Sunday, December 23, 2012

Longest Night

Solstice altar
Last night was our Winter Solstice ritual. We celebrated the Longest Night, something that is both literal and figurative. There were five of us, a smaller number than I'd hoped for originally, but it turned out to be just about right. The ritual was very good, if somewhat quiet.

There will not be anymore Advent posts from me, and I apologize. There has been a family emergency of sorts, and my time has been turned over to finding help for a friend who is in need. Our "Longest Night" is over, but the friend's is still ongoing. Please offer up prayers for our friend, and for all those who may be suffering throughout the holidays.

Blessed Yuletide, everyone!

Check back often for book reviews, prayers, ceremonies and more. If you have questions or comments, please write to me below. I love to answer questions! You can follow the blog via Network Blogs and Google Friend Connect. If you purchase items I have linked through Amazon or the ads on my site, I receive an affiliate portion of the sale. If you find the items are useful, please purchase from my site!
 
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Friday, December 21, 2012

Advent Calendar - Day Twenty-One

Winter Solstice (1)

It's the twenty-first, and the Advent calendar's door opens to reveal a sun in watery glory.

Today is the Winter Solstice, the time of the longest night of the year, the shortest day. In ancient times, our ancestors would cower, afraid the light would not return. Sacrifices were made in some places, and in other places it was common to stay awake all night and await the return of the sun.

In our modern, more "enlightened" times, we know that tomorrow's sun will return. Despite forecasts by the Mayans, the world will not end tonight. The morning of the 22nd will dawn, and people will rise and go about their Saturday errands.

Tonight, though... let a bit of the magic touch you. Think back to ancient days. Light a candle. Sit in front of a fire if you can, and hold your children close about you. Sing songs, cuddle, and love one another. Be together, because no matter what we think we know, there is no guarantee that tomorrow will come.

What do you plan to do, tonight, this longest of nights?

Check back often for book reviews, prayers, ceremonies and more. If you have questions or comments, please write to me below. I love to answer questions! You can follow the blog via Network Blogs and Google Friend Connect. If you purchase items I have linked through Amazon or the ads on my site, I receive an affiliate portion of the sale. If you find the items are useful, please purchase from my site!
 
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1) Image by Biswarup Ganguly / Wikimedia Commons

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Advent Calendar - Day Twenty

The Freehold, our home.
Nineteen magical things have been behind the earlier doors, and today is no different. The twentieth door opens upon a home - your home.

It's in all the songs, after all. "Oh there's no place like home for the holidays!" ... "But the prettiest sight to see is the holly that will be on your own front door." There are dozens of others. Why is it that home features so much in the Christmas/Yuletide mythos?

Home is the place where you hang your heart, and sometimes that means it's not a building but any place that contains a specific person or persons. For our family, home is the Freehold, pictured above. We found it last October and were not immediately taken with it. But fate had it that it turned out to become the house we would buy... and Fate was right, very right. The Freehold is no longer a house... it's our home. It's the place where we hang our hearts. It's where our hearth is, our love, new memories every day, our second Christmas here...

Where is "home" for you? Where do YOU hang your heart?

Check back often for book reviews, prayers, ceremonies and more. If you have questions or comments, please write to me below. I love to answer questions! You can follow the blog via Network Blogs and Google Friend Connect. If you purchase items I have linked through Amazon or the ads on my site, I receive an affiliate portion of the sale. If you find the items are useful, please purchase from my site!
 
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Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Advent Calendar - Day Nineteen

Prayer
Opening the nineteenth door reveals a woman in prayer, seated quietly.

The posture of prayer changes depending on the culture. Some kneel, head to the floor. Others lay prostrate before an altar. Some dance in circles, while others sit in pews. Some may hold their hands together in supplication, and others choose to hold hands open in a gesture of giving. Yet it is all still prayer.

Prayer is a quiet moment of talking to God, as you understand God. Prayer, even when done in groups, is a completely singular thing. It happens between you and your Higher Power, and no one else intervenes in that closeness, that specialness.

Your words may contain joyful thanks, weeping requests, or angry retorts, yet it is still prayer. Sometimes the words are spoken aloud, while other times they are silent, contained within your mind alone. It doesn't matter what you say, basically. What matters is that you do it.

Do you pray? How does it make you feel?

Check back often for book reviews, prayers, ceremonies and more. If you have questions or comments, please write to me below. I love to answer questions! You can follow the blog via Network Blogs and Google Friend Connect. If you purchase items I have linked through Amazon or the ads on my site, I receive an affiliate portion of the sale. If you find the items are useful, please purchase from my site!
 
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Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Advent Calendar - Day Eighteen

Candles
The light of the candles can be seen even before you pull open the eighteenth door on the Advent calendar. Once open, their beauty and warmth fill you with peace, joy, love and hope, and they drive away the fears.

Candles always seem to be comforting. They're lit during church and synagogue services. They're a representation of God. We light them at funerals and weddings. Heck, we even light them on our birthday cakes!

The humble candle represents so many things. More than anything, though, it is a small reminder that the light which is so rapidly waning outside WILL return eventually. The sun is not disappearing, just waning. Days will soon be getting longer again, and the worst of the winter will be over.

Before you go to bed tonight, light a candle. Contemplate its brightness, and the complexity of its flame. Feel the warmth of its glow. Know within you that, used right, the candle provides light and heat and comfort.

When do you light candles? Do you use them in ceremonies or rituals?

Check back often for book reviews, prayers, ceremonies and more. If you have questions or comments, please write to me below. I love to answer questions! You can follow the blog via Network Blogs and Google Friend Connect. If you purchase items I have linked through Amazon or the ads on my site, I receive an affiliate portion of the sale. If you find the items are useful, please purchase from my site!
 
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Monday, December 17, 2012

Advent Calendar - Day Seventeen

Family
Seventeen days of doors, and this one opens on a picture in a beautiful frame. Within the picture are hundreds of other pictures, showing your family (both blood and heart) in all its glory.

There is something special about holiday times. Family comes together. Yes, there are times when we'd rather chew our arm off rather than be trapped with Auntie Ethel and her yapping dog again, but honestly... would Christmas be the same without her?

My family includes so many people, and they all make me have very deep feelings. Most of them I'm not related to by blood, and some of them I only met a time or two in the flesh. I honor them because they are a part of the gestalt that made me who I am. They are my ancestors, the ones who guide me and love me no matter what I do or how many times I fall down.

Family is important, no matter how you define family. Who do you consider to be your family?

Check back often for book reviews, prayers, ceremonies and more. If you have questions or comments, please write to me below. I love to answer questions! You can follow the blog via Network Blogs and Google Friend Connect. If you purchase items I have linked through Amazon or the ads on my site, I receive an affiliate portion of the sale. If you find the items are useful, please purchase from my site!
 
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Sunday, December 16, 2012

Virtual Advent Calendar - Day Sixteen

Love... (1)
Door number sixteen swings open easily, revealing ... yourself.

Throughout the holiday season (and often, throughout the year), it's easy to forget ourselves in the hustle and bustle. We're so busy focusing on gifts for other people, wrapping for other people, what Santa's bringing to the kids, whether we remembered to make those cookies for work tomorrow... It's nice to think of others, and special to pay a bit of extra attention during Christmas and Yule, but please don't forget yourself.

Take an hour or so one day before whichever day is your Big Day, and spend it on YOU. Do whatever it is that brings you fulfillment and happiness. That might mean a hot bath and a facial, or going out to get your nails done, or even curling in front of the fire with a big book.

Give yourself the gift of time. You probably give to others frequently, but it's hard to give to yourself. We all tend to feel guilty when we take a few minutes to ourselves. We think we ought to be helping out the kids, or getting something for hubby, or folding laundry, or prepping for tomorrow's day. And those are valid things to do! But don't short yourself. If you take one hour, you'll find that the kids don't die, that hubby will get his own stuff, that the laundry won't complain about the wait. Tomorrow's prep might still need to be done, but you can do it in an hour.

Self love, real love, starts with learning to respect yourself. I don't mean big ticket stuff, like doing your best and all that. I mean being comfortable in your own skin. I mean looking in the mirror and forcing yourself to see who you really are, rather than whether your makeup looks alright and if there's another grey hair.

Embrace yourself. Take the love you found in today's calendar with you.


Check back often for book reviews, prayers, ceremonies and more. If you have questions or comments, please write to me below. I love to answer questions! You can follow the blog via Network Blogs and Google Friend Connect. If you purchase items I have linked through Amazon or the ads on my site, I receive an affiliate portion of the sale. If you find the items are useful, please purchase from my site!
 
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1) Painting, "Venus at her Mirror" by Diego Velaquez

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Virtual Advent Calendar - Day Fifteen

"Thought" (1)
The door for the fifteenth seems to be stuck, and you have to really pull at it to get it open. When it does, Fear stares back at you.

Why open the door to Fear, you might ask? It's important to face our fears, at least to some extent. Whether you do so alone or with a friend, with a family member or at your therapist's office, eventually the door must be opened, the contents examined in the bright light of the day. What better time to look into our darkest places than at this, the darkest time of the year?

I have many fears. At one time in my life (not so long ago, either), those fears crippled me. I allowed myself to be frozen with fear, unable to make decisions. Life ran me over multiple times, dealing me some hefty blows. If I had been able to stand up and be courageous, it wouldn't have stopped the blows but it would have allowed me to duck or deflect, or at least to be ready for them.

That ability to prepare for things, known or unknown, is one way of taking away Fear's ability to freeze you. You can't prepare for everything, and that preparation doesn't take the Fear away. What it does is equip you with strength to stand and face Fear with courage. You may quake inside, and probably will, but that doesn't matter. Standing matters. Believing matters.

What Fear pushes your buttons? Do you have methods in place to help you deal with it, so Fear has less control over you and your life?

Check back often for book reviews, prayers, ceremonies and more. If you have questions or comments, please write to me below. I love to answer questions! You can follow the blog via Network Blogs and Google Friend Connect. If you purchase items I have linked through Amazon or the ads on my site, I receive an affiliate portion of the sale. If you find the items are useful, please purchase from my site!
 
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(1) "Thought" by Auguste Rodin, taken at the PA Museum of Art, 2008

Friday, December 14, 2012

Virtual Advent Calendar - Day Fourteen

Hope brings light in the darkness... (1)
The fourteenth door opens on the image of a torch - the light of Son or Sun, returning to us so very soon. It is the image of Hope.

The whole theme of Solstice, Yule, Hannukah and Christmas is that of the coming of Light. There is this long period of darkness, and then Light is brought back into the world. Different religions have different ways of expressing that Light, but the theme cuts across most (if not all) faiths and beliefs.

The darkness of the weeks prior to Solstice are stifling. By 4:30pm, it's already necessary to turn lights on, and by 5:00pm, it's full dark. Our bodies become sluggish and the waning light saps us of energy. Sometimes, it seems almost cruel that we're expected to be up-beat and joyous when the nights are so long and all we want to do is sleep.

Hope is the Light that brings us out of darkness. Whether we talk about the darkness of depression, or the darkness of the year at the Winter Solstice, the hope of more light, more joy, more time, and a fresh new year is what helps us move forward.

Sometimes Hope needs a helping hand in the guise of a friend or family member, or even in a pill. It's okay to accept help when it's needed. It's okay to reach out and let the Hope flare.

If you're one of the lucky ones that doesn't suffer from depression in the dark time of the year, consider being the beacon of Hope for someone this season. Perhaps you can be the Torch Bearer for just a little while for someone in need.

As Albert Schweitzer says, "Sometimes our light goes out but is blown into flame by another human being. Each of us owes deepest thanks to those who have rekindled this light."

Do you have trouble accepting Hope at this time of year? Are you an angel of Hope, holding up the light for the rest of us?

Check back often for book reviews, prayers, ceremonies and more. If you have questions or comments, please write to me below. I love to answer questions! You can follow the blog via Network Blogs and Google Friend Connect. If you purchase items I have linked through Amazon or the ads on my site, I receive an affiliate portion of the sale. If you find the items are useful, please purchase from my site!
 
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1) Painting by Evelyn De Morgan (photographic reproduction from Wikimedia Commons) - Title: Hope in a Prison of Despair

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Virtual Advent Calendar - Day Thirteen

Children full of joy!
On the thirteenth day of Advent, we're opening the door to JOY in our lives!

Joy comes in different flavors and tenors. There's the joy of frosting a gingerbread house with your family. There's the joy of curling up in front of a warm fire with a cross stitch project. There's the silent joy of watching the first snowfall of winter with your little one in your lap. There's the noisy joy of going to a Christmas Eve service at your church, seeing hundreds of faces new and old, and the sound of the combined joy of the crowd rising in song.

Sometimes joy just happens. Other times you have to grasp for it, like a balloon almost out of reach. It's worth grasping for, though, even in those dark, dank moments when depression pulls at the very edges of your being. If you can grasp joy, even for a moment, do so. Let that joy wrap you up for as long (or short) as it can. Accept.

Is your life joyful? Where do you look for when you need more joy?

Check back often for book reviews, prayers, ceremonies and more. If you have questions or comments, please write to me below. I love to answer questions! You can follow the blog via Network Blogs and Google Friend Connect. If you purchase items I have linked through Amazon or the ads on my site, I receive an affiliate portion of the sale. If you find the items are useful, please purchase from my site!
 
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Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Virtual Advent Calendar - Day Twelve

Peace
The twelfth day of Advent has arrived, and upon opening the door eagerly, you find... something that has no true image: peace.

I try to find peace all around me. I find it in meditating on the twinkling lights on our tree, in the sound of rain falling on the roof as I lay in the dark in my room, and in the pages of a favorite book.

Sometimes I'm more successful than others. Sometimes peace comes on feathered wings and is just there. Other times it eludes me, and I descend into frustration or anger. I'm human, and the more I accept that fact, the more peace comes to me.

Where do you find peace?

Check back often for book reviews, prayers, ceremonies and more. If you have questions or comments, please write to me below. I love to answer questions! You can follow the blog via Network Blogs and Google Friend Connect. If you purchase items I have linked through Amazon or the ads on my site, I receive an affiliate portion of the sale. If you find the items are useful, please purchase from my site!
 
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Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Virtual Advent Calendar - Day Eleven

Presents under the tree
 The eleventh door creaks open, revealing stacks of presents, all gorgeously wrapped, under a lush and decorated tree.

For me, wrapping presents is an art form. I approach each present with goals:
  • how can I disguise what it is?
  • what color best represents the recipient?
  • what frippery (bows, ribbons, etc.) can I put on the present?

It's a labor of love. It can take me upwards of an hour to wrap a single present, when I have the luxury of time. I crease folds, use my nail to make the invisible tape that much less visible, and measure each thing carefully so it folds "just so."

I love to wrap presents. I love the creativity it inspires within me. I like to know that the few weeks they're on display, they're almost a gift on their own. I think that's the big one, to be honest. I love to look at all the wrapped pretties, and while I do like opening stuff, it isn't as exciting as the anticipation and the joy of looking at it for a month.

What's your favorite part about presents? Do you like to pick them out, wrap them, open them, or something completely different?

Check back often for book reviews, prayers, ceremonies and more. If you have questions or comments, please write to me below. I love to answer questions! You can follow the blog via Network Blogs and Google Friend Connect. If you purchase items I have linked through Amazon or the ads on my site, I receive an affiliate portion of the sale. If you find the items are useful, please purchase from my site!
 
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Monday, December 10, 2012

Virtual Advent Calendar - Day Ten

Home-made cards
On the tenth day of Advent, the door cracks open to show a beautiful, hand-made Christmas card.

The picture is of this year's hand-made cards. I don't always make cards. Sometimes I get a good enough deal that it's worth just buying them. Sometimes I'm so busy that all I want to do is throw a few in envelopes with signatures. This year is a year to make cards, though.

This pattern is another Pinterest find. Unfortunately the original link doesn't work, but the cards were so adorable, and with a bit of thought put into it, I figured I could do them on my own. I have made several now, and each is just a little different. I have red, gold, green, yellow and silver buttons and tiny bells to put on. I picked up glue sticks for the hot glue gun, and set to attaching bits of ribbon and buttons.

I'm pleased as punch with the outcome. There's something special about when you open a hand-made card. I know, because hubby's mother makes her own cards (she's a stamper!) and I appreciate them so much when they arrive. There's love in them!

Do you ever make your own holiday cards? What methods do you use? Are you a stamper, hot gluer, scrapbooker, or something else?

Check back often for book reviews, prayers, ceremonies and more. If you have questions or comments, please write to me below. I love to answer questions! You can follow the blog via Network Blogs and Google Friend Connect. If you purchase items I have linked through Amazon or the ads on my site, I receive an affiliate portion of the sale. If you find the items are useful, please purchase from my site!
 
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Sunday, December 9, 2012

Virtual Advent Calendar - Day Nine

Special foods bring smiles
The ninth door on our Advent calendar opens to a more traditional sight: food!

Candy, chocolate, gooey deliciousness... it doesn't matter what the food is. There's something about the foods we eat only around the holidays that makes people happy. I know that, despite having access to candy canes year 'round, I eat them only in December. Sis makes shaped pancakes, and has taken to making themed ones. This December includes candy cane ones, pictured above. Yum!

There are so many traditional foods: goose, lamb, turkey, and ham have all graced my holiday table at some point. Yorkshire Pudding is always good, especially if you're having a roast of some sort. The desserts are too many to be mentioned. The holiday table always seems to be a central focus for the family, giving people a reason to be sitting together instead of at computers or in books.

What sort of foods do you serve at the holidays? Do you have a single item you serve every Christmas, or do you like to spice it up and change it around?

Check back often for book reviews, prayers, ceremonies and more. If you have questions or comments, please write to me below. I love to answer questions! You can follow the blog via Network Blogs and Google Friend Connect. If you purchase items I have linked through Amazon or the ads on my site, I receive an affiliate portion of the sale. If you find the items are useful, please purchase from my site!
 
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Saturday, December 8, 2012

Hanukkah, Unabridged - NYTimes.com

Hanukkah, Unabridged - NYTimes.com

This is a fantastic article on Hannukah and its origins and history. I was pleased to see it wasn't nasty (in any way) and very informative. If you celebrate, may you enjoy the first night of the Festival of Lights!

Virtual Advent Calendar - Day Eight

A Hanukia (1)
Tonight, December 8th, is the first night of Hannukah. Hannukah is, ". . . the eight-day festival of light that begins on the eve of the 25th of the Jewish month of Kislev -- celebrates the triumph of light over darkness, of purity over adulteration, of spirituality over materiality." (from What is Hanukkah?)

It's interesting that Hannukah comes so early this year. Last year it was much closer to Christmas and Kwanzaa, but it's completely separate this year. I'm actually rather happy about that, as I like to celebrate Hannukah and it's not always easy when you're trying to fit it in to a schedule that includes leaving town for a far-off state and staying in hotels that don't like you to light candles.

I began celebrating Hannukah during my first year of seminary, in 2009. We happened to be studying Judaism over the month of December, and it only made sense to immerse myself in the celebration as a part of that study. It's easier to understand something if you're participating in it, after all! Since then, it has become a bit of a family tradition. We read the story of Hannukah as a family, and then take turns lighting the candles. I usually involve the children and give gelt and little gifts, and we like to play Jewish holiday music (both modern and ancient) as part of our praise.

During this year's celebration of the Festival of Lights, the actual light of the world will be in decline. The shortest day of the year doesn't arrive until December 22nd, this year, and so it will be quite dark during Hannukah. Still, I know the kids will enjoy it, and everyone will spend time chuckling as I somehow manage to grunt out the guttural traditional Hebrew words.

Have you ever celebrated Hannukah? Did you enjoy it? What did you get out of it? Did you hand out (or receive) gelt or chocolate, or play the dreidel game?

Check back often for book reviews, prayers, ceremonies and more. If you have questions or comments, please write to me below. I love to answer questions! You can follow the blog via Network Blogs and Google Friend Connect. If you purchase items I have linked through Amazon or the ads on my site, I receive an affiliate portion of the sale. If you find the items are useful, please purchase from my site!
 
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1) Image by ארכיון השומר הצעיר יד יערי - Hashomer Hatzair Archives Yad Yaari / Wikimedia Commons

Friday, December 7, 2012

Virtual Advent Calendar - Day Seven

December 7th's door opens to reveal a pile of books!

I like to read, and I do it a lot. I read pretty much every day, often for hours. I read to the children, too. There are hosts of books that I love to delve into (from the trashy to the sublime). Winter holy days open up new vistas in the book department.

An old classic, The Night Before Christmas, is always fun to read. I like to read it with the kids on Christmas Eve. It brings an old world feeling of magic and spirit to the evening, especially when paired with a crackling fire in the wood stove and a warm blanket wrapped around our snuggling selves.

If Hannukah is more your style, why not read The Power of Light: Eight Stories for Hanukkah? It's a little story book with eight stories, one for each night of the Festival of Lights. There's also My Two Holidays: A Hanukkah and Christmas Story, which covers both the Christian and the Jewish holy nights!


Do you have a favorite holiday story? Is it a classic or a new tale? Do you like your stories funny or serious? Feel free to use the search box above to find the books that are right for you and your family!

Check back often for book reviews, prayers, ceremonies and more. If you have questions or comments, please write to me below. I love to answer questions! You can follow the blog via Network Blogs and Google Friend Connect. If you purchase items I have linked through Amazon or the ads on my site, I receive an affiliate portion of the sale. If you find the items are useful, please purchase from my site!
 
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Thursday, December 6, 2012

Virtual Advent Calendar - Day Six

Carols
As you open the Advent Calendar's door on December 6th, faint music meets your ears.

One of the things I love about Christmas and Yuletide and Hannukah is the music. Whether it's classical music from the Nutcracker or more modern stuff from young musicians, it opens up the mind and soul to the joy of the season.

I often think of music as being the "body" of the gods, the closest we can come to experiencing their physical manifestation. I know that music, especially at this time of year, can bring me to tears very quickly. It brings up intense feelings of joy and rapture. When I close my eyes, music can take me to an inner place that is full of peace.

I have my favorites. I tend to like the bouncy carols from the 60s, or the classic hymn style carols that you'd hear in any Christian church. My absolute favorite is "Baby It's Cold Outside" but it has to be the right version. Of course, I have the Right Version right here for you!



Have you ever listened to O Come Emmanuel, or Gaudete,or the Maccabeats Candlelight? What are your favorite holiday songs? Do you like them soft, or loud and bouncy, or funny?

Check back often for book reviews, prayers, ceremonies and more. If you have questions or comments, please write to me below. I love to answer questions! You can follow the blog via Network Blogs and Google Friend Connect. If you purchase items I have linked through Amazon or the ads on my site, I receive an affiliate portion of the sale. If you find the items are useful, please purchase from my site!
 
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1) Photo by Tim Vickers / Wikimedia Commons

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Virtual Advent Calendar - Day Five

Cookies! (1)
December 5th's door reveals stacks of Yuletide cookies and shortbread, still warm from the oven.

I do love cookies. I don't eat a lot of them, in general, but over the holidays there's just something amazing about munching on a warm-from-the-oven cookie.

My new favorite is the snickerdoodle, something I discovered by accident. I was picking up some quickie packaged cookie mixes for making with the kids (because I was lazy, yes) and I saw one labeled "snickerdoodle." Having never tried them before, I figured what the heck. Well, I'm glad I made the leap, because these things are incredibly delicious, and very simple to make.

Ingredients
  • 1 cup margarine or butter
  • 1-1/2 cups sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2-3/4 cup flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 2 tsp cream of tartar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp cinnamon + 2 tbsp sugar
Cream together the margarine and 1-1/2 cups of sugar. Add the eggs and stir in the flour, cream of tartar, salt and baking soda. Mix it well, then chill the dough to make it more manageable. When it's chilled, make balls about the size of walnuts and roll them in a mix of the cinnamon and sugar mixed together (the last ingredient). Bake on an ungreased cookie sheet at 400F for 8 to 10 minutes. This makes about five dozen cookies, and they will be gone 24 hours or less after you make them.

Do you bake cookies over the holidays? What's your favorite? Share a recipe below (and consider linking back to my *first* linky)!



Check back often for book reviews, prayers, ceremonies and more. If you have questions or comments, please write to me below. I love to answer questions! You can follow the blog via Network Blogs and Google Friend Connect. If you purchase items I have linked through Amazon or the ads on my site, I receive an affiliate portion of the sale. If you find the items are useful, please purchase from my site!
 
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1) Photo by Rémi Diligent / Wikimedia Commons

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Virtual Advent Calendar - Day Four

Visiting Santa (1)
On December 4th, the Advent calendar shows an image of a child on Santa's knee.

Our house is a multi-faith household. I'm pagan, with an emphasis on the ancient Greek gods. Hubby is agnostic with a deep spiritual bent. My sisterwife is Christian, swinging more toward the evangelical side. The friends who are staying with us for the winter are Wiccan. You don't get much more of a mix than that! We all like it when Santa visits, though.

Talk of Santa always makes me remember last year, when our (then six-year old) boy twin misbehaved. I can't remember what he did, but hubby was angry enough to say, "You'd better watch what you do, or Santa will bring you coal instead of presents!" Our little guy thought that one over, and very seriously said to his daddy, "I would still like presents, but it's okay if Santa brings coal, Daddy. We can use the coal to heat the house!" Smart kid, that!

Santa is, to me, the essence of the Spirit of Giving. When Santa comes, he comes in many guises and leaves presents that are things we normally wouldn't buy or make for each other. Santa rarely brings underwear or a new bra, after all. He tends to bring things that are a wee bit frivolous, or chocolaty. Whether Santa's spirit moves through you or hubby or the kids doesn't really matter. There will be things in your stocking come Christmas morning, and they'll be fun and different. You won't know which human agent put those things in your stocking... they are, in essence, from Santa alone.

When the Spirit of Giving enters your home this holiday season, let it open a door in your heart and your soul. Santa's gifts need not be purchased (or if they are, need not be expensive). They're thoughtful, and that's worth an awful lot more.

Consider inducting your children into the Santa spirit. We talk of Santa as being a Spirit, more than as a person. Our two are little enough to still believe fiercely, and we don't intend to interfere in that belief, but we can also let them know that they can "play Santa" by slipping things into parents' stockings before they head to bed on Christmas Eve. They, too, can enjoy the happiness they see when one of us opens our stocking to find an unexpected thing there.

Do you believe in Santa? Does he visit your house? Do you hang stockings, ". . . by the chimney with care . . ."? What's the best, most amazing gift you've ever gotten from Santa?

Check back often for book reviews, prayers, ceremonies and more. If you have questions or comments, please write to me below. I love to answer questions! You can follow the blog via Network Blogs and Google Friend Connect. If you purchase items I have linked through Amazon or the ads on my site, I receive an affiliate portion of the sale. If you find the items are useful, please purchase from my site!
 
You may also be interested in:

Advent Calendar - Day Three
Advent Calendar - Day One 
Advent Calendar - Day Two
A Year of Biblical Womanhood
Plant Whatever Brings You Joy

1) Photo by Jacob Windham / Wikimedia Commons

Monday, December 3, 2012

Virtual Advent Calendar - Day Three

Houses alight (1)
The door labelled December 3rd opens on a familiar sight: a house bedecked with lights and wreaths.

Around here, we like to decorate. Most of our decorations center around our tree, but we have a bunch of things to put up outside. My mother-in-law gave us Christmas flags with poinsettias and Santa and other winter scenes on them. We pin them onto the porch door, where everyone can see them.

Speaking of our porch, our new home came with lights installed. Instead of putting a big light out on the porch, they decided to string up thousands of white Christmas style lights instead. While we do use the lights all year for seeing things on the porch, during December we light it up each evening as the sun goes down. Our outdoor lights twinkle and lend a merry glow to our home.

One of the things that I like to do in mid-December sometime is to load the kids up in the van and go for a drive around town. We look for houses with spectacular lights or decorations, and we oooh and aaah over them. Painted with a dusting of snow, the inflatable penguin or the magical snow globe bob happily on people's front lawns. This neighborhood also goes with a lot of "old fashioned" decorations, including ropes of evergreen with red bows, and displays that include old wooden sleds full of poinsettias and greenery.

How do you deck  your halls? Do you use wreaths or lights or inflatable characters, or something else entirely? Do you have a favorite?

Check back often for book reviews, prayers, ceremonies and more. If you have questions or comments, please write to me below. I love to answer questions! You can follow the blog via Network Blogs and Google Friend Connect. If you purchase items I have linked through Amazon or the ads on my site, I receive an affiliate portion of the sale. If you find the items are useful, please purchase from my site!
 
You may also be interested in:

Advent Calendar - Day One 
Advent Calendar - Day Two
A Year of Biblical Womanhood
Plant Whatever Brings You Joy
Blessing of the Animals

1) Photo by Ikescs / Wikimedia Commons

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Virtual Advent Calendar - Day Two

Decorations (2)
December 2nd's door swings open to reveal a beautiful hand-made ornament.

Home-made ornaments really do make me happy. I love to sit and string popcorn and cranberries. It's a blast to make cloven oranges decked with wide, colorful ribbon. The ubiquitous red and green paper chain must be put somewhere on the tree or around the house. There are ornaments I've painted, ones we've put together with the kids, and ones that were hand-made with love long before the three of us were together as a family.

My favorite home-made ornament is actually a series. Hubby's mom cross-stitched and sewed dozens of tiny things for the tree many years ago. He's inherited some (and some went to his brother and family, and some remain at the Home Tree), and we proudly display them on our tree every year.

Do you ever make ornaments, either on your own or with your kids? Do you keep them or give them away? What drives you to do it? What's your favorite hand-made ornament?

Check back often for book reviews, prayers, ceremonies and more. If you have questions or comments, please write to me below. I love to answer questions! You can follow the blog via Network Blogs and Google Friend Connect. If you purchase items I have linked through Amazon or the ads on my site, I receive an affiliate portion of the sale. If you find the items are useful, please purchase from my site!
 
You may also be interested in:

Advent Calendar - Day One
A Year of Biblical Womanhood
Plant Whatever Brings You Joy
Blessing of the Animals

1) Photo by Wikimedia Commons

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Virtual Advent Calendar - Day One

Christmas tree (1)
The countdown to Christmas (Dec. 25), Yule (Dec. 22), Hannukah (Dec. 8 through 16) and Kwanzaa (Dec. 26 through Jan. 1) has begun! So much goes on at this time of year, and it's easy to get lost in the morass of buying and making gifts, baking, cooking, wrapping, decorating... You can lose yourself, and suddenly it's no longer a holy time but a horrible time.

This year I am going to be opening a virtual Advent Calendar door each day, sharing with you a quote or song or image, or a variety of the above. I hope that the short pause will give you back just a tiny bit of your sanity as you wade through this year's holiday season.

December 1st, the day we put up the tree and the decorations. For me, December is about holidays and holy days, and I don't want that to be part of the Thanksgiving holiday. I make a real stink about keeping Christmas/Yule in December, and other than the wreath on the front door, no decoration goes up before the first.

On the first, though... the gloves are off. The tree comes out of storage (we have family with allergies so we stick to a fake one) and everyone puts a few ornaments on it. The lights go up in the windows, and we use fake snow to paint images of sleds and Santa and other seasonal things on the windows.

The tree is always the crowning glory, though. There's something amazing about how a simple green tree (and in our case, a fake one!) can suddenly become something so much MORE. The glitter and gold, the ornaments new and old, all hang together. The lights sparkle, tinsel drapes delicately from the branches, and the first of the presents is smuggled under the protective boughs. That's magic, people, real life magic. For a little while we put away our frustrations and personal tiffs and we work on creating something that represents the whole family.

We hang our hearts on our tree. What do you hang on yours?

Check back often for book reviews, prayers, ceremonies and more. If you have questions or comments, please write to me below. I love to answer questions! You can follow the blog via Network Blogs and Google Friend Connect. If you purchase items I have linked through Amazon or the ads on my site, I receive an affiliate portion of the sale. If you find the items are useful, please purchase from my site!
 
You may also be interested in:

A Year of Biblical Womanhood
Plant Whatever Brings You Joy
Blessing of the Animals

1) Photo by Lotus Head / Wikimedia Commons

Monday, November 12, 2012

Chapter One: A Year of Biblical Womanhood

The front cover (1)
As some of you may know, I'm reading A Year of Biblical Womanhood right now. Written by Rachel Held Evans, it's a masterpiece of humor and serious information all blended into a paper binding. It has brought me to fits of laughter so many times my family is beginning to doubt my sanity.

The first chapter about the project is entitled Domesticity, and covers some of the basic ideals behind Biblical womanhood: cooking, cleaning, and being a sensible hostess. If you have any thoughts that these subjects are boring, set them aside now. Do NOT drink anything while you are reading this book. I'm serious. If you use a Kindle, like me, doubly so, because liquid and electronics do NOT mix.

Yes, they are cipollini onions! (2)
Today I went shopping with my sister. While we were there, we stopped in the produce department. I was browsing the more exotic fruits (well, at least for November in New England) when my eye fell upon a little plastic package: cipollini onions. I bust out in a belly laugh, which made my sister come over from the bananas to find out what was so funny. She, too, started laughing. We stood there, holding this package of cipollini onions and sniggering hysterically until I managed to take a photograph. You see, in her first chapter, Ms. Evans discusses working her way through one of Martha Stewart's cook books, and how difficult it was to find certain things in her area. She lives in a rural area and going shopping for her was more of a "meat and potatoes" thing until she countered Martha. She comments that her grocery list, " . . . came to three pages, typed and single-spaced, whose contents included unfamiliar items like cipollini onions, cremini mushrooms, slab bacon, and horseradish root, three of which proved wholly unavailable to residents of Rhea County."

Her sense of humor makes the book readable. The dry voice of most Biblical scholars is wonderful for research assistants and other scholars, but not necessarily the right way to educate the masses. Ms. Evans manages to inject enough humor into her subject matter that  you don't want to put the book down, even when it's late at night and you know you have to get up in the morning.

Rachel at home (3)
Her descriptions of cooking stuffed shells for Italian friends was hilarious, and the debacle concerning her home-made apple pie had me in stitches. My sister was snorting Diet Coke out her nose (hence the previous warning) because she's a baker and has a vivid imagination. If you want anyone in our family to laugh, now, simply mention "butter-bleeding pie."

All this humor does not bury her message, though. Ms. Evans skillfully brings us around to the main point: that God (or for my less Christian readers, God/dess(es) is the same force behind miracles and portents, and behind pots and pans and failed apple pies. The power of Deity follows us whether we're in temple or kitchen, synagogue or dining room. Even dirty dishes are not below (or above) the powers of Deity.

Check back often for book reviews, prayers, ceremonies and more. If you have questions or comments, please write to me below. I love to answer questions! You can follow the blog via Network Blogs and Google Friend Connect. If you purchase items I have linked through Amazon or the ads on my site, I receive an affiliate portion of the sale. If you find the items are useful, please purchase from my site!
 
You may also be interested in:


Rachel Held Evans, Author
Velveteen Rabbi: Cheering for Anat Hoffman
Plant Whatever Brings You Joy


1) Image by Maki Garcia Evans
2) Image by Rev. M. Allyson Szabo
3) Image by Dan Evans

Friday, November 2, 2012

Plant Whatever Brings You Joy by Kathryn Hall

Kathryn Hall
"Kathryn Hall is known worldwide for Plant Whatever Brings You Joy, her successful gardening blog, rated consistently as one fo the top ten gardening blogs in the world..." She currently lives in Northern California with her cats and dogs, and enjoys all things gardening. She's also a well known publicist, having spent over 30 years bringing books to the world. Her abilities on the page and in the garden are obvious as you read through her latest book, named after her website: Plant Whatever Brings You Joy: Blessed Wisdom from the Garden.

A few weeks ago I was offered the opportunity to review her book. I had found a quote from the book that touched me, and was quite pleased to be allowed to read the entire book.

While the book is easy to read, with personal stories and anecdotes, it takes a long time to digest. Each of the 52 chapters contains a short story and a bit of insight from the author's life, paired with garden practices. It is the type of book which lends itself to bathtub reading and late night sifting for gems of wisdom.

An example that truly touched me was in Chapter 39: Test and amend your soil. Ms. Hall says, "Yet how aware are we of our core beliefs and the very thoughts we feed ourselves on a daily basis that are determining the culture in which we live and grow?" This is one of those statements which is so true that it almost slaps you in the face. Our culture, our religion, our faith communities, our families all help amend the soil in which our soul grows. Ms. Hall asks us to take the time to evaluate just what we're putting into that metaphorical soil, and to use that knowledge to help determine whether we need to add more to it or if we're over-doing it.

Plant Whatever Brings You Joy is a meaty book, one that asks you to evaluate yourself over and over again. In a later chapter, Trim unwieldy branches, the reader is asked to examine her life and wonder where all the time and energy goes. Ms. Hall points out that the myriad of undone things each day saps our energy and steals our time from us. By putting ourselves in order, like trimming the unneeded branches from a sprawling tree or grape arbor, we make more time. There is less confusion, more understanding of where our energies need to be flowing. There are less dead ends, so to speak.

Each life lesson is matched to a gardening metaphor which helps highlight the important parts and illustrate what needs to be done. Whether she's raving over her gardeners and the lessons she learned from them, or laughing with you about the number of birds she ended up owning at one point in her life, Ms. Hall brings a comfortable humor to the situation. When she likens problems to weeds or blessings to fruits from the cultivated portions of the garden, she gives the reader something to grasp, to hold onto while trying to understand some very deep issues.

I truly like this book. It kept me engaged, and gave me a lot of things to mull over late at night. The electronic edition which I got for review has a few spelling and grammar errors, but not enough that it is distracting from the message. Being able to turn to my garden for spiritual ideas is a great thing, and Kathryn Hall does an excellent job in drawing it out clearly for us all.

Images by Estrella Catarina

Friday, October 19, 2012

Velveteen Rabbi: Cheering for Anat Hoffman

Velveteen Rabbi: Cheering for Anat Hoffman

I love reading Rabbi Rachel Barenblat's blog, The Velveteen Rabbi.  Between poems and prayers and discussions, she always manages to pique my interest in spiritual things outside my normal realms.

Other times, like this morning, she provides sad reminders that the world is not at peace. People still use religion as a club, as a way of trying to control others. It saddens me, because religion and spirituality ought to be the comfort to people living in war-torn areas of the world. Instead, it's used to hurt and injure them, emotionally and physically... and worse, to wound them spiritually.

Anat Hoffman was apparently at the West Wall praying, something that Jews in Israel do quite a lot of. The difference was that she chose to do so wearing a talit. She was arrested and taken away, treated poorly, then sentenced to a 30 day period when she's not allowed to go to the Wall.

The police arrested a woman for praying... with other women... Not a reactionary prayer, or something off the top of her head, but instead a prayer central to Judaism, the Shema. They arrested her essentially for wearing a scarf.


Thursday, October 18, 2012

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Rachel Held Evans, Author

I am incredibly honored to have been chosen to be one of the reviewers of Rachel Held Evans' newest book, A Year of Biblical Womanhood. I started reading Rachel's blog about three months before she completed her actual year of Biblical living, having been pointed to her as a person who was both sensible and reasonable in her arguments and dialogues. I was completely drawn in by her honesty, her willingness to address difficult questions, and her moral high ground taken when people were ready to attack or put her down.

I've been eagerly awaiting the release of this book since that time, and when the request for reviewers was made, I jumped at the chance. There were so many who applied, and only a few of us were chosen (though the number is still large!). I'm excited, bouncy, and already reading the book. I'm only a couple of pages into the first chapter and have already been laughing uproariously and scaring my children.

It's not a tiny book, so it may be a couple of weeks before you see my review. As I go through the chapters, however, I'll jot down some of my impressions as they happen. Just to leave you with a tidbit, though, I'll share one of her most recent videos, made about her "time in the tent" during her year's journey. I hope you enjoy Rachel's sense of humor as much as I do!


A bit about Rachel Held Evans:
Rachel Held Evans is an award-winning author and popular blogger from Dayton, Tennessee--home of the Scopes Monkey Trial of 1925. Her first book, Evolving in Monkey Town (Zondervan, 2010), explores the relationship between faith and doubt and recounts the challenges of asking tough questions about Christianity in the context of the Bible Belt. Her second book, A Year of Biblical Womanhood (Thomas Nelson, 2012), documents a year-long experiment in which she attempted to follow all of the Bible’s instructions for women as literally as possible.

In addition to her writing, Rachel keeps a busy speaking schedule, travelling across the country for retreats, conferences, universities and churches. She has been featured on NPR, Slate, The BBC, The Washington Post, The Times London, The Huffington Post, and Oprah.com, and was recently named one of Christianity Today's "50 Women to Watch."

She is happily married to Dan and is a lifelong Alabama Crimson Tide fan.

For some reviews and talk about A Year of Biblical Womanhood you might want to check out the following:

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Blessing of the Animals

Copyright
On Sunday, October 14th, 2012, I will be presenting a Blessing of the Animals at the Cathedral of the Pines in Rindge, NH. The service will be held at the St. Francis of Assisi chapel at 3:00 p.m. All animals are welcome! If you have a cat or dog, snake, alpaca, camel, reptile, or other animal that you would like to have blessed, please bring them along for the event.

The entire day, from 10:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. is dedicated to animals of all kinds, and the local shelter will be there with animals for adoption. This is a family friendly, interfaith celebration of our furry, scaled and winged friends. Bring a picnic lunch and make a day of it, and enjoy spending time with other pet lovers!

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Fighting Over God’s Image - NYTimes.com

Fighting Over God’s Image - NYTimes.com

This is a fairly good article on the history of Divine images in America. The author talks about how influxes of immigrants forced Americans to deal with images even though our earliest white settlers were against the idea. This is held in stark opposition to the violence and anger in Muslim countries over depictions of God and Mohammad. 

Friday, September 21, 2012

Politics

As a minister, I try to stay out of making political statements. I have my own opinions, and I share them with friends and family, but I'm not prone to making large, sweeping statements on blog or FaceBook. I don't think it's my place to share my opinion as a minister; instead I feel it is my place to help guide people to right thinking, which will allow them to vote as their conscience demands.

The above cartoon hit my FaceBook page this morning. At first I chuckled. Then I sighed. I understand what the cartoonist meant by it, of course, and to some extent I agree. Yet I wondered what the point was, in making it about children.

Let's deconstruct this little cartoon. The children have arrived with bags full of candy, and the gentleman wants to take bunches of that candy and give it to kids "too lazy" to trick or treat for themselves. This is designed to get us frustrated or angry. This is compounded by the witch's comment that it's a Democrat they're dealing with, just in case anyone missed the obvious.

What if we changed the man's statement a little bit, to read, "I'm going to take half and give it to kids who were unable to go trick or treating." Would that change your opinion? Why?

When I made the change myself, and read it and tried to internalize it, my knee-jerk reaction was to feel "better" about the taking of the children's candy. Then I asked myself that awful question: WHY? Why did it feel better? It felt better because it wasn't for "those evil lazy children" but instead for "some poor disabled children." That seemed to justify the taking of the candy.

This leads us back to wondering why it's alright to take the candy to begin with. I know when I've gone out with our kids, if there was a child unable to trick or treat because of illness or some other issue, we've offered to take around an extra bag and a picture of the child. I know many people who do this. It seems to be the right thing to do.

The man taking the candy from the other children represents the government, who are taking our taxes from us to do (presumably) benevolent things for us and our country. The problem we run into is that the government, unlike the man above, doesn't know who's lazy and who's ill. In order to make it fair, they have to distribute things evenly. The belief is that it is worth giving some lazy people money, because truly poor people will get money too.

I don't agree with that. It's not that I don't feel we shouldn't help those who need help, be they poor, injured, disabled or whatever. Quite the opposite, in fact! I believe that communities should be the ones helping out those in their district that are in need. A community can do what a government cannot. A community knows who's just taking and not giving back, and who really needs it.

In my own example above, I knew who needed the candy (well, if anyone can be said to NEED candy). I helped out because I could. I wouldn't have done the same for a kid who just wanted to stay home and eat sugar. There was no reason for me to give candy to random children who might, or might not, be ill. I knew who in my little community needed it.

I am not interested in taking benefits away from people who are struggling to make ends meet. What I would like to see, and what I don't think either party gets, is that the government can't do it. The government is too big, too unwieldy, too unable to see what its various parts are doing. As the saying goes, its left hand doesn't know what it's right hand is doing.

I am interested in seeing welfare become something useful again, something designed to help you out of a tight spot, to get you through the emergency until you can do something again. I'd like to see it designed to help re-train people who can't do what they were doing before due to injuries or issues.

Think what we could do if we took the community viewpoint and ran with it. We could encourage people, put them on positive rather than negative ground. We'd know who needed daycare help, and could get it to them, because we wouldn't be wasting money on people who were fully capable of working and just weren't.

One thing I don't think most people understand, is that the few people who do mess with the system tend to do a lot of damage. To put it in to perspective, having one "single mother who keeps popping out babies from different fathers every two years" (something I have, unfortunately, witnessed personally) in order to stay on the dole, eats up the benefits of several small families who could really use it. Is it a fantastic life that the single mother lives? Probably not, but it's where she's chosen to go.

We need to stop thinking about these things in terms of "dead baby stories" and start looking at those who really are around us. I know so many people who could really use welfare, but who are refused for stupid things beyond their control. I know at least as many people who are getting more money living off welfare than I take home in a month. This is a sad situation. The system is broken.

I'd like to suggest we start helping out our own communities, by metaphorically offering to collect candy for kids who can't go out on their own. I don't want to give MY candy to someone in Dallas, TX. I do want to be able to help out those I know, even if only as an acquaintance. Communities do a surprisingly good job of helping out their own, after all.