Thursday, December 26, 2013

Advent 2013 days twenty-three and twenty-four

Day twenty-three, December 23rd

What gingerbread houses have to do with Christmas, I have no idea. But we often made them at Christmas time when I was a child, and I've done them probably half a dozen times or more with my own children, although not for a few years, because we've been trying to avoid sugar, as well as artificial colors and flavors, and my children weren't too interested in one I saw on Facebook (and now can't find an image of) built of carrot "logs" and decorated with various other vegetables. I've sometimes made somewhat elaborate patterns, sometimes more basic. About seven or eight years ago friends of ours were visiting with their five children and we decided to make gingerbread houses, and I hit on the idea of "A-frames": two triangles for the ends, two rectangles for the sides/roofs. That made it very easy to do with nine children and four adult, and we've done it that way ever since.

So I started by making enough squares (instead of rectangles, but the same idea) and triangles for five of the children and Jörn, and filled up the rest of the second baking tray with more squares and triangles (some smaller ones), then let Jacob and Konstantin have the rest of the dough to do what they liked. What they liked was a pirate ship, and Lukas ended up making a boat, as well, using some of the extra pieces. Jörn made a helicopter and Marie made a sort of treehouse. The three little girls made the intended A-frames. And I went from person to person helping "glue" stuff together, kept melting more of the couverture chocolate (white and brown) we used instead of lemon and powdered sugar (usual in Germany, but I don't like it), egg white and powdered sugar (usual in the U.S. but I'm paranoid about salmonella, even though there probably isn't any in Cyprus, and especially not in free-range eggs), or even butter-cream frosting (which is what I used to use, but which doesn't set hard and doesn't keep as long), and kept adding decorative stuff to the table and telling people to stop eating it.

The houses weren't as colorful as in the past, as I wouldn't get anything with artificial coloring. I did buy some rather expensive additive-free gummy bears and gummy worms, and rather a lot of Cadbury chocolate (buttons and fingers, neither of them officially FairTrade, but Cadbury is definitely making a serious effort to go 100% FairTrade), as well as dried cranberries to add some red and animal cookies for variety, and Jacob and Konstantin added leftover popcorn to the "sea" around their ship. Marie did made some butter-cream frosting, and some of them used some of it, but chocolate is definitely the best.

Enough rambling: the photos explain everything just fine anyway.

On the 24th we all ate Katie's house together, and on the 25th, we took Lukas's boat with us to the friends' house where we had Christmas dinner and spent all afternoon and evening. We tried to vote on whose creation to eat today (the 26th), but most people said they didn't want to eat ANY, they'd already had too much sugar!! Everyone did have hot chocolate and Spekulatius, though. (We haven't drunk milk on a regular basis for about a year and a half, either, so the two-liter bottle of milk I bought for that was also a huge treat.) Tomorrow we're going to have nearly 30 people in the house and will definitely serve up Jacob's and Konstantin's ship, and I might try to talk everyone into adding the rest of the houses to the mix.

Day twenty-four, December 24th

The activity for the final day was "make a birthday cake." Amazingly, people were already so sugared out, that nobody really cared. Marie made a half recipe, putting it into four small cake forms (two trees and two stars) and we haven't even eaten it yet, and I didn't take any photos.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Advent 2013 days eighteen through twenty-two

The rest of the third week of Advent got rather mixed up. First I kept changing the numbers around, then we couldn't (or didn't, anyway) open them because of there not being time to carry them out.

Day eighteen, scheduled for December 18th and actually happened on the 20th

Decorate the Christmas tree! With some of the others, we just shrugged and said, "oh well, we can't wait for a time when everyone is home," but for this one, we really had to, and Jörn was out all day on the 18th and Jacob most of the 19th, so this had to wait until the 20th.

See the big box labeled "Christmas tree ornaments"? And see the blue Cadbury Roses tin on its side next to it? The Cadbury tin had in it all the ornaments that we used on our small tree last year (all that would fit), and the plastic bag in front of the big box has the candle holders.

I already knew there'd be no way we could use the candle holders, for a whole bunch of reasons: the branches are horribly floppy and hardly hold any weight, the branches are close together and have long needles which would be dangerous with candles anyway, even if the tree weren't already horribly dry because we've had it for a couple of weeks which it is because we have, and in addition to all that, we couldn't even find any tree candles! I decided to start with just what was in the Cadbury tin and then see what else we could add...but in the meantime, the children also had found the tinsel garlands that Marie had borrowed from friends a couple of years ago when she was a Christmas tree in a skit, and when I wanted to return them, the friends didn't want them back. I don't like tinsel, but I don't much like our tree this year, either, so I figured they couldn't really make it worse.

 My Peruvian nativity, the only thing I myself put on the tree:

Once the contents of the tin had been put on the tree, there really wasn't room for anything else, so that was it! There's one empty candle-holder on the tree somewhere, too. No lights, but plenty of tinsel.

Day nineteen, scheduled for December 19th and actually happened December 21st

Go to the playground! We kept putting this one off, trying to have everyone home, and had to give up. Jacob spent Saturday helping at a charity craft fair and Lukas got to go to King Malu with Richard, so it was, at first, only Jörn and the three little girls and I who walked to the playground. They wanted to go the municipal park, which is a further walk away than my favorite playground, and on the way Helen complained that she was tired of walking, so Elisabeth said, "If you're tired of walking, you can run, Helen!" :-)

So here are some random photos from the playground:

At 3:00 Lukas phoned from home, an hour earlier than I'd expected him (Konstantin had opted to stay home, so that wasn't a problem), and I told him that we'd be heading home soon anyway and there wasn't any point in him coming, but then I realized there was actually plenty of time, and everyone was thirsty, so I walked home and collected the car, Lukas, and water.

Lukas and I climbed a tree--that's my foot and leg in the photo below:

Lukas was unimpressed with how not-very-high I got in the tree, and after I'd gotten out, he showed me how one is really supposed to do it:

And here's the only photo Jörn took, so the only photo of me, and he didn't know that photos on zoom are almost always blurry:

When we got home, we opened what was actually scheduled for the 21st, skipping the 20th because we really DID need to have everyone home for that.

Day twenty-one, December 21st

Watch a movie! This isn't SUCH a huge treat as it used to be, because for the last several years, we've been spending every other Sunday afternoon with good friends, where the children watch a movie while we play games, but still, it's a very rare event for ALL of us to watch a movie together. We'd arranged to use the guest flat of those same friends to watch the movie, which they also recommended and lent to us.

Day twenty-two, December 22nd

Another one that we managed to do on the scheduled day! I took a photo of the whole table, too, with all 13 of us--the eight of us (minus Marie, plus Konstantin) and a family of five that was visiting, but I don't have their permission to post it.
By this time, the second candle had also been burned down completely and had to be replaced, which is why the third and fourth candles are the same size.

And finally, without a photo (I really thought I took one, but can't find it!)...

Day nineteen, scheduled December 19th but actually happened December 23rd

Read the Christmas story from Luke! Katie read it beautifully, and this was the very first of all our Advent activities that took place with the ENTIRE family, because Marie got back from Costa Rica at 3:00 a.m. that day! Since I don't have a photo of Katie reading, I'll just post a photo of sisters happy to have Marie home:

As for what was scheduled for yesterday AND happened yesterday AND got extremely photographed, that will have to wait for another post.

Advent 2013 day seventeen

Back from my walk, so here comes the next installment...wontons!!

In November I asked people, kind of casually, if there were any particular things they would like to do during Advent. Jörn and Lukas, independently of each other, both requested wontons. Not only are wontons not a traditional part of our Christmas, even in our childhoods, we've never even made them at ANY time! However, they were a traditional part of our Thanksgiving meal in my family, and although we haven't been to the U.S. for a lot of Thanksgivings, we've been there for Thanksgiving more than at any one other time. There were wontons at my brother's wedding December 31st, 2009, and we were there for Thanksgiving in 2010 (which was the last time we were in the U.S.), so those were the last two times we had wontons. As to how wontons became a traditional part of my Anglo-Saxon-background family...if I have the story right, my mother had a Chinese roommate in college and learned to make them from her (she DID have a Chinese roommate in college, I'm just not sure if that's how my mother learned to make wontons), then made them for no particular reason at some point when we were little, and my brother loved them, and then when his class had a Thanksgiving meal together and everyone was supposed to bring something traditional from their own families, my brother volunteered wontons. I don't remember ever NOT having wontons at Thanksgiving, but then, I didn't even like them until I was about 19!

So. I put "make wontons" in the Advent calendar and hoped we would figure it out. Three Asian shops and Metro all did not have wonton "skins", although the people at one of the Asian shops had at least heard of them. I got the recipes for the filling and the sweet and sour sauce from my mother, and a recipe for the wonton skins from the internet, and scheduled "make wontons" for Tuesday, the 17th, since we're all home on Tuesday afternoons, and hoped we'd manage it. And we did!

Day 17, December seventeenth

Step one: making the dough for the skins. I'd thought of buying white flour, to make them more like store-bought, and then figured that "authentic" would probably actually be rice flour anyway, and in the end, I didn't get anything special, just used the usual whole-wheat flour I use for everything else.

Elisabeth was quite excited about helping:

And here's the finished dough, which then had to "rest" for 30 to 60 minutes. It's not very much--I only made a single recipe, which said it would make approximately 24, because I was very nervous about whether they would work at all and I didn't want to waste more ingredients than necessary!

However, it rolled out beautifully and was very easy to work with:

While I was doing the wonton skins (with quite a few other pairs of hands trying to help...), Jörn made the filling and the sweet and sour sauce:

 Then came the only part of wonton-making in which I'd ever been involved before: filling and folding them. Jörn also did some, but stopped to take these photos:

Jörn and I fried them, while Lukas (that's his arm in the background) stirred the sweet and sour sauce:
 I'd never deep-fried anything before, so was nervous about that part too. It also worked well, except for splattering my favorite and warmest sweatshirt, which was irritating. I've washed it once, and some of the grease came out, but not all. It took nearly three days to dry as it was, so I'm just wearing it with grease on it at the moment, because it's too cold to wait another three days for it to dry!

Once we'd finished frying the wontons, there was still quite a lot of oil left, and Lukas remembered that in October, when he was in Germany, our friend Margaret had given him a couple of packages of papadums (not that I had ANY clue how to spell that, but google is very helpful, especially with a word that can apparently be spelled a dozen or more ways!), so we fried all of those up, too. We had 31 wontons and plenty of leftover filling to pile on the papadums and drizzle sweet and sour sauce over, and along with cut-up vegetables and some cheese, that was our dinner:

Advent 2013 days fifteen and sixteen

It's now Christmas Eve (6:00 a.m. as I start writing this, but not sure when I'll finish and post!) and I haven't updated on our Advent calendar since the 14th. Amazingly, we've managed to do all of them up to now, although several of them didn't happen on the originally scheduled days nor in the originally planned order.

...and 20 minutes later, I have my first excuse as to why I hadn't updated yet! First of all, it takes my computer awhile to turn on, and once it's on, another several minutes until it's willing to accept the memory card from the camera. Then I copied and pasted all of the photos from the last ten days (a ridiculous number of photos, thanks to the digital age) into my "December 2013, unedited" file, next I opened Picasa and chose all the ones that had to do with the Advent calendar and put them in their own file. I haven't done any editing (cropping, red-eye correction, straightening, color contrast, etc.), and now it's nearly time for me to leave on my walk, especially as it will take another several minutes to turn the computer back off. So for now, I'll just post two photos:

Day fifteen, December 15th

...not that we did this on Sunday, the 15th, because the only moment of the entire day when all of us were home AND awake at the same time was after 8:00 p.m., when we'd just gotten home and needed to put grumpy children to bed. Within ten minutes of getting home, Helen and Elisabeth were asleep and Katie and Lukas were in bed. So this photo is actually from Monday:

 The "first" candle is actually the second, because the original first candle had burned down completely and had to be replaced. I don't think we've ever before lit the Advent wreath consistently enough for that to happen!

Day sixteen, December 16th

Jörn got to open this one and was happy to pose with YET another day of chocolate:

And the rest will have to wait for now...maybe, maybe, I'll finish writing about Advent before Christmas!

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Advent 2013 days thirteen and fourteen

We didn't manage to open the Advent calendar yesterday, because of general craziness and because it was so cold that I was totally unmotivated to carry out what I knew was on the paper for the 13th, originally scheduled for the 11th, when pouring rain made it likewise impractical. And Jörn admitted to me what his plan was for today (also originally scheduled for earlier this week and switched around at his request) and it went well with yesterday's, so we opened them both today and combined them. Day 13 was "go for a walk" and Day 14 was "Papa's surprise." We sort of carried out day 13 in walking to Souvlaki Express, the fact that Jörn wanted to go out to eat hardly being much of a surprise to anyone, but a nice treat, nevertheless!

From the souvlaki place, we walked to the Salt Lake park, continuing our official Day Thirteen activity:

This was the first photo Jacob took when I asked him to take a photo of Jörn and me:
 He then did take a photo of us, but I was rather annoyed and looked it, so as Keeper of the Camera, I deleted it.

After only 15 minutes, Jörn needed to leave to take a cake that Lukas had made to the people Lukas had made it for, but the rest of us continued walking. Lukas found a big cardboard tube and ran towards it yelling joyfully "Treasure! I found treasure!!"

We walked through the park and to the Nature Trail, and then Jacob and Konstantin went home, but the rest of us kept exploring.

 Of course, the first bench we came to made Elisabeth say, "Let's have a rest," and her siblings were happy to oblige:

We left the Nature Trail to go down to the lake. At this point, Lukas has hidden his cardboard roll and managed to get Helen to carry (wear) his hat and Elisabeth to carry his coat!
 We've finally had some rain, so there is a little bit of water, but not much, and it wasn't as muddy as I thought it would be.


After about half an hour, Jörn phoned to say he was back and to figure out where to meet. The children were so excited to see him, running to meet him and yelling "Papa! Papa!" that a casual bystander might have thought they'd been separated for weeks or months, rather than barely 30 minutes:


Lukas managed to get his sisters BEGGING to help carry his cardboard tube, and he even turned to us and smirked, "Just like Tom Sawyer!" He still finds reading a struggle, but he's read the first couple of chapters and was very impressed by Tom's managing to get his friends painting the fence AND paying him for it.

My coat came on and off several times--in the sun, it was almost warm, but in the shade and when wind came up, it was rather chilly. Lukas's coat was worn by him, carried by Elisabeth, and worn by Helen and Katie, Katie's shawl was worn by her and by Helen, and Helen's coat was worn by her and then by Jörn:

The walk was about an hour and a half all together and a lot of fun, and I can't really think of any good reason that we don't do this more often!