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TeaTitles

So, December got a bit nutty, and we all got plague, and everyone died.

Or, at least that’s my excuse for not accomplishing the newly-8yo Lefty’s birthday celebration in a timely fashion back then.

Lefty, however, is a sadly suspicious person, for being so young.

She doubts that we all died and thinks we should have a party.

Her sister, Spicy, is a very pragmatic child. We are still pretty sure she’s 92 years old in her little spicy heart.

Wavies

So this wee miss decided to pull a Classic Dowager Duchess Grantham Maneuver. Her birthday closing in upon us, she sat herself down, took up her pen, and wrote out a stack of invitations to a Wonderland Tea Party, to be held the upcoming Saturday from 12 to 2 pm.

And then she and her sister delivered them around.

Because when Miss Spicy and Miss Lefty conspire to celebrate, they understand that the issuance of invitations will obligate their Slacker Mother to Do Something About It.

So we made petit fours and tea sandwiches, and had a party. We’re all mad here.

All-Mad-Here

The ingredients for a party of this sort include:

GUESTS

I suggest having, at a minimum, two very silly sisters, three brother-sister sibling sets, two neighbors, and a cousin with whom the sisters can swap clothes, because that’s inevitable. We very much missed one of our favorite fake cousins (who moved far south to Texas) and a few neighbors who weren’t able to come this time, but our attending blend of guests proved an admirable one. My Spicy’s Lady Grantham Skills are prodigious.

TREATS

Treats1

These needn’t be too terribly strenuous, but ought to include things like raw carrot coins, raw cucumbers (I can hear my  auntie delicately retching now…), a selection of tea sandwiches (in our case, wheat and white bread spread with Dilly Garden Veggie Cream Cheese, and encasing cucumbers, or ham. Interestingly enough, there was not a single cucumber sandwich remaining, and only four ham. Apparently, our Wonderlanders were pleased.); mismatched goblets and teacups and “Martinny” glasses filled with buttermints and jelly beans; the aforementioned petit fours (vanilla poundcake with strawberry jam and Lemon Cheese inside), and pink lemonade made up with club soda for appropriate Fizz. Oh, and multiple pie plates of popcorn. Short people adore fresh-popped, buttered popcorn.

Early on Saturday, we hit the local thrift shop and picked up a selection of lovely glass punch cups, some very pretty china plates, and a lovely tall china coffee pot from which to pour our beverages. And since it’s a Mad sort of tea party, the guests get presents… so the cups and plates were chosen by each guest, and taken home after.

MAKING

In my own personal quest to stop being a control freak, I deliberately plan party activities that involve Children Making Things That I’m Not Allowed To Direct Much. And since we do not believe in exclusively boyly/girly activities, we do things that Small People can all equally enjoy. Or, at least, that’s the goal.

One thing I’ve discovered in the last 19 years: kids like fridge magnets. So we made some.

I found some absolutely smashing graphics through The Graphics Fairy, and printed out plenty of bits in black and white. I roughly cut them before the party to speed things up.

Magnet Supplies

The guests chose their favorite elements, added color as they desired, and trimmed them out neatly (and this Mad Crowd has excellent scissor and crafty skills), and brought them to me for sandwiching between layers of clear contact “paper”. Another trim out (it works best with a small margin of sealed contact paper around the edges), and they were ready for strips of self-stick magnetic tape.

Sillies2

Coloring

SILLINESS

Rather than running too many directed activities, we chose to free-range the guests, which resulted in a lot of self-guided feasting, giggling, some LEGO play, Making of Magnets, more giggling, some knitting, Dramatic Speeches, “tea” refills, and a rousing game of Two Truths & A Lie.

SilliesIt is really quite a lot of fun to hear what Shocking Lies kids of 6 to 11 will come up with, and how their real life adventures can be entirely truthful, and fool you completely. This is an adventurous bunch. Over half have had staples and/or stitches in the noggin regions. I am wondering if this has played a role in their mutual and significant Oddness/Wonderfulness.

They were all highly suspicious of my Shocking Lie (that I have met the Queen of England) and guessed that of my more hopefully-mysterious truths was a truth (that I have mutant molars.)

Our smallest guest was a wee little sprite of a girl, who was a delightful addition to the party. She’s the smaller sibling of one of the fellows, and Lefty was anxious she should be included, because said sprite is a sweet thing, and Lefty knows how hard it is to be the youngest and left at home during the fun parties. We were delighted she could come!

Sprite

Costuming was optional, but of course, the guests got in on the fun! One of our neighbors wore a smashing chapeau:

Snail-Bomb

Sadly, she was Snail-bombed.

My children seem to think that photo-bombing is the bomb. Also, they think the classic “Party On!” hand thing looks like a snail, and will pop their index and pinky fingers up and down to mimic a snail extending and retracting its eye stalks.

So they Snail-Bomb people in pictures.

And they Snail-Bomb their sisters:

Sister-Snail

And they Self Snail:

Self-Snail

Because we are all Mad, here!

(Note on Lefty’s Hair: Yes, that’s her real and curly hair. No product, no enhancement, just left to dry on its own. Last week, in the midst of a very, very busy spurt of work for me, she climbed out of bed at 11pm and said, “I am very itchy on my back, will you scratch it? And also, my hair is to0000 long and I want it cut short.” And I realized that Right That Very Moment was the only time I’d have to cut her hair for the next month, so we cut it. And her hair has remarkable rebound, because it was cut to mid-neck, and recoiled to this delightful mop. She’s happy, I’m happy, and she went back to bed by 11:15.)

(Note on Spicy’s Hair: to get slight pre-Raphaelite waves into her lovely locks, the poor smidge slept on 12 lumpy braids all night. She is pragmatic and resolved about her own hair, which normally falls in glossy sheets to nearly her waist. It’s just that sometimes, she *really* wants some waves in there, and is willing to suffer for fashion.)

Click Here for the Food Nifties, of course!

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Pretzels & Pate Choux

(Please insert the obligatory desultory comments regarding Neglect of Blog, Promise to Blog More Faithfully, Excuses of Very Crazy Life Lately, Etcetera.)

Since it’s Resurrection Day, and I am Christian, here are two elevating recipes to give a whack. Both look fancier than they are hard, which is really nice for earning bonus Slacker Mom points. And, no pictures, because: Slacker Mom.

(I will freely admit that on several occasions, we either creatively cropped photos, or turned off the date/time stamp, and faked “Easter Sunday” photos for the grandparents.)

Soft Pretzels

Right, so, it sounds really fancy to say, “Oh, we’re making a batch of soft pretzels to enjoy!” but really, what makes soft pretzels pretzels (or Prunt-zulls, if you’re a Little at my cottage) rather than boring bread is simple: a 30-second water bath in baking-soda-fortified H2O.

I also highly recommend using parchment paper when baking the soft pretzels. It keeps things from sticking horribly, and absorbs some of the moisture, so you get a crisper crust.

For 8-10 decent sized soft pretzels, or pretzel sandwich rolls (which are stupendously bliss-making):

  • 1.5 cups warm water
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon yeast
  • 4 to 4.5 cups all purpose flour (I prefer unbleached)
  • 3 tablespoons butter (melted) OR 2-3 tablespoons oil

Mix all of this together and knead or slap around in a stand mixer until a smooth dough is formed. I like to leave my dough a bit on the “wet” side, and pop it into a bread bowl or plastic tub to raise, so I don’t have to knead much at all. Let it double, and if you forget, let if fall and rise again! This will take about an hour. Do other stuff in the meantime, such as getting your pretzel bath ready, and preheating the oven to 450 degrees, and lining a few baking sheets with parchment paper.

Prep your water bath: 10 cups or so of water, with 1/2 to 2/3 cup baking soda in it. Bring this to a nice boil. It foams and fizzes a bit. Do not be alarmed.

Punch down your dough and turn it out onto a lightly floured surface. Divide it up into 8-10 portions. I’m a slacker, to I pinch of “hold it in my palm” sized balls of dough, and however many we come up with, I’m happy.

Time to get kindergarten on the dough: roll each portion out into a snake. Make a U shape, and then twirl the ends together twice, before flipping the ends toward the bottom of the U and pressing them onto the U to seal a “pretzel” shape. Here’s a video, from Canadians, so you know they’re kind and trustworthy. Some people get really fancy and just do a flippity-twisty thing. I am not one of those people.

To make sure you have loads of surfaces for the lovely water bath to pretzelize the crust, make sure your pretzel has space between all the sections. You can use your hands to just stretch them open as needed.

If you want a pretzel sandwich bun/roll, don’t stretch the sections option; when the pretzel rises, gaps will fill in, and you’ll have a whole bun shape that slices through nicely.

Now that the pretzels are formed, you’re ready to start bathing and baking.

Use a shallow, flat-bottomed holey ladle thing (I think it’s technically a large slotted spoon?) to lower one or two pretzels into the baking soda water bath for 30 to 40 seconds. Retrieve and let them drain a moment before placing them on the parchment-lined baking sheets.

Drop another two, and while they bathe, sprinkle the still-quite-wet already-bathed ones with garlic, or salt, or both, or anything else you want stuck on the pretzel. Some recipes call for an egg wash, but I don’t particularly care for that, and the just-bathed dough surface holds onto “toppers” pretty well.

Pop the bathed pretzels into a 450* oven for about 12-15 minutes, until they have a nice deep color. Slip the whole parchment paper onto a cooling rack (or the counter, if your cooling rack was perhaps stolen by your Tall, Dark, and Slightly Neanderthal Husband last year to serve as a topper for the baby chicks’ brooder box).

I made a quick sauce with a few ounces of sharp cheddar, ditto Monteray Jack and cream cheese, plus a bit of dry mustard and a splash of milk, melted slowly together. But mostly, the kids just buttered them, and they’d be good with spicy brown mustard, too.

Cream Puffs

I love cream puffs. Here’s some information on How Cream Puffs Work. Here’s the basic recipe:

  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • pinch salt
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 cup eggs (this frees you from the tyranny of wondering what size eggs. Just crack ’em in until you have about 1 cup total, and whisk them together.)

Parchment paper is helpful for this recipe, too! Line some baking sheets before you get going, and pre-heat the oven to 425*.

Bring the water, butter, sugar, and salt to a rolling boil. Dump in 1 cup flour, and beat the tar out of it. It will gelatinize, which is cool to watch happen, and may leave a bit of film on the pan as you’re stirring. That’s fine, don’t worry about it. Keep beating/stirring hard for 4-5 minutes over medium heat, and then set it aside to cool off just a bit.

If you have a stand mixer, cool beans! Put the flour dough into the mixer and fit it with the paddle attachment. Get it running on low-ish, and drizzle in the beaten eggs a bit at a time. You’ll notice that the dough will get slimy for a minute, then smooth out nicely. Keep going until the egg is all incorporated.

If you don’t have a stand mixer, you can do it by Ye Olde Sturdy Biceps Method: add some of the egg and beat the tar out of the dough by hand. It will be lumpy and slimy for a bit, then smooth out. Keep repeating until all the egg is incorporated. I will admit to cheating: I put all the egg in at once, and just deal with about 4 minutes of slimy to get to the smooth part. It will take loads of bicep endurance. You are amazing. You can do it.

Cream puffs are great for the slacker baker, because you’re going to succeed by ignoring them. They need an initial fairly-high temperature to create the burst of steam from the moisture in the eggs (this is what puffs ’em), with a second stage of lower heat to set and dry them out, so they don’t fall flat as soon as you take them out.

Use a regular spoon to grab a nice rounded portion of dough-goop. Scrape it off onto the parchment paper. Repeat, spacing them about 2″ apart, and going for a rounded mound.

Pop them into a 400* oven for 15 minutes. WITHOUT opening the door, turn the heat down to 350* for about 35-40 minutes.

Go do other stuff. Like look up recipes of good junk to put inside the puffs. When that second timer-buzzer goes off, turn off the oven, crack the door, and let them cool for maybe 10 minutes, then remove them to a cooling rack, and use a skewer to jab a hole in the side. It should come out clean, and jabbing the hole in also gives a steam vent as another insurance against collapse.

Even if they do fall flat, they’re still a good platform for Delivering Other Tasty Stuff To Your Face-Hole.

You can make the cream puffs dairy-free by subbing non-dairy margarine (of the sort recommended for baking); you can make them gluten-free by subbing almond flour for wheat flour, 1:1—but definitely use a stand mixer, because it takes longer for the egg to incorporate, and let the mixture cool entirely before portioning it on the sheet. This helps it set up better and puff more in the oven. Almond-flour puffs are more hygroscopic than wheat puffs, so they’ll soften in the ambient humidity, but they taste fantastic, and are still good platforms, as mentioned above.

You can fill cream puffs with just about anything, sweet or savory. The vegan “egg salad” recipes that use mashed chickpeas are great, as are regular egg salad (please use sustainably, humanely raised eggs from happy hens!), tuna salad (ditto, but with fishes), etc.

For sweet, plain whipped cream with berries folded in is always a good choice. You can also use my sister’s secret weapon: pudding mix.

Addictive Pastry Cream

In a stand mixer with a whisk attachment, or with a hand mixer, combine:

  • 2 cups heavy whipping cream
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 3 ounce package of any flavor instant pudding mix you like

Beat the tar out of it until it’s really, really thick. Haphazardly scrape into a bowl and refrigerate until you need it. Use a rubber scraper to gather up all the haphazardly neglected dregs of addictive pastry cream and lick them off the scraper while the kids aren’t looking.

And these two lovely examples of leavened, “Risen” treats, combined with the multiple puns I made regarding Easter Sunday/Risen treats, were part of our day today.

 

 

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Revisiting the Creche

Long, long ago, in a rather lanky house at the top of the hill, there lived a little girl who loved her mother’s Christmas creche, which lived on her mother’s bookcase every Christmas. It was not an expensive or magnificent creche. The little structure was covered with bits of bark and moss that tended to get dusty, and the little plaster figures were not elaborate. The little girl loved it because she was a girl who loved stories, and there was a story for this creche. It had been a gift to the little girl’s mother, from her older brother, one Christmas.

And so, the little girl grew up with the solemn idea that a creche ought really to be something a loved one gave to you, rather than something you buy in a store.

And one day, that little girl married a Tall, Dark, and Slightly Neanderthal fellow. They had a little girl of their own, and she was a little girl with clever hands and sharp eyes.

Years went by, and the little girl with clever hands and sharp eyes noticed that her mama mentioned the story of the gift creche, but never owned one. So one year, she and her Tall, Dark, and Slightly Neanderthal Daddy built a simple, spare, and just-right creche for the mama, and populated it with the same style of plaster figures the first little girl’s mother had been given, and gave it to her for Christmas, where it was given a place of honor as the focal point of the family’s Christmas celebrations.Mantel

The only thing that bothered the little girl with clever hands and sharp eyes was that the nativity figures did not look exactly like what she saw in her mind. But her clever hands were too young and unskilled to produce what she saw in her mind, and her sharp eyes needed to be even more sharp to do the work she wanted to do.

The little girl grew into a tall girl, and her hands became ever-more nimble, and her eyes ever-more sharp, and one year, she looked at her mother’s lovely creche, with the simple plaster figures that had never quite suited her, and decided to revisit the creche.

And so, she worked in odd moments, and hung a curtain across the doorway, and insisted everyone knock on the door lintel, so the creche might remain a Christmas secret.

A few days before Christmas, when this tall and lovely girl set about decking the cottage to celebrate, she quietly placed the re-painted creche in its place on the mantel, and waited.

It took her mother a few days to notice, but when she did, this is what she found:

The Angel, Bending Near to Gaze

The Angel, Bending Near to Gaze

Three Regal Kings come to Worship

Three Regal Kings come to Worship

A Mary and Joseph with Overflowing Hearts

A Mary and Joseph with Overflowing Hearts

A Mother Rapt with Joy in her Sweet Baby

A Mother Rapt with Joy in her Sweet Baby

A Renewed Gift--as Christmas Renews Us Every Year!

A Renewed Gift–as Christmas Renews Us Every Year!

And the mother was transported instantly back to the little given creche on her own mother’s bookshelf, and she was filled with happiness, for gifts that are given again and again in love are always the most happy gifts.

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It’s not feasible to detail every bit of our  Christmas this year (we had a lovely celebration with loads of components), but here’s the short version of everything that made it feel special for me, my Tall, Dark, and Slightly Neanderthal Fellow, and our Minions:

1: Eldest dressing as an Elf, complete with super-glued ear cartilage (pointy!) and added freckles, to pass out candy canes at the Thanksgiving Day Run to Feed the Hungry. It’s her third year participating, and I’m amazed each time that my Non-Morning Person child drags out and hits the ground chipper to go help at the race. She’s Rawthah Nifty.BethEyes

2: It’s our third year of skipping a Christmas tree. I kind of love it. We decorate wreaths all over the house (windows, doors, “vegetable” door (the vestibule, or enclosed front stoop, as named by Miss Spicy Child when she was 5), set the Nativity in a prominent place on the mantel, arrange the angels and fairy lights, and add lights and ornaments to the Yule Mustache.

It’s simple, everyone gets involved (which nearly killed my Eldest this year; she is getting a taste of how painful it can be to an Oh-So-Slightly-Neurotic Big Person to allow small people to “wreck up” a wreath in their own personal style, which mostly seems to involve putting so many ornaments on willy-nilly that no greenery is left visible. And they all clash.), and there’s zero stress for me.

The Minions get to Install Christmas their ownselves, which really helps everyone feel connected and participatory. Both the Yule Mustache/Nativity and the Connection/Participation elements are illustrated in this charming picture of Sisterly Love and Caring:

Beatings

(Click to embiggen and see all the Loving Detail.)

3: We had another Christmas that involved very little traditional shopping, and a whole lot of scheming and plotting instead.

New sleeping caps, a big box of homemade and handed down fashion doll clothes, a big bottle of maraschino cherries that don’t have to be shared, a packet of crackers and herbed goat cheese, little flashlights and measuring tapes, new aprons, a book full of cookie recipes (that we already owned, but Lefty really, really wants me to make cookies with her as Head Minion, so she wrapped it up and gave it to me), antique books from second-hand shops, a bin of fabric remnants to be used for future doll clothing, homemade toys, a hand-bound leather-cased sketch book, new watercolor art for website headers (possibly for this one, too; I’ve not decided, but I can tell you that having a Real Artist in the family is a very handy thing to arrange)… there were a lot of secrets floating about the house for the past month or so, and much in the way of shifting alliances as various family members worked on delightful surprises for others.

And my Darling Husband and Devoted Offspring went together to design and have made an apron with some truly touching artwork, depicting their Vast Adoration and Respect for a wife and mother (me!) who has a need to make sure everything proceeds in orderly and scheduled ways, and also has kind of short arms:

Apron1

Because truly, who wouldn’t feel loved getting a T-Rex apron for Christmas? It joins my Bosoms-Added T-Rex from Mother’s Day, and the mini plastic T-Rex they brought home from the beach in a Live Hermit Crab pet carrier, just to freak me out about Inappropriate Pets We Can’t Take Home on the Plane.

4: We shared some danged tasty celebratory foods. Pies, cheesecakes, cinnamon rolls, BBQ ribs, cayenne wings, pot stickers, salads, veggies, fish… all homemade and tremendously tasty, to enjoy ourselves and share with others at work, and church, and play. (And I was tickled to successfully copy the shape of an apron Eldest was given last Christmas, in brand new and Rawthah Snazzy fabric.

Apron2

5: Some amazing Church Music. I don’t have a picture for this one, because how can you capture so many amazing moments? We kicked it off with a community concert at the start of December, kept going with a short tableaux at a church party, sang together at home, found a fantastic new album (and downloaded that and the sheet music; thanks for the lovely gift, Husby, even if I did just inform you about it when you got home from work that night. You have excellent taste in my music.)   Eldest and I have been prepping to sing together this coming Sunday, and can I just say? Birthing someone who sounds a lot like me at her age (but with better training than I had) is the closest I am ever going to come to singing duets with myself, and it’s very, very nifty.

Christmas Eve, we drove over and hung out with the Presbyterians for a midnight service, to worship and “ring in” Christmas, and it was the absolute, bar-none, positively most wonderful way we could have spent those last preparatory hours before Christmas morning. Lefty konked out about 20 minutes in, and spent the rest of the service drooling peacefully on The Boy’s leg, but Spicy kept herself awake to hear the splendid choir, a meaningful sermon, and sing along with a congregation of happy believers. Lit candles, bell choirs, joyful carols… and then out into a truly silent midnight, feet crunching over snow in the nearly-zero-degree weather, under the open cathedral of stars. So, so, so very good!

6: We didn’t worry about pictures on Christmas morning. Instead of spending all our time recording it, we just enjoyed it. And it was really fun.

7: We have amazing family. When one of my little brothers and his wife saw a Facebook post about Lefty’s mid-December request for a train for her imaginary pet sheep, Baby Timmy (who is a girl), and read of my refusal to buy real trains for make-believe baby sheep, they decided to send Baby Timmy a train, to be opened by Lefty. When the package arrived, the card said only, “Merry Christmas to Baby Timmy, from all the gals down in the motor pool.”

Lefty saved Baby Timmy’s gift for last, and we did break out the camera for that bit of opening, so we could share the excitement and delight with a set of loved ones across the continent. We don’t need to do Santa. We have tremendously magical people in our own gene pool, who make our hearts smile!

7.5: Same lovely “gals down at the motor pool” opened up the chance to help with a service project they organized. It is truly a lovely thing to see loving people work together to make the lives of strangers a bit more comfortable and easy. This has been a great year for seeing the compassionate works of others, helping wherever we can, and rejoicing that there are such good things in the world!

8: I had the opportunity to stitch a hen.hen6

This past summer, when the raspberries were in full leafy splendor, one of my Spicy child’s dear pet hens died. Daisy was smallish, fluffy, red (with touches of black and brown). She was a wonderfully cuddly bit of henfolk. A few weeks after her funeral, Spicy cuddled up in my lap and said that she didn’t want one right away, but sometime later, she thought she might like a nice cuddly fake hen that looked like Daisy Chicken, so she could snuggle her always, and not be so sad about Daisy away in Heaven, because waiting for the Resurrection was going to be rather hard.

I know. Reach for the hankies, right? This kid manages to yank my heart out through my tear ducts on a shockingly frequent basis.

So I stitched a hen, of soft red melton wool, about the same size as Daisy Chicken at 1 year old, and copied the shape of her “wobbles” from pictures we had.

hen2

Her wings are attached with feather stitch (appropriate, no?), and it took me awhile to find the right threads to match the amber-and-black of her eyes.

hen5

I finished her in time for cuddling Christmas night, and Spicy swears that when she got up in the middle of the night for a drink, Stuffed Daisy was still cozy warm when she climbed back in bed.Waif4

Bonus: Spicy is willing to share hen-cuddling with Lefty the Dickensian Waif, and both girls are happy.

hen4

Spicy and Daisy: Contemplative

Our year is coming to a close with a really lovely and peaceful span of days, and I am so very contented and full of ideas for the coming months. As we step into the Twelve Days of Christmas, I hope your days really are merry and bright, and full of love and peace and joy and hope. Happy Christmas!

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Once again this Christmas, the Best Laid Plans of Mice and Mom Gang Oft Agley, mostly because I have not been granted an extra twelve hours in each day, and I have to sleep sometime. And, I get distracted easily.

So here we are, on Christmas Eve Eve, and I’m looking at the list of projects I’d love to have finished for the children by noon tomorrow, and then looking more realistically at what can actually BE finished by noon tomorrow, considering that I will want that sleep stuff in there, too.

My Spicy and Lefty love to play with dolls, but in our little cottage, those dolls are very often naked. I think they look chilly and miserable, and have a great desire to clothe them all! That, and little clothing is just so nifty! It’s neat to have a whole wardrobe to play in. I find myself caught between the desire to whip out brand new lovelies for my little girls, and the realization that I also need to finish up some much-wanted softies (pics after the holiday), some sewn things for Eldest, and the last bits of a lounge-kilt for The Boy, and I have fifteen hours left, some of which need to be spent horizontal and No-I-Do-Not-Snore (snoring.)

Thankfully, the Internet is home to a wonderful creature called The Graphics Fairy, who provided two sweet little line art (and permission to use it and share it!) that I could re-color and slide into a set of lovely Slacker Mom gifts: specifically, coupons for doll dressmaking services. They adore having Shopping Items, like coupons, and those fake credit cards that come in the mail. A redeemable certificate book is right up their alley, and saves my bacon at the same time. And, we usually have a quiet week right after Christmas, so we can take some of those days and sit in the Craft Dungeon together, sipping tea and sewing for dolls.Spicy and Lefty

See? Naked dollies have been a problem for years!

Since I harbor fond hope that I am not the only Slacker Mom with Good Intentions on this planet, here’s a PDF set to save your bacon, too. Share it all you like, but don’t re-host; just link over, please. Karma, darlings! The file will print in color, or set your printer settings for grayscale and save ink. Cut the certificates apart on the pale grey lines, stack and staple them on the right-hand margin, and you’re good to go.

Madame Darling’s Doll’s Sewing Service Certificates

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Hark!I love a good hour-long musical devotional, but the reality is, we can’t always get little kids to sit still and reverent for a long time. This very short (10 minutes or less, depending on significant pauses in the narration and whether or not the little angels jab the shepherds, and vice-versa) Christmas program has the feel of the Cousin-Designed-and-Directed Nativity plays put on in the family room of Grandma’s Houses everywhere. And really, the more home-grown, the better!

We’ll be using it for our congregational social this week; it would work for a family party just as well. Enjoy!

Picture a Christmas Tableaux

Remember, it’s a really dreadful time of year to be a jerk about copyrights. I’d love you to share this, but don’t re-host it. Just link back, and the whole Universe will acknowledge your general Decency, Goodness, and Awesome Karma.

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Well-established fact: I adore music. It is my primary mode of worship, and it makes my life happy.

I also really like designing devotionals and programs and special worship services. This particular program hit me upside the brain one day, and I had to get out of the shower to write it all down immediately. (I’m thinking of getting one of those surveyor’s tablets with the write-in-the-rain paper. It could be quite useful.)

I knew I was to use several hymns that are not traditionally “Christmas” songs, but which communicate beautiful messages of the Savior. I knew that Mary and Joseph had a duet, that there was a lullaby at the very end, and that the entire congregation would sing a grand testimony together with the choir, just before a benediction. I knew the narration needed to be scripture, with only a little extra. It was all there, just waiting to be combined into an uplifting celebration.

So here’s a Christmas Eve (or even Christmas Eve Eve) devotional service, totally free to share and use (just please keep my copyright notes intact). The overall PDF file contains notes for the director, the script, and the music arrangements, all together, so it make take a few minutes to load.

Believe, A Christmas Devotional

All the musical selections are taken from the standard LDS hymnal , with one number from the children’s songbook. This allows for maximum congregational participation, and speedy devotional preparation, as many choir members will be familiar with the majority of the pieces. You may download music from LDS.org (go to Resources, Music, and launch the Interactive Music Player.)

I have written a few special arrangements, variations, and descants that are inspired by historical arrangements and harmonies; sheet music is provided in this packet, and is licensed to be photocopied for choir use. Only hymns that are licensed for incidental, non-commercial use have been selected for this devotional.

I have also included a printable program; combine it with Christ-centered art of your choice. If budget allows, consider having the program printed on good gloss cover stock, with the image in full color, and the text in black-and-white on the matte reverse. This allows the program to be framed and displayed in congregants’ homes for the Christmas season and beyond.

Ideally, this devotional should be shared in the evening; there is the unique feature of a postlude hymn, sung as a lullaby from the choir to the congregation, and to send everyone home in the silent, peaceful night, anticipating the joyous celebration of Christ’s birth in the morning… well, it’s just really cool. I dare you to sing the last number without getting a bit verklempt.

It’s Thanksgiving Day. I’m thankful. We are all so, so very blessed.

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