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Archive for November, 2007

There was a conversation over at 4Real today about gift-giving to large families. It seems I have it pretty easy in my family. Most years we don’t even see very many folks and Eric’s side of the family includes several people who every year claim they are “going very simple” this time around. That never really turns out to be the case especially when it comes to our children who are the only little ones for the time being. In any case, I do see it as permission to keep things simple ourselves which this year is much appreciated.

It is very challenging to find gifts to purchase that are both inexpensive and meaningful. Unless, as is the case with my husband, you are a lover of used books or other second-hand goods. Giving homemade gifts seems like the best route. Homemade gifts show the giver that you appreciate them enough to invest in a thoughtful gift but they do not require a lot of expense (usually) and can help foster a simpler attitude towards Christmas gift-giving. I am not at all crafty and I am wary of giving gifts that ask to be displayed in someone’s home. I was waffling on the idea of food gifts until I got a Harry and David catalog in the mail. There are whole industries devoted to food gifts: I guess people like them. I’m a pretty good baker, but baked goods are abundant this time of year. In my search for something original, simple, elegant and healthier-than-average I hit on the idea of “gourmet” spice mixes. I’ve pulled them from the pages of The Grassfed Gourmet by Shannon Hayes, which is an excellent cookbook. Before I received it as a gift last Christmas our family thought we just didn’t like grassfed meats. Every recipe in this book is delightful and I’ve gotten profuse compliments every time I’ve served food prepared with these rubs. There are about a dozen spice rub recipes in the book. These four were chosen for variety and because they are a good mix of traditional and adventurous. I’m planning to make enough for about 12 half-cup gifts. I’m able to buy bulk spices at a good price and, before packaging, these will come in at $3.00 per set of four mixes.

Barbecue Spice Rub (pork, beef, chicken)
1/2 c. chili powder
3 T ground black pepper
4 T sugar
3 T coarse salt
2 T paprika

Cumin-Cinnamon Rub (our favorite on beef steaks)
1 1/2 T chili powder
1 1/2 T ground cumin
1 T ground coriander
1 1/2 T coarse salt
1 t. sugar
1 t. ground pepper
1 1/2 t. cinnamon
1/2 t. cayenne

Garlic-Herb Rub (pork, lamb,veal, venison, goat, beef)
1 T dried thyme
1 T dried rosemary
2 T dried oregano
1 t. ground fennel
2 t. garlic powder
1 1/2 T coarse salt
2 t. ground pepper

Moroccan Spice Rub (pork, lamb)
2 T ground nutmeg
1 T coarse salt
1 T ground ginger
2 t. ground pepper
2 t. ground mace
1 t. ground cinnamon
2 t. ground allspice

Happy gift-giving all!

My series on making my house fair is at an end, I’m afraid. My sister is coming into town tomorrow for some Christmas shopping (ironic given that I don’t have any to do!). It’s been a good, motivating week, and I’m looking forward to acquiring some much-needed desk organization materials on Saturday so I can get to the bottom of The Basket.

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Prove me right!

I broke my own blog-reading rules today and followed a link that I knew would be distracting over at Simcha’s blog.

This organization, Free Rice is running a vocabulary game that allows the player to donate rice for every correctly answered question. The rice is donated through the UN World Food Program. Normally, I wouldn’t be wild about supporting anything that is filtered through the UN and you may feel the same and, therefore, don’t want to play this game.

If you’re still with me . . . this site intrigues me for a few reasons. First, Simcha claims that they tried to set up as a non-profit and found the process too cumbersome so they set up this for-profit but they don’t keep any of their earnings. I think that’s ingenious. They’ve created a fun game that is also educational and is designed to only really work if a human plays it. They’ve built in levels to keep us motivated to play. I love for-profit thinking!

I was irked to read in the FAQs, however, a subtle implication that homemakers would need lower-level vocabulary words (maybe I’m just paranoid). Anyway, I have long had a theory that homemakers, particularly homeschooling, blogging homemakers are of above-average intelligence. So, if you aren’t adverse to supporting the UN, play the game for a few minutes and let me know what your highest level is. I’m not ashamed to say that after donating about 600 grains of rice I had only gotten to level 44. Simcha says she’s gotten to 48 which Free Rice says is about the highest most people get (the absolute highest is 50).

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I’m really on a roll. This is great. This was the whole point of my blog in the first place–to motivate me in my vocation. I’m glad that I’ve finally hit on a theme that is both specific enough to focus me and general enough to allow for creativity. (Thanks, Robyn!)

I cleaned off the “dresser”. This piece of furniture is a wooden filing cabinet we picked up at a yard sale just before we moved. It was a smart buy in that we needed the extra storage but not so smart in that we didn’t have our new apartment settled and space here is a bit tight. It’s not sturdy enough to hold files but it does serve us well. The top drawer is my collection of kitchen linens–a collection I wish were much larger but my tastes run on the expensive side in that department. The middle drawer is for bulk spice storage and the bottom drawer is one of those “miscellaneous” areas that could probably be cleaned out and put to better use. I want the top to be an uncluttered display area but things always get dumped there. I’m not entirely happy with it but the extra clutter, at least, is gone. I have always meant to make a cover for my sewing machine. If I ever get some of my projects completed I could put it in a cabinet with my other sewing stuff. The fruit bowl is our table centerpiece but is always getting moved. The little statue which may not be visible in the picture is a reproduction of my favorite statue from the National Shrine here in DC–the Flight Into Egypt. The picture above is us greeting Pope John Paul II about a week after our wedding. It got lots of comments when we worked in a dorm full of Evangelical college students.

The desk is also clear but the debris is not yet sorted. The problem remains of where to put everything. I gave it some thought and did some web-surfing today and I think I’m going to purchase an open file crate and two baskets. The file crate will go next to the printer and the baskets on the shelf below. The baskets are for storing stationery and other desk supplies which, amazingly, my children have no interest in pulling down–at least not yet. I may write more someday about the file system once I make sure that it actually works!

I have a can of stain for this desk. I hate the light-colored unfinished wood and the dorm-room look of it all but this is what we could do, for now. We recently moved the computer to standing height to discourage us both from lingering too long. It has mostly worked. In any case, I now nurse Margaret with a book instead of in front of the computer. The books on the top two shelves are nothing in particular–just what fits. Our book sorting project is still a work in progress.

I also managed to get the kitchen entirely clean this evening.

Tomorrow:
the top of my dresser–another favorite dump site
the bookshelves–not entirely resorting them but removing things that aren’t books and thinning out a few double-stacked sections.

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I don’t want to say this day wasn’t a success just because I didn’t exactly accomplish my goals. I admit that I walked up to my desk a few times today and had absolutely no idea how to begin. It is still a wreck and I thought about taking a before picture but our camera is dead, which fact became yet another reason to avoid clearing my desk. But, really, I know what I need to do. Everything needs to be swept into my my “inbox.” I’ve done it before with the thought to blog about my amazing organizational system. That’s why I have a picture of it. But that blog post never appeared because I still haven’t gotten to the bottom of that basket filling event and my organizational system is looking less amazing as a result. The method involves taking items one at a time from the basket and acting on it decisively. Trouble is, most of the things in that basket have no place or their place is within easy reach of a certain one-year old so they all end up back on my desk anyway. I’ll keep at it tomorrow.

My day, however, was not a failure. I did clean out the kitchen freezer to great effect. My bulk soup project is going to have to wait until we eat some of the stuff currently taking up room in our freezers. I did create a lot more room in this smaller freezer but what our freezer has in size it makes up for in poor design. The newly-created elbow room for my ice cream is only serving to keep the items from falling out every time I open the door.

I also did a lot of work on Christmas presents. For a variety of reasons I wanted to go all-homemade this year. The obvious way for me to accomplish that is by giving food since I’m not really crafty. I settled, finally, on “gourmet” spice rub blends since my co-op has a great deal on bulk spices. I’m giving everyone a half cup or so of four different rubs for a total cost of about 3.50 per recipient–before packaging. Which leads me to a question for my faithful, creative readers. How to package these? I want the packaging to be reasonably airtight and label-able. I don’t mind giving reusable containers and making that sort of part of the gift and I’m thinking of these jars. (Which, incidentally, I’m buying for my own spices the minute we have a place to nicely store such things). How would you label these? Any better ideas for packaging?

Not a bad day considering we had a breakfast guest, we were out for the morning through lunch and Margaret clung to me desperately all afternoon before taking an hour to fall asleep this evening. And neither kid napped.

So, tomorrow:

The desk. Really.
The top of “the dresser” in our living room. We don’t know what to call this piece of furniture but it’s top surface is the perfect dumping height.

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I actually did it. Maybe I am a goal-oriented worker.

By dinnertime all the laundry was washed, folded and put away. And it was a lot of laundry. I was counting on a good two hours this evening to get the freezers organized and all the other evening chores done. I forgot, of course, that Eric switched his weekly Holy Hour to Monday night from 6-7. I was trying out a new recipe this evening and it took longer than usual. The kids had tandem meltdowns at 6:15 and I decided to put Margaret to bed since she’s usually ready by 6:30 anyway. At 6:45 I took up dinner once again. At 7:00 Margaret woke up–very unusual for her–and she stayed up until she heard her Daddy come home half an hour later. She adores her father lately, so bedtime was over. We didn’t finish eating until well after 8:00 and I took Margaret back to bed. She nursed for awhile and then threw up all over me. A few times. Also very unusual. By 9:00 she was back asleep and, undeterred, I decided to tackle the chest freezer despite being ninety minutes behind schedule. Tasks never take as long as I think they will (unless that task is preparing a meal).

I love having this freezer. It saves time and money in several ways but the only way to make it work is to have an accurate inventory. There is just no way to remember everything in there and use it without a list. We had an inventory going for a long time but since we moved this summer we’ve used the “hope and rummage” method. It’s now absolutely full and that method is really failing me. Just at the point that every last item was on the floor and written on my clipboard (and my back was breaking) Margaret woke up again. After settling her I repacked the freezer, really hoping to find more space in there for a bulk cooking project next week. No luck.

The good news is that I unearthed a half gallon of Breyer’s chocolate ice cream and that break to nurse Margaret tempered it to the perfect scooping temperature. And, because not only did I do all the laundry and inventory the freezer but also made bread and yogurt and planned a big bulk cooking week, I thought I’d have some.

The kitchen is a mess but that wasn’t on my list today, was it? Well–Margaret doesn’t usually end her days by drenching me in, well, whatever . . . I’ll get to the dishes tomorrow. Might as well let the mice party one more night.

Eric very wisely suggested that my pre-Advent cleaning spree focus less on deep cleaning and more on organizational problems. I think that’s wise, so with that in mind

Tomorrow’s goals:
inventory the kitchen freezer and try to make it neater
reclaim my desk

Is all this exciting for anyone else?

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I confess: the reason I wanted to host this Loveliness Fair is that I am in love with liturgical year ideas as are many of the women in the 4Real community who are the main participants in these fairs. I figured this fair would be a bonanza of liturgical year ideas and I didn’t want to miss any of them. I’m an obsessive planner and this was to be an oh-so-indulgent blog post.

Many good ideas arrived in my inbox but also several timely reminders not to overdo, not to seek perfection, and not to let Advent get away from us in the mad dash towards Christmas. With that in mind . . .

I’m a huge fan of the O Antiphons–said with Evening Prayer from December 17-24 each year. As we get to that part of our family prayer life each year I dream about various beautiful ways to include them in our home during Advent. The biggest reason I haven’t done anything is that I can never decide if my O Antiphon tribute should be done in English or Latin. Sally at Fine Old Famly offers what she planned to do last year and what she ended up doing and it all sounds beautiful. And, I hope Sally doesn’t mind if I point you to some of her more recent posts on making her home “fair as she is able.”

If reading about ornaments and O Antiphon houses gets you in a crafty mood, do stop by and visit the ever-creative-and-organized Dawn at By Sun and Candlelight. I’m terribly envious of Dawn’s window and I’m thinking, perhaps, of dressing up our roman-shade decked windows with cards this year. Marianne at Learning to Love is also trying to keep herself organized by sharing her list of Advent plans. I’m looking forward to teaching my kids Christmas carols on musical instruments some day, too! If you’re like me and your crafting skills are a bit lacking and you are on a budget, Cay at Cajun Cottage Under the Oaks has a few ideas to consider.

Prone to discouragement as I am–especially in the face of the highly organized–I am very glad to see that Elizabeth at Real Learning is sharing some of her non-blog Advent and Christmas writings with us. Elizabeth’s writing never fails to inspire and encourage me. If you are feeling overwhelmed as you face the season this is the place to go. Do make sure to click through to read Elizabeth’s story of last year’s Christmas tree. Cay also offers a timely reminder from John Greenleaf Whittier to look to others this Advent and Christmas.

For my part, I always hope to get the more mundane side of prepare done before Advent arrives. Every year I hope to do a major housecleaning leading up to the first Sunday of Advent. Our family tries very hard to save Christmas for Christmas. The tree goes up the 23rd and is decorated Christmas Eve. I’ll bake but we try not to eat the goodies until Christmas. Gifts are saved until Christmas morning, of course, and the opening is stretched out until New Year’s, at least. I want Advent to be a time of quiet, reflection, extra prayer, and snuggling close as a family. It sounds like Cheryl at My Thoughtful Spot shares these desires and is planning to follow the advice of her family to snuggle together this Advent.

There are lots and lots of great Advent ideas out there in the blogosphere and at 4Real. It’s tempting for me, I know, to rush around trying to fill up the season for my three-year old who is really ready for a bit of structure. I actually considered making (this week) a Jesse Tree quilt complete with a few dozen cloth symbols and an equal number of buttons and buttonholes to affix them. Then I remembered how burned out and snippy and not very reflective/prayerful/quiet/snuggly that would be. Maybe next year. If I start in January. Go look at all the great ideas out there, but remember to pray, hold your family close, and await the Christ Child in peace.

God Bless!

Here’s another contribution that came in from Ruth at Just Another Day in Paradise. She has lots of great ideas for celebrating Advent and the feasts in December. Lots of links just in her post!

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Making my house fair

People, look East, the time is near
Of the crowning of the year.
Make your house as fair as you’re able,
Trim the hearth, and set the table.
People, look east, and sing today:
Love, the Guest, is on the way.

Stars, keep the watch, when night is dim.
One more light the bowl shall brim.
Shining beyond the frosty weather,
Bright as the sun and moon together.
People, look east, and sing today:
Love, the Star, is on the way.

Angels, announce, with shouts of mirth
Him Who brings new life to earth.
Set ev’ry peak and valley humming
With the word, “The Lord is coming!”
People, look east, and sing today:
Love, the Lord, is on the way.

Back in my Anglican days I was in a church choir. I probably didn’t really deserve to be in this choir but the director thought I really added something. I really can’t sing all that well but maybe I’ve got one of those nice blendy choir voices? In any case, it was sure a lot of fun. My last Lessons and Carols service included the above piece. I absolutely loved it and was glad that we used it as the post-communion piece one Sunday AND that my conducting class for my music degree used it as one of our study pieces. Between church choir and conducting class I sang that piece well over a hundred times in the space of about four weeks and I never tired of it. Oddly, I’ve never really heard it since, but I’ve been thinking all the last week about the spirit of preparation embodied in this hymn. Two of my favorite bloggers have referenced it recently, so I guess it isn’t entirely unknown (check back tomorrow for said bloggers in the Loveliness Fair).

Every year I want to make Lent a time of intense spring cleaning and the week between Christ the King and Advent a smaller fall cleaning. I have thus far utterly failed but I’m not giving up! Just because normal household upkeep defies my on a daily basis is no reason not to attempt huge projects. Part of my recent blog resurrection was the hope that I could use this forum as a self-motivational tool, so here it goes.

Tomorrow’s goals: the back room. We call it the study though not much of that sort of thing goes on back there. It’s also the laundry room and contains our chest freezer. It’s a wreck and there aren’t that many ways I can fix it but here is my to-do list:

Laundry, laundry, and more laundry. The hanging everything to dry method is okay but slower and I need to rethink my laundry routine. For tomorrow, everything is going straight to the dryer so that I can get back on top of the laundry mountain and get everything put away. I also need to do other work in there which would be impossible with a full clothesline.

Inventory the chest freezer. Which is full. At least it’s nice and cold back there (no heat here, yet, at 63 degrees).

Sweep the floors.

Water the plant.

Fill up the few empty bookshelves with some of the double-stacked books from the front room.

If you really care about my housekeeping, check back tomorrow night for a report and for Tuesday’s ambitious goals.

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