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Saturday, November 24

Solstice Advent Calendars

Today marks 28 days until the Winter Solstice.  This gives us plenty of time to come up with an advent calendar for children to count down the days with.  For any of you how haven't been exposed the idea of an advent calendar, here's the Wikipedia entry for it:  Advent Calendar

The basic idea is that the children (or fun loving adults!) get to open a little package each day with a secret inside.  Sometimes the secret is candy.  Sometimes it's an inspirational quote or fortune.  Sometimes it's an ornament for the tree.  It can be anything really.  Commercial advent calendars sold by Lego or Playmobil offer a small figure or toy each day.  What will you put in your family's advent calendar?

Daily Surprises & Activities

(L) Score! Recycled Tweed!
(R) Bead Palette

I suggest tailoring the goodies to your family.  If you have a child interested in crafts, you've got it made.  Do they like beaded jewelry?  Put a bead in each day so that by Solstice, they will have a completed a gorgeous bracelet or necklace.  Do they knit or crochet?  A special tool or ball of organic yarn each day would do the trick.

(L) Peter's Chocolate Shoppe in Butler, PA
(R) Kali's Candy in Erie, PA
Candy is always an option, and this time of year it's even easier to find artisan and locally made treats like goatmilk fudge, handmade chocolates, caramels, popcorn balls, taffy, etc.

(L) Walnuts
(R) dragonfruit slice
 Produce is also a treat this time of year.  Try for something bizarre or exotic, like star fruit, whole walnuts, pomegranates, fresh coconut, etc. 

(L) Sage bundles
(R) Gems Pictures
Small Pagan artifacts, like a polished stones, a clay goddess image, a pewter talisman, a mini smudge stick, and other treats would be fun.

(L) Loving It
(R) Christmas Cracker
Toys are always an option, but I tend to stay away from these as children are often inundated with them during the holidays.  The closest we get is things like homemade felt eye masks, tissue-paper crowns, temporary tattoos, balloons and the like.  Items similar to what you might find in a British Christmas Cracker or Popper

(L) 20081011_9999_2b
(R) Christmas Ball
Ornaments are always a popular idea.  Allowing the children to place one special ornament on the tree each day is a way of involving them in the construction of the tree.  In some homes, the tree is a kind of vertical altar, with each piece symbolizing something special for the family or the season.  In our home (when we have the energy to decorate!) our ornaments consist of blown glass mermaids, golden suns, deer antlers, Celtic knots, woodland animals, Holly king images, even an image of Zeus.

Alternates to Candy & Toys

If you'd rather not make the calendar about material things, there are still tons of options.  You can assign a section of a color by number each day, so that on Solstice you have a completed piece of art.  You can announce a game for the day, something silly like "Every time you say 'snow', you have to make someone a cup of cocoa."  Or perhaps a daily craft, like "Make someone you love a friendship bracelet today."  Or even just a family activity, "Today, walk around your neighborhood and admire the decorations."

(R) Xbox 360 buttons
For older kids, how about a season-long game of chess?  Each day pick a family member who is allowed to make the next move (be sure to designate teams early on, or indicate which color they are to move).  Older children may even appreciate small tokens such as coupons which grant them an extra 30 minutes of computer time that day, or extra phone privileges. 

(L) Call Grandma
(R) Donate a coat to charity

What about suggestions of volunteerism or doing something nice for a family member?  "Sort the coat closet and donate some today."  "Give blood today."  "Call great-grandma today."

Types of Calendars

An advent calendar can be as simple as paper bags with the numbers one through twenty or twenty-two (depending on when the Solstice falls that year) on them.  They can be envelopes which are daily placed under the tree. 

From: Bugs and Fishes back in 2009.

They can be small, inexpensive gift boxes set out on their plate at breakfast each morning, or their pillow each night.

From: Dollar Tree

How about a garland of mittens, stockings, or little drawstring sacks hung over the fireplace or banister?

From: SouleMama's blog back in 2005.
They can be a collection of metal buckets.

From: Infarrantly Creative back in 2010.
Pocket calenders can be easily bought or, if you're handy with a needle, created from scrap fabric.

Just another way to enjoy the holiday season with your children and loved ones daily!

Tuesday, November 20

Vegetarian Thanksgivings

If you're following along at home, you know that the House of Mama Stacey is vegetarian.  I didn't officially leave meat behind until 1999, however my mother had one heck of a time with me even as a child.  I had to have my hamburgers made especially thin when my mother made them because if they were too thick, I wouldn't eat them.  I remember telling her they tasted like "blood".  I was probably just tasting iron or something, but it is a strong memory for me.

I had an aunt that went vegetarian in the early 90's and she shared food with me on occasion.  In high school I had a few schoolmates that were vegetarian, but I still had mixed feelings about it.  Like any omnivore, I thought that there couldn't possibly be anything good to eat without meat, even though I wasn't a huge fan of it. 

Vegetarians seemed to haunt me.  Two roommates and a neighbor were vegetarian back when faux meats were still pretty rough.  I remember my neighbor trying to entice me with vegetable sausages packed in can with oil and water.  They looked disgusting and I passed on vegetarianism for 2 more years.  But eventually my destiny caught up with me. 

Doodle Bug was born into it and has only had meat a dozen times [usually by accident or because someone felt that he'd be stunted without it] in his 10 years.  My partner struggles off and on with meat eating as he's from a strong "meat and potato" background.  He's good with vegetarianism at home, but at a restaurant or family functions where meat is available, he's likely to cave to his temptations.

I do not make turkey for Thanksgiving, of course.  But people come for dinner anyway.  I alternate between making a stuffed tofu turkey (similar to the photo to the left) and offering up a frozen faux meat "roast".  I always make my homemade veggie gravy and stuffing along with a varying array of sides like rum cake, yams, cranberry orange relish, scalloped potatoes, etc.

There are dozens of tofu-turkey recipes on the web.  You can even find them on mainstream recipe collections like Allrecipes or cdkitchen.  I tried to find my recipe, but it's missing in action today.  It involves mushing and seasoning tofu, then pressing it into a cheese-clothed strainer for a day.  You fill this tofu dome with stuffing, cover the top, flip, oil and bake.  The outside is cripsy, the "turkey" is flavorful, and the stuffing is super moist.  This is close to the recipe I use.

Our favorite faux roasts, from what is available in our area, are Tofurky and Quorn.

It's Thyme for a New Thanksgiving Tradition: Adopt a Turkey!

Being a cruelty-free home, I have recently been enamored with the idea of starting the tradition of adopting a turkey each year.  A turkey like 'Skip' or 'Thyme' at below.  Turkeys, often written off as a dumb yet delicious, laughable creatures, are actually highly intelligent beings.  They can live in the wild for a decade, flying, running and forming complex social circles.

There are several options.  For $30, you can "adopt" a turkey, but it's really more of a sponsorship as you don't bring the critter home with you.  They stay at the rescue which has become their home and the funds are used to feed and care for them.  You are issued a certificate and color photo.

The second option involves a screening process and the actual home-adoption of a turkey (or goat, goose, duck, rabbit, pig, etc.) into your home.  Turkeys can be highly loyal and as curious and excitable as a puppy dog... if you have the room and talent to raise farm animals, this may be a unique and beautiful gift for your family. 

Monday, November 12

Add a Pagan Soldier to Your Gift List This Year

We are not supporters of war in the House of Mama Stacey, but we do support the men and women who serve.  Today, Veterans Day here in the United States, we will be gathering up items to be sent to Pagan soldiers overseas during the Winter Solstice.  There are not many organizations that focus on Pagans specifically, but Circle Sanctuary in Wisconsin has one and we're glad to be a part of it.

Pagan Soldiers

Pagans in the military has been a hot topic in the Pagan community off an on for a decade.  President G.W. Bush thought the idea was poppycock, but the actual Pagans in uniform throughout the US did not.  Back in 2007 the US Department of Veterans Affairs approved the Pentacle for use on military headstones and plates.  This was after a decade of work by countless organizations, Pagan and non-Pagan, and the hard work and dedication of many, many people.  Rallies and paperwork, protests, frustration and more paperwork.  The artist known as Celia even penned a theme song for the movement that many of you may remember.

"Symbol" ~ Celia Farran

Though still small in number, Pagans are a legitimate population within the different military branches here in the United States.  Support organizations have come and gone, like that of the Military Pagan Network, and yet leave trails for others to follow.  Current organizations like  Lady Liberty League, the Pagan Military Association, and Pagans United all work to support Pagans in the military.  Circle Sanctuary takes a large supportive role in this as well.  Their Military Ministries provide the Order of the Pentacle veteran's newsletter, the Pagan Warrior Radio weekly podcasts and other avenues of support.

Operation Circle Care

Circle Sanctuary, with the help of a dozen other Pagan groups and organizations, puts together religious care packages for Pagan military members serving in active war.  These packages are ideally made up of music CDs, phone cards, religious pendants, and small portable altar items.  Other goodies include gift cards for places that ship overseas.

If you're not sure what to send, they are always accepting donations of funds to purchase supplies and to pay for shipping of these precious bundles. 

Click HERE to get to the official website for a more detailed list of items and for information about how to add the name of a loved one overseas to the list. 

Even if you can't manage to put together a package for Operation Circle Care, we at the House of Mama Stacey encourage you to donate time, money or supplies, whatever you can spare, to a program that helps military families, soldiers or veterans at some point during the year.  If you can't give, but are willing to help collect, volunteers are always needed by these same organizations.  There are even places that help find foster homes for pets whose owners are shipping out and need love and support while their owners are away.

Dogs On Deployment  Finding homes for dogs whose owners are deployed

Soldiers' Angels  This organization hosts a huge batch of support work.  Military animals, baked goods, hospitalized soldiers, Adopt-A-Soldier programs, and more.

Operation Gratitude  Care packages for veterans who return home, vehicles for veterans, and programs for children of military families.

There are hundreds of other organizations.  Doing a quick Google search or making a call to your local newspaper will give you a way to help.  So, go ahead and add a soldier to your gift list this Yule. <3

Monday, November 5

Making Seitan Stew with Doodle Bug

Tonight, Doodle Bug helped me to make a "Meat & Potatoes" Seitan Stew.  I love cooking with him.  Chopping of vegetables reinforces fine motor skills and dexterity.   As a special needs boy, we need to be vigilant in up-keeping skills like these (tips soon to come in another post).

On cold nights when there is a want for something warm in our bellies and yet I have chores like dish-washing to get done, his help is a blessing.  

Tonight, he chopped organic potatoes and carrots for our dinner.


After he did all that hard work, he dashed off to play with a balloon he found while I finished things up.  Here I have sauteed onion, garlic and a pound of seitan in olive oil.

When our carrots and potatoes were ready, I added the contents of the skillet and blended in some parsley and a can of lima beans.  It was delicious and perfectly vegetarian!

Doodle Bug could barely wait for it to cool!  :)