Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Gingerbread Baby

AFTER reading The Gingerbread Baby, of course we had to make some gingerbread! Just as we were thinking about this, a package arrived from our German grandparents with a gingerbread house to make and decorate! This kept Emma and Grandma busy for quite some time.

A little bit of food chemistry/domestic know-how: gingerbread goes hard very quickly when left out uncovered; however it can be softened by putting it inside a tin with a moist cake such as Christmas cake!

Monday, December 28, 2009

Christmas and Winter Books

WE'VE found some lovely Christmas and Winter-themed books at the library. Here are some of our favourites:

Christmas Mouseling
by Dori Chaconas, illustrated by Susan Kathleen Hartung
A mother mouse fears for her freezing newborn mouseling as her nest is blown away. Other animals offer her the use of their homes as they are going to see a King. As one after the other these beds too are blown away by the blustery north wind, the mother mouse runs desperately to a wooden shack, where she is surprised to find all the other animals. Also there are a man, a woman and a baby lying in a manger. The mother mouse snuggles her mouseling under the baby's covers and knows that they are safe.

The Mitten
by Jan Brett
Well known in the US but not so well in the UK, Jan Brett is an award-winning author/illustrator famous for her illustrated borders that give clues to what will happen next. The Mitten is her retelling of an old Ukrainian folktale in which a boy loses a mitten in the snow. It is discovered by more and more woodland creatures who take shelter inside it. The mitten is stuffed to bursting point when the bear sneezes and all the animals fly out. Unaware of all this activity, the boy catches the mitten in the air and runs home, where his grandmother wonders how one mitten got so big.

The Gingerbread Baby
by Jan Brett
As with The Mitten, this book is full of the most incredibly intricate illustrations, but beautiful and not overwhelming. The story is a twist on the Gingerbread Man, in which a little boy opens the oven too soon and instead of a Gingerbread Man, out pops a Gingerbread Baby. He runs away and everyone chases him. But the boy Matty goes back into his kitchen and begins to bake again. The whole procession of people chasing the Gingerbread Baby arrives in the woods to find a pile of crumbs and assumes he has finally met his match. But in fact, the Gingerbread Baby is happily dancing around inside the gingerbread house that Matty baked for him.

A Reindeer Christmas
by Mark Kimball Moulton, illustrated by Karen Hillard Good
While out in the woods to feed the animals in Winter, a family comes across an exhausted and starving deer. They bring him home, feed him and keep him warm by the fire. In the morning he is gone. Under the Christmas tree, an extra present awaits with a note from Father Christmas himself. The deer the children had found was his lead reindeer, and by caring for him, the children had saved Father Christmas' present delivery. A sweet story with wonderful pictures in warm glowing colours.
Happy reading!

Saturday, December 26, 2009

The Fifth Candle

WE were patiently waiting. Lighting only one, then two, then three, then finally all four of the small candles in our Advent wreath. Every Sunday in Advent a new candle was lit, and we added a verse to the poem dedicated to the four kingdoms.
On these Sundays too we added items to our nature table. First just shells and stone; then green plants and berries. On the third Sunday we added a stable and animals then in the last week, Mary and Joseph appeared before the stable accompanied by their donkey.
Then, on Christmas Day, the children found baby Jesus lying in a manger in the stable, surrounded by his parents, the animals and some shepherds. And at the table, we lit the centre candle. Happy Birthday!

The first light of Advent is the light of stones,
The light that lives in crystals, seashells and bones.
The second light of Advent is the light of plants.
Roots, stem, leaf, flower and fruit by whom we live and grow.

The third light of Advent is the light of beasts.
Animals of farm, field, forest, air and seas.
All await the birth in greatest and in least.

The fourth light of Advent is the light of humankind.
The light of love, the light of thought, to give and to understand.
- Rudolf Steiner

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Christmas Baking

MMH the smell of baking in the house! Officially, Tuesday is baking day in our house, but we've had a lot of Tuesdays recently to get everything made. We've also had fun mixing traditions. No self-respecting English household would celebrate Christmas without mince pies. Using a muffin pan, these turned out a little deep. Then there was the Christmas cake. That was a first for us. Again, we didn't have the right sized pan, so that turned out a little flat. Moving on to America we baked dozens and dozens of snickerdoodles for gifts. They were placed a little too close to one another on the tray so turned out a little too - erm - joined together. By the time we got to Germany it was two days before Christmas so we gave up and bought Lebkuchen at the shops. They were yummy, but they didn't make the house smell delicious.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

A Legacy

IT'S so easy to get caught up in all the holiday hype. Even when you try to keep commercialism at bay, gifts, food and house preparation and trying to make everything just perfect can become stressful. This weekend I was moved to tears in two very different ways. Two things that made these little 'stresses' seem so trivial.

The first was attending the memorial service for a friend's two year old daughter. In a very short time, this little girl changed many people's lives.

The second was coming together with a hall full of strangers to sing Handel's Messiah. This work is so full of passion it makes your hair stand on end.

After I'm gone, I don't expect millions of people to celebrate my birth every year. I don't expect people to be inspired by the story of my life, or any of my work to be great enough that it is performed over and over for centuries to come. But I do hope my children remember me as the mama who always had a cuddle, a song, a story or an adventure up my sleeve. That's really more important than one more batch of mince pies and homemade Christmas crackers.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Christmas Music

MUSIC is such an intrinsic part of the Christmas experience to me. Whether a beautiful and reverent Nine Lessons and Carols service at church, or the short list of 'holiday songs' that repeat ad nauseum in every public space starting in November, there's no doubt that they play an important role.

As Christmas preparations progress, we have gradually been incorporating more carols into our day at circle time, bedtime, in the car and whenever else the mood strikes. School programs, carol concerts, and even carol singing around a friend's neighborhood were all wonderful ways to celebrate the season through song. Best of all might be the CD I play when alone in the car, when I can belt out all the descants. But that's our little secret.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Presents for the Birds

AS we are busy preparing Christmas gifts for friends and family, we took a moment to prepare something special for the birds in the garden too. A pinecone bird feeder is a great project for even quite young children. First we had to collect some pinecones that were not too prickly, then carefully poke peanut butter with a butter knife into all the holes. "One for the pinecone, one for me..." The sticky blob was then rolled in a plate of bird seed, then finally a ribbon selected and tied to the top.

We have quite a few of these tasty ornaments around the garden and have learned from experience the optimum hanging place. Too low and the dog eats them. Too close to a sturdy branch or tree trunk and the squirrels have a feast. On the end of a rather spindly twig seems to work best to reserve this treat for the little birds.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Scented Tradition

THOUGH originally used year-round, over the centuries pomanders have become associated with Christmas. They are natural air fresheners usually made from oranges, lemons or apples studded with cloves. Pomanders may be hung as an aromatic decoration, grouped in a large bowl as a beautiful display or placed in laundry cupboards or drawers to scent your clothes.

We took a delicious fresh orange and placed masking tape where we would later put a ribbon. Then using a needle, we poked holes in the non-masked sections of orange and inserted whole cloves into the holes. As usual, I started out with an adult viewpoint of beauty and neatness but quickly relaxed to enjoy the activity and appreciate a different kind of beauty in the fascination, creativity and delight of my young children. Emma insisted we were making a hedgehog, which of course had to have a face! The pomander was finished by replacing tape with red ribbon. It has a wonderful spicy-citrusy fragrance!

Over several weeks, the pomander will cure dry and shrink to about half its size. You can also coat the completed pomander in a mixture of orris root and spices, which helps the drying and preservation process. Done correctly, it will last many years. The name comes from the French 'pomme d'amber' (amber apple). In the middle ages, pomanders containing many different scents, such as ambergris or musk, were worn on a chain around the neck or belt and carried as protection against infection and bad smells. Hopefully that won't be necessary in our home this Christmas!