Inspired by a little-known picture book from the pen of Bethany Tudor, this is a diary, of sorts, where I document some of my thoughts, activities, and ideas as I explore the challenges met by the characters in the story: hard work, the care and nurture of others, housekeeping skills, life changes, charity, community, and cooperation, among others. Like Samuel and Samantha, the ducks in the tale, I struggle and succeed, cope and celebrate, work and play, handling the tasks that come my way. I invite you to join me on my journey.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Noah Bells

Recently, I have received several catalogs that feature Noah bells.  Being the mother of a bell ringer, and being ignorant about this type of bell, I decided to investigate.  My short search yielded this from a feng shui website:
Rustic Noah bells are distinctive from all other bells due to the melodic and echoing tones.  Each bell is hand made in India.  The smelting of various metals and hand hewed clapper result in the individual tuning of each bell to create the unusual resonate sounds.  Shepherds prize the smaller bells, as they enable them to easily hear and find their flocks from many miles away.
Given that this is the season of Advent and that we will eventually see sheep and shepherds added to our Nativity scenes, I thought the latter part of that quote to be quite applicable.  In fact, it reminded me of the Christmas carol, "While Shepherds Watched," text from 1703:
While shepherds watched
Their flocks by night,
All seated on the ground.
The angel of the Lord came down
And glory shone around,
And glory shone around,
And glory shone around.

"Fear not," he said,
For mighty dread
Had seized their troubled minds.
"Glad tidings of great joy I bring
To you and all mankind,
To you and all mankind."
I also found this instructional video about Noah bells on YouTube:

I still haven't discovered why the bells carry the moniker, "Noah."  Any ideas?

Skip the Escalator

This link, The Piano Stairs, came to me this morning from my darling husband, King Richard. I would love to have a set of these in my house! Although, if a toy like this was permanently installed in my abode, nothing else would ever get done. I would find my musically inclined daughter, who loves to compose, bouncing up and down the stairs, working out the latest melody line or devising new harmony to some Appalachian folk tune, all the while ignoring her homework. My husband, I suspect, would experiment with various physical ways of extracting sound from the steps --- sliding down on his stomach, running up and down on all the black keys or all the white keys, trying to play chopsticks while jumping around on the “keyboard,” etc. It would be as the video says: fun theory…in action.

Thank you, dear, for this joyful bit of amusement so early in the day.

Friday, November 26, 2010

No Black Friday for Me

2010 was not a Black Friday year for me. In recent years, I have ventured out at the crack of dawn with a longtime friend, buoyed by a strong cup of coffee or some steaming green tea and bundled well against the cold. This year, though, we both decided to sleep in: she because of an ear infection and me because I was lazy and didn’t want to leave the warmth of my down comforter. Besides, none of the sales really applied to my gift list. No, instead, I grabbed some leftover baked eggs and a bite of cinnamon pull-apart, showered, and headed out to see “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Part I)” with my daughter and her magician friend. Later, I enjoyed a small sirloin steak topped with mushrooms and accompanied by broccoli and grilled tomatoes at one of my favorite local restaurants. Now, I am home, waiting for my cats to finish their evening meal, soon to be snugly dressed in my gray sweatshirt, feet tucked inside a pair of fuzzy mint green slippers, curled up on the couch ready to work on my annual Christmas card letter. Movie for the evening: Christmas in Connecticut.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Life with a Ringer

This morning, as my family was watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, this commercial came on the TV. My bell ringer daughter immediately heralded, “Now, it must be Christmas!” Enjoy.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Typical Thanksgiving Preparation Day

Just when I think I am totally ready to bake and cook for Turkey Day, I discover that I am missing ingredients. Since I am eating with friends tomorrow and I am responsible for a pie, some cookies, and a side dish (grated carrot salad), I gathered what I needed late last week and, in some cases, weeks ago. Yet this morning, in a fit of perfectionism, I picked up two bags of fresh carrots so I had really fresh ones for the Thanksgiving Day party. I also grabbed some extra cinnamon for the breakfast pull-apart I was making, just in case I ran low. What I didn’t check for and, consequently, didn’t purchase on this last-minute grocery trip was yeast for the pull-apart. Silly me, I thought I had some. Obviously not! So…I have just returned from my last last-minute excursion to the supermarket. This trip: dijon mustard (which I discovered I needed for the carrot salad dressing), parsley (which I also needed for the carrot salad), the yeast that I needed, and some extra butter. You never know when you might need some butter, especially when children are baking cookies. Price surprise: the bread machine yeast was $7.49/jar. Thankfully, my store card dropped it to $6.49.

Forward to the kitchen!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

It’s a Start

For the first time in a long time, I feel motivated to get my yard and garden in order before the snow flies, maybe because of the increasingly difficult economic picture, maybe because my daughter is interested in learning to grow her own food, or maybe because I am tired of my yard looking unkempt. Whatever the reason, thus far I have my future kitchen garden bed cleared of old dayliles and daffodils, and amended with lobster compost, vermiculite, and peat moss. I also have the new backyard vegetable bed carved out of the lawn. Here are the results:

The new planting area will get more extensive treatment in the spring: additional soil amendments and, hopefully, a lovely stone border built up to create a raised bed. Tasks for the rest of Thanksgiving week: finish cleaning and amending the raised bed under my bedroom window. If all goes well, when I am finished, I will have 150-200 square feet of garden space prepared and ready to go in the spring, not including the EarthBoxes my daughter has planned for the driveway. It’s a start.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Stir Up Sunday

Yesterday (11/21/2010) marked the final Sunday before Advent, a day that in times past had been termed “Stir Up Sunday” after the opening lines of the Collect* for that day in the Book of Common Prayer, 1549:

Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people; that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may of thee be plenteously rewarded; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

For those unfamiliar with the practices of a more liturgically oriented church (e.g., Catholic, Lutheran, Episcopalian, etc.), the Collect is a prayer that is said just after a hymn of praise in the worship service and generally takes the following form:

1) Invitation
2) Address to the person of the Trinity
3) Attribute or quality of the deity related to the prayer
4) The prayer or request itself
5) Reason or expected result of the prayer
6) Christian conclusion
7) General affirmation

Using the aforementioned Collect as an illustration, we have:

1) Let us pray
2) O Lord
3) The will of the faithful people
4) Stir up the will of the faithful people
5) That the will of the people would result in good works so that the people may be rewarded
6) Through Jesus Christ our Lord
7) Amen

From the book Christmas Customs and Traditions by Frank Muir (1975), we also learn this about “Stir Up Sunday:”

By tradition it was the last occasion on which Christmas puddings and cakes could be begun if they were to be ready by 25 December.

Such holiday foods needed time to age before being baked and served, hence the need to “stir up” the pudding mixture well in advance. The pudding itself was not without a modicum of symbolism, as is recorded in Food and Cooking in Victorian England: A History by Andrea Praeger (1975), this particular quote being taken from The Food Timeline website:

The plum pudding’s association with Christmas takes us back to medieval England and the Roman Catholic Church’s decree that the ‘pudding should be…prepared with thirteen ingredients to represent Christ and the twelve apostles, and that every family member stir it in turn from east to west to honor the Magi and their supposed journey in that direction.’

While I do not practice the tradition of baking a Christmas pudding, I see some practicality in the picture it provides, as outlined above, in that it marries information about the birth of Christ with what is known about the ministry of Christ. The pudding seems like a helpful tie-in between the Christmas story itself and the good works of service performed by the followers of the Savior whose birth they commemorate at Christmas; of course, understanding always that no one is saved by such works but by the grace of God alone. The fact that the Christmas celebrants are required to wait on the scrumptious holiday dessert just as they have to wait for the Second Coming of Christ provides a valuable object lesson as well, one that is often missed in our modern-day Christmas preparations.

How about you? What traditions do you observe that help teach the children in your life about the meaning of Christmas and the life of Christ Jesus, Our Lord, a life that believers everywhere should imitate?

*The Collect begins with the words "Let us pray."