31 December 2009

Happy New (Y)Ear

I'll save resolutions for tomorrow, but the charity for today. You probably know this, but many non-profits have a push for donations at the end of the year, trying to make it to another fiscal year and dole out tax receipts to you and me (though I've never been able to give enough to really feel comfortable about claiming my tax write-off, perhaps this year). My TRA job involves spending many, many hours with my iPod, alone, processing and archiving films and listening to my podcasts, so public radio means a lot to me. (Don't tell my boss, but I would probably do this job for free...it really is a dream sometimes). So I've decided to submit to the pleas from the podcasts and do some last minute giving, with the theme of making it a Happy New Ear. Let me round up some worthy candidates that will get a few of my tightly-held dollars today:

Third Coast International Audio Festival

Check out their podcast, it's low on the radar, but what I really appreciate about 3rdCoast is their compilation of audio works from around the world that I would never find myself. I listened to a riveting set of docs from Australia yesterday that had me gasping, crying, laughing out loud - good stuff. They used to be based out of WBEZ Chicago but just became their own little non-profit this year and the Richard Driehaus foundation is offering a matching grant for every dollar from individuals - people like me! - but only until Dec. 31 aka TODAY. So without lifting a finger, my dollars are doubled. Done.

Sure this isn't my local public radio station, but they do produce Radio Lab which I LOVE and Studio 360 and both are great podcasts. If you pledge $10 a month, which is pretty painless, you also can choose to get a subscription to the New Yorker or the Atlantic - Win- Win. Done.

This American Life
Look, I know, they seem like they're floundering just a little bit. Lots of repeats, kind of a distracted air? but they're not making the TV show anymore (I actually liked the show) and I have high hopes for the coming year. And let's face it, they're the Grandaddy of American Public Radio for people under 60 so it's time to honor the legacy. Though I rarely text (I am old and set in my ways) I do like their new way to donate via Text. Simply Text LIFE to 25383 and it will add a $5 to your mobile phone bill. I like this because there is something off-putting about dragging out my Visa, entering all the info on the secure page, blah blah blah. This way, I won't even notice when I pay my bill but they will. Again, Win-Win.

The Moth
I'm completely addicted to this first-person account podcast, where people get up there and tell their stories without notes and as best they can. It's perfect little hits of humanity and laughter and sorrow. Lately their podcast emcee has been sounding kind of down and out and I'm worried it's a money thing. I better get in there and support it.

Long Haul Productions
Husband and wife team who make independent radio productions and saw a lot of their funding slashed this year, like many people. I can only give a small gift, but this one feels personal, like it might even matter more. I particularly like their focus on stories that develop over time - how else can we get to the heart of a story or a life - and that takes time, dedication and money.

And of course, I'm a regular repeat donating member of my really excellent local NPR station, WUNC, broadcasting from just down the road.

Why radio, when there is rampant unemployment, hungry people, reproductive rights under fire, unaffordable housing, theatres, symphonies etc. etc. ? I know, there is so much need, and I do donate to these causes throughout the year. But it is frustrating to go from a National Broadcasting System such as my ever-lovin' CBC and watch Americans making great work have to scrimp and scratch and beg over and over in a completely fractured system that is barely functional. Yet, it's a system that I rely on every single day. Every single day! And increasingly I want it to do more for me - more podcasts, more online and hey, I want it to be free. There's some kind of stat out there which I will proceed to butcher that only about 10% of listeners are actual members or donators. We can do better than that. My iPod depends on it.

29 December 2009

Advent Day 24 - and Christmas

It was rather sweet that the last Advent was "Drive Around and find the best Christmas Lights in Town", it capped the whole Advent experience off perfectly.

Christmas Eve was blue skies, brisk wind, long walk, a clean house, making cheese and green chile enchiladas, lighting luminarias, leaving out cookies for Santa, Scrabble and filling my daughters stocking for the first time.

Christmas it rained and rained and poured, like I'd never seen it before. For the first time ever, we didn't get out of our pyjamas all day long. We drank coffee and ate cheese and watched Return of the King (the Extended version) which was just perfect and played more Scrabble and I got just what I wanted for Christmas (a full pass to the documentary film festival and a 6-pack of Blenheim ginger ale) and did crosswords and I truly didn't mind that we had missed out on the cabin or anything. I didn't feel bone-deep lonely as I feared - I had my family. We are a family.

We did drive out to Asheville the next day and I loved having a horizon for once and some snow and mountains and a cute little downtown. The best moment was breakfast at the Early Girl Eatery and admiring the art on the walls - and when AH paid the bill, he secretly bought one of the paintings for me. We agonize over every purchase so this spontaneity shocked and pleased me so much. I love it! But I was disappointed that you can't walk around Black Mountain College as it is now a Christian Boy's Camp. Drag.

The after-effects of Christmas include a bajillion cookies in my house, general contentment and a toddler who repeatedly picks up the phone, says "Hello? Santa?" and then drops it, shrieking in terror. Thanks for hanging with me as I recounted every last detail of my advent.

23 December 2009

Advent Day 23

Day 23: "Make wrapping paper"

Like the whole card deal, I expected this to come up earlier and cause me to work harder, earlier. The idea was to use the many miles of scribbbled upon paper that Simone has crayoned upon and I can't bear to throw out, sponge paint some gold tempera stars and bells upon it and wrap away. But I only have one gift left to wrap. There aren't actually all that many under the tree and I made a huge, serious effort to buy anything for family et al at local stores or Etsy. Sometimes it was painful - like when the Melissa and Dough Slice and Bake Cookie Set was a full $4 cheaper at Whole Foods, $8 cheaper at Amazon than at my toy store. But it had to be done.
Then my Mom sent me an Amazon gift card, which has thrown me into a giddy spin of indecision and hypocrisy. But mostly giddiness, about owning
Settlers of Catan and a Moka Stovetop Espresso maker after 1o long years of thinking about it. Sheesh.

And then I had to get gifts for my daycare workers - all three of them - and finally settled on Target Gift cards, which they seemed to like but I agonized over. This is a whole New World of Argggh when it comes to rewarding those who care for my children.

Overall though, my kid didn't get anything plastic or Girly, which sounds lame but means plenty to me. And I ended up wrapping things in last years paper anyway.

Advent Day 22

Day 22: "Donate canned food"

Was there irony in the fact that the donated goods came from Trader Joe's where just hours earlier this humiliating scenario unfolded?:

1. Background issue #1: Lost my wallet last week wrangling groceries, a toddler and an open-tote style bag to the car - but kind person found the wallet and called my credit union so they could contact me. Went and picked up wallet. Yay! Next day, tried to pay for mailing package and DECLINE. Turns out when they called the CU, no matter that they were not actually reporting the card lost or stolen technically it still canceled the card. Got replacement debit card that only worked sporadically over the weekend.

2.Background issue #2: Two nights before, I left my phone on the bus (See above description of my open tote style bag - it's new, clearly ) which was then taken to a terminal about 30 minute drive away. Consequently I did not have phone with me.

3. Drove the 1/2 hour to TJ's and spent a leisurely solitary hour loading my cart with Cheese and Winter Spice coffee. So - much - cheese to block out the pain of spending my Christmas cleaning my house. Checked out. Card DECLINED. What, I harumphed, try it again. They've been having problems. DECLINED again. Line forming. Cashier not impressed. Nice bagger walks me over to the customer phone and says I can call my bank. I do. They tell me it's not a card problem, it's not enough money problem. Oh.

4. Background Issue #4: We both get paid once a month and occasionally this makes budgeting tricky, when large charges come through weeks later or checks for cabins you won't be able to spend Christmas in are cashed unexpectedly and it is the day before your dual paydays. And the transfer you talked about with your spouse hasn't been posted.

5. If I had my phone with me, I could call my bank or spouse and take care of it in 3 seconds. Instead, I have to drive 30 minutes home and call Spouse's work number for he is not picking up his cell phone. The work number says it has been Disconnected, which turns out to be a little quirk when he is on the line. Half an hour later, he is out of the meeting and we drive down to TJ's and rescue the groceries. Humiliation!

So giving my stupid cans of cannelli beans and cheese filled ravioli to the foodbank felt kind of funny - as in funny, queasy. Except I paid for and kept wedges of Humboldt Fog. Which made me even more queasy. Not exactly the Feel Good moment I was hoping for.

21 December 2009

Advent Day 21

"Address and send all Christmas Cards"

I included this in the advent, thinking if it was drawn earlier in the month it would be a real kick in the pants to get the cards done. Every year I make some terrible card (I don't know why I don't buy them friends, I really can't say, except for the principles of re-using and creativity I guess) and send them out late - but I am happy to report that all the glitter-fied cards are in the mail, if not at their destination. So today was a Pass, I Did It Already, Thanks Advent.

Except I had one last package to send to a friend in Vancouver - took it down to the post office and for one of those small Amazon boxes which had two childrens clothing items, a book and a small jar of jam in it - $26 was the cheapest Slow Boat to China rate I could get out of UPS. Like, 3 times the price of any item in the package. Is it just me or do package rates seem a billion dollars higher than they used to be?All told, it was almost $200 to send packages of homemade goodies to friends and family this year - dang, no wonder people send gift cards, which is just depressing.

Speaking of depressing, perhaps it is the shortest day of the year or the womanly hormones talking, but I've been less than jolly this week as the 3rd consecutive Christmas without family or friends looms. We had plans for a cabin and that was pulling me through - a mountain-top cabin owned by an acquaintance, lots of snowy walks and a fireplace - but it looks like it won't happen. The big old snowstorm really hammered Western North Carolina and they lost power and the roads are still all snowed in. This is somewhat crushing, as we have 5 days off together and doing the same old routine in the same old place ALONE - well. I'm trying to pull myself out of the doldrums.

Do you see that stamp up there? Canada Post put it out, it's a reproduction of a Mary Pratt painting that I covet so completely it's hardly bearable. The light! The canning jars! I'm having a minor obsession at the moment.

20 December 2009

Day 19 and 20

Day 19
"Surprise Day"
I threw this one in the mix because I was worried that being told what to do every day would get old. I was wrong - instead I kind of fretted all day about creating the Surprise. Such as Surprise! - I made gingerbread pancakes in the shape of snowmen for breakfast- but managed to bicker with my husband throughout said activity, about his ongoing and infuriating inability to guess what needs doing by simply looking around him and assessing the situation. Such as: daughter falls of chair, cries hysterically, will only go to wife, wife is currently flipping said Snowmen Gingerbread Pancakes which is impossible to do with weeping toddler in arms- What Would You Do? Continue unloading the dishwasher? I thought not. Point for me. The day just went downhill from there with much cleaning of the house, much wrangling of a child who was going off her rocker and not having the energy to make planned dinner, and thus dining on popcorn. Well, they can't all be Red Letter Days I guess.

Day 20
"Buy this year's ornament"
I don't need more ornaments - my brother and my Mom have kept me steadily supplied with Lauscha glass ornaments (beautiful German numbers) and thrift stores always charge bottom dollar for old glass ornaments which I never understand.

But each year of our marriage, we have bought an ornament from a place we had visited or an experience or just because we like it..
Witness Christmas 2007's ornament, when we were still convinced the baby we'd be having in 19 days was a boy. Whoops.

I hope Simone will be excited to put these ornaments up in future years and ask for the stories. But the story behind this years ornament?

Simone, your parents just really, really like beer.

18 December 2009

Advent Day 16, 17 and 18

Day 16: "Buy tickets to a hockey game or make plans to ice skate"

I was hoping for a hockey game, though the Hurricanes have been doing terribly. But looking over the schedule, the only remaining games were post-7 pm. And really, all I wanted to do was inject a little Canadian-ness in Simone's life so doing it without her wasn't an option. Which leaves us with ice skate - in North Carolina. Hmm. I grew up skating outside, on backyard ponds, community rinks with a little wooden shack to change into your skates, the floorboards criss-crossed with blade marks, and best of all, rivers - there is really nothing like skating on a frozen river, going for miles amongst the trees. Skating in circles indoor on artificial ice pales a little in comparison. So I was very happy to find out that downtown Raleigh has put in an outdoor rink until the end of January, right in the middle of the tall buildings. We'll see how it goes...

Day 17: "Make a garland from materials we find outside"

It happened to be snowing tonight - Snowing! So we set out with some shears and a basket and within 30 feet, I had clipped some beautiful holly, juniper and magnolia leaves.

It's hard to see in this second picture (I'm always taking my pictures at night, trying to fight off a crazy toddler so I apologize, they aren't Design Blog worthy...) but we strung up some green Velvette ribbon (I bought a reel of it from the Scrap Exchange simply because I loved the word "Velvette" - do you ever buy things because of their old school brand name? Guilty!) along the bannister and hung it with the holly and greens. Free! Beautiful! (Note the toddler running to sack me at my knees in the background...)

And then because I had some greenery left over, I piled some lights in the same basket we used to collect them and lit it up.

I think it came out rather nice, especially after lighting the Frasier Fir candle you see in the foreground. Jeannette sent it to me last year, which is the kind of thing I could never buy myself - but am so happy to have.

Day 18: "Watch 'Shop Around the Corner'"

My love for this movie never wanes - so smart and funny. It's as near perfect as a movie can be, or at the very least, movie dialogue. I do love "It's A Wonderful Life" but this is my Must-See every Christmas, one of the few I actually own. Love.

15 December 2009

Advent Day 14 and 15

"Make Nanaimo Bars"

As you can see, I used this advent deal to advance my Christmas baking agenda - but it does make it a lot more pleasant to bake when the calendar tells you so and not just a big cloud of guilt. I have made Nanaimo Bars every Christmas of my life - um, forever. My Mom even wrote "One of Kyla's favourites" in the notes for this recipe and I clearly remember holding a sweating, melting batch of these in my lap as I was driven to my first Christmas without family in New Zealand. They don't go as well with summer sun, I'm here to testify. But the point being, I always have a tin of Birds Custard Powder handy, just for this recipe.

Today's Advent was "Find a Volunteer Opportunity for the Holidays".
Obviously I wrote the list so I'm not exactly surprised but I was hoping that something would have occurred to me by the time I drew the slip of paper, something we could do together. I have always volunteered somewhere, which has been curtailed to one monthly board meeting and once a week at the school library while I'm in school - which I LOVE but I'm kinda racking my brains over what to do with this one. It's pretty hugely important to me to have Simone get the whole "give to your community" vibe from us and we could definitely step that up. Doing it in non-church setting is a plus. A one-off for the season would be a double plus plus, as I have enough guilt over undone work in my life right now - seriously, I bolted awake at 2 am last night consumed with guilt and could not sleep anymore.

As a token gesture towards this goal, I packed up some holiday baking for our CSA delivery guy today. He is very cute, sweet, grows our vegetables, wears Vans caked in red dirt and waits for hours in a cold van to give us our turnips. How could I not give him Hello Dolly squares?

13 December 2009

Advent Day 13

" Take a wintery walk, then make homemade hot cocoa"

Wintery walk - check, it's been downpouring rain and streaming cold for days. And we essentially live on a big college campus so we have our choice of paths and botanical gardens and such.
Homemade hot cocoa, yes please. In lieu of my beloved Cadbury instant hot chocolate (Please Kraft, cease and desist your hostile takeover bid for Cadbury, the future of good chocolate on a mass scale depends on it!) or my only a little less loved Abuelita Mexican hot chocolate, I relied on this recipe, pinched directly from this book:

Chai Hot Cocoa with Whipped Cream

3 C Milk
1 C water
3 T cocoa powder
2 cinnamon sticks
5 cardamom pods
1/2 t ground ginger
3 cloves
Pinch cayenne pepper
2 t vanilla extract or vanilla bean
4 oz bittersweet chocolate

Combine everything except bittersweet chocolate in a medium saucepan and heat until scalding. Remove from heat and let steep for 10 minutes, then strain.

In same saucepan, melt chocolate and add steeped, spiced milk. Sitr for five minutes until chocolate is melted.

Pour into 4 mugs and serve, as I did, with Cinnamon whipped cream.

The toddler member of the family thought it very fine, even after suffering the indignity of being stripped to her bare torso, donning a bib and the eventual transference of said cocoa to a sippy cup.

12 December 2009

Advent Day 12

"Buy a new Christmas album"

Last week I won choosing rights for this album via a hardscrabble card game over beers, so I was excited to march down to the record store today. (More small town gratefulness: it's small, but I can walk 3 blocks in either direction to a really good independent bookstore and a really good independent record store.)

Seeing as I already have a pretty stellar Christmas album collection (have I mentioned Emmylou Harris's "Light of the Stable" lately? It's the gold standard, as far as I'm concerned - I mean, EH, Neil Young, Dolly Parton and Linda Ronstand all sing together on the title track - what more could you need?) and I wasn't blown away by any of the latest offerings, I quickly picked up a cheapie "Rat Pack and Friends Christmas", mostly for the Doris Day songs, and justified to myself that because it was SO cheap, I could buy another record. It felt so odd to be buying a stupid old CD and checking out records at the Listening Post but I'm grateful to have been old school because it introduced me to Panama 3: Calypso Panameno, Guajira Jazz, and Cumbia Tipica on the Isthmus, 1960-1975 from Soundways. Perfect perfect perfect for post-bathtime, pre-bedtime dance parties in footy pyjamas with our maracas and shaker eggs, as proven this evening. Now that's Christmas music.

11 December 2009

Advent Day 11

"Make paper snowflakes for the windows"

This was a lot of fun, actually. I have a huge stash of decorative papers and Thai tissues and glassine that I've been lugging around so we busted it out and got busy with our scissors. And turned out rectangle snowflakes, utterly wrong. Believe it or not we had to look it up on the internet - how to fold a paper snowflake. The key is triangles, let me just clear that one up right now, so you don't have to turn to Youtube for a refresher:

I also used hole punches to great effect. Simone sat on our laps the whole time and didn't cut off her fingers with the scissors so double hurrah! And they look very pretty in the kitchen window, though I'd truly rather have some real snow for Christmas.

10 December 2009

Advent Catch-Up (Day 8,9,10)

AKA pulling it out of my ass.
I'm pretty proud of the fact that despite my final papers and huge old statistics exam, we kinda sorta kept up with the Advent activities. Kinda.

Day 8: "Make a batch of Ginger Krinkles". It may sound like I'm obsessed with ginger, but it's just luck of the Advent draw. There is an equally big part of my heart dedicated to chocolate. I handed this one over to Sergio, as I had to finish my g-dawed paper. I thought all was well. There are maybe 8 ingredients total and some very minimal instruction. Nonetheless, there is a pile of flat, crumbled, utterly useless cookies in my kitchen right now. I couldn't even take pictures of them to mock, it just seemed a little mean. A teeny tiny voice in my head was shrilling "Do I have to do EVERYTHING myself?" but I got over it.

Day 9: "Find and do a Christmas tradition from another country".
I had 4 hours sleep, an 11 hour work and school day, a crazy windstorm, a slightly-warm toddler, and a husband departing for band practice in less than an hour. Emergency world Christmas situation! I remembered something about pudding and a nut and voila - Thank you Denmark for your easy-to-rip-off Christmas tradition. They make rice pudding and put an almond in one of the ramekins. Whoever finds the almond gets a prize, often a marzipan pig.
My harried working Mom version: uh, I used TJ's Instant Choc. Pudding which I bought because I love the box), buried a walnut in one of the bowls (no almonds in the pantry), shuffled them like a 3 card Monte and handed them out after dinner. Sergio found the walnut, I handed him a Kinder Happy Hippo and bam - kinda done.

Day 10: "Surprise your co-workers with baking".
Um, see Day 8 and the resulting cookie debacle. Thus tonight I made Hello Dolly bars and plan to distribute them tomorrow. Which is not exactly cheating.

In other news, I have no more homework for 3 weeks. It's truly the most wonderful time of the year.

07 December 2009

Advent Day 7

Working on four hours sleep, with three assignments due and one exam before Wednesday, I was truly grateful to pull today's Advent out of the sack:

"Have A Charlie Brown Christmas viewing party"

This particular "party" involved an almost 2-year old on my lap watching it for the first time, a Chocolate Covered Candy Cane Jo-Jo, hot tea and blankets. It was fantastic.

06 December 2009

Advent Day 6

"Make Gingerbread Men"

There are pictures of this glorious event (hold your breath!) but somewhat ironically I am too busy cobbling together a research proposal about digital literacy that is due tomorrow to practice my own digital literacy.

When I pulled this one out of the Advent Sack, I thought we would go out and buy a "man" cutter. But then I rummaged through my larger than I thought collection of cookie cutters and came up with a Christmas Tree, Santa, Star, circles, lion, giraffe and elephant. The Gingerbread Elephant is arisen in my house. I have to work on my rigid little boundaries because Simone kept trying to press her little fingers in the dough and instead of, you know, making it a fun, relaxed family activity, I scolded her and told her how to do it "right" using the cutters only. Nice one, Mom. Reminder: not every Gingerbread Giraffe needs a tail.

I used a recipe from my Mom's cookbook which she in turn noted she clipped from a 1971 Woman's World. It holds up. Just wait and see...

05 December 2009

Advent Day 5

"Attend the Santa Parade @ 4 pm"

Here's where I put the fix in on the ol' Advent Calendar - Santa Parade was scheduled for December 5th so I deliberately put this item in Day 5's bag. Sue me, gods of chance, I wanted to see a parade.
It doesn't get cold too often here in North Carolina but today was rainy, sleety and 40 degrees with truly shivery Northern winds. But we bundled up and headed out:

Perfect for standing outside with a small child for an hour. Scratch that - a small child who turned out to be TERRIFIED of sirens and honking garbage trucks and clung to me like a monkey-baby the entire time.

I often find it really hard to live in a small town - 2.5 years later and I'm still not acclimatised. But there is something about rolling up to Main Street, standing next to your neighbor and cheering wildly for the high school marching band:

or watching with tears in my eyes - yes, the Atheist! - as a group of African-American men walk proudly together in dark suits and red ties chanting about their love of the Lord

because this town is old and it has a history, the kind of history I could never have touched in Canada or even the PNW, and for a moment, on the curb, I'm part of it too

04 December 2009

Advent Day 4

"Be a Secret Santa to a neighbor"

Frankly, the holidays are one big excuse for me to bake and we can't eat it all. Hence, Secret Santa. We recently moved to this neighborhood and it is friendly and quirky and very community oriented, with regular newsletters and a community garden. Being a renter, I can't put down too deep of roots but I dig it here. On the corner is a halfway house I'm guessing - older dudes sit out on the porch all hours, waving as you go by. They always call out to Simone and watch out for speeders and keep an eye on your car. So I made this:                                                                       

It's a gingerbread loaf with lemon glaze. (The sprig of holly is from the bush across the way, and I plan to pillage it again soon.) I love this dark, spicy bread. Now we just have to sneak it over to the halfway house, hope they pay heed to the little note and don't just throw it away. 

Updated to add: The Recipe!
Which comes from my most beloved cook book, "A Cookbook for Girls and Boys" by Irma Rombauer, author of Joy of Cooking. It has a pink gingham cover and the best silhouette illustrations, including a lobster and a crab having a duel with a fork and spoon.

Place in a large bowl
1 egg
Beat it and add
1/2 C sugar
1/2 C dark molasses
Place in a cup or small bowl:
1/4 C butter/shortening
Pour over it and stir until melted
1/2 C very hot water
Add these ingredients to the sugar mixture.
Add, sifted:
2 C flour
1 t cinnamon (I usually make it 2)
1 t ground ginger
1 t baking soda
And beat until blended. Pour into greased loaf pan or square 9x9 pan.
Bake at 350 for 50 minutes.
Sometimes I just serve it with whipped cream and sometimes I glaze it:
3 T milk and enough icing sugar to make a thin-ish glaze. Add in lemon zest and juice of half a lemon.

03 December 2009

Advent Day 3

" Prepare the Luminaries."

This is a New Mexico thing - Sergio has fond memories of his whole neighborhood going out on Christmas Eve and lighting their candles. What I love about Luminaries is the simplicity - brown paper bags, votive candles and sand - voila. I am currently painting our brown bags with red and green chiles, which is kind of heretical but yet, completely New Mexico. In fact, a sauce of red and green chile is called "Christmas style". So today I rounded up sand (free), some old paper bags and some obnoxiously-scented "Cinnamon Bun" votive candles. Our neighborhood is having a St. Bernadette's parade on December 12th to the local Catholic church and we may add our lights to the community blaze - or wait until Christmas Eve and guide Santa in through our New Mexico runway. 

02 December 2009

Advent Day 2

After the good intentions and shattered hopes (well, not really - I have no hopes when it comes to taking my kid out post-bedtime to a place where she must behave) of last night's choir outing, today's Advent surprise was Nice n' Easy:

"Drink some eggnog, the kind in a glass bottle, with some cookies". 

The eggnog was delicious (I know some are haters but this is the Good Stuff), and the cookies were TJ's Peppermint Jo-Jo's.  Yum.

01 December 2009


Welcome to my version of PeBloPoDe (Personal Blogging Post December) which coincides nicely with what I intend to post about - the Advent.  I happen to be an Atheist, and I don't mind telling you, because it seems about as valid as any other sets of beliefs to me. Despite this obvious roadblock, I love Christmas. I lustily sing along with the songs with only a twinge of hypocrisy and put up all the decorations and the colored lights. And I have always had an Advent calendar. But this year I have TWO Advent calendars:

First, a traditional chocolate style type, but the important thing to note is the word Kinder - I have a slavish devotion to the Kinder brand of chocolate and Kinder Surprise eggs  specifically, which have little toys and puzzles inside to put together. They're from Germany and you can get them in Canada - but never, ever in the USA. I do not know why, but when I saw this Advent calendar on my trip home I snatched it up. Kinder every day! I am sort of glad my kid is too young to fight me for it. 

But I'm REALLY excited about the second one - also via Germany, as my brother gave it to me when we met up in Canada. The empty bags seemed to have a lot of possibility and when I read this post from Cup of Jo, I knew what to do. We made a list of 24 Christmassy things to do - mixed them up and put them in the bags. It's crazy how excited I am to open the bags, like I'm a kid. Today was a gimme, because we already had plans to see a Christmas choir at the Duke chapel tonight, but I love the idea of making all my tasks and traditions into a daily surprise. And the plan is to share them with this blog. 

In honor of the music we're going to hear tonight, here's a cut from one of my favourite Christmas records, Smokey Robinson & the Miracles's "The Season for Miracles" (1970):

(Advent Day One update: We made it to the third song before someone's small child started wailing and wanted the lights back on instead of those pesky candles and beautiful singing...sigh, maybe next year.)