...Growing, Building, Cooking, Preserving, Crafting...

2006 began our urban homestead when I broke ground on a garden, which now includes perennial fruits, flowers, & many vegetable varieties. We dream of solar panels, keeping bees and hens. Until then we'll continue growing and preserving our own fruits and vegetables, building what we can for our home, cooking from scratch, and crafting most days.


Season's Greetings, Best Wishes for 2013!

Helping paint placemats for our Winter Solstice meal
Our multi-cultural interfaith exploration of the holidays continues as we celebrated the Winter Solstice last Friday evening with my in-laws.  I'd been wanting to have a big Solstice celebration for years and with the way our family schedules worked this year, 2012 was finally the time to do it.  V helped me choose natural as well as a few artificial pieces of greenery and other herbs and berries to adorn our solstice table--each bit symbolizing a different blessing on our household. According to Druid's Herbal, plants are brought into the house at the time of the Winter Solstice to assure the woodland spirits can find refuge during this period of darkness and cold.  Our centerpiece, with farolito borrowed from the Las Posadas exploration, included:

  • Cedar (arborvitae) for cleansing and purity
  • Bay Laurel to bring the light of the sun into the house and ward off illness
  • Chamomile for its ability to soothe and cleanse, for love and purification
  • Frankincense (by way of incense sticks), an antiseptic herb used symbolically to bring purification and protection
  • Holly for protection and to symbolize the coexistence of human and plant spirit and life
  • Juniper for love and protection
  • Mistletoe for healing, peace, and beautiful dreams
  • Oak for healing, strength and wisdom
  • Pine for prosperity, peace, healing and joy
  • Willow to invoke the goddess to achieve desires
Our Solstice table
All the bits and pieces of greenery to bring good spirits
into our home this winter
We enjoyed some traditional wassail, a baked potato bar for dinner (potatoes being a traditional food served at Winter Solstice celebrations), took a starlit walk with the walking sticks V and I had collected weeks before, told stories and opened gifts by candlelight, and sang a few yuletide carols after finishing our Bûche de Noël made by my talented former co-worker at Eat Cake!  I definitely want this tradition to go on.  It was a very special, peaceful evening.

Roasted Apples and clove-studded orange for our wassail.
Gluten-free no less.  So beautiful and yummy!
Is that the North Star on our Solstice walk?
We sat by candlelight and a few string lights for the remainder
of our Solstice evening
These jelly jars come in handy for lots of things.
A little extra sparkle for our Winter Solstice celebration
After presenting V with her Christmas gift--a trip to see The Nutcracker followed by a carriage ride around downtown--we rested then set out early the next day to spend Christmas with my folks in west central Indiana.  It was the first trip to see them since they'd moved out of my childhood home.  I was a bit ambivalent about the visit.  Since it was the holidays I didn't know if I would feel like I was "home."  But by way of their hospitality and the familiar decorations from Wegner Christmases past, I felt just fine.

The Nutcracker at the Milwaukee Ballet
Your carriage awaits...
Just days before Winter Storm Euclid dropped a few
inches on my parents' place V was trying to find any
bit of snow to make an angel. 
My dad's become quite the baker in recent years--taking
after his mother no doubt.  Gramma Lucille would be
extremely proud.
Back home in MKE now, but missed out on the Boxing Day feast I'd planned.  Moved right into exploring Kwanzaa and had V help me collect the items for our centerpiece.  
Making our vibunzi for the Kwanzaa centerpiece
Exploring Kwanzaa this week.  Couldn't find a black candle for our
center unity (umoja) candle.  Trying to use the materials I have.
Today found me receiving an amazing box of uber-fresh starfruit from a friend/neighbor whose family in Florida has a big carambola tree.  I never knew starfruit could taste so amazing.  Just shows that the stuff we find in stores that travels miles and miles isn't worth the price when it tastes like cardboard.  Can't wait to see how I'll use this fruit.  Preserves, dehydrate, juice, salad.  Don't know, but it's reminding me that one other thing I love about the holidays is receiving these special gifts from friends and family from other regions.  My sister-in-law from Alabama has been known to gift us pickled okra from the south as well as fresh kumquats from her grandparents' house in Florida.  It all reminds me of the days when one couldn't get these treats any old time, but perhaps got his or her hands on them around the holidays.  Like oranges in a stocking.  I still think winter citrus is worth waiting for.

Unbelievable flavor!

Looking forward to a low-key New Year's Eve with friends and preparing a meal of auspicious offerings to bring us luck in 2013!  Till then.  Peace to you all.


Taking Time to Pause

Lights of hope
When I work at my part-time pastry job baking and preparing goodies that I've made so many times it's become second nature, I often find plenty of space to let my mind wander and process the events of the week, conversations I've had, things I've written or read.  Sometimes I've mentally outlined a blog post or occasionally come up with something I think is clever enough to post on Facebook.  But after the tragedy in Newtown, CT on Friday morning everything I thought I had planned to say didn't seem to matter.  It didn't seem appropriate to be in a joyful mood, tell funny stories, or get excited about the upcoming weekend.  All that seemed to matter was pausing to think about the lives lost at that school and in that community.

Many people are still reeling from the news, and rightfully so.  I was at quite a loss for words until this morning's work session when I had more time to process.  At this point, though many are still grieving and trying to absorb this awful scene, I am finding that some people are seeking distraction or at least something to give them a momentary laugh or peek at hope.  I wasn't feeling it would be appropriate to post anything joyful here for a few days, but now I'm realizing that if one has purposefully visited my blog that maybe he or she is looking for a distraction, inspiration, or sense of community.

Here are my thoughts from this morning:

In light of recent tragedies I've been reminded just how precious and short life is. We should live EVERY day to the fullest because it could be our last. We shouldn't need a Mayan calendar to tell us so. Remember to take every opportunity to be kind; offer a smile; hug your friends, family, kids; right your wrongs; speak the truth; give more; listen more; sing and dance; enjoy the silence; put more value on relationsh
ips (with neighbors, nature, family, and friends) instead of materials; do what you love; eat more bacon, or whatever living life to the fullest means to you. Don't wait till New Year's Day to make a fresh start.

I love Mary Oliver's poem "Summer Day" and this quote adapted from it--"This is the day, this is the one wild and precious life we are given. Let us all find a way to rejoice and be glad in it," (adapted by our UU minister the Reverend Drew Kennedy).

I have certainly not experienced anything close to the grief and devastation as the families and community in CT so I won't pretend to know what it's like.  But I will say that I don't believe in living in fear.  Of course this same tragedy could happen to any of us anywhere whether it's in a school or other public place, whether it's a "place of God" or not.  None of us are immune.  With the reminder that life is so short and precious, the only thing I can think to do is keep moving forward and celebrating it to the fullest.  As soon as we start living in fear, we begin to defeat that purpose.  

On that note, we move forward with our celebration of the holidays.  The extra time I've spent with my daughter lately has been particularly valuable in the last few days.  As we light our candles, we send an extra wish of hope for peace, kindness, and love out into the universe.  This light has been the common thread between so many of the interfaith holidays we've explored this month.  We made a pseudo-lighted head wreath for our St. Lucia celebration last Thursday (Dec. 13), lit the third candle of our Advent wreath for JOY, lit the candles on our menorah for the final evening of Hanukkah on Saturday, and moved on to lighting our farolito for Las Posadas this week.  Ever since an evening vigil for a friend who passed tragically in college, I've always been amazed by how a candle flame can grow and be passed along.  It's been sort of symbolic to pass this light from holiday celebration to holiday celebration, culture to culture, faith to faith as we've gone through the weeks of December and soon into January.  Let us find a place to pass this light into the world after our holiday exploration is finished. (Ironically, shortly after I posted this I read this entry from a fellow Wisconsin blogger who also mentions spreading this light into the world.  I love her sentiments.)

Preparing the dough for our St. Lucia saffron buns.
Saffron buns shaped and ready for the second rise.
Baked golden brown, a yeasted dough success.
Swedish Glogg.  Interesting how so many cultures have
spiced, sweetened, warm beverages for the holidays.
We've learned that we're definitely not used to these
sweet drinks.
Our St. Lucia.  I finished this off-white outfit just in time.
She can't wait to dig in.  With butter please.
And some GF pepperkakor.
Glogg and Gingersnaps, a perfect Swedish snack.
Lighting our farolito and V's
hand-print poinsettia for
Las Posadas
Buñuelos for Las Posadas
Simple Sopa de Albóndigas for our first Las Posadas meal of the week
Finally using some of the piloncillo I've had in my
pantry.  Perfect for our Ponche Navideño
Ponche Navideño--dried fruits, nuts, and tejocotes, sugar cane, guava.
Now to add the rum or brandy.  We'll sip on it all week.


Enjoying [All] the Holidays

Miller Holiday Lites display
Our multi-cultural interfaith exploration of the holidays is well underway and we're having a blast experiencing bits and pieces of so many different celebrations.  Since last week we've talked about Chalica, St. Nicholas, Bodhi Day, and Hanukkah.  And there will be more fun tomorrow with the Swedish Saint Lucia Day.  The best part for me so far--aside from finding my holiday identity--has been the baking.  Not only have V and I been able to spend quality time together but these efforts have doubled to produce the cookies I volunteered to make for bus drivers and crossing guards at school as well as for our Holistic Moms Network Alternative Cookie Exchange and subsequent donation of surplus cookies to local seniors.  Though this diverse holiday celebration required a lot of planning, I honestly feel this year that I am more calm, more collected, taking more personal time, and finding so much more meaning in the entire season.  V and I have had a ton of fun bouncing around town to various events, Ben and V will be having some quality daddy-daughter time this weekend, and I'm even finding time to  do things by myself--tonight I'm going to hear Handel's Messiah at a local church.

Our chalice for Chalica.
We left a coloring page, Bag of Promises and plate of pfefferneuse for
St. Nicholas who in turn left fruit, nuts, and a small box of wooden puzzles.
Our laughing Buddha incense holder for Bodhi Day
Our Bodhi Day setup--Dec. 8 is the day that Siddartha
Gautauma experienced enlightenment under the ficus tree.
We decorated our ficus with multi-colored lights to
symbolize the many paths to enlightenment (The
Eightfold Path), added our Three Jewels (Buddha, Dharma,
and Sangha), and burned some "peace" scented incense
in our Buddha dish.
Visited the Shambala Meditation Center on MKE's
eastside for a more authentic Bodhi Day experience.
They were incredibly warm and welcoming.
Lighting the first candle of our makeshift menorah and trying to be as
authentic as we can.  I don't have a windowsill on which to put our
menorah so I'm reflecting it outward via a mirror (a little Feng Shui
if you will)
Our Hanukkah gelt.  It's not totally authentic as it's
made in Ghana though it IS fair trade so that's a plus.
V is not judging.
Playing a game of dreidel after dinner on the first night of Hanukkah.
Guess who had beginner's luck?
Huge menorah at the Community Hanukkah Celebration in the northshore.
Basilica of St. Josaphat's--an incredible MKE landmark.
Bel Canto Chorus and Bel Canto Boys Choir
performing "Christmas at the Basilica."
We've added a few more homemade decorations since last weekend when the tree went up.  In my pantry I've been squirreling away the parchment rounds that separate the gluten-free brown rice tortillas I love to buy (I figure it I'm going to indulge in them that I'm at least going to be responsible for upcycling the waste.) When I bake a layer cake at home I like to put a piece of parchment at the bottom of the greased pan.  Makes removing the cake a little cleaner.  So I saw this part of the packaging as a prime candidate for that purpose.  Little did I know they'd also make the perfect base for hand-cut snowflakes.  The round shape make them easy to fold into six and cut, but because they're sort of "waxed" they won't tear as easily so we can hopefully press them into a book and use them for years to come.  I also realized that cutting out snowflakes is incredibly therapeutic.  You don't know where you're going when you start, you just trust the scissors and your imagination and it'll most likely turn into something beautiful.

Let it Snow...
Let it Snow...
Let it Snow.
I've also managed to find a good amount of time to sew.  Finished a holiday dress for V last week that she calls her "sea serpent dress" as one calico has "scales" and another looks like water.  Plus we recently read this delightful book so it was fresh in her mind.  Yesterday I finished an off-white two-piece knit outfit (turtleneck and skirt).  Both of these projects had been cut out and on my project pile since summer.  I saw them as holiday outfits so that motivated me to get them done.  The off-white outfit will make a perfect Saint Lucia Day outfit for tomorrow.

V's "Sea Serpent Dress" with a great "spinning rating" as all our
dresses apparently must have the days
Planning to wear it Friday night for a date w/ Daddy
Contrasting thread
Using what I have--I thought the turquoise zipper would
be a nice contrast like the "water" patterned fabric
Two of my holiday goals are well underway--giving the gift of time (as I mentioned above, baking with V) and spending more time outdoors.  In fact, I've managed to put those two together as I determined yesterday that if/when V says she wants me to play with her in the afternoons then we have to go outside.  It will make her more robust for our [hopefully] cold, snowy Wisconsin winters and will improve her sleep too.

Making traditional pfefferneuse to leave for St. Nicholas
Pfefferneuse baked and ready to glaze
I juiced some spinach to make green coarse sugar for our Bodhi cookies
Sprinkling the Bodhi cookies--upside down hearts
are "leaf" shaped like the leaves of the Bodhi tree
Gluten-free, grain-free, vegan Bodhi cookies.  They don't taste as "healthy"
as they may sound
"Latkes, Latkes, good too eat.  Cook me up a
Hanukkah treat."
After a night of traditional latkes we went with something
a little different--Celeriac and Fennel Latkes with Fennel-Pear Relish
Still focusing on the light this season brings via the many candles we've lit for all these cultural celebrations.  As the Winter Solstice nears we'll celebrate the darkness as well and the hope for longer days ahead.  I'm also enjoying the memories that this season holds.  Today I indulged in a couple of CDs from the library--holiday albums that were part of my mom's cassette tape collection when we were kids.  I'd play, sing, and rewind these albums over and over until I memorized them.  This morning I'm listening to them as I wait for the dough to rise for my Hanukkah sufganiyot, which I'll put together with a Jewish friend this afternoon.  I'm reminiscing about Christmases past in the house where I grew up, but realizing that this year will be very different because my parents are in a new house.  Not only will our holiday visit be the first celebration since they moved out of my childhood home, but it's the first time I'll be down in their neck of the woods, period, since last Christmas when I videotaped our house all decorated for the holidays, knowing that the move was imminent.  I imagine it will be a bit similar to the shift we experienced after my grandparents passed and we no longer spent holidays at their house, but at least the same people will be present in this case.  My folks are very healthy and we still have lots of time to make new memories.  Can't wait.