Sunday, December 30, 2012

Starting New Family Traditions

I find that the hardest thing about living in a foreign country during the holidays, is the lack of extended family. While other folks spend Christmas day with grandma, grandpa, aunts, uncles, and herds of cousins - you are pretty much alone as a family unit.

If you are an immigrant, too, maybe you can relate to this feeling? Or maybe your family lives on the opposite end of the country, and you cannot afford the plane ticket or gas money to visit this year?

The only thing we have found to soothe the pain is creating  our own family traditions. We have learned to find new ways to entertain the children during the many days they are off from school.

Last year we bought a giant puzzle to do over Christmas. After all the presents had been opened and members of the family were getting grumpy and suffering from cabin fever, I got out a 1000 piece puzzle. Since we could not afford to travel to Germany last year, we brought Germany to our dining room table. It took us 3 whole days to put the puzzle of Neuschwanstein Castle together.

At first there was a lot of sighing. Really mom? Do we have to do this. But after the picture started coming together the children were intrigued and wanted to finish.

This year we bought another puzzle. It was panorama view of New York City Time Square at night. This one was a real toughy. I thought we'd never figure out a way to put these pieces together.

I think doing a large puzzle as a family is a wonderful activity to do together. It's great to work as a team. We assigned different parts to different people. Guess what? Despite the fact that this puzzle was so much harder we finished it in 2 days. Awesome job family! Can't wait to pick one out for next Christmas. Unless, dare I dream ? - we get to go to Germany?

Monday, December 24, 2012

Merry Christmas & Thank You

I can't believe Christmas Eve is here. The last couple of days have been rather hectic and filled with baking, cooking, and catching up on some gifts for the family. I know I say this every year: It's really tough when you run a little business that get's the busiest this time of year.

Luckily, I have learned a few lessons from going through this process for a number of years.  By setting the cut-off date on custom orders much earlier and only putting items in my Etsyshop that were finished and ready to go, my life was so much easier this time around. I still wish I had a little Elf helper to wrap and ship things for me, but alas such is life.

Looks like our pyramide stable scene needs some dusting off...No doubt I will get to it before too long!

I want to thank all the people who have helped me so much. First of all, I want to thank the people at the Post Office who patiently put up with my big piles of packages and odd requests for putting pretty stamps on my letters to Germany - when there was a line all the way out the door.

I want to say a big "Thank You" to all my wonderful customers who ordered from my little shop and left me such wonderful feedback and comments when ordering. Here is one of my favorite ones:

I was looking for a sweet doll for my youngest granddaughter, something soft and sweet, and looked at all sorts of horrible dolls until i found your lovely, sweet, soft creations. They made MY heart glad, and I hope this charming green doll will find a happy place in Helen's pockets... and we ALL love pockets!! Thank you!
It made my heart glad to read your note, Dear Susan! I find in times like this, when the world seems such harsh place, we must work extra hard to make things better. Every little kind gesture and word matters.

I want to thank my collegues from the NaturalKids team, particularly the folks who wrote articles and helped to keep the blog going. Rachel, you are wonderful!

I also want to thank my friends and family who put up with me and were understanding about having to cancel a lunch date or an event of making merry because I was on Elf duty. Thank you all for keeping me going with your lovely comments, patience, and kind words of support.

                       Have a Merry Christmas - if you celebrate Christmas - that is!

                       I wish all of you Good Health and Happiness for the New Year!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Edible Christmas Tree Decorations - Christmas Bretzels

I am having a hard time going back to "normal" after the events in Connecticut last week. Discussions on Facebook are still going hot and heavy. But one has to keep moving and stop thinking of all the ugliness in this world or one might go insane...

One of the Earliest depictions of a Bretzel from the 12th Century

It's not good for the children to see us so sad and preoccupied with negative thoughts. Since the wave of orders in my shop appears to have subsided, I started on some Christmas cookies. Late - as always.

I had not thought about Bretzels in a long time. You know German folks like to hang edible Christmas decorations on their Christmas trees. I 'll never forget that first Christmas when we took our little fellow back to Germany. He was just a toddler and would crawl up to my sister's Christmas tree pick an apple from the tree and take a bite from it. We all laughed finding the apples with tiny bitemarks among the presents...Only the ones that were high up were safe.

I let me my daughter pick a recipe from my German cookbook yesterday. It was for Weihnachtsbretzels. They will look so pretty tied onto the tree with bright red ribbons. I will have to make an extra batch to give to friends and neighbors.

from Wikipedia:

(known as Brezel in German, sometimes also Brezn or Breze) is a type of baked food made from dough in soft and hard varieties and savory or sweet flavors in a unique knot-like shape, originating in Europe. The pretzel shape is a distinctive symmetrical looped form, with the ends of a long strip of dough intertwine brought together and then twisted back onto itself in a certain way ("a pretzel loop"). Pretzels in stick form may also be called pretzels in the English-speaking context. For seasoning and decoration various glazes, salt crystals, sugar and various seeds or nuts can be used. The size varies from large enough for one to be a sufficient serving, to much smaller....

There are numerous accounts on the origin of the looped pretzels, as well as the origin of the name; most agree that they have Christian backgrounds and were invented by monks. According to The History of Science and Technology, by Bryan Bunch and Alexander Hellemans, in 610 AD " Italian monk invents pretzels as a reward to children who learn their prayers. He calls the strips of baked dough, folded to resemble arms crossing the chest, 'pretiola' ("little rewards")".
I also thought of them in terms of little hugging arms. Maybe you could bake some and give them away. Show a little love to someone who may not expect it. They are not that hard to make. The recipe is fairly easy and does not require too many ingredients.
cream together using a handmixer
  • 100g butter
  • 200g sugar
  • packet of vanilla sugar or some liquid vanilla extract
to this mixture add
  • one whole egg plus another eggwhite (reserve the yolk of the second egg for eggwash)
sift together
  • 500 g flour
  •  2 teaspoons of bakingpowder 
  •  pinch of salt
add 2/3 of the dry ingredients to the wet ones with mixer, then kneed in the rest of the flour by hand. Since we live in very dry climate I used about 50g less flour.
If the dough is very soft, refrigerate it for a little while. Our house is so cold, brrrrr,  I didn't have to.
Cut off chunks of dough and roll it into pencil-thick little ropes. Cut them into 20cm long pieces and shape them into Bretzels. 
 Put them on a greased cookies sheet and apply eggwash with a brush. The eggwash is made with the reserved eggyolk of the second egg and mixed beaten with 2 tablespoons of milk.
Bake at 375 for 10 -15 minutes.
This recipe makes about 40 bretzels. They don't taste very sweet and are like a hard little cracker.

Monday, December 17, 2012

I cannot Eat...

Sorry folks if you came here to find the names for the giveaway winners. I have to get something else of my chest first. For the last 3 days I have been sitting my little studio just feeling numb. How is this possible? How can I continue living in this violent country? I find it hard to sleep, breath, or eat. One famous quote by Jewish Artist Max Liebermannn came to mind.

While looking out his window and watching the Nazis celebrate their victory by marching through the Brandenburg Gate, Liebermann was reported to have commented: "Ich kann gar nicht soviel fressen, wie ich kotzen möchte." ("I cannot eat as much, as I would like to puke").

I am so sick of it. I am sick of turning on my computer and finding images of this on my computer. I am sick of the blame game being played and the pointing of fingers.

It's the guns.
It's mental illness.
It's the media's fault.

Really people? Look at yourselves. I don't think the answers are that easy. You cannot point to just one thing. If you want to solve this problem you must look at it from all angles and fight it on all fronts.

I grew up in a Nation that has very strict gun laws. My parents never had to worry when I went to a friend's house. Nobody in my family ever owned or used a gun. Guns are for war.
In the US they are a recreational thing. You can buy them at pawnshops or go to a gun show and buy one without background check. ANYBODY who has a mind to buy one can get one. Registered and legally owned they can do a whole lot of damage.

Mental illness. I have seen the article by the mother whose son is mentally ill blasted all over FB by friends. Yes, the US really needs to do something about health care and helping people who are not insured and mentally unstable. Mothers of children who are sick need help. Turning mentally ill people loose in the streets because people don't want to pay taxes for the health centers that provide them with medications does not help the situation. I find it ironic how nobody wants to pay taxes in this country but then there is an outcry over such facilities not being available for folks who need them.

Is it the media's fault? Does the media make heroes out of deranged people? Do you really think the boy in this case cared about the media and his ultimate motive was to be in the newspaper? I think it's gross how every little detail is shared and made public. I feel terrible for all the families involved - victims and relatives of the killer alike. Can you imagine being the person wrongly accused? But we have to take a good look in the mirror and check ourselves. This stuff sells papers. Why do people hunger to know those details. Is it because we want to understand this thing that cannot be understood?  Or is it some strange kind of voyeurism? Almost like another Crime TV show - but it's real.

Something has to change in this country. But it's not just ONE thing.

I got into the biggest argument with my own husband this weekend about guns. How this whole thing will just turn into another time wasting argument over gun control. My husband argued that it's not the guns and that we need to fight "the culture of violence" in this Nation. And I totally wholeheartedly agree to that. I think if we want to change what happened we need to start in our own households. Don't let your children play violent video games and watch TV shows or movies that glorify violence. We have to teach them the value of human life and respecting other people.
We have to spend quality time with our kids and know our childrens' hearts.

BUT we can only control our own household. We cannot tell other people how to raise their kids. It's going to take a long long time to change those things because they are so ingrained in this culture. You cannot forbid those horrible video games. Can you? You cannot stop movie makers from creating chainsaw massacre movies and forbid people to watch that stuff. But you CAN change gun laws. You CAN make it harder for people to own them. People say, he could have done this with knifes like some deranged person in China. And isn't it just as awful if he had killed only one or two people? Yes, every dead child matters. Every single one was precious. Still I believe firmly that less is better. If a life can be spared because there are less weapons to go around let's do it.

Why do we need a million safety regulations for handmade toys but a person can walk into a gun show or buy assault weapons and ammunition via the Internet?

Sorry folks I just had to say those things. It's not business as usual for me. I did go to church yesterday, and it felt good to finally be able to cry during our pastor's sermon. I want to make a doll for one of the families who lost their daughter. I am part of a group of wonderful doll makers on Facebook and we are going to send dolls to each of the families. How can they ever be comforted?

Hug your children and make ART! It's the only thing that makes sense to me right now.

I'll announce the winners of my Giveaway later today.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Christmas Coupon

The race to the finish line is on. I have started my baking spree, and as I wait for my Christstollen to rise and cookie dough to rest, I make runs to the post office and get in a bit more sewing. I even designed one more cute little Holiday outfit. My daughter has been asking for a holiday dress for her doll for years...This year I finally got it done. Plus, I made a couple more. So if you want one check it out.

It's not too late to get a cute doll from my shop or order some doll clothing to hang on the Christmas tree. So please visit my shop and enjoy this coupon.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Little Lexie, A Christmas Doll

Lexi 3, originally uploaded by germandolls.

One more little Christmas Baby emerged from my workbench today. She has slightly sunkissed skin, blue eyes, and comes in an adorable Christmas dress with diapers and matching bonnet.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Snowflake Pocket Doll Giveaway

Well, it still has not snowed in Colorado. Looks like I got to keep making my own little snowflakes over here. Like they do up in the ski resorts. LOL

I am willing to share some of my snow babies with you folks. I will be mailing out ONE snowflake baby to two lucky winners next Monday. So you have until next Sunday 16th, 2012 midnight to enter.

In order to enter in the drawing you have to share my Facebook fanpage and this Giveaway with your friends. You must leave a comment including your email address here on my blog. I will not consider names without email address because I don't have time to chase down the winners. You know making snow is hard work. Got to make more and more...

Please one entry per person only.

If you live in a foreign country and would like to get your snowbaby mailed to some such place as Africa that's okay. Luckily my flakes don't melt. Just remember that your little snowflake baby will not arrive until AFTER Christmas.
Comments on this Giveaway are closed. Winners are Wendy & Mojo,  and Brigid. I will contact them ASAP.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Am I a Nut?

This is our Sixth year being part in a local production of The Nutcracker. The last few weeks have been totally hectic and it all is a blur.

As if I wasn't busy enough with my little doll business, here I am rushing to rehearsal after rehearsal. Next come the performances - 3 in a row. Today is our last show. I am exhausted. And so is my child.
Before Make-up

Why do we do this? Because after it's all done we know that we brought lots of joy to people who may wonder where the snow is and if Christmas is really coming. It's been much too warm for the season. The party scene with Christmas tree, dancing Christmas presents, the make-believe snow on stage get us in the mindset for the Holiday.

After Make-up

My daughter was cast as a clown and mouse. This year was her first year as a mouse. It's hard to change from one full face make-up to another one. Luckily I have been a make-up mom in training for many years. I know how to draw each line by heart. I know the contour of the sweet little faces I work on. I can do it on the fly without panicking. Ah, and even if there is a little smudge. We can fix it right up. No sad clowns around here!

For the love of the Arts we do it each year. We are all nutty about The Nutcracker and our 100+ darling dancers who work so hard to make this show the best in Northern Colorado. Go break a leg - one more time this afternoon!

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Snowflake Babies and Giveaway

Inspired by one of my favorite wintersongs growing up in Germany, I created a bunch of little snowflake pocket babies this week.

It's been much too warm for the season in Colorado. We really need some snow. So maybe my wishful thinking about snow will help bring us the much needed precipitation?

Here are the German lyrics to this old German folksong:

Schneeflöckchen, Weißröckchen,
wann kommst du geschneit?
Du kommst aus den Wolken,
dein Weg ist so weit.

Komm, setz dich ans Fenster,
du lieblicher Stern;
malst Blumen und Blätter,
wir haben dich gern.

Schneeflöckchen, du deckst uns
die Blümelein zu;
dann schlafen sie sicher
in himmlischer Ruh’.

Here is my English translation of the lyrics: 
Little Snowflake, little white skirt,
when will you come down?
You come from the clouds,
your journey is so far.

Come sit by the window,
You lovely star;
Painting flowers and leaves,
we love you very much.

Little snowflake, you cover us
and the little flowers up,
So they can sleep safe,
and in heavenly peace.

I will be doing a Giveaway for some of my snowbabies during the Advent season. So please, stay tuned for details!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Advent Celebration German Style

Yippee! I made it this year. I actually managed to pull out the Advent's wreath from it's box on time for the First Advent.

This year we are using homemade candles that the children made from our own beeswax collected over the last few years. We didn't harvest any honey this year for fear the bees might starve again. Two years in a row we have lost all of our bees.

Hand dipped beeswax candles

I have used the beeswax for sealing the wooden buttons for my doll clothes. This is the first time we made hand dipped candles. Hand dipping candles takes a lot of wax, patience, and time. We learned that we will have to save up a lot more wax to make taller candles. This year's are pretty short. But still pretty.

What no Christstollen? Just plain old toast? The children were very disappointed. Better start making some German Baked goodies soon here...

The house is wonderfully decorated. We pulled out all our German decorations brought back from various trips to the Vaterland. Maybe you have heard the motto of the German Kaethe Wohlfahrt stores? Kaethe Wohlfahrt is a company that sells mostly handmade wooden crafts from the German Erzgebirge region.  That is where many beautiful German Christmas decorations come from. Don't fall for the fakes made in China. When you see the real thing you'll know it. The craftsmanship is incredible. It doesn't matter what time of year you go to Germany at Kaethe Wohlfahrt - "Where it's Christmas all year around".

I feel so blessed that we were able to visit the big Christmas store on the Ku'damm in Berlin this summer. I'll share some images of the new ornaments we brought back to the States. They are so simple and beautiful. That's German style Christmas for you.