Thursday, December 31, 2015

Ringing in the Wednesday Hodgepodge

1. Share a favorite memory/moment from the week of Christmas.

Listening to this poem and this song. Which I did, several times.

Eating artichoke-spinach dip and spring rolls after church on Christmas Eve, with all the Squirrelings home.

Unwrapping my Mother Goose book. It took me years to identify it, for various reasons (one was that we had put a paper cover on our copy, so I didn't remember the cover very well). Just before Christmas, I saw a photo of this edition and and thought "yes...I think so...could be?" I asked Mr. Fixit to order one so we could check, but he said that none of the copies were reasonable enough when you added in shipping...he got one secretly so I could have it to open on Christmas.
2.  If someone wrote a book about your life based on the past year, what genre would it fall under? What would the title be?

An Anne Tyler novel called A Bag of Polyester Craft Stuffing.

3. What made you feel patriotic this year?

Walking through Nathan Phillips Square in Toronto during the Pan-Am games. Not that I cared all that much about the games, but there was a feeling there like the whole world was arriving for a big party.

4. What experience from this past year would you like to do all over again?

You might think I would say the trip to Indiana in July, but actually it was the double eightieth birthday party in May (for my dad and my uncle). There are very few times we get to have so many friends and family, old and young, in one spot, and I wish we could have a big party like that every year. 

Also I read quite a few books. I am a few cantos away from finishing The Divine Comedy--if I get enough time today, I might get done. Done!

5...7  Skipping these. One through Four have been enough work already.

8. Insert your own random thought here.

I thought I would enjoy writing a year's roundup, especially since this is the year I got my very own Amazon page...I have a few leftover copies of my books sitting in a box in my bedroom, want to buy one? (I also joined GoodReads and Pinterest--welcome to the 21st century.)  Half the problem is that I don't want to say goodbye to this year (although there are good things planned for 2016), and the rest of the problem is that there were also parts of it that were difficult, things that remain unresolved. So do we say we hope for such a good year, or a better one? It's like one of those multi-faceted things you turn in your hands to see the light reflect...or like one of the puzzle boxes in All the Light We Cannot See, something you keep turning over in your hands, sliding one little door at a time until suddenly the whole thing opens.

I'm still working on it.

Linked from Ringing in the Hodgepodge at From This Side of the Pond.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Frugal Christmas is not an oxymoron

I saw an article recently explaining why "low fat" and "holiday food" really shouldn't go together. While I get the point perfectly, it's also true both that some people are on special diets and don't want to be sick over the holidays, and that, for some current lifestyles, this "holiday season" may extend all the way through November and December, not just over a couple of meals. So yes, in that case, some prudence would seem not to be a bad thing.

In the same way, "frugal Christmas" is off-putting to some people. Why would you want to hold back financially during a time of celebration?

The answer to that can be anything from "we're broke" to "we're being more intentional." But the truth of our generally-pretty-wealthy culture is that we usually have enough right around us to have a pretty good holiday. Enough food. Enough things to decorate with. Enough to wear. Enough entertainment. More than enough. Like homeschoolers who discover the wealth of their own books, like new parents who figure out that they don't need swings and special bathtubs, there is no sacrilege at Christmas in not hanging holiday towels, or in eating cereal or eggs for breakfast instead of making a multi-layered slow-cooker casserole.
Here are ten ways to enjoy a frugal Christmas:

1.  Most obviously: use the holiday things you've stored. Tablecloths, wreaths, LPs or CDs, stockings. Our tree is several years old, and we have ornaments that are older than we are. I have been known to put out Christmas cards that were received in years past, especially those with a meaningful message or from someone we loved.
2. Use "non-Christmas" things you have. Focus on light and warmth.  Bring out things like white glass and china, baskets, candles, wooden bowls, Mason jars, a dark green tablecloth. Going in a less traditional, more spiritual direction, you could display a thoughtful piece of artwork.
3. Keep your eyes open at rummage sales and thrift stores, especially during the off-season. I found this woven tablecovering at the Salvation Army store, and the plaid throw we used for a tree skirt came from a fill-a-bag rummage sale we went to on Hallowe'en.
4. Paper napkins can be one of the best deals out there.
5. Use your freezer or whatever food system you generally use to save time, energy, money and sanity. We continued to use our freezer meals throughout the holidays, and I also made cookies and muffins ahead and froze them.

6. If your family doesn't like super-fancy food or baking, don't do it; make familiar foods that they do enjoy. What's wrong with chocolate-chip cookies and Rice Krispie Treats, if that's what you like, or Grandpa likes? It's like that story from Doris Janzen Longacre's More With Less book, about how her grandmother frosted cakes only for special occasions, her mother used frosting more often but only on the top, and she herself frosted her cakes all over and made extra icing for her bowl-lickers. To quote my other frugal mentor, Amy Dacyczyn, sometimes we need to create margin, back off from our culture's "perpetual feast," so that we can appreciate things that used to be treats.
7. Make donation gifts. Two of the Squirrelings used this year's holidays to support causes that are important to them.

8. Use what's around your house...literally. I think it was on the Prudent Homemaker blog recently where someone mentioned decorating a tree that was right outside their glass doors.

9. Wear clothes you already have, especially if you are not expecting or expected to do a lot of upscale partying. Honestly, the closest I got this year to a "holiday party" was going to church and a couple of family events. I bought a red sweater dress at the thrift store, long before Christmas, and there was a green scarf in my stocking, so there you go.
10. Celebrate with joy and love.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Laugh for the day: For the person who has everything?

From the Goodreads blog: 12 Fictional Book Things on Your Christmas Wish List.

I mean, who wouldn't want a magic ring from Crazy Uncle Sauron? I think I'll skip the portrait-painting session à la Dorian Grey, though.
“Some Christmas,” remarked Rush in a satisfied tone at the end of the day. He was playing Randy’s Funeral March for her, very quietly in the dusk. “I bet we’re just about the only kids in the county, maybe even the whole state, that got such a big live alligator for a Christmas present.”
Any ideas to add to the list?

How about a spider-web writing tool from your friend Charlotte?

An interesting painting of a ship from Aunt Alberta (it's a re-gift: she never liked it anyway).

A very old bottle of dandelion wine from Uncle Ray.

An adventure trip gift certificate from Mr. Toad.

A pot of honey from Edward Bear...but it's empty.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Poem for today: on unwrapping

"He who has ears to hear let him hear"
How hard to hear the things I think I know,
To peel aside the thin familiar film
That wraps and seals your secret just below:
An undiscovered good, a hidden realm,
A kingdom of reversal, where the poor
Are rich in blessing and the tragic rich
Still struggle, trapped in trappings at the door
They never opened, Life just out of reach...

Malcolm Guite, from "Parable and Paradox"

Thursday, December 24, 2015

A Stable Lamp is Lighted

Merry Christmas.

Send me as a lark ascending: a poem and a song

The sun is shining, the grass is green

A Christmas Eve Devotional

In Jan Karon's book Shepherds Abiding, Father Tim quotes the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius:  "The first rule is to keep an untroubled spirit. The second is to look things in the face and know them for what they are.”
Yesterday I found a quotation I had copied down. I read it again and couldn't  quite get my head around it, or figure out what it might have to do with Advent and Christmas. 

"What you think the world is or want the world to be can overwhelm your perceptions of the now. Don't let it. Your perceptions are all you have that are truly your own." ~~ John Rember

A few minutes later I opened a Christmas letter from two friends, which turned out to be not only a letter but a picture and a poem. The letter included this quotation:

"There is within us an immense capacity for perception, for the receiving of messages from outside; and a very little consciousness which deals with them..." ~~ Evelyn Underhill

Two mentions of perception and consciousness within half an hour seemed like too much of a coincidence, but I still didn't understand what that had to do with anything. In the letter, my friends explained that the picture was a painting by Jules Breton, called The Song of the Lark. It shows a young woman ready to start her work for the day, but stopping, standing there, listening to a lark singing. Larks are the only birds that sing as they fly...they are a sort of symbol of courage and faith, of what Marcus Aurelius called an untroubled spirit.

The poem was "The Prayer of the Lark", from Carmen Bernos de Gasztold's Prayers from the Ark. Like the lark and the other animals, we are each given our own part to play, our own perceptions, our own reality. Our job seems to be to live out that part, to not be overwhelmed by trying to do everything now or to be anxious about what might be later on, but to slow down, stop, and focus in on what God is telling each of us.

Then Mary said, “My heart is overflowing with praise of my Lord, my soul is full of joy in God my Saviour. For he has deigned to notice me, his humble servant and, after this, all the people who ever shall be will call me the happiest of women! The one who can do all things has done great things for me—oh, holy is his Name! Truly, his mercy rests on those who fear him in every generation."

"I am here! O my God.
I am here! I am here!
You draw me away from earth,
and I climb up to You" ("The Prayer of the Lark") 

But while he was turning the matter over in his mind an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife! What she has conceived is conceived through the Holy Spirit, and she will give birth to a son, whom you will call Jesus (‘the Saviour’) for it is he who will save his people from their sins.”... When Joseph woke up he did what the angel had told him.

"The first rule is to keep an untroubled spirit. The second is to look things in the face and know them for what they are.”

 The shepherds went back to work, glorifying and praising God for everything that they had heard and seen, which had happened just as they had been told.

"What you think the world is or want the world to be can overwhelm your perceptions of the now. Don't let it. Your perceptions are all you have that are truly your own." ~~ John Rember

 And now the star, which they had seen in the east, went in front of them as they travelled until at last it shone immediately above the place where the little child lay. The sight of the star filled them with indescribable joy.

"This assurance is not the cool conclusion of a successful argument. It is rather the seizing at last of Something which we have ever felt near us and enticing us: the unspeakably simple because completely inclusive solution of all the puzzles of life." ~~ Evelyn Underhill

"Let my exultant nothingness
soar to the glory of Your mercy,
in the same hope,
until death." ("The Prayer of the Lark")


God Himself is with us:
Let us now adore Him,
And with awe appear before Him.
God is in His temple,
All within keep silence,
Prostrate lie with deepest reverence.
Him alone God we own,
Him our God and Savior;
Praise His name forever.

God Himself is with us:
Hear the harps resounding!
See the crowds the throne surrounding!
Holy, holy, holy,
Hear the hymn ascending,
Angels, saints, their voices blending!
Bow Thine ear to us here:
Hear, O Christ, the praises
That Thy church now raises.

O Thou fount of blessing,
Purify my spirit;
Trusting only in Thy merit,
Like the holy angels
Who behold Thy glory,
May I ceaselessly adore Thee,
And in all, great and small,
Seek to do most nearly
What Thou lovest dearly.

Closing: Prayer (written by Jan Karon):

"Thank you, Lord, for the grace of an untroubled spirit, and for the blessings which are ours in numbers too great to count or even recognize."

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

A Week of Love: Love looks outward

"Compassion is the sometimes fatal capacity for feeling what it's like to live inside somebody else's skin. It is the knowledge that there can never really be any peace and joy for me until there is peace and joy finally for you too." ~~ Frederick Buechner

Monday, December 21, 2015

A Week of Love: No Longer Alone


Out of the silence the Almighty Word,
speaking like thunder, filled us with wonder,
told us He loved us, told us He cared,
told us He’d come if we really prepared.

Into the night came the Light of the world.
God-light revealing, tenderly healing.
Darkness was over. Morning began.
God came to earth and He came as a man.

Welcome to Love, we’re no longer alone.
In joy and sorrow, today and tomorrow,
Love will be with us. Love’s here to stay.
Sing every morning: “It’s Christmas today!”

Words and music: Miriam Therese Winter © Medical Mission Sisters 1971

Friday, December 18, 2015

And it keeps on coming

As the snow flies

What's for supper? Multicultural

Tonight's menu: Teriyaki Beef, perogies and peas.

As the crows fly

Laugh for the day: Bookish Friends

From the GoodReads blog: 15 Benefits of Being Friends with a Book Nerd. My favourite:

5. "They don't talk when you're reading. They just pick up their book." (Michelle Vollers)

A Week of Joy: Something to listen to

Quiddity #59 (Advent Edition) features Christine Perrin and Matt Bianco discussing T.S. Eliot's "The Journey of the Magi." (You can hear T.S.  Eliot reading his poem here.)

Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel,
Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,
And feet kicking the empty wine-skins.
But there was no information, and so we continued
And arriving at evening, not a moment too soon
Finding the place; it was (you might say) satisfactory.
All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again... 

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

A Week of Joy: Saved by a chainsaw

Last night Mr. Fixit and I watched the first-season Alf Christmas episode, "O Tannerbaum." Alf, not used to Earth holiday customs, helpfully chops the Tanners' Christmas tree into firewood, so he and Willie set off to the Angeles National Forest to look for another one. Things get worse and worse, the car gets stuck in the mud, and there's nobody around for miles. Alf says they should have a car phone like Sonny Crockett, which Willie says is about as realistic as flying out of the forest--this is 1986, remember?

While Willie dozes off, Alf leaves the car, cuts down a tree with a chainsaw, and stuffs it in the back seat. Which gets the attention of a forest ranger real fast. Result: large fine, expensive tow and all the rest, but at least they don't have to spend Christmas in the forest. And they get to keep the tree.

Somewhere in there, there's a message about messing things up, and how all our efforts sometimes make things worse. But sometimes our desperate attempts turn out to be a cry for help in the right direction.
As George Bailey also found out.
 For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:7-8, ESV)

And we still get to keep the tree.

Merry Little Wednesday Hodgepodge

1. What's your biggest 'first world' problem?

Too much construction where we live--they're building an LRT line through the city, and a lot of places have become difficult to get to, or the parking's half gone, or there's too much traffic because some other route is closed. We live a short drive from one library branch, but it's now too hard to get there unless we walk (and there never has been a bus in that direction from our house), so we end up driving to another branch further away. This is supposed to "help the environment," how?

Oh, and we've suddenly lost our house-to-house mail delivery, just on our own block, because we don't have a sidewalk on our side. When I asked the Canada Post person how we should break our way through the snowbanks* to get around the corner to the new community mailbox, she said, "I guess they assume you'll drive there."

I throw up my hands.

*We don't have any snow right now, but during a normal winter, climbing across and through the built-up snow on the lawns (including what's been plowed out of the driveways) is something you might want to try only with a small toboggan or a mountain-climber's pick. And wearing hipwaders.

2.  Each year Time Magazine names a 'Person of the Year', someone who has 'for better or worse...done the most to influence the events of the year.' It was recently announced they've named Angela Merkel Person of the Year for 2015. You can read more about this year's selection here. Your thoughts? If you were in charge, who would you declare Person of the Year? 

I have no particular opinion about Angela Merkel or Time Magazine. In Canada, the Person of the Year would probably be Justin Trudeau. Worldwide? My husband would probably vote for the Pope. 

3. Do you have a nativity set in your home? If so share it's history and how you display the pieces.

This was the Nativity scene my grandparents displayed on top of their television set. (There wasn't really any other good place for it.) It's a "dime store set," probably bought during the 1940's. I think a couple of the pieces were switched or added to over the years, probably when an over-enthusiastic grandchild broke an angel or a sheep. This is the way it was set up a couple of years ago, but this year I am trying something different.

I linked to a photo post about Nativity scenes earlier in the week, but here it is again if you missed it.

4.  Do you make an extra effort to give back in some way during the holiday season? How do you encourage those who need encouragement this time of year?

Maybe blogging?

And I still send cards through the mail. Fewer than I used to, though.

5. Who is your favorite person to shop for? Why?

I can't think of any one person--my family, collectively. Or maybe it would be my three nieces/nephews in another province, since they're the only little ones on my gift list and therefore an excuse to buy picture books. Even if we do get gouged for postage on packages. (Canada Post, again.)

6. What's the last delicious thing you ate?

Last night's "Doritos Taco Bake" was pretty good. 

7. The best way to spread Christmas cheer is________________.

Music comes to mind, but I think there's too much of it and most of it either isn't very good or it's overplayed...or people are listening to it only through earbuds, which doesn't exactly spread anything. So to be more specific: music that people play together, sing together, or at least really listen to together.

8. Insert your own random thought here.

Mr. Fixit and I had a conversation the other day about how a certain kind of "cultural" Christmas celebration seems to be on the wane--thinking back to the days when the schools, the public buildings, the media were all about Christmas during December. That's changed, for many reasons, and some of them are good reasons, but we miss some of the external markers we used to have. As Kermit the Frog once said, "Life would just pass in a blur if it weren't for times like this." But in a way it's good, because it forces Christians to depend less on the externals (we can live without watching twenty Christmas specials on T.V. and making twenty kinds of cookies); it makes us have to think harder about reclaiming Advent and Nativity, how we can do that in a way that goes beyond nostalgia and warm family fuzzies. Maybe we should be grateful for the gradual de-emphasis on a Christian holiday, the lessening of expectations that everybody celebrates in the same way. Ugly and overplayed as its remnants (office parties and other obligations) may be; it's not as much out there now, so we have more freedom to make whatever-it-is happen for ourselves.

Linked from Have Yourself a Merry Little Hodgepodge at From This Side of the Pond.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

A Week of Joy: Thou Crownest the Year

Sometimes the King James Bible is very economical in gathering scattered thoughts into one place. The other night I did not have a full Bible handy, but I did have a very old Book of Psalms (printed by the British and Foreign Bible Society) that I bought years ago at a thrift store. The store had several others in the set of Bible books as well, which made me think of Charlotte Mason's idea of children reading one book at a time and adding to their "library"; and I wish now I had bought the others.

Anyway, I started reading at Psalm 65, and I was thinking about the three themes so far of Advent: Hope, Peace, Joy. Verses 5 and 6 seemed to be all about hope:

5 By terrible things in righteousness wilt thou answer us, O God of our salvation; who art the confidence of all the ends of the earth, and of them that are afar off upon the sea:
6 Which by his strength setteth fast the mountains; being girded with power:

Verse 7 was about peace:

7 Which stilleth the noise of the seas, the noise of their waves, and the tumult of the people.

Would there also be one for joy? Not just one, but three:

8 They also that dwell in the uttermost parts are afraid at thy tokens: thou makest the outgoings of the morning and evening to rejoice.
12 They drop upon the pastures of the wilderness: and the little hills rejoice on every side.
13 The pastures are clothed with flocks; the valleys also are covered over with corn; they shout for joy, they also sing.

And then there was this:

11 Thou crownest the year with thy goodness; and thy paths drop fatness.



I liked Brandy's star garland in her post 7 Frugal Ways to Decorate for Christmas, but my first attempt looked pretty wonky, and I was out of white cardstock anyway.

But I did have the stars I made last Christmas for table decorations. Instead of sewing them with thread, I punched two holes in each and strung them on cotton yarn. It worked!

Monday, December 14, 2015

Nativity Scene

Christmas Tree

A Week of Joy: Joy is the Bible's Word (quote for the day)

From The Lutheran, article by H. George Anderson.
"'Merry' just doesn't manage to cover the range of emotions that Christmas brings. It's like hanging tinsel on the manger. 
"The Bible gives us a better word: 'joy.' It was the word the angels used when they announced Jesus' birth — 'good news of great joy for all the people.' When the wise men see that the star has stopped over Bethlehem, they know their long journey is over and they are 'overwhelmed with joy' (Matthew 2:10). Joy is the word that describes the mood of the disciples when they realize Jesus has risen from the dead. 'Joy'' carries a sense of contrast, a mood of victory. It doesn't deny the difficulties, but it recognizes that they have been overcome. Weeping may linger for the night,' says the Psalmist, 'but joy comes with the morning' (Psalm 30:5)."

Friday, December 11, 2015

Mama Squirrel's Daybook: Two weeks till Christmas

Weather: Warm enough for the ladybugs to reawaken. Frosty and his Mini-Me (above) are the only snow we have.

News from the Squirrels: The Apprentice has moved into a new apartment, no housemates this time, so she's having fun fixing up her own space. Ponytails is busy doing the things she does. Lydia has started rehearsals for a school musical.

Plans for the weekend: The Apprentice is coming for a visit, and we'll put up the Christmas tree.

In the slow cooker: Chili, part of a small batch of freezer meals we made today: Chili, Cheeseburger Soup (which we use for pasta sauce), Tortilla Filling, Teriyaki Beef, and one bag of Beef Stew. We still have some chicken meals left from the last round, so this filled in the holes.

Also to eat: Doreen Perry Cookies made with chocolate chips and holiday chips (red, white and green); and a pan of Chocolate-Cranberry Shortbread Bars from a recipe in last year's Walmart Live Better magazine. And some nice things we picked up at Euro Foods...oh, right, those are not to eat. Not yet, anyway.

Frugal "that's-so-obvious" thing: After I made the big floor-sitter with upholstery samples, I had a couple of fabric pieces left. What can you do with heavy fabric squares with serged edges? Put them under things. I have a brown piece under the stable for our Nativity scene, and a red and green striped one under a basket of Christmas music.

Something to look at today: Nativity Scenes

Sharing this photo post from the blog What Next: Ten Nativity Scenes. These aren't "bad nativities," they're good ones (including the children's drawings).

Wednesday, December 09, 2015

Wednesday Hodgepodge: Happy Sunny Places

1. Many families have a story they love to tell every year around a holiday. Does your family have one? Are you the star of that story, or does another family member take center stage? Share your story if you want.  

It's not a specific story...but Mr. Fixit and his side of the family like to remember their grandparents' large family gatherings, with equally large amounts of Schwabian-Canadian food. These stories go better if you have someone else there who remembers with you. I have family memories too but most of the other people are gone, so I have to sort through them on my own, and I have to admit that my own memories are fuzzier than they used to be.

"Forgive us, Lord, if we forgetful be, For time alone can cloud our memory." 
(George Chandler, "Remembrance")
2. Are you afraid to speak your own opinion? 

Not usually.

 3. Pantone has announced the color of the year for 2016, and for the first time have chosen two shades-rose quartz and serenity

"Colors this season transport us to a happier, sunnier place where we feel free to express a wittier version of our real selves," Pantone Color Institute executive director Leatrice Eiseman said in a statement. "With our culture still surrounded by so much uncertainty, we are continuing to yearn for those softer shades that offer a sense of calm and relaxation."
Hmmm...did you know serenity was a color? You can read the thought behind their selection here, but essentially it's blending the warmth of rose quartz with the tranquility of a very soft shade of blue. So what do you think? Are these colors I'd find in your home or wardrobe? Will you add something in these shades to either place in the new year?

I think those colours are very pretty...I like the idea of a colour called "serenity."

4. If you could be in a Christmas carol, which one would you choose? Why? 

In a Christmas carol? That's an unusual question.

When I was in elementary school choir, we learned Frances Chesterton's "How Far is it to Bethlehem?" That's an easy one to think of being in.

5. December 9th is National Pastry Day. Will you celebrate? When did you last purchase something from a bakery? What's your favorite treat that falls under the heading of pastry? Do you make it yourself or buy from the professionals? 

The closest I'm getting is maybe making a batch of sugar cookies for Christmas, unless Mr. Fixit and I go out for some Tim Horton's.

I gleaned an easy sugar cookie recipe from frugal blogger Meredith (Like Merchant Ships) a few years ago, and it's one that we've used other times for Christmas baking. These aren't roll-out cookies, so you have to be creative in other ways if you want them to look pretty. This year I was flipping through a magazine and saw a photo of cookies flattened with the bottom of a glass (really old idea)--but this time the glass they used had decorative indentations. I have a vintage creamer that also has a fancy base, so that's what I'm going to use.

 6. When it comes to holiday decorating_____________________________. 

"Less is more." I have been using mostly things we already have, just arranging them differently. Next weekend our Apprentice (oldest) will be here for a visit, and we'll put the tree up then and bring out a few extra things.

7. When did you last laugh so much it hurt? Explain. 

It might have been an Uncle Billy joke in one of the Mitford books.
8. Insert your own random thought here.

There are points in our lives when Christmas seems like the best day of the year, and there are other times when it seems like it would be better saved as a sort of occasional treat, or maybe put in one of those glass boxes like fire tools, "to be broken only in emergency." One could ask with only a bit of cynicism, do we need Christmas? But on the other hand...maybe now is the time.

This post is linked from Stories from the Hodgepodge at This Side of the Pond.