It’s Still Christmas

Intermixed with the breezy autumn calls of “Happy Fall Y’all” and #PSLlove come the inevitable announcement of the first appearance of Christmas merchandise or music at [insert store of choice].

Everyone quickly agrees that this must be denounced and comments their own personal line in the sand for decorating for Christmas and/or listening to Christmas music.

Until 2020, that is. In 2020 we didn’t go into stores, so we couldn’t complain. Also, we’d been living Groundhog Day for several months by then and it seemed everyone was ready for a bit of cheer.

My Facebook feed filled with photos of homes decorated for Christmas on November 1st, complete with #sorrynotsorry.

Now that it’s January 5, I’ve been seeing a week of announcements that trees have been taken down and Christmas cleaned up. It’s a new year, on to new things.

Not here, though. It’s still Christmas at Prairie Elms.

For the past several years, we’ve chosen to celebrate Advent in a way that attempts to heighten anticipation.

I set up the Christmas tree on the first Sunday of Advent. And then we sit and wait with an unadorned tree for one whole week. The children ask, “Can’t we put on the lights? Please?” They know that they’re only yet seeing a glimmer of what the tree will become.

On the second Sunday of Advent, we load the tree with lights and plug them in. Beautiful. But we’ve barely enjoyed the lights before the children are begging, “Is it time for the ornaments yet?” No, no. We hold off on that for another week.

On Gaudete Sunday, at last we can enjoy the tree in its full splendor, loaded with ornaments.

The Prairie Elms Christmas Tree

Those couple of weeks of waiting offer opportunities for us to talk about how Israel waited year after year, decade after decade, century after century, millenia after millenia for the Promised Messiah. Like the slow revelation of our decorations, prophecies hinted at the Messiah who would come, whetting their appetites for the full revelation of the Coming One. And then, then – such a sweet revelation – Christ Incarnate.

But once the tree is up? We keep it up all Christmas long.

Through the first day of Christmas, the second day, the third day, the fourth, and on through the twelfth day of Christmas. We take our Christmas tree down on Epiphany, January 6, when Christmas (the liturgical season) is over.

So maybe you’ve moved on past Christmas into the new year (no shame in that!) – but we haven’t quite yet.

At Prairie Elms, it’s still Christmas.

I Do Sourdough All Wrong

A little over a year and a half ago, I bought a dehydrated sourdough starter off the internet. Since then, I’ve been consistently making sourdough all wrong.

Dough straight out of the breadmaker (pictured in background)
  • I keep my starter in the fridge rather than on the counter
  • I only feed my starter when I’m getting ready to make a new loaf of bread (whether it’s been a day or a month since I last fed it)
  • I don’t measure my starter when I’m feeding it – I just scrape the whole thing into a bowl and feed it (whether it’s 4 oz of starter or 12 oz)
  • I don’t pre-ferment or fold and stretch my dough – I just chuck it in the breadmaker on the dough cycle and let it do its thing
  • I don’t use recipes specifically designed for sourdough – I just calculate how much extra flour I need to convert my tried and true bread recipes to sourdough
  • I don’t form boules or any other fancy-shaped loaves – I just stick my dough in a standard loaf pan and bake it like that
A half eaten loaf of faux-buttermilk bread and a full loaf of half-whole-wheat sourdough bread waiting to be eaten

In 2021, I’m planning to try some traditional sourdough, just for fun. But if it ceases to be fun? I can always go right back on doing what I’m doing.

And if you’ve been thinking about trying sourdough but are intimidated by all the fancy instructions, replete with NEVERs and MUSTs? Take a deep breath and dive in anyway – sourdough done all wrong still tastes pretty good.

In which I complete my first book of 2021

Ursula K. Le Guin’s Catwings Return is 48 pages long, has illustrations on nearly every page, and just happens to be due back to the library tomorrow with no more renewals available (which means I’ve had it on my bookshelf for 12 weeks already – nothing like a due date to inspire action.)

It’s a tiny accomplishment, but I’m learning to celebrate tiny things.

One fewer word missed on the verse I’m memorizing. The times when my children look me in the eye when I call their name instead of just ignoring me. A couple square feet of counterspace cleared of dishes and wiped clean of crumbs.

May 2021 be a year of many tiny steps in a good direction.

An Unexpected Perk of Parenthood

One of my favorite parts of this particular stage of mothering is that I can do all sorts of crafts without any expectation of them having to look truly good.

Kids painting leaves and making leaf prints

We gathered leaves and made leaf prints today. The ones we made with our temperas and kiddy paintbrushes are nowhere near as pretty as the one on Pinterest, made with expensive paint markers and made by an actual adult. But the children learned a little about the process of printmaking, and this actual adult got to do leaf prints without stressing over how my product was, mmm, less-than-amazing.

And when I finished making my prints and thought the painted leaves looked pretty? I quick cut out a cardboard ring and glued the leaves onto it to make a funky fall wreath. As a single gal, I couldn’t have pulled off such a kitschy craft – but nobody bats an eye when they see such things in the home of a mother of preschoolers.

My leaf wreath

Just don’t tell anyone that the preschoolers didn’t make it – it was all me :-)

Now We Are Six

I asked her what she wanted for her birthday meal. She said she wanted tacos.

“With taco meat or salsa chicken?” I asked.

“Just beans,” she said. “And corn.”

“And lettuce with ranch?”

“No, kaleslaw with Myrtle’s.”

So that’s what we had the day she turned six.

And bunny cake. We also had bunny cake.

Tirzah Mae and her bunny cake

I asked her what color. She said she wanted gray. “Like a real bunny.”

I’ve lost my cake decorating stuff, including my gel dyes, so we compromised with brownish from half-toasted coconut.

And that’s what we had the day she turned six.

We Got Shot

The Garcia family got our flu shots today.

We do every year, because we know that the flu is nothing to sneeze at. While influenza often just means a terrible couple of weeks of cold-type symptoms combined with awful muscle aches, not everyone who gets influenza experiences a mild case. In fact, over the past 10 years, influenza has killed about 35,500 Americans yearly (annual deaths range from 12K in 2011/12, by far the mildest season in the past decade, to 61K in 2017/18).

Post-shot selfie of the whole family
Post-shot selfie. Silly faces are from trying to get Shiloh to look at the camera. She wasn’t amused, obviously.

My own terrible experience with a “mild” case of the flu in college was enough to convince me that I NEVER wanted it again – but even if I was willing to get flu myself, I am aware that me getting the flu doesn’t just affect me. If I get the flu, I can also give others the flu – and others might not be as “lucky” as I was.

This year, it’s even more important that we not get and give the flu. An estimated 442,000 Americans end up in the hospital with the flu each year – and, this year of all years, if we can keep people out of the hospital and off of ventilators we should.

One common objection is that the flu shot is not 100% effective – this is true. Likewise, seatbelts don’t keep everyone from dying of car accidents and not smoking doesn’t keep everyone from dying of lung cancer – that doesn’t make them worthless. Flu shots remain a low-risk way to reduce risk of getting influenza. And, even when the influenza vaccine has relatively low effectiveness at preventing influenza infection, it still results in milder cases of influenza (which means fewer hospitalizations and fewer deaths – still a win.)

So get your flu shots, people! Do it for yourself, do it for your neighbor.

The Garcia family did.

The data I shared regarding disease burden is from the CDC website. For science-based answers to common questions regarding the flu vaccine, check out the linked blog post from science journalist Tara Haelle at her blog Red Wine and Applesauce.

PSA: There’s nothing wrong with serving your baby purees

Half of you are shaking your heads and thinking “No duh”. You raised your children on little jars of Gerber and the kids turned out just fine.

But in the years since I was a tot, “Baby-Led Weaning” has taken off, and with it, a whole new set of food rules for babies. One that many crunchy types have latched onto is that purees are not just unnecessary (that one is true, folks – babies can learn to eat without purees) but are harmful. This, friends, is simply not true.

While my older three barely ate any purees as their first foods, Shiloh has eaten purees almost every day since she started eating solids two or three weeks ago. She’s had cream of peanut and butternut squash soup, homemade applesauce, and pureed pumpkin whenever the family has those food items – which, for right now, is almost every day. That’s what we eat in the fall when squash and apples are in season.

Shiloh with pumpkin on her face.

And she’ll be just fine.

What you do want to watch for is that your baby doesn’t ONLY get purees for months on end. The evidence suggests that there is an ideal window for the introduction of texture – babies who don’t get introduced to textured foods by about 9 months are much more likely to become pickier eaters and to develop texture aversions. (References: Delayed introduction of lumpy foods to children during the complementary feeding period affects child’s food acceptance and feeding at 7 years of age; The effect of age of introduction to lumpy solids on foods eaten and reported feeding difficulties at 6 and 15 months).

So don’t only serve your baby purees, but don’t stress if you find yourself picking up a little container of puree at the grocery store or blending some for your baby: There’s nothing wrong with serving your baby purees.

In Age Order

Tirzah Mae and Louis are playing that they are Ella and Rally ‘Round Campbell. They are two of many siblings, all of whom have elaborate back stories.

Ella is carefully skirting the edges of rooms to make sure she’s socially distancing from those Garcia-folk, who are NOT in her household.

Louis (er, Rally ‘Round) is currently listing the order each child came out of the uterus.