Thursday, December 17, 2009

My Favorite Holiday Traditions

I really love the holidays. It's weird because I am not christian and therefore don't "believe," but I do respect tradition and family and memories of holidays past. I also see my Protestant upbringing as part of my cultural heritage and the stories told through that religious tradition as the mythical stories I find most culturally familiar. So, it does not bother me to hear songs and messages about Jesus and the Bible; I think about them the same way I would think about Greek or Native American myths except that these are more familiar and somehow comforting.

In fact, as much as I did not enjoy church services most of the year, I really loved them on Christmas eve when the lights were low and we held candles and sang songs. It felt peaceful, the one time each year that we all just got quiet and spoke of peace and love. To me, that is what the holiday season is about.

I love the songs of Christmas because I love music, and I especially love singing. I do it secretly and only at home but when my voice meshes perfectly with a song and I know all of the words I feel so peaceful and joyful. In my household growing up both my parents loved music. My father, as a collector of music, always had the right song for any occasion and kept the music constantly playing in the house. My mother is a singer, always singing and encouraging all of us to join in and participate in the music. They probably have hundreds of Christmas albums, some better than others. Last year it was Donny Osmond, which I have to say I could live without. In my house I only have about 4 albums but I keep them playing on my ipod daily throughout December. I especially like to play them while cooking dinner and singing along. Mark does sometimes join in because, why not? We like to sing songs about our cat or with our cat's name in them so they can get pretty silly. We like to in invent the best new lyrics and crack each other up. We are playing the Christmas edition of that game now.

I love really bad Lifetime or Oxygen holiday movies. I watch them on the weekends and get excited to see the new ones or old ones I missed somehow. I can waste hours on this, but they help to put me in the mood and pass the time while I make crafts or write holiday cards. I am also encouraged to see that some of my old TV friends are finding new work, even if it is once a year. This is a tradition Mark especially hates. But he already thinks I have bad taste in TV.

I love baking for the holidays. I sometimes run out of time so I don't do it every year, but there is something about homemade holiday treats as gifts or to share with co-workers and friends. It reminds me of my Grandma's house and the endless variety of cookies she would have on hand. This year I made my grandmother's Snowball cookies, my mother's Chocolate Drop cookies, my aunt's Almond Rocca and my newest recipe, pumpkin cookies with white chocolate chips. Mark also requested Snicker doodles, which are not technically holiday cookies but whatevs.

I love holiday cards. I love choosing them and spend a lot of time on it. I choose several different styles each year and sit down to pick the perfect card for each family on my list. Bet you didn't know I put such thought into it? I think it's fun. I get this from my mom who would go out the day after Christmas to buy holiday cards half-off and she would buy A TON. We had a special cabinet at home that was bursting with boxes of holiday cards, way more than she needed in any given year. I wonder if she is still slogging through her back-stash? She also writes a letter every year. Letters are controversial, which surprised me when I discovered it as an adult. I thought it was just what you do. Sitting down to reflect on your year and how it changed you or didn't or what you learned about life and yourself. Even if you don't send the letter, I recommend you write one as a way to reflect on each year and live a little more thoughtfully. Or you could just brag. I will read anything.

I love buying presents, because I love shopping, and researching and researching shopping. I spend several weeks looking at all of my options and thinking about the person and what they would like. I narrow it down; I first decide what gifts I will make and what I will buy and have to choose carefully in order to have time to make everything. This year I did not and had to purchase a last minute gift which I hate because there is no time for researching. Sometimes I choose poorly and after the holidays I wake from my stupor and think What was I THINKING? but will probably keep making those mistakes in different ways for different people each year. Sorry in advance.

To me, the best parts of Christmas are the weeks leading up to it with the planning and projects and dreaming. So, I wish you much Peace and Joy this holiday season, whatever you celebrate, whatever your cultural or religious (or both) traditions. They all connect us to those we love and remind us to live in peace and respect for all of the parts of this season that each of us enjoy most.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Cosmic Cauliflower

We interrupt this holiday season with a post about the last share of produce from One Straw Farm. It was about 3 weeks ago that we got our final produce before the long dark winter of frozen veggies. This lovely gem appeared on my kitchen counter. Mark explained that it is called cosmic cauliflower and is a cross between cauliflower and broccoli. We eyed it suspiciously for about a week until we ran low on any other veggies and it started to look it's age. We had to decide to eat it or throw it away. Both options had their merits because, look at it! It was scary. I am not normally wasteful so I decided one night to cook it up. I didn't tell Mark because I thought it should be a surprise so he didn't have time to object. We had already tried purple cauliflower and it was not as good as the original so this could go either way.

I cooked it up the way I cook most cauliflower or broccoli with a little olive oil and salt and pepper. I had to kind of slice it up and it crumbled quite a bit in the pan. But, it was good, it did taste like both cauliflower and broccoli which is weird but not bad. Mark was a little nervous when he saw it but agreed that it was OK. I still don't know why you can't just eat one or the other but it looks cool at least.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Handmade Holidays

I bring this up a lot but I realize it might be helpful to have some tools you can use to make this holiday handmade! I took the handmade pledge 3 years ago and have been pretty faithful with it. You can take the pledge here. I make some gifts and buy some gifts but most is indeed handmade. Including the soap I buy every year from the Officina Profumo Farmaciadi Santa Maria Novella those monks have been hand-crafting soaps for about 400 years!

Last year I made a scarf and some coasters for my brother, a stocking for my cousin's baby and some homemade ornaments. I also hand embroidered some handkerchiefs for my Dad and made a set of place-mats and napkins for my sister-in-law. I purchased quite a few handmade gifts including grocery bags, a hubcap clock, and reusable dryer sachets and natural handmade laundry soap all online from Etsy. I went to several handmade holiday markets to buy more stuff and save on shipping. I got a printed jersey scarf, printed kitchen towels, and I think some more soap. If you send out yearly holiday greetings, don't forget you can get those handmade too! Last year I got all my cards fromEtsy and hope to do it again this week (is it already too late?).

This year I plan to do a little more purchasing and less making myself because I was a little overwhelmed last year and when the sewing machine refuses to cooperate and you have literally hours to get a project done and in the mail it can be a bit stressful. There are so many wonderful handmade goods out there you are sure to find something perfect for everyone on your list. I really recommend going to some local craft fairs to meet the crafters in person and see everything in real life. Who knows, you might find a friend or a bargain or pick up a new skill.

If you are in the Baltimore area check out Holiday Heap on December 5

If you are in the Seattle area check out Urban Craft Uprising also on December 5

If you are anywhere else (and I would be surprised but hey) there is a complete list of upcoming craft fairs Here.

CRAFT magazine has a great blog and podcast series with some tutorials and fee patterns for a variety of crafts. That's how I found the stocking pattern last year. And if I have time I might make these cute felt holiday trees for my dining room table.

This year has been all about improving my cooking skills and since that is a craft too I am thinking of making some cookie holiday gifts. I just discovered a recipe for pumpkin spice cookies with white chocolate chips that are the bomb-dot-com!

No matter what, a handmade holiday is sooo much better than fighting the traffic at the mall. It helps keep the Joy and Peace in the holiday season.