Friday, January 30, 2009

Holy Wisdom, Love Most Bright

I had an idea for decorating without spending any money, and this is how it turned out:

The frame was lying around in a cupboard (someday maybe I'll put it in a black frame instead, but for now I'm happy with it in one we already had), and the paper was in my craft supplies box. I just wrote out the simple melody line and jotted the text underneath it. It's a beautiful text and FavoriteBoy and I love the piece, as we love all Bach. It might be a unique way of decorating, but I like it.

Shaw's 1/29

I had a good shopping trip at Shaw's yesterday:

Total Spent: $47.75
Preferred Savings: $54.68
Manufacturer's Coupon Savings: $28.25
Store Coupon Savings: $12.30

I was thrilled to get so much meat and cheese for my carnivorous husband, and at such a good price. Usually, half of the meat I got would have cost $47 by itself! In fact, only two of the six packages of Perdue nuggets I got are pictured. I'm a little ashamed to admit to buying that many nuggets, but I spent three dollars on all six packages, and Nathan loves that junk. Three of the four packages of sausage will go right into our chest freezer, and with another package I'll make lasagna over the weekend. I'll freeze the two packages of kielbasa, too, and most of the Perdue nuggets. The beef roast is in the crockpot with carrots, parsnips, and rutabaga for dinner tonight, and I got five pounds of potatoes, two pounds of onions, and one pound of carrots free for buying the roast. All that cheese pictured (one chunk, one bag shredded, and four packages Kraft singles) was dirt cheap with coupons, and Nathan is a happy husband with meat, cheese, and crackers at his fingertips - oh, and those little Oreo 100 calorie packs, too, which I made a profit buying. Not a bad shopping trip!

I also stocked up on some great stuff at Walgreens and CVS today (makeup, men's shampoo, food to donate to the local food pantry, Stacy's pita chips, and more) for a total of $0.67 cents spent out of pocket, a near-break-even with Extra Care Bucks (I got back almost as many as I spent), and a savings of $99.00 - and I'll get a $10 rebate!

Homesick for Summer

When I woke up this morning, for the briefest of moments I thought it might be summer. I had slept in a short-sleeved shirt rather than the winter usual of long-sleeves or fleece, and I felt overly warm under the covers. Light was pouring in the window, and I could hear birds chirping outside. Before I was fully awake I found myself imagining going for a run outside before it got too warm, and then going for a walk in the sun with our friend Holly, perhaps sipping an iced tea and walking to the library.

Alas, it is not summer, and nowhere near it for us New England folks. I have many more months of dreary grey snow on the sides of the streets to look forward to, and biting cold winds and chafed hands, nose, and ears. And Holly has moved to Spokane, Washington which is altogether too far away from Beverly, Massachusetts.

I thought, fleetingly, that it would be a cool fruit smoothie morning, but it is an oatmeal morning, after all.

I can't wait for June.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Letter From a Young Nun

"Where there is hatred, let me sow love," says the prayer of St. Francis.

Easier said than done, and to many it may sound like a kind of empty celestial dream - a nice thought, perhaps, but certainly not a realistic response.

For Sister Lucy Vertrusc, love in response to hatred and violence was a reality. Sister Lucy was a young nun raped and impregnated by Serbian soldiers in 1995 during the War in former Yugoslavia. Below (from is the extraordinary letter she wrote to her mother superior, which subsequently appeared in an Italian newspaper at the mother superior's direction.

"I am Lucy, one of the young nuns raped by the Serbian soldiers. I am writing to you, Mother, after what happened to my sisters Tatiana, Sandria, and me.

Allow me not to go into the details of the act. There are some experiences in life so atrocious that you cannot tell them to anyone but God, in whose service I had consecrated my life nearly a year ago.

My drama is not so much the humiliation that I suffered as a woman, not the incurable offense committed against my vocation as a religious, but the difficulty of having to incorporate into my faith an event that certainly forms part of the mysterious will of Him whom I have always considered my Divine Spouse.

Only a few days before, I had read "Dialogues of Carmelites" and spontaneously I asked our Lord to grant me the grace of joining the ranks of those who died a martyr of Him. God took me at my word, but in such a horrid way! Now I find myself lost in the anguish of internal darkness. He has destroyed the plans of my life, which I considered definitive and uplifting for me, and He has set me all of a sudden in this design of His that I feel incapable of grasping.

When I was a teenager, I wrote in my Diary: Nothing is mine, I belong to no one, and no one belongs to me. Someone, instead grabbed me one night, a night I wish never to remember, tore me off from myself, and tried to make me his own . . .

It was already daytime when I awoke and my first thought was the agony of Christ in the Garden. Inside of me a terrible battle unleashed. I asked myself why God had permitted me to be rent, destroyed precisely in what had been the meaning of my life, but also I asked to what new vocation He was calling me.

I strained to get up, and helped by Sister Josefina, I managed to straighten myself out. Then the sound of the bell of the Augustinian convent, which was right next to ours, reached my ears. It was time for nine o'clock matins.

I made the sign of the cross and began reciting in my head the liturgical hymn. At this hour upon Golgotha's heights,/ Christ, the true Pascal Lamb,/ paid the price of our salvation.

What is my suffering, Mother, and the offense I received compared to the suffering and the offense of the One for whom I had a thousand times sworn to give my life. I spoke these words slowly, very slowly: May your will be done, above all now that 1 have no where to go and that I can only be sure of one thing: You are with me.

Mother, I am writing not in search of consolation, but so that you can help me give thanks to God for having associated me with the thousands of my fellow compatriots whose honor has been violated, and who are compelled to accept a maternity not wanted. My humiliation is added to theirs, and since I have nothing else to offer in expiation for the sin committed by those unnamed violators and for the reconciliation of the two embittered peoples, I accept this dishonor that I suffered and I entrust it to the mercy of God.

Do not be surprised, Mother, when I ask you to share with me my "thank you" that can seem absurd.

In these last months I have been crying a sea of tears for my two brothers who were assassinated by the same aggressors who go around terrorizing our towns, and I was thinking that it was not possible for me to suffer anything worse, so far from my imagination had been what was about to take place.

Every day hundreds of hungering creatures used to knock at the doors of our convent, shivering from the cold, with despair in their eyes. Some weeks ago, a young boy about eighteen years old said to me: How lucky you are to have chosen a refuge where no evil can reach you. The boy carried in his hands a rosary of praises for the Prophet. Then he added: You will never know what it means to be dishonored.

I pondered his words at length and convinced myself that there had been a hidden element to the sufferings of my people that had escaped me as I was almost ashamed to be so excluded. Now I am one of them, one of the many unknown women of my people, whose bodies have been devastated and hearts seared. The Lord had admitted me into his mystery of shame. What is more, for me, a religious, He has accorded me the privilege of being acquainted with evil in the depths of its diabolical force.

I know that from now on the words of encouragement and consolation that I can offer from my poor heart will be all the more credible, because my story is their story, and my resignation, sustained in faith, at least a reference, if not example for their moral and emotional responses.

All it takes is a sign, a little voice, a fraternal gesture to set in motion the hopes of so many undiscovered creatures.

God has chosen me-may He forgive my presumption-to guide the most humble of my people towards the dawn of redemption and freedom. They can no longer doubt the sincerity of my words, because I come, as they do, from the outskirts of revilement and profanation.

I remember the time when I used to attend the university at Rome in order to get my masters in Literature, an ancient Slavic woman, the professor of Literature, used to recite to me these verses from the poet Alexej Mislovic: You must not die/because you have been chosen/ to be a part of the day.

That night, in which I was terrorized by the Serbs for hours and hours, I repeated to myself these verses, which I felt as balm for my soul, nearly mad with despair.

And now, with everything having passed and looking back, I get the impression of having been made to swallow a terrible pill.

Everything has passed, Mother, but everything begins. In your telephone call, after your words of encouragement, for which I am grateful with all my life, you posed me a very direct question: What will you do with the life that has been forced into your womb? I heard your voice tremble as you asked me the question, a question I felt needed no immediate response; not because I had not yet considered the road I would have to follow, but so as not to disturb the plans you would eventually have to unveil before me. I had already decided. I will be a mother. The child will be mine and no one else's. I know that I could entrust him to other people, but he-though I neither asked for him nor expected him-he has a right to my love as his mother. A plant should never be torn from its roots. The grain of wheat fallen in the furrow has to grow there, where the mysterious, though iniquitous sower threw it.

I will fulfill my religious vocation in another way. I will ask nothing of my congregation, which has already given me everything. I am very grateful for the fraternal solidarity of the Sisters, who in these times have treated me with the utmost delicacy and kindness, especially for never having asked any uncareful questions.

I will go with my child. I do not know where, but God, who broke all of a sudden my greatest joy, will indicate the path I must tread in order to do His will.

I will be poor again, I will return to the old aprons and the wooden shoes that the women in the country use for working, and I will accompany my mother into the forest to collect the resin from the slits in the trees.

Someone has to begin to break the chain of hatred that has always destroyed our countries. And so, I will teach my child only one thing: love. This child, born of violence, will be a witness along with me that the only greatness that gives honor to a human being is forgiveness.

Through the Kingdom of Christ for the Glory of God."

January 22

This Day in Liberal Judicial Activism reminds us that today marks the 36th anniversary of Roe v. Wade.

Frederica Mathewes-Green weighs in:
Not soon—maybe not till the baby boomers have passed from the scene—but it’s possible that a younger generation will see abortion very differently. And the reason is, as the saying goes, “Nobody knows when life begins.” With abortions now running around 1.2 million per year, the total number of abortions since Roe v Wade is about 49 million. That’s a big number—about a sixth of the US population. It’s a big number, if you’re not absolutely sure that it’s *not* life.

After all, if you saw a little girl hit by a car, you’re going to yell, “Get an ambulance!” not “Get a shovel!” It’s in the very fabric of humanity to be on the side of life, if there’s the faintest hope that life exists. We don’t throw children away when we’re not sure whether they’re alive or not.

On a day like today - as with every day, really - it's appropriate to remember the lives lost, and to speak for the defenseless and voiceless.
Open your mouth for the mute,
For the rights of all the unfortunate.
Open your mouth, judge righteously,
And defend the rights of the afflicted and needy.
Proverbs 31:8-9

As one of his final official acts, President George W. Bush defended the rights of the unborn as he had throughout his administration - he issued a proclamation on January 15 declaring the following:
National Sanctity of Human Life Day, 2009
A Proclamation by the President of the United States of America

All human life is a gift from our Creator that is sacred, unique, and worthy of protection. On National Sanctity of Human Life Day, our country recognizes that each person, including every person waiting to be born, has a special place and purpose in this world. We also underscore our dedication to heeding this message of conscience by speaking up for the weak and voiceless among us.

The most basic duty of government is to protect the life of the innocent. My Administration has been committed to building a culture of life by vigorously promoting adoption and parental notification laws, opposing Federal funding for abortions overseas, encouraging teen abstinence, and funding crisis pregnancy programs. In 2002, I was honored to sign into law the Born-Alive Infants Protection Act, which extends legal protection to children who survive an abortion attempt. I signed legislation in 2003 to ban the cruel practice of partial-birth abortion, and that law represents our commitment to building a culture of life in America. Also, I was proud to sign the Unborn Victims of Violence Act of 2004, which allows authorities to charge a person who causes death or injury to a child in the womb with a separate offense in addition to any charges relating to the mother.

America is a caring Nation, and our values should guide us as we harness the gifts of science. In our zeal for new treatments and cures, we must never abandon our fundamental morals. We can achieve the great breakthroughs we all seek with reverence for the gift of life.

The sanctity of life is written in the hearts of all men and women. On this day and throughout the year, we aspire to build a society in which every child is welcome in life and protected in law. We also encourage more of our fellow Americans to join our just and noble cause. History tells us that with a cause rooted in our deepest principles and appealing to the best instincts of our citizens, we will prevail.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, GEORGE W. BUSH, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim January 18, 2009, as National Sanctity of Human Life Day. I call upon all Americans to recognize this day with appropriate ceremonies and to underscore our commitment to respecting and protecting the life and dignity of every human being.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this fifteenth day of January, in the year of our Lord two thousand nine, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-third.


Previously: "A Tragedy of Stunning Dimensions"

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Let Freedom Ring

I'm watching the inauguration, not because I love Obama (I don't) but because I love America.

I also love Itzhak Perlman, and was pretty excited that he performed alongside Yo-Yo Ma and others.

My sister-in-law Jenn posted thoughts on this inauguration that echo my own so well that I'll just encourage you to read her words here.
"For true equality comes when the color of one's skin is not even a factor--good or bad. [Martin Luther King, Jr.] dreamed of a day when people would be judged not by the color of their skin but the content of their character, and, though the balance has shifted in the other direction, I don't believe we're there yet."

Finally, I can't help mentioning it - and there's no way of putting this nicely - Obama et al. screwed up majorly at the swearing in process. Really, how do you mess that up that badly?

I am not happy about our new President, but I am happy when I call this to mind:

Oh, say, can you see, by the dawn's early light,
What so proudly we hail'd at the twilight's last gleaming?
Whose broad stripes and bright stars, thro' the perilous fight,
O'er the ramparts we watch'd, were so gallantly streaming?
And the rockets' red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof thro' the night that our flag was still there.
O say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave?
O, thus be it ever when free men shall stand,
Between their lov'd homes and the war's desolation;
Blest with vict'ry and peace, may the heav'n-rescued land
Praise the Pow'r that hath made and preserv'd us a nation!
Then conquer we must, when our cause is just,
And this be our motto: "In God is our trust"
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

No Happy Couch Potatoes

An interesting article from the New York Times:

What Happy People Don't Do gives the results of a study proving that unhappy people watch more TV than happy people. Not really that surprising, but makes you think before you turn on the television, doesn't it?
"Although people who describe themselves as happy enjoy watching television, it turns out to be the single activity they engage in less often than unhappy people," said John Robinson, a professor of sociology at the University of Maryland and the author of the study, which appeared in the journal Social Indicators Research.

Shaw's Last Week

Last week Nathan and I had dinner guests on a couple of occasions, which necessitated a trip to Shaw's. I was able to get quite a bit of Quaker stuff pretty much free, and I used $0.75 coupons for the Healthy Ones sandwich meat, which all doubled to $1.50, making each package of meat just $0.50! The Tostitos and salsa was a fun deal; I had a coupon for "buy two bags of Tostitos, get a free jar of salsa," and another coupon for "buy two bags of Tostitos, save $2." Then Shaw's was having a "buy two, get one free" sale as well, so combining all the deals I got all three products for under $1!

My total out of pocket for everything pictured was $5. I used $30 in catalinas that I had gotten a couple of weeks ago, and I used a lot of coupons! That's $80 worth of groceries for $5.

Sorry, Subway. $5 for a footlong sandwich is not as good a deal as your commercials would have people believe.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Violin Teachers

Nathan Cole, a violinist with the Chicago Symphony (which will always hold a special place in my heart as my favorite American symphony orchestra), has a fun website for violin-lovers. My favorite part is the page of stories from his violin lessons with Felix Galimir at the Curtis Institute of Music. If you've ever had a lesson with a teacher whose mere presence could make you feel like a nauseous bundle of nerves, Nate's stories will no doubt make you laugh and cringe at the same time!

I remember well the feeling of dread that would creep over me every morning of a lesson day with my college violin teacher. What a shocking transition it was for me, from an easy-going, un-demanding teacher who expected work on a given piece to take at least a semester to an intense, imposing teacher who rankled when subjected to the same piece two weeks in a row.

There were lessons where, after a week of four to five hours of practice daily, I played as well as I thought I could, only to be met with words like, "Sweetie, you sound like *&$%. You have approached this all wrong. You must start over, practicing like this... Now, put that away and play something else for me. Your playing was so unclean that I feel like I need a shower!" Other lessons I felt poorly prepared and thought I played badly, only to be greeted with an inexplicably good mood from my teacher, a hug or handshake and a smile - signs I learned to recognize as tolerance, and perhaps sympathy for my failure to progress. On these occasions, he knew that I knew I had played badly, and rarely wasted much breath on my pathetic attemps.

"Good," he would sometimes say after I finished a phrase, or a movement, or a piece. "Now, again, but in tune this time." Other times he was less amiable, once bursting out, "Sweetie, do you need me to write you a textbook for you to figure out how to widen your vibrato?" Sometimes he would declare, "I don't care what you like! I don't care how you feel! When I ask you a question about a phrase, or a fingering, or a bowing, I want you to tell me facts, girl, FACTS! I'm not here to let you express your feelings!" Eventually he would sigh, "I can't teach students like you!" and I would pack up my violin hurriedly and rush out of the room holding back tears.

Other weeks my lessons made me laugh, like the time when he asked me for a pencil, and then handed back the mechanical pencil I gave him, saying, "Sweetie, I can't work these things - give me a regular pencil!" Or the time when, in a January snowstorm, he decided he wanted to open the studio window. He tried flipping the latches up, but the window wouldn't open. He flipped them back down and tried again - still it wouldn't budge. Next he tried them at the halfway point, and finally, one up, one down. At each step in his process I explained to him that the windows were probably frozen shut, but he would have none of it. Eventually he called the college campus safety department, and ordered them to send over the officer on duty to help him open the window. The bewildered officer arrived and broke the ice off the window from outside, so Mr. B. was at last able to open the window and let in the frigid evening air. Oddest of all was his reaction to the help he received from the school officer; he turned to me with a wide grin and said, "Sweetie, I'm just so encouraged about this school. Now, Bruch, first movement!"

Lessons were always an adventure with him. By my second year, I cried less often than I had during my first year, and by my third year, I felt he might have genuinely liked me - at least sometimes. No matter what happened, somehow I would muster the courage to return each week for another lesson, and at the end of three years, I was a better violinist.

I'm grateful for all of it, from the stinging truths that made me practice more to the wealth of information that helped me to practice more intelligently to the quirks that made me laugh. Ah, what would this world be without violin teachers?

Monday, January 12, 2009

Ribbon Headbands

Have you ever made ribbon headbands? It's a five-minute project that you should definitely try! Here are a couple that I've made recently, using clearance ribbon from Michael's:

You just loop two hair ties together, and sew the desired length of ribbon onto the rubberbands, folding the ends over twice so the raw edge is inside. That's it! Easy as pie and cute as a button... what more could you want in a project?

Crocheted Hat

Since I mentioned that I spent Saturday evening crocheting, I thought I'd show you the result!

This hat is easy-peasy. If you know how to chain stitch and half double crochet, you can do it! I just crocheted a rectangle with an initial chain length of about 45 stitches. The row length is the height of the hat, and the number of rows make up the width. Once you have enough rows to wrap around your head, use a big needle to sew the first and last rows together. Sew a running stitch around the top of the hat to gather it in, and you're almost done! The last thing I did was to make a little crocheted "button" to go on the top; a pom-pom would work, as well.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Two Book Reviews

Among the books I've been reading lately two stand out in my mind right now, and I've been wanting to write little "reviews" of them - perhaps some of my readers will want to read these books, too. I read a riveting novel over the summer, and a fascinating book on maternity care in the fall, and only now am I getting around to posting about those good reads! Here goes...

1) Quo Vadis by Henryk Sienkiewicz:

I had no idea how much I would enjoy this book, and I could not have predicted that I would be so drawn into the storyline that I would stay up far too late, night after night, reading. The title is Latin for "Where are you going?", drawn from when Peter met Jesus on his way to be crucified. Quo Vadis is set in the very earliest days of Christianity, and tells of a love story between a pagan Roman military officer, Vinitius, and a young Christian girl, Ligia. Once I was a little way into the book and the plot got moving, I was swept up in the story, which culminates in depictions of famous events: the burning of Rome, and the subsequent feeding of Christians to the lions. The book is inspiring without being preachy - something that can't be said of much historical fiction involving Christianity! The characters really come alive, and I found myself sickened by Nero's cruelty, deceit, and wickedness, drawn to Ligia and other Christians like her, and eagerly awaiting each appearance of Peter or Paul (although they are not very developed characters) in the pages of the book.

I found myself thinking of Diotima's ladder as I progressed through Quo Vadis. Diotima's ladder, or "the ascent passage" from Plato's Symposium, describes how love ascends from a base love (love of a particular body) to the highest love, love of Beauty (as a Form; inseparable from Truth and Goodness). While the connection between the two books is not a precise one, the one certainly reminded me of the other. Vinitius, a pagan entrenched in the ways of Nero's corrupt court, initially lusts after Ligia. So that he might possess her, Romans remove the girl from her home by force, and she is essentially to be a concubine to Vinitius. Through the events of the book, his heart is changed, and he grows to love Ligia's soul, and through her eternal soul, to see and love the beauty of Christ.

Through Christ both Ligia and eventually Vinitius learn to live a life free of fear, a life dramatically different from the typical Roman lifestyle in every way. Vinitius's conversion and subsequent growing faith is powerfully and beautifully told.
"His faith had become so strong that eternity seemed to him something incomparably more real and true than the fleeting existence that he had lived up to that time."

The book describes in vivid detail the persecution of the Christians. Even the wicked, godless Romans who come to the arena to see the sights are sickened by the events that follow - and how much more so was I! At this point in the book, I admit that my vision of the page was occasionally blurred... it is a very sad story, indeed - saddest because it is true.

At the moment when Ligia is in the arena with wild animals, Vinitius's only words are, "I believe! I believe! Grant a miracle, O Christ!"

As to what follows, I recommend you read the book!

Peace to the martyrs.

2) Pushed: The Painful Truth About Childbirth and Modern Maternity Care by Jennifer Block:

My friend Story (who is in the final stages of becoming a certified nurse midwife) lent me this book, and I highly recommend it to anyone and everyone. The scientific and medical aspects of the book are made easy to understand, and the statistics on modern American birth are fascinating. The stories in the book - tales of one unnecessary intervention after another, C-sections of convenience, and agenda-oriented hospitals - certainly ring true with the experiences many of my family members and friends have had in their birth experiences. Suffice it to say that when it comes to low-risk pregnancies, I'm a home birth advocate!

One of the things that struck me as most tragically ironic as I read this book was the concept of "reproductive rights." We hear a lot about women's reproductive rights, don't we? As it turns out, the only right that is getting easier and easier for women to obtain is the right not to reproduce! When women want to reproduce, it's increasingly difficult for them to do so in the way they deem safest, healthiest, and best for mother and baby. The book even describes situations in which lawyers were appointed to unborn fetuses in order to assure the baby a "safe" hospital birth. In a time when fetuses are generally granted few if any rights when a mother wishes to terminate a pregnancy, is it only me who finds this a very sad irony? Most "women's rights" groups are interested only in women's rights to abortion, not real reproductive rights.

Whether you're male or female, young or old, expecting or not, you should read this book. In the interest of true women's rights and reproductive rights, all women should have the intellectual power to know what kind of birth experience they want, and to what kind of procedures and interventions they will or will not consent.

Alphabet Magnet Set

My sister Emily posted about our family's handmade Christmas on her blog, too, and included a picture of the magnet set I made for my nephew Jonathan, which I had forgotten to photograph. I was pretty pleased with how it turned out!

The Banshee

Nathan is cleaning the strings and plate on one of our Steinways today.

The result is that, as I sit on the couch crocheting, I get the vague impression I'm at an all-Cowell piano recital, with banshees screaming around me.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Shaw's 1/8

The past week has been a great place to shop at Shaw's! They ran a "spend $30 on selected products, get $15 back" promotion, and as usual, it worked on pre-sale, pre-coupon prices. So I kept spending $15 or less, getting $15 back, spending $15 or less, getting $15 back. It worked like a charm. The deal included frozen Green Giant veggies, so I'm stocked up on peas, corn, sugar snap peas, etc. It also included YoPlus yogurt, which comes in some delicious varieties. Cascadian Farms organic cereal was included, too. Here's a photo from just one of several recent transactions:

I spent $18 on this transaction (plus $15 I had received from a previous transaction), and got $35 back in "on your next order" coupons. Not bad!

Just to clarify, the diapers and baby food are for my friend Story, who has two little ones.

While I have said before that one can't get produce with coupons, I'm finding I may need to amend that statement: in the past week I've gotten frozen veggies, fresh pomegranates, and lettuce with coupons. I also got four free bananas with a coupon, and I have a coupon for free green beans!

Walgreens 1/7

It's a good week at Walgreens - I paid $0.12 for all this:

I find the mix of healthy and oh-so-unhealthy quite humorous!


The problem with not posting in several weeks is that there's a lot to catch up on, and then I get overwhelmed about the thought of catching up, and continually avoid the idea of blogging. But Christmas was so nice I can't just skip blogging about it, so here goes...

First, some pictures of our apartment decorated for the season:

I made that little paper star garland above the snowflakes - I think it turned out cute.

As I mentioned before, I decided to give mostly handmade gifts this Christmas. I ended up with some degree of success in this, only because I started things several months before Christmas - in November and December I got really busy with gigs and concerts, and I was glad I had started things early!

Of course, there were the refrigerator magnets, sets for everyone, packaged up on strips of metal in small bags:

And there was the lip balm all around... now in peppermint rosemary, pink grapefruit, lime, vanilla, and tangerine!

I sewed and stuffed a bird ornament for my parents - I had hoped to have a set of two, but ran out of time!

Earrings for my sister Emily:

And more earrings for my sister-in-law Jenn:

(Sorry my pictures are terrible!)

I freezer-paper-stenciled these onesies for my newest nephew, Josiah:

And I made the cutest magnet board with handmade alphabet magnets for my nephew Jonathan, but I forgot to take a picture of it! (Maybe Emily will help me out and post one on her blog...)

My nephew Thomas has a chair, handmade by a man Nathan works with, with his name carved in the back - and there's one for Jonathan too - but we haven't shipped them yet. Oops!

For my brother Christopher I made a double-sided fleece blanket in his school colors, blue and yellow. Sewing on the quilt binding was quite a bit more tricky than I had anticipated!

And for Grandma I made this Christmas ornament:

Well, my family members far surpassed me in skill with the handmade gifts they created!

Jenn, my sister-in-law, made quilted pot-holders for everyone:

She and Jonathan also made and canned jelly and applesauce for everyone - delicious. And they turned some of Jenn's photographs into beautiful notecards for us; I can't take pictures of her pictures and do them justice, but you can see Jenn's beautiful photography at her site Jenn's Lens.

And my parents made beautiful framed quilt blocks for each of us - here's ours:

Christopher, my youngest brother, made us this beautiful hand-carved wood ornament:

And my sister Emily made us handmade soap - it smells as good as it looks!

Emily also made a really neat hammock for Nathan; she has a home business making slings for babies but for Christmas gifts she expanded to creating adult-sized "slings"! No picture because we haven't put it up yet, but it's fabulous.

All in all it was a wonderful Christmas, and I can't help thinking my family is pretty cool. (I know, I'm biased.)

Nathan and I also got plenty of time for relaxation over the holiday. Nathan turned a beautiful wood vase on my Dad's lathe, the two of us went to the Sacramento Railroad Museum, we got to see the house my aunt and uncle recently finished and the house my cousin and his family are building, we celebrated our second anniversary, and we played some fun games and enjoyed time with family.