Monday, December 29, 2014


Christmas Eve Treats!
Here at The Homestead, the past week and a half has been filled festive holiday activities. We have celebrated birthdays and Solstice and Christmas Eve and Christmas. We have had fun holiday outings. We have baked and cooked and wrapped. We have spent time with family and indulged in decadent holiday food and drink. We had company over for the Solstice and Christmas Eve, but on Christmas day we enjoyed a nice, quiet day at home, just me, The Man, Ladybug, Monkey and Noodle. After present-opening and Christmas breakfast, The Man and I worked on a puzzle while the kids hung out and played with their new toys.
Christmas Dinner

In the evening, we had our traditional Chinese takeout for dinner. This tradition was started in my family by my grandfather, back in the 1950's. Since it's the only thing I've ever had for Christmas dinner, I have continued the tradition with my own family. After dinner, we snuggled up to watch A Christmas Story. Shutterbug came home to join us for a belated Christmas on Saturday.

Even though we still have New Year's Eve/Day to go, I have hit the point in the holiday season where I start to get "holidayed out" and crave a return to "normal" life.  I'm feeling fat and sluggish from all the holiday indulgences, the youngest child has been all out-of-sorts from too much sugar, too much activity and not enough sleep, and our home is still strewn with bits of holiday-related debris. So, yesterday I began Operation Holiday Recovery. I managed to get the tree down and out, and cleared away all the decorations in the living room and kitchen. Today I tackled the play room, and as of this afternoon, all of holiday stuff is neatly packed away in the basement until next December. It feels good to have our house back!

All packed up till next year. 
Now that Christmas has passed, I am looking forward to the New Year, and all the promise it brings. 2014 was an exciting year of big changes, and I am eager to see what 2015 holds in store for us. Happy New Year!

Monday, December 22, 2014

Our Solstice Celebration

So, last night was the Solstice. We marked this longest night of the year and the gradual return of the Light with a nice celebration at home. We filled the house with candles, lit ice lanterns on the porch, toasted chestnuts out on the fire pit and enjoyed a delicious Solstice Feast. My sister and her fiance joined the children and I for our celebration.

Candles and greens on the table. We also had candles
 in all the windows, and on the kitchen island.

Ice Lanterns on the porch at dusk.

Ice Lanterns
Our feast was a mix of old favorites and a new recipe or two. 

Our Solstice Menu

Crostini with garlic white bean spread
crudite with dip

Mixed baby greens with cranberries and pears and balsamic dressing
Mushroom and sundried tomato risotto 
Roasted root vegetables and cauliflower
Sauteed Kale

Yule Log Cake (Chocolate, with mocha frosting)
Peppermint cookies
Hot Cocoa 

We must have been very hungry, because I didn't seem to get any pictures of the food! The risotto recipe was from Isa Chandra Moskowitz's book, Vegan with a Vengeance. It was by far my favorite dish of the meal. It was earthy, flavorful, creamy and comforting... perfect for a winter feast. I seriously want Isa to be my BFF. Her recipes are always absolutely perfect in every way. 

Next up on this week of celebrating: Christmas eve and Christmas. We will have some family visiting, which we are looking forward to. Tomorrow will be spent finishing up the last minute details of wrapping, baking and shopping for last minute menu ingredients. I'm especially looking forward to our annual tradition of making gingerbread houses... I confess I enjoy it as much as the kids do! 

I will not be posting again until after Christmas... so I will wish all of you who celebrate a very Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 21, 2014

DIY Holiday Card Display

It's been a busy week of holiday preparations! We got all the packages mailed out for far-away loved ones, we've been baking up a storm, our solstice ice lanterns are made, menus are planned. Today I'll be cooking up our Solstice Feast, but first, I wanted to post a quick "how-to" for our Holiday Card Display, as promised last week!

I just love getting Holiday cards! Especially nowadays, with most correspondence being digital, getting a real, honest-to-goodness card in the mail just seems extra special. Last year, Noodle and I saw a similar card display for sale in a store, and I thought, "Geez, I could MAKE that!" So I did. And so can you, if you're so inclined! This project takes about 15 minutes to make, and is pretty easy. Here's what you'll need:

  • An old picture frame (no glass needed, so this is a perfect way to use up a frame that had the glass broken
  • a piece of cardboard 
  • burlap or other fabric (maybe a holiday print?)
  • twine, hemp or string
  • a hot glue gun
  • a staple gun

First, I used hot glue to cover a piece of cardboard cut to the
size to fit in my picture frame with burlap fabric.

Next, I wrapped the string around the cardboard in a random pattern.

After you tie off the string on the back, slip the cardboard into
the back of your frame. 

Use a staple gun to staple the cardboard to the frame.

Finished! I put mine up on a pretty easel. 

If I were going to make this again, one thing I would do differently is I would use a bigger frame. This one is 11x14, and it ended up not being big enough to hold all of our cards. I might make a bigger one next year. 

Now, I must get back to the kitchen! There is a Solstice Feast to prepare. Wishing you all a Most Blessed Solstice!

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Holiday-Time Craft: Pomander Balls

Now that Thanksgiving is behind us and the calendar page has flipped to December, we're starting to feel like getting ready for the Holiday season. We've slowly started replacing fall decorations (gourds and such) with winter decorations (evergreens and pinecones!) This weekend we also decided to make old-fashioned orange and clove pomander balls. I haven't made them in years, but they are something I really love. They make me think of England in the olden days, and they smell SO lovely. You can tie ribbons around them and hang them up, but I prefer to display mine in a bowl or tray with greens and pinecones. Mine are currently on the piano in our living room, near the front door, so that when we come home we are greeted by their warm, spicy fragrance.

Pomander balls are very easy to make, and they are a fun craft to do with kids. They don't require much for materials... chances are you already have everything you need in your kitchen.

Old-Fashioned Orange Pomander Balls

  • Oranges (or other citrus fruit... we used clementines)
  • whole cloves
  • Ground cinnamon, mixed with a bit of ground nutmeg and a few tablespoons of orris root powder

(NOTE* We skipped the orris root, because we didn't have any on hand. But it is nice to use if you have it, as keeps them smelling nice longer)

To make: Poke the cloves into the orange, in some kind of pattern, or just all over. If the skin of the fruit is tough to poke through, you can use a toothpick first to make it easier. Next, roll the fruit in the ground spice mixture, then either tie a ribbon around the fruit to hang it, or just place it in a bowl. The fruit should slowly dry out over a few weeks' time.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Our "Acts of Kindness" Tree

I was raised celebrating Christmas. In my family, we celebrated with all the usual trappings... Christmas trees, Santa, lights, decorations and presents. But Christmas also meant spending time with family, sharing special food and seeing relatives we didn't see as often during the year. Overall, those memories of Christmases past are mostly fond ones. As I got older, however... Christmas just didn't speak to me in the same way anymore. Many of the important people who made the holiday special for me passed on. I became disillusioned by the whole "Christmas Culture"... Being bombarded with all the tacky Christmas trappings in the stores from October to January, the pressure to spend money you don't have on garbage that no one needs, and worst of all, people yelling "Keep 'CHRIST' in CHRISTMAS" while they're trampling each other to get a good deal on a TV. Is this what Christmas has become?  Misplaced religious zealotry, commercialism and EXCESS? Instead of feeling cheerful at the holidays, I felt overwhelmed and saddened, to the point that the holiday season really meant nothing to me.

So I had to take a step back... I had to rediscover the things I loved in my childhood traditions, and the things I loved about this time of year in general, and figure out how I would pass on the GOOD of the season to my children, while eliminating the stuff  that didn't speak to me or make me feel Joyful. I love the traditions that come from ancient Solstice/Yule celebrations: Decorated trees, evergreen boughs, candles, etc. My spirituality is very Earth/Nature centered, so the traditions of celebrating Solstice and Yule really speak to me. My body and mind are very much connected to the cycles of the seasons, and I'm profoundly affected by the cycles of the Earth. Celebrating these cycles makes me feel connected to the people who have been celebrating this way since ancient times. These celebrations were so beautiful and important that early Christians wanted to get in on this Yule/Solstice stuff, so many of these traditions were absorbed into the Christian holiday of Christmas. (Particularly interesting, as according to religious historians, Jesus was born in late summer/early fall, no where near when we celebrate His "birth")  I also choose to embrace the traditional Christmas ideas of spreading Joy and Love and Light to our fellow human beings. Wasn't that what Jesus was all about? Helping those who couldn't help themselves? And then there are other little things from my childhood, things like baking special treats, building gingerbread houses and filling stockings.

These are the things that comprise our holiday season now...

  • Charity
  • Simplicity
  • Respect for the Earth and her changing seasons
  • Making our Home warm, comfortable and inviting for those we'll celebrate the season with
  • Making and choosing thoughtful gifts for those we love
  • Sharing traditional foods and activities

In line with the way we now choose to celebrate the season, a couple of years ago we started a new tradition in our family... the Acts of Kindness Tree. This is sort of a non-denomination twist on an Advent calendar. Each year I make little slips of paper with "acts of kindness" written on the them. These are tucked into little envelopes, and tied to a "tree" (actually just some branches from the yard, tucked into a vase) Each day, a child picks an envelope, and we do whatever is written on the paper.
The "Acts of Kindness" all ready to be tucked into envelopes

We really have fun with these. We treat many of them like Top Secret Missions of Kindness, where we try to remain anonymous, and do them without getting "caught." Some can't really be done anonymously, but those are still fun, too. Some require a little bit of money (like leaving change at the laundromat, buying a toy for a child in need, donating poinsettias to a nursing home) but many are totally free... helping a neighbor shovel, writing a letter to someone to thank them for something nice they did, let someone go ahead of you in line) Kindness doesn't have to be expensive.

Coming in the next week or two, I'll be sharing lots more of our Simple holiday traditions, crafts and recipes. May your holiday season, however you choose to celebrate it, be filled with much Love, Peace and Joy.