Foto Friday

This is what you get when you are without electricity for 24 hours and your kids are tired of amusing themselves.  And so are you.  You get rapt attention to the video.

They weren't quite as bored yesterday when they could go out and jump on the trampoline or run around outside, but this morning was incredibly dull for them as it rained most of the morning and they had to find something to do.  We've been through the legos, the crayons, a big 300 piece puzzle, and lots of car chases (these I did not participate in, but I did enjoy the puzzle!)
Here's a big thank you to our landlord Franz (who is on his holiday on a big boat right now) who spent these last 24 hours lighting a fire under the city council's butt to get someone out here to try to figure out why we are the only people on the street without power.  New Years Eve is not the time to try to get anyone to come in to work here.)  That was above and beyond. 
Here's hoping the New Year has the same good fortune.

Also for your viewing pleasure is Stella, who can't decide if she might like to try to bite that pie.


Cooking with Chris

I've got a new episode of cooking with Chris for you. 
We found that basil grows in abundance here.  And you can buy it in a huge bunch for just pennies in the markets.  If you know anything about Chris and I, you know we love basil.  I'd put it on just about everything that included a tomato if I could.  We've grown basil a few times back home in our little herb garden but between the critters and the weather we were lucky to harvest a good batch or two from a few plants each summer. 
That being said, we love pesto too.  And before we found the abundant basil we were shopping in the grocery and of course spotted small jars of pesto that are not uncommon in the states as well.  And like the jars of pesto in the supermarkets at home, they contain "other" ingredients not necessary.  Since it's so easy to make it yourself, I thought I would let Chris demonstrate for you.

Toss it with a little pasta.  yum.

Word of the Week

Thought I would work on my Afrikaans today, since I got some English/Afrikaans dictionaries and workbooks to help me for Christmas.  Here's a word essential to living here in SA.

koop  (k - oo (this is a twin vowel, sounds like /poor/ rather than in english like /boot/) - p), to buy or purchase. 
usually you will see this verb paired with /het ge/ before it. 
As in:    Waar het jy die motor gekoop?
             Where did you purchase the car?

What do you think?


Christmas Fun

Bright and early Quinn burst into our room.  Of course he did.  I don't think Maddie was even awake yet.  But the sun was shining and the kid couldn't hold back any longer.
"It's still early, go back to bed".  But he could smell the presents, like a shark can smell blood.  The only thing was he couldn't go downstairs to gawp with wonder because the security alarm was still on, and he has set it off enough times in the past few months to know not to test it.  So we got another half hour or so sleep, until the cats started harassing us to feed them their breakfast, then the kids tried for a second barrage.  Maddie was awake by then.  They assured us the fat man had come and brought them presents.  Ah, to have unfailing faith in something they are sure is true.  I like that about them.
Downstairs we all race, or stumble, depends on who you are talking to.  Witness me trying to keep up.

They ooh'd and aah'd and were just about vibrating to start the shred.  After the coffee is made please.  They decimated the gift wrap in about 10 minutes, then we sent them on a couple of scavenger hunts to find the larger items.

I found that to be the best part, them working together to figure out the clues.  The train set was a hit, and the trampoline will be, when we get around to putting it together.  No real hurry there, as they are seriously preoccupied with the other gifts.  May save that one for when they start with the "I'm bored".
The weather is beautiful, sunny, a little cloudy, with a cool breeze. 

The kids had their breakfast, the cinnamon rolls I was slaving over last night, and bacon.  Another great Christmas breakfast.  As you can see they enjoyed them.

There's the obligatory shot of us just to show for the record that we were there that day.  And yes, I spent the entire day in my jammies.  That's what Christmas without guests is good for.  The advent calendar is completed, and the cookies are being consumed, everyone has had a pretty relaxing day. 

Even the dog wanted in on the fun.  She worked hard for the treats.


Merry Christmas

We are still wrapping and assembling.  I've tried to figure out why the amount of work left to be done always seems to increase no matter how much you've tried to get done in the days before so you weren't up until the wee hours on Christmas eve.
This is what has taken up most of my assembly time so far..

We still have to put together the trampoline, and the light is fading, so that may have to wait.  Check that, it will wait.

I thought this parody of "Twas the Night before Christmas" was timely.  I don't know who the author is, but I've found it on several website collections.  This one is for all you parents out there.

Assembly Required Night Before Christmas
'Twas the night before Christmas when all through the house
I searched for the tools to hand to my spouse.
Instructions were studied and we were inspired,
In hopes we could manage "Some Assembly Required."

The children were quiet (not asleep) in their beds,
While Dad and I faced the evening with dread:
A kitchen, two bikes, Barbie's town house to boot!
And, thanks to Grandpa, a train with a toot!

We opened the boxes, my heart skipped a beat....
Let no pieces be missing or parts incomplete!
Too late for last-minute returns or replacement;
If we can't get it right, it goes down in the basement!

When what to my worrying eyes should appear,
But 50 sheets of directions, concise, but not clear,
With each part numbered and every slot named,
So if there were failure, only we could be blamed.

More rapid than eagles the parts then fell out,
All over the carpet they were scattered about.
"Now bolt it! Now twist it! Attach it right there!
Slide on the seats, and staple the stair!

Hammer the shelves, and nail to the stand."
"Honey," said hubby, "you just glued my hand."
And then in a twinkling, I knew for a fact
That all the toy dealers had indeed made a pact

To keep parents busy all Christmas Eve night
With "assembly required" till morning's first light.
We spoke not a word, but kept bent at our work,
Till our eyes, they went bleary; our fingers all hurt.

The coffee went cold and the night it wore thin
Before we attached the last rod and last pin.
Then laying the tools away in the chest,
We fell into bed for a well-deserved rest.

But I said to my husband just before I passed out,
"This will be the best Christmas, without any doubt.
Tomorrow we'll cheer, let the holiday ring,
And not have to run to the store for a thing!

"We did it! We did it! The toys are all set
For the perfect, most perfectest Christmas, I bet!"
Then off to dreamland, at last sweet repose
I gratefully went, although I suppose

There's something to say for those self-deluded
I'd forgotten that BATTERIES are never included!

So to keep myself entertained I thought I would include one of my favorite Christmas songs.  My dad actually has this album and it was always part of our Christmas traditions.

Merry Christmas to everyone near and far.  May peace and happiness follow you through the coming year.  Be safe.

Pumpkin, where art thou? or, Necessity is again the mother of invention

Another entry into the education of this housewife chef and more "from scratch" cooking today.
I had to do a little research into pumpkins yesterday and today.  Why?   Because even though I've been told there was canned pumpkin to be had here in south africa, we have yet to find it.  Ahem!  So, off I go to work with the next best thing (or maybe a BETTER thing) a REAL pumpkin.  Like from a vine.  Yes, ma'am.
Let's just say I'm a Libby's kind of girl.  I like simple, and I'll say it again.  I like simple, as in canned pumpkin.  Plop it out, and you are ready to go to town.
Did you know that canned pumpkin is already cooked?  "Not I said the fly.."  That's one of the first things I learned.  You have to cook the pumpkin first.  See, here I'm used to just putting the puree into a saucepan and heating it up and adding all the spices.  So, what temp? How long?  Seems that it can be roasted at 350 for about an hour and it will get all nice and carmelized. 
My pumpkin pieces were cubed into about 2" chunks, and I just roasted them covered with foil for about an hour.  I'm not sure if all gourds smell the same while cooking, but this pumpkin smelled a lot like butternut squash.  I smashed it all up and I came out with about 4 cups of puree.  I then added all my spices and gelatin, egg yolks and milk and cooked it until it started to boil.  Then  chill it to set up the gelatin a little.  Now the fun can begin and I can pick up where I left off ( more familiar territory and not by the seat of my pants.  I'm not a wingin' it type of cook remember?) on my recipe, or rather my grandma's recipe.  (That's my crappy handwriting though.)

I will stop here to say that I prefer this pumpkin chiffon on a graham cracker crust.  That's just the way I've always had it.  So that's the way it has to be done.  I also tend to bake the crusts first for about 7 minutes after brushing on some butter or egg white.  I think it keeps the crust from getting soggy, and it tastes good.
And if you are making this from a fresh pumpkin, I figured one 15 oz. can is about 1.75 cups of puree. If you find the gelatin not in small envelopes and instead like buying in bulk, (I had no choice here.)  one envelope is about 2.5 tsp of gelatin.  
I also tend to double this recipe to fill two pie shells. 
And yes, you ARE making a meringue and you ARE making whipped cream and folding them both into the chilled puree there at the end.  Makes for a really nice fluffy pie.  Thank Grandma!

Tip*  Water boils at 203 F here at almost 5000ft above sea level.  Adjust accordingly.


Foto Friday

This pic of Stella really needs no dialogue.  But every day from 10 am to 2pm.  Same spot, same position, EVERY DAY. Nuff said.

I don't normally notice product packaging, but this one caught my eye, and I thought it was fabulous, so it merits a post.  Booze gets creative here on the continent.

Name that Tune

We spent the better part of the day yesterday either shopping or planning the menu for the weekend.  We got a lot accomplished in the planning phase, and didn't really feel like making dinner after all was said and done.  Well I didn't, but that's nothing new.  The clincher was that Chris didn't feel like cooking so we went out.
We have several restaurants really close by, within walking distance really.  One is a fabulous Greek restaurant that we enjoy, the others two that we've tried are fair but I've had good and not so good dishes at both.  Since I wasn't feeling Greek tonight we decided on the pizza/lounge joint that has a good variety menu.  I had a baked potato.  Very good with the margarita's I started with.  The nice thing is that the kids can usually find something, no matter how particular they are being.  Pizza, meat, pasta, fish, veggies.  They have a good all around menu.  Fair to middlin' as they say.  The best thing tonight, besides the margarita's that is, was the entertainment.  This restaurant is half lounge, half sports bar type atmosphere.  They have tv's here and there with some sports channel on most of the time.  But they have a nice patio area that overlooks the small lake, and quieter areas if you aren't into that.  Tonight, they had a live musician.  With electronic keyboard.  Fabulous.
I thought I would invite you all to enjoy the ambiance with the family tonight and play a little game we played.  See if you can guess the songs that accompanied our meal.  And as always, pay no attention to the man behind the curtain (or his voice).

Lions and Rhino's and biscuits, oh my!

There are a lot of convenience foods and fast food delicacies that a body just can't get here in Pretoria.  I expected this.  I was prepared this time.  I knew that my cravings were going to have to be tweaked a little when I couldn't find a krispy kreme, or a red lobster on the continent.
As another holiday approaches, I am again faced with the challenge to recreate those foods that I take for granted.  Those must have holiday delicacies, like Pillsbury cinnamon rolls.  I know many people make these things from scratch all the time.  Well, that's one of those items that I've always thought was just fine, no sense messing with something that isn't broken.  Why go to the extra work when you can pop open a can of pre-made rolls?  They taste just fine, and are simple.  Guess what? They've never heard of such things here.
I'm feeling a sense of deja vu, same as the UK.  Two years of no Arby's, no twinkies, no cheddar bay biscuits.  Oh my!
I learned while in the UK that if I wanted cheddar bay biscuits I would have to learn how to make them myself.  Not an impossible mission, just not as easy as you might think.
The hunt for that reverse engineered recipe led me to the "top secret recipe website".  Evidently they also have a book.  Again, who knew?
Sure enough, they had a recipe for the biscuits.  But hold it, they asked for bisquick baking mix.  Well, of course wouldn't you know, they'd never heard of it in the UK.  So search again for a recipe to make Bisquick.  Check.  and I successfully recreated the beauty that is the CBB.
As a side note, I'm attempting to make them again here in SA, and what has been the hardest ingredient to locate? Solid vegetable shortening.  Seriously.  I found it today at my favorite SPAR. (This is the store that carries all the American branded products I mentioned before.  Wanna make Nestle Toll House Cookies?  You need the semi sweet chips.  This is the place to find those.)  We WILL have the cheddar biscuits, oh yes we will.  We may not have turkey or ham, but we will have biscuits.


word of the week

A curve traced by a point on or connected with a circle as the circle rolls along a fixed straight line.
adj. also tro·choi·dal

1. Capable of or exhibiting rotation about a central axis.
2. Permitting rotation, as a pulley or pivot.
learning provided by http://www.thefreedictionary.com

does anyone remember the spirograph?  I loved using the one we had as kids.  I actually found one at a garage sale and put it away for the kids for later.

technically the spirograph appears to make hypotrochoids and epitrochoids but unless you are anal retentive like me its very similar.  my set had a ruler with the gear teeth down the length of it and if you mesh that and one of the wheels and stuck your pen in one of the holes and traveled down the length of the ruler you would have a trochoid curving loop.  Voila!  Neato huh?


Foto Friday

I take a lot of photos some days.  Some days I don't take any, or they are afterthoughts with my phone.  I won't always have a story behind them, but they speak volumes all by themselves.  Just enjoy.

This last photo was taken a day after Poppy's "spa day".  That was a full body brush out, pedicure, bikini trim, and a full blow out.  She was feeling extra pretty.  Of course by the time this photo was taken she'd already been through the water bowl, and through the flower beds outside, but still looks pretty good. Hachacha!


Strike a Pose

She's been asking to cut her hair short for some time.  We finally did it. 
And no, I don't know where she learns these poses.

I can see the future and it is high in a locked tower.  oh boy!

Fashion Plates

Christmas always gets me thinking of some of the awesome gifts I got as a kid.  Things I wish I still had, because I think my kids would like to play with them, or maybe I would.
I'm still hunting for the original Simon (in good condition), and a good game of Stay Alive (with all the original marbles).  I've managed to hoard collect a bunch those older games, versions from before they made them even cheaper.  (Case in point is the Hungry Hungry Hippos game.  It use to be a one piece "board" now its really flimsy and in several pieces (to save packaging?) and even cheaper plastic, if that could be possible.  The game just doesn't hold up as well as the older/original version.  Let's say I was a little disappointed)
I've actually found most of the older games in thrift stores.  It's sometimes the best place to find them, you can look on ebay, but you'd think they were more than just games for the prices they sometimes ask. 
I've found a complete boggle, sequence, connect four, chinese checkers, dominoes, any number of 70's, 80's vintage editions of these.  Yes, you can still buy them on the shelves, but there are subtle changes to the quality of materials, or in some cases the "improvements" to the games aren't really any better. (IMHO).

I had the regular stuff, popular for it's time.  Lite Brite (the good, full page ones that you had to put all the pegs in before you knew what you were creating), Easy Bake Oven (which never came with enough cake mixes to gorge yourself with cake batter), Spirograph, Hot Wheels track (though technically I think my brother was the recipient of that gift.), Stretch Armstrong, View Master, and Fashion Plates.
Anyone remember those?

I loved that toy.  I don't think I've ever seen even an incomplete set on offer at a garage sale or thrift store or estate sale.  Maybe it's too old.  Or secretely, maybe it is such a fantastic toy that everyone is hoarding collecting them.  I know I would.

Cooking with Chris

Many of you know how lucky I am to have a husband who cooks.  And cooks well.  And LIKES to cook.
The same cannot be said of me.  I get by.  Mostly with recipes, and a lot of IM help from the hubs. 
I thought I would start a series where I take you through some of his favorite recipes so you might try them for yourself.  Or simply just be jealous because I have it so easy.
On the menu tonight is something he likes calling Pork Salad.  I know, doesn't sound terribly appetizing does it?  Meh.  Maybe we need a flashier name for it, but take it from me it's right tasty and it's hard to stop eating bowlful after bowlful.  It's very similar to a cold Thai pork dish that I cannot think of nor pronounce the name. 

We start by frying about a pound of pork mince until cooked through.  Then drain off the fat and put it to the side.  Shred some red cabbage, a small head, like you would for cole slaw, and put it in a bowl.
Then chop one yellow onion, and 4 green chilis (with seeds).  Add to the bowl.

Chop a good bunch of coriander/cilantro and about a cup of peanuts and add that too.  Add in the cooked pork.  Then it's time to mix the dressing.

In a small bowl mix:
1 Tbsp  Rice Vinegar
1 tsp Sugar (to taste if you want it sweeter)
1/4 c. Lime juice (more if you want it sour)
1 tsp Chili oil (this was a new option, the recipe is never the same way twice!)
1 Tbsp Soy sauce
3 Tbsp Sesame Oil
1 tsp fish sauce
After, taste it, it should be sorta sweet n sour (all to your preference) to battle the hot of the chili's.
Then dump it over the salad and mix.

As you can tell, it goes over well with the adults, but the kids, not so much its a little to "spicy" for them.  You could leave out the chili's if need be, but it really gives it a kick and balances nice with the sauce.


"make yourself some popcorn and enjoy the show"

We've been here in Pretoria for a little over 2 months now.  And not having nearly the same difficulties settling in here as we did in England.  I'll say it's to do with the nice weather, the kids being older, me being more prepared and sure of myself in a new country, lack of isolation and friends, and better foodstuffs. 
The grocers here are better overall at stocking the items we are used to.  Or at least a really close equal.  The culture shock isn't as great this time around.  We can find many products familiar to us, either being literally brands we have in the states, or the same prepackaged foods with a different brand name. That makes it so much easier when the kids want something like Frosted Flakes and you can find them.  By the way, Kelloggs breakfast cereals and Cheerios can be found in South Africa.  Fabulous.
So while we try our best to be good parents and feed our kids a variety of whole foods (and we do a really good job of it most times, trying to stay away from prepackaged and processed foods) I have to learn to cook a little more from the hip and not be so crazy about having to have a recipe. (Though I will say that my recipes have held me in good stead when necessary, and I'm getting better at trying things out in the kitchen.)
So one of my ventures into "fly" cooking is trying to pop popcorn without the use of the microwave.  Don't all shout at once.  Half of you I can hear telling me "what's wrong with the bag in the nuker?", the other half I can hear you moaning about the "trifecta of evil in microwave popcorn"  as quoted by annette scott.  (I'm chuckling to myself.  I need to find a way to use that phrase again.).
Anyhow, as I've mentioned there are many products available to us here.  Including said microwave popcorn.  But it's pretty pricey and I do worry about what they pass as "oil" in those bags.  So, I thought i would give it a shot on the stovetop, in a pot, with no fancy schmancy machine to do the work for me.
Now to some of you this might not be a big deal, nay simple, but for me this was foreign territory.  My earliest memory of popcorn is the Jiffy pop foil tray.  I loved those things.  I know they are still available in the states, but here, not so much.  But hella fun!  I remember my Dad standing over the coils on the stove while me and my brother watched that aluminum foil plump up.  Man, that stuff couldn't pop fast enough. 

Next I remember the "StirCrazy" being the popular mode of popping.  Again, lots of fun to watch. 

Then I remember the air popper.  Good idea, less oil, healthier, but honestly, dry and tasteless unless you added back on all the fat in the form of butter you were trying to eliminate in your quest for health consciousness. 

Then came the miraculous invention of the microwave popcorn bag.  Man was that awesome or what.  Popcorn all greasy in less than three minutes. Wham Bam Thank you Ma'am.
I've even made popcorn (and kettle corn) in a big theatre machine.  That was some fun.  Hated cleaning the pot out though, especially after the sugar in the kettle corn.

So my history with the popcorn is vast and varied.  So why not try to go back to basics and low tech?  Guess I never really knew how.  So, as usual, I found myself a recipe (ha ha, yeah, I know) and tried it out today. 
I used organic coconut oil (evidently for the high smoke point) and some popcorn.  I heated 3 tbsp of coconut oil in a 3 quart pot, heated the oil on med-high with a couple kernels in it until they popped.  Then poured the rest of the 1/3 c. of kernels in and took it off the heat for 30 sec. I then put it back on the burner and waited for the fun to begin.  It was quick! Took it off the heat, dumped it into the bowls.  Literally I had 5 kernels left unpopped.  Then added garlic salt to one bowl and Aromat to the other (msg anyone?).  Really tasty.  Still high in saturated fats.  But fear not, its not all bad there are benefits.


Update Issue

If you've been following my blog you'll remember I left a few posts hanging.  Well, here are a few updates on some of the progress.
We did succumb and get an artificial tree.  Something small, but the kids were more than excited to do the decorating.  If you know me, you realize that's a difficult thing to let go.  I think I only moved two baubles into "more appropriate places" and the rest of the placement was them.  The control freak in me needed to walk away.  I think they did a  good job.
On a side note, they sell the same crappy chinese made light strings here in south africa.  I had to take the first set I bought back because they had a short in them and I really don't think it would be a good Christmas to burn the house down due to faulty crappy Chinese lights!  And on top of that they were almost $20 US for a string of 100.  GAH!

The other update I have for you today is the XXXXXX on the gingerbread cookie recipe.  It turned out REALLY tasty.  Quinn helped mix the dough, and then they both did the cutouts and the decorating.  I was pleased that the cookies were more like gingerbread, or even a gingersnap type cookie, than the other cookies I've tried in the past.  The kids gave them and the recipe their seal of approval.
I pulled the recipe from here.  I suggest if you like spice cookies you give it a chance.  They were really easy to make too.  Good project to do with the kids.  I don't know if I would use this recipe to make a gingerbread house, unless you baked for a little longer and made the cookies harder.

here, sugar balls are known as "bling" HAhaHAHAHa!

Is it just me or do those look like bullet holes from above?  


word of the week

It's no surprise that my memory is failing me.  I'm approaching my mid life crisis, or rather what I suppose will be my "mid-life" assuming I live to be 80+, but you never know.  I also had a hefty dose of momnesia with the two rugrats, that had to have knocked my IQ down a couple of points just through the pregnancy.  But I could have sworn I had a better vocabulary than the single syllable commands and corrections I now direct at those same rugrats.  So I've decided to start fresh, perhaps learn a few new words I never even knew the first time around.  Here is a series I'll call "word of the week".  You can play along and maybe learn a few new words to amaze your friends.

Farandole - (far an dole) n. 1. a spirited circle dance of Provencal derivation. 2. the music for this circle dance.

See, learning is fun.


oh tannenbaum!

I've mentioned before that we didn't know what to expect in the way of Christmas tradition here.  I wasn't sure if we would be able to find a Christmas tree or how decorating would be as they don't have many pine or balsam trees we Americans would consider traditional.   Would we be able to find pine boughs or garland to decorate?  I  knew the possibility of snow was slim, but would it still feel like Christmas when its 80+ and sunny?  Due to our limited space we didn't bring many traditional Christmas decorations with us when we moved. (i.e. THE HOARD).
We figured we would figure it out when the time came.  Well, the time is here and I still don't feel festive.  It's actually kind of a relief not to have to drag out the mountain of Christmas decorations we own and then put them away.   There are a goodly selection of artificial trees, but not really the size or quality of the artificials we have in the States.
Would we be stuck with a Charlie Brown tree?  Would that be so bad, I found that you can actually buy a CB tree now... funny.

Christmas is just not as commercial here as it is at home.  And by that I mean there are holiday decorations, but you don't see Pick n Pay dedicating half the floor to Christmas.  They have 3 aisles and that's it.  They don't have whole temp stores dedicated simply to Christmas and all its commercial glory.  The houses aren't bedecked in Griswoldian finery.  I haven't seen a blow-up santa on the front lawn yet.  Really, if you weren't paying close attention you might miss the fact that it's approaching the holiday of all holidays. 
So I've researched our options.  These are the "traditional" native tree alternatives.

Any one of these beaut's would make for a fantastically African christmas tree.  But I think I might not fit them in the front door.  What do you think?  The first pic is a yellowwood, the second an acacia, and the last a baobab.  All native trees, all distinct.  Would look pretty good all up in lights, what do you think??  .
Gese├źnde Kersfees!  (Merry Christmas in Afrikaans)

"Run, run as fast as you can....

You can't catch me, I'm the Gingerbread Man".

Ok, so seriously, how many people actually like the taste of gingerbread cookies?  Anyone?  I like the IDEA of gingerbread cookies better than the the taste apparently.  Actual gingerbread, not too bad.  But for some reason the cookie recipes I've tried thus far have been too spicy and just so so.
This is why I was pretty apprehensive to try yet another recipe when Quinn asked me to bake some gingerbread cookies.  His class at school is doing a holiday section on "gingerbread fred" and fred gets to visit each kid in class and they get to document their adventures.  Nice holiday activity for the kids, they get to learn responsibility and work on their storytelling skills.
Good idea until they start asking to bake my least favorite of cookies.  I seldom bake a cookie I don't like.  There has been the odd fail over the years, like the malted chocolate chip cookies I tried this last year.  Eh, not so much.  But usually its hard to ruin a cookie.  Believe me, SOMEONE will eat it.
And because Quinn is so sure he'll love these cookies I agreed to help him bake them.  I searched online for a well received recipe (might as well try another one).  He'll find out soon enough that they aren't the sweet cookie he thinks they'll be.  And, I suppose even if they suck, we can always bake them a little longer and use them as decorations.
to be continued....

Holiday Prep

Christmas decorations, as I have mentioned before, have to be tweaked a little this year since my hoard of decorations is having a vacation in my MIL's basement while we are here.  I did bring a few small packable items that are sorta traditions for us now.  I brought the Christmas stockings, and of course our elf (who made his first visit this year, night before last back from the North Pole).  The kids were glad to see him.

Here is the pile of handmade christmas bags I made last year for wrapping gifts in.  I brought them along this year too.  Last year I found I had a lot of christmassy fabrics and ribbons in my stash and I wanted to try to get out of the cycle of buying wrapping paper that was just used and thrown away.   So I made a heap of fabric gift bags with attached ribbons  in various sizes to wrap our gifts in.  Well they went over a treat and I didn't have to throw anything away.  They were also a lot tidier to clean up than the shreds of wrapping paper.  I simply folded them back up and put them away for Christmas' to come.  Eventually I'll make more to give gifts in and maybe someone else will carry on the tradition.

I also remembered to bring the two advent calendars I found in England.  They are simple things, but the kids enjoy the task each night.  I think they are all the more important as it doesn't really feel like Christmas to us without the change in the weather.  The advent calendar was always one of my favorite tasks and as a kid a way of keeping track of how far away the big day was.  Every year we used to make a giant wall sized calendar at school and we would count down the days.

I'm still debating whether or not to get a fake tree.  On one hand it would add to the decor and make it feel a little more festive and personal since so much here is not really my style.  On the other hand it would be just one more thing we couldn't bring home with us.  I'm trying to keep the amount of things I'm acquiring to a minimum because we obviously don't need MORE stuff, and I don't want to have to find a new home for it all when we leave.
I like to decorate the tree, but it would also involve me purchasing all new ornaments to decorate the tree with, again, MORE STUFF.  Am I just being a scrooge?
I don't think the kids would care one way or the other, though they enjoy decorating the tree, I don't think they think about it once its finished.  Certainly not when it's time to put it away after the holiday.
They groove more on the cookie decorating, the scavenger hunts, the wrapping of gifts.
This is just the start of the festivities, more to come.