christmas

THE CHRISTMAS TREE CHOP, SANTA LUCIA, AND LITTLE DREAMS

 
Christmas Tree Chop Tiny Tree by Samantha Spigos

The tiniest tree we’ve had yet. Technically only part of a tree; a glorified branch, really. We found it among the lowly pile of “tree tops” relegated to the fence at the Christmas tree farm. So dainty, this tree, that Mark and I were able to forgo the tree wrapping and tie it to the top of my station wagon with ease. This was our fifth year to caravan out yonder for the Christmas Tree Chop, and the first year that no one actually chopped a tree. It was more of a wintry walkabout with hot cocoa and sledding. Turns out none of us could afford to chop a tree, and all the better. As grandma would’ve said, we are clear tickled with our tree.

If my absence here has been any indication, I’ve been finding it hard to share much publicly this year. Mark and I are still so fresh to parenthood. We opt not to share much about our daughter on the Internet, even if we would love for you to enjoy her gap teeth and scrunch face. As for everything else we pen about, we are in a very slow season. I don’t mean winter, though it has been plenty restful. I mean life. There is just . . . not much happening. I suspect it is not for naught. There are things that need tending in our relationship and hearts, and they must be mundane, silent things. (Ugh.) I trust God knows this better than we. Better put, I am trying to trust. We had grown accustomed to major change around every bend, our joint life seeming to always gain momentum. Then Autumn hit, and life slowed. Stalled, almost. We thought we were buying a farm, and when that did not come to pass, we resumed life as usual. The Big Dreams went to hunker down for a nice, long hibernation. Daily life was replaced with Little Dreams like baking cake again, like playing basketball again, like going to the Christmas tree farm again.

Christmas Tree Chop Sledding Family by Samantha Spigos
Christmas Tree Chop Family by Samantha Spigos
Christmas Tree Chop Rosemary Child by Samantha Spigos
Christmas Tree Chop Kids Sledding by Samantha Spigos
Christmas Tree Chop Festive Kids Sledding by Samantha Spigos

And then there is Nicholas. Guadalupe. Lucia. The feast days of December that punctuate the end of the year and bring greater meaning to Advent. We celebrate these saints and Our Lady as a family, joining the multitudes around the world who do the same. During an otherwise anticipatory season, these small celebrations are grounding, acting as a sweet reminder to take proper notice of the day at hand. Who came before us? What did it mean for the world? In a special way, I love Saint Lucia. She was an Italian girl who brought light and hope to Sweden, and now brings light and hope to me. We baked the traditional recipe associated with her feast day — lussekatter, or saffron buns — in all manner of traditional shapes: the lyre, the Christmas pig and horse, the golden wagon, the little baby, the hair of the priest (every kid’s favorite around here). Meanwhile, my mom sat on the floor and read aloud a story about her. There is something quite beautiful in watching a child at work in the kitchen. . . that is, if you can look past the constant sneaking of bites and patting down of perfectly risen dough. And really we ought to, because children teach us so much about how to appreciate Little Dreams, especially when you give them their own handful of dough.

Santa Lucia Day Baking Lussekater Lucy Buns by Samantha Spigos
Saint Lucia Day Lussekater Lucy Buns by Samantha Spigos
Santa Lucia Day Peg Dolls Saint Lucy Bernadette by Samantha Spigos
saint lucia day lussekater lucy buns by samantha spigos
saint lucia day lussekater family generations by samantha spigos
Saint Lucia lussekater lucy cats baking by Samantha Spigos

For the inquisitive . . .

+ Lucia and Bernadette saint peg dolls.
+ We use the lussekatter recipe from this favorite book.
+ The pink pointy ear flap hat pictured above is a spectacular free knitting pattern.
+ Christmas Tree Chops of yore: 2017, 2016, 2015.
+ Last year’s Santa Lucia Day.


—S

DOWN HOMEBREW | TART CHERRY SAISON

 
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This beer was brewed for the holiday season, which stands as evidence of my lack of blogging activity lately. . . blame the baby! (Just kidding, don't blame her for anything.) Instead of your usual sweet, spiced Christmas Ale (see: Great Lakes' version), I wanted to keep playing around with saison—the chameleon of classic beer styles. So, I brewed up my standard saison recipe and poured in a bottle of tart cherry juice once active fermentation had slowed down. The yeast made quick work of the sugars, leaving behind a nice, tart pairing for family gatherings & holiday treats. Whether it was the flavor, the rich color, or merely the intention behind it, this Tart Cherry Saison made for  a wonderfully festive Christmas companion!

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Tart Cherry Saison

Appearance: Crystal clear! Deep orange color; addition of tart cherry juice resulted in darker color than previous saisons.

Aroma: Cherry—hooray!

Taste: Tart, some clove (see: Paulaner comparison), finishing dry-but-not-too-dry.

Mouthfeel: Full, round body with lively carbonation.

Style: Saison

ABV: 4.7%

Hops: Saaz.

Malt: Pilsner, Vienna, Flaked Wheat.

Overall: Reminiscent of Paulaner Hefeweizen, but with that snappy saison finish.


—M

COOKIE DAY + THE CHRISTMAS TREE CHOP

 
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There are a few days every year that I look forward to most, Cookie Day and the Christmas Tree Chop among them. Saint Lucia Day is joining the ranks—I can feel it. This blog is becoming a little chronicle of the aforementioned traditions, and like a creature of habit I look forward to documenting and writing about this year's. Annual days like these mark the passage of time yet maintain the patina of well-worn tradition, and I for one need that dichotomy. In a whirling, swirling season (and year!) surely it's essential that we keep a few things constant, slow, and sacred.

Cookie Day has happened every year for 21 years! Certain years there are special guests who throw aprons on and lean into the spirit of frosting and sprinkles (you will walk away with a blue tongue and a stomachache; it's just a fact, people.). Other years there are just 3 or 4 of us. Ever constant are Fran and Cindy, lifelong best friends and Cookie Day Foundresses. We are trending upwards in numbers as a whole gaggle of children join the Cookie Force. All the little ones present this year are Montessori-educated, which showed in their deliberate care in rolling dough and cutting shapes. (It should be noted that they also deliberately snuck so many bites of cookie dough that I was sure they themselves would morph into cut-out cookies. Self-control is tough when there are 200 cookies on the table.) I would be remiss to not mention my grandma's absence. We missed her palpably. Her dear sister, my Great Aunt Posie, joined us and filled the air with the gentle joy the Engle sisters were decidedly known for.
// [Peek 2015 + whoops, I guess I never posted the photos from 2016]

And the Christmas Tree Chop! It's only our fourth year—practically infancy—and I suspect the cost of trees increased at our local tree farm, but it is no less a favorite tradition. Hot chocolate and coffee must accompany, and ten to twenty trees need be deliberated over before settling on The One. Brother Zach always cuts it down, and generally one child cries. It's a little bit chaos, a lotta bit festive. 
// [Peek 2015 + 2016]

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—S

THAT WHICH IS UN-PROTECTABLE

 
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While on the phone with a utility company yesterday, a well-meaning woman transferred me to a home security company to discuss "how to protect your investment." . . . Full transparency here: I hung up. I admit that I felt a twinge of guilt, but to her credit those words have echoed in my mind long after I disconnected. Protect your investment. 

Earlier in the day I had stopped into the hardware (one of those magnificently creaky, family-run ones) to pick up a $4 bag of bird seed. For many months, my 2 1/2 year old nephew and I have been doing this together—pick up the bird seed, walk it home, fill the feeder, marvel at the sparrows and chickadees who come by, repeat.

When we ambled to the register, the owner handed me my assumed-to-be-lost credit card. "I came to your house a few times and knocked, but you must not have been home," she said. Ok . . . the owner of the shop where I had left my credit card came to our house to deliver it. Bless her. It was an unbelievable moment for me, captured in my mind's eye with perfect clarity. I am not so naive to believe my loved ones are exempt from indiscriminate danger and misfortune. Devastating events happen in small towns all the time, regardless the perceived safety that accompany interactions like the one I had at the hardware. But the interaction did absolutely reaffirm why Mark and I moved here, why we choose to live rurally. What I wanted to say to the woman from the utility company was that the investments I want to protect are of much greater worth than the Stuff in the House. 

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The investments worth protecting are our relationships. Mark and I choose rural living because of its slower pace — dull, at times — and because we can leave our doors unlocked. The relationships we establish take more work than when we lived in the city, they're harder to come by, and they tend to be with people much older than us, but they boast a richness. Let this not be a diatribe about Why the Country is Superior, Et Cetera. Instead, let it be a call to dig deep, discover within yourself the investments you most want to protect, and allow yourself to be guided by those principles. (And, hopefully, the things you most want to protect are not Things at all.) I write this for myself as much as anyone, especially as Advent dawns and Christmas approaches.

My mom and I spent a day festive-izing the house with my grandma's Christmas decorations. Of course her folk paintings, hand-sewn Santa dolls, and window wreaths are immense treasures. Each has a story. Still, it's just stuff. They are nil compared to the beauty of my nephew learning to be gentle when stirring honey into a mug of hot tea; nothing compared to our baby kicking fervently when Mark plays piano; nothing compared to the interaction I had with the hardware store owner. So that's it, I guess. Just a long post about cherishing people and moments that are, by nature, un-protectable. 

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—S