Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Christmas things to eat

Cookies and chocolate
Fruit Pizza (for breakfast)
Napkin and cutlery bundles
Lunch, brunch, or whatever you call it. The rice cooker belongs to Ponytails. The salads and sandwiches are also guest contributions.
Heat-and-eat cabbage rolls
Persimmons (Ponytails' contribution), blueberries, blackberries, and mini oranges.

From the not-long-ago archives: Ranch-spiced Potatoes (two ways)

Recipe posted January 2015

Christmas 2016 update: I made this for Christmas Day brunch, in the slow cooker (four hours on high, cut the potatoes fairly small), and it worked fine. I also left out the sugar and cut the pepper in half.

The ranch dressing mix is from Stephanie O'Dea's book More Make it Fast, Cook it Slow, but I've cut it in half for this recipe. The mix doesn't appear on her website, and I haven't found it anywhere else, although there are lots of other ranch seasoning mixes out there. Most of them use dill, and this one doesn't, which is one reason my family likes it. If you have some other ranch or seasoning mix you like, give it a try instead.

Ranch-Spiced Potatoes

6 to 8 medium-sized potatoes, peeled and cubed (large dice)

1/4 cup butter or margarine

Seasonings, to total about 1/4 cup:
1 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. dried minced garlic or garlic powder
1 1/2 tbsp. dried minced onion, or onion flakes
1 tsp. black pepper (or less)
1 tsp. sugar (optional)
1 1/4 tsp. paprika
1 1/4 tsp. parsley flakes

Optional: sour cream

Grease a large casserole dish or pan (it doesn't have to have a lid). Put the potatoes into the pan. Melt the butter or margarine and mix in the combined seasonings. Stir into the potatoes. Bake uncovered at 400 to 425 degrees F for about 45 minutes, stirring once during cooking, and probably when you take them out to make sure they haven't stuck to the pan. You can add in some sour cream near the end of the cooking time, but we don't usually bother.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Joy to the World

Isn't this a beautiful image for God's joyful Creation?

From the beginning You spoke the Word
And from creation Your song was heard
You taught the stars in the sky to sing,
Almighty Father let everything you've made
Give praises to Your holy name
Let everything on earth proclaim

Let the whole world sing
Sing hallelujah to the King
Let the whole world sing
Lift up your voices, let them ring, let them ring

Merry Christmas to you all.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

In the week when Christmas comes: Christmas Eve!

Let every pen enfold a lamb
Sleeping warm beside its dam,
     In the week when Christmas comes.

~~ from "In the Week When Christmas Comes," by Eleanor Farjeon

Friday, December 23, 2016

In the week when Christmas comes: Friday

Let every night put forth a star
To show us where the heavens are,
     In the week when Christmas comes.

~~ from "In the Week When Christmas Comes," by Eleanor Farjeon

Thursday, December 22, 2016

In the week when Christmas comes: Thursday

Let every steeple ring a bell
With a joyful tale to tell,
     In the week when Christmas comes.

~~ from "In the Week When Christmas Comes," by Eleanor Farjeon

A real-time view of three days before Christmas:

8 a.m.: Lydia has just left for school, and I have just fed Muffin a bowl of lettuce and carrots. I'm reading through the blogs on my feed, including why we need to teach arts instead of subjects at Circe, a poem by Malcolm Guite, and a pantry post from Coffee, Tea, Books, and Me. I have butter softening on the kitchen counter (for whatever I might need it for).

9:45 a.m.: Mr. Fixit has gone on his usual Thursday treasure hunting, after we both spent a few minutes clearing snow. Lydia had mentioned that we were low on some things, but I didn't see how that could be, until I checked the flour and the white sugar. Oops. Some creative compromising was required, but I do have the baking plan figured out now, and the table is  covered with pre-measured bowls of flour, raisins, and chocolate chips. There is also a loaf of stuffing bread already going in the breadmaker. (It has to dry out for a couple of days.)

12 noon: one load of in the washing macine, one in the dryer. Most of the baking dishes done. Bread out. Three kinds of sweet things and one orange-cranberry loaf out of the oven. Ingredients collected for fudge-making later.

I need some lunch and some Christmas music.
2 p.m.: Mr. Fixit came home and we got everything swept, boxed, folded, hung, dried, and/or put away. I had a bit of time to check e-mail and read Overdrive library books (I'm trying to reach my Goodreads goal).  Muffin came out of his cage for a human-visit.

4 p.m.: We decided to have an easy dinner, so there's a pan of frozen cannelloni in the oven. Mr. Fixit is going around the corner to check our mailbox, because for the second winter in a row, Canada Post refuses to bring letters to our door. While he's out, he's going to pick up Lydia at her stop and save her the walk home. She gets picked up at our house now, but the dropoff point is a few blocks away.

6:30 p.m.: Dinner is over, the fudge is made, and Lydia is studying for a last-day-before-the-holidays history test on World War II. I am still working on library books.

10 p.m.: Some people are probably watching Christmas movies. We watched an episode of Star Trek: Enterprise and tasted the fudge.

And how was your day?

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

In the week when Christmas comes: Wednesday

Let every doorstep have a song
Sounding the dark street along,
     In the week when Christmas comes.

~~ from "In the Week When Christmas Comes," by Eleanor Farjeon

Yes, there is a Wednesday Hodgepodge this week, and here it is.

Notes from our Hodgepodge Hostess: "Here are the questions to this week's Wednesday Hodgepodge. Because nobody has anything else to do four days before Christmas, right? Of course not. Let's declare next week (Dec. 28) Christmas vacation in the Hodgepodge and come back with a fresh. In the meantime, answer today's questions on your own blog then hop back here tomorrow to add your link to the party. See you there!" 

 1. What's left to be done on your Christmas to-do list?

Everything to do with food preparation. Last week I had a cold. This week I still have a cold, although it's almost gone. At some point I will just have to actually cook something. Or bribe someone else to do it for me.

2. The Hodgepodge lands on the first day of winter this year. What's your favorite thing about winter?

Is that a rhetorical question?

3. In what area of your life are you immature? Feel free to elaborate or not.

"Immature" has a bit of a negative sound, like "childish." "Childlike" is a more forgiving word. One of my favourite books recently was A Circle of Quiet, by Madeleine L'Engle, and there's a lot of discussion in that about the supposed difference (she doesn't think there is one) between children's literature and adult literature. She says, “You have to write the book that wants to be written. And if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children.”

4. What was the most (or one of the most) important lessons you learned in 2016?

How to pack a small enough carry-on bag to fit into an overhead compartment without having to shoehorn it in and out and annoy everyone else waiting to get off the plane. I think I've got that one down now.

5. It's Fried Shrimp Day...are you a fan? What's your favorite way to eat shrimp? Will there be shrimp somewhere in your holiday feastings?

There won't be shrimp in the feastings unless we go out for Chinese food and there's shrimp in the mixed-things dish. And I get to eat those, because Mr. Fixit can't.

6. What sound lulls you to sleep?

A lack of sounds.

7. What one word best describes your 2016?


8. Insert your own random thought here.

Time is not flying by, it's just sneaking by.

Linked from the Merry Wednesday Hodgepodge at From This Side of the Pond.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

In the week when Christmas comes: Tuesday

Let every hall have boughs of green,
With berries glowing in between,
     In the week when Christmas comes.

~~ from "In the Week When Christmas Comes," by Eleanor Farjeon

Mr. Fixit and I went to Giant Tiger this morning. For anyone who doesn't know, that's a Canadian discount store chain which, as I usually put it, is where you buy flip-flops. But they have groceries too, and we needed to get a few basics. Strangely enough, it's also where we find our favourite brand of frozen cabbage rolls (doesn't everyone want cabbage rolls on Christmas?). And we found a small frozen cheesecake, someone else's Christmas request...stay with me here...and we replenished the lettuce for the guinea pig, and picked up some juice and canned goods and organic rice crisp things (for company). And a small cheap floor mat for the garage, because Giant Tiger is where you find small cheap floor mats for the garage. We came out with several full bags, and feeling happy enough about it all.

We made a stop at the bank, and then dropped into a large-but-upscale chain grocery store next door, because Mr. Fixit has sometimes found holiday meat items there, and he thought it was worth having a look. If Giant Tiger is a bit, excuse the expression, lower on the food chain than the store where we usually shop (like, Walmart), this place was a few notches above. What's the difference, besides the prices? I don't know...maybe it was the huge amount of expensive chocolates and party food in your face everywhere you turned. Or the smell of the lilies in the floral department as you went out the door. Definitely a change from the discount store.

The fancy store didn't have what we were looking for, but it was no big deal, we'll find something. I was more struck by the every-day-ness of the discount store vs. the as-classy-as-a-big-city atmosphere of the other one. That kind of "classy" is a bit too demanding for me...I imagine that food (and the lilies) all standing in spotlights like movie stars, bowing and waiting for the proper amount of applause. I think I prefer every-day-ness, even at Christmas. 

Monday, December 19, 2016

In the week when Christmas comes: Monday

This is the week when Christmas comes,
     Let every pudding burst with plums,
And every tree bear dolls and drums,
     In the week when Christmas comes.

~~ from "In the Week When Christmas Comes," by Eleanor Farjeon

The gift of the longest-possible Advent: a whole week for it to be The Week When Christmas Comes.

Yes, we have snow--plenty of it, unlike last Christmas. Lydia's school was even closed one day because of bad weather.

Yes, we have decorations. It's not looking too bad.

Yes, we have things to make cookies with, although nobody's done any baking because Mama Squirrel and Mr. Fixit have been down with colds and didn't want to "share the love."

But it's still too easy to focus on what isn't, what we'd rather have, what we could have done. I think everyone has some mental version of Dickens that comes to visit over holidays..It might be just a scrap of something missing, or a major discontentment, or outright grief. I wasn't sure whether to laugh or not at today's rather blunt Vivienne Files post. Under the portrait of a glum-looking woman painted by Chagall, Janice adds this note:  "She's NOT Feeling Christmassy... Some years, you just don't..."  Is it a coincidence that the imagined character's "accent colour" is a somewhat Grinchy green?

Then I read Brenda's post "Beauty With or Without an Audience," and things made more sense. If beauty is important, then we need to make beauty, even if it goes largely unseen. Even if those who do see it rush past (like the legendary crowd in the subway who didn't stop to hear the famous violinist, although you can read the true version of that here, since we try not to do Tonypandy at the Treehouse). Sometimes we make the extra effort simply as an act of faith.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Orange butterflies and purple hymnals

Around 1973, I was in elementary school. I was also a member of our church's junior choir. The Roman Catholics were in the era of their folk/guitar mass, and over at the United Church, we kids were also singing Medical Mission Sisters songs and spirituals.Very ecumenical.

Our most-used music book was this one:

It took me awhile to find the title Folk Encounter online; all I could remember of the cover was "purple."

You-tube has helpfully provided a short medley from the much longer, now very scarce LP Folk Encounter Singalong. Enjoy.

Sniffling, Sneezing Wednesday Hodgepodge

Notes from our Hodgepodge Hostess: "Here are the questions to this week's Wednesday Hodgepodge. Answer on your own blog, then ski back here to share answers and some Christmas cheer. See you there!"

1. Are you more task oriented or people oriented? Elaborate.

I can go both ways. If I have a job to do, I would rather focus on getting it done rather than socializing too much over it; but not to the point where I don't have time to talk to someone...or listen to them, which is not always the same thing.

2. December 15 is National Wear Your Pearls Day...do you own/wear pearls? If you're a man answering the question, does your sweetheart own or wear pearls? Everyone share a 'pearl of wisdom' with us here today.

I have a pearl necklace my grandmother gave me, but it needs to be restrung...one of those "someday" things.

Here's a quote I found on a page about pearls: :  
“The rarest things in the world, next to a spirit of discernment, are diamonds and pearls.” ~~ Jean de la Bruyere
3. Speaking of pearls...oysters? Are you a fan or not a fan? If you answered yes, tell us your favorite way to eat oysters? If you said no, be honest-have you ever tried one or does just the idea of eating an oyster make you gag a little?

I have never had the opportunity to eat oysters, and I have no plans to eat oysters. But I have eaten squid, does that count?

Here's something that reminded me a bit of opening oysters: a handmade Flexagon Christmas Card. So cool.
Image result for alice in wonderland oysters
4. Time Magazine has named President-elect Donald Trump Person of the Year.Let's take presidents and presidential candidates out of the mix for a minute. If a political figure had not been chosen who would you name Man or Woman of the Year for 2016?

I'm drawing a blank on this one...I don't follow sports, I don't care much about the top 40, and I think the last movie I saw at a theatre was the Lego movie. (Or Frozen, whichever came first.) The people I honour most are the unsung heroes, and if I named them, they'd be embarrassed.

5. The Pantone Color of the Year for 2017 has been announced, and it's a vibrant green aptly named-greenery. Your thoughts? Is this a color currently in your home or wardrobe? Will you add something in this shade for the new year? Click here to see the color.

Whoah. I'm all for rejuvenation and reassurance, but I'd rather have a colour that doesn't have such a lot of baggage (apparently) attached to it! It's just paint, people.

6. Today I've had too much________________________.

It's only nine in the morning, so I can't say I've had too much a) coffee, or b) screen time. I've already gone through about half a box of tissues, does that count?

7. Share a favorite lyric from a favorite Christmas carol.
The Christ-child lay on Mary's lap,
His hair was like a light.
(O weary, weary were the world,
But here is all aright.)
("The Christ-Child Lay on Mary's Lap," by G.K. Chesterton)

8.  Insert your own random thought here.

The Church Mice at Christmas, by Graham Oakley

We have most of our decorations out now. But we haven't watched anything seasonal on T.V., unless you count a ten-year-old Loreena McKennitt concert we watched last night on NetFlix, and that wasn't about Christmas either (although better than the usual nabbings and stabbings). Mr. Fixit is working on a 1968 small portable television set, and he's testing the picture out by hooking it up to a DVD of The Lucy Show. I am waiting for a last small package to arrive in the mail, thinking about the holiday food I'm not making until I'm less toxic, and deciding whether I should just go stuff my sniffles under a blanket for the rest of the day.

Linked from The Wednesday Hodgepodge at From This Side of the Pond.

What to do with that (some kitchen tips)

Bits and pieces...

1. If you have a few less-than-tasty apples, not rotten but lacking texture, it's easy to turn them into applesauce. Peel them, cut them up (no cores), and cook them in a slow cooker or on a low burner.  Cook till they're fairly soft, then mash them with the back of a spoon. The process by which mealy apples can be reconstituted into decent applesauce would make a great homeschool science lesson. (It's all about cells.)

2. If you have a cup of orange marmalade, you can mix it with soy sauce, ginger, and garlic to make a good cooking sauce for four pork chops. If you have half a cup, you can do two pork chops. We found the recipe in a freezer-cooking download from $5 Dinners, and it is the best orange sauce we've tried--way better than recipes using frozen orange juice. There are variations of the recipe all over the Internet, but it's basically a smaller version of this recipe on the Smucker's website (but with soy sauce instead of teriyaki sauce).

3. If you have a few small, slightly stale dinner rolls, you can slice them into thirds or quarters, spresd them with garlic butter, and toast them to go along with spaghetti or stew.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Clutter Free (Book Review)

Clutter Free: Quick and Easy Steps to Simplifying Your Space
by Kathi Lipp
Harvest House Publishers, 2015

Probably the worst time to read a decluttering book is the middle of December, and the worst place to do it is in your living room or wherever you put the majority of your Christmas decorations. Christmas, even if we don't buy lots of Stuff, is still, often, about Stuff. For our family, Stuff is the vintage collectibles that are part of our daily life, and the extra helping of them that we bring out at the holidays. Stuff is the extra Crockpot that we picked up at a yard sale in the summer, that is the same vintage and type as ours but looks nicer. We don't buy backups of every appliance (no extra toaster ovens sitting around), but we do pick up Crockpots. Stuff is the gifts that we will give each other, new or used. It's the four-pack of sticky tape I grabbed at Walmart (although I didn't buy any new giftwrap, and our stickers and cards came mostly from yard sales and charitable freebies). It's the several packages of variously-flavoured baking chips and two cans of Eagle Brand milk in the pantry; they're there, and we're going to use them. It's pretty hard to have Christmas without any extra Stuff. (I'll stop with the George Carlin intonation now.)

That said, I don't exactly identify with the shop-o-manic reader Kathi Lipp often seems to be addressing in this book. If you don't regularly go crazy at warehouse stores, or if you don't understand why she buys duplicates of things she already has at home, you may wonder what she has to say that you don't already know. 

Like the Bob Newhart "Stop It" skit she describes near the beginning, the real answer to clutter is "Don't do that." If something's going to cause financial or space problems, or otherwise make a mess of things, the sanest response is just not to do it. However, human beings don't always act sanely, and you may find yourself coping with your own or somebody else's past or present clutter problems. Lipp, being a Christian writer, would also point out that bad stewardship is a form of disobedience (and can include covetousness, dishonesty, and stealing), and that the hoarding of Stuff, which we might justify by calling it prudence, is not God's best for us. I appreciated her thought that simplicity is not all about "one size fits all." For instance, she has no problem with keeping a certain number of physical books around (whereas some clutter guides will happily assume that everything one wants to read can be gotten from the library). Lipp sees value in cultivating her interest and skill in cooking, and therefore spends time and space on that; on the other hand, as a poor seamstress, she has little use for a sewing machine. The takeaway I get from her book, rather than Newhart's stern "Stop It," is a gentler "It's Okay." It's okay to let go. It's okay not to let sharp advertising pull your dollars in the wrong direction. It's okay to say you're already okay (and don't need more).

If you need an "It's Okay" to help get things back on track, Clutter Free may speak to your heart.

Monday, December 12, 2016

The most helpful set of cleaning tips I've seen lately

A blog post about getting the thrift store smell out of things, but it's better than that. How to use saddle soap and shoe polish on leather, remove yellowing, and use suede erasers (did you know they existed?) Extending the life of things is always a good idea.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Deck the Treehouse (photos)


A Mitford quote for an Advent Sunday

Fiercely cold tonight. Not a soul on the street. They worked quickly. Harley toted in a bale of straw and let it loose in the window... 
They moved the figures around. That some of them were nearly two feet tall was useful in the large space. 
The Virgin Mother to the left of the empty manger, Joseph to the right. Three sheep standing, four lying in the straw, along with the old shepherd he had learned to love as he’d painted the solemn face. 
They stepped outside and looked in. 
‘Goose bumps,’ said Cynthia. 
‘Where’s th’ baby Jesus at?’ said Harley. 
‘He arrives on Christmas morning. Advent is a time of waiting.’ 
‘People’ll be lookin’ f’r th’ baby Jesus.’ 
‘And there,’ he said, happy, ‘is the whole point.’ 
~~ Jan Karon, Somewhere Safe With Somebody Good

Thursday, December 08, 2016

All decorations do not come from the craft store

We live a few blocks from one of the big craft stores. The one with the weekly coupons. This time of year, the parking lot is full of cars, all the time.

So I don't feel too bad that I haven't bought anything there since Thanksgiving.

Here are a few things we have out that are just...things we have.
Dollar store tray we've had for years, plus a wood and glass bookstand (yard sale)
Books are always decorative!
A camel cushion cover, made in Israel a lot of years ago

A couple of ornaments stuck in with the basket of crocheted pinecones
Socializing toys
My grandma's bowl. Shiny wrapped candies don't cost  much.

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

December 6th, 1989: When the sky is falling

"On every side, wreckage. Debris hurtling into the air and then falling, falling..." 
~~ Jan Karon, Somewhere Safe With Somebody Good

In December 1989 I was young and single, about the age of our Appprentice. I was working in the high school liaison and admissions office of a local university, so very front-line, busy, lots of phone calls and people coming for tours and information.

On December 6th, we heard the news that 28 people had been shot on a college campus in Montreal. Half of them did not survive. Many of them were female engineering students. The shock of identification in our office and on the campus was immediate. This could have been here.

The Montreal massacre was a terrible demonstration of the enormous cost of  hate. In a world where one sky or another seems to be always falling, there is some measure of hope in knowing that we can use remembrance as a tool for change.

"Humanity is never so beautiful as when praying for forgiveness, or else forgiving another." ~~ Jean Paul Richter

Monday, December 05, 2016

Is shopping your basement like shopping your closet?

We've been looking at couches recently, after making do with a lumpy love seat since May. The mid-century styles that are popular right now are kind of fun, especially with our other (real) mid-century things. For actually sitting on, though, the ones we looked at weren't the right fit. Plus, obviously, couches are expensive.

We bought our rec room couch ten years ago, and it wasn't used terribly hard (yes, narrating is hard, but it doesn't wear couches out). So we switched them. (Thank you, Apprentice and Lydia.)

New and improved living room: