Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy New Year!

Auld Lang Syne
~James Taylor lyrics from A Christmas Album
(Click below for a nice version of the song.)

Should old acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind ?
Should old acquaintance be forgot,
and old lang syne ?


For auld lang syne, my dear,
for auld lang syne,
we'll take a cup of kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

And surely you’ll buy your pint cup !
and surely I’ll buy mine !
And we'll take a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.


We two have run about the hills,
and gathered up lovers fine ;

We’ve wandered many a weary foot,
since auld lang syne.


We two have sported in the brook,
from morning sun till dine† ;
But seas between us have roared and swelled
since auld lang syne.


And there’s a hand my trusty friend !
And give me a hand o’ thine !
And we’ll take a cup of kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.


Thursday, December 30, 2010

Snow and cold....

 We're settling into winter with a vengeance now.  We had a nice little crust of snow started on the ground,  just enough to cover the ugly brown and grays that this season brings, but today we've got another 4-6" of  new snow on top of the crusty stuff.  It's very light and fluffy and dry and is easy to shovel.  I've shoveled the front porch three times already today and the minute I turn around, there's a fresh dusting of powdered snow over top again.  Not only do we have the new snow, but we've got some wind along with it and plummeting temperatures that make it super cold.  As I write, it is dipping 4 degrees below zero and will probably go lower as the sun sets and the long night settles over us.

Yesterday was unseasonably warm for us (in the 40's).  That's a very common occurrence -- a nice day preceding a storm. Yesterday Hazel Peach and I spent the entire morning sledding and playing in the snow outside.  My legs definitely feel the exercise of getting in and out of a very low, plastic sled.  I also took the Montgomery Ward U.S. Flyer out for a spin.  It's been hanging on it's nail in the garage for quite some time.    You remember those wonderful wooden sleds with the red runners, don't you?  This particular one was HP's mommy's sled when she was a little girl.  It's in super good shape, unlike the sleds of my family's childhood.  That's the difference, I suppose, between a houseful of boys (and one tom boy) and a couple of girls.  Anyway, I snapped a lead rope onto the Flyer and took HP for a long sled ride on the snow-packed roads around here.  It was fun for both of us.

The Cousins have been here visiting for the week.  They are brothers, ages 17 & 21 and so they have a great time with our two sons who are home now, ages 18 & 20.  Let's just say I spend a good deal of time in the kitchen cooking up food that will fill young, empty bellies.  So far they have consumed bacon, sausage, eggs, waffles, spaghetti, chili, sandwiches, pizzas,  a number of cookies, cake, ice cream with homemade chocolate sauce, and tonight there will be a ham dinner with cheesy potatoes.  I haven't planned for dessert, but this afternoon I baked off the chocolate chip cookie balls that I had saved in the freezer.  There is just nothing like a fresh-baked cookie from the oven and a hot cup of Joe is there?   I have this recipe on the menu for New Year's Eve.  The weather outlook is for more deep cold, snow, and wind, so I think the Cousins' plans to leave tomorrow will be called off and they will stay with us into the new year, or till the roads are suitable to drive.  The plows are slow in coming to our neck-of-the-woods.  I'm so glad I talked the guys into bringing in the big stack of wood from outdoors into the garage so we'd have plenty of dry firewood for these bitter cold days.  Warm fire, lots of good food, hot drinks, card games, and good company is how we'll ring in the New Year.

I did a teeny-tiny bit of sewing today.  I need to practice my binding skills before I have a couple baby quilts to make, so I made two pot holders using this No Snit Binding method.  The instructions say that the more you do it, the better you get.  I hope so or I'll need to make lots and lots of potholders before I finish the baby quilts.

It's time to get back into the kitchen!  It's almost suppertime!

Monday, December 27, 2010

Heffalump or snuffleupagus?

Whichever you prefer, that's what I've been feeling like for the past two days.  Sneezing, sniffling, snuffling,  achooo-ing -- all makes my very chapped nose feel large and snout-ish, like a Heffalump or a Snuffleupagus.   I've been doing all I can to take this creature down.... vitamin C three times a day, going for walks in the fresh air, eating bits of raw garlic, taking hot baths, drinking mugs and mugs of herb tea, eating peppermint candies (to de-stuff), and coating my sore-from-blowing nose with Bee Butter or vitamin E oil.  Napping is what I want to do, but it is difficult when one's nose is either stuffed up and won't breathe, or when it's running all over the pillowcase. O bother! (as Pooh would say)

My latest tea concoction is a mix of peppermint leaves, a chunk of ginger root, honey and a lemon slice to float on top.  I think it helps somewhat, but the bits of candied ginger (beside the mug) is what I like best.  I don't know if it is very medicinal, but it's tasty, sweet, and warm to my mouth.

Sunday, December 26, 2010


 Heavy frost covers everything.
We've had thick fog for several days but I think the sun is going to shine today!

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Remains of the day...

 Sharptail grouse in the shelter belt



 Handmade cross. Wood from a fence post. 
Crafted by Middle Child for me.

 Bonfire of cleared trees.

Abandoned Table

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

More recipe try-outs

 I just love browsing food blogs, even if I never make anything.  I like to think I could make some of the gorgeous foods out there, but even if I don't, it's fun to pretend-cook and think of how lovely it would be to serve it to my family and friends.
Well, today was no pretend-cooking.  I wanted to try out some recipes and who better to try them out on than the family?  If the family likes it, won't everybody else?  
Besides, it's them I cook for 95% of the time anyway.  

 I started out with this cranberry salsa served over cream cheese.  Leslie over at Wayside Sacraments shared her recipe, and now you must know, you've made my life complete.  All I want to eat forever is this salsa and cream cheese on crackers, chips, bread -- anything!  Why can't cranberries be in season all year long?  I  served it to the guys and even my pickiest eater really like it.  So this sweet and spicy cranberry salsa will be on my appetizer table for the holidays.  Find the recipe here!  Thanks, Leslie.

The next recipe try-out was Filet au Poivre which is a fancy name for a pan-grilled beef fillet with a creamy pepper gravy.  This one comes from the Pioneer Woman and
the lady knows steaks!  The only little tweak I made was to add some fresh, sliced mushrooms in the pan drippings before making the gravy, so mine was a mushroom & pepper gravy. 
All I can say is... Oh my!
Don't tell anyone, but I licked the gravy out of the pan,
and later tonight...
when I'm up prowling around, 
there's a little extra gravy in the frig and a slice of homemade bread for a midnight snack.
That reminds me.  Did any of you stay up for the lunar eclipse last night?  I couldn't sleep so I stepped out on the front porch in my nightie and clogs in 6 degree winter weather to get a glimpse of it.  
Of course, I put my coat on, Silly.  You thought I'd go out in just my nightie?
It was!

Try-out number three was Broccoli-Cheese Casserole from Simply Recipes.
I've had broccoli casseroles before which were pretty good, but this was superb!  It was similar to a broccoli-bacon quiche with lots of delicious cheddar bubbling on top.  We ate it as a side dish, but it could stand alone as a main course.  Another hit at the Courtney House.
(I'm sorry there are so few pictures of the food.  We were too busy eating it to think of taking pictures.)

Lastly, I made Cream Cheese Pecan Cookies --  another excellent recipe from Simply Recipes.  I think one of the tricks to this tasty cookie is roasting the pecans before they go into the dough. Yum!

Happy Holiday Cooking and Baking!

Red meat is not bad for you.  
Now blue-green meat, that’s bad for you!  
~Tommy Smothers

Monday, December 20, 2010

Christmas stitcheries, recipe try-outs, and a hymn...

 A cute Festive Dog  is dressed for Christmas!
A Christmas stocking is stitched for a special nephew.
It'll be his first Christmas.

Now to finish wrapping gifts.

I'm reviewing some Tiramisu recipes for Christmas Day

I'm reading the December portion of
One Year Book of Hymns.  One of my favorites is
Good Christian Men Rejoice 
AKA:  In Dulci Jubilo

Good Christian men, rejoice,
With heart and soul and voice!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Natural moisturizers for winter skin....

A jar I received from a friend becomes my kitchen sink cream  container

Winters on the northern prairie can be very harsh to say the least.  The air is dry and the cold is deep, in fact I had a brisk walk to the mailbox this afternoon and our high temperature for the day was just 12* F.  My family's skin pays dearly for such exposure, and my dishpan hands always need relief.  So I do what I can to bring relief to chapped hands, lips, feet and over-all dry skin.  I really dislike all the additives and things that are found in commercial lotions and creams so for several years, I have been making what I call Bee Butter.  I first found this recipe here, but have since altered it by adding a few capsules of vitamin E oil.  Sometimes I swap part of the olive oil for coconut oil (which is very healing to the dry, itchy skin).   I love the smell of the beeswax in this formula which gives it a sweet, honey smell so I never have added fragrance to the cream, but you could add an essential oil if you wanted to.
Bee Butter  (non-petroleum jelly)
2 ounces olive oil
1/2 ounce grated bees wax
12 drops grapefruit seed extract (natural disinfectant)

1. Melt the beeswax with olive oil in a pyrex measuring cup in the microwave, 30 seconds at a time until wax  is liquefied.  Be careful!  The glass will be HOT.  Or you may heat it in a double boiler over simmering water and medium heat.
2. Remove mixture from the heat and add the grapefruit extract.
3. Allow mixture to cool about 10 minutes.  Then beat mixture with a hand mixer or whisk until it starts to turn creamy or cloudy.  Pour into a clean container.

Makes 1/4 cup. Store in glass jar with screw on lid.
Shelf life up to one year.

*I have made this without the grapefruit seed extract and it still maintains a long shelf life. I also add 3 or 4 capsules of vitamin E oil to the butter to further enrich it.  You may like to substitute part of the olive oil with sweet almond oil, coconut oil or others. It is fun to experiment and find the combination you like best.

I want to try a creamy body butter next.  This video looks simple enough.

 Another skin soother is oatmeal.  My family enjoys a hot soaking bath in the winter months, but even baths can take a toll on already-dry skin.  To moisturize your skin in the bath, toss in an Oat Float.  I found this idea over at Maya*Made.  She gives a complete tutorial on how to make these cute little sachet pouches for gift-giving or for your own bath.  After soaking in the bath, I  rub the pouch on my face  for an easy oatmeal facial and then scrub the rest of my body with it for more moisturizing.

I think I made a couple dozen "oat floats" for our baths and for gift-giving this Christmas.  I used cheese cloth (doubled) for my pouches, but you can use thin muslin like Maya did in her instructions.  Another idea would be to buy some spice bags or bouquet garni bags that are pre-made and just pour your oatmeal in them and pull the drawstring --much easier than sewing if you're not a sewist.  Enjoy!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Simple Joys...

 A delicious and simple-to-make cookie.  All you need is a mini-muffin tin, some foil liners, a package of  mini Reese's cups and a package of peanut butter cookie dough (from the refrigerator section of your grocery) or make homemade dough.  I had to make my dough because our small-town store doesn't carry it.  They have sugar cookie dough but not peanut butter dough.  Go figure.  Line your muffin tin with foil liners and then add approximately a 1" ball of dough.  Bake according to directions and allow cookies to cool just a few minutes.  Unwrap your Reese's cups and push one in the center of each cookie.  Done!  Yum!

I've had my creche set up, but I wanted a little cave-like setting for it so I glued some bark together from an elm log.   I like the result.  Rustic, just as I would imagine it.  Hazel Peach enjoys playing with these figurines, and I let her since they are unbreakable resin.  They are very small -- just 2.5 inches tall.  I talked with her about Baby Jesus and she said, "Paci and blankie," and pretended to hand him the things a baby needed.  My heart melted.

 I've been spending part of my evenings embroidering.  I like having busy hands and yet feeling at rest.  There is a peaceful calm about pushing and pulling pretty colored threads through fabric in tiny stitches that I love.  These are some coasters that I made.  I like the simplicity and individuality of each one.

Our annual bull sale is now complete and we are so grateful for the farmers and ranchers who chose our bulls to help proliferate their herds.  They are a good and generous people with big hearts and hearty laughs.  It was good to shake hands with many of them that day.

The sun is low in the sky now and it shines straight into my kitchen and dining room windows in the afternoon.  I love its warm glow upon everything it touches.  Especially my face.

The Holly & the Ivy carol, another of my favorite carols.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

December days....

 This morning was crisp and cold -- not even ten degrees when I left the house.  The snow is hard now and squeaks as I walk on it.  Hubs was putting out the hay with the tractor as I drove over the hill and saw the cows coming up out of the breaks for feed.  I had the pick-up loaded with alfalfa cake for them. The sheep and the cows and the bucks and the bulls were all happy to see me.

 I've been spending a portion of my evenings in front of the fire embroidering some Christmas gifties.  Sometimes I just sit before the fire and drift, not really thinking about anything in particular, but just staring at the fire in a hypnotic trance.

Do you ever crave one of those all-in-one-pan suppers that is baked in the oven?  I do.  This evening I whacked up a meat & potato pie with a good lard crust on top.  It has been such a long time since I've made one of these and it was *just* what I wanted.  Hubs and Hazel Peach thought it was just right too.

After our supper, HP and I turned the Christmas music on and played with the red yarn and the jingle bells.  I made a jingle bell cuff for her with green wool felt.  I attached the jingle bells with red yarn and then used the tails of the yarn to embroider a little design on the cuff.  I sewed on velcro to secure it to her wrist.  Next Christmas I'll be making three Jingle Cuffs (for HP and the new grands).

After reading Pom Pom's Ponderings about Gladys Taber's Stillmeadow Daybook, I read the December chapter for myself and felt all snuggled into December as if Gladys had tucked me securely into a bed of memories and pulled up the covers to my chin so I'd be cozy and warm with the pleasure of it.  The first snowfall, setting feeders out for the birds, hunting for misplaced Christmas gifts bought in August, cooking meals with spices from far-away lands, cutting the Christmas tree, singing the ancient carols like Good King Wensceslas and God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, and meditations of the Carpenter's Son born in Bethlehem all speak so very well of December days to me.  I pray that you are savoring the distinct quiet stillness of December.  Scatter joy along your way.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Repurpose into Christmas...

 I really like to "make do" with what I have when it comes to crafting and sewing things.  I think if we "shopped" in our own homes, we would find that we have plenty of stuff to repurpose into new things.  Bits and pieces can easily be turned into Pretty Things with a little imagination.  I had decided that I would keep my very delicate spruce Christmas tree simple with white lights and icicles, but I thought it lacked a little homeliness and color, so I decided to make a garland from twine and Hubs' old plaid shirt that was in the "cut up pile."  I simply cut the shirt into strips with my pinking shears and then cut lengths of about 5-6" and tied them onto the twine, leaving a little space between each one.  That's it.  Later I was thinking that I could have tied little spruce cones into the garland too.  Here's the tree now with her bits of red plaid and her homemade star.
 Hazel Peach spent the day with us yesterday and she loved the jingle bell wreath on our front door so I had an idea to make jingle bells to play with and shake while I taught her the age-old favorite carol, Jingle Bells.  All I did here was to string some small jingle bells that I had on hand onto a piece of red yarn, and then I tied bits of red ribbon in between the bells.  I realize this is not a fancy-shmancy craft, but we both had fun singing and jingling together.  Now I'm thinking about making a felt wrist band with jingle bells attached.  Does anyone remember when baby shoes had jingle bells on the laces?

Now I'm off to create a super-hero cape out of a scrap of red fabric for my 3 year-old nephew's Christmas gift.  Happy re-purposing!

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Star on the tree....

I was looking through the Pottery Barn website and found this Glitter Music Star  which I loved but the $30 price tag gave me pause. After studying the picture closely, I figured out how to make it, so below, I'll share with you the steps I took to make my own "First Noel Star" tree topper!

What you'll need:
White card stock
Scotch tape
Hot glue gun and glue sticks
Single edge razor blade
Glitter & spray adhesive or Spray Glitter

* Begin by finding Christmas sheet music that you like.  I chose The First Noel from this site, saved it to my files, and printed out 2 copies, full size so it printed over an entire sheet of card stock.
* Once you've printed two sheets of music, you will need to cut the music down to an 8x9" size.
*Next you will cut the two 8x9" sheets of music in half the long way (4" strips) and then cut the 4" strips into three 3" wide rectangles.  You will get six rectangles from each sheet.

* Now you will take each rectangle and roll it into a point with the music on the inside.  One side will be shorter than the other.
*Get a piece of scotch tape and tape the seam and up over the edge to the inside.
 *Repeat this process for all 12 rectangles. 
*Next you want to cut a notch into the the tall side of each cone.

 I didn't measure the notch, but you can see all my little elongated triangles below to get an idea.  

*Next, you want to start joining things together.  Take two cones and hot glue the top points together, making sure the notched sides are facing up and the points of the cones will touch evenly.

If your hot glue gun is like mine, you'll feel quite a bit of heat through the paper card stock.  Be careful!  Now take the hot glue and carefully put a line of hot glue down the backside of the pair so the points of both cones are joined together.  Allow it to dry.  Repeat with two more pair of cones.

 *Join the three pair of cones together by hot gluing, joining top points first, but making sure the cone tips all meet nicely.  My cone tips weren't perfectly touching and I found that sometimes the side points did not match up well, but I could cut a little bit off with the scissors to get them to look more uniform. Glue on the backside to join the edges together and the cone tips.

 Now you should have a star shape like this.  It's pretty just like that, but next we will add the "legs" of the star.

 *First you must cut a slit into the tips of the remaining cones.  I went as deep as the single-edged blade would allow and it's about 1/2 inch deep.
 *With notched edges of the cones toward the front of the star, slide them onto the edge of each cone on the already-joined star.  You'll want to make sure they are centered nicely and then flip it over to glue the tips to the back.  Mine looks pretty messy on back, but my Christmas tree faces out from a wall so I didn't fuss too much about the backside.  After the points are dry, you can glue a toilet paper tube to the back so you can slide it onto the top of your tree.  Be sure to tape one end closed first.

Ta Da!  You have a star!  The Pottery Barn star had one more set of cones glued to each leg at this point, but I liked mine this size.  If you wanted to, you could add six more cones to make longer legs on your star.
 *Lastly, you may like to add some glitter.  I found this spray glitter at Stuff-Mart and thought I'd give it a try.  It's cool stuff.  I used the opal glitter and had to spray on several coats to get it to really sparkle.  Follow directions on the can.  The spray glitter is very fine and not like sprinkling on "real glitter." You could use adhesive spray and sprinkle some clear glitter on your star if you want a heavy glitter look.  The Pottery Barn star had heavy glitter on the outsides of the cones, but I didn't feel like fussing that much.  Don't let me hold you back though, fuss all you want!

Here's the final result.  A star-topped Christmas tree for practically free!  The only thing I spent money on was the spray glitter.  Have fun!

Friday, December 03, 2010

The star on the barn...

 Lighting the star on the barn is one of my most favorite parts of the Christmas Season; I think I like it even more than putting up the Christmas tree.  (It's easier)  I had to fasten new lights onto the star frame this year.  YoungestChild and Hazel Peach went with me to help hang it up and plug it in. 

 This is how our star looks from the road in the late afternoon.

This is the very barn where we will  lamb the sheep in just a few months. We also calve some of the cows here in the spring.  I like to think of it as a place similar to the stable where our Lord was born in Bethlehem.  Even though it does not compare to the crudeness of that lowly manger, it is still a barn that is meant for animals, not for the King of Kings.  But God chose a place like this for His Son to come into the world.  Birthed in a barn.   Adored by common shepherds.

This is what our star looks like from the road in the dark of night.  I absolutely love driving home at night and seeing the star appear out of nowhere.  We live way out in the country on a road less-traveled than most, but the light shines in the dark for those few who pass by.  It calls to mind Psalm 139:7, "Where can I go from your Spirit?  Or where can I flee from Your presence?"  Even in the remotest parts of the earth, God is with us.


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