Category Archives: Grandparents

days of christmas

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Someone got a hold of my phone during the happy chaos!

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I thought I would write down some of our Christmas traditions, or what we do that makes it feel like Christmas.  Some of these have been passed down through our families, some are new.

1.  Christmas Spode plates, like these.  All the women in our family have these dishes.  My grandmother gifted them to me at Christmas for a few years when I was in college (not exactly what a college-girl gets excited about, but I love them now).  I think I may have a few from my grandmother’s collection as well when she started to downsize many years ago.  I don’t have very many, but enough that they are used everyday in December through early January.  We all feel like they are a special treat.  Also, poisetta glasses.  These were also passed down to me from my grandmother.  They don’t do well in the dishwasher (it removes the paint), and I’ve lost a few to the concrete floor (Steven smashed one yesterday).

2.  Christmas tree – right after Thanksgiving.  We’ve gotten our tree from the family property and from a local tree lot.  Either way, I like getting our tree fairly early and keeping it as long as possible.  I love how excited the children are to decorate the tree, and how awed they are by the beauty of the tree lit up at night.  Hythe insisted that we keep the tree lit all the time, even in the day – and he wanted us to keep all the house lights off as soon as it got dark so that we could admire the tree.  But, I had to point out that I could not cook supper without lights, but we would keep it as dark as possible.  This year, I took the tree down early – yesterday, actually.  I usually keep it up until January 5 or 6, but this year, the tree looked dry (despite having water) slightly brown, and droopy, as if the weight of the ornaments was too much.  It wanted to come down.

3.  Crafting.  I love making gifts for our family, friends, and neighbors.  I do some sewing of gifts, but I love to have the children help out with creating also.  We’ve made lots of things from hats to granola to cookies – some crafts I suggest, others they come up with on their own.  This year our big projects were soap (the girls helped out with a few batches of soap) and rolled beeswax candles.  The candles were fun and easy enough for the older children, and I personally love the candles.  We also had a day this year when cousins came over to do some crafting with us.  One of the cousins said, “you’re a family that makes things.”  I felt greatly complimented.

4.  Baking – cookies and Christmas cake.  Unfortunately, I did not get around to the cake this year and I have missed it.  And, I only made a few batches of cookies, but, they were good!

5.  Advent calender.  This calender was made for me by my maternal grandmother (Mom-mom) when I was born.  It is sweet, simple, and lovingly crafted.  The children love it – and they never argue over who puts up the ornament for the day (unlike my brother and I when we were young).

6. Church.  Singing hymns, listening to the choir, remembering the magnificent gifts of hope, peace, joy, and love that were offered through a baby.  Remembering that we can offer these gifts to the world ourselves.

7.  Advent wreath. This tradition is new to our family, but I really like having the reminder at our table of what this season really stands for.  It is not perfect or symbolically correct, but each of the 4 candles stand for hope, peace, joy, and love – one is lighted on each Sunday of Advent.  A daily reminder of what’s been brought to the world and what we can do in the world.

8.  Snowflakes.  I often help the children cut snowflakes, but this year I hung them above the table.  They loved the display.

9.  Stockings.  I love watching the children open their stockings and exclaim over the little presents Santa leaves in them.  Santa is very modest at our house, but the stockings are such fun.  Even toothpaste becomes exciting!

10.  Christmas Eve Santa visit.  Santa comes to the Big House (William’s grandparents’ house) on Christmas Eve afternoon.  I think originally he came to amuse and give the help (house keeper, nanny, farm hands) their Christmas presents.  After many years, there were so many children and grandchildren that he started bringing presents to them too.  Often Santa comes in some strange way (on a motorcycle, in a large box, in an old car).  He brings one present to each child.  The child is called forward, and is supposed to sit on Santa’s knee.  Santa asks if they have been good that year and traditionally everyone in the “audience” (siblings, parents, cousins, friends, aunts, uncles, grandparents) can yell out “yes” and “no” and the good or bad behavior of the child.  It is all in fun and there is lots of laughter.  Then, the child gets a wrapped present.  It is a fun tradition, full of excitement, treats, and laughing.

11.  Big House Christmas supper.  The Big House is always decorated with ivy and boxwood garlands from the gardens, candles (for light, too), and large white table clothes.  The large family exchanges gifts (from a draw), and happy chaos ensues.  We have close to 50 family members for a seated supper, lots of wonderful food, lots of talking and laughing, and finally we end the night with a carol sing.  William’s aunt plays the piano and everyone (who makes it to the music room) sings one of the 40+ carols from the old family carol book.  This gathering is one of my favorite things on Christmas day.

These days after Christmas (and leading up to Christmas) have been gray, misty, and chilly, making me think of Scottish highlands or northern Irish weather.  I often feel better about gloomy weather if I can imagine I am somewhere more exotic.  These days after Christmas also bring a conflicting time of excitement-passed (slight feeling of disappointment that it is over) and the fun of winter break with “nothing” to do.  The mess of Christmas (wrapping paper, packaging, cookie crumbs, tree needles) and the supposed quietness of winter.  Slowing down, yet the time seems to rush by.

I am trying to enjoy all our moments – pause to savor them.  Let the children get to play with friends and visit with grandparents and have time at home to be with each other.  It is a beautiful time of year.

preparations and celebrations

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We’ve been preparing for and enjoying this Christmas season – and only one more day till Christmas!  It has been busy and joyful.  Cookies have been baked.  But . . . this year, I only got around to making two batches of cookies.  I am not sure what happened, except that I found myself one night at 9:30, by myself (everyone else was in bed), incredibly tired, in the kitchen searching for eggs – no eggs.  So I drove over to my in-laws and borrowed 5 eggs only to come back and not be able to find the coconut and then couldn’t find the pecans.  I was feeling very un-holiday-ish and I realized I really did not have to bake more cookies.  The only person who would had that expectation was me!  So, to bed I went.  The only cookies I made were ones you see above which was a recipe from my great-grandmother’s collection, an unusual but delicious sesame seed-cinnamon cookie, and (my favorite) what we call St. Nick Cookies but everyone else calls Mexican Wedding Cookies.

I bought a gorgeous wreath that my sister-in-law made at their farm and used it as an advent wreath for the table.  I did not have candles so i made roll-up beeswax candles every week – and after teaching myself, I taught the girls how to make the candles.  Though, we were a little slow getting some weeks’ candles in the wreath, they are all there now.

Kids made gingerbread houses at church and they were cute for a couple of days until I noticed teeth marks on them and candy that had been gnawed off.  So, we said they had 10 minutes after dinner to eat as much as they could off their house – then the desecrated houses went in the trash can.  They had fun!

Crafting is happening everyday in our house now, too.  I am trying to get some sewing projects done for Christmas (originally for Solstice, but that letting go of expectations thing was great).  Snowflakes cut and hung. The girls and Hythe are making presents and decorating gift bags.  It has been fun.

I am looking forward to spending time with family and taking some hikes in the next few days as we celebrate a beautiful holiday.  Blessings to you!

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Sesame Seed Cookies
½ cup sesame seeds
¾ cup butter
1 ½ cup brown sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
1 ¼ cups sifted flour
¼ tsp. salt
¼ tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. cinnamon (I accidentally used 1 tsp, which was fine)
Toast seeds in heavy fry pan, stirring constantly so seeds won’t burn.
Cream butter and brown sugar till fluffy. Beat in eggs, one at a time with vanilla. Sift together flour, salt, baking powder and cinnamon. Stir in sesame seed. Add to creamed mixture, mix. Line cooky sheet with waxed paper. Drop by tsp. onto waxed paper. Allow room for cookies to spread. Bake in 325 oven for 20 to 25 min. or till cookies are done and slightly brown.
For a change, replace cinnamon with ½ tsp. pumpkin pie spice or ¼ tsp. cardamom.
Makes 6 doz.

These come out crisp and delicious!  Make sure you only drop tsp sized cookies and give them plenty of room to spread.  Next time I want to try them with the cardamom – and maybe a little cocoa powder!

 

this season

This month always goes by so quickly.  With all the events, programs, parties, gift making, and visiting that goes on, the fullness of the season makes this month full and fast.  I try to be intentional about my, and my children’s time, what we do and with whom – and sometimes I fail. And, that’s ok.

This year, our children are attending a school that has a long winter break, from Thanksgiving to after New Year.  I (and of course, they) have been very excited to have December off.  Early last week was a rocky start because I had to figure out when and how to get my work done with all the children at home, but I think I have it fairly under control now.  We did some fun holiday activities, including decorating the tree and arranging nativity scenes.  My paternal grandmother gave me a set of corn husk doll ornaments for our tree about 10 years ago.  There was a baker, a mother with a boy clinging to her skirts, a boy with a fishing pole, a milkmaid, a woman with a broom, and so on.  I enjoyed them, but my girls have enjoyed them more.  They are a source of play everyday when they take them off the tree to have concerts, play house, and do all kinds of imaginative play.  The baker has lost her loaf of bread, the boy now crawls on his own (not clinging to his mother’s skirt), the milkmaid lost her bonnet, and all of them have lost the string that kept them hanging on the tree branches.  They now lye on the branches or lean against a twig to stay upright when they are not being played with.  They are loved.

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I set out some greenery to resemble an advent wreath with candles on our table, surrounding a bowl of persimmons that were gifted to us from a friend in Elizabeth City.  The persimmons are so beautiful, but I will need to cook them soon.  Persimmon butter, perhaps . . .   I realized we did not have any candles when I wanted to light one of the first Sunday of advent (when we were eating this wonderful turkey pot pie made with leftovers).  Luckily, I had just received a package from Brushy Mountain Bees with some wax and a wick and Anne helped me roll our first candle.  And, it worked!

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Hythe’s birthday was on Friday and he was in so much anticipation!  Hythe got to open his presents, wrapped in Christmas paper as requested, in the morning.  We had a fun day out, going for doughnuts at Vortex, doing a few errands and ending with haircuts for all (children, that is).  These were Hythe’s and Steven’s first non-home haircuts.

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I’ve been trying to focus on some of the little things that need to be done daily, weekly, and seasonally – and having the children help as they can since their days are freed up by the absence of official school.  I am trying to have some fun chores, as well as the “daily drudgery” of dish and clothes washing, such as filing the bird feeders and cooking meals.  I am also trying to schedule fun (and holiday) activities every day (bike rides, cookie making, friends over to play, etc.).

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Evva played at her piano recital on Sunday.  I was impressed with all the children who practice and work hard to play such beautiful music.  This year, the children were assigned parts of the Christmas story and had to write original music for the character they had to play during the reading of the story – much like Peter and the Wolf.  Anne was assigned Baby Jesus and King Harod.  Quite opposite characters in musical feeling.  Anyway, it was moving and beautiful – the children did a great job.

Sunday was also the sunniest day we’ve had nearly all week.  It was beautiful and Evva, and all the children, spent most of the time before the recital playing outside.  It made me long for a good hike in the woods.  Something else I need to make sure I get in this month at least once!

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knit projects

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My maternal grandmother knit, but sewing was really her talent.  Her mother (known as Nana), though, was a knitter.  It seems she was always knitting, annually turning out sweaters for all children and grandchildren.  I still have clothes hangers she knit covers on, and they are the best because they are thick, sturdy, and clothes do not slip off of them.   I have a small bin filled with little sweaters she knit for my mother and aunts, which my children have worn, and their children will wear.

I learned to knit when I was in college – from a friend of mine.  She taught me how to make hats and I never stopped.  They are such easy, quick projects.  I remember knitting with my grandmother during my freshman year spring break.  My grandmother seemed amused, but happy, that I was knitting.  And, she critiqued by technique – apparently I was a very slow knitter and if I did it the way she did, I would be faster.  I could not get my fingers to work like hers, so I went back to what I could do.  Over the years, I changed my way of knitting, or really of holding the yarn, to try to be more like what she did.  I don’t think I am there yet!

I put the craft of knitting aside for a few years when my babies seemed to grow faster than the sweaters I attempted to make for them.  But, occasionally I have made my children (and myself) hats to ward off the winter chill.  And, nearly every time I make a hat for one of them, it disappears within a few months, never to be seen again.  This has been discouraging, but I decided recently, that my job may be to make hats every year with the expectation that they will not be around by the end of winter.  Just enjoy making the hats, enjoy seeing them worn, keeping small heads warm –  just for a while.

So, I am getting back into knitting.  I’ve started on my first hat of the winter for Evva.  I also have skeins of yarn bought at the Southeastern Animal Fiber Fair set aside for Hythe and Anne.  So far, I love this merino combo yarn by the The Verdant Gryphon.  It is soft, not at all itchy (a bit concern for Evva), and really beautiful.  But, dang!  Good yarn is really expensive!

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I also, recently, finished a shawl for myself.  I have never had a shawl, feeling that it was too old-lady-like.  But, I really liked this pattern, got a bunch of nice yarn for very cheap and decided to try it.  I like it and I’ve even worn it once already.

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My other knitting project is a lap blanket for our couch.  Made from 16 skeins of linen/cotton blend, 12 of which I dyed with natural dyes.  I am only only on color 2 right now (6 skeins in), so I’ve a ways to go.

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So, for you knitters out there:  I would like to make a sweater for myself.  What nice, natural fiber yarns (brands, etc.) can I use that won’t cost a fortune?

cider making (with pears), a tradition

Every fall for the last few years, William, the children, and I take parts of a few days to make a few runs of cider. We live beside an unsprayed apple orchard which often provides plenty of fodder for the cider press. This year, we made one cider run a few weeks ago and I thought that might be all we would do. The apple crop was not great, but we had enough to make the cider and for me to make 20+ quarts of applesauce. We have also been quite busy this fall with kids soccer, work, camping, and out of town trips.

But, on Sunday morning William mentioned there were a lot of pears on the ground. Let’s make cider – I said. And, he agreed.

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We have a large, stately, and beautiful pear tree near our house that in the spring is white with blossoms (when we call her the Snow Queen) and in the fall drops large, hard, tasty pears – deigning to allow us her fruits. And, she yields wonderfully every year there is not a late freeze.

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I picked up four bushels of pears with Hythe helping me (Evva would not help claiming the yellow jackets were too dangerous – so she played fairies in the grass). You have to watch where you put your hands when picking up the pears, but most looked good having been knocked down just a few days before by an all day rain storm. I always feel these pears must look like the golden apples that Atalanta stopped to pick up during her fateful race.

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We finally got around to cider making fairly late in the afternoon, when the weather quickly goes from warm to quite cool, so I packed up coats and sweaters, knowing that cold children (and mamas) can be really unhappy. This was supposed to be a family activity, but right after we picked up the pears and arrived at the cider press (at Hickory Nut Gap Farm), all the children disappeared. Anne, her friend, and Evva rode off on bikes and Hythe almost immediately rode off on a horse (with his great aunt and cousin). We were left with a grumpy Steven, who kept pointing at the road and demanding “home”. So, we decided that I would set up and start grinding the pears and William would go get beer, and we would enjoy this moment, by gosh!

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And, we did. The three girls showed up in time to help finish grinding pears, to press, and to clean up. We use an old grinder and press that William’s grandparents had made and used for years. It is the only press I’ve ever used. I made cider on it the first time 17 years ago.

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The pressing went very easily and quickly, and clean up was fast. And, we ended up with 12 gallons of pear cider. It is probably because we make this ourselves, but I think this cider is the best! We freeze it and enjoy ice cold cider all year. I do love this tradition that we are making.

legacy

This past weekend I attended the memorial service of an uncle. Uncle Peter was my dad’s brother. But, it is a little more complex than that.  My “dad” was actually my step-dad, married to my mother when I was 8 years old and when my real father had been dead for a few years. So, Dave eventually became my “dad” – a wonderful man whom I admired and respected. He passed away 4 years ago on October 8th. My mother wrote a wonderful short description of these two brothers, and I am going use her words for a bit:

“It is interesting to me that that Peter and Dave’s service will be just one day apart… and four years. Those feelings from 4 years ago are flooding forward as I reflect on Peter’s life this week.

Peter and Dave were so much alike in many ways. They were very principled men. They led by example and quietly loved all of us. They knew the importance of community and giving back to those around them. They both had a need to give of themselves to the wider good of humanity.

They were quiet men, and never proud or boastful, but when either one spoke everyone stopped to listen. Whenever either would both talk with someone they gave that person their full attention. They made the person they were talking with feel that they were the most important person in the room.

They would never correct anyone in public, nor offer advice that was not solicited. Dave knew how to handle most challenging situations but he would tell others what to do. He might make suggestions, and if one asked his advice or followed his suggestions things would come out right.

Dave and Peter both always encouraged doing the best you could do each day . . . again, by example. Then, you have no regrets.”

This is the example I try to live up to each day. Quiet leadership, wisdom, and service and love for my family, community, and fellow man.

learning letters

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I am “homeschooling” Hythe this fall. The decision to fore-go traditional preschool came about due to a number of factors, but I was looking forward to trying out homeschooling with a preschooler where the pressure is low, what needs to be taught is pretty simple, and there can be lots of fun activities. So far, it has been fun. And, this craft has been one of the more fun letter learning activities. I got the idea from the Purlbee and ordered the wool felt from them as well (Hythe picked the colors). I decided not to sew and stuff the letters (i.e. make them 3-D), but to cut two of each letter so that we could make words (and our names) with the letters. Also, a sewing tip I learned from my grandmother is that you don’t need expensive or fancy fabric marking pens if you have a sliver of dry soap. It works great and washes off. The sliver you see in the top picture is actually my grandmother’s soap, found in the sewing kit I got with her old sewing machine.

Hythe mainly supervised the letter cutting, arranged them in order, and started solidifying his letter skills. I was impressed at how quickly he learned the letters as we did this project. That activity has also proved fun and Hythe is already learning to read simple words. I can see us using this resource a lot this year.

August is flying by

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This month has been unseasonably cool (though this afternoon’s humidity and mild heat make me almost not write the former), with lots of rain and grey skies. When the sun does come out, we seem to want to be out in it as much as possible–enjoying the green-ness and summer while it lasts. We are eating many meals outside, playing games outside, working in the garden, playing in the sandbox, swinging, playing in the creek. Well, our children are doing most of the sandbox and swing play, while William and I do most of the work in the garden (and mowing of the grass).  I love to look out and see these little ones playing, being silly, and enjoying the freedom of childhood.  Hythe will give his silly smile, wrestle his little brother.  Most play outside is rambunctious, but occasionally I will see a few of them in quiet play–like this chess game.  After Evva won, and they forgot to put the game away, I caught Steven having a wonderful time sitting at the board and throwing all the pieces, one by one, into the grass.  We are now down a few more chessmen.

We went to a family wedding this weekend when William’s cousin got married on the farm. It was a lot of fun, and one of my favorite things about it was the outfit Evva chose to wear (seen in top pic): polka dot dress (“polka dots are supposed to be for fun parties”), a red straw hat (my grandmother’s), a fashion-knit scarf (hand-knit by someone–not me), and her new umbrella (gift from Daddy for the large rain storm that was predicted to happen during the outdoor wedding).

in the garden, early August

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The garden is really producing right now, but it is also the time of plant death as insects and disease is our warm and wet climate overwhelm the garden plants. I am an “organic” gardener, in that I use organic fertilizers, cover crops, mulches and not pesticides or herbicides. I don’t do much for insect pest control other than squish the offenders. I don’t do anything for disease control other than try to time my plantings to hopefully be nearly at the end of their production before disease pressure builds up too much. This year has been pretty average, but August is usually the time of death for my garden. My tomatoes have are completely dead, within a week, from late blight. I harvested enough to make a few batches of sauce to freeze, lots of tomato sandwiches and salads. There are a few more that I will harvest tomorrow, but that will probably all. I pulled the rest of the beans up today because while there were still blossoms on the plants, the bean leaf beetles had completely taken them over. They were struggling so hard to produce only a few beans per plant that they did not care about keeping allowing any new beans to grow. It reminded me of the smart mothers who have only one child, realizing that more than this would sap all their energy and they would not be able to live (a decent life). In my first garden at my grandparents house, my grandfather insisted beans could not be grown without Sevin dust. I did not want pesticides, but when I was not looking, he would scoop up a handful of Sevin and sprinkle my beans. Today, I understand the thought!

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The potatoes are dead or dying and I’ve harvested just over a bushel–with at least half left to go. We are eating them at every meal. Same with the onions–not nearly as many, but I’ve gotten about half of them out.

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Powdery mildew has started on my beautiful winter squash and pumpkins. This bed has been such a pleasure for me to witness–the very insistent growth, the large green leaves filling the garden, the amazingly bright blossoms that are open in the morning. They will not last much longer, but there are lots of acorn squash, butternuts, and green pumpkins coming on. I think (hope) they will be able to finish ripening. Those large, bright blossoms always made me want to pick, stuff, and fry them, but I’ve looked in them and each one has at least 2 bees. I’d rather not evict them.

In September, the garden seems to come back to life again, and I hope the same to be true this year. I’ve just planted turnips, carrots, radishes, lettuce, and beets where the beans and potatoes were. Garlic will go in then, too, and perhaps some cover crops.

Apple season is starting as well, with the Winter Banana (at least that is what we think they are) ripening. I picked a bushel with the boys this week. They are perfect (and unsprayed, so I don’t mean they look perfect)–sweet, tart, crisp. I am not sure what I will do with them all, because they don’t store that well. We will probably eat as many as we can, give some away, and make a little applesauce. It is not quite cider making time, yet.

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