Advent

Advent is such a great time of the year. It’s filled with the anticipation of Christmas, warm kitchens overflowing with delicious smells, Christmas crafts, Christmas music playing in the background, parties, friends… (and it’s unfortunately also filled with busyness, usually mostly my own doing!).

Our Advent and Christmas celebrations started early in December with a lot of baking and preparations for the annual co-op entrepreneurial fair, where Marica and Esther both sold things. Marica sold gingerbread men, popcorn and marshmallows with chocolate and brownies. She made everything herself, but I helped a bit with the gingerbread men. Esther sold cards that she had made, and a few that the rest of us had made. They were very pretty! Both girls did quite well out of it.

We also had our usual tradition of giving the girls an Advent gift on each Sunday leading up to Christmas. We do it with our Sunday night dinner, which is usually a pretty simple affair after a busy day at church. But even simple food is fun with candles, right?

One of the cuter highlights of the month of December was the concert Laurelin’s preschool put on. The kids went up the front and sang a few songs — simple but cute. It was a little hard to get good photos, as you can see. We were at the back and I had a hard time shooting through the parent paparazzi. I took a photo of them to humour you guys.

I love Christmas parties… except the fact that they always seem to happen during the busiest month of the year, ha! I’m so glad I went to my friends Sonya and Shannon’s Christmas party this year — she hosted an ugly sweater party — and we all had a blast. Great food, company, a fun gift game all in a warm and beautiful apartment. Lovely!

The weather has been pretty mild here in January, but we had a couple of really cold weeks in December. We got snow a couple of times (never more than about 3 inches, though), and the water that accumulated on our little sandpit cover froze over, much to Marica’s delight.

The Sunday before Christmas there was a beautiful presentation put on by some of the children and the choir. Marica and Esther did a reading each (and did very well!), and Marica sang in the choir as well. Shannon, who is our music director at church, did a fantastic job coordinating it all and everyone involved did a great job.

It was a little difficult getting a good Christmas photo this year. The one that everyone turned out best  in didn’t have a great background, but this was a fun alternative, even if we all look goofy. Which, in reality, is still an improvement on our everyday selves.

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Christmas Eve is when we usually do most of our celebrations of gift giving and remembering, reading, and singing about the birth of Christ, all enjoyed over a lovely finger food snacky dinner.

 

Christmas Day started with sleepy eyed children delightedly digging into their stockings. Then it was off to church, and then home for a Christmas dinner of roast beef and a bunch of other stuff I don’t remember (oops). I remember the roast beef because it turned out baaad. Pity big roasts aren’t more affordable so I can practice making them more. The flaming Christmas pudding made up for it, I think. I was pretty nervous because although I have imbibed the stuff plenty of times, I’ve never set alcohol on fire before. I think I might start making a habit of it. We hosted three lovely girls from our church who made for a great evening of visiting, laughing and eating far too much.

And now it’s January. That strange month where you wake up somewhere during its second week and realise the valiant fight you just fought and won (making it through another year) suddenly counts for nothing as you stand before another year looming large. Am I the only person who finds Januarys daunting and dismal? Everyone else seems so excited about the new year and their resolutions and all the cool things they’ll do… I get around to that maybe around March or April. But for those of you who aren’t as Eeyore-ish about the new year as I am: Happy New Year!! If you vote for Pedro, all your wildest dreams will come true.

;-)

Beautiful autumn

Autumn this year was beautiful and mild and felt like a sort of nicer continuation of summer. We were, of course, back at doing school, but we tried to enjoy the nice weather as much as we could. Here’s a bit of a summary of the last 3 months or so.

One day, I took the girls and their friend, Elijah, to a nearby park and enjoyed my camera for a change. The light was so beautiful filtering through the trees, and the trees! —  so stunning.

A couple of years ago I started hosting some girls from church for a day of cooking and learning new recipes. I hosted it in 2014, and in 2015. This year, we made Indian food. Almost all of my recipes came from my good friend, Anne, who is married to an Indian guy (hi, Henry!) and whose mother-in-law taught her how to cook Indian food. So this is the real deal! It turned out delicious as usual. May the Fall Cooking Day long continue!

Esther celebrated her 7th birthday. How time flies — here she is on her first birthday

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And here, 6 years later. Her birthday celebrations stretched over the good part of a week with several events where there were opportunities for Happy Birthday being sung and goodies eaten.

When the weather turns colder, there’s nothing better than building a fort and eating a special morning tea in it, is there? And nothing gives you quite such cool static hair is a microfleece blanket, does it?

On the day of Esther’s birthday, she and Marica were in a CYT showcase. They had been attending this theater class for a couple of months and both loved it. Esther really surprised me by being confident, clear and loud up on stage — not a hint of being timid! I was super proud of them both.

When we go to the library, Marica usually gets a couple of cookbooks out. She decided she wanted to make a three course meal all by herself, and did a great job! We had Caprese Salad for appetizer, lamb stew with garlic bread for the main, and banana with a berry sauce for dessert. It was all delicious. Now, how to figure out to get her to cook more often…

A few random shots: a tree in front of our neighbor’s house that looks like it is on fire; Laurelin being silly in the boot — there’s something special about playing back there, apparently; Esther’s pretty masterful artwork with chalk pens on the window.

Thanksgiving in my mind sort of marks the end of autumn, and then when Advent starts it is the beginning of winter. Does anyone else think like this, or am I the only weirdo around here?

This year we hosted Uncle Sherwood and Aunt Sharon, along with cousin Jonathan and cousin Esther and her husband, Nate. It was a really nice relaxed weekend of visiting, resting, and eating. A lot. I was so glad we could spend the time with their family and get to know them all a bit better!

The rest of the summer

(This post is pretty heavy on photos. Just a reminder that if you want to see larger versions of them, to click on a photo and you’ll then be able to view the slideshow of that particular group of photos.)

Trying to catch up here with the backlog of stuff I have to share, I’m going to try to condense the rest of our summer activities into one post. Here goes!

In July, a few days after we got back from our roadtrip, our cousin Eva came for a visit. Her time overlapped with Bryan and Alexia and their kids who also came to stay for a few days. It was great to have them and to have the (younger) cousins have time to play together and just hang out (the older ones). There were trips into NYC for sightseeing, swimming at a friend’s pool, and a clothes shopping trip for me and Alexia. One evening Bryan and Alexia made an amazing dinner for us. I forget what it was called, but it was wonderful. Thanks for stopping by, guys!

(A bunch of these photos were taken by Bryan. Thanks for letting me pilfer them, Bry.)

We were also happy to host our friends, the Roses, for a night on their travels from Canada back home. It was a short visit, but lovely!

Ben had a pretty low-key 35th birthday, with the usual gift giving in the morning. He and I went to see a movie as my present to him, which is a pretty rare occurence for us, and as a result a pretty special treat!

The next few weeks were taken up doing proper summery things like swimming, bubble blowing, running through the sprinkler, eating watermelon, having playdates, playing games, and doing generally silly stuff (like catching a fly and putting it in a lego maze).

One funny thing: sometimes when the older girls set the table, they like to write names on napkins, which takes the whole meal up a couple of notches on the fancy scale. One time Esther took this a step further even, and came up with descriptions too. Esther’s description of Marica had me in the kind of laughter that’s uncontrollable but that you’re not allowed to show. Boy, these kids!

The kids also took part in  some sort of summer ‘camp’ each: Marica went to 3-night camp with her friend, Willow; Esther went to a week-long art camp in the mornings, and Laurelin went to the summer program at her preschool to get her used to the new environment. They also did a VBS (Vacation Bible School) at a sister church about 20 minutes drive from here, which they really enjoyed.

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Laurelin’s first day of preschool!

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VBS

In August we traveled down to Tennessee again, this time for cousin Hannah’s wedding to Peter Weston. It was a beautiful affair, and a delight to spend even just a little time with so many great family members. Hannah looked amazing in a dress that reminded me of Kate Middleton’s wedding dress. (Peter cleaned up pretty well too.) I was glad that I could be helpful with the flowers and with some last-minute stepping in to help with the cake decorating. We were especially glad to be able to spend some time with Aunt Marti, and thankful that God was gracious upheld her throughout all the busyness and festivities of the weekend.

The Monday after the wedding, our lovely hosts, Mike and Paige, took us out on their boat for some fun. It was great getting pulled behind the boat in the tube, going crazy fast! Talking about Mike and Paige… man, these guys are fantastic. They were incredibly generous, kind and hospitable with their time, their home and much more. What a great example they are. I wish we lived closer to them!

After our tubing fun, we had one last visit with Aunt Marti and other family members. It was a precious time together, but not without some silliness too. See those amazing arm muscles that Eva has? Well, I got cocky and challenged her to an arm wrestle. I’m proud to say that we were a match — neither of us could get the other one down. All to say, I felt a little chuffed about that. :-)

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The day we got back the klutz in me misjudged a step at our friend’s house (the one with the pool) and I sprained my ankle really badly. The doctor reckoned I partially tore 3 ligaments — thankfully nothing was broken! — which meant that I had to be on crutches for the next 6 weeks, wearing one of those sexy black boots. I never realized just how painful a sprain is, and how insanely difficult it is for a mother to try and do just a few basic things around the home while hobbling around on crutches. Man! I’m so thankful for great friends who brought meals and helped out in other ways. I couldn’t have made it through without them! I was also thankful that I sprained my ankle at the end of summer rather than earlier — not that it’s ever really a good time, but hey.

Phew, if you got this far, you’ve done really well! Now just to catch up on autumn…

Our Veggie Garden

(Though perhaps a better title would have been My Veggie Garden, but I’m generously including Ben because he heaved heavy compost bags and helped with digging and building a frame for my beans.)

I decided that this year I’d like to have a veggie garden again after not having one for three summers. I built the veggie boxes myself, which really sounds more impressive than it actually is because they came in a kit set and I just had to put them together. I did, however, have to use a power tool — a.k.a. a drill — to build them. I planned and planted, watered and weeded and then we all enjoyed the harvest!

When we got back from our great two-and-a-half week long roadtrip, we were greeted by a veggie garden gone wild. Our kind neighbors watered our garden for us and the plants had grown phenomenally and produced a big crop!

We went from this:

To massive plants and this great harvest:

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Our garden continued to do well through the summer and well into the autumn. Not so much that we didn’t know what to do with it, but enough to keep in a good supply of good, healthy veggies freshly picked from our own garden. Does anything taste better than a carrot you just pulled out of the ground?

Here it is after it had started to slow down in the autumn:

As of now, in the middle of November, I still have a bunch of different herbs, swiss chard/silverbeet, and celery going, but I don’t think they’ll be around much longer. I love growing my own food — it’s so great to know there are zero pesticides or chemicals (though does anyone know how to deter those darn squirrels??), just old-fashioned good food!

I’ll leave you with this funny fella.

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He came to to a delightful end in our stomachs, along with his brothers and sisters who all got roasted with a little olive oil, salt and pepper and sprinkled with some fresh parley. If I was a carrot, that’d be how I’d want to die!

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The Greatest Gift

A couple of years ago, I really enjoyed reading through The Greatest Gift by Ann Voskamp for Advent. This year I’m trying to be organized enough to remind you that if this is something you’d like to buy, now’s a good time, with Advent being just two weeks away and all! This is not a sponsored post or anything, I just really loved to book and wanted to share it with you guys!

I don’t have the ornaments that go with the devotional, nor will I have time in the foreseeable future to make any, but that doesn’t detract from the book at all, in case any of you were wondering!

Banana Cake with chocolate cream cheese icing

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I built a cake earlier this week. I’m doing really well at blogging about it while the cake is still in existence on the kitchen counter! I’m still playing catch-up with blogging about news from the summer, but I wanted to share this before it died in my drafts folder like so many other recipes. Excuse the bad lighting in the photos, it starts getting dark around 4.30pm these days and I had run out of good daylight hours before I was done with the cake.

At our place we have dessert on days starting with T and S, so dessert days come around pretty frequently. Sometimes it’s a piece of chocolate or candy, sometimes it’s ice cream. Recently we went on a bit of an ice cream streak, especially after discovering Trader Joe’s Pumpkin ice cream. It’s like eggnog and pumpkin pie had a baby that turned into ice cream. So good! Anyway, after a while Ben suggested that maybe we should have some variety in the desserts around here. I had a look at my fruit bowl and saw a bunch of very sad looking bananas — perfect for banana cake/loaf. There really isn’t any difference between the two, one gets icing and the other you slice up and eat with butter) — and I concocted this banana cake with chocolate icing using a mishmash of various recipes online. Poor Ben, it wasn’t quite what he had in mind — he’s not a cake fan! — but it turned out delicious nonetheless, and even he thought it wasn’t too bad.

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Cake

(I got this recipe from my sister in law, Elrike, and have tweaked it just a very little bit. The key to getting a moist but light cake is to alternately add the wet banana mixture and the dry ingredients a little bit at a time. Say goodbye to dense or dry banana cakes, this will become your go-to recipe like it has for me!)

½ cup butter
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 brown sugar
2 eggs
1 cup mashed bananas
2 T plain yogurt or sour cream
2 cups flour
1 ½ t. baking powder
¼ t salt
½ t baking soda
1/2 to 1 c chopped walnuts (optional)

Cream shortening and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time and beat thoroughly. Mash bananas; stir in yogurt/sour cream. Sift dry ingredients and add alternately to creamed mixture with banana mixture. Fold in nuts.

Spread in greased 9 ½ x 5 ¼ x 2 ¾ loaf pan or a 9″ cake pan . Bake at 350 degrees F for 45-60 min. Let stand 5 min.; turn onto  rack to cool.

Icing
(This makes enough icing to be able to cut the cake in half horizontally and to put a layer of icing in between the layers of cake as well as ice the outside.)

1 block of cream cheese
4 T butter
1 t vanilla essence
1/2 cup cocoa powder
3 cups icing sugar

Walnut topping

1/2 c walnuts, chopped finely
1 T butter
1 T brown sugar
1 t cinnamon

After icing the cake, cut a circle out of a piece of paper that leaves an edge of about 2 inches of icing exposed. Lightly wet the exposed icing in case it has started to dry out (this helps the nut mixture stick better), then put the nut mixture onto the piece of paper in the middle and spread it outwards until it is all off the paper and in a nice ring on the outside of your cake. Gently press the nut mix onto the cake, and ta-da!

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