Thursday, December 31, 2009

New Year's Eve Game Night

 We woke up to the results of another winter storm...sleet and ice.  It melted by midday. We are learning that winter in Virginia is cold!   

Dinner on New Year's is easy...tamales and snacks and cookies.  More of what we had on Christmas Eve but less formal. Also we play games all night while waiting for the New Year. Whoever wins the game gets to put their name in the lid with the year.  Then the winner gets to choose a new game.

My son and I played Nine Man's Morris which he received as a Christmas present from his sister, who bought it in Colonial Williamsburg. I had never played this before. I won! I had the blue. My son wanted to showcase it this way.

The kids tried to hit me up for Rumikube but oh no. I wanted to play Scrabble...which I won, although the kids gave me a run for my money! Hmmmm, obviously the "text" setting on my camera was the wrong choice for this.  I had a word in the upper left corner that got triple word score with letters with high points that represented how we felt that night. Everyone was laughing. The word was..."yawn".

By then dinner was ready. We snacked while playing Blokus. I sat down next to the color yellow. I had forgotten the kids had designated American Revolution names for the colors. My son played blue (Washington). I played yellow (Lafayette).  My daughter played green (Banastre Tarleton). My husband played red (Cornwallis).  He preferred to be the fife corps but the kids said he had to be part of the army. My son and I tied! Isn't that hilarious!?  We played in such organized fashion for the game.

Then we played the one game my husband had been waiting for.  Monopoly. As much as we enjoy games, we've had little space for our growing collection over the years. My husband finally helped me weed them out and we got rid of old games that were falling apart, including Monopoly. Actually I had never planned on replacing the game, because I did not like the idea of teaching my kids to be greedy in order to win the game. Then this year we studied oil barrons, railroad tycoons, the rise and fall of the stock market, and monopolies. Although the kids understood the textbook definition of the term, they did not know what a monopoly was.  I broke down and purchased an old fashioned version of the game for a family Christmas present, in the name of education.  We played Christmas day and my son easily beat us!  My husband was determined to win the next time, which was tonight and he did!  My daughter had a chance of winning, since she and my husband were the only ones who got complete properties.  She has learning delays so I told her to be aggressive and buy houses and then a hotel for her property.  She almost won! She was excited. She had been dubious about my suggestions at first but at the end, she realized that was the way to go. Forgot to take a picture of this one.

Then my husband picked Hail to the Chief. This is a fun game full of history questions about presidents and states. Well, it's fun for me and torture for my husband. He wondered why in the world he picked this game after we got started! Each question card has 4 questions from which to choose to read aloud to be answered.  They vary in degree of difficulty and I do believe I got the most difficult questions of anyone. Nevertheless, I won! I became the president and my son became vice-president.

After that we prayed the New Year in.  

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Mwangaza Choir

     This morning when I checked my e-mail, I found a message from my church back in San Antonio, which leads me to this blog entry. In 2004, my daughter and I had the incredible opportunity to work with Mwangaza choir through the children's choir at our church.  Hosted by our church, Wayside Chapel Evangelical Free Church and another San Antonio area church, Mwanagaza Choir was sponsored from Uganda, Africa.  The name Mwangaza is a Swahili word that means "Shining Light," reflecting the gospel message they share through song. The choir is comprised of children, many of whom are orphans or come from single parent families. Some suffer from the effects of AIDS, inherited from their parents. The money raised goes back into the village for child sponsorships, feeding, clothing, housing and education of the children and training for the parents. They told us that whenever enough money was raised to free one child from the streets, a cheer would rise up from all around.  Apart from donations, money is also raised through the sale of CDs of previous tours. The 2004 tour was the one my daughter got to sing with.  

    The lady who led the children's choir would go to Africa to help prepare them in coming to America for a tour. Their first stop was at our church where they sang with the children's choir which my daughter was a part of.  Since I helped with costumes, I got to help dress the children's choir. What an experience! Those joyful, wiggly bodies with internal rhythms were difficult to capture long enough to stick the opening of the neck of a garment over their heads!

     One of the girls in Mwangaza Choir was my daughter's pen pal. Each child was given a photo of their pen pal/prayer partner. One day in the spring of 2004, Mwangaza Choir arrived in San Antonio and everyone got to meet!  The children even got to stay in our homes. The kids and I were disappointed when we couldn't participate at this level.  Nevertheless, we had an incredibly rich experience while we had rehearsals and the actual performances at church.

     We understand that the families who hosted the choir were exceedingly blessed.  Everything in America was new to these children from Uganda...stores, air conditioning, pickles, etc, etc, etc! The most special thing was the lessons learned by the host families about time in prayer to a glorious Lord. These children and their chaperones who owned so little materially, humbled the families they stayed with in showing them how to richly worship their Heavenly Father.  How beautiful.   

     Then the Mwangaza Choir went on tour across the country.  They got to be on the Dove Awards and cut an album with Michael W. Smith! Later when they came back, and the weather was warmer, all the children from both choirs reunited and we had a swim party for them! 

     Since  then there was another choir who went on tour.  This latest e-mail informed me that Mwangaza is coming back! Or at least they are praying for this.  They are having trouble with Visas and can use prayer for that.  Here is their schedule.  If you would like them to come to your church, here is the information. You will be blessed!   

Monday, December 28, 2009

Colonial Williamsburg: New Year's Week

We got to CW just after the start of the Founding Father speech at the other than Lafayette! He had more parts to his story that we had not heard before!  See, people are always asking why we keep going back.  They think things are always the same at CW, when in truth, it is honestly a living history museum.  The actor/interpreters keep adding new elements to their storylines, to keep things fresh.  It's great! Afterwards, there was an opportunity to meet with him and we did have questions to ask. My son said we should let the other guests have his time now, since we planned on seeing him at the Tucker House that afternoon. 


 Next we went to the Milliner shop. I thought the tailors would be there and sure enough they were...along with every other guest in town!  The day before I decided to whip out a historically accurate shirt for my son's costume. About four hours into the process, I realized I had made a major mistake and had ruined the shirt.  I was so confused by the pattern and decided to go to the tailors for help. However they were busy with the other guests. Hmmmm, what should be laying on the table near the door...but a freshly completed colonial shirt!  I sneaked a desperate peak at the construction of the shirt, and had one question answered...with several more unknown ones floating in my head.   It was so crowded in there, that I stepped out to analyze the pattern I had brought with me. Hmmmm, I found my next question mark. I looked at the time and told the kids we should have lunch then head for the Tucker House. 

 After lunch we had a couple of minutes, so I popped back into the tailors' and sneaked another quick peak at the shirt.  Hmmmm, I'd have to think about that construction. 

Then we went to the Tucker House where we had a wonderful time visiting with the Marquis de Lafayette.  When my son raised his hand for a question, the marquis first said some very nice things about my son to the entire audience, which was completely unexpected but exceedingly kind.  Being huge fans of the marquis, we were certainly flattered. We met our friends there too! It turned out to be an extremely special time!      

After an incredible visit at the Tucker House, we returned to the tailor shop. While waiting in line to enter the busy shop, Colonel Washington and Mann Page came down the street, riding their horses. When we saw them we waved and Mann Page started teasing us! Too fun! he

When we re-entered the shop, I again analyzed that shirt while the tailor talked to the guests. At long last, I think I had that shirt figured out!  Eventually the tailor settled himself cross legged on the table I was standing near and picked up some sewing.  He was close enough to me and there was a break in the talking so that I plunged in to my shirt dilemma and hoped for the best.  I told the tailor how I ruined the historical shirt I was making my son. I explained how I had analyzed the shirt in front of me so that I think I now understand the instructions in the pattern.  I confessed that I used to think I was good at hand sewing, making neat and even, tiny stitches...until I attempted this shirt the day before, completely ruining it four hours into my attempt. I praised the incredible craftsmanship before me. The tailor smiled and said that a shirt is an excellent piece to begin with, since most everything will be hidden underneath a waistcoat and coat. Children of the era learned to sew on shirts first. I did see an example of a shirt that was extremely well done by a girl as a sewing lesson in one of my CW costume books. He also confidently told me that it is rare for a shirt to not be salvageable. Surely there was a simple fix. Oh no, I assured him. I completely ruined it.  I tried explaining my mistake by pointing out what I did wrong on the shirt in front of me, then I pulled out the destroyed shirt from my bag. He took one look at it and he said, "I see it. That's bad."  LOL     

However, he did give me hope! He told me to just sew the pieces I cut off back on, carry on with the stitching, and count it as a lesson learned. Hmmmm, I like this guy!  I've often done things like this. My son heard it, so that verifies to him the historical accuracy of making mistakes and being thrifty and carrying on. He even gave us an example of a velvet coat of John Hancock's that was pieced together in the back. I asked if the nap stayed in one direction or if that was mismatched too. (When working with fabrics with nap like corduroy, velvet, etc, you have to make sure the tops of all the patterns are always in the same direction on the fabric, or you'll have an odd looking garment with sheens going different ways.)  Surprisingly, the tailor told me that often times the nap would go in one direction in the front and the other in the back, to make the most use of the fabric. Actually, he thought that the naps did go in different directions on the Hancock coat where they met in the back.       

    Then he told us his style of sitting is Tailor Sitting, which was quite historic. For hundreds of years, tailors often sat at the window for better light, free advertising, and to see the action on the streets.  Other languages, like German and French, used this term as well in their own languages. In North America, the term used is/was "Indian style sitting", which he heard is no longer used. (He pretty much interprets the 18th century, trying to stay out of the 21st century.)  He has heard the term, "criss cross applesauce". However there are five men (and now one blogger) trying to bring back the term, "Tailor Sitting."


Saturday, December 26, 2009

Mount Vernon at Christmas

     Today we went to Mount Vernon to partake of the Christmas season. There were several Christmas trees in here carrying various themes.

We missed all the lovely 19" of snow Mount Vernon had received a week ago, due to rain that began falling last night.  It was a drizzly foggy day where you could barely see the Potomac in the distance.  

Being the Christmas season, we got to take a rare third floor tour of the mansion.  We had to stand in line a little while and eventually one of the volunteers came to me to tell me I was line leader for the next group!  I enthusiastically accepted the job, while laughing, since that was the most positive way I've ever heard someone be told that they'd have to wait for the next tour.  This man was extremely friendly and organized, having appointed me with this important position as early as 3 groups behind. Finally as the group ahead of me got to enter the mansion, he came looking for me and I assured him that I knew I was line leader.  However when the family ahead of me reached the door he stopped them, due to unexpected space limitations, and told the lady in front she was the line leader. Well I couldn't let this go! Teasingly I complained that I lost my position as line leader!  The volunteer looked at me and said I could pop up to the front of the line! Laughingly, I told him I was joking and he assured me that I was line leader #1 and the lady in front was merely line leader #2.  We all laughed!  These volunteers keep switching positions, because by the time we entered the main dining room, there he was...chiding me for not leading the group! What happened?  They cut in front of me, I exclaimed!  In the mansion we got to see historic Christmas decorating of the 18th century, "deck the halls with boughs of holly". The table also had one of the gorgeous fruited towering centerpieces.  Next to that was one of Lady Washington's infamous 12th Night Cakes, for January 6, which marked the end of the 12 Days of Christmas and the Washington's wedding anniversary.  I received a copy of her recipe, along with a modern version, in our schedule of events for the day. The family is anticipating my marking Washington's birthday in Feb with this cake and peanut soup (his favorite).  Later, we met him again in the kitchen, where he was horrified to see how far behind I had the end of the line! He told me I really need to work on my line leading skills. I sheepishly replied I had to stay behind to look at all the Lafayette stuff.  Well, that was a good enough excuse for him. Everyone at Mount Vernon likes Lafayette! 

In the oven is Lady Washington's 12th Night Cake.

On the table was a special type of pie. Its pastry is a container, not to be eaten. It's filled with 5 types of meats and even shipped across the ocean to friends for the holidays. This looks very doable to recreate, although I don't think I can duplicate the 5 meats: chicken, turkey, pigeon, hmmmmm what were the rest?

Then we visited the Christmas camel, Aladin!  This is to recreate a gift General Washington arranged for his grandchildren, a camel at Mount Vernon! 

He went to see my son.

He's very friendly. Then he came to visit a man standing near us. The camel even laid his muzzle into the man's neck.  The camel licked the man in the ear, on the face, in his hands, and even tried to nab his cap! Then the camel started after my daughter who laughingly ran off! 

 We went inside the museum to warm up and see the Gingerbread house of Mount Vernon, made by a pastry chef who used to work at the White House.

Here was another of the decorated trees with a theme.  These carried the theme of "Washington's Generals."  It is placed next to the entrance to the museum that holds the  "Washington's Generals" exhibit, which my kids and I saw last August but my husband had not yet seen. One of the most special things to see is the medal for the Society of the Cincinnati that the French designed specifically for General Washington.  It is extremely rare for this to be on display.  My husband asked the security guard for information on the medals.  Then my husband asked me why a Society of the Cincinnati existed.  I explained that it was a brotherhood of the men who fought in the American Revolution.  Cincinnati refers to Cincinnatus, a Roman farmer who left his plow in the field when called upon to lead the military against enemies of the ancient Roman Empire.  After successfully leading his men to victory, he broke military custom of assuming leadership (and often dictatorship) of Ancient Rome, by returning to his plow.  Likewise, when General Washington won the American Revolution, there was talk among some of his generals of his becoming king, which he refused. He simply wanted to return to his plow.  Washington had always admired Cincinnatus and thus Cincinnatus became the symbol of this brotherhood (as well as the namesake for the city of Cincinnatti in Ohio.)   I had explained all of this to my husband, with the security guard listening in.  After I was done, the guard said I should get a job at Mount Vernon!  Well Mount Vernon is an hour away from home, we don't have any desire to live closer to Mount Vernon, but we do desire to live in Williamsburg!  Maybe someday I can work at Colonial Williamsburg!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Tamales for Christmas Eve, a San Antonio Tradition

     My MIL asked me the other day for pictures of the decorated house to go on the blog. I knew she'd be interested in seeing them, but I hadn't finished decorating yet. Being our first year in a new house, it's taken me some time to find a place for everything. As it was, I gave up on a few items. With the usual Christmas preparations,  I've  been busy this month sewing my son's new Lafayette costume, attendng the Grand Illumination, homeschooling, sewing a quilt for my nephew, and playing in 20" of snow!  Our 20" of powdery snow has deflated to about a foot.  Nevertheless, snow is still everywhere.  Sadly, we are expecting freezing rain and then rain tomorrow.  I wonder what that will do to our scenery. 

     Today I made my first batch of homemade tamales for Christmas Eve dinner. Traditionally, we had storebought ones in San Antonio.  However, we can't find any TexMex up here in Northern Virginia, so I finally made fresh tamales.  I used a recipe for Chicken Tomatillo Tamales from a Paula Deen special Christmas magazine that I got last winter.  To be quite honest, I am not familiar with Paula Deen, but I was compelled to purchase this copy when I saw it featured Colonial Williamsburg at Christmas. No, this recipe is not from CW. She has other features in her magazine as well, including a Christmas Mexican dinner.  Her recipe looked right on target to the style of Texas cooking I enjoy, so that's the recipe I chose for my first tamales.  I thought my family was going to help me, but they all abandoned me to play in the snow.  Well, I can't blame them. I'd have joined them if I could. Before my husband went outside, he came over to see the tamale progress and was so impressed, that he took pictures. 

 It took me an hour and a half just to roll two dozen tamales! I used up the masa harina (tamal dough) first.  I am letting the rest of the corn husks dry for another use. The extra chicken tomatillo filling can be used for enchiladas.

I finally got the kitchen cleaned up and the dining room table set for tomorrow's dinner. 

I still need to sew real curtains for in here. 

Here is the stairwell, walking from the dining room...

This is the best picture I have of the Christmas tree.  We went to a Christmas tree farm the day after Thanksgiving and cut this down. The kids and I had never done that before!  I assumed we would do this but when we brought it up, my husband said no, we already had an artificial tree in the basement storage room. The kids did quite a snow job persuading their dad that the artificial tree probably fell apart in the move, since every year for the last 9 years more branches fell apart from the tree from merely sitting in the garage. My husband deferred to me to support him but I said I was surprised that he didn't want one.  When we lived in San Antonio, he always said he wanted a real tree like he used to get in upstate New York. He then said he was concerned about lyme disease, due to any ticks harboring in the tree. Hmmm, I had never thought of that possibility.  I did some research and an agricultural extension service basically said that is not a concern. Also lots of my TLT friends at my TOG yahoo list assured me they had never had a problem. He liked what my TLT friends said, so he conceded to a real tree and we got one!  Wow, it smelled great when we first brought it in. 

      Inside the stairway...

The living room...

On top of the piano...

Every year at my TOG yahoo list, we do a Secret Sisters Ornament Prayer exchange. This year my SS was from Germany (her husband is stationed over there). She gave me a lovely ornament from Germany with colonial people going to church in the snow on one side, and Christ on the cross on the other side. She also gave me this special card handmade by her mother. The lights from the Christmas tree make the candle look like it's really aglow.

Here are some hoops I bought for my kids at Colonial Williamsburg.  I couldn't hide them...I never can hide anything from them. In fact they wanted to carry them through CW for me. Since they know they are getting them, I didn't try hiding them but had fun wrapping them in extra ribbon I had. I am going to put the sticks for them into their stockings to see if I can at least fool them that way! 

Hanging from some of the light fixtures around the stairwell are kisssing balls that my husband and son hung for me...


Here are the pillows on the furniture in the family room and a few other Christmas items...

 Now in the kitchen, our advent candles...

Here is the niche above the microwave...

Here is our buffett, after a time for advent and selected readings from my Ideals ...

While eating we watch our traditional Christmas Eve movie, It's a Wonderful Life.  My son stopped the movie at the scene with Mr. Potter and George Bailey, to tell me that there was a bust of Napoleon behind Mr. Potter's desk!  I made such a big deal when I first introduced Napoleon to my kids last year (in Sept 2008), that he is classic and we'd hear a lot about him.  Little did I know how much we'd see of him, not only in our studies, but also in life! Well, I guess the imagery in the movie is that like Napoleon stormed through Europe conquering lands, so Mr. Potter was storming through Bedford Falls taking over businesses.  In truth, we've been learning that there is another side to Napoleon, a positive one, and have recently learned of some good biographies on him, that are out of print.  I will be on the hunt for them after Christmas so I can have time to study up on him to prepare for our next round of lessons on Napoleon in the future.

     For anyone besides my MIL who stuck around for the home tour, I leave you with a famous quote from another famous 19th century person..."God bless us, everyone!"

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Colonial Williamsburg Gingerbread Village

    In years past, we used to make gingerbread villages of Gruene, Texas.  Gruene is a historic German town about 30 miles north of San Antonio. It used to be one of our favorite places to visit when we lived in Texas. Perhaps you'd like to make one with your kids of a historic village near you. This would be a fun way to incorporate a bit of history into an art project during the holidays. 

    You might think it quite ambitious for us to do an entire village of gingerbread.  Actually, I have no idea how to actually make a building out of real gingerbread. Years ago I saw a Christmas village made out of graham crackers and the effect was so charming and simple, that has been our "gingerbread" project ever since.

     Now that we live in Virginia, I proposed we make a village of Colonial Williamsburg. The chefs of Colonial Williamsburg create various gingerbread buildings and villages for display during the holiday season. If you'd like some ideas, you can listen to a podcast here.  I was thinking of doing a few houses.  My son, aka Mr. Ambitious, proposed doing the Capitol, Governor's Palace, Courthouse, Magazine, and several houses. Um, we're not that good at making "gingerbread" buildings. We'll never make any of these buildings look authentic because we simply do not have the know-how. Thankfully, the beckoning 20" of snow outdoors helped me prove to Mr. Ambitious that we do not have time to accomplish his masterful idea before Christmas.  

        First we audtioned several foam core boards we had to determine the size we wanted to use. I forgot this was to go on the credenza in the family room. Now I hope this large board will fit, since we planned it for the dining room table, which has another arrangement for it.  Well, where there's a will there's a way.

    After determining the size of the base, I had my son cover it in aluminum foil. Then I placed a large plastic holiday table cloth on the dining room table for a work surface.  Then we opened our box of cinnamon sugar graham crackers.  I pulled out all the crackers and set out stacks of the amount we would need for each part of the building. Each building needs 4 walls and 2 roofs. That's six crackers each. I cut out what was not needed for each gabled end and broke a few pieces. In the end, we had enough crackers for three buildings. My son wanted to space them out in an accurate arrangement with parallele lines. I suggested we space them out with an artistic arrangement, to make room for the extra features of the historic area that we wanted to add. So that's the way we decided to go.

     Next I piped royal icing, which acts as glue, to pipe the first part of the foundation for the first building. My son had to hold that wall in place a couple of minutes for it to remain standing as the icing hardened. Meanwhile I set my daughter's up the same way. Gradually we added the other elements until each building had all 4 walls in place. Then we covered the icing and we were done for the day, because it was time for dinner. Otherwise, it could be ready to go as early as two hours.

     The next day, the kids added the roofs  and left them to dry for the night, since it was late in the afternoon and we had other plans.

    Then we decorated!  This took a couple of days, due to catching up on school and playing in 20" of snow!  Mr. Ambitious had more grandiose ideas, but I put the time limit on tonight. We have fences around each building because that was a city ordinance.  We had meant to do different sytles of fences, but we ran out of time.  There are tootsie rolls for logs and stair steps, crushed white mint lifesavers for the oyster shell paths, star anise for wreaths, ice cream cones for trees, chocolate sprinkles for the roofs and cinnamon red hots for holly berries.  

My husband said this is the best village we ever made. I told him it is the talent of our son. 

My son designed this sign to symbolize similar ones in Colonial Williamsburg. 

My daughter and I helped a little bit, but my son did most of the work.

 Here are some sites I referenced, for structural ideas and for the royal icing.