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We set up our Christmas tree the day after Thanksgiving.

Within 24 hours, Anna’s “Baby’s First Christmas” ornament was in two pieces, and I had a heartbroken three-year-old to console.

Usually, that would bother me. When something special breaks, or is ruined, when Beauty is marred and my perfectly-perfect vision for an event or a meal or a holiday season goes awry, a wrenching feeling twists through me, all the way up to the muscles in my neck, ending up somewhere in my mind, taking up residence as dark thoughts and crushed hopes, casting a shadow on Celebration.

But not this time. And not just because superglue exists.

Something strange and wonderful happened to me this Advent season, slowly yet surely. I decided that moment, holding the pieces, kissing away the little-girl tears, that this year I would have a Perfectly Imperfect Christmas. I determined not to cringe when the ornaments on the bottom third of the tree are rearranged. Not to worry about not getting to All The Things.

Cookies that didn’t get baked. Crafts that didn’t get made. Presents that were shoved into gift bags instead of fashionably wrapped. Pinned yet unrealized ideas like the trendy-cool Advent wreath, or that delightful Advent calendar that the kids would have so very much enjoyed. The devotional that didn’t get printed off. A few of the traditional stories not read aloud by the fireside. Just as counting gifts can fill our hearts with joy and gratitude, counting unmet expectations can steal our peace.

My big gift to my sweet children this Christmas was to redecorate their bedrooms. I had such grand plans for The Project, and I spent hours on Pinterest pulling together bedding and paint colors and ideas for wall decor. Most of it became a reality, and their rooms have been transformed into cozy, updated, colorful havens. But I didn’t get all the white trim painted. And I didn’t install the curtain rods or finish framing all the pictures. Several pieces of furniture are still begging for a fresh coat of paint and polish. The overhead light fixtures, both fun and functional, were never installed. You would think that such a failure to meet a deadline would have me reeling with disappointment and regret. But I’m okay with it.

It’s Christmas Day, and not every corner of my house is tidy and clean. I still have a homemade gift to finish off for my mother-in-law. I’m hoping to crank out a batch of cookies to put on pretty plates to be delivered to the neighbors. But the stress and pressure that would usually be suffocating me is gone. Because it’s okay.

If we are honest with ourselves, it happens every year. Some things fall through the cracks. We don’t cross off every item on our list. We go to sleep each night with something left undone.

But there was one Christmas where every objective was realized. That first Christmas, every aspect of a Perfect Plan was carried out to completion. There was a Perfectly Perfect Christmas…and because Christ was born of a Virgin, lived a sinless life, died as a payment for sin, satisfied the wrath of a holy God, was buried and raised to life again, and ascended to heaven…because of that Reality, because of the Gospel, I don’t have to worry anymore about failure and imperfection, brokenness and disappointment, fear and regret and stress and worry.

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace”  Isaiah 9:6

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My foray into making “authentic” English Christmas Pudding came about quite by accident. The children and I were wracking our brains, trying to figure out a menu for our Unit Celebration for this current school term. We have been studying the early 1800’s, focusing on Westward Expansion. We had a few ideas, but we have been reading A Christmas Carol in preparation to see a stage production the week before Christmas, and the the notion to recreate the Cratchits’ Christmas Dinner struck us with sudden brilliance.

So we, of course, needed a recipe for traditional Christmas Pudding!

The best recipes out there on the internet had to be converted from the metric system (being British of course!), but that was easy enough. I was so impressed with the result (thus far…to be honest, our pudding has not aged yet and will be served a few weeks from now), I thought I would break the long blog silence with my take on this time-honored tradition…great fun to make, so be sure to include the kids!

Christmas Pudding

6 T butter, soft, plus extra for greasing
1 c light brown sugar
1 orange, juice and zest
1 lemon, juice (1/2 of) and zest
3/4 c golden raisins
3/4 c chopped dried apricots
1 small cooking apple, peeled and grated
French brandy (you can also use rum)
2 eggs
1 c all purpose flour
1/2 c breadcrumbs
Spices (I used a light dusting of each of the following: cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, and cloves, but you could use up to 1/2 t of each, or to taste)
1/2 c almonds, chopped

Traditionally this dessert is steamed in a special mold. Most American cooks (like myself) don’t have one of these kicking about their kitchen. I used a stainless steel bowl that had a similar shape to a pudding mold, but my bowl turned out to be a bit on the large side. I double checked with my sister-in-law in Ireland to see if a dessert plate pressed down into the bowl would work, and got the go-ahead, as long as I kept the bowl water-tight on the outside. So use what you can find in your kitchen!

Place dried fruits, zests, juices and grated apple in a mixing bowl. Splash with brandy, about 1/2 of a cup or so. Mix and set aside to marinate for 1 hour, stirring occasionally.

Grease your mold with butter and place a small square of foil in the bottom. Place a stock pot half-filled with water on the stove to boil, with a large steamer insert.

Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs and mix well. Combine dry ingredients, add to egg mixture, then fold in fruit and almonds. Press into mold. Place a layer of wax paper and a layer of foil over the bowl (wax paper first), pleating to allow for expansion. Tie off with twine and trim excess. Place mold in steamer and put lid on pot. Steam for 8 hours, topping off with water as needed.

Cool pudding, then remove outer paper and foil. Poke holes in pudding and “feed” pudding with another 1/2 c or so of brandy. Seal up again and store until the day you will serve it (about four weeks later is “traditional”), when you will steam for another hour to reheat.

Serve heated pudding with a traditional custard, brandy butter or rum sauce, and for extra fun you can google how to serve it flambé style! Recipes for the sauces abound online, I haven’t gotten that far yet, but will post an update when I do. My current plan is for rum sauce and (shhhhhh!) whipped cream.

A Happy Christmas to you all!

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My sweet girls, after our lunch at the American Girl Bistro and dessert at the Cheesecake Factory

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All Faith wanted was lunch at the Bistro with her sisters (and a couple small things to open)

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The now familiar, traditional birthday breakfast of waffles, bacon and sausage, and juice

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Happy Birthday my sweet, exuberant, loving, smiling, hugging “Faithful” girl!

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A friend asked me recently what kinds of gifts I seek out for my children for Christmas. And while such a list will have much in common with my recent post of Homeschooling with Sensory Integration Issues, I thought it would be fun to toss out there.

Especially where my children are concerned, I approach gift giving with intention and purpose. The season’s popular and trendy plastic toys rarely have any bearing on my selections. Throughout the year, I collect such treasures as will serve to open their eyes to beauty and wonder, feed their minds, and cause their hearts and souls to blossom. Perhaps you have never thought a Christmas gift could serve such a high purpose, but it can! By keeping to such a high standard, I attempt to place before my children all that is bright and lovely, good and delightful, thought-provoking and excellent, for the purpose of raising intelligent and imaginative young men and women who are rich in soul and well equipped to proclaim the gospel to a dark world.

Necessary but Novel

Clothing: Perhaps something a little nicer or less “necessary” than my typical purchases throughout the year. A pretty dress for the girls, fun shoes or slippers, cozy fleece sweatshirts for the boys, fuzzy bathrobes, sweaters, and of course outerwear such as coats, snowsuits, boots, hats, mittens, scarves, and gloves.

School Supplies: Pencils, pens, erasers, pencil cases, fresh notebooks…and again, maybe nicer or more novel than our August run to Wal-Mart.

Educational but Exciting

Books: Of course! Books always feature prominently under our tree. We purchase books throughout the year, but Christmas selections tend to be special…beautifully illustrated picture books, sets of a classic series, bright and fun books on a subject such as science or history. Even the baby gets a classic board book or two! A child’s first Bible makes an excellent gift. For an older child, a study Bible or commentary might be appropriate.

Art and Craft Supplies: Stockings bulge with sets of quality colored pencils and drawing pencils, packages of modeling clay, cray pas, crayons and chalk. And for under the tree? Sketchpads, easels and rolls of paper, paint sets, smocks, bead sets, mosaic kits, model magic, sewing kits, and various craft kits.

Music and Musical Instruments: CD’s! We try to seek out wonderful and inspiring music for our children to listen to…classical, folk music, scripture songs, and learning songs are favorites.  “Band Box” sets (for example, a drum with shakers, bells, rhythm sticks, and a triangle), an acoustic or electric guitar, sheet music, a harmonica, and any range of real instruments that a child might take interest in, though such a purchase tends to be a major one and is less likely to be something we choose as a Christmas gift.

Educational Toys and Supplies: Science kits, Geosafari, educational software, flashcards and activity cards, puzzle and activity books (mazes, word search, crossword, paper airplanes), instructional books and kits (how to draw, how to do oragami, cookbooks, historical paper dolls),  board games, magnet sets, a microscope or telescope, and a host of various toys and gifts that could fall under the banner of “learning”. What we tend to avoid from this category: toys that light up or make lots of crazy and artificial-sounding noises (or really that require batteries at all).

Museum Memberships: Science Museums, Art Museums, Living History Museums, Children’s Museums…a gift the whole family can enjoy throughout the year! These are also great to hint at to family members who might be looking to give your whole family a special gift instead of an individual gift for each person.

Playful and Practical

Classic Toys: Wooden building blocks, wooden train sets, dolls and doll clothes (American Girl is admittedly a favorite in our house. Barbie is…ahem…simply not), pull-toys and other classic baby toys for the tiniest around the tree, a dollhouse with furniture and people, tinker toys and lincoln logs, a kaleidoscope, etch a sketch, magnadoodle, marbles, matchbox cars, trucks, pick up sticks, kites.

Imaginative Play: Dress up clothes, play kitchens (we have selected durable wood over garish plastic), play food (again, we try to choose delightful cloth and wood items over plastic, though well-made plastic  fruits or vegetables have certainly made their way into the mix), play dishes (I found a wonderful set at IKEA made from real stoneware), magnetic dress-up dolls, doctor’s kits, playmobil and lego sets (examples of plastic toys that are freely welcomed in our home!), a child-size table and chairs, erector sets and other building sets (one of my boys particularly likes the sets with lots of parts and bolts and screws with clear, comprehensible instructions for making multiple creations).

Staying Active: Sports equipment such as balls and gloves, bikes and scooters, and skates.

Real-Life Stuff: Tool sets, cooking utensils and equipment, items for a teen girl’s “hope chest”…all excellent examples of gifts that aren’t “toys” but are real and useful and yet still thoroughly fun to receive as a gift.

Plugged In

Electronics: MP3 players, watches, clock radios and cd players, digital cameras and walkie-talkies are all electronics that have found a place under our tree. As children get older (perhaps much older!), gifts such as a new cell phone or laptop may become appropriate.

Movies: We love to watch movies as a family and are always on the lookout for quality, family-friendly films that are well-produced and contain good acting. We don’t care for sappy or overly-silly movies. Movies are an intensely visual and stimulating experience…so when I sit my kids down in front of that screen, I am intentional about what they are viewing. Some of our favorites are films where a literary classic is brought to life, such as an Austen or Dickens novels. Do we let our children watch these films even though children aren’t the target audience? Absolutely! Think outside the box when it comes to what your children watch, and you will train their tastes and appetites for movie-watching for a lifetime! However, gifts of DVDs under the tree tend to be more geared towards children. Favorites? The Narnia Series, Anne of Green Gables, Babe, Nim’s Island, Dolphin Tale, Charlotte’s Web (live action version), Stuart Little, and Wind in the Willows.

Is this list comprehensive? No. Does this mean I’ve never bought a cheaply made plastic toy for my children? No, of course not. But I think you get the idea, and I hope this list either encourages you to keep giving your children gifts of quality, beauty and usefulness, or inspires you to begin! A don’t think that making such choices necessitates spending a lot. I can promise you that it doesn’t! Some tips for keeping cost down:

Shop throughout the year. Keep a big opaque bin or box away from where your children will nose through it and place gifts in it whenever you happen to find them, even if it’s the day after Christmas!

Shop thrift shops and consignment stores.

Look for clearance and sale items.

and…most importantly…

GIVE. THEM. LESS. STUFF! Keep the message of Christmas clear by resisting the urge to obscure it with piles of stuff, much of which is likely to break before the following year’s Christmas season begins. They might not like it at first, but you will be training their hearts to be satisfied with less, to appreciate what is of real value and beauty, and to keep Jesus the focus of your family’s celebration of the season.

Happy Giving!

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Yuletide Splendor…

Front door bedecked with festal cheer

Living Room…hearthside beauty

hung by the chimney with care…

seasonal reading…

O Christmas Tree!

magical, glowing, lovely…

A birthday gift from my sweet children…another pretty teatime decoration!

tribute to my husband’s iced americano habit

windowsill warmth

I have a thing for birds…this one stays out all year!

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Inaugurating the season…

THAT HOLY THING

George MacDonald



They all were looking for a king

To slay their foes and lift them high:

Thou cam’st, a little baby thing

That made a woman cry.

*

O Son of Man, to right my lot

Naught but Thy presence can avail;

Yet on the road Thy wheels are not,

Nor on the sea Thy sail!

*

My how or when Thou wilt not heed,

But come down Thine own secret stair,

That Thou mayst answer all my need–

Yea, every bygone prayer.

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miss faith birthday girl

Faith is our firecracker. July 4th, 2005 was actually my due date. She woke us up around 4 am to begin her transition to the World Outside. We wouldn’t have considered her to be a firecracker those first couple years. She wasn’t even much of a sparkler, unless you count those huge, round, soulful dark brown eyes. She was the calmest and quietest of babies and the most docile toddler we had ever encountered. She slept well, ate well, and played contentedly.

I don’t know what happened. <grin>

Today Faith is a whirlwind of smiles, giggles, jumping, bouncing, sparkle, curly hair, and hugs. She is like a kite that flies on the wind and goes up and down and every direction, all color and a delight to play with so long as she doesn’t get stuck in a tree. Her highs are kept well in check by her lows, but I won’t go into detail there, since celebratory blog posts are supposed to be flattering.

Faiths Birthday

Faith opens presents as if she were a princess on a throne receiving her due praise and adoration. She revels in the celebration and squeals with delight as tissue paper flies through the air and treasures are uncovered and properly squeezed and shown off to her sister and brothers.

birthday pretend

faiths birthday breakfast 2

Birthdays in our house commence with an elaborate breakfast of waffles with melted chocolate, real whipped cream, and berries, served with bacon and fruit salad. One of the joys of having little girls is making birthdays special with girly table settings and pretty teacups. Four years old or  not, we crack out the real plates, crystal goblets, and antique glassware. Even the two year old got his own china teacup (albeit a thicker version of my bone china cups).

Of course, a few minutes after this picture was taken the scene was altogether different. Chocolate covered faces. Stained tablecloth. A little whining and fussing. A few spills. Lots of reaching and passing and clamor and noise. But there were moments and glimpses of something that transcends a breakfast and aspires to lasting memory. Snapshots in my mind of sweet young faces and plates brimming with the artwork of a decadent brunch. Family traditions and memories and special days aren’t perfect.

But sometimes they are close.

Happy Birthday, Faith!

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