Friday, December 31, 2010

Christmas Every Day: Day 31

Millie writes:

Eat 12 grapes, one for each month in the New Year, making a wish for each month.

If your kids are too young to stay up until midnight, “fudge” it a bit by letting them stay up 30 minutes or an hour past their bedtime. While away the hours making noisemaker: use a rubber band to fasten a square of paper over one end of an empty toilet-paper tube, add a handful of dried beans (or pebbles or rice or whatever) to the tube, then seal the other end. Let the kids decorate the tubes with stickers, crayons, felt pens, etc.

Herald the birth of the new year by blowing horns, banging on pots and drinking a sparkling-cider toast. Hey – it's midnight somewhere, right?

Happy New Year from Millie and Mollie and Maggie and May! May 2011 be magnificent!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Christmas Every Day: Day 30

Millie writes:

Hit up a dollar store or a party supply place for hats, blowers, banners and other New Year's Eve paraphernalia.

Chuckle with the kids over the fact that Christmas music is still playing in the stores, but the Valentine's Day paraphernalia is already on display. Silly stores!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Christmas Every Day: Day 29

Millie writes:

Play all the Christmas music one last time as you take down the tree, the lights and the decorations. Eat all the candy canes.

Put back fewer of your “regular” decorations than you took away; make some space for growth. If you like, hit up a thrift store or two - see if you can score a set of throw pillows, laundry baskets or something decorative for your living room. It's nice to have something "new" in the house as you count down to the New Year, and it helps to counteract the blandness of a place newly shorn of its Christmas decor!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Take Care of Yourself!

Mollie writes:

When I was a young SAH (stay-at-home) mom, with a husband who traveled and two small peeps, I used to cringe when people asked me what I did to take care of myself.  I was in my 30's and did plenty to take care of others, but relatively little for myself.  I took a lot of pride that in the early years of "mommy bashing" - I hung in there and put my children first.  I was a practicing adult by then and understood that undertaking motherhood was a decision I made in full possession of my sanity.  Those children didn't ask to be born, I asked to give birth to them and to be a safe harbor for them in their youth.

Had things been different (i.e. death, divorce, illness, disability, etc) I would have returned to the workplace a lot earlier than I did.  But in our case, balancing staying  home versus having a fancy new BMW really didn't create a dilemma.  We had our transportation needs met with a used station wagon and a small diesel pickup.  The oriental rugs and diamonds and cruises would just have to wait (please read with eyes crossed.  Thank you).  But don't kid yourself, I heard a lot of comments about my brain turning to drivel and just how could I not be bored by the constant company of pre-schoolers.

Well, those days are over.  I have a perfectly accessorized  car, a sail boat (and a captain to go with it!), and some darn nice rugs courtesy of our local WalMart.  OK, so they aren't oriental, but they are lovely just the same.  Save the issue of MS, my brain still works just fine, and now I can "take care of myself" if it matters to me.

Which begs the question, "What is Taking Care of Myself?"  When my kids were under our roof (peeps in the Hen House), taking care of myself included trimming my toenails, a weekly bath (I showered most other days), and a no holds barred trip to the K-Mart garden department.  Taking care of myself included getting a mammogram, pap smear, cholesterol count (mine was always high, thanks to genetics).  What it didn't include was a day at the spa, or a weekend of hob-nobbing with the haves.  No dinners out for us when I could make a perfectly decent casserole from ground turkey, rice, tomatoes and a bit of seasoning.

This year, making resolutions involves making changes that are sustainable.  I can now afford to have my hair done every six weeks, and, luxury of luxury, my eyebrows waxed (I have a veritable forest of eyebrow hair that I used to just ignore).  I've even visited a spa a time or two, mostly for the rehydration of skin that is turning to dust thanks to my having the good sense to not practice rehydration when I was young, and frankly, juicy enough.

So, if you are a young mom, keep "Taking care of yourself" a New Year's resolution, but keep it realistic and sustainable.  Do get that mammogram, do get that pap, do get that physical, and do buy some nice perennials for your garden.  Don't get frustrated if your resolutions don't include a new car, designer clothes, oriental rugs and fancy vacations.  There's plenty of time for all that when the kids are adults themselves and your skin is turning to volcanic ash.

Trust me!

Christmas Every Day: Day 28

Millie writes:

Bundle up and take a walk together, even if you have to dodge raindrops to do it. Talk about the year that's drawing to a close, and what you might do in the new year. Really listen to one another; remember your kid at this time last year? Quite a change, isn't it?

Monday, December 27, 2010

Christmas Every Day: Day 27

Millie writes:

Take a break today - go out and see a movie that has nothing whatsoever to do with Christmas!

If this becomes one of your traditions, it will give you and the kids something to look forward to after The Big Day itself, and help keep this post-Christmas week from being a letdown.

Another plus: Since the kids are home from school, you can go see a cheap matinee!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

New Year's Resolutions - Keeping 'em Real!

Mollie writes:

I'm a big one for making resolutions for the New Year, but not so hot at keeping them.  Last year, I resolved to start a 'domestic" blog with a friend and voila, Ask Millie and Mollie!  The year before, I resolved to learn to use my embroidery option on my sewing machine . . . ok, I've done a couple of embroideries, but I've hardly mastered it.  And so it goes.

At the ripe old age of 58, it suddenly occurs to me that keeping New Year's resolutions is easier if you keep them reasonable.  Loosing 40 pounds this year is unreasonable;  I'm 5'4".  I weigh 168 and would prefer to weigh in at 130.  But the amount of effort it takes for this post-menopausal MS patient with physical limitations is simply not available to me.  How can someone who has a difficult time walking 1 mile on level ground ever 'burn off' what it takes to reduce weight?  And eating a healthy, balanced diet?  If I eat reasonably, meaning meats, dairy, fruits, vegetables, legumes, carbohydrates and healthy fats, a sensible diet still puts me over the calorie/carbohydrate  limit of effective weight loss.

And it isn't just the dieting and exercise, it's the medications many of us MS'ers use.  Steroids tend to ease recovery during an exacerbation, but they also pile on the pounds.  And it's yet to be determined how 15 years of interferons impact the entire bodily system, not just the immune system.  In the end, all I can really do is just do my best and take my lumps.

So I watch what I eat and plan on being happy if I can get my weight below 153.  I may not make it on the evening news, but if I keep my expectations reasonable, I may be able to lose 15 pounds in 12 months.  We'll see.

But my New Year's resolution isn't really losing weight, it's learning to keep my goals reasonable.  If I learn, in the next 12 months, how to manage my weight with the plethora of medical issues I have to consider, I'll have kept my resolution.  But I also have to factor in other issues as well, meaning travel, family get togethers AND my love of cooking.  So what I'm really hoping is that if I can lose 15 pounds and maintain it, I'll have made a realistic resolution.

And that's my real goal.

New Year's Resolutions - Keeping 'em Real!

Mollie writes:

I'm a big one for making resolutions for the New Year, but not so hot at keeping them.  Last year, I resolved to start a blog with a friend or two, and voila, Ask Millie and Mollie!  The year before, I resolved to learn to use my embroidery option on my sewing machine . . . ok, I've done a couple of embroideries, but I've hardly mastered it.  And so it goes.

At the ripe old age of 58, it suddenly occurs to me that keeping New Year's resolutions is easier if you keep them reasonable.  Loosing 40 pounds this year is unreasonable;  I weigh 168 and would prefer to weigh in at 130.  But the amount of effort it takes for this post-menopausal MS patient with physical limitations is simply not available to me.  How can someone who has a difficult time walking 1 mile on level ground ever 'burn off' what it takes to reduce weight?  And eating a healthy, balanced diet?  If I eat reasonably, meaning meats, dairy, fruits, vegetables, legumes, carbohydrates and healthy fats, a sensible diet still puts me over the calorie/carbohydrate  limit of effective weight loss.

And it isn't just the dieting and exercise, it's the medications many of us MS'ers use.  Steroids tend to ease recovery during an exacerbation, but they also pile on the pounds.  And it's yet to be determined how interferons impact the entire bodily system, not just the immune system.  In the end, all I can really do is just do my best and take my lumps.

So I watch what I eat and plan on being happy if I can get my weight below 153.  I may not make it on the evening news, but if I keep my expectations reasonable, I may be able to lose 15 pounds in 12 months.  We'll see.

But my New Year's resolution isn't really losing weight, it's learning to keep my goals reasonable.  If I learn, in the next 12 months, how to manage my weight with the

Christmas Every Day: Day 26

Millie writes:

Our "Boxing Day" tradition is very simple: spend it lounging around the house and playing together.

Watch movies, eat leftovers, and try out all those new toys. Read a few chapters of your new book(s)! Enjoy each other - free of all things on the "To Do" list that tends to overwhelm all the days leading UP to Christmas.

Bonus points if everyone stays in their pajamas all day!

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas!

Mollie writes:

John and I are home, headed to some friends' home for Christmas dinner.  In days past, we'd spend the day with our own kids, opening presents, eating our feast . . . and writing "Thank you" notes.

The job didn't take more than a half hour, but the boys' grandparents and other friends got "Thank you" notes written on Christmas day and mailed on the 26th.

We'd hear a little grumbling, but once the chore was underway, things went pretty smoothly.  There weren't THAT many Thank You notes, but there were some.

It's important that our kids learn that if someone puts time, energy and money into buying wrapping and delivering/mailing a gift, a child can acknowledge its receipt.

We usually were able to nag notes before the big meal, and before we let them use the presents.  I know this is a little astringent, but saying "Thank You" on Christmas seems like the ultimate gift.

Christmas Every Day: Day 25

Millie writes:

Merry Christmas!

However your family celebrates, take a moment today to pause and look around. We silly adults can get so caught up in making Christmas "happen" that we forget, sometimes, to stop and let Christmas "be."

Slow down today. Listen. Taste. Play. Let yourself recapture the joy of being three years old on this glorious day, or eight or twenty-eight or eighty.

God bless us, every one!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas Every Day: Day 24

Millie writes:

Excitement is reaching a fever peak in households all across the globe tonight and the same question is on everybody's lips: Is Santa on his way?

Since 1955, NORAD (the North American Aerospace Defense Command) has been using its cutting-edge equipment to track Santa's team as he makes his worldwide Christmas Eve flight. If your kids want to watch his progress, head over to the Official NORAD Santa Tracker and see where in the world he is right now!

Oh, and one other thing - NORAD is careful to point out that Santa won't stop at any house until all the kids who live there are asleep!

The children were nestled all snug in their beds
while visions of sugarplums danced in their heads.

Christmas Every Day - Day 24

Mollie writes:

Prepare desserts the day before Christmas Day to keep the kitchen work at a minimum.  Today I'm making a Buche de Noel for dinner tomorrow.

If you are looking for a good Buche recipe, try the one at:

It's a great recipe with wonderful pictures to the steps in the process!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Christmas Every Day: Day 23

Millie writes:

Go caroling!

Whether you are part of a choir that thunders the Hallelujah Chorus from a parade float or just a few merry amateurs warbling Jingle Bells, go out tonight and make a joyful noise. Even if you just go down to the end of the block, the chill air, the stage fright and the giddy excitement will make it an excursion your kids will talk about for years.

Warm up afterwards with some hot chocolate. Who knows? Maybe the neighbors will invite you in for some figgy pudding - whatever that is!

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas;
Soon the bells will start,
And the thing that will make them ring is the carol that you sing
Right within your heart.

Christmas Everyday: Day 23

Mollie writes:

Make "Thank you" cards with your family for your family.  Each family member is assigned one other family member to thank.  Each only does one thank you note, but they are to put their heart into it.

Example:  Chelle to Peter:  "You are my pride and joy.  I love your ethical nature and your commitment to your country.  After several deployments I can only describe my love and pride as "boundless'."

Decorate the cards and exchange on Christmas Day!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Christmas Every Day: Day 22

Millie writes:

Tonight, take a leisurely drive around your town to look at all the light displays. Many towns have areas where everyone on the street puts up over-the-top outside decorations, and some have downtowns with fantastic lights and a giant tree.

Even if you live in a tiny hamlet, it's cozy in the car with the heater blasting and Christmas music playing on the stereo. Seeing the light-up Rudolph in Mrs. Perkins' yard and the inflatable snow globe in front of the Harris house is a great way to get you in the Christmas spirit - and you don't have to do anything but look!

Many towns have a tree-lighting ceremony or a Christmas parade around this time of year, and most cities have a Christmas light extravaganza of some sort. For example, since we're a river town, ours has the annual Parade of Ships - boats of all kinds are decorated with fantastical light creations and float down the rivers. Check your local newspaper and see what's out there!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Christmas Every Day: Day 21

Millie writes:

Make a new ornament for the Christmas tree. We do this every year; when the kids move out, they take their "trousseaux" of ornaments with them to decorate their own trees. That way, even though they're starting out fresh, they still have all the memories of their childhood Christmases right there with them!

This year we made ornaments from yarn and plastic canvas. There are directions here but patterns aren't really necessary unless you want them; our freehand ornaments turned out beautifully!

Even the littlest kid can "help" make chenille candy canes. Our family favorite so far is the marbled glass ornaments, though the baked Sculpey Mr. Potato Heads were a hit too!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Christmas Every Day: Day 20

Millie writes:

Have a Wrap Party!

Set up wrapping paper, boxes, bags, tape, scissors, ribbon and all the rest of the paraphernalia in the center of the room.

Assign a different area of the room to each person; little kids may like to build "wrapping forts" by crouching behind chairs or sofas. Each area should have a flat surface like a floor or tabletop to facilitate those hospital corners!

Play Christmas music while everyone wraps their presents; come out of hiding for hot cider and popcorn when you're all finished.

No peeking!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Mollie's Salad

Mollie writes:

Salad is a lot of fun at our house, mostly because I spent over 20 years trying to get boys to eat green food. Here is the recipe for an easy salad - makes up quickly and gobbles up quickly, too.

You will need

salad bowl
salad tongs
kitchen scissors
salad spinner
measuring cups

3 cups of arugula or 3 cups of spinach, whatever is available.
1 cup Italian parsley
1 cup cilantro
2 cups cherry tomatoes
1/4 cup pine nuts
1 cup blueberries
large cooked prawns  (you choose - try one per dinner guest)
5 pieces sliced salami

Wash arugula (spinach), Italian parsley and cilantro and spin dry.  Put into salad bowl.  Wash cherry tomatoes, slice in half, add to lettuce bowl.   Add pine nuts.  Wash blueberries and add to salad bowl.  Cut the salami slices into quarters, add to the bowl.  Just before serving, add prawns.  Dress lightly with the dressing below, put leftover dressing into a cruet on the table.


You will need
glass jar with lid
kitchen scissors
measuring cups and spoons

1 cup olive oil
1//3 cup rice vinegar
1 tsp (approx. - do it to your taste) sugar
1 TBSP dijon mustard (again, approx, do it to your own taste)
salt & pepper (again to your own taste
1 TBSP fresh tarragon, chopped

Put all ingredients in jar, put on lid, and shake, baby, shake!  Taste it and correct it to your own tastes.
Once you are satisfied, put approx. 1/3 cup directly on salad, the rest on the dinner table.

This is good, healthy, and just a little different.  The tastes of the cilantro, arugula and parsley are really wonderful - even little folks like it (usually!)

Christmas Every Day: Day 19

Millie writes:

Remember those Christmas cookies you made yesterday?

Stick a few in a zip-top bag or on a paper plate covered with plastic; add a festive bow. Then take them next door and give them to your neighbors, with a cheery "Merry Christmas!"

'Tis better to give than to receive
-Someone who's never gotten a gift from Millie!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Christmas Every Day: Day 18

Millie writes:

Woo-hoo, only a week left until Christmas!

This morning before you leave for the mall, make up a batch of sugar cookie dough and put it in the refrigerator to chill while you're gone (or 2-3 hours). This evening, roll out the dough and go to town with your cookie cutters (or use the mouth of a juice glass as a cutter for round cookies).

Decorate them with your favorite frosting or use the Royal Icing recipe from Day 15. I dipped mine in Royal Icing and then into red-and-white sugar crystals. Yum!

It's easy, it makes the house smell great - and it's Christmas-y!

I sure do like those Christmas cookies, sugar
I sure do like those Christmas cookies, babe!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Those Potatoes!!!

Mollie writes:

One of my favorite recipes is for a very basic potato dish.  It doesn't have a name, it is just a simple potato recipe that most folks make one way or another.  Here's mine -

You will need

cast iron pan - approx. 8 inches diameter
aluminum foil
sharp knife
kitchen towel


1 stick butter
8 small red potatoes
1 large sliced onion - a cheap white onion is best, frankly
20 peeled cloves of garlic (I buy 'em at the store pre-peeled or you can buy 3 whole  heads and peel yourself)
a branch of rosemary (maybe a foot long?)
salt and pepper.

Melt, at medium heat, 1/2 of the stick of butter in cast iron pan until just melted.

Wash and dry the potatoes.  DO NOT peel 'em.  Slice potatoes lengthwise, then completely dry the potatoes, especially the cut side.  Place the potatoes, cut side down and dry, into the melted butter.  The dried potato will brown better.  Chop the onions to a size you prefer, add to potatoes in pan.  Put whole, peeled cloves of garlic in pan.  Add the rosemary, than lightly salt and pepper.

Take the leftover 1/2 stick of butter and butter the dull side of the aluminum foil.  Then take whatever leftover butter you have and chop it into the potato mixture in the pan.  Put the aluminum foil, butter side down, over the potatoes and seal over pan.

Cook over low heat for 1/2 hour.  Best potatoes bar none!

You can also add pre-browned sausages before you seal the pan with the aluminum foil.  Makes for a very inexpensive yummy dinner!

Christmas Every Day: Day 17

Millie writes:

To help reinforce the spirit of "giving" at a time of year when many kids can't think of anything but "getting," help your kids go through their closets and toy boxes to weed out the surfeit of clothes, books and toys.

Have a gentle talk with your children about the "poor kids," those who don't have as much as you do and need a little help from other kids who have plenty. (You may not, in fact, have plenty, but a) your kids probably don't think so and b) there is always someone worse off than you.) Donate your excess to the Salvation Army, the Goodwill or a PTA clothing closet.

My mom used to tell us that Santa would think he'd already been to our house if he showed up and we had too many toys lying around!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Christmas Every Day: Day 16

Millie writes:

Write letters to Santa! Put the letters in an envelope so you can "mail it to the North Pole" later on; tuck the envelope into your purse if you need a shopping list, or keep it with the baby books.

Our kids are a little old for Santa Letters these days, but we keep the tradition. Each year they receive 3x5 cards with "Reasonable" written on the front and "Unreasonable" written on the back. This gives them space to dream big, and us a few specific hints (Green Day or Muse? Lewis Carroll or Stephenie Meyer?)

If your children tend to copy the contents of the toy catalog, limit their list to 5 or 6 things. If it helps, my mom had an iron-clad rule: Santa Claus doesn't bring anything that is advertised on television!

Johnny wants a pair of skates
Suzie wants a dolly,
Nellie wants a storybook
She thinks dolls are folly
As for me, my little brain
Isn't very bright
Choose for me, oh, Santa Claus
What you think is right!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Babette's Feast

Mollie writes:

The movie, "Babette's Feast" was released  in the late 80's, when our little ones were preschoolers.  I saw it  at a local avant-garde theater where foreign films were highlighted. These were our lean years, when we ate a lot of generic foods, mac and cheese, ramen soups, Velveeta and hamburger.  The movie was a welcome experience for this penny-pinching housewife;  it was filled with good cooking, humor, hope, forgiveness and the ultimate in humanity.

In a nutshell, two sisters, Martina and Phillipa, live in a village on the coast of Denmark.  They are the daughters of a minister of a religious congregation that practices austerity in the hope of celestial salvation.  These sisters are serious about their ministry - they have carried it on after their father's death.  One sister has rejected a potential husband in favor of her ministry, the other rejected a brilliant operatic career for a life of denial and spiritual renewal.

At one point, a disheveled Babette turns up on their doorstep.  She is seeking asylum from the ravages of the French civil war and is only wanting to work for the two sisters as they continue their ministry.  They allow her to stay with them, give her a room, and she begins working for the sisters.  Within their poverty, she manages to feed her two rescuers as well as the congregation in general.

Years pass, and decades later, Babette has won a small lottery.  As the anniversary of their father's birth nears, the sisters allow Babette to create a meal to honor his life.  But they do it with trepidation, since self-denial is a cornerstone of their salvation.  They invite members of the congregation to sup with them but the sisters insist that nobody should enjoy the food.

And Babette creates a feast.  As we learn at the end of the movie, she was a famous French chef at the time of the civil war and had prepared meals for many heads of state when she lived in Paris.  Her husband and son were killed in the war, and she fled France to save her life.

Tortoise soup, quail, cheeses, great wines and other delights of the earth are prepared in Babette's humble kitchen.  And the sisters, in the ultimate act of charity, agree to eat the meal but not enjoy it.  It doesn't take long for redemption to enter the dynamic!

In the end, the sisters have learned the complexities of love, forgiveness and salvation.  Babette has rewarded them for their years of protection in the only way she knew how.  And she spent every last cent she won in the lottery.   And the viewer, we have the unmitigated delight of watching all enjoy a meal that defies description.

In the 90's, I'd play the movie on video and try to get the boys to watch it - failing miserably.  But I also concocted my own "Babette's Feast" that was operational - within my budget and within my talents.   This began an annual celebration of Christmas Day, where we all ate well, enjoyed salvation, and I celebrated the season of loving and giving by preparing a good meal for my family.  I have to admit, the guys liked that part of it!

We've had a Babette's Feast of sorts since then.  The menu has evolved, with the exception of one year when I decided to flambe a goose, and  has remained pretty much the same.  We start with crab coctails,  and progress through multiple courses to the ultimate in Christmas desserts, a Buche de Noel.  The meal takes several hours, the kids had to use the proper silverware ( OK, stainless steel, but you know what I mean) and they even got sips of wine!  All in all, we have a blast.

The following is the normal meal we have when we celebrate Christmas.  It's less French, less Danish, and less austere than most holiday meals.  But it does remind us of how blessed we are on this earth.

Mollie's Feast

Crab Cocktail

French Onion Soup (a la Julia Child)

Mollie's salad

Prime Rib Roast (a la The Joy of Cooking)
"Those potatoes"
Caramelized carrots

Cheese and fruit platter

Mollie's Buche de Noel

In later entries, I'll write the recipes for the ones I've morphed over the years, but a copy of Julia Child's "Mastering the Art of French Cooking," and the Rombauers' "The Joy of Cooking" are all you need for the soup and roast.  We serve local wines, except one year we had a French Sauterne  at the end of the meal and another year we had French wine that some friends had given us.  In addition bread was a constant as well as sparkling water.   And yes, butter was everywhere!

Roger and Joy are coming up, pre-Christmas, to celebrate with us and enjoy another Babette's (Mollie's) Feast.  We plan on spending the day gabbing, cooking, sipping wine and ultimately sitting down for a wonderful family tradition.

The meal is pricey, but I usually had a little money squirreled away for this once-a-year extravaganza.
So if you are looking for someway to make austerity and abundance a Christmas celebration, here's one way.  Get your DVD and start cooking!

Christmas Every Day: Day 15

Millie writes:

Make a quick and easy “gingerbread” house using tubes of frosting (or royal icing) and graham crackers. Trim with small candies.

If you have pointy ice-cream cones, turn them upside-down and frost them green to make trees.

Royal Frosting

3 egg whites
4 3/4 cups confectioners' sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp cream of tartar

Dump everything in a bowl and beat with an electric mixer until the frosting is stiff (7-10 minutes). Use immediately or cover with a damp cloth to keep it from hardening in the bowl or:

Separate frosting into individual zip-top bags (one for each color you want)and add a drop or two of food coloring to each bag. Press out as much air as you can, then seal the bags and knead them to mix the frosting and the food coloring.

To pipe the frosting onto the graham crackers, snip a small piece off the corner of each bag. (If there is frosting left, re-seal the bag with a bit of tape; use the excess frosting to decorate sugar cookies!)

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Christmas Every Day: Day 14

Millie writes:

Set up a Christmas village!

If you don't collect the houses, make some from cardboard boxes or construction paper. Use a hand mirror for a lake, old white sheets or cotton balls for snow, and small toys for the people, animals and cars.

Make a Fisher-Price village or a LEGO nativity scene, if that's what you've got. Use your imagination!

Monday, December 13, 2010

What Do YOU Believe?

This time of the year is full of good cheer. My oldest wishes strangers a "Merry Christmas!" and is thrilled when they return in kind.

Strangers also ask my kids if Santa is going to bring them toys. Have they seen Santa this year? I smile kindly and answer for my two year old that she hasn't seen him this year. What I don't say is that we don't do Santa. We never have and never will.

This is the time of year that we get to celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. We want to keep it that way, pure and simple. As the children get older, we are trying to teach them the joy of giving, rather than solely focused on what they're gonna get.

My husband and I keep the gift count low, not only because it can get expensive to buy a lot of gifts, but because we'd like to keep The Gi-mes at bay. Much to our chagrin and dismay, last year at my inlaws, my oldest (then five) looked at her pile of loot and then underneath the empty tree and asked "Is that it?" Yes, she was only five and it was a simple question... but underneath that hovered a spirit of greed that I didn't want to feed.

Whether your deck the halls with Santas and elves or nativity scenes and cherubim (or all of it!), remember that the reason for the season is to show one another love and mercy. Not all gifts have ribbons or wrapping paper, after all.

God bless us, everyone!

Christmas Every Day: Day 13

There are only 12 days left! If you have little ones who are impatient for the big day to arrive, teach them to make a paper chain. Make one with a dozen links, hang it in a prominent place and allow the kids to tear off one link every day.

In addition to being an "art project," this craft will help teach counting and subtraction, distract the kids for 20 minutes . . . and maybe spare you a little bit of the "HOW many days NOW until it's Christmas??" countdown!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Christmas Every Day: Day 12

Millie writes:

If you really believe it is more blessed to give then to receive - or if your kids love May Day - you'll like this one.

Buy or make a small ornament, then wrap it festively and leave it on a stranger's porch with a note saying that it's a gift from their Secret Santa. Ring the bell (or knock loudly) and run!

Who knows? Your small act of kindness might send a ripple effect through your whole town - it will at least be something that stranger's family will talk about for years to come!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Christmas Every Day: Day 11

Millie writes:

Light the lights! Whether you hang hundreds of twinkle lights a'la Clark Griswold or put a single candle in the window, warm and welcoming light is the essence of the holiday season.

Put colored bulbs in your front porch socket! Trim the eaves with icicle lights! Put a battery-operated "candle" in each window to welcome your weary travelers home.

Break forth, O beauteous Heavenly light!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Christmas Every Day - Day 11, Write your own Christmas Carol!

Mollie writes:

Sit the kids down somewhere comfy and announce that they will be creating their own Christmas carol.  Keep the music simple; a familiar melody like "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" would be ok, especially since you won't be using it for profit, just family fun.

An example:

Twinkle Twinkle Christmas Star
How I wonder who you are.
Are you our Savior, precious and new?
Or a little angel, fresh as dew?
Twinkle Twinkle Christmas Star
How I wonder who you are.

It doesn't have to be spiritual, politically correct or anything else.  It just needs to come from your family's heart!

Medical Minutiae

Mollie writes:

When Millie and I started this blog, we did it to celebrate homemaking.  Most of it centers around our children since we are each dedicated moms.  But homemaking also includes other issues, including marriage, partners, money management and a bazillion of other details.

One of the issues where I consider myself a diva is the issue of health care.  After sweating my way through a chronic disease (multiple sclerosis) for 20 years, I've become something of an expert on the ways  of the sickly.  There is a lot to say, so occasionally I'll sort out individual topics and deal with them one by one.

One thing we don't hear a lot about is patient responsibility.  It's our job to be sure we are providing our medical providers with our latest insurance information and the pursuant information for the paper work that will accompany it.  We need to sign those medical information release forms so that a claim submitted for payment can be adjudicated quickly and reimbursement made to the provider as soon as possible.  It's just a matter of common sense.  If you have a co-pay, make it at the time of care, since those nurses, doctors, secretaries, bookkeepers, phlebotomists, etc. aren't working for free.  Remember, even a doctor has overhead.  By the time she pays her staff and rent and malpractice insurance and medical school debt, she still deserves some money to manage her household.

It is also our responsibility to be honest with our providers.  Somethings slip our minds or we make mistakes filling out forms.  If you make a mistake or forget something, just own up to it.  Just yesterday I blew it and listed a perfectly safe drug as one that caused my liver enzymes to soar.  In a nutshell, instead of listing zanoflex as the drug that shut down my liver, I listed another drug that I've been taking safely for years.  But we get battle weary, and we make mistakes.

A solution to this problem is to do what I'm doing now; that is, write a small medical biography about yourself (and your kids, etc) and take it to the doctors' office.  List the names of your drugs, both prescription AND over the counter.  List your surgeries, pregnancies, family medical history, etc.  Do this at home, when you are clear headed.  Print it, and take it with you.  You can let the doctor keep the copy attached to the forms you've also completed.  It lets these folks know that you are an involved, careful patient.

Also, there's something to be said about spelling all the medical conditions and prescriptions properly.  It lets them know that you may not be a medical professional, but you speak the language, even if it is a second language.

Along with your history, bring a printout of your questions.  I always ask whether a new drug is excreted by my liver or my kidneys.  I'm just over protective of both and like keeping up to date on this.  But I'm sure you have your own personal issues you want addressed, your own questions answered.  Going in with a printout also lets the provider that you mean business.  It also means that you'll waste less of their time.

Show up on time.  I hate it when a physician makes me wait - and usually it's because she was taking care of the patient in the next room who was having seizures that lasted longer than the 15 minutes the visit originally was for.  Time is not magic in the doctors' office.  Treat it with respect.  Print out the directions to the clinic, etc.

Leave the kids at home, unless they are the patient.  It's hard enough to give a patient the "bad news" without scaring the kids in the exam room spitless.  They don't need to hear bad news in this fashion, if at all.  They also don't need to wait in the waiting room for you to come out all teary eyed.  And the office staff has to draw blood, make appointments, settle billing questions, etc. so they really aren't reliable babysitters.

I had the doctors' appointment from hell yesterday, it began at 4:40 am when I rose to catch the ferry to drive to Seattle 'til I got home that evening to pick up my dog from daycare.  It was to determine if I'm eligible for a new drug for MS that will replace my 3x weekly self injections of interferon.  I'm hoping that all goes well, and I can switch therapies:  but before this decision is made, I had to see a neurologist, a pulmonary technician, an ophthalmologist, a dermatologist  and have lab tests run.  By the end of the day, my eyes were crossed and my fatigue level exceeded.

And I still had to shoulder my share of the responsibility.  It's a jungle out there, but we are up to it!

Christmas Every Day: Day 10

Millie writes:

Pop up a big bowl of corn, gather the family around the TV (you will hardly ever hear Millie suggest that!) and watch Christmas movies.

The Nightmare Before Christmas, Jim Carrey's How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and Love, Actually are a few of our favorites; for more young-kid-friendly fare, try The Polar Express, Home Alone or one of the Thomas the Tank Engine Christmas movies.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Christmas Every Day: Day 9

Millie writes:

Your family's celebration starts at your front door, so hang a wreath on it! This will get your family in the Christmas mood every time you come into the house.

We have a tradition of buying a huge Costco evergreen wreath and hanging it up Thanksgiving night to kick the season off with its wonderful smell. It doesn't have to be the traditional pine circle, though; hang a grapevine wreath with stuffed animals and a big red bow, or a spray of silk poinsettias with battery-operated twinkle lights, or a brass French horn with a sprig of holly attached. Use whatever strikes your fancy and fits your decorating scheme.

But the prettiest sight you'll see
is the holly that will be
on your own front door!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Christmas Every Day: Day 8

Millie writes:

Break out the books! If you don't already have a collection of Christmas books, start one this year. There are fantastic volumes for all ages containing stories, pictures, poetry and games with a Christmas theme. There is an even larger assortment at your local library!

We keep ours with our decorations during the year, and make a point of reading at least one every day in December. As with the ornaments, I try to add to our book collection annually – you find them cheap at school book fairs and at a substantial discount at the After-Christmas sales.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Christmas Every Day - Day 7: Molly Wraps (Rap)s!

It's day 7 my friends and I've got something to say!

How to confuse your kids 'til the Christmas Day.

Wrap those presents kid by kid

But don't you worry 'bout keepin them hid.

Each kid gets their own color paper and bows

But this isn't just how everything goes

On Christmas Morning, tell who gets what

But before then, just keep your mouth shut!

Peter gets the presents in newsprint and Roger - brown bags.

Only Daddy gets the ones with the id tags!

The kids won't guess who gets what

Until Christmas morning when the silence is cut!

Millie writes:

Vacuum up the paper scraps with your faithful Bissel, Bro,

Then you and Mister Mollie kick it underneath the mistletoe!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Christmas Every Day: Day 6

Get a poinsettia and display it prominently! There's no more potent visual reminder of the season than the vivid red and green of a classic poinsettia plant. Nowadays there are other colors, too, from peppermint-striped to pure white.

Poinsettias are available nearly everywhere this time of year, from the huge bushel-basket size at your local florist (or Costco!) to the tiny one-bloom pot at the nearby gas station. They also come in every price range, so don't be put off by the cost of the fill-your-unlit-fireplace size if all you want is a top-of-the-kitchen-table model.

Oh, and - they're not really poisonous, neither to humans nor animals.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

K3's "Cookie Trinity" Recipe

K3 writes:

With all of the festivities and food and baking, I wanted to share a recipe from a wonderful cookbook. One of my favorite cookbooks ever - and one that is especially helpful at this time of year (well, always, actually) is the More-With-Less Cookbook. This treasure of recipes produced by the Mennonite Central Committee "in response to to world food needs" was first printed in 1976 and has been updated in recent years. The book not only has great recipes, but nearly horrifying statistics about the American diet. However, never fear! There are also chapters about Eating with Joy and menu planning, making breakfast cereals, beans, and I even remember a demonstration when I was in church youth group about using 1 chicken to make 3 meals plus petfood and oil for use in bread baking. Recipes for homemade bread, crackers, ketchup, pickles, clay dough, children's paste, flavored teas, laundry detergent and international dishes are all included.

So how does this fit in with the holidays that seem to be surrounding us? First, the More-With-Less Cookbook highlights recipes that are TIME SAVING. Second, they have a variety of recipes that include instructions for helping children learn to cook and experience food. Third, they have wonderful recipes for desserts that are high in protein and can substitute as a meal.

One of my favorite recipes from the book is a cookie recipe that combines the "cookie trinity" -- chocolate chip, oatmeal, and peanut butter. What more could you want?

Here ya go!

Makes 6-8 dozen
Bake 375 degrees for 10 minutes

Cream together:
1 c. shortening (may use half margarine and half lard)
1/4 c peanut butter
1/2 c sugar
1/2 c brown sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 c flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
2 c rolled oats
1-2 c chocolate chips
1 c chopped nuts (optional)
Mix well. Drop by teaspoonfuls on greased cookie sheet. Bake at 375 for about 10 minutes.

Hmmmm. Homemade corn chips. I'll have to remember that for the Superbowl party....OOOOOoooohhhh! Orange Eggnog popsicles....

Christmas Every Day: Day 5

Millie writes:

Decorate your Christmas tree! This can mean something different to each family who celebrates Christmas: you might hop in the car and head out to a lot, bundle up and cut your own on a tree farm or go up to the attic and bring down your tree-in-a-box. Some people decorate an interesting "found" branch they've stuck in a bucket of sand, and others have a roll-up felt wall-hanging tree with felt ornaments.

Whatever "The Tree" means to you, its set-up, location and decoration are probably governed by long-standing family tradition. For example, we use a lot of lights on our tree - and I mean a lot, one year we had more than 25,000 twinkle lights on it and oh, what a tree that was! - so light placement usually takes place over the course of a day or two. When they're all on the silver-and-gold bead garlands are draped. Then the ornaments and candy canes - and, this year, tinsel!

Play Christmas music while you work. Serve eggnog when you're finished. Take lots of pictures. Don't worry if the red balls are all on one branch or the left side of the tree is bare - who cares? It will look beautiful anyway (and if it really bothers you, you can "fix" it after the kids are in bed).

About ornaments: we each make a new one every year (this year we stitched our own designs onto plastic canvas squares using yarn - the kids will take their homemade ornament "trousseaus" with them when they move out) and I buy a new one, too (this year I added to my Star Santa collection, but I'm hoping to find a red glass bird as well). There's also a glass pickle ornament that I hide in the tree while we're decorating; the first one to find the pickle wins!

I confess that since a) we have a houseful of kids who can't wait and b) we use a fake one, we put our Christmas tree up a day or two after Thanksgiving. Of course we don't decorate it until everyone can be here - something that gets more and more difficult to schedule each year, as people grow up and get jobs and lives - but it's one of my favorite parts of the whole season. If there is a gaudier piece of oversize jewelry than a Christmas tree, I don't know what it is; and its twinkling, shining presence in the house is a visible link to Christmases past, Christmas present, and Christmases yet to come.

Christmas Gifts 102: The Stockings

Mollie writes:

Over the years, our family has come up with a bunch of traditions that probably identifies us as a little weird.  With little kids, it was always a struggle to get them to go to bed on Christmas Eve without opening  just one present.  As often as not, we'd break down and let them open one, just so they would close their eyes and let us get some sleep!

When they would roll out of bed Christmas morning, we'd start with their Christmas stockings.  When they were in their Santa Claus years, we'd put little toys and candy in their stockings.  But at some point, they just outgrew the cutsie stuff.

What's a Mollie to do?  At some point, you have pre-teens who just eschew the toy and candy thing and want to go directly to the big stuff.  But John and I always had the most fun with the stockings.  You can stuff one of those with just about anything and a kid would be happy.

One year, once the boys were both in middle school, I was having a hard time keeping track of my pens.  I'd buy a big bag of them in August, and by November they'd all be gone.  So that Christmas, I put Bic pens in their stockings, and for good measure, I put an assortment of "Hello Kitty" pens in my stocking.   Once I'd converted to pink pens, I never lost another; imagine a middle school boy showing up in class with a "Hello Kitty" pen - I think not!

But this set a precedent.   We started putting goofy things in stockings and ended up having a blast.  Imagine a 14 year old thanking his mother for the Odor Eaters in his stocking, and the 12 year old thanking the same mother for the bottles of Bean-o in his.  Add cough drops, little boxes of raisins, warm socks, mittens and the occasional pink pearl eraser and you get my point.  A mother could both entertain her kids AND make a statement with Christmas stockings.  And it was cheap!

Of course my kids are grown now, one having made several deployments in the Middle East, the other married and buying a home of his own.  But I'm still having the time of my life, coming up with tacky stocking stuffers.

The ground rules are easy.  It has to be something that the kid needs (Odor-Eaters? a MUST for a teen boy), it must be something normally kept around the house anyway, and it must be cheap.  If you stick to the big three, you'll all be laughing your heads off before they tear into the serious stuff.  It's a good ice-breaker for families everywhere!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Christmas Every Day: Day 4

Millie writes:

Make or buy Christmas cards and spend the evening addressing the envelopes and adding a message to each card. Send out hundreds or just a handful.

Set up an assembly line, if you like, with one person addressing the envelopes, one person stuffing them, somebody licking the flap and someone else adding a stamp. If you're feeling crafty, the post office sells special Christmas stamps for that finishing touch.

Make sure your mugs are full of hot chocolate, mint tea, eggnog or hot cider to keep you well-fortified for this task!

Friday, December 3, 2010

Christmas Every Day: Day 3

Millie writes:

Break out the Christmas CDs and fill your world with song! Add a little Christmas music to your day wherever you are by making a seasonal play list for your MP3 player or creating a "Christmas" station on Pandora. Don't forget to take a CD (or a cassette or an 8-track tape) out to the car!

If you have the time, go to the library or browse YouTube to see if you can dig up a few of the Christmas songs you loved as a child. You might also start the new custom of buying (or making) a new album each year.

'Tis the season to be jolly . . . fa la la la la, la la la la!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Christmas Gifts 101: Buying for the Spouse

Mollie writes:

We've had great Christmases, hard Christmases, fun Christmases, quiet Christmases.  Every year, John and I have learned a little more about each other during the holidays.  One tidbit is think about the recipient before you buy.

Our first Christmas was a harbinger of our future.  John gave me an engagement ring with cubic zirconia instead of diamonds, with a promise of real diamonds when we had a home and some money.  He delivered four years later when I delivered Peter.

I loved the ring and keep it under lock and key just as if it was the real thing, because, it WAS the real thing.  But some of the other gifts promised an interesting future.  One of them was a port-a-potty for hikers and campers.  A throne of my own with unstable legs and a less than sturdy seat, wow!  I used it once and then promptly 'lost' it.  It isn't that I didn't appreciate the thought, it was just that there was nothing romantic about toting it on my back as we hiked through the Cascades.  So a word to the wise, avoid any Christmas gift that involves relieving oneself.

Another poor choice of Christmas gifts was the pair of Bigfoot slippers.   What can I say, they were ugly!  John, Peter and Roger bought them at some discount warehouse where only the unsellables are featured at extreme discount.  There was a reason for the discount: nobody wanted them.  But we have a picture of a very annoyed Mollie that Christmas with her feet furry and her toenails long.  Yuck!

It's not to say that I didn't give John some real turkeys, not at all!  I understand his love of all things electronic, and when we were young, I'd give John something electronic.  The problem was that I just didn't know what he would like, so the day after Christmas, John would take the offending piece of crud back to the store and then race over to another electronics store to buy something much more functional. My feelings were always hurt.

When I finally got the message that my choosing an electronic gift just wasn't working, I switched over to clothes.  Another mistake since John detests anything remotely resembling wardrobe additions.  Giving the man a sweater for Christmas was tantamount to giving me a port-a-potty.

So, after at least 10 years of marriage, we finally figured out what the other person wanted.  One year I gave John a ticket to attend a Stephen Hawking lecture.  I'd have purchased two, and gone myself, but they were expensive and I couldn't justify the expense of my ticket with our pitiful budget.  Another year, I gave him kayaking lessons, and another year I gave him didjeridoo lessons.  It turns out that if it involved learning, John loved it.

He also likes tools, so, since moving to Whidbey Island, I go to the local tool store and buy another tool. As it happens, John LOVES tools, even weird, useless tools.  And it's fun to go meet up with the folks there and joke about what John's getting this year - frankly, it's a tradition.

John has learned that if it involves gardening or cooking, it's a keeper.  I have more odd gardening tools than anyone ever needed, and I love them all.  And I have every conceivable kitchen do-hickey, some of them are in boxed storage, but I never know when I might need a cherry pitter!  These gifts are usually inexpensive and the best things under the tree.

We've been married so long that we now shop together for each other's Christmas.  This year, we gave each other an I-Pad and an electric foot massager.  There will be no surprises under the Christmas tree, no port-a-potties, but there will be two happy campers.  It takes the guilt out of spending a lot of money on ourselves when we include it in the Christmas gifting!

I'll write later about how we handle the kids and Christmas gifting.  And we have a family tradition that we call "Babette's Feast" where I go crazy in the kitchen.  More on that later.  But for now, enjoy spoiling your significant other creatively.   It doesn't have to cost a lot to indulge the other person, just be sure the gift represents the gifted!

Christmas Every Day - Day 2

Millie writes:

Fill your home with the smell of Christmas. Burn pine-scented incense, light peppermint-scented candles, or set out a bowl of fresh balsam potpourri. Bring in a pot of blooming narcissus. If someone in your home is allergic to strong fragrances, simmer apple juice or cider on the stove and add a stick of cinnamon and a sprinkling of cloves.

In short, do whatever it is that makes your home smell like the holiday to you and your family!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Christmas Every Day - Day 1

Millie writes:

Designate a small elf figurine, stuffed animal or ornament as a “magic Christmas elf” (or reindeer or whatever you have on hand). These are the rules: Starting sometime after everyone has gone to bed on December 1st, the magic elf moves to a different location each night. It must be in plain sight in a public room (not hidden inside something else, or out in the garage), and once it's found no one can play with it or it can't move the next night. This busy little elf will hop to a different spot each day until, on the morning of December 24, it is found on the Christmas tree. When the elf is on the tree, you know it's Christmas Eve!