Here's the recipe that I used, five recipes, really. Mine is not exactly like the photos, but I like it better.
I think the meringue mushrooms must have been the best part for the children. It is, admittedly, a rich dessert, so I invited over Becky and Katherine to share the occasion with us. A cake like this is its own occasion. We revived the Christmas dishes and I continued playing Winter music from Windham Hill. Mike did the photo shoot.
I do think it was worth the wait, or the ten years it took for me to build up the courage to do it. I'd make this recipe again, for sure, though I'd probably beat the ganache a little less. And bake the cake at the right temperature. Everything has to have one little mistake, right? No one minded a bit.
The typewriter. This is a portable one, no electricity needed. Seems my family has lots of typewriters sitting around and still in use, from time to time.
Button sorting, a perennial favorite. Willow proclaimed that she no longer enjoyed it like she once did, and then I found her quite busily working once the rest of us had moved on.
A marble tree. This was a Christmas gift and I think it's a good compromise for something bigger with a lot of pieces. True wooden marble runs are quite pricey! We find this one to be just enough, and pretty, too!
Tiny blocks. This is a one person set and it lives with the tangram and star puzzle. These are easily traded among the children, where things like Lincoln Logs tend to be more troublesome.
Paper snowflakes. We have made dozens of these and covered several windows with them. Here's mine and I'm just a little bit proud that I made a deer silhouette. Roan can make snowflakes now, and he is so pleased. His have an interesting feathery quality about them.
I'm secretly hoping all the snowflakes, snow cookies, and snow bread will encourage more to come our way. Becky gave us snowman cupcake molds, so that's a possibility, too. Really, I am thankful for the rain after fourish months of drought. I've got high hopes for next Summer's garden and have even found myself daydreaming, just a bit, about the sunny and warm days.
This past Advent season taught me even more about the importance for routine to help children feel right about things. Many things were turned upside down with Mike traveling less and all the excitement of the season. It was really hard on Willow and a little difficult for Roan. She was plagued by nightmares and fear and he was struggling with too much energy. The main thing that seemed to help in those few days we took off from school was movement. Simple things like taking walks and riding bikes and just getting out of the house were so big and healing. There are times in parenting that issues seem especially baffling (like hives!) and then the fix is so simple.
Last week was a little bumpy as we settled back into our school routine, though I know that we are all glad to be back to normal tasks. I did some experimentation with a separate movement time for grade two, but decided to keep it all together. That gave too much temptation for mediocre participation. I can't explain sensory integration activities to children--it just wouldn't work. Sometimes, I do say that the movements help us to feel good and do our work. Really, it works best when we stick mainly with Enki materials or I find something in the Wynstones book that really captures the imagination. We had a sleigh-riding circle last year that the children just adored. I might have to revive it for February.
With a child in the grades now, we get to do bean bags and copper rods, along with poetry and songs from the culture we are studying. That adds enough variety to keep the routine fun and a little challenging. Laurel gets upset that she doesn't have her own copper rod, but there are some things that I just have to be really strict about--they bend easily and they hurt if you drop them on your toe! She seems to be doing a lot better lately, too, and more agreeable to participate in things with all of us. I really hope I can keep up my stamina to keep that going.
I've gotten us back on a good routine with some chores, too. While setting the table is something where the tasks are always divided and done, dish-washing has been a little harder. Now, as in the past, each person has a meal where they help me with the dishes. Laurel does breakfast, Roan does lunch, and Willow does supper. Roan is the most willing helper. I'm trying to get this all set in our daily rhythms now so that I can avoid trouble later. I hope. I can hope, right?
It seems people are waking up now. I wish I could have everyone sleep a little later, but I suppose that will come with the lengthening days. I can hardly keep my eyes open after 7:30 each night! Well, time to make some Swedish Cardamom Coffee Bread into French toast!
I brought along a sweet someone from the Magic Fairy Lady.
She'd told me she'd never seen such snow.
The lake at Hungry Mother State Park often freezes over in the winter, so it's a wonderful place to visit. It's not completely frozen, as you can see, but that cold snap over the weekend helped quite a bit. I imagine it will all thaw in the next week.
So much snow! The children are well-versed in getting ready to go out by now, since we have used every possible opportunity to enjoy the snow. I was thinking it must be funny to be three and see the world frozen and icy.
I really liked this little spot where you could see the leaves through the ice.
We all took turns standing on the lake (right by the edge).
Our little friend watched from a tree while the children played on a fallen one. The children had complained that I never took them to playgrounds, and I don't very often. I take them places like this, instead, and I have to drag them away.
It was at the tree that Roan and I began to track a bear. I figure the bear had been at the tree looking for insects under the bark. We followed the bear around the park and lost the tracks at our car. It was convenient. No one wanted to leave, but my feet were getting cold. I needed thicker socks.
But, oh, the stream. Just a moment at the stream before we go. All that lovely ice with such beautiful patterns running through it.
Willow picked up a piece that looks like an artist's palette.
It was such a nice day, really. The children and I seem to be in a really good place lately, like the snow brought so many wonderful things (like exhaustion!). It is so healing to have a happy period after all the developmental shifts the past few months have brought. At the end of the day, we were lighting candles and admiring this postcard. A day on the ice, yes, it was.
There's a rock in my yard that always make a heart in the snow.
The Michaelmas daisies made lovely shadows.
It's been so cold that the snow hasn't melted much.
Today, it will!
The sun did some nice thawing yesterday, and clearing of roads.
It also gave us some champion icicles!
These are my warm, shaggy mittens. I got them at a yard sale.
I can't decide if they are hand or machine made.
Last Summer's Queen Anne's Lace in the blackberry patch.
It looks so empty now!
An old early apple tree with a long, curving trunk.
And here's sweet little squirrel hole.
And now, all those who were early to bed are quite early to rise! Time to stir the rice pudding!
For the forseeable future, it's going to be above average out there, not even freezing at night. I'm trying to make the most of that, too, telling myself that heating costs will be lower. We'll be able to be outside with greater ease and fewer layers. We can pick up the trash that's blown into the Roland Estate's grounds. We'll have more options for nature school. Maybe we'll hang some laundry outside a time or two. All that kind of thing. I guess it means an earlier run of maple sap. I'm hoping it's not going to wake up the plants too early. I am such a worrier.
Well, it's still cold today (and I am still in love with this Christmasy window star). The frost on the windows may melt in the mid-day sun. I think it will be a good morning to enjoy the warmth of the house and the new lesson books we have. I'll do a school update soon!
All that sentimentality aside, January clicks! It's been FOUR months since I shared any! As always, forgive me if I have shared any of these before.
- Celebrating Festivals with Young Children :: Lots of good ideas here that can be used at home with small groups.
- English is Not Normal :: An essay on some of the history of our language.
- Foxfire Students Keep Appalachian Culture Alive :: A brieg history, as well as where the project is now. I'd love to visit!
- The Benefits of the Family Meal :: A sweet retrospective peppered with tips and suggestions from Nancy Poer.
- Is There Such a Thing as Necessary Stress :: "Stress and pain are shadows of the outstretched hand of the Divine Reality asking you to make a change that will help you fulfill the purpose of your life."
- What Your Toddler Thinks of Discipline :: So many good thoughts here. It's easy to lose persepective in tough moments with little folks.
- Beeswax Luminaries :: From Sparkle Stories. I've had a few of these over the years and I'd love to make some at home.
- Dusty Old Thing ::: Lots of fun, good ole days nostalgia. I've been turning over the thought that many of the issues we deal with are likely the result of living in a world that has changed so rapidly in such a short time.
- Cheaper Than Therapy :: How working with young children is good for us (and hard).
- They Will Know Us By Our Fruits :: On cider making and making connections.
- Raking Leaves :: Reflections on the seeds we plant.
- Developing a Festival Life with Susan Weber :: A Sparkle Stories podcast, with a focus on Martinmas.
- Meeting the Tomten on a January Evening :: A brief history on the books with a video telling of the story.
- Fred Rogers on Parenting :: A rebroadcast of an interview from 2002. There's a transcript, if you prefer to read like me.
- Sharing Impressions of England :: An essay about a trip, along with some verses and ideas for wassailing apple trees.
Milk white is the snow.
Let’s go on our evening walk,
Do, do let us go.
Tomorrow the sky may be dull and gray,
Tomorrow the snow may be gone.
So let us go on our evening walk
In the last rays of the sun.
~Enki Grade Two Movement
Just one day later, Epiphany found snow in the air. There's more this morning, but there was just enough yesterday to soften the edges and send the children squealing down the hill on sleds. It's going to be terrifically cold this weekend, single digits for the lows and highs in the teens.
Here's to the fruit tree
May you grow and bear fruit.
A hat full, a bag full,
A basket full and some to spare.
If the orchard happened to be fairly large, the men often found it difficult to reach the house after such a blessing ceremony. . ."
~ Christmas in the Mountains: Southwest Virginia Christmas Customs and their Origins :: Hubert J. Davis
I have to chuckle at that description of wassailing. The book goes on to described the way people wassailed apple trees back home in Somserset and Devon in England, where these traditions began. Sometimes, bread was soaked in the wassail and hung on the trees. Loud songs were sung and shouted and people danced around the trees. Our celebration did involve some singing and little climbing in place of the dancing. You can tell that most of the trees are quite old, and may not even make it beyond this year. Laurel took care of the youngest trees, the ones in our yard. We are hoping for a big harvest this year, since last year was not so big. We mourned the loss of a couple trees, one that was particularly good at bearing consistently (and cut down for that reason!), and we planted an Early Transparent a few weeks ago with hope for the future.
Here's the verse we used, from Sparkle Stories, and here are some more. There are many to choose from!
Old apple tree, old apple tree,
We've come to sing to thee!
To bear and to bow,
Hats full, caps full,
Three bushel bags full,
Barn doors full,
And a little heap under the stairs.
And so it is that Christmas goes out. Today, we take down the tree and welcome in King Winter. There's awhile, I think, where having the tree up after Christmas feels silly, but we keep it for tradition. Then, when it's time to take it down, it feels a little sad. We're enjoying watching it twinkle one last dark Winter morning, before we send it back outside. We've got a dusting of snow today and some in the forecast!
Nine years later, I returned to a little Forest Service pond with my children and a dear college professor. I was aiming to take Dr. Davis someplace he hadn't been in a long time, or ever before. Travelling toward Crawfish Valley, the largest roadless area in the Jefferson National Forest, we turned onto Oriole Drive and found this small wildlife pond. Walking around it, we came out onto a point of land covered by many flat stones. Dr. Davis began skipping rocks with great skill, impressing us all, and we had such a good time. I told him he made rocks walk on water--St. Edward! Laurel loved him, Willow thought he was beyond funny, and Roan shared his cooking stories with him. Some people are just so good at connection and it can be so encouraging to visit with them. That's why I claimed him as my second dad, after all (plus, we had the same last name). We have plans to go back at the end of the Summer and I know we're all looking forward to it.
The Tess D'Urbervilles shawl is coming right along. This is a long job, I'll admit, but I am looking forward to a tie-on shawl. The Cindersmoke blakdove gave me is getting lots of use these days. Wear a shawl while you make a shawl. The moment I sit down, I either get too cold or fall asleep!
And here's a little fellow for the nature table, once we get past this Christmas season. I set out to make a King Winter, and Jack Frost came to play instead. He's got a pipe cleaner base, with wee pants, little icy blue shoes, a tiny sweater, and a cap (with a snowball on the end!). Laurel likes him and I do think that I made him to be fairly sturdy.
It's hard to get good pictures in this dark weather, but one thing is quite obvious--the nature table needs an overhaul! Soon enough, though, Christmas will be put away for another year.
For more crafting, visit Frontier Dreams.
In soft morning light,
The stars fade away.
The sun is awake,
This is a new day.
Rise like the sun.
The night is now gone.
The journeys of night,
They end with the day.
Angels guide us home,
For work and for play.
Rise like the sun.
The night is now gone.
~Enki Grade Two Transitions
We began yesterday with a couple inches of snow and a power outage. Our little street, with its seven houses, doesn't have enough electricity running to it when the weather is extremely cold or hot. So, the circuit trips and we're in the dark. Here, of course, there are legions of candles. Things were quickly put to rights again, though we kept the fire on the hearth. We spent the evening reading Fireside Stories and lighting more candles.
It's easy, right now, to wish to move on with things and welcome in the bright emptiness of the new calendar year. I am trying to savor this time out of time while it is here, to be more present, and to wrap up the season with connection and presence. The Twelve Days of Christmas are a time of clarity for many and I feel it, too. I can look back and see what I would like to keep and discard, both for the year and for Christmas. I've spent little snippets of time clearing out things and reorganizing. It's small, really, since this work here is full time, but every little bit helps. I think these days are very reflective, and considering materials possessions is certainly fitting.
It's also fitting to consider the past and the people that are gone from this world. On Sunday, in particular, I felt the presence of my Grandma Lois quite strongly. She was the person who made Christmas for me when I was a child. Mike and the children had gone to a cemetery, as we often do, and I was remembering how she left us. It was a car accident just three weeks before Christmas Eve, the day we always gathered for celebration. Our family was never the same after that, as if she really were the glue that held us all together and kept us on the path. Things changed rapidly afterward, as the threads she brought to the family tapestry quickly unravelled. My own life was still constant, but that was not the case for everyone.
I've been doing some biography work this year, inner work, with the adult development book Tapestries. After focusing so heavily on child development for the past six or so years, it's helpful for me to consider where I am going in all of this. I feel like I have taken hold of some big things this year, many of them quite private, and it's both empowering and frightening. Thirty-three truly has been a "valley of the shadow of death" year for me, though I have had many moments of joy and beauty. In these twelve days, I'm casually using these exercises from The Parenting Passageway.
I do think I would like to give more outward energy to these days next year, though I do have a few things planned for this year. Advent has become less and less each year, and I think I will continue in that mood. I still really, really want a tree with real candles on it, just once or twice.
Well, time to give some attention to my bread dough. We've got SNOW this morning! Happy sixth day of Christmas!
We went to White Top yesterday to fly Roan's new kite. It's a sled kite from Premier Designs and I ordered it from Nova Natural Toys. The kite has no frame to break and flies in winds about 10 mph. We were probably in about 10-20 mph winds yesterday. It was perfect and the kite stayed up in the air a good long time. My dad, who is by now an expert flyer of the amateur kind, says this is a great kite from a reputable maker. All that aside, Nature School!
Most weeks, we go in the mornings after our basic routine is completed. Sometimes, we have our movement circle and Willow does some work with her story, and other times we just go. Morning trips are shorter, naturally, and there are many times that we are gone for just a couple hours. This is certainly true on very cold days, which I think would be below thirty for young children. I believe I would stay home when it's colder than twenty, simply as a safety precaution and a consideration of the clothing we have on hand. Yesterday was an afternoon trip, since it takes about 45 minutes to drive to White Top. I timed this for our usual rest time, and Roan and Laurel slept in the car.
I choose places based on what suits my mood or what I feel the children might need. It's a balance between the two, since teacher health is very important. I also base my selection on what the climate of the spot is like--it's better to choose the woods on a cold, windy day and so on. I felt we needed an open place with good winds, and that I wanted to see White Top one last time before March. The weather there was perfect for this time of year, as odd as it might seem. Nature School won't find me braving dangerous roads in icy weather. We'll stick closer to home when it's snowy.
Having packed too lightly some weeks, I make sure to overpack most of the time. Yesterday, it was around fifty degrees at home, and it was in the low forties on the mountain. Considering the wind, some of us wore two pairs of pants, and we all wore thick socks and boots (I wore felt shoes). Cold feet are nothing to mess around with. The supply list was hats, mittens, and parkas to keep out the wind. We wear snowveralls (as we call them) when it gets below thirty. I often apply Weleda weather protection cream when we are going into cold and wind. It's easy to get wind burned here.
Snacks are simple. I think I can get Willow to go anywhere if I bring a thermos of tea, usually herbal. We got some wee mugs from Montessori Services for Christmas and they are just perfect. The size is a little humorous, but it's really less to spill. I sometimes make peanut butter crackers to take along, but I also think hunger is the best sauce. Meals are cozier and eaten better after we've been out in the weather.
When asked if I have an agenda, I often don't. If I do, it's something really, really simple. As Ranger Brandy, I found people really just needed a starting point when they were in the woods. So, climbing a big rock, building a simple den, or walking in the stream easily expands, and the children are happily integrated into their own discoveries and fantasies. Laurel was quite the narrator yesterday afternoon, and she is well-versed in moss and baby trees and fairy ponds. There's generally very little direct instruction, but it's obvious they have learned a lot from the land around them.
I do often take my flute along, weather permitting. I use this as a time to work on some new songs we'll need or pick out things to use in future months. Since I am free from the pressures of home, it's easier to do. Sometimes, I knit, but I also keep in mind that I need to explore and enjoy, too!
Ideally, I try to stay until one of the children says they are ready to go home, truly ready. There are times that a sudden shower comes up and cuts things short for us (like when we don't have umbrellas, but they live in the car now), or when we got a late start and need to get home to cook a meal. Mostly, though, it's a fairly free time and I try to keep my expectations out of it. We've had only one time where it simply didn't work out at all, and we had to drive home. We went back another day and had a marvelous time. It's not all sunshine, but it's also teaching my children that nearly all kinds of weather is fine to be out in, with careful preparation.
Here's my roving bouquet from Cedar Ring Circle. My grandmother commented to me how beautiful it was, and there's yet another layer underneath of more colors! I think my first project will be King Winter, though he'll probably come from roving I already have "in stock." I feel free to create now, which is so nice! No more rationing!
The Icy Hombre was completed last Thursday and I am so pleased. I even wore it on a walk with Mike and the children, just to test it out. It's a wave stitch crochet and was really quite simple. There are so many patterns for things like this, but this is just a formula, a set of dimensions. That suits me very well!
My knitting right now is just for me. It's about time! I'm making myself a Tess D'Urbervilles Shawl and I am so excited. A tie-on shawl is perfect for warmer days and times when I want to be warm and "fly" about the house like Mother Wilder. You can see that Rosalie got some Christmas pants and the three girls all got matching headbands. Laurel was so pleased. If you are ever wondering, we think the very best shoes for Waldorf dolls are Saartje's Bootees. blakdove made these. They're pretty sweet on real babies, too.
And now, well, I must clean up the sprinkles from the long-awaited sugar cookies. Laurel's napping! Yay!
For more crafting, visit Frontier Dreams.
I told the children that the sparks from the Yule log represented the spirirts of our family members who have gone before us. We were inviting them to our celebration. The highlight of my childhood Christmas Eve's was the time at Grandma Lois and Grandad's house. They had a table-top Victorian tree and let us drink Cheerwine from their huge collection of tiny (more historically accurate) wine glasses. How I loved that!
With that in mind, we keep Christmas Eve in that mood, with finger foods and Grandad's favorite shrimp cocktail. You can see the Tomten's plate here. There was homemade egg nog, cheese log, wee pickles, and plenty of cookies given to us by friends. I'll admit my Christmas baking was pre-empted by all the Christmas crafting this year. Mike gave me some snowflake sprinkles, and I'm waiting for just the right snowy moment to put them on some frosted sugar cookies. I haven't made those in years! So many cookies, so little time.
Christmas morning was nice--in a glow of candles we enjoyed our blackberry pudding and the culmination of all the weeks of waiting. We celebrated with family throughout the day, with plenty of quiet time at home.
Here's Roan's little Nativity, with the Christ Child nestled in an oyster shell. I think the little folks came out just right!
I'm wishing you all a Merry Christmas and peace in the days and years ahead.
I've had such a hard time this year, despite trying to really focus on home and routine. The news from the outside world is just awful. I don't see our country becoming great again, not for little folks like us, not that it ever was. It is so hard to know any more, and that is what is so unsettling. Nothing feels safe any more. After so many years of hard times, of scraping by, it's hard to keep your chin up all the time. The weather is crazy, the news is crazy, the people in charge are extra crazy. It's just too much.
And while it might not pay the bills, this is the year I've realized that it's perfectly acceptable to be the introverted person that I am. It's probably my greatest strength right now. Some people pressure us to do more, but we are not often around them, and we simply cannot afford to be dancing and scouting and fencing. Unless that means putting a fence around the garden. ;-) I feel glad to offer my children a picture of a slow life, maybe something they might come back to later on, when life feels too full. I've already seen the Appalachia I knew as a child, with its shaped note singing and dinner on the grounds, change so much. I am weary of the future, like the elders of my memory sitting on their front porch watching the cars speed by.
I spent the trip knitting and reading about Christmas traditions of a Southwest Virginia that has been gone for almost a hundred years. We try to hold onto some of those traditions here, and to make our own, as I often share. The world seeks to steal all meaning and add back materialism, expecting we won't notice the walls closing in on us. It's up to us to be the filters. I feel so glad my children are growing up in this little county with our little town. We've got a bustling main street, a growing music scene, large natural places. If it has to be a town in this part of the state, this one is it. Roan wants to live in the country, and I really wish I could give him that, but it's not realistic right now. I do think we will take to the wild places even more in the Spring and Summer, maybe nature school twice a week.
This is all pretty heavy stuff for the day before Christmas when we are all busy with preparing to make merry. I really hated being away from home for the Solstice. It felt almost as if it didn't happen at all. All the wind went out of my sails. I've got to gather things back together today and get the house in order. We need to pick out a Yule log from under the back porch stairs. It's raining, which is nice if it has to be in the fifties. We've got some things stashed away for a simple celebration at home with just the five of us.
Don't you like my Christmas ornament I got? I'll admit that I did some heavy hinting about the sweet Little House ornaments. This one is so poignant to me. I think, oddly, I might like parts of the Silver Lake story best of all. That wild place they went to, that nice house full of good things to get them through the Winter (what a dream of mine!), it's just all so beautiful and bittersweet.
Yule's come and Yule's gane
It's been said that introverts have a rich inner life. I very much agree. A good book or a good song can almost put me into a trance. Christmas Folk by Natalia Belting is such a book. It's written in the same style as Summer's Coming In, and Barbara Cooney is also the illustrator. Following the saints' days leading up to Christmas the the twelve days after, it creates a festival that makes me wish I could go back in time. If you've seen Tudor Monastery Farm Christmas, then some of these customs are familiar.
The hallow days of Yule are here.
The nights are long and dark.
A feeble sun scarce warms the day,
And cold congeals the stoutest heart.
The hallow days of Yule are come,
And now the Christmas folk bestir. . .
The celebrations begin with St. Andrew's day, when it's time to make the Christmas pudding.
St. Barbara's Day brings fireworks.
And the boys lock out the teacher on St. Nicholas Day.
There are mummers throughout the book: a string of costumed folks, Hobby the Horse, Snap the Dragon, and the Christmas Bull.
Tulya's E'en brings all sorts of mischief and superstition.
St. Thomas's Eve was the time to divine images of your true love. This practice came here, along with many others from far off times, and are discussed in Christmas in the Mountains: Southwest Christmas Customs and their Origins.
Christmas Eve found the Christmas Folk all over town, bringing the news that Christmas was coming in. In our area, many people stayed up most of the night on Christmas Eve, serenading their neighbors and trying to catch a glimpse of the animals speaking and kneeling.
The Christmas Bull came in to wake people up, which sounds both terrifying and funny to me. I don't know much about this tradition at all.
Now the feasting began! A Tudor Feast at Christmas details some of the dishes served to nobility at that time, including the peacock pie.
St. George slayes the dragon in the traditional mummers' play. John Langstaff wrote a book for making one's own play. It certainly looks quite different from the Christmas plays we are accustomed to today.
Twelfth Night was the time to wassail the apple trees and livestock.
And there was the cake which helped pronounce the king and queen of the revels.
And all have feasted weel,
So Jock takes up his flail again,
And Jenny spins her wheel.