Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Hodgepodging the last of 2015

 Beautiful visitors to our cranberry bush

Winter has finally come to Wisconsin. I can't say that I was sad, thinking we might have a snowless Christmas, but we did get snow just in time. And now we will enjoy it for the next four months, as we sit beside the fire and console ourselves with the beautiful photos in the seed catalogs, a reminder that spring really will come again...we hope.

Evening, December 28, 2015

And now it's time for the Hodgepodge!

Join Joyce and the Gang
Plug the answers into your own blog
and join in!

Here are the questions to the last Hodgepodge of 2015. Answer on your own blog, then hop back here to share answers with all the other revelers.

1. Share a favorite memory/moment from the week of Christmas.

Enjoying time with family and friends, and trying out the Christmas cake and Christmas pudding.

Christmas Eve (below), Grandpa (Mr. C.) reading the account of Jesus' birth from the Bible.

We enjoyed the company of Carla (from The River Flowing Blog) and her sweet family as well, for a Christmas tea to try out the Christmas Cake (lower, middle, above), but unfortunately my photo turned out blurry. :-(

Earlier, at our daughter's home:
Hungry, Hungry Hippo,
Son-in-law's Christmas pudding
We had a hard time getting that thing to flame! 
But it was delicious.

My dad made the icicles, bottom right

2. If someone wrote a book about your life based on the past year, what genre would it fall under? What would the title be?

Non Fiction: Stuck, But Hopeful

3. What made you feel patriotic this year?

That's a tough one, but I'd guess I'd say that every time I see the BNSF Railway commercial, it makes me marvel at how beautiful and vast this country is, and the amazing industry we once had. It also makes me sad that we have little industry that hasn't moved out of this country, that we have little access to quality goods or even the ability to purchase decent textiles at the store, and that our economy is not healthy, despite the mainstream media energetically pumping the bellows into a pile of dying embers.

4. What experience from this past year would you like to do all over again?

Spend vacation time with our daughter and son-in-law in England, meeting UK blogging friends, attending evensong service at York Minster, Durham Cathedral, and St. Paul's. I would never tire of this.

 York Minster in the distance
(York has Good Fences too)

York Minster Quire

5. What song lyric sums up or is a reflection of your 2015?
Song title, not lyrics: Walk, Don't Run
6. On a scale of 1-10 how would you rate 2015? (10=stellar) Why?

So far, I'd rate it a 6.  Ask me next July. Maybe it will look better in hind sight.

7. What part of the upcoming year are you most excited about?

Most excited and most apprehensive:  Hip revision surgery with a 90% hopeful outcome. (The original hip replacement was done in December of 2013.) That leaves 10%.  But I would think that the chair of  orthopedic surgery, Mayo, Rochester, is the best, which is why he's booked until June.

8. Insert your own random thought here.

 With Grandpa's Glasses

So 5 year old grandson was testing his 21 month old sister on her ability to pronounce words. 

'Lucy, say Paw Patrol.' 
'Lucy, say ornament.'
'Hey, Mom, Lucy said 'ornament!' I'm so excited!  It's like she's an actual baby now, and not just a blob.' 

 The blob-turned-baby
with her grandpa

 Have a Happy New Year, Everyone!


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Tuesday, December 29, 2015

SALE on Christmas Soaps

Hi everyone! Just a note to let you know that my natural, handcrafted, vegan Christmas soaps are on sale now at

Check the SPECIAL OFFERS and FREE PRIORITY SHIPPING sections. Hope you all have a wonderful New Year's Eve and New Year's Day. Like many of you, I'm getting ready for company, so it's possible that I won't be blogging until next week. But I never know. :-) 

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Wednesday, December 23, 2015

A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols

A Festival of Nine Lesson and Carols, a yearly reminder of what Christmas is all about.  Creation...Adam and Eve's joyous relationship with God...Sin, with the consequent broken relationship, leaving humankind in a sinful, helpless state...God's loving promise of a Remedy to restore that relationship with God...Prophets foretelling the coming of the Messiah, the anointed one...Gabriel's announcement to a virgin, that she would bear a son, the Son of God himself, who would save his people from their sin...The birth of Jesus, Immanuel, God with us, the Light of the world, born to set us free, to restore us to that joyous relationship with God.

Joy to the World, the Lord is Come!! Let Earth receive her King.

On Sunday evening, we attended A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols, patterned on 'the original,' in Cambridge, England. It is a beautiful service, held at St. Mark's Episcopal Cathedral in Minneapolis.

1. This is the truth sent from above,
The truth of God, the God of love;
Therefore don’t turn me from your door,
But hearken all, both rich and poor.
2. The first thing, which I do relate,
That God at first did man create
The next thing, which to you I tell,
Woman was made with him to dwell.
3. Then after this, ‘twas God’s own choice
To place them both in Paradise,
There to remain from evil free
Except they ate of such a tree.
4. But they did eat, which was a sin,
And thus their ruin did begin;
Ruined themselves, both you and me,
And all of their posterity.
5. Thus we were heirs to endless woes,
Till God the Lord did interpose
For so a promise soon did run
That He’d redeem us with a Son.
6. And at this season of the year
Our blest Redeemer did appear
He here did live, and here did preach,
And many thousands He did teach.
7. Thus He in love to us behaved,
To show us how we must be saved
And if you want to know the way
Be pleased to hear what He did say.
8. Go preach the Gospel new, He said,
To all the nations that are made
And he that does believe in me,
From all his sins I’ll set him free.
9. God grant to all within this place
True saving faith—that special grace,
Which to His people doth belong—
And thus I close my Christmas song.

"For a child has been born for us,
    a son given to us;
authority rests upon his shoulders;
    and he is named
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 
 His authority shall grow continually,
    and there shall be endless peace
for the throne of David and his kingdom.
    He will establish and uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
    from this time onward and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this."

- Isaiah 9:6-7

May you have a blessed Christmas, friends, as we celebrate the birth of our  Redeemer, Jesus Christ, the long-expected Messiah, come to set his people free.

 "For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope."
- Jeremiah 29:11


Listen to A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols,
Live from King's College Chapel, Cambridge
Christmas Eve Day
(9 AM Central Standard Time)

Merry Christmas, everyone!   I won't be blogging for the next few days. I'll be busy making clam chowder and popovers for our traditional family Christmas Eve dinner and sharing Christmas cake with friends on the weekend. Yes, I found some who are brave enough to partake!

Linked to: InSPIREd Sunday


Friday, December 18, 2015

Christmas Cake (and Recipe) vs. Christmas Pudding - Anglophile Friday

My Christmas Cake
resting on the London street map, of course

So, when we were in Wausau the end of November, our son-in-law was making a Christmas pudding, a la George Orwell.  I'm hoping to get a morsel of that pudding at some point, so rather than making the same thing, I decided to make the other British Christmas delight, the Christmas Cake. The following few photos are of our son-in-law's Christmas pudding, followed by my Christmas Cake recipe and photos.

Sorry that I didn't get a chance to see our son-in-law's
Christmas pudding turned out and lit on fire!
If I do, I'll get a photo of it and put it on my blog.

Christmas Pudding, ready for steaming

After steaming, it will rest in a cool dark place
until ready to serve.


Okay, on to the Christmas Cake. Actually, they have mostly the same ingredients, except that a Christmas pudding is steamed for several hours and a Christmas cake is baked, then has an apricot layer, a marzipan layer, and finally a coating of royal icing.

Christmas Cake Recipe:

I used:
1 Kg. dried fruits
Figs, prunes, dates, dried apricots, cherries, dried blueberries, and
200g. mixed nuts, emphasis on Brazil nuts.
Zest and juice of 1 orange
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
150 ml.  brandy, sherry, whisky or rum (who likes rum!) I had Southern Comfort on hand and used that.
250 g. soft butter
200g light soft brown sugar
175 g. plain flour
100 g ground almonds
1/2 t. baking powder
2 t. mixed spice*
1 t. ground cinnamon
1/4 t. flaked almonds
4 large eggs
1 t. vanilla

*Mixed spice is a mixture of: 1 T. allspice, 1 T. cinnamon, 1 T. nutmeg, 2 t. mace, 1 t. ground cloves, 1 t. ground coriander, 1 t. ginger. This makes more than the recipe calls for, but then you can put what's left over into a container, label it, and keep it for another time.

Put dried fruit, zests and juice, alcohol, butter, and sugar in a large pan over medium heat. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Pour the fruit mixture into a large bowl and leave to cool for 30 min.

Heat the oven to 150C (300 degrees F.).

And the next step is where I part ways with the instructions. I had a ridiculous amount of trouble with parchment and the pan I had intended to use, so I scrapped that plan, sprayed the inside of my non-stick Bundt pan with non-stick spray, and tied a double layer of newspaper around the pan.

Add the remaining ingredients to the fruit mixture and stir well, making sure there are no pockets of flour. Pour batter into the Bundt pan and bake in the center of the oven for 2 hours. Then remove the cake from the oven, poke holes in it with a skewer and spoon over 2 T. of the alcohol into the little holes. I think I got a bit generous with that bit, then left the cake to cool completely in the tin. IN FACT, because I was so certain that my cake would come out in pieces, I let it stay in the pan for about 6 hours before turning it out onto a plate. I was so surprised when it came down in one huge CLUNK onto the plate. YEA!!

Wrap the cake in plastic wrap and then FEED it a bit more alcohol every fortnight (Did you know that fortnight actually is a contraction of 'fourteen nights?' fēowertȳne niht, Old English. Why didn't anyone tell me that before?)


Anyway, I didn't have that much time because I didn't get my cake stirred up on 'Stir Up Sunday,'  the last Sunday before Advent, when the Christmas pudding would be stirred up, each member of the family taking a turn stirring it, traditionally.  

Here's what I found on Wikipedia about Stir Up Sunday. I found it interesting and thought I'd pass it along to you:

"The term comes from the opening words of the collect for the day in the Book of Common Prayer of 1549 and later (a translation of the Roman Missal's collect "Excita, quæsumus" used on the last Sunday before Advent):

 "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."

If the British are anything, they are great at forming and keeping traditions!

Also, the cake is sometimes stirred from east to west, in honor of the kings who came from the East to visit the Christ child. And traditionally, a silver sixpence was put into the pudding to bring good luck, assuming you're not the one who chokes on it. I suspect that with inflation the ranks of adherents to that particular tradition are thinning greatly.

And that reminds me of one of my favorite Hercule Poirot episodes, 'The Theft of the Royal Ruby.' The Christmas pudding plays into that story. You'll enjoy it. Yes, as usual, I digress.

Back to my Christmas Cake:

But I did feed it every few days and we'll see what happens.  Do not feed the cake for the final week to give the surface a chance to dry before icing.

Now on to the

Apricot Layer:

The recipe I had called for boiling the apricot jam, then straining it, adding a bit of water, and painting it onto the cake. Why?? I have no idea why they go to all that work, so instead, I put a few tablespoons of apricot jam into the blender and blended it, then spread it onto the cake, all over, with a kitchen brush.  I think I then let that sit for several hours.

Marzipan layer:

Not knowing whether or not this stuff was going to be a beast to roll out, I wanted to make sure to have enough, so I made plenty. BTW, have you priced blanched almonds lately?? The price of the blanched almonds was double that of the almond meal, so I bought almond meal. It will taste the same and not be the top layer anyway. Whatever is left over can be shaped into little decorations, or better yet, drizzled with dark chocolate. Oh good grief!

So I used the following:


300 g. powdered sugar
300 g. almond meal
3 egg whites
1/2 t. salt
3/4 t. almond extract

Don't even try mixing this in your food processor. Mine nearly died trying to mix it in, so I moved it to my mixer instead and used the regular mixing attachment. It turns out like a huge blob of sawdust and glue. I am not exaggerating. I mean, REALLY stiff. And then I refrigerated it overnight, as I was supposed to do. When I took it out the next morning to roll it out, it was like a boulder. I set it in front of the fire to let it soften up a bit, then put some powdered sugar on the counter and rolled it out. It rolled out beautifully and did not break when I doubled it over and lifted it onto the cake. YEA!!! So far, so good.

After rolling out the marzipan layer and draping it, shaping it to the cake, I trimmed the excess and will use that for the decorations. I made an X across the middle, pushed the corners down into the center of the cake, then cut little V's of marzipan to fill in the spaces left. It all worked pretty slick. At this point, the cake was refrigerated over a night or two.

Royal Icing Layer:

3 egg whites
600 g. powdered sugar
1 T. lemon juice
All the above mixed on low, then when it had homogenized to the point that the dry sugar would no longer fly out of the bowl, I mixed this on high for a few minutes until the icing made soft peaks.

The icing was put on the cake, including that hole in the middle, and the leftover marzipan I cut into shapes to make the holly and berries after coloring it with Wilton's red and green food dye. After that, I stuck a ball of marzipan into the center hole of the cake to hold the candle securely. I could use a candle with a bit larger diameter, but didn't have one.

It was a fun project. I just hope I can find someone to eat it with me! If not, I'll eat my slice and wrap the rest of it up and put it away until next year. That'll teach 'em!

 In the meantime, my Christmas cake is resting
in a cool, dark place, covered with a tea towel (per British instructions)
This is my lovely tea towel's maiden voyage.

I plan to make marzipan again when our grandson is out for a visit. That stuff is like modeling clay, and with Wilton's dye, we can make many colors and have a blast.

The original cake recipe, which I tweaked (more than a bit) to my liking, was found on

 Christmas Cake 2015

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Have a wonderful weekend, everyone!


Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Hodgpodging The Week Before Christmas

'The Kitty was nestled all snug in her bed...'

Join Joyce and the Gang
She writes the questions,
We write the answers.
Plug them into your own blog
and join in!

1. What's your biggest 'first world' problem?

"I cried because I had no shoes, 
until I met a man who had no feet."  

Right now I actually can't think of one of those silly things I concern myself with from time to time, but I know that I do, and my daughter and I laugh about the ridiculous things we think we need, or the 'problems' we have, contrasted with how MOST OF THE WORLD lives. Anyway, there seems to be some question of the origin of that poem, whose line I quoted above. Some say it's a Persian thing. Since no one knows for sure, I'll vote for G.K. Chesterton. Yes, I am just kidding, BUT, he said so many clever things, that it could easily have been him. :-) To read my blog post on Chesterton's piece entitled, 'A Piece of Chalk,' click HERE. How could anyone not like that man.

A Piece of Chalk

2.  Each year Time Magazine names a 'Person of the Year', someone who has 'for better or worse...done the most to influence the events of the year.' It was recently announced they've named Angela Merkel Person of the Year for 2015. You can read more about this year's selection here. Your thoughts? If you were in charge, who would you declare Person of the Year?

I read about Angela Merkel being chosen Person of the Year. And what do I think about it? Well, she's a woman with many dire problems facing her country...many of which they created themselves. So I'm not sure why we're celebrating her, then again, I guess the choice isn't made on who deserves celebration, but who, for whatever reason, is most notable that year, in their opinion. I don't know why they never ask me.

3. Do you have a nativity set in your home? If so share it's history and how you display the pieces.

YES! We have had a Nativity set in our home for as long as I can remember. My cousin Bobby gave us many of the pieces and I added pieces each year until there was quite a crowd gathered at the manger. I make sure that our kings come from the East, but since they didn't actually arrive to give King Jesus his gifts until he was a bit under 2 years old, I'm considering building a little house and putting it at the west end of the piano and moving the kings along little by little toward the house, having them arrive on January 6, the date we celebrate Epiphany.  That's when we used to have our kids 'open' their Christmas stockings. Don't ask me how stockings relate to that, but...

I heard someone on the radio say that it is a tradition in their family that they give the children each THREE gifts each Christmas because that's how many gifts Jesus received.

 Glory to God in the Highest!

At one point, I was considering getting rid of our old upright piano, created for the Chicago World's Fair in 1893, and I'm thinking that General Longstreet attended that huge event.......... (because it's not fixable and doesn't play in tune, but it is a beautiful piece of furniture). Our daughter was horrified. 'You can't get rid of that piano, Mom. Where would you put the Nativity set??!'    Yes, that's true. Our other piano, the good one, has other things living on it.

4.  Do you make an extra effort to give back in some way during the holiday season? How do you encourage those who need encouragement this time of year?

I don't get the 'giving back' bit, except to say that what Christmas is all about is God giving His Son to come into this world and rescue us from sin, about Christ's obedience unto death, about God raising him from the dead and about the SURE HOPE that we, who trust in him, have of resurrection ourselves because of Him. There's no way I can give back to God...but I can try to share the hope that is within me, the joy that is always present, even in the midst of trouble. What I CAN do in giving, is not to 'give back,' but to give to those who are less fortunate, those other God-image bearers who live on this planet, to share a bit of God's love with them. That is what I try to do. There is no encouragement outside of the message of HOPE that God gives us in his son. As a matter of fact, there is no HOPE apart from God.

5. Who is your favorite person to shop for? Why?

If money were raining from the sky, then anyone who wanted a German Shepherd puppy for Christmas would be my favorite person to shop for. I would, of course, have to hold every single darling GSD puppy I could find before choosing.  Other than that, you're asking the wrong person. I am not a shopper.

'Pick me!'

6. What's the last delicious thing you ate?

Some people go to Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN to get help with a physical problem. I would go to Mayo Clinic to buy those amazing dark chocolate truffles sold on the below-ground floor of the clinic. Good grief. It's times like that, however, that Mr. C. annoys me by taking a tiny bite and declaring that it's too rich. He is definitely an alien sometimes. 

 Mr. C. in his Gene Hackman glasses.
(Did you see the old movie, 'Enemy of the State'?)
I see that someone has taken my place.

7. The best way to spread Christmas cheer is________________.

Show God's love to others.
Be happy. Make eye contact. Smile.
Play Christmas carols from King's College, Cambridge! 

8. Insert your own random thought here.

Our son's family had a new arrival, for which the boys had eagerly been waiting:

'Bring it on!!!'
The grandsons, eager to use their new snowblower!
It may be a few more days, guys.

 The little brother
with his sword.
These photos sent to me by our son.

 This one was labeled,
'Chicken Whisperer.'
He's going to come stay a week with us in January.
Can't wait! He's such a fun kid.

This post is linked to
Eileen's Saturday's Critters


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Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Wisconsin - or Minnesota - Barns and Good Fences

Doesn't it look like shredded wheat,
with just a dusting of powdered sugar?
If it would rain milk, we'd be all set.

I think that the photos above were taken somewhere north of Rochester, MN.

The next group of photos was taken from the vehicle as we were approaching Red Wing, MN.

 The Mighty Mississippi
See the red wing on the grain elevator?

 Red Wing, MN
and dirt on the windshield

 A sign that winter is soon upon us

Linking to
Lesley's SIGNS, SIGNS 


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