“Good King Wenceslas” & December 26

Bought in Prague, Czech Republic

Bought in Prague, Czech Republic

Duke of Bohemia (Czech Republic). Born c. 907-935.

December 26 is the Feast of Stephen in the Christian World. He was a Christian martyr in Jerusalem. When we added our figurine of Wenceslas to our travel figurine repertoire, he began to don our mantel on December 26 because of the song “Good King Wenceslas” where Wenceslas helps the poor man without fuel in the winter snow on the Feast of Stephen.

Enjoy.

Check out Wenceslas Square in Prague (Praha) from our awesome 2012 Prague Family Vacation

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Christmas Nostalgia: Rudolph, Gene Autry, and Daddy

Christmas 1971

What a haul that year! I was 5 years old. I am forgetting quite a bit, but I got a Hot Wheels Track set, a cat clock that wagged its tail and blinked its eyes, a portable record player, and records just to name a few things. One of my records was the album you see today, Gene Autry: Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer And Other Christmas Favorites. Several days ago I heard Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer by Gene Autry, and my heart sank a bit when a wave of childhood memories of my father and Christmas flooded my heart and soul. My father truly loved giving us presents and seeing us enjoy our Christmases during childhood. He loved cowboys, and he loved Christmas, so it was natural and a pleasure for him to buy me this album. My heart still misses him so much especially during Christmas.

It just so happened that Carter and Ammon heard Gene’s version with me, and I told them about my album and a few words about their Papa Caylor. He would have such fun with these two!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7ara3-hDH6I

Grinch Kabobs: Healthy, Holiday Snack in Minutes!

Carter & Ammon's Grinch Kabobs

Carter & Ammon’s Grinch Kabobs

I am always looking for looking for a healthy, fun snack for Carter and Ammon. Right at the turn of our Thanksgiving season to Christmas my cousin, Wanda Wimpy Miller, shared a Facebook post about Grinch Kabobs. I loved it immediately.

Here are the Ingredients

From Bottom to Top: Green Grape, Banana coin, Raspberry or Strawberry, Mini-Marshmallow

From Bottom to Top: Green Grape, Banana coin, Raspberry or Strawberry, Mini-Marshmallow toothpick not pictured

I made sure everything was prepared for the kabobbing!

I made sure everything was prepared for the kabobbing!

Seedless green grapes can be found just about anywhere, and Carter and Ammon have loved them ever since they can remember.

Carter proudly displays a kabob

Carter proudly displays a kabob

Bananas frequent our kitchen countertops too. I was glad the strawberries I found were too large for what I thought to be for the Grinch’s red part of the Santa hat. Right beside them was a basket of raspberries which seemed more the appropriate size. We don’t have raspberries in our house much. My children welcomed the taste-change for what was to be “raspberry burst of flavor” (as Ammon called it).

Ammon's 1st Grinch Kabob

Ammon’s 1st Grinch Kabob

I was very proud that Carter and Ammon asked if they could eat marshmallows without grabbing and snatching for them. I instructed, “When you finish all your kabobs, you may have the remainder of your marshmallows.” They followed their instructions without complaint.

Carter and Ammon were literally "transfixed" to their task. They loved it!

Carter and Ammon were literally “transfixed” to their task. They loved it!

Well, I didn’t have camera to capture us all “devouring” the Grinch Kabobs. Nana, Daddy S, Ammon, Carter, and I had them eaten in about 10 minutes. It was kinda like, “Mmmm, that was good. I like that ‘raspberry burst’ that blends with it all! I need to eat another one!”: GONE! I hope you and yours will feel the same way when you make some.

We are making more for a Caylor-Brown Holiday gathering but we need to quadruple the number!
Merry Christmas to All!

Quick, Fun, & Delicious Christmas Pretzels to Make with the Family in Minutes

Yep, Guided by their Daddy H, Ammon & Carter make homemade holiday pretzels!

Yep, Guided by their Daddy H, Ammon &
Carter make homemade holiday pretzels!
Pretzel Prep Time (including Baking) = 30 minutes
Decorating with Vanilla Candy Coating & Color Stripes = 30 minutes
Yield = 2 dozen (24) 3 inch Pretzels

(Simple ingredients for a Scrumptious Treat…oh, yes, we we’ve been studying German and Spanish as well)
Pretzel Ingredients

Turn your oven on to 425° F

Pretzel Ingredients
Packet of yeast
1 ½ cups of warm water
Pinch of sugar
Pinch of salt
3 cups of All Purpose Flour

Vanilla Coating = Log House Candiquik

Red & Green stripes = Wilton Candy Melts

To make the Pretzels alone, you probably already had the necessary ingredients in your cupboard/kitchen cabinets. During the Holiday Season, it was quite easy to find the vanilla Candiquik as well as the Wilton Candy Melts. All I had to do was make a quick trip to Walmart. It had everything we needed.

As you stir the mixture (no electric mixer necessary) keep adding All Purpose Flour, ¾ to 1 more cup to make the dough bouncy and not sticky.

No Mixer = Easy-Peasy!

No Mixer = Easy-Peasy!

Keep a squeaky-clean, flour-dusted surface while kneading the dough.Poke the dough with your finger. If it bounds back, it is ready to make a pretzel ribbon.

If the dough bounces back, you're ready for pretzel ribbons. Kneading is fun!

If the dough bounces back, you’re ready for pretzel ribbons. Kneading is fun!

Depending on the size you want your pretzels to be, pinch off dough so as to roll out a ribbon. It took several trial & error pinches of dough balls to figure out what made our length of ribbon. We had it down in less than 5 minutes. Anywhere from 12-18 inches inches (once again, depending on the size you want your pretzels.

A clean surface helps roll out the ribbons smoothly

A clean surface helps roll out the ribbons smoothly

Shape your pretzels into a circle then twist the ends together.
Egg Bath: Beat an egg, pour it into a shallow bowl or pie dish, give the shaped pretzel a nice bath (both sides) and sprinkle with salt. Some people these days keep Sea Salt in their kitchens, or if you all are like us, use simple table salt. This egg bath with salt is a DEFINITE in this household for regular pretzels. If you want to keep your Christmas pretzels “sweet” you may want to skip this process; HOWEVER, if your taste-buds love that “sweet-salty” combination, by all means, SALT AWAY!

Dust your baking pan/pans lightly with flour for baking. Place your pretzels in the pan and bake at 425° for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes, turn the oven to broil for 5 minutes (maybe less….watching closely ) to help the tops become brown. Take the pretzels out of the oven and find a good place for them to cool down.

Dipping the Pretzels into Log House's Vanilla Candiquik

Dipping the Pretzels into Log House’s Vanilla Candiquik

After the pretzels have cooled for approximately 15 minutes, start reading your directions on how to melt your Candiquik. If you are adventuresome, use a double boiler. If you are more like us, follow the microwave instructions. Use a sturdy toothpick to turn your pretzels. After they are coated, place them on either butcher paper or wax paper. The coating will be hard in about 5 minutes.

With Daddy H's syringe creation, making green stripes on the Pretzels

With Daddy H’s syringe creation, making green stripes on the Pretzels

Finishing up with some red strips from Wilton's Candy Melts

Finishing up with some red strips from Wilton’s Candy Melts

Follow the directions (back of the packaging) for melting the Candy Melts. I used the large syringes (our collection from years of dispensing liquid, toddler medications) for making thin stripes of red & green on the pretzels. The melted Melts liquid is too thick to suck up in the syringes, so I took a plastic baggie, scooped the warm, melted Melts into it, dotted a whole in one corner and pinched in the liquid through the open stopper end. It flows WONDERFULLY as long as it is dispensed QUICKLY. If you do not have syringes, drizzle with a spoon or perhaps a honey dipper.

Once again, making and baking these pretzels only takes 30 minutes. The decorating takes another 30 minutes. So, 1 hour of fun, family baking and a treasured time for Christmas togetherness.

Gray Christmas

Gray Christmas

From the first moment I hear the song “ White Christmas” between Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve it gets my hopes up. Now that we have the Oldies Christmas satellite channel in our vehicle, I hear it even more! Am I dreaming of a white Christmas? Possibly. I love the fantasy of a white Christmas: six inches of snow on the ground, Christmas lights on all the houses and store fronts reflected on the white-blanketed earth. If I stretch my thoughts to the countryside, I can see miles and miles of snow-covered rolling hills, evergreens laden with snow on their branches, and, yes, a one-horse, open sleigh with a family going to grandmother’s house for Christmas dinner a painting right out of Currier and Ives! All that in Southeast Tennessee? No, not on your life. Here in the Southeast we get cheated on our Christmas snow! However, I learned a life lesson several years ago when my children were only six weeks old: be thankful for whatever your situation might be.

For several years I have kept a journal. On January 1, I list hopes and prayers for the coming year. When it comes to the weather for Christmas Eve and the following day, I always include “ 28 degrees, snow on Christmas Eve, and plenty of snow on the ground on Christmas day.”

In 1969 (I was 3 years old so I cannot remember much), it snowed several inches on Christmas. I remember my green Tonka® pick- up truck and farm set with those awesome black and white Holstein milking cows I received from Santa Claus.

I wanted to take those cows out in the snow, and I also took them to my Mamaw’s (a name for a grandmother here in the South) house that afternoon. We had a four- wheel drive jeep, and we took it to see my grandparents who lived some 15 miles away. I remember playing with those cows as we went. Old-timers such as my Nanny (my father’s mother) said the Christmas snow of 1969 was the only real accumulation of snow she had ever seen on Christmas day, and the meteorologist’s archives say the same.

In 1976 on Christmas day, my sister and I played television-tennis on our new Atari (dinosaur predecessor of X-Box® and the Wii®…you people over 40 remember) and watched a light dusting of snow fall in the woods behind our house.

We had wonderful, sliding glass doors, and we could see that precious, coveted, white precipitation fall. We kept hoping that it would accumulate so we could go out and play in the snow…on Christmas day, but it wasn’t meant to be! It was at least 36 degrees, and by 3 p. m., the white dust had melted.

The third and final snow I remember on Christmas was in 1989. It was my first year out of college, and I was teaching Spanish in a North Georgia middle school. We awoke to about an inch of snow on the ground. Our front yard was blanketed in beautiful white snow and huge snowflakes were showering down upon it. I had such high hopes! I looked forward to playing in the snow with my 8 year old niece who had never seen a white Christmas. My niece and her parents would be over for Christmas lunch, and I envisioned snow men, snow angels, and snowball fights. After the outside activities, we would go in to drink some hot chocolate, eat our lunch, and open presents as we gazed out the living room window into the snow-coated front yard with those snow men waving to the passers by’s on the road. But as usual by the afternoon, the snow was all gone. There were no snow angels, no snowmen, nor snowball fights; however, Christmas lunch with my family was delicious.

I really wanted a white Christmas in 2008.  My husband Sean and I had been married for four years. We had our religious wedding on September 3, 2004, and we had our “legal” civil marriage in San Diego, California on August 22, 2008. The following Christmas our children were 6 weeks old. They are kind of twins. They have the same, anonymous, egg-donor mother, but our son, Carter, was fertilized by Sean, and Ammon, our daughter, was fertilized by me. Carter and Ammon each had their own surrogate. Though Dr. David Smotrich the owner of the La Jolla IVF Clinic said we could have one surrogate with both Ammon and Carter being implanted in her, we did not want any twin “complications” in the womb or at birth. Our experiences with both Dr. Smotrich and Extraordinary Conceptions (our Surrogacy/Egg Donor agency) were beautiful blessings. In the end, we recruited two surrogates who delivered two healthy babies one in San Diego, California and the other in Mission Viejo, California. Carter and Ammon were born six days apart.

The new babies came just in time for the Christmas season. Sean and I were adjusting to our new life. Sean is a medical doctor, and I am a doctor of education. I quit my job in the regular classroom, and I began teaching online for a state university here in Tennessee, which turned into a blessing. During the work-week, I had decided that the babies and I would sleep in our living room which is connected to our bedroom. Sean slept in our bed, I slept on our couch, and the babies slept nearby in their bassinets. That way Sean would not be disturbed, and he could wake up fresh for work. We would feed the babies around 10:30 at night, and put them down to sleep. Around 2:30 a.m., one of the two hungry babies would make a peep, and I would dash off of the couch, grab the baby, change it, feed it, rock it back to sleep, get it back in the bassinet, and whether it was awake or not, do the same for the other baby (parenting at this age is all about the routine!) During the day in between feeding babies, changing babies, washing bottles, doing laundry,  and doing other chores, etc., I was able to “work” online with my students. I was so thankful to have job teaching online, so I could dedicate the majority of my time to our children.

Aside from the fact that I had spent the Christmas season as a decently functioning somnambulist, it had been a true blessing and joy. First of all, Sean and I had two, healthy and beautiful children. Second, as a family, we four lit the joy candle on our church’s Advent wreath. As Sean and Carter read the liturgy, Ammon and I lit the candle (I can still see Carter in his red and white argyle sweater, white shirt, and black, corduroy pants, and Ammon in her red and green plaid dress with its red ribbon and red tights….ah, cute little baby clothes). That event had been special because many members of our mainstream, open and affirming, Protestant denomination were so kind and congratulatory of our new family and our special, holiday moment we had experienced. Third, I had done quite a bit of shopping online, but Carter, Ammon, and I had also spent a whole morning and afternoon buying gifts at our local mall. It was the first time we three had been out by ourselves. It was a challenge, but we did it! I was sleepy and had two, six week old babies, but the Christmas season was going nicely; however, I was waiting for my white Christmas.

Wednesday December 24, 2008

On January 1, 2008, I had asked for the 28 degrees and snow on Christmas Eve. It was now December 24th, and it was 45 degrees, gray, humid, and cloudy; typical for a Southeast Tennessee Christmas Eve. Because it was Carter and Ammon’s first Christmas, they needed, nay, deserved a white Christmas!

We were looking forward to the church’s Christmas Eve candlelight service, but both of the babies had the sniffles, so we stayed home. Staying at home kept the babies from getting out in the elements, and it gave me time to clean more in the house, wrap my last presents, and prepare some Christmas day foods for the following day when we would be hosting the Christmas lunch for our families.

For several years, Sean and I have jogged in the evenings on a track we keep mowed around our 6 acre field at the base of a low-lying mountain behind our house. We always jogged together, but since the birth of the babies, we had to take turns while one of us attended to them. On this Christmas Eve, Sean jogged first. When he came in, I took my turn. When I jog alone, I plan the rest of the day’s activities, pray, sing, or simply admire my surroundings. This evening wasn’t any different, and as I jogged, I watched the gray clouds roll over the house and the field, and I talked to God about a white Christmas. I joked and smiled that He did not answer my prayer about a white Christmas yet again for another year. At the top of the field, I tried to envision our house, our red barn, the field, and the rolling hills in the distance all blanketed in six inches of snow. I made a huge sigh of disappointment.

I was finishing my last lap, and as I reached the summit of the field where I always go from a jog to a walk, a gust of cool wind surprised me and compelled me to fix myself on our house. It was the gloaming of a cold-steel colored evening, but I could still see everything well. I gazed at our house. Our living room, which is in the back of the house, has two huge windows, and I could see the lights of our Christmas tree. The gloomy disappointment I had experienced a few moments before gave way to an illumination of joy and thanksgiving. Inside that house were my two blessed children and my husband who loves me, and in my heart was Jesus Christ, the real reason for Christmas not snow. It may have been a gray, Tennessee Christmas Eve outside but everything, even the cloud-covered, humid evening was perfect. I didn’t need snow or one-horse open sleighs! I smiled and tears unexpectedly ran down my cheek.   I went down on my knees and thanked God for all my blessings and for a perfect, gray Christmas.

Haven, Ammon, Carter, & Sean “Gray Christmas” 2008

Christmas 2014

Sean, Ammon, Haven, & Carter Christmas 2014