Making Christmas About Memories Not Stuff

 

Dog

This is the first Christmas for our twin boys. They will be a few days short of a year old when the big day rolls around. It is hard to believe that we have survived a year. There have been a lot of changes in our lives since our little nuggets arrived, but the biggest one is me staying at home with them. It is not something I regret at all, in fact I know many mommas out there would love to be able to do it and I am lucky that we can make it work. Its a blessing. I also started with the delusion that I would be able to do all kinds of things that I have been wanting to do in my “spare time.” Veteran moms, feel free to laugh now.

We have also noticed a large influx of “Stuff.” The bouncy things, the walkers, stuffed toys, balls, clothes, accessories, that spooky camera toy that talks when no one is near it … and any number of other things. Our once tidy home looks like a ball pit at Chucky Cheese. And it’s not just baby stuff; it seems like every time we go out we get another pile of things that we somehow have to make our home absorb. Bottom line — we have too much STUFF.

 

Our first new family tradition started the day after Thanksgiving. We loaded up the four wheel drive sleigh and headed to Frankenmuth, Michigan. In hindsight we didn’t really pick the best day to go, the place was swarming with people, but it was so much fun. Bronners was our first stop; if you have never been it is worth checking out. It is the world’s largest Christmas store. The boys loved the shiny things on the ceiling, no one cried, and nothing got broken. A+ Yoders! We then proceeded to Zehnders, a family style restaurant featuring fried chicken, mashed potatoes and homemade bread. The boys ate all the squash and loved the butter noodles. A side note: not all the restrooms have changing tables. Matt was gone so long searching and waiting for a bathroom with a changing table that I almost thought me and O got abandoned.
We checked out all the cool shops on the main drag while we waited for the Christmas tree lighting ceremony to begin. There is a really neat toy shop downtown and I really liked my German chocolate latte from the little coffee shop a few doors away. The Christmas tree lighting ceremony was really neat! They had a German band that sang carols in German and a candlelight walk that we didn’t get to participate in like we had hoped, it started snowing and the boys had had enough so we packed up and went home.

The next day we focused on putting up our tree and decorating it. A much slower process now, since every ornament must be inspected and approved by two tiny boys. We cannot put up the tree without watching “Christmas Vacation.” It’s something that me and my family did for years and it feels funny without it.

I also made a point to get down to see my grandmother. My mom and I got the boys around and spent the evening making two batches of molasses cookies while she visited with her great grandchildren. That’s magic right there.

Homemade Gifting And Skill Building Gifts
A few years ago we started frowning upon purchased gifts in favor of homemade ones. Homemade gifts mean more than anything bought from a store. My sister knits a mean scarf, my husband can whip out gorgeous picture frames, and I make birdseed wreaths. We are a crafty family and we all have our talents. My dad loves to cook and always makes an amazing restaurant quality feast. Every. Single. Holiday. And my mom might as well be a Christmas interior decorator, the house is always stunning. Sharing your talents with your family and friends is a great way to keep costs down and spirits up. Also gifts that encourage interests or ones that make a memory are amazing. Does your kid need the latest (annoying) Tickle Me Elmo? Maybe that birdhouse kit that she can put together with her dad would mean more in the end. Go to a ball game, show them how to change a tire, take them to a museum, or the zoo. Skills and interests last a lifetime. Do I remember what I got Christmas morning when I was 9? Heck no! I DO, however, remember helping my dad and grandpa build the sugar shack and learning about making maple syrup. I remember picking out one new ornament every year at Christmas Manor with my mom and sister after our school’s Halloween parade. I remember drawing dinosaurs on the floor with my uncle while we waited for the turkey to get carved. I remember sleeping with my sister in her room Christmas Eve and swearing we could hear bells and tiny hooves on our roof. Little things that hardly cost much are the things that stuck with me all these years.

I have so many fond memories of Christmas. My parents really made it a magical time of the year. I just hope we can continue that for our children. It was never about “getting” so much as the feeling surrounding the whole month of December. We baked, made gingerbread houses, made ornaments and read stories,wrote letters to Santa, strung popcorn and cranberries, played games … and all the love, it was amazing. I wish for our children to be content with a few gifts and happy to spend time with their family and play games, drink cocoa and build snowmen. That’s what Christmas is all about for me.

 

Preparing Top Bar Hives For Winter

Helping bees close up shop for the winter is one of my seasonal chores. This year my husband even helped! I am really proud of him; he has always been supportive of my bee habit and loves to sing the praises of bees, but never really wanted to get too close for fear of getting stung. He even winterized a hive all by himself! One step closer to being a big happy beekeeping family.

I have two Kenyan Style Top Bar Hives (or kTBH) at my parents’ house so we decided we should have taco night, the boys would get Grammie and Grampy time and I would get my bees hunkered down for winter.

The process to do two hives probably takes a whole 30 minutes from start to finish. You need your hive tools, I keep them all in a tool box. Specifically, a hive tool or small pry bar (I used a flat head screwdriver since my hive tool grew legs and walked off), bee brush, stapler, 1/4-inch hardware cloth cut to the size of your TBH, a bowl, knife, and straw.

Start by removing your lids and stapling the hardware cloth around the rim so it will overhang onto the sides of the hive. I did this my first year beekeeping and I leave it on year round. Also remove your observation window to see how far the girls have gotten and where you need to start prying up the bars to slide in your follower board.

Hives

Hives ready for winterization.

Remove any started or unfinished comb. The goal here is to have that follower board right up next to the last full bar of honey comb.

Unfinished comb

Small unfinished comb.

Move the follower board up to the last comb and be careful not to squish any of your ladies. Use your bee brush or a gentle hand. Neither my husband or I wore bee suits for this hive manipulation as our bees are docile.

The comb you collect here will most likely be full of uncapped honey. Cut it off the bars and place it in your bowl and share with your family. To be clear on one thing. We only harvest our honey once a year, in the spring time. NOT the fall. The bees eat their own honey all winter and in the spring after the nectar sources have returned in our area, we take what they didn’t use during the winter.

Comb

More unfinished comb.

Stuff the empty bit of the hive with straw. And I mean STUFF IT IN THERE! I used at least a 1/4 of a bale of straw just for this tiny little bit of empty hive. The straw acts as insulation. While you are at the straw stuffing, stuff a bunch into the underside of your lid. More insulation and it also helps to wick away moisture that the bees will produce keeping their queen warm.

Pack with straw

Stuffing straw

Now simply replace your lid and staple down the excess hardware cloth around the outside of the hive. Replace your observation window and ensure that it is totally secure. It is not a good thing when your window blows off in a storm and its a few days or weeks until you find it has fallen off.

TA-DA! Bees are all cozy for the winter!

More bee posts to come so keep on the look out for them. Happy Beekeeping!

Observation window

View from observation window.

Homemade Applesauce

 

This year my family got together and made applesauce for the first time. We had not only 2 bushels of FREE apples, but we also had a free day this weekend to make SAUCE. Happy Dance. And by “free day” I mean, “We are already canning 40 lbs of beef this weekend so we might as well …”

Funny how everything has to come at once. We had planned on doing the applesauce, then we got that faithful call from the meat processor that our steer was ready for pick up. All blessings of course … we have meat for our freezer and tasty applesauce for the dead of winter. The work is totally worth it. Plus you get the added bonus of family time, and passing traditions down through the generations.

No extra acid was used in our recipe, you can add lemon or citric acid, however some claim that it causes an off flavor so we opted out. Sugar is an optional add in too, it all comes down to taste. Since the babies would be the main eaters of the applesauce we chose to not add sugar. The apples we had were a mix of lord-knows-what varying in texture, size, color, and acidity. Our end product had enough acid that we were comfortable skipping it and the sugar both, simply for taste reasons and safety, too.

Lets get to it then!

Apples

Acquire your apples. You want a nice mix of sweet and tart apples. We aren’t really sure what kind of apples we ended up with, but we could tell that there were three distinct varieties ranging from tart to sweet and crisp to soft.

Coring and Peeling

Core and peel your apples. You can see we saved our skins and cores and stuffed them in half gallon jars for apple cider vinegar making. Another blog for another time.

Cored and Peeled Apples

A pot of cored and peeled apples ready for cooking.

Apples Cooking Down

Apples cooking down. We worked in batches with two large pots on the stove. Cook them until they are nice and soft and easily mashable.

Mixing applesauce

We used a hand mixer in the pot to “sauce” our sauce. It has some teeny weenie chunks in it. It’s homemade, the perfection is in the imperfection.

Filling Jars

Fill your jars. We use a 2 cup measuring cup to scoop into jars rather than a ladle. We find that we have more control over the lava hot substance, and it takes less trips from the heat source to the jars. Be sure to tap your jars gently to get out all the air bubbles or stick a utensil down into the jars to free up bubbles.

In The Bath

Add your jars to the hot water bath canner. Wait for the water to boil then set your timer for 20 minutes. Remove your jars and let them cool on a towel. The sound of can lids popping is the best sound in the world!

Happy Applesauce Making!