

Feathered Friends

Here are some pictures from a trip to a poultry show that was held at our local fairgrounds. I remember the first time we started looking at breeds of chickens for our own backyard flock - I was amazed at the variety of sizes and colors - take a look....

Yes - there are eyes under there somewhere! I love the tail on this next fellow - he's a smaller breed - a Japanese Bantam -

No - this next one isn't a road runner - it really is a rooster - a small game breed.

I like these breeds that look like each feather is outlined -

And of course the quintessential Little Red Hen-One more - this breed makes especially good setters - and are aptly named Silkies -

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

I'm sure you can guess this cheese!

The tradition in our family has always been to have an out door Easter egg hunt - now in past years we have been worried about eggs getting a little too warm - not this year!

Couldn't the Easter Hare deliver eggs inside? Of course not! It's tradition!!!