How to Make Wassail

December 16, 2008 by  
Filed under Food & Drink

There is no better drink at Christmas time than the rich and fragrant wassail. The spice-laden fragrance alone is worthy of the effort it takes to make a pot for Christmas morning. And the effort is actually very minimal.

Assemble Ingredients

To make wassail, you’ll need:

  • A crock-pot or large pot to set on the stove
  • 1 gallon apple cider
  • 27 whole cloves
  • 8 cinnamon sticks
  • 1 quart pineapple juice
  • 1 can (6 ounce) frozen orange juice concentrate

Prepare the Wassail

Pour all of the ingredients into the crock-pot or large pot on the stove. Turn the heat to high until the ingredients are nicely blended and hot, then reduce the heat to warm to keep it fresh throughout the day. Stir the concoction occasionally to keep it fresh and enjoy the festive aroma throughout your home any day of the holiday season.

Easy Step By Step

  • Assemble the ingredients
  • Place all ingredients in a crock-pot
  • Simmer the ingredients in the crock-pot and then reduce the heat to warm.

Warnings, Advice, and Suggestions

You can serve wassail by itself, but it is even more delightful with the rich butter cookies often found in Europe, particularly the UK. You can serve wassail as an accompaniment to tea in the afternoon or after dinner as a special fireside treat.

How to Buy a Guy a Present

July 22, 2008 by  
Filed under Relationships

how to buy a guy a presentBoys complain about buying present for girls, but men are often very difficult to shop for. There is always the boring tie, or the useless gadget, but what kind of gift shows a guy you care? That, of course, depends on the guy! Here’s how to buy your guy a present.

Determine the Occasion

There are certain gift-giving occasions such as Christmas and birthdays where we feel obligated to give gifts. Even if you truly want to find a gift, there is an extra pressure of finding just the right thing. Other times, you want to give a gift simply because you were inspired to do so by something you saw on the store shelf of because it just seems like fun.

The occasion can make a difference in the kind of gift you buy. Formal occasions such as Valentine’s Day, Christmas and birthdays seem to demand larger, more expensive presents. Gifts given on a whim are often more of a token or in fun making them less expensive and less serious.

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Look for Clues

Some men are thoughtful enough to leave clues or hints as to what they would like. Even if your guy is unaware of it, he may be leaving plenty of clues. A broken watch sitting on the counter is a bold sign. So are the shoes that have holes in the soles from lack of use and the dead plant on the counter. Look around his home to see what he needs, and listen to him talk to other friends to get clues as to what he would like to have.

Consider His Personality

You must also consider the personality of your guy. Is he the type of guy who would love beer stein and chia pets for Valentine’s Day, or is someone who would rather have a home cooked meal and candle light? Guys with a sense of humor are often easier to shop for than those who are more seriously romantic. There are simply more fun gifts than romantic ones for men.

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Buy With Your Heart

Finally, buy a gift with your heart more so than with your head. You may have every indication that he wants a new golf club. You can buy him the golf club, but be sure you are enjoying the gift giving. If that means buying a humorous golf club cover to go with that club, by all means, knock yourself out. A gift is not an obligation, it is an item freely given by your heart, so be sure you select it with that same organ.

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How to Make Christmas Table Decorations

July 17, 2008 by  
Filed under Home & Garden

how to decorate a table for xmasThe shopping is done, the tree is decorated, the presents are wrapped, but something is still missing. When all your guests gather around the table for the Christmas dinner you have spent hours preparing, what will they see? A bare tabletop? Let’s hope not. With a few simple touches, your dinner table can become a showcase for some beautiful Christmas decorations.

Centerpiece

The centerpiece will be the focal point of your table, at least until Aunt Mary starts telling embarrassing old family stories. While you can purchase a fresh or silk flower arrangement, a sculpture or figurine of some kind, or a potted poinsettia, there are other options that you can assemble yourself on a budget. Try filling a pair of clear glass hurricane lamps with cheap and colorful glass globe Christmas ornaments. You can also use a vase to hold peppermints or small red and green candies. Use the candy to support a classic taper candle or a small group of artificial flowers fitting for the winter season.

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Napkin Rings

A great opportunity to add a personal touch to your table is with your napkin rings. Napkin rings can be a pricy investment, or they can be a creative outlet of your holiday spirit. For a basic approach, cut one inch segments from the cardboard tube inside your wrapping paper. You can cover these with the wrapping paper itself, or paint or color the cardboard. Hot glue a small ornament to the top of the napkin ring. Another option is to string festive beads or buttons on a piece of elastic. Whatever you create, your guests will appreciate the time and creativity you invested in this Christmas decoration.

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Placecards

For large or small crowds, use placecards to not only help guests find their place at the table, but to showcase your holiday spirit. You can adapt gift tags to be placecards, or glue rectangles of wrapping paper on a stiff backing and write guests’ names on your homemade place card. Another option is to cut a Christmassy shape such as a star or bell out of cardboard and cover it with aluminum foil. A permanent marker will have no problem writing on the surface, making a lovely placecard.

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How to Decorate Your Yard for Christmas

July 17, 2008 by  
Filed under Home & Garden

how to decorate a yard for christmasChristmas is a festive time and it’s also a time to pull out your decorations to show your holiday spirit. Decorating your yard for Christmas can be fun, but it doesn’t have to be stressful, too. Some basic decorations can go a long way this holiday season. Here’s how to decorate your yard for Christmas.

Hang Greenery

Your first step to decorate your yard for Christmas is to hang garlands around your door and windows. Greenery around openings is festive and is a good basis for additional decorations such as lights and ribbons. In fact, greenery or a wreath with a large red ribbon may be all the outdoor decoration you need.

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Hang Lights

Lights have a special place at Christmas time. Hang a strand of lights over your holiday greenery to dress it up. Frame your door and windows with lights, and outline the shape of your roof with a strand. You can use standard light bulbs, twinkle lights or dangling icicle lights for this purpose. You may choose to climb onto your roof to hang additional lights, but if you do, be very careful as this is one of the most common holiday accidents waiting to happen.

Put Out Lawn Ornaments

Once your lights and greenery are hung, pull out some lawn ornaments, The latest craze is to place a giant blow up statute on the lawn in the shape of Santa Claus or a snowman. You can purchase one of these light-up statues, or opt for the more traditional reindeer made of sticks and light. Craft shows may have specialty decorations made from painted wood that suit your style.

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You can also use smaller lawn ornaments such as candy canes, mailbox covers, and luminaries to dress up your lawn. The holidays are a time for frivolity and fun, so if you’re worried your decorations have gone overboard, don’t. Everyone loves a festive set of decorations.

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How to Decorate a Christmas Tree

July 17, 2008 by  
Filed under Home & Garden

how to decorate a xmas treeThe Christmas Tree is the central decoration for the season. Decorating that tree can be intimidating, especially if you’re trying to work around your existing décor or creating a design that any professional would be proud of. Here’s how to decorate a Christmas Tree.

Create a Theme

The first step in decorating a Christmas Tree is to decided on the theme of your decorations. You may opt for the basic cheerful multicolored balls and lights, or challenge yourself with something more ornate such as finding a theme that incorporates golden decorations and lights into your living room’s existing apple décor. There are many ways to do this.

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Shop Around the Theme

Once your theme is determined, begin your quest for decorations. Simple decorations such as bright glass balls and tinsel can be found everywhere, including local drug stores. Golden apples may require a trip to a decorating warehouse or specialty shop. You can also make ornaments using parts from craft stores or have your kids create fun ornaments from any number of household items.

Assemble the Tree

To decorate your tree you’ll need the following:

  • A Christmas Tree – The tree can be real or artificial. Both options have pros and cons.
  • Christmas Tree Stand – If you’re using a real tree, invest in a good tree stand. Also be sure to water the tree regularly to prevent the needles from drying up and falling off. Stand up the Tree and position it correctly.
  • Tree Skirt – A tree skirt can be simple or ornate. It keeps the floor a bit cleaner, provides some extra color and decoration, and hides the tree stand or base of the artificial tree.
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  • Lights – If your tree is not prelit, and only a few artificial trees are, buy strands of lights. White solid lights are most common, but you can also buy colored lights, blinking or chasing lights, or even specialty lights such as snowflakes or chili peppers for your tree.

    Put the lights on your tree before any other decorations. Try to hide the strands in the branches so that only the lights show, not dangling wires.

  • A Tree Topper – The tree topper can go first or last, but every tree should have one. If you’re using an angel or star, especially one that is lit, it should probably go on first to be sure you have it hooked into the lights correctly. A large bow should go after the rest of the decorations so that it is line with the rest of the garlands.
  • Ornaments – After the lights and possibly the tree topper, hang your ornaments. You may opt to use a collection of ornaments in multiple colors that simply appeal to you or that your children have made. You might use only gold and red decorations to continue with a specific theme such as the apple theme mentioned above.

    If you’re going for a more casual look, hang a variety of ornaments including glass balls of every color and include ornaments that are fun and meaningful to you. Be sure to cover the tree evenly from top to bottom and side to side. Hang the ornaments from the tips of the branches in front of the lights.

  • Garlands – The final stage of tree decoration is to place any garlands on the tree. Garlands can be strands of tinsel or beads. They may also be long strands of ribbon. Tinsel and beads usually are draped around the tree horizontally.

    Ribbons can be horizontal or can be twisted and run from the top of the tree to the bottom. This looks especially nice if the tree topper is a very large bow of the same ribbon. Ribbons go on top of all decorations, but smaller garlands, especially those with beads may be hung following the lights.

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How To Write A Haiku

July 14, 2008 by  
Filed under Education & Reading / Writing

how to write a haikuThe haiku, because of its simplicity, is one of the few form poetry styles with which most poets experiment.  However, simplicity can be deceptive and it is the very implication that a haiku is "easy" to write that invites so many poets to write technically poor haiku.

Haiku has a long history and although most people are not familiar with the tradition behind haiku poetry nor make the correlation between spiritual practice and haiku, even less people are unable to define it.  A haiku is a seventeen syllable poem made up of three lines.  The first and third lines are five syllables each making a 5-7-5 syllable three line poem.  If a haiku were only this, a three line poem composed of seventeen syllables, then any seventeen syllable sentence would suffice and qualify as a poem.  In my article, How Not to Write a Poem, I give an example of a haiku composed of a simple sentence.

I hate you mostly
when I talk to your wife on
the phone as she cries.

This meets the definition most people use to define a haiku but falls so far short of a true haiku that to label this a haiku is an insult.  It fails to meet the other criteria which are often overlooked.

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A haiku is not only a three line poem but it also includes an allusion to nature.  This can be seen in the haiku of the masters, such as Bassho and Issa, as well as others.  From a particular species of plant or animal (a cherry blossom, a hawk, a cicada, a chrysanthemum) to a clear season (harvest moon, snow, summer’s sun), there is supposed to be some allusion to the natural. 

However, sometimes this is a subtle allusion.  Your seasons will differ from those of other nations and traditions. In my home, growing up, we had a fake Christmas tree that stayed up year round so referencing a decorated tree had no seasonal meaning.  But had I referred to a particular block party in the streets of Manhattan, anyone who grew up in my home would recognize the time of my haiku.  Be aware of your own seasons, think beyond those obvious four seasons that dominate the thinking of society.  Adopt and adapt your seasons to infuse your poetry with a subtlety that may elude most readers while infusing your writing with something intrinsic, personal, and potentially profound.

Haiku is intimate, a highly personal form of poetry, that is easily recognized for its immediacy in the predominance of the present moment.  Some haiku may be written in the past tense, very few are written in the future tense, but most haiku is undeniably set in the present.  Because of this, haiku have an emotional integrity that is often overlooked by the poet who is assuming that the haiku is an easy poem. 

I learned this lesson when not writing a haiku a long time ago.  I had been experimenting with sumi-e brushwork and was trying to copy the drawing of a hawk standing on a rock looking over its shoulder.  Each drawing I made seemed devoid of something I could not define.  The brush strokes were carefully performed, allowing for control within the freedom of the ink’s flow.  My frustration grew as I tried again and again to recreate the image I had before me. 

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Then I stepped away, looked at the original from which I was trying to draw inspiration and wondered to myself what the hawk was thinking and feeling.  In my mind it seemed to be saying it wanted to be left alone, not documented in ink.  I returned to the paper, meditating on this feeling of isolation, of wanting to be alone and undisturbed.  Nothing else changed.  My strokes were the same, the ink I used not watered down in any way, but this time the image that I created had an energy that the previous attempts had lacked.

This should be true of your haiku; you must first feel the moment before you can write about it.  You may write about something only moments passed or decades old.  By drawing on the past moment, placing it into the present tense, you draw yourself and your reader into the haiku’s moment, bridging a distance between yourself and the moment and your reader so that the three become one.  Honor the emotional moment and trust your reader by being subtle in how you expose yourself in the delicate lines.  The very brevity of a haiku, the seventeen syllables, will force you, as a poet, to synthesize a moment into a concentrated form, condensing the emotion so that it has the same weight as it did when experienced.

For instance, I wrote a poem, Poetic Bugaboo, about a moment I experienced while frustrated with myself as a poet.  The same theme could have found its way into a haiku because the insect meets the criteria for having something of nature in the poem.

Squashed gnat between the
lines of a poem written
with no real passion.

It is possible, maybe even likely, that most readers would not understand the frustration I was feeling with myself as a poet but a haiku trusts the reader to sit with the poem, meditate upon its meaning, discover the emotion of the words, and in this way writing a haiku and reading one can become a form of spiritual practice. 

Most writers have learned the five W’s and an H rule:  Who?  What?  Where?  When?  Why? and How?  In writing a haiku there is a similar, often overlooked rule.  Each line of the strictly traditional haiku will ideally fall into the following pattern: 

Line 1:  Where?
Line 2:  What?
Line 3:  When?

Before you balk at the strictness of this, arguing that poetry is about breaking with tradition, I offer this challenge.  Try to conform to the strictest definition of the haiku, rise to the occasion and allow yourself to write a haiku that conforms to these rules, dare yourself to find freedom within the strict rules.  Write seventeen syllables, broken into three lines, include a natural element, and then answer the three questions (Where? What? When?) In precisely those three lines of five-seven-five syllables.  Find the freedom in the form and conformity.  Trust yourself to be in the moment, write from the moment, and dare yourself to write a true haiku.  And if you fall short of the purest form when writing your haiku, welcome to the club.  Trust me; you are in very good company.

alone in my bed
no wishes left or dreams, dark
clouds hiding the stars

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