Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Saint Lucia

    December 13th was Saint Lucia day, but we waited until the weekend to celebrate so that Erik could be home with us. Poppy and I made these gluten free buns from the Spunky Coconut. While they were baking Erik sat with the kids and read Lucia: Saint of Light. It's a lovely book which tells the story of Lucia, as well as explaining some of the traditions that have risen in remembering her, especially in the Scandinavian countries. She was known for her purity, love for Christ, and care for others. I love that we remember her right before Christmas, as it seems we need to keep being reminded that it is more blessed to give than to receive. When the buns were done, Poppy got dressed up as "the Lucia bride", remembering that Lucia chose not to marry so that she could serve Christ without distraction. The red sash reminds us that she was martyred for her faith and love for her heavenly bridegroom. Poppy served us the buns, just as Lucia used to give out food to those in need. It is said that she would go into the catacombs where Christians were in hiding, and in order to keep her hands free to carry food, she wore a wreath of candles on her head. While I love the idea of a flaming crown, I thought this wool felt one was a little more practical and safe. (The pattern was in Living Crafts magazine a few years ago.) This is the first year we've really celebrated Saint Lucia Day and I think we've established another family tradition. I think it's so important to make our remembrance of the saints meaningful and special for the children. May we all be brave, loving, and kind like Saint Lucia!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Saint Herman of Alaska and Spiced Snickerdoodles

Father Herman with Northern Lights behind him.
Painting by Poppy and I, with a little clip-art monk.
    December 13th is one of the days that Orthodox Christians remember Saint Herman of Alaska, a Russian monk who lived among the Aleut people two hundred years ago. He settled on Spruce Island and cared deeply for the villagers there, sharing with them God's love and his very life. He taught them to boil salt out of the ocean water and preserve food for winter, and he defended them against corrupt traders who sought to exploit and abuse them and their land. He was greatly loved and respected by those who knew him. The Aleuts called him Apa, or Grandfather, and he did all he could to help, care for, and protect those in need.

Peregrine chose for us to paint the story of when a tsunami was coming and Father Herman placed an icon in the sand, praying to God to save the village. In faith he said the waves would come no further than where the icon stood, and they didn't.
Both paintings were inspired by the book North Star: Saint Herman of Alaska.

Our Playmobil advent calendar was transformed into a scene on Spruce Island today, complete with Father Herman, who was a borrowed shepherd from our nativity set, and a little paper church. It is said that the animals all loved Saint Herman and even bears would eat out of his hand!

Father Herman loved children, and would bake lots of biscuits and cookies to share with them. In his honor we made some cookies and all enjoyed them very much.

    These cookies are inspired by Glutenfreefix's Snickerdoodles recipe. I made several changes, and these are gluten free and also vegan. They are delicious, and still very healthy.  I'm really happy with the texture, which is just a little chewy in the middle but has a nice crunch on the outside. I added more spices than a typical snickerdoodle, and so these are more of a cross between a spice cookie and snicker- doodles. Enjoy! 

Saint Herman Day Cookies
Gluten Free and Vegan
1 C Coconut Oil, room temperature
1/2 C Honey
1/4 C Coconut Sugar or other granulated sugar
1 t. Vanilla

1 1/2 C Almond Flour
2/3 C Coconut Flour
1/2 C Gluten Free Flour of your choice (I use a blend)
1 t Baking Soda
1/2 t Sea Salt
1/2 t each Cinnamon, Cloves, Ginger

Cinnamon-Sugar blend for rolling

 Mix Coconut Oil, Honey, Sugar, and Vanilla in a mixer until fluffy. Add dry ingredients and mix until combined. If the dough is too soft to roll into balls let it rest in the refrigerator for a half hour or so. Form into 1-inch balls and roll in Cinnamon Sugar to coat. Place on a greased or lined baking sheet. Press each ball gently to flatten just a bit. Bake at 325° for 8-10 minutes. You'll know they're done when they've flattened, puffed, and just started to look a bit "cracked" on top. Take them out when they still feel pretty soft if you prefer a more chewy cookie. Cool for a few minutes on the pan before placing on a rack. 
Makes approximately 3 dozen cookies. 

This post is part of The Nourishing Gourmet's Pennywise Platter and Food Renegade's Fight Back Friday

Tuesday, December 13, 2011


  Eugene is a regular at our church; he comes faithfully every Sunday. He's not, however, your typical church-goer. Eugene arrives on foot, and we often see him shuffling along the sidewalk, jacket slung over his head like a hat, bag over his shoulder, bare feet inside broken shoes. Eugene comes to wash up in the men's bathroom, and I've heard that the toilets have been plugged after he's filled them with the paper towels he's dried off with. Eugene sits in the entry way during church, slumped into a chair, kept company by moms and dads, flickering candles, golden icons, and noisy children. Eugene is not shy about getting in line for food when it's time, nor is he self conscious about heaping his plate high or going back for seconds or thirds. Sometimes we put leftovers in bags to send "home" with him.

    Eugene has come to our parish for years. I'm glad he's there. We greet him cheerfully and sometimes get a word or two in response. He must have his camp somewhere nearby. I wonder where he lives. Does he have a warm sleeping bag, a tent to keep him dry? Does he camp under a bridge? Does he have a mother who prays for him, a family who remembers him? Is anyone's heart broken over what this man has become? Once he was someone's little boy. What is his story? The other day I watched him empty a quart sized bottle of hand sanitizer into his water bottle; presumably it was his next drink. I wonder how many of those bottles he's emptied. I wonder if that's how he keeps warm on these cold nights.

   Is Eugene just another homeless man, or is he the very presence of Christ among us? Our faith teaches us to see the image of Jesus in everyone, and that what we do for "the least of these", whom Christ calls his brethren, we do to Jesus Himself. I was lying in bed Sunday night, sleepless, and thinking about Eugene. I remembered Tolstoy's story of the Shoemaker Martin who so desired to see Jesus. He was visited by different people, waiting for his Lord, but only met with common folks in need. He welcomed each, sharing and giving hospitality, but Jesus never came. In the end, Jesus reveals that it really was He who had come, and that Martin had indeed welcomed Him.

    Someday I will stand before Jesus, and I will be judged on how I cared for - or didn't care for - the Eugenes of this world. It's a pretty thing to go to church on Sunday, to prepare my heart to worship Christ, to receive Him. But how often do I miss seeing Him, grubby and smelly, in the face of the stranger on the corner or the homeless man reaching into the bowl of fruit with his dirty hands? I don't know how to "help" Eugene. I can continue to smile at him, to greet him warmly, to treat him with love. I could pray for him more regularly, knowing he needs healing of mind and spirit.

    I was at the store yesterday, something I'd rather avoid at this time of year. The friendly cashier asked me if I was "ready for Christmas". I know what she meant, but my thoughts turned to more than lists checked off and presents bought. Is my heart ready to receive Christ? Is there "room in the inn" for Him, room in my life? As I ponder the incarnation, God clothing himself in humanity, I think of Eugene and those like him. It is here I have a chance to love my Lord, by caring for the least of these, His brothers and sisters. May I be faithful to see the face of Christ and pour myself out for them.


Thursday, December 08, 2011

Saint Nicholas Day

Detail of St. Nicholas throwing a bag of gold, from Raphael's stocking.

    Years ago, a friend lent me a book called Celebrating the Christian Year. One of the ideas that stuck with me was to open stockings on St. Nicholas Day instead of Christmas morning. The tradition, after all, comes from a story of the saint throwing gold coins into the window of a poor family. Legend has it that the coins landed in the stockings of the three daughters, who then had a dowry and could marry. Four years ago I finally got it together to open stockings on St. Nicholas Day and we've enjoyed it very much. We've tried to keep the stocking stuffers simple and have some items that relate to stories about St Nicholas. Here are a few photos of our St. Nicholas Day celebration! 

Stories tell that Bishop Nicholas would hand out small, spiced breads to children, so we like to make gingerbread cookies shaped like him. It's been said that the way to a man's heart is through his stomach, but I think that's true of all of us, and especially for children.  I like to try to incorporate special foods into our celebrations of saints when we can. We got to stay after church and decorate our cookies together with a couple other families. Fun was had by all! Our cookie cutter came from the St. Nicholas Center.

Our Saint Nicholas books only come out at this time of year. Getting them out is like greeting an old friend. We have a couple about the life of St. Nicholas and a few others fun stories based on him. One of our favorites is The Baker's Dozen, about a Dutch baker in the American colonies and how he learns to be generous.

St. Nicholas Day morning! Happy kids excited to find what's in their stockings! One of our "traditions" is to give the kids a new pair of pajamas each year. I put them under their pillow the evening before so they can wear them to bed. I have usually bought them on after Christmas clearance the year before, but this year I made the bottoms of soft flannel and bought knit shirts to coordinate.

It's funny how everyone seems to have their hands in Pearl's stocking except for her! Lots of helpful siblings!

We were blessed to get to attend the Liturgy on St. Nicholas day morning. I love the joy on Father Jerry's face in this photo! "Wondrous is God in His saints!" I'm grateful for such examples of selfless service as Saint Nicholas! 

The kids get in on filling the stockings too. I love that they want to share and give. They not only filled Erik's and mine, but tucked lots of little things in one another's stockings. I'm so glad they are learning the joy of giving! Celebrating Saint Nicholas early in the Christmas season is so appropriate as it helps us focus on giving.

One other thing we do in honor of St. Nicholas is to make muffins for the homeless in our town. My parents are involved in a lot of community outreach so it's easy for us to find a way to get our humble gift into the hands of those who need it. Our parish also hosts a giving project each December where we have the opportunity to give to those less fortunate in our community. This year we are sharing gifts with elderly residents in a memory care center, especially those who may not have anyone to remember them at this time of year.

Wishing you the joy of giving this season! And a happy (late) Saint Nicholas Day!

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Christmas Giving

Wee Felt Wisemen Ornaments, made with love.
Tutorial from Wee Folk Art.

   There have been years where I've tried to get all my Christmas shopping done prior to Thanksgiving so I can more fully enter into the joy of the season. This year, I'd like to just skip the shopping as much as possible. Christmas, of course, isn't about the gifts, but we do enjoy both giving and receiving them. We are celebrating the greatest gift of all, and it seems an appropriate time to give. But I've been considering where these gifts come from, how they're produced, whether they're even really needed or wanted. We're trying to get rid of stuff, not collect more, so we're thinking more carefully about gift giving this year.

    I come from a big family, and all of my siblings are now married with children of their own. Add in Erik's family, close friends, and our own children, and there's a whole lot of gift giving (and spending) potential. The last few years my family has agreed to give to a favorite charity instead of buying gifts for each other, and that's been great. (Our gift has gone to The Apparent Project in Haiti, a non-profit that employs people, allowing them to rise out of poverty.) I've loved doing this. My family has also, since I was a child, supported an orphanage in Mexico, and has given alternative"gifts" that help impoverished children. One year, Erik's dad and his wife bought a goat in our honor, and another year a flock of chicks for a needy family. (I believe those were given through World Vision. We've also given through Heifer International.) As much as I love to receive gifts, some of my favorites have been ones that have gone to someone else in my honor.

    What about the kids? We will give them a few gifts, or course! (Can I just say how thankful I am that there hasn't been any real talk of "what I want for Christmas" yet!) Two of them are getting backpacks, something they need anyway. Peregrine and Poppy are each getting a new box of pencil crayons and I'm planning to make a pencil roll for each of them. I'm going to get Raphael the Busytown Airport book, and Pearl really is too small to care about presents, although she's getting a tiny backpack of her own. I will probably sew a dress or skirt for Poppy with fabric I already have. We will also give the older three a certificate they can cash in for a special outing with the parent of their choice; they love getting to do this. I bought a Groupon a while back for the local ice skating rink, so we will do that as well. We open stockings on St. Nicholas Day, which is December 6th, and our stocking items are usually somewhat practical, although still fun. (A pair of cute socks, a new pair of pajamas, a box of silly bandages, some chocolate coins, an orange, etc.) We'll spend lots of time as a family creating handmade gifts for each other, our family and our friends. (You can see some of our handmade gift ideas here.) Most importantly, we'll make a point, throughout this season of preparation, to look out for the needs of others and actively seek to help the poor. This may be as simple as keeping some granola bars in the van to hand to a homeless person or by eating more simply so we can share our extra grocery money with orphans in India or needy families in Haiti.

    As we enter into this "most wonderful time of the year" we want to keep our focus on what is most important. It's not about amassing stuff, but about sharing love and celebrating the birth of Christ. We will enjoy both the giving and the receiving of gifts, but more than that we'll find joy in being together, loving one another, and sharing with others.

    This post is part of a writing project of Families on the Move, a group of families who live a nomadic lifestyle or are preparing for long term travel. Read how other families celebrate Christmas "on the move".

A King's Life: Forget the Gifts, Give an Experience this Christmas
Pearce on Earth: A Different Kind of Christmas
Family Trek: What's for Christmas?
The Nomadic Family: Poverty for Christmas
New Life on the Road: Dear Mr. Santa Claus, What's for Christmas? 
With 2 Kids in Tow: Dear Santa, for This Christmas we Wish...
Living Outside the Box: The Best Christmas Presents
Discover. Share. Inspire. Christmas is Coming- What do we Give on the Road? 
Bohemian Travelers: Gift Giving While Living a Simpler Life
Little Aussie Travelers: Presence vs. Presents
Family Travel Bucket List: Feliz Navidad Without all the Stuff
Livin' on the Road- Susan: Christmas Traveling
Livin' on the Road- Peter: Christmas
A Minor Diversion: Reinventing Christmas
The Edventure Project: On Christmas: A Reflection on the Real Gifts