Friday, December 30, 2011

When busily snapping photos and movies of everything Christmasy, especially grandchildren and decorations, I inadvertently caught my (distorted) documentarist self in a glass ball.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Christ is Born! Glorify Him!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Getting the cookies ready - Christmas

from the family of Soldier's Joy

My mother-in-law introduced me to the tradition of having cookies at this season of year, and I have made an obsession out of it. I have been trying to cut back, because often in the last decade there aren't enough young or thin people around, people who eat cookies with abandon.

But preparing several kinds and stashing them in the freezer has become a tradition, and this year, in anticipation of having many potential appreciators in the house, I have been enjoying baking. There must be some connection to childlikeness there, but I can't get into thinking too much about it, because the cookies that are in the oven right now might burn while I am philosophizing.

So I will just give you some pictures and recipes for a few of the favorites we have discovered over the years. I wrote before with photos of Neapolitans. They are beautiful cookies and very nice to eat, too!


Bizcochitos are the State Cookie of New Mexico. They have anise and cinnamon and crunch, and many local variations.

Chunky Ginger Spice

Chunky Ginger Cookies are full of spice including ginger in the chewy crystalline form.

I have a whole book of Peppernut cookie history and recipes, given to me by a friend many years ago, but I insisted on devising my own recipe, which includes diced fruit-flavored gumdrops and makes cookies that are no bigger than nuts.

Diced Gumdrops for GJ Peppernuts

A couple of years ago I found Chocolate Macaroons on the Odense website. The only change I made from their recipe is to use extra-large egg whites. The dough seems to me a little runny (even when I tried adding a little extra flour) to be called "paste," but after sitting in the fridge overnight it was easily rolled into a ball that baked into a nicely shaped cookie. The main ingredient is almond paste, so if you like marzipan you will appreciate them.

This is my last post for Pom Pom's Childlike Christmas Party. I'm glad she hosted the party, because it gave me the structure I needed to get any blogging at all done in this busy month. Thank you, Pom Pom!

It's been very much fun! Merry Christmas to all! And if you have cookies at Christmas, please eat one of each kind for me.

Chocolate Macaroons

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Snowmen and Jello - Christmas

Two Glad Grandboys
While we are waiting for Christmas and preparing our gifts, and thinking about what Santa and our parents are preparing for us, children are lucky if we have some snow around with which to build a snowman or snowlady.

My own grandchildren sometimes have that. But when I was a child, I only had the beloved "Frosty the Snowman" 45 to play on my little record player.

It's the only record I remember from my youth until I bought such ones as "Like a Rolling Stone," and I listened to the Frosty tale over and over so that I can still hear the voice -- maybe it was Red Foley -- in my head. On the other side he sang "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer." The image below is not quite like what I owned, but it evokes the memory well enough.

I remain snowless, and don't mind a bit. Besides, I can watch "The Snowman" on video. Those who lack the technology for watching movies (and I know there must be some of those people still, though they are probably not the ones reading this) could read the wordless book The Snowman.

But the video is so enchanting, with its haunting tune. The first time I borrowed the movie from the library, it was a version with the song, but since then I have only found it with a purely instrumental score. We are all fortunate now, and I am more than pleased, because I can share with you what I found on YouTube, a clip that includes sung lyrics of "Walking in the Air."

When I turned fifty a friend took me browsing in a quilt shop to pick out a few pieces of fabric as a birthday present from her. Several prints called to mind images from the adventures of the snowman and his little boy, and I took rectangles of them home with a theme brewing.

I sewed by hand several potholders that I call my Snowman Potholders. Of course, they have nothing to do with Christmas, except for their frequent role in pulling pies out of the oven for Christmas dinner.

Waiting....We Orthodox are still waiting until December 25 (or January 7) for the feast and waiting to feast, because we are preparing our hearts, which are tightly bound to our bodies. But participation in the Advent fast needn't mean that children of any age must forgo all goodies. I made this festive rainbow jello for one Christmas Day, but while we are still fasting it seems to me it could easily be made with some soy or coconut milk replacing the small dairy part of the recipe.


1 (3 oz.) package (each flavor) raspberry, lime, orange, lemon, and strawberry Jell-O

6-1/4 cups water
1-1/4 cups evaporated milk

Dissolve raspberry Jell-O in 1 cup boiling water. Remove 1/2 of Jell-O to a bowl and add 1/4 cup cold water. Place into a 9-inch square pan. Place in refrigerator until slightly firm. To the remaining half of Jell-O, add 1/4 cup evaporated milk. Cool and place over slightly firm layer in pan. Continue procedure with remaining flavors of Jell-O in this order: lime, orange, lemon, and strawberry. Cool each mixture before layering. Chill completely. Cut into squares to serve. Yield: serves 8 to 12. 

Now I'm trying to figure out how to tweak this colorful recipe into a frozen dessert. It already has the brightness of Tolkien's wintery image, and I think I might attract my snowmen friends to my holiday table if I just advertise that for dessert we are serving a treat called "Northern Lights."

(This is the third in my contributions to Pom Pom's Childlike Christmas Party.)

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

A Beloved American Saint

It seems fitting that we commemorate St. Herman of Alaska on this date, when winter is making itself felt. I've written before here and here about Father Herman, how he spurned the cold, befriended the animals, and interceded between the Aleuts and the powerful people who would exploit them.

His is a good example in the Advent season, of how to keep our hearts and activities focused on the Kingdom of God in the face of distractions. And if we have a church service to attend where we can share in the Life of Christ together with Saint Herman and all the Cloud of Witnesses, we are very blessed!

I just learned (and am adding this paragraph to my original post) that today is also the anniversary of the repose of Father Alexander Schmemann, another shining star in our church family. This note about both men leads to further inspiration from and about Fr. Alexander, who rests firmly in the tradition of Saint Herman. I'm ever so thankful to have this coinciding of the celebration of two of my favorites.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Keeping More than Sanity

I was very blessed by reading a column from the "Living Faith" page of an Orthodox Church's parish website, about how to keep Christmas in a way that is more in keeping with an Orthodox Christian way of life than that of the dominant culture. I can't bear to leave out any of its very practical and refreshing advice, so I am passing it on in its entirety. If any one of us could implement even one new tradition from these suggestions, the Holy Spirit might enrich us through it.

Dear Baba,

We're going to begin Nativity Lent [Advent] in just a couple of days. My kids are already bouncing off the walls with excitement about Christmas, the stores are already getting decorated and I'm feeling lost in the holiday madness and we haven't even started Lent yet. How do we make it to Christmas and keep our sanity? - Overwhelmed

Dear Overwhelmed friend; First of all, come sit down and have a restorative cup of tea and we'll talk about some of the wonderful ideas that are out there. And please consider chatting with friends from church and see what other ideas they have for keeping things in their proper perspective. Remember as we approach the Nativity of Our Lord, that He was born in a simple cave and laid in a manger. I think it is not by chance that the first gospel reading during Nativity Lent is about the man who built bigger barns for all his possessions. It is a rather sobering start to the Lenten journey don't you think? We all have started putting such expectations on ourselves for over-the-top extravagance, so let's see where we lost the message in all that.

  • I have heard it often said that Nativity Lent is a time for us to prepare the cave within us for the coming of the Christ Child. As such, our lives should be simpler, quieter and focused on prayer, fasting and almsgiving. The season has become so very noisy that it is harder and harder to prepare. And yet haven't you noticed how more and more people crave something besides the chaos? I think the most frustrating is the silliness of people deciding the 12 days of Christmas start December 13. Where on earth did that come from? We celebrate the 12 days of Christmas between the Nativity and Theophany. So here are some ideas to prepare for and then enjoy the 12 days of celebrations:
  • Be warned with children that anything can happen despite our best intentions. I know one mom who worked very hard through all of Nativity Lent to keep the focus on Christ. There was none of the craziness and none of the consumerism. On Christmas Eve when her 4 year old balked at going to church, she thought the lesson surely had taken so she asked him why he thought they were going to church. In all seriousness he replied "so we can pray to Santa for more presents." Nothing quite like children to keep us humble.
  • So please take all these ideas with a grain of salt remembering to not allow "simplifying" to become a huge, exhausting task. For starters, try to break Nativity preparations into smaller bites. There are many milestones along the journey that will make the Lenten journey meaningful and perhaps not so overwhelming. There are incredible saints commemorated along this journey to the Nativity like St. Andrew, St. Barbara, St. Nicholas, St Herman of Alaska, St. Ignatius and others. These are great stories indeed. Celebrate their feast days. It isn't a distraction and the focus won't be lost as their lives point to Christ.
  • Celebrate St. Nicholas Day on December 6. I know many families who have their children put out their shoes on the December 5. In the morning there are apples, raisins and various treats in their shoes and maybe a small gift. It is simple but a great milestone on the way to the Nativity. Some will do something in honor of St. Nicholas for a charity, perhaps volunteering at a soup kitchen or shelter. This is especially viable with older children.
  • At the beginning of Nativity Lent, I know a family that would set a basket by their icon corner. Pieces of yarn a couple of inches long were piled next to the basket. Over the course of Nativity Lent after evening prayers, the children would put a piece of yarn in the basket for every good deed they did on that particular day. They did so quietly and without fanfare. On Christmas Eve, the family would take the baby Jesus from their manger scene and lay him in the basket – a soft, warm place filled with good deeds for him to lay his head.
  • Pick a family secret pal; I've seen it called a Krist Kindl (Christ child). At the beginning of Nativity Lent every member of the family picks a name and it is kept secret. Little ones will need a parent's help of course. Throughout Nativity Lent they will leave messages of love and support in all sorts of places like in pajama pockets, lunches, in their socks. Getting creative is half the fun. Reacting jubilantly to getting "Krist Kindled" is equally fun. The rule was that even if you figured out who your Krist Kindl was, you wouldn't let on. On Christmas Eve the Krist Kindl's were all revealed.
  • You may also consider decorating your house closer to the Nativity and then leave the decorations up and the lights on through the 12 days of Christmas. In the old country, many decorate the house on Christmas Eve day and not before. That may not be feasible but definitely celebrate the full feast not just one blitz of opening packages on Christmas morning. You don't want to be sick of it all when the 12 days of feasting are just beginning.
  • Speaking of packages. There is almost a nauseating dizziness to ripping open the packages in a single frenzied rush don't you think? No one lingers over the gifts carefully and lovingly chosen, and then within minutes, they sit back exhausted and Christmas is over. Tragic I think. I know some families who open maybe a gift or so on Christmas Eve, a few more Christmas morning after liturgy and maybe another few Christmas Day night. For those with big hauls, I've seen parents spread it out to a gift a day over the 12 days of Christmas or at least a few days. Now granted, the obviously squishy package with socks or a sweater from Aunt Bertha will probably get relegated to last but still, each gift should be lingered over and enjoyed.
  • And absolutely critical to all of this: be in church. You should be there as much as possible throughout Nativity Lent and especially for the vigil on Christmas Eve and for Liturgy on Christmas morning. Put it in perspective and don't look at it as another thing on your to do list. The services are there to strengthen us, calm our souls and to give us the time to lay aside earthly cares. And best of all, we can commune with Our God. The gifts can wait a bit longer don't you think? It isn't all about Santa despite the opinion of a certain 4 year old. It is about the incarnation of Our Lord and Savior when He took on flesh and came and dwelt among us. We can be there. The last Gospel reading before the Sunday of the Genealogy of Our Lord (also known more humorously as the Sunday of the Begets), is about the King who has a banquet and invites many but they all have excuses. Let's not make shopping, parties and over the top consumerism our excuse to turn down the invitation to the banquet.
I love the words of the Nativity hymn. Nothing else need be said of the nature of the gifts all of creation offers:

What shall we offer Thee, O Christ, Who for our sakes hast appeared on earth as man?

Every creature made by Thee offers Thee thanks;

The angels offer a hymn; The heavens a star; The wise men gifts;

The shepherds, their wonder; The earth, its cave; The wilderness, a manger.
And we offer Thee a virgin mother.

O pre-eternal God, have mercy on us!

With enveloping hugs;


St. Mary of Egypt Orthodox Church
Written by Brantley Hobbs, 2008

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Wait until after this date - Christmas

Tolkien's Northern Lights

One of our children has a birthday on Pearl Harbor Day, which is today. So as not to take away from the specialness of that child's celebrations, in the past we didn't get into the swing of Christmas until the 8th, and even St. Nicholas Day passed without any notice, because in that era even I wasn't cued in to feast days.

Now I'm thankful for that habit of delaying, which makes it easier to practice my present Orthodox unwillingness to jump ahead too much. And every day, every week in the church calendar holds a rich and festive remembrance of a person of faith or an event in our salvation history, so that the Waiting for Christmas period is full of bright days that make the time pass quickly. St. Nicholas, for example. But that holy man was at the center of much childlike fun yesterday, and we are moving on already!

Following our family traditions, then, Mr. Glad and I give ourselves permission to get and decorate a tree as early as tomorrow. Still I drag my feet, so as to nudge the bulk of merrymaking toward the Twelve Days of Christmas, the old-fashioned time to rejoice and feast. Our son-in-law fondly remembers Christmas in Ireland when for two weeks after Christmas many people were on vacation, and shops were closed. So much for the cash-register noise.

As we decorate the house, there are a dozen childlike joys to partake of, often involving memories of Christmases of 20 or even 50 years ago. And some of those are bittersweet, as memories can be. When Gus the Cat was still alive he made us laugh, the way he stalked the tree lights. This picture is a little bit sad for me, because we don't have him anymore.

I like the tradition of keeping back the Baby Jesus from the crèche until Christmas Day; the manger waits empty until then. But in my Nativity set, the baby is glued to the manger, so He is forced to "arrive" way early. At least, these Santas are alone and in this photo they are sort of in the dark so far. Their situation changes when the Light of the World comes to earth.

Some of the participants in Pom Pom's Childlike Christmas party have written about their own memories of Christmas when they were children. Though it didn't occur to my philosophical mind at first, it seems obvious now that what each of us retains with fondness of our own most distant Christmases Past will influence the definition of childlike for us.
Waiting for Christmas - GJ on the right.

The black-and-white photo below shows a glimpse of Christmas as it was for me before I can remember, and it was taken at my grandma's house in Berkeley, where we never gathered for Christmas the years that I can remember.

The important thing is that the picture is connected to my maternal grandma, and without fail we knew that Christmas had arrived when my grandma and grandpa's car announced their coming by the crunching of the driveway gravel, and the trunk was opened to reveal its overfull load of wrapped presents, pies and sweet rolls. My siblings and I helped carry all the gifts from that bottomless hole into the house, and we piled them under the tree, from which they spread outward like an extravagant wave across the living room rug. 

The pies and breakfast goodies were set out on the service porch where the temperature was cool enough to keep them for a day or two; after Christmas Eve dinner a slice of pie would always be set on the hearth so that Santa could have a snack that night when he stopped by.

My grandma and I are not in this photo.
The photo shows my mother at right, holding a doll that I imagine was given to me that year, when I was only two. I like seeing that my grandpa, my cousins and my spinster aunt were there with us. And my grandma's beautiful furniture that I loved!

Now about the colorful picture at the top of this page: I have an edition (Houghton Mifflin, 1999) of the collected illustrated letters that J.R.R. Tolkien wrote to his children from Father Christmas, and I'd like to tell about them even though I haven't even read them all myself yet, much less to any children or grandchildren.

For over 20 years the Tolkien children received letters from Father Nicholas Christmas, often near to Christmas Day, but sometimes as early as October 31st. For all the ice and snow pictured, the drawings give the impression of a very cozy group at the North Pole, including Polar Bear and other helpers.

illustration including Polar Bear

This year, several of my grandchildren will be around in advance of Christmas Day and for a full week ! so perhaps we can read a few together. Or perhaps not, as I already have a long mental list of all the lovely things I can do with the children whom I haven't had with me at Christmas for so many years.
Some of the pretty stamps

I'm looking forward to an abundance of time to "waste" just being together for the Blessed Feast of the Nativity of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. This year I don't have to have a long-distance Christmas relationship such as Father Nicholas Christmas had with the Tolkien children. But I bet I am just as busy as he before The Event as I scurry with my ribbons and lists around my cozy winter house.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Saint Nicholas

Bishop of Myra 
Defender of Orthodoxy
Holy Hierarch

Born c. 270 AD 
(the Ides of March) 
in Patar, Lycia, Asia Minor

Reposed December 6, 345 AD 
in Myra, Lycia