Way back in the dusty, distant past, I had a little cube maze that my parents had in the coffee table drawer. The cube was about the size of a Rubik’s Cube. It was transparent. It had 7 or 8 layers and a tiny metal ball to traverse the maze. It was quite challenging, but the tunnels were entirely enclosed. As such, the worst that could happen was that boredom or frustration might end the maze run prematurely.
Jump forward to today and the challenge is now considerably more daunting. Today’s mazes are free-standing structures within a plastic ball. The maze runner is a small silver sphere that has an unfortunate tendency to go kerplunk on the bottom of the ball. The maze is truly 3D. You will need to negotiate stairs, spirals, ramps with no side-rails and even drop through a hole that requires 90° or even 180° turns of the sphere.
Creator of the Perplexus, Michael McGinnis, has a lifelong passion for mazes. He figured a way to use every surface of the maze elements as a pathway for the runner. His work has been widely imitated and a variety of 3D Maze Balls are currently available. The main advantage of any of these educational toys is that it requires no batteries. The maze is powered by your own determination to master the challenges presented.
The various 3D Maze Balls are listed as being appropriate for ages 7-15, but they are devilishly addictive at any age. Younger children will be proud to have gotten even halfway through the maze. It is also a great toy for teaching perseverance. I cannot help but sing the praises of a toy that challenges mind and body, dexterity and willpower.
My own son has two of these mind-bending mazes. They’ve provided hours of amusement for him and the rest of us. Moving that shiny little ball every which way can hook you in for hours. Getting it all the way through the obstacles is a great rush of triumph.
This is a wonderful toy that can provide hours of mental stimulation for children of any age.
I’m a big fan of Winter and of good ol’ Jack Frost. When they characterized him as a rascal in the third Santa Clause movie, I thought that was just marvelous. Martin Short’s portrayal of Jack Frost was hilarious. One of the things he was being censured by his peers for was promoting his own holiday of Frostmas.fd
Frankly, I’m 100% in favor of it. I even started giving my kids Frostmas presents on the Winter Solstice. Let’s take a look at some more of the frosty characters we can enjoy at our Frostmas party.
In The Year Without a Santa Claus, Mrs Claus had to enlist the help of the mercurial Snow Miser and his irascible brother the Heat Miser to show Santa that people cared whether or not he participated in the holiday. Now for starters, you’ve gotta love a guy with his own theme song. Add to that an army of minions who break into synchronized dance at a moment’s notice and you’ve got a character for the ages. To this day, I can’t help but smile when I hear this song. He’s too much…
In Santa Claus is Coming to Town, we met the Winter Warlock. He was a menacing elemental figure who commanded the high reaches of the mountains outside of Sombertown. With his special blend of merry kindness and generosity, Santa eventually melts the warlock’s heart. He does seem to be a variation of the Russian mythological figure known as Ded Moroz.
After the Russian Revolution, religion was banned as an enemy of the state. Santa was outlawed like he was by the Burgomeister Meisterburger. The fantastical creature Morozko, a snow demon, was sort of Santa-fied and became the embodiment of the holiday season. Instead of Christmas, Father Frost and his helper the Frost Maiden (Snegurochka) gave presents on New Year’s Day.
Ded Moroz is a bit more harsh than Santa. Santa will give out coal or even let Zwarte Piet hand out a bit of punishment with his switches. Ded Moroz, like Jack Frost and the Snow Miser, will freeze someone who displeases him as he did in the story of the Unkind Sister. Check out this movie of his legend.
His assistant, the Snow Maiden, is not unlike Santa’s elves. She has a story of her own. There are a few variations of the Snow Maiden story which include a child who is created from a statuette of snow who grows to childhood but evaporates while jumping a campfire with her friends. Another version, she is a snow spirit who craves the company of regular folk. She wishes to love a shepherd but cannot. Her mother gives her the ability to love, but it melts her heart and consequently she melts entirely away. In Soviet times, she was rebranded as Father Frost’s granddaughter and helper.
So, here’s to nippy frostiness! Have a Happy Frostmas and enjoy the winter weather inside or out.
In 1991, Mark Lowry wrote the lyrics to a popular Christmas song and the music was written by his friend, Buddy Greene. It has been recorded by a number of famous stars over the years. The question posed repeatedly throughout the song is “Mary, did you know?”. Let’s take a quick look at the lyrics:
Mary, Did You Know
Mary did you know that your baby boy will some day walk on water?
Mary did you know that your baby boy will save our sons and daughters?
Did you know that your baby boy has come to make you new?
This child that you’ve delivered, will soon deliver you.
Mary did you know that your baby boy will give sight to a blind man?
Mary did you know that your baby boy will calm a storm with his hand?
Did you know that your baby boy has walked where angels trod?
And when your kiss your little baby, you have kissed the face of God.
Oh Mary did you know
The blind will see, the deaf will hear, the dead will live again.
The lame will leap, the dumb will speak, the praises of the lamb
Mary did you know that your baby boy is Lord of all creation?
Mary did you know that your baby boy would one day rule the nations?
Did you know that your baby boy is heaven’s perfect Lamb?
This sleeping child you’re holding is the great I am
To put it simply, the answer is YES!!!!!
How did she know? Let’s find out.
The answer is given in the Gospel of Luke:
Luke 1:26-38 King James Version (KJV)
26 And in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth,
27 To a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary.
28 And the angel came in unto her, and said, Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women.
29 And when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be.
30 And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God.
31 And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name Jesus.
32 He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David:
33 And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end.
34 Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?
35 And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.
36 And, behold, thy cousin Elisabeth, she hath also conceived a son in her old age: and this is the sixth month with her, who was called barren.
37 For with God nothing shall be impossible.
38 And Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word. And the angel departed from her.
The Annunciation – Leonardo Da Vinci – Uffiizi Gallery
Basically, when an archangel comes to you and tells you that you will bear a son born of the Holy Spirit and destined to sit on the throne of David, you can consider yourself properly briefed on the details. It is also likely that Mary would have been familiar with the prophecies of the coming of the Messiah. The high points are summarized by the genius of Handel’s Messiah in the oratorio HWV 56.
So, when writing a religious Christmas song don’t forget to check scripture to see if the answer is already there.
So, “Christmas in July” occurred this week. Not everybody is into it. Whether you celebrate it or not, here are some awesome Christmas themed beverages to help you cool down during the Dog Days of Summer here in the Northern Hemisphere.
1 cup Vanilla Ice Cream
1/3 cup Eggnog
Shot of brandy, rum or whiskey (optional)
Combine ingredients in a blender, and mix until blended. Top with a dash of Nutmeg.
If you can’t find eggnog this time of year you can always make your own:
4 cups milk
4 cups heavy cream
12 egg yolks
1 cup sugar
4 whole cloves
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
2 tsp vanilla extract
In a medium saucepan, combine the milk, vanilla extract, cloves, nutmeg, and cinnamon and place over a low flame. Bring the milk to a boil, stirring constantly to keep from scorching. Combine eggs yolks and sugar in a bowl and whisk together. Slowly pour some of the hot milk into the bowl to temper the egg yolks. Then pour the egg mixture into the saucepan and turn the heat to medium. Stir constantly for about four minutes until the mixture thickens, but do not bring it to a boil. Strain out the cloves and let stand until cooled. Stir in the heavy cream.
As a Christmas in July drink, Peppermint Hot Chocolate may be a bit counterintuitive. With a slight tweak, we can make the beverage a bit more summer-friendly. Prepare the cocoa as described in Martha’s recipe adding a few drops of blue food coloring to render a deep blue beverage. Shatter a peppermint stick to create stars that you can sprinkle across the surface of the drinks and then add two peppermint sticks to each cup. Once prepared, chill the cocoa in your refrigerator. This will create an American flag themed cool cocoa treat that you can serve proudly for Christmas in July.
What attracted me to the Black Currant Cider Sparklers is that it gives me a chance to use one of our favorite celebratory beverages. My family loves Martinelli’s Gold Medal Sparkling Cider as a non-alcoholic alternative to champagne for celebrations such as New Year’s toasts, birthday parties and classing up the table for Thanksgiving Dinner. Adding a bit of black currant juice to an already beloved beverage reminds me of my mom’s famous Thimble Cookies. My extended family always enjoyed looking forward to my Mom’s mountain of Christmas Cookies and in particular the Thimble Cookies!
Of course, with all of these cool summertime holiday themed drinks it’s only fair we get some Christmas in July cookies. To this end, Charlene at My Frugal Adventures has a whimsical Christmas In July cookie idea. Melting Snowman Cookies are a comical notion for a mid-summer Christmas celebration and a great way to enjoy a bite of the holidays with your Christmas in July beverages
Why Fruitcake Is The Best Thing Since Sliced Bread
Fruitcake is an unjustly maligned holiday treat, in my opinion. I love fruitcake!
Of course, you might say ‘you are what you eat‘ but that’s not very kind now is it?
Here are some reasons why fruitcake is awesome:
Variety. Despite Johnny Carson’s joke that there is only one fruitcake in the world and people just keep passing it around, there are tons of fruitcakes available on the market. There are gluten free and organic fruitcakes available to those who are health conscious. There are sugar-free fruitcakes for those who are diabetic (don’t ask me how that works, but I have seen them advertised). There are inexpensive dollar store fruitcake slices and there are high end fruitcakes that are lovingly festooned with the finest fruits and nuts and soaked in the most decadent booze. There are fruitcakes for every taste and need!
Fruitcake has a long and illustrious history. Fruitcakes have been found in ancient Egyptian tombs! Since they kept well and were tasty, the Roman legions carried them on long campaigns of conquest. In the Middle Ages, the fruitcake got an upgrade. Spices, honey and preserved fruit were added but the portability of the cake remained. This made it popular as a campaign staple among the Crusaders. In the colonial period, they added nuts and sugar to make it even more tasty. To top it off, the Victorians added a dash of alcohol to give it a little kick. Fruitcake has even been to space! A slice of the fruitcake that was prepared for the Apollo 11 mission is on display at the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum.
Fruitcake can save your life! Due to the preservatives (alcohol) in the cake, it can be prepared months in advance and stored as a foodstuff for the bleak midwinter when the harvest is months in the future. In fact, proper fruitcake ages like a fine wine and must sit at least a month before being fully enjoyed. If properly perserved and stored in an airtight container, fruitcake can last up to 25 years! What’s more, because it is so dense, moist and heavy you can even use it as a weapon if the need arises. According to Harper’s Index, the average fruitcake is as dense as mahogany wood!
Fruitcake has supernatural powers! If you are a woman, put a piece of fruitcake under your pillow after attending a wedding and you will dream about your future husband! If you’re a guy, you’ll just have a quick bit of breakfast in bed. Nut growers used to make a fruitcake at the end of a harvest and then save it until the end of the following harvest as a good luck charm. Fruitcake can be brought back from the dead! If your fruitcake has gone stale due to improper storage, you can resurrect this delectable treat by steaming it.
Because it’s Christmas! Fruitcake is the gift that keeps on giving because you can either eat it or regift it. Personally, I’m in the eat it camp. I’m surely not the only one because in Berryville, Virginia at the Holy Cross Abbey, the monks sell 10,000 fruitcakes each year. Somebody must be eating them, right?
So, that’s the skinny on why fruitcake is so absolutely holiday fabulicious. If you’re one of those who is skeptical of this much denounced treat, I encourage you to give it a try this year. You don’t know what you’re missing!
Get your Trappist Abbey Monastery Fruitcake 3lb in a Gift Box from Amazon.com today!
Snap Circuits Jr. SC-100 Electronics Discovery Kit
My kids have this kit and it is wonderful on so many levels. It encourages creativity. It teaches the basics of electronics. It’s safe and fun.
The kit comes with a variety of snap on pieces that form the circuit necessary to create each project. A colorful instructional manual spells out exactly which pieces to use in order to create a number of different devices with flashing lights, a siren and a rotor. This toy is safe for kids as young as 7 and creates a fun space where young children can build their STEM skills.
This kit requires two AA batteries that are not provided, but if your household is like mine you’ve already got a cookie jar full of batteries on the shelf somewhere.
I can’t recommend this product strongly enough. My children enjoy playing with this electronics set and I’m sure yours would too.
How Christmas Parties Can Help You Win The Game Of Thrones
Christmas parties are festive occasions for family, friends and co-workers. Who you invite and who you don’t can be a matter of practicality or it can be a calculated snub. Some people play power politics on the job and at home. Such people might invite the folks they want to impress. Some can be as calculating as a Lannister.
Truth is, big Christmas parties used to be the domain of royalty. Aristocrats put on lavish affairs to demonstrate their status and show up their peers. They were as boisterous and outlandish as anything George R. R. Martin envisioned in the lands of Westeros. In 1213, King John of England ordered 10,000 salt eels from the Sheriff of Canterbury! Another of the king’s orders listed 1,000 hens, 200 head of pork, 100 lbs of almonds, 50 lbs of pepper, 24 hogshead of wine, 2 lbs of saffron and other supplies.
In the time of the Tudors, the twelve days from Christmas to Epiphany were a time of wild revelry, jousting, card playing and visiting relatives. All work ceased and even women’s spinning was set aside. The idle spinning wheels were decorated with flowers. The Tudors also beat us to the punch on the Turducken. A Tudor Christmas Pie consisted of a pigeon stuffed in a partridge stuffed in a chicken stuffed in a goose stuffed in a turkey surrounded by a stew of rabbit and game birds baked in a crust that was aptly called a coffin.
Christmas was driven underground during the Puritan rule of England, but it began to grow in popularity again once the monarchy was restored. As Christmas was popularized for the middle class, holiday parties became a chance to jockey for influence. In olden times, it was a formal arrangement to declare the Lord of Misrule to serve as king for a day. Of late, it seems to be the wag who drinks too much and thinks too little of the damage to be done to his or her career. However, with the changing centuries, what was old is new again. The decadent romps of the Middle Ages are echoed in the halls of power today. Whether that is financial or political power, you’re likely to find the Machiavellian ladder climbers schmoozing their patrons and the less forward thinking participants photocopying their posteriors.
So be wary, gentle reader. If you are invited to a Christmas party, it might just be egg nog and cookies. But then again, it might be a doorway to your next step on the ladder to power. Play your cards right and you might just survive the Game of Thrones!
Like the wise men of old, we have finally arrived at our destination. Here we are at the official end of the holiday season. I hope you enjoyed the ride!
It’s generally held that the magi didn’t arrive until Jesus was about two, but that would make for a really long holiday season (fine by me). We’d also have to wait another thirty years or so for Easter to come around, so it’s nice to be able to condense it down to meaningful liturgical seasons.
Another thing that I’m pretty adamant about (given that I created a site on the topic) is keeping the season in the season. I’ve seen a number of things over the years that try to drag the symbolism of Easter into the season of Christmas.
There’s a reason why the seasons are separate. If you want foreshadowing, you only need to look at the lyrics of We Three Kings.
I guess I’m one of those guys who likes to keep his carrots from touching his mashed potatoes on the plate, but fair’s fair. Let Christmas be Christmas and let Easter be Easter.
National Shortbread Day
Is there anything more tasty than a rich Scottish shortbread? You can get so many variations of this classic treat online and from the stores, but you can go old school and make it yourself:
1 part white sugar
2 parts butter
3 parts flour
That’s the simple formula for a tremendous holiday treat that you can enjoy anytime.
Something we like to do for the holidays is to decorate the trees outside with items that are edible to birds such as dried berries, cheerios, peanut butter, bird seed. Here are some ideas you can try to make a bird-friendly garland for your non-migratory birds.
Whipped Cream Day
Whipped Cream, also known as Snow Cream, was first mentioned in 1673. Early versions were sweetened and flavored with such things as vanilla, chocolate, orange, rose and coffee. They also used the term Chantilly Creme for these dessert treats.
The reason today is Whipped Cream Day is to celebrate the birthday of Reddi-wip creator, Aaron “Bunny” Lapin. He came up with the canned cream treat in 1948. Some people prefer the canned treat to the scoop-able stuff. Some people prefer whipping heavy cream by hand. Some people just eat it straight from the tub or nibble it off of a loved one (say no more, let’s keep this PG here). No matter how you take it, whipped cream is a tasty addition to any sundae, pie or whatever you’re hungry for.
Christmastime is quickly slipping away and we’ve only got a little bit of the magic left to share. So, why not sit the family down around a bowl of spaghetti and play some trivia games?
Spaghetti is a wonderful comfort food for the chillier times of the year. You can enjoy the usual tomato sauce, alfredo sauce or garlic butter depending on your mood. You can also add proteins such as meatballs, shrimp, sausage or langostinos to fortify the dish. If you’re into vegetables, you can use a light broth and make a wonderful pasta primavera.
There are unresolved issues about the origin of spaghetti. Some say that it was created in Ancient Greece and others hold that Marco Polo brought it back from the East after dining on it at the court of Kublai Khan. Whatever the truth is, we’re glad we have this versatile dish to keep us warm and nourished.
Is there anything more enjoyable for a family to enjoy than an evening playing a trivia game? From the classic Trivial Pursuit and all of its specialty variations (we really enjoy Lord of the Rings Trivial Pursuit) to the latest craze in trivia games, trivia games test your memory and teach you things you might not have known before.
If you want to tackle the latest trivia games, I’ve located 119 amazing facts that could help you in your next trivia challenge.
Click on this game to get your copy
Click on this game to get your copy
Click on this game to get your copy
It’s the Eleventh Day of Christmas and not a moment too soon. Who doesn’t love a band of pipers?