Monday, December 27, 2010

We Had a Ball This Christmas. . .

. . . Actually more like hundreds of balls :) . It was a sweet, old-fashioned Christmas, with cups of mulled cider, homemade cookies and kolaches (from an old family recipe), lots of singing,

Dressing up to go to church,

And even a little snow thrown in for good measure!

The older girls gave us their annual performance of dances from The Nutcracker,

And Frankie and Evangeline dreamed up some summer-time camping adventures in their new ladybug tent!

Grandma Graham made matching nightgowns (or pajamas) and pillow cases for everyone in the family (That's a whole lot of sewing!),
 And Santa Claus brought a roomy new abode for the small dolls.

The weather has been cloudy and cold lately, so when the sun came out today, we did some exploring just up the street from us. . .

. . .and found a little stream flowing under the ice!

How wonderful to have a little bit of nature to escape to, and to look forward to lots of frog, lizard, toad, snake, and turtle-hunting come spring!

May the Lord bless and keep you this week, and may you have fully recovered from Christmas by the week's end! :)



Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas Days of Long Ago, Part II

Dear Readers,

How did you enjoy the first installment of "The Christmas Days of Long Ago"? In part two, we get to enjoy "peacock pye"! :)

May you all have a most merry, wonderful Christmas, and may the spirit of Christ dwell in your hearts always. We're getting our Christmas snow today, so we'll be going out to play!

No ceremonious feast was complete without the "stately pye" was made of peacocks or pheasants. To have roasted peacock was as imperative as roast turkey is imperative in our day. Some of the peacock "pyes" were huge affairs, and were served with the neck and head of the slaughtered bird thrust up above the pie, while the tail was spread out to to its full and gorgeous width. The Master of Revels was expected to keep his wits at work creating all sorts of diversions for the entire twelve days of the Christmas festival. One of the favorite games was that of snapdragon, when raisins were thrown into hot brandy and the revelers attempted to pluck them out. There would be a season of rest from so much active merriment, and then the guests would gather around the great, open fires and there would be a season of singing and story-telling, when happenings were chronicled equal to the wildest fairy tales ever put into print. Then, as now, there was a lavish use of evergreens for decoration, and the holly has for centuries been a favorite at Christmas time. The following story is extant regarding the reason why evergreens were so freely used as Christmas decorations:

"The ivy and holly and pine tree never told a word where our Savior was hiding himself, and so they keep alive all winter, and look green all the year. But the ash, like the oak, told of him, when he was hiding, so they have to remain dead through the winter."

The use of the mistletoe is of very ancient origin. The Romans held it in the highest veneration, and they made free use of it in their religious festivals. It was commonly supposed to be a protection against all evil spirits, and it was also supposed to have great medicinal power. No "green thing a-growing" had quite so much of a hold on the people as the mistletoe, and there are many legends associated with it.

The Christmas carols of the olden time were, many of them, very quaint, and the common custom of singing them at night by the merry carolers who went abroad expressly for this purpose, was a very pretty custom that some people would like to see revived. The carol attained its highest degree of popularity in the sixteenth century when it was sung all over England, and a volume could be made at the different carols song at that time.

One of the most prominent personages in the Christmas festivals of other days was the Lord of Misrule. He  was a person who devised every conceivable sort of "misrule" in the way of  Christmas games and sports, many of which it was well enough to allow to pass out of existence. The decrees of the Lord of Misrule were absolute, and some of the things ordered by this individual were in such bad taste and were even so vulgar that the clergy began to preach against them.
There was at one time a belief that bread baked at Christmas time would remain good for ten years, and that it would cure certain deceases in cattle. In one part of Yorkshire it was customary to toll the bells at Christmas Eve in token that the devil died when Christ was born.

A very curious and absurd custom obtained in a part of France in the fourteenth century. It was called the Feast of Asses. In its observance the flight into Egypt was represented in the church. The handsomest young woman who could be found, rose into church with a babe in her arms. After entering the church, the girl and the ass were placed near the pulpit, and High Mass was celebrated. It ended with an imitation of the braying of the ass, the priest "hee-hawing" like an ass, and the people solemnly responding in the same ludicrous way. 

We are indebted to the past for many of the good and pleasant Christmas customs of the present, and we believe that there is more of the real Christ spirit in the Christmas observances of today than there ever was in the centuries that are behind us.   



p.s. The small dolls have been getting ready for Christmas, too~ Come have a peek!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Chirstmas Days of Long Ago, Part I

Dear Friends,

Firstly, welcome to any new friends that may be visiting today~ We hope you enjoy you are blessed by what you see!

Do you like the name of our new home? We couldn't decide what to call it for quite a while, but after waking up to the song of the many birds that surround us each day, we decided that "Birdsong Cottage" would be a lovely tribute to our feathered friends. You would not believe how many robins we have seen here! They feed in flocks of hundreds of birds, on the berries in the woods behind our home, and in our yard as they search under the leaves for any insects they may find.
How many birds can you see in this picture
(click to enlarge)?

I'd like to share an article from the "Mother's Magazine", December 1908. It is called "The Christmas Days of Long Ago", by Manton Marlowe. As it is rather long, I will probably break it up in parts.

"Superstitions and legends regarding Christmas are of ancient origin, and it would be useless to try to create disbelief in them among the people of some lands. Our own harmless and ancient story about Santa Claus being a personage as real as he is jolly, and that he and his reindeer are abroad on each succeeding Christmas Eve, has been condemned in recent years by those who believe that falsehood is never excusable, and that it is wrong to create a belief in this kind of a Santa Claus in the minds of children. others are of the opinion that it is a harmless bit of fiction in which children take the keen delight that we who are no longer children took it in the days of our childhood. 

It would not be so easy to trace that exact origin of the story of Santa Claus and his reindeer, as it is to trace the origin of even more remote legends associated with Christmas. In some  lands it is believed that that cocks crow all night long the night before Christmas. This story is said to have its origin on the crowing of the cock in the early dawn of the morning when Peter denied his Lord. It is said that the crowing of the cock was a sign that gracious influences prevailed with which the bird was in full sympathy. One writer, referring to this, says:

" It was indeed a 'gracious time',and as we read of the levels and ceremonies and foolish beliefs of Christmas Past, we might regret what we have lost in this tamer and less picturesque age, if if we did not know that never before in history was Christmas kept so truly and heartily in the spirit of the day as it is now. We have dropped a good many rude and some pretty customs, but we have gained the broadening of spirit of almost universal charity, a feeling of real brotherhood, that is perhaps none the less real because it held in check a good deal during the rest of the year."

In the days of old, the Christmas season began properly on the 16th of December, and ended Twelfth-night in January. In the early centuries, all of them time between the dates named was given up to revelries in which there was so much feasting that indigestion must have won many victories and the doctors must have had a busy time of it. The revels were, many of them, far more hilarious than they were dignified, and they would hardly harmonize with our present-day ideas of propriety.  

In the early days Christmas was a time when all caste limits were torn down and the people met on a common level of good-fellowship, with no end of cheer and unbounded hospitality. the Lord of the manor always opened his doors to all of his tenants and neighbors early on Christmas morning, and we are told that, during the festival days, the tables were spread continuously, and they who would, might regale themselves at any time. No dish was more to the popular taste than brawn. And what was brawn? It was a toothsome dish composed of the flesh of wild boars. These repulsive-looking creatures were captured some weeks before Christmas and were fattened for the Christmas feast. While the fattening process was going on, the boars wore a wide strap across the body, as it was thought that this had a tendency to make the flesh especially brawny. The meat was sent to the market  in long rolls nicely packed in wicker baskets. The head of the boar was a prominent dish at the Christmas feast. It has often been pictures on a great platter which was decorated with Christmas greens, and the platter was carried into the dining-hall with a great deal of ceremony. There was always a Master of Revels, who led the procession when the boar's head was carried into the hall, and there was a great deal of both vocal and instrumental music. One of the stanzas often sung when the boar's head was being carried into the hall, was the following: 

'Then set down the swine-yard,
The foe foe to the vineyard,
Let Bacchus crowne his fall;
Let this boar's head and mustard
Stand for pig, goose and custard,
And so you are welcome all.'     

Until Next time,



Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Thoughts of Winter

Dear Friends,

I've collected a few thoughts of winter for you here, along with pictures of some of the beautiful trees (and their friends) around our new place. I hope you enjoy them!

"At Christmas, I no more desire a rose
Than wish a snow in May's newfangled mirth;
But like each thing that in season grows."
-   William Shakespeare

"Green thoughts emerge from some deep source of stillness which the very fact of winter has released."
-   Mirabel Osler 

"I frequently tramped eight or ten miles through the deepest snow
to keep an appointment with a beech-tree,
or a yellow birch, or an old acquaintance among the pines."
-   Henry David Thoreau 

"Have you ever noticed a tree standing naked against the sky,
How beautiful it is?
All its branches are outlined, and in its nakedness
There is a poem, there is a song.
Every leaf is gone and it is waiting for the spring.
When the spring comes, it again fills the tree with
The music of many leaves,
Which in due season fall and are blown away.
And this is the way of life."
-   Krishnamurti 

"Dead of winter.
Cold hands warm heart.
As pure as snow.
Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness.
Now is the winter of our discontent.
Left out in the cold."

"There’s a certain Slant of light,
Winter Afternoons —
That oppresses, like the Heft
Of Cathedral Tunes —

Heavenly Hurt, it gives us —
We can find no scar,
But internal difference,
Where the Meanings, are —

None may teach it — Any —
’Tis the Seal Despair —
An imperial affliction
Sent us of the Air —

When it comes, the Landscape listens —
Shadows — hold their breath —
When it goes, ’tis like the Distance
On the look of Death —"
~Emily Dickinson 



Saturday, December 11, 2010

An Interview With Jamie Jackson of Little Mama's Herbals

Dear Friends,

I feel privileged today to share a little email interview I did with my friend Jamie Jackson of "Little Mama's Herbals". Jamie and her husband Jeffrey are living the dream that many of us have, of going back to the land and building a home from scratch. They live in the Ozarks of Missouri in a beautiful wooded acreage with a creek and several springs. I asked Jamie to tell us a little about herself, and give a little advice to others, and here is the result (All herbal information given is strictly educational). I'm sure you will feel blessed by her story (My questions are in italics)~

~(All photos courtesy of Jamie Jackson)~

"Tell us a little about yourself, Jamie~"

"I grew up in the Houston, and East Texas area. I was a sick child, that grew up to be a sick adult.

When I was about 17, a lady at church gave me a job at the health food store and I ended up being book buyer. I got to read all I wanted and really started getting more into health and fitness. My aunt was a body builder. With her, my mom and I went through a body building kick.

For a while, I was very mainstream health, like jogging, vitamin pills, protein shakes, and roller skating. I was healthier in some areas, but still had nagging health issues.

In my mid-20's and 30's health was a side issue or a non-issue as I worked, drank and partied myself towards an early grave or at least a very hard and fast dead-end. After the suicide of my brother, a downward spiral started that ended 4 years later in a health collapse right after working through the Y2k project for a software company. It was the perfect storm of depression, illness and complete exhaustion.

Over the course of that next year, I became sicker than I ever had in my life. I was diagnosed with A-typical Narcolepsy with A-typical cataplexy. I had pain everywhere - every muscle, every joint, it was hard to walk. It swung from being impossible to sleep, to being impossible to be awake. I caught every bug, couldn't think or remember, developed RLS and all this on top of my existing health issues that had gotten worse. During a horrible bought of sleep paralysis, I met the "Old Hag" - though I didn't know who she was at the time. This was the dead end, my brick wall.

A friend gave me a book that I needed. It taught me how to breathe properly and how to meditate. That helped me sleep and start getting my strength built up. That book led to another book from so many people, which led to so much for me.

I started breathing correctly, got more energy, started eating better and was able to get off all my medication. I've met new teachers along the way and everything changed.

Someone gave me Countryside Magazine and I fell in love with the back to the land movement and the self-sufficient lifestyle. That led me to cut back my work hours, save every penny, work on getting out of debt and within 3 years I moved to the country to start my first small homestead.

Countryside helped get my interest in herbs fired back up and I started studying as I could. When I met my husband, we moved to upstate NY where I met more teachers and my learning really took-off. We became organic gardeners and began planning an earth sheltered home. I was introduced to the "Wise Woman" tradition of healing and started learning full-time how to become a medicine woman.

My body and spirit are healthier now than I've ever been in my life. The more steps I take towards living the way human's traditionally lived, the way my ancestors lived, the healthier and happier I am. We work hard outside, breathe deeply, eat good food and try to take a more mindful and spiritual approach to life now."

"I feel like the hand of the divine lifted me out of the pit and that was the biggest blessing of my life. I try to live my life now showing how grateful I am for that. "

"What motivates you to live the lifestyle you do?"

My health issues started me down this path. Now I feel like I've found out about a birthright that everyone has and should know about. I want to learn and pass down as much as I can. We have the right to know how to simply build a home, grow our own foods and make our own medicines.

That is the way healthy people and societies have lived, until now. I may not hit the mark completely, but I at least want to give a leg up to another generation. I hope I can pass this all down to my niece if she remains interested and that I can teach others one day.

"What advice do you have for anyone who wants to learn how to make their own medicines?"

First get a field guide like Newcomb's wildflower guide. The first few pages show you how to identify flowers using a key method.

Not being able to afford formal training in herbalism held me back for a long time. Then I read a Susun Weed book and that opened the flood gates of affordable and free information, training and a whole new way of taking health into my own hands. I found her website, more of her books and videos, then books from Rosemary Gladstar and Juliette de Baïracli Levy. I found affordable herbal teachers and another big snowball began.

There is so much information available through used books online, money should not be an issue for anyone. Read as much as you can first. Get on forums and trade books with people if you have to. Then when and if you are ready for more training, there are many affordable teachers you can meet through either Susun's network of friends such as Kiva Rose and Barbara Hall and so many others. Or maybe like me, a teacher will just arrive in the form of an herbalist neighbor.

There are videos on . Read anything by Stephen Buhner or Matthew Woods, read the online works of Jim McDonald or get his CD's, take Barbara Hall's affordable online class on Choosing and Using Herb Books or any of her classes.

Pick one plant to work with and learn everything you can about that plant. You'll learn about it just sitting down next to it and spending time with it. You retain information about a plant better the same way you do about people, by associating with them and making friendships.

"What is/are your favorite plant/s to work with, and why?"

"My favorite plants to work with are the most common and abundant plants that are growing where ever I am at the time. The plants that are growing at your doorstep are usually the ones we need the most and they are working the hardest to get our attention.

We are now in the Missouri Ozarks and I had to leave behind some wonderful plant allies in NY. There is was Motherwort for the extra support I needed during the beginning of menopause; jewelweed and plantain for the poison ivy, cuts, scrapes or bruises; goldenrod for sore muscles and allergies; and dandelion for bitter greens and minerals.

Here in Missouri my favorite and most abundant herbs are "self-heal" for minerals; juniper needles for healthy breast tissue and a great tasting decoction (simmered tea); elderberry and rose for immune support; and mullein for lung support and a nice herbal infusion (long brewed tea).

For herbs that aren't so common, we have started herbal gardens in no-till beds and in the woods After the home is finished, it'll be nice to have more energy to focus on food forests, gardens and cultivated medicinal herbs.

My prayer is that everyone can discover the life changing experiences that working closely with plants continually has to offer."

"Thank you so much for your time, Jamie!"

If you would like further information on Jamie's homesteading adventures, please visit her blog Update From Falcon Creek.



Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Christmas is Coming!

Dear Friends,

We hope you had a lovely St. Nicholas Day~ We had a fun time enjoying the gifts that St. Nicholas left in our shoes, especially Frankie's fun blocks!

After St. Nicholas Day, we put up our tree (not very old-fashioned of us, we know; tsk, tsk!) and decorated it several times over! We love having a tree that is child-friendly and decorated with ornaments that they have made themselves.

~Meanwhile, the small dolls have been making preparations of their own!

Today we had a real treat as we visited a local greenhouse that grows over 15,000 poinsettias each year~ The colors and smell of moist earth were quite euphoric!

The lady working at the greenhouse even offered to take our picture (We'll have to come back with Mr. Graham next time)~

We hope that you are enjoying a beautiful holiday season. May we all be blessed with the love of the Savior in our hearts, as we prepare to celebrate His birth. May His peace be upon us all, and give us the righteous longings of our hearts.




The Wreath is on the Door

The wreath is on the door
And the snow is on the tree
God has laid His holy hands
On all that we can see.

Be quick to raise your voice
And praise what He has brought.
Keep now His love in every choice
And Christmas in every thought.