Christmas Music: 10 Favorites

What would Christmas be without the music?

Somehow, every December, something happens to all the pop hits that we’ve heard way too often. Suddenly, all the music is transformed into merry songs of joy and cheer – and often cheesy silliness. It’s wonderful! I didn’t realize how much I actually like those classics – “White Christmas,” “Silver Bells,” even good old “Rudolf” and “Frosty the Snowman” – until last month’s craft fair. They played a list of them, and it put me in a jolly spirit a few weeks early.

But a couple of days of that nonstop is more than enough!

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What I mean by Christmas music is different than those cheery, holly-jolly holiday tunes – as you shall see! Growing up, we were never content with music for simple nostalgia’s sake: Being a musical family, we got into not only a wide range of music, but also the meanings behind it. So here (in no particular order) are 10 of my favorite pieces of Christmas music:

  1. The Nutcracker Suite. Tchaikovsky is such fun to listen to! And some of the pieces of this are also transcendent and beautiful (like the “Pas de deux” and the “Waltz of the Snowflakes”). Our traditional experience of the ballet is not a staged version, but this one by Mikhail Baryshnikov.
  2. Carols. I could go on and on about the old songs of the Christmas season! In fact, I could probably make a separate list of 10 favorites and why each is so great – like “O Come, O Come Emmanuel,” “O Holy Night,” “The Carol of the Bells…” But even the not-so-great songs get their really good versions (like this, and this). There is such beauty and depth in even the simplest “Silent Night” – so much to rediscover and love each year!
  3. “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen.” Take this carol, for instance. Put the comma in the right place, and what a statement it is! Not simply “merry” but also more: “Gentlemen, rest in the peace of God, despite the darkness of life. Do not be dismayed. Remember, Christ our Saviour was born on Christmas day…”
  4. “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silent.” This haunting, beautiful carol is from an early medieval liturgy; it’s over 1500 years old! (That is so cool.) It is a contemplation of the incarnation, with words taken from the prophet Habakkuk. Looking for a good version to listen to, I discovered this amazing album, which has many other lovely songs too!
  5. “Carol of the Kings.” A modern song from the album “Christmas in Diverse City,” this mixes “Carol of the Bells” and “We Three Kings” into something extraordinary. It’s a song about Black Friday, of all things, and shoppers suddenly confronted by the real reason for Christmas.
  6. Trans-Siberian Orchestra. Fun to listen to, a totally different take on holiday music from the usual, and really rocky. I don’t like everything they do, but sometimes one of their songs crosses from good to incredible: “The Prince of Peace,” “The Lost Christmas Eve,” “Christmas Canon Rock…”
  7. Mannheim Steamroller. Again, everything they’ve done isn’t wonderful; but the televised live show from who knows how long ago was a tradition in our house for a long time. “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen” is wonderful, “Messengers of Christmas” is inspiring, “Pat-a-Pan” and “Fum Fum Fum” are really cool.
  8. “Christmas” by Michael W. Smith. I grew up on this album, and it gets better every time you listen to it. Only a couple of traditional carols appear and then in unusual form; the rest is original, chorale songs contemplating the mystery and grace that is Christmas. Look for “No Eye Has Seen” and “Anthem for Christmas,” but it’s all good! Especially the grand finale, and –
  9. “All is Well.” This deserves a mention of its own. The most haunting and beautiful song of the album, it starts soft and simple with a boys’ choir, like a lullaby, and mounts into a symphony! Frank Peretti wrote a story of the same name (well worth a listen if you can find it!), which explains the song: Much is wrong with the world – there is so much that is hard. But just this once every year we remember that all is well, “for tonight darkness fell into the light of God’s grace…”
  10. “One Small Child” by David Meece. A simple and popular modern carol, fairly often done. But the original, sung by David Meece himself and sadly hard to find, takes the simplicity and transforms it so that it’s fierce and heartbreaking: This is a song about the least and last, a tiny fragile hope buried in obscurity in the darkness of a forgotten night. “One small dream of a savior tonight…”

And there you go! 10 of my favorites. A little strange; but there is a theme: The music that I find best at Christmas deals with the reason why we need a Christmas at all – that the world is filled with pain and difficulty. And yet…

“A light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:5)

 

Happy 5th day of Christmas!

-Abigail-

 

3 Christmas Traditions

Merry Christmas to all!

In honor of the day, I thought I’d share a few of our favorite traditions for celebrating the holiday:

Luminarias

So simple, so beautiful! You take paper bags and tea candles (cheap) and sand (ubiquitous), and put them together to make lights. Then, line Mary and Joseph’s path to the inn – and the path to Christmas Eve mass. This is a lovely New Mexican tradition!

Plum Pudding

Being Anglophiles, it was only a matter of time before we tried this Christmas treat mentioned in so many seasonal British stories. And it’s worth it! Full of spice and plums (raisins) and love, it is quintessential Christmas. (I use butter rather than suet, and it turns out fine!)

We don’t end Christmas on the 25th

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Seriously, try it! Some of the best fun is to be had after the stress and expectations of the day are over. Plus, if you’ve maybe forgotten a gift or two, there are the post-Christmas sales to hit. After all, traditionally, the season isn’t over until Epiphany (or 3 Kings Day), which is January 6th! I love Christmas so much that I would rather extend it than call it over after all the presents are opened!

I hope that you all have a blessed and wonderful holiday weekend!

-Abigail-

Christmas Classics Reviews, Pt. 3

It’s Christmas eve, and time for me to do a final Christmas review (not necessarily the last review, though)

I will review _____________!

I actually don’t know how to go about this. It was suggested I review this, and I thought it sounded funny and like a good challenge. So, here it goes!

This is a story about a normal guy. As everyone knows, however, there is no such thing as normal, which is to say- this main character has some issues, which are difficult to reconcile oneself to.

He’s born into a Bubble Lifestyle (basically, everyone he knows is supposed to do a task their ancestors did) but he just doesn’t fit in the bubble!

Well, this doesn’t sound very Christmas-y so far, especially when you find that your main character has abandoned his home and family! One assumes he gets reunited, but there doesn’t seem to be much chance of the whole situation being fixed!

This story is great for suspense! It’s atmosphere and storyline is as stark and wintery as it’s simple setting – either that or the atmosphere and storyline is simple, and the setting stark and wintery. It doesn’t help when an enemy is introduced that pushes up the danger against our heroes!

I would recommend this to everyone, by the way. With the way I’m describing it, I sound a bit uncertain about this story. Well, oddly enough, it’s not extraordinary. But it has it’s good points, including the solution of the awkward abnormality (or normality) being another problem, to which the main character’s abnormality can solve everything. (did that make any sense?)

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Yes, I am reviewing Rudolph, the Red-nosed Reindeer!

This was never my favorite Christmas animation, partly because I always found Rudolph a bit whiny, his bullies- well, bullies- and the abominable snowman plain ugly! Why couldn’t they have a polar bear or overgrown penguin?

However, watching it more recently, I have realized how stark and scary the storyline is (which just shows that it is OK to show kids scary things, because they don’t always get it). I’m still not sure Rudolph’s nose is bright enough to shine light for Santa, but it’s a really fun story!

Merry Christmas, everyone!

I wanted to say something tomorrow (practically today) but there’s not much more for me to say.

Merry Christmas, and may everyone be safe and well!

And God bless us, everyone!

Sarah

Christmas Tradition in Liturature

We thought it would be fun to talk about some of our Christmas traditions, so I thought I’d do a post about some of the Christmas literature I like to read.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I recently discovered I really like Charles Dickens’ Christmas Carol. I probably shouldn’t read it every year- this is probably the fourth time I’ve read it- but I’m enjoying it so much I’ll probably read it next year.

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And then there’s George MacDonald. He’s one of my favorite authors, and he wrote several Christmas stories that are very good. We have most of his Christmas stories in The Gifts of the Child Christ. This year I’ll be reading A Scot’s Christmas story about a lost lamb. Technically there’s a ghost story that ends at Christmastime, but I tend to read that for Halloween.

I always save Port in the Storm for last. I’m not sure why, because it doesn’t seem very Christmas-y. But it’s a lot of fun – all about being snowed in with a house party that has to have some good port, and there’s no port available…

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We had a set of Christmas stories read aloud, with some stories that are very memorable, including one about the son of a farmer who gets up early to do his father’s chores for Christmas. Among those stories was the wonderful Tailor of Gloucester by Beatrix Potter. This story is absolutely wonderful and I recommend it to everyone! It’s all about a poor old tailor who’s commissioned to make a suit for the mayor’s wedding on Christmas day. Then he comes down with a hideously bad cold, and the suit is all cut out at his shop, waiting to be sewn, but there’s no one to sew it up except the little brown mice (yes, I have read it about twenty times)

I don’t know how it came about, but we occasionally got the One Hundred and One Dalmatians to read at Christmastime from the library. I decided we needed to actually own the book, so I got it for Hannah for St. Nicholas day. It’s a fun book, with some wonderful humor. What I really like about it – overall, not specifically- is that, though the dogs are probably smarter than in real life, somehow I can imagine them being as smart as they are in the book.

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And then there’s the Church Mice Christmas book. This book is- well, wonderful.

We used to get these consistently from the library, then apparently they went away and apparently we had no access to them- even online. I didn’t know this and, last year, in a desperate attempt to get something for my brother, I found the Christmas church mice book online. Oddly enough, it was one of the most successful gifts, and I doubt I will be able to top it.

It’s all about trying to get enough things for a good Christmas party. Sounds familiar, except when your main characters are mice.

Well, I think that’s about it. I ought to add that if you want to read the birth of Jesus, the first couple chapters of Luke are the best. You get a lot of interesting detail and it’s written beautifully.

I’d love to hear what everyone reads for Christmas- or some other holiday! I am always interested in expanding my classics.

Merry Christmas!

Sarah

 

Christmas in the City

Today I’m finally going to introduce a couple new items on my Etsy shop, SallySewing. These are Christmas items, which I am very excited about- not only because it’s Christmastime, but because my shop has been looking empty without anything Christmas-related.

il_570xn-887790410_1dwwThis bag is what I call the Christmas in the City bags. I saw some black and gold Christmas tree fabric, and decided I wanted to make some bags out of it (not from our stash). I thought the leather would be interesting too, and I wanted jingle bells.

These bags were originally going to be backpacks. I can’t explain when they changed to what they are, possibly when I realized I didn’t have much time before the craft fair.

I have been using one of these bags to ‘advertise’ them, as well as test drive them. My resulting opinion is that they’re seasonal- it’s fun using it, simply for an unexpected show, but I’m happy using it for this month (and some of the next). It’s surprisingly roomy, easy to carry around and fun with the jingle bells.

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I like how these bags turned out. They were interesting to make, especially with the leather. It was the first time I’ve used leather so extensively, and it was very cooperative. The drawstring turned out different than I originally intended, but the look is unusual and fun. What I really liked was the bias tape! It gave me a chance to sew down the lining in a thoroughly satisfactory way.

I actually sold one of these bags, making a few alterations- which I am happy to do with most my items on my shop. I shortened the strap, adding buttons, and put on some big jingle bells, first taking out the jingles so they weren’t so noisy. I really liked the look, so I might have to add them to the others! (unfortunately I forgot to take a picture)

Here is a link to the Christmas in the City Jingle Bells Bags if you want to check it out.

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And the second of my new items on my shop, are the Christmas Gift Bags. I made these last year, and then forgot to take pictures of them and put them up on Etsy.

I love these bags. I always think they look Victoriana, with beautiful, classic Christmas colors.

I kept them simple because I want people to be able to do their own things with them, but I would be happy to add some little decoration to the front.

Try as I might, I can’t elaborate much on these bags. I’d love to, because it feels like I’m less interested in them, or something, but there’s not much more for me to say. They are gift bags, just like regular gift bags except made out of fabric. I made some gift tags to go along with them, which are very pretty in my opinion.

I really like these bags, and I am satisfied with how they turned out, though I haven’t yet decided if I want to make any more. They look wonderful under a Christmas tree too!

Here’s a link to these Christmas Gift Bags, if you want to take a look.

Of course, now it’s a bit late for Christmas shopping. If you want either of these items as a late gift or Epiphany present, I could work with you to figure out how to get it to you on time (unless, of course, you live in the NM area, in which case I may be able to get these to you in time for Christmas)

I’ve done it! Lord willing, there will be more appearing on my shop, SallySewing very soon, including my Shabby Chick bags!

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Sarah

 

 

Simple Epic Fudge!

Dark Chocolate Fudge is one of my favorite things to make at Christmas time! One of the reasons is that our recipe is so ridiculously easy! At its simplest, it’s just three ingredients.

I’m sure a few of you have heard of this recipe, but let me spread the joy (and one of my favorite flavors of the season!) to the rest of you! 

Basic Fudge Recipe

  • 2 cups dark chocolate chips
  • 1 can sweetened condensed milk
  • 1-2 teaspoons vanilla extract

In a microwavable bowl, pour the can of condensed milk over the chocolate chips. Zap it for 2 minutes on high. (Or 1 minute, stir, and then another minute). Stir it thoroughly and then mix in the vanilla.
Line a square pan with aluminum foil. You can also grease the foil, but I always forget to – it would help though! While it’s still really hot, pour it into the pan and spread it around so it’s even. Cover (I always make my foil too large on purpose so it can go over the fudge on both sides – but make sure it doesn’t go into the fudge on the top, or you’ll never get it out!) and keep in a cool place.

After 1 or 2 hours take it out and cut it up into bite size pieces and put it in your cute little Christmas tin. And try not to eat it all at once!

Here are a few variations:

  • Chopped nuts on top
  • Rocky Road (nuts and marshmallows) on top
  • Extra cup of chocolate chips (its practically exactly the same with 3 cups instead of 2)
  • Drizzled white chocolate on top
  • Or accidently over microwave your white chocolate till it just caramelizes, then spread it over the top, as pictured above (Not recommended)
  • Replace one of the 3 cups of chocolate with one cup Andes mint pieces, and then sprinkle about a cup over the top of the hot fudge – it’ll melt into it!
  • Any variation on amounts of bittersweet, semi-sweet and milk chocolate
  • Toffee bits on top or mixed in
  • Crushed candy cane on top
  • Red chili powder
  • Little pieces of candied orange peel

There’s any amount of things you can put into fudge! Or you can keep it really simple. I wanted to do nuts this year, but I didn’t manage to do that – but I ended up making several batches so we could share, so I’m pretty thankful for that! I made the one that’s pictured here with white chocolate on top, and a plain, dark chocolate batch, and a mint batch (which probably was my favorite this year!).

The only problem with this family recipe is that it taste like more, and I really do not need more! In fact, a friend of ours said that it’s “epic fudge”.

But send me your variations and additions in the comments section and maybe I’ll have to make another batch this year and feature the variation here! What’s your favorite way to have fudge?

~Hannah~

 

Old Town

I don’t know if there’s any other Old Town. Probably. But our Old Town- the New Mexican Old Town is the real Old Town! We have ghosts.

A Touch of the Past

Today I am going on a tour of Old Town. We go there at Christmastime, and we’ve probably missed it only once or twice. It’s probably a good thing I haven’t had a camera for all my life or I would have a ton of Old Town pictures!

On the left is a replica of some Civil War cannons (not Christmas-y, but they belong in Old Town). They had the actual ones there for a while, but they’re now in one of our museums.

Building in Old Town

I almost always take a picture of this building. It’s actually kind of a tradition I love, though I decided to change things up this year.

We usually start from this building and then go to the main area, and wander to the Christmas shop or various other shops.

This time I was noticing how many restaurants there are around the place, which I haven’t visited. I’m thinking we should go, especially since I was just reading about a local chocolatier in Old Town. It’s amazing what you don’t know about, when you’ve lived somewhere all your life!

Three Seperate Shops

Pictured on the left is a wonderful area we discovered more recently. There’s a fun Irish shop on the upper level, and further to the right, and lower down, is a soap shop that has some fun variety.

We took our dog, Annie, along this year. We’ve seen dogs there before (including an adorable Scotty last year) and I think this was the first time we took her along. She was actually a bit confused (and alarmed when we separated) but had a lot of fun.

Different Part of Old Town

 

This is the same area. There are lots of stairs everywhere, which I always find interesting because we don’t have stairs in our house. I was with Annie on the upper level when we saw the rest of the family coming. Annie- also completely unfamiliar with stairs- tried leaping down to them.

You can see a bit of the beautiful art on the wall next to the visible staircase in this photo. There are beautiful flowers, somehow incongruous in the Christmas décor, yet seem to have the same life.

Music in Old Town

This is the plaza in Old Town, with the beautiful gazebo. This is from last year, when there was a band playing. This year we saw Civil War re-enactors, which was a lot of fun. There were hoops, Christmas carols and a cello.

Side Doors

 

This is a picture of the area around the giant Christmas tree. It’s one of the only photos I have of the Christmas tree, because it’s surprisingly difficult to take pictures of. This year I managed pretty well, and I may actually have to do an Old Town Part 2 because of the interesting photos I took this year.

Christmas in Old TownThis is one of my favorite photos. It’s Christmas-y! It’s old fashioned! It’s New Mexican! It kind of embodies Old Town! Of course it’s a bit small too, but the color combinations are pleasing.

Old Town is a lot of fun, and I can’t say specifically what I like best about it. Probably, simply going there with my family and having hot chocolate and cookies. That’s a newer tradition, oddly enough, but it’s wonderful, especially when listening to Christmas carols as the daylight fades away.

Three Crosses

I had to finish with this. San Felipe de Neri Parish. I simply cannot describe what this place is like. It’s beautiful. While all the world is a little crazy, and Old Town is decked in Christmas beauty, nothing can match this place’s stillness.

I’ve taken plenty of pictures of San Felipe de Neri Parish, none inside unfortunately.

Well, that completes one tour of Old Town. Like I said, I might have to do another post because I completely forgot about the Old Town cat we met this year, plus I tried doing some different things. We’ll see…

I hope you enjoyed my own version of an Old Town tour, and our Christmas traditions! You will probably find out more about Old Town by looking up ghost tours and weddings.

Merry Christmas!

Sarah

 

Featured Favorites: Chic Ruffles and Hip Calico

There is nothing as lovely and useful as a good handbag. It’s where you put everything; lip gloss, smartphone, keys, spare crochet hooks, that novel you can’t put down. What’s even better is when you find the perfect bag that is fun, big enough to carry everything, and so cute that it somehow captures your personality too!

The “Christopher Corduroy” Bag

 

What with one thing and another, this last weekend’s Favorite Etsy Shop Feature got overwhelmed and lost in the shuffle. It might’ve had something to do with this whole Christmas thing that’s going on right now… But better late than never, especially with this, one of my all-time favorite shops:

SallySewing is one of those fun places where you can never expect what

3 Heart Pink and Blue Denim Tote Bag
A summery tote, made of denim and fun

you will find next. The shop owner loves to create new and different kinds of handbags – cute and girly with one item, chic and sophisticated with the next. She is still experimenting with techniques and styles, creating fun and unique bags to hold anything you might need for shopping or a day at the beach or the perfect gift.

 

And of course bags and totes aren’t the only things you can find atPurple Napkin Rings with Flowers SallySewing: Here are some lovely flowery napkin rings:

 

The owner of SallySewing highlights reusing or using up materials for each of her items. One thing she wants to do with everything that she makes is create less waste and make something beautiful out of the unexpected and overlooked.

By now you have probably guessed that I know the owner of SallySewing. In fact, she is my sister Sarah! (See what we did there? We had to highlight our own shops sometime, and we thought that December would be the perfect time to do it!)

I have told you before about our Stash of fabric. It is far too large for its own good; and that’s one thing that Sarah, the owner of SallySewing, is using in creating her bags. We have so many fabrics that have no obvious home or use, but what if she uses that too-cute floral to make a trendy little purse? Or perhaps that bit of denim which isn’t big enough to make anything else could become the handle of a tote? Sarah loves to use up some unexpected things in lovely ways, of course with a purchased accent here and there.

And naturally, pre-worn garments will soon find a place in her creative

Christmas Gift Bags
Bags for giving gifts – totally reusable – or keeping Christmas knick-knacks safe

stockpile. Who knows what that box of old jeans might become? Reusing things to make something new and fantastic is what SallySewing is all about!

 

Soon, Sarah hopes to expand her shop to include fun dresses for relaxing – loungewear that is pretty and feminine at the same time as comfortable! But for now, her shop is stocked with several beautiful and fun bags. Head on over to Etsy, and have a look!

Have a wonderful week of Christmas!

-Abigail-

 

 

 

Classics Reviews: Part 2

And now I will continue my reviews of Christmas classics (which I may have to continue with later, or in other classics, because I didn’t really realize it’s about a week before Christmas!)

Today I will review: ________________

This story begins with a cliffhanger, where we found out about a possible danger, and then, throughout the story, it is revealed to us from whence the danger comes.

Looking at it from that point of view, this is an interesting story, because it is quickly made clear to us why we should care for the title character, who is a very normal, good person – but how does the beginning of his story get to the point where the story begins?

We see how things carry out through his life, until things slowly progress to the cliffhanger point. Unfortunately, it’s too real. That’s not a bad thing, but it’s difficult to watch, and it’s as painful climbing to the top of the mountain, where we will find ourselves at the cliffhanger, as it is painful watching the characters’ journey.

The solution is about as bad as introducing a talking, absurd snowman into a story about a sister causing her country to freeze before running off into the mountains in bitter defiance and fear.

I mean- how is something that blundering and laughable a solution to something so realistic? And yet… never judge by the cover. Sometimes the silliest things know the weaknesses in the serious stuff. It takes a simple question: “All of this might have been avoided if I had not been here.” and answers it.

OK, it’s probably obvious by now what I’m reviewing: It’s a Wonderful Life

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So, of course, we ask the question, what would the world- or your own small area of it- have been like without you? Partly because of this movie, and maybe some sci-fi stories, we’ve been taught that the world would be a different, bad place without a good person. It’s a nice, comfortable idea, it’s easy to just see the surface idea. But it’s a bit deeper than that.

The point came up recently, and I’ve thought about it myself- though not very hard- why is It’s a Wonderful Life a Christmas movie?

Well, the answer is the same as why this movie is so good. There is joy even in the darkest problems of life, set in a dark time of history. Much like the original Christmas story, hope comes into the world, and It’s a Wonderful Life mirrors that hope.