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Country Cousin

Advent Is Here...

If all the rain that fell in the month of November had been snow we'd be buried beyond the rooftops. But it didn't, and that saved taxpayers a great deal of money because roads did not need to be plowed, and a great many backaches because snow did not need to be shoveled.

Just hope December doesn't turn out to be a snowy version of November. A good packing snow on Dec. 23 would be a nice touch. If weather were made to order, once the roads were plowed after that snow days and nights would stay just cold enough to keep the snow cover in place until Spring, without any need for fresh batches to fall.

That way, the snowmobilers, ATV enthusiasts and snowman builders could have their fun, the outdoor plants would stay protected, and we wouldn't need to contend with icy roads or snow removal.

Good plan?

ADVENT IS HERE

Christmas lights are shining everywhere. Trees are being decorated. Manger scenes are being set out, and baking (and freezing) are being done by diligent housewives.

But why should only our homes be prepared for Christmas?

Advent began on Sunday, Nov. 27. In many cultures Advent is supposed to be a sort of mini-Lent, with fasting, penance and lots of soul cleaning in preparation for the arrival of the Christ Child into our hearts. Good plan.

Decorating our homes is an important part of the holiday, and we can use those decorations to remind us of what Christmas is all about.

Although Advent has started, it's t's not too late to get an Advent wreath tradition started in your home. Prepare a wreath with five candles for your centerpiece, four around the outside ring and one in the center. Light two candles with dinner on Sunday, Dec. 4, three on Dec. 11 and four on Dec. 18. Then on Christmas Eve light all five candles. With each candle lighting ceremony, hopefully your family will offer some suitable prayers in preparation for a Blessed and Happy Christmas!

ST. NICHOLAS DAY

Thursday, Dec. 6 is St. Nicholas' Day. Since we lived in Appleton when our son was a boy we were forced to give small gifts and candies on St. Nicholas' Day in addition to preparing for Santa on Dec. 24.

St. Nicholas comes on a horse, in company of a nasty little friend Black Pieter. St. Nicholas would bring gifts or candy, but Black Pieter was said to leave coal for boys and girls who had been bad during the year. With the price of fuel this year, that might not be such a bad thing!

IMMACULATE CONCEPTION

A special Holy Day in the Catholic faith, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, comes on Dec. 8 or 9, depending on which country you're in and which Christian religion is involved.

It is a public holiday in Austria, Nicaragua, Chile, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Macau, Malta, Peru, Paraguay and the Philippines. It is a Holy Day of Obligation for Catholics everywhere, and celebrates the Blessed Virgin Mary's conception without original sin.

CHOOSING A TREE

"Tis the season to be acquiring that Christmas tree. Despite "green" hype to the contrary, a real tree is more ecologically friendly than buying a fake one. New trees grow, fake ones end up in landfills. But we all know that sometimes real trees can be a disappointment, as when the needles part company with their branches before Christmas arrives.

There are ways to prevent that. According to the National Christmas Tree Association, with proper care, you can maintain the quality of your displayed trees. Water is the key.

First, select a tree that looks, feels and smells fresh and flexible.

Once home, place the tree in water as soon as possible. Try not to bruise the cut trunk or get it dirty. Most species can go 6 to 8 hours after cutting the trunk and still take up water. If you feel the base of the tree may have been damaged, or may have been cut too long (which is very likely) cut about half inch off the bottom of the tree and place it in a bucket that is kept full of water. If needed, trees can be temporarily stored for several days this way in a cool location. Be sure to keep the bucket full of water.

Displaying trees in water in a traditional reservoir type stand is advised as the most effective way of maintaining their freshness and minimizing needle loss problems.

Before putting your tree in its stand, make a fresh cut to remove about a 1/2-inch thick disk of wood from the base of the trunk. Make the cut perpendicular to the stem axis. Don't cut the trunk at an angle, or into a v-shape, as this makes it far more difficult to hold the tree in the stand and also reduces the amount of water available to the tree.

To display the trees indoors, use a stand with an adequate water holding capacity for the tree. As a general rule, stands should provide 1 quart of water per inch of stem diameter. Devices are available that help maintain a constant water level in the stand. Use a stand that fits your tree. Avoid whittling the sides of the trunk down to fit a stand. The outer layers of wood are the most efficient in taking up water and should not be removed.

Keep your tree away from sources of heat (fireplaces, heaters, heat vents, direct sunlight). Lowering the room temperature will slow the drying process, resulting in less water consumption each day.

Keep the stand filled with water, and be sure the water reaches the base of the tree. Sometimes it doesn't. Temperature of that water added is not important and does not affect water uptake.

Always inspect light sets prior to placing them on the tree. If worn, replace with a new set. Do not overload electrical circuits. For safety and longevity of your tree, always turn off the tree lights when leaving the house or when going to bed.

REMEMBER PEARL HARBOR

Remember the old World War II song, "Remember Pearl Harbor?"

Wednesday, Dec. 7, marks the 75th anniversary of the infamous Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941 that drew America fully into World War II. That war did not end until Aug. 10, 1945, after American planes dropped the world's first Atom bombs on Hiroshima, Japan, on August 6, 1945.

At the time of the Pearl Harbor attack American and Japanese diplomats were holding talks that the American negotiators believed were aimed at preventing war between their nations.

While the negations were in progress the attack happened that destroyed almost the entire American Pacific fleet. In addition to the ships, 188 U.S. aircraft were destroyed; 2,403 Americans were killed and 1,178 others were wounded. The attack also killed somewhere between 62 and 88 civilians.

Pearl Harbor was probably the most devastating loss in U.S. history, military or otherwise, but it brought America into the war with an intense will to win, and led to the horrific atomic bomb and Japan's eventual defeat.

Let us pause for a moment on the 75th anniversary of that attack to pray for the souls of the men who died so suddenly, and thank our Creator for allowing us to win that war and preserve our precious freedom. And let us pray that America regains its determination to remain strong so that such an attack will never happen again.

What a very different world this would be today had victory gone to the other side, to what we called the Axis powers of Adolph Hitler and Hirohito!

FAVORITE SONGS

When I was a very, very young girl, born just six months before Pearl Harbor, the War was very much a part of our lives. We prayed for friends, cousins and uncles who were fighting "over there." We lived with ration coupons, which didn't cause too much trouble because we didn't have much money any way.

We were fortunate enough to have real butter because the grandparents owned a little dairy farm. We reused everything possible and saved all the cooking fats we didn't eat for the war effort. Not sure, but am told the fats were used to make ammunition for the military, and believe there was a collection center for them in Marinette.

There were no TV's, at least not here in northern Wisconsin, but we did have a record player, and as a tyke I was allowed to play it.

Our family owned only a few records. Two of my favorites were very militant World War II songs that I played over and over as a solitary pre-schooler who did not yet have siblings. One was, "Remember Pearl Harbor." Today, even printing the title of the other one would be a political gaffe of great proportions. I doubt any of us will ever hear it again, except perhaps in an instrumental version with another name that did not mention "Yellow," "Jap," "Slap," or "Dirty.

FIX THOSE DINGS

My poor, beat-up old van was recently falsely accused of being involved in the hit and run destruction of a portion of a neighbor's fence.

It had been hit by a deer a few years ago and since the driving ability and headlights weren't affected I had never bothered to get the damage repaired. There was also damage from a deer collision when the previous owner still was driving it.

Then the fence was struck, and the neighbor reported that my vehicle did it.

The old dings made things look bad, but fortunately, the maroon vehicle body parts found at the scene did not match any parts missing from my van and the investigation turned elsewhere.

Moral of this story is that had I gotten the dings repaired when the deer collision happened there would never have been cause to suspect my poor innocent vehicle.

Now I'll get more gray hairs worrying about what the outcome might have been had one of the rusty parts simply fallen off and landed in the ruts caused by whatever vehicle did do the damage.

To restore my peace of mind I may need to get it fixed, even if it isn't worth the money.

ON THE SOAP BOX

REFRESHING


A Somali-born Ohio State University student in Columbus, Ohio on Monday, Nov. 28 plowed his car into a group of pedestrians on campus and then got out and began stabbing people with a butcher knife before he was shot to death by Police Officer Alan Horujko moments after he arrived on the scene.

The attacker was identified as Abdul Razak Ali Artan. He was born in Somalia and was a legal permanent U.S. resident, according to national news reports. In an August interview with the school's student newspaper Artan had identified himself as a Muslim and said he was looking for a place to pray openly and worried about how he would be received. He suggested separate prayer rooms for Muslims.

In that interview Artan also blamed the media for putting a false picture about Muslims into people's heads.

That said, it's refreshing to note that the officer is being praised for his quick actions that ended the carnage, instead of being criticized and investigated for racial profiling.

And officials have actually admitted that they are investigating to determine if Artan's murderous slashing was a terrorist attack.

Monica Moll, director of Ohio State's Department of Public Safety, said Horujko is owed a debt of gratitude. He is on paid leave until the standard investigation that follows any shooting of a suspect, but in the press and by official spokesmen for the state and the department he works for, he is being praised as a hero, not castigated as a villain!

Too bad all police officers who are forced to shoot the bad guys aren't given that same respect!

COOKIN' TIME

The Christmas holiday season has officially started. Time to do lots of cooking in preparation for our favorite time of year. Aren't freezers wonderful?

SELF RISING FLOUR

Lots of old time recipes, the kind we like to dig out for holiday baking, call for self rising flour. This is not the same as packaged biscuit mix. Self rising flour is indeed handy to have around, but if you have none, you can make your own. Simply mix 3 1/2 cups flour, 1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder, 1 3/4 teaspoons baking soda and 1 3/4 teaspoons salt, and then use as directed. Save what's left for next time. It's probably a good idea to give the mixture a good stir or shake before using again to be sure nothing has settled out.

Incidentally, the self rising flour, like the baking powder and baking soda it's made from, does not last forever. Better use it up in a few weeks.

MANGO CHUTNEY STEAK

Feel like fussing a little, but not too much? Make this ahead, up to the point of adding the cream and the mango chutney, and have it ready to serve for a special meal during the busy holiday season.

3 pound sirloin steak, 1 inch strips

1/4 cup green peppercorns

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup butter

1 cup water

1/2 cup brandy or possibly cognac

1 cup heavy cream

1/2 cup mango chutney (store bought)

2 cups rice, cooked according to package directions

Cut steak into 1-inch cubes and grind or smash peppercorns. Put peppercorns and salt in a plastic bag and shake to mix. Add steak cubes and shake again to coat well. Heat 1/4 cup butter in heavy skillet until it gets very warm and starts to sizzle. Brown half of cubes. Remove browned steak cubes and keep warm. Add the second quarter cup of butter to the pan and brown the last half of the steak cubes. Return the first steak cubes to the pan. Add the water and the brandy. Bring to a boil, then turn the heat down to simmer and add the cream and chutney. Simmer for a few minutes and serve over cooked rice. Makes eight generous servings, ten if they're light eaters.

EASIEST SWEET POTATO CASSEROLE

No one will know if they should eat this as a vegetable or a dessert, but my guess is, perhaps it will become both. Sweet potatoes pack a ton of nutrients and should be on our menus far more often. Make ahead and freeze for a fuss free Christmas side dish.

3 cans sweet potatoes (or use 6 pounds of baked sweet potatoes if preferred)

1 stick butter, melted

3/4 cup light brown sugar

1/2 cup white sugar

1/4 cup maple syrup

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon vanilla

1/4 teaspoon maple extract

TOPPING

1/2 cup brown sugar

2 tablespoons sugar

6 tablespoons butter, melted

1/2 cup chopped pecans

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons flour

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and spray a casserole dish with nonstick spray. Drain the cans of sweet potatoes and place them in a large mixing bowl. Using a hand held mixer, mix the sweet potatoes until smooth (potatoes will still be slightly lumpy). Add the butter, both sugars, maple syrup, cinnamon, salt, and both extracts and blend well with the mixer. Pour inside the casserole dish and smooth the top. In a separate bowl, pour the brown sugar, sugar, pecans, vanilla extract, melted butter, and stir. Next, sprinkle in the flour and stir until clumpy and crumbly. Allow to sit for 5 minutes. Now sprinkle the sweet potato casserole with the topping and bake for 25 minutes.

The Country Cousin

Thought for the week: Advent, and the entire Christmas season, are the perfect times to tell and retell the story of Christ's birth, and of His life. As Brian D. McLaren said in his book, "Finding Our Way Again: The Return of the Ancient Practices," special holidays give rise to various liturgical calendars that suggest we should mark our days not only with the cycles of the moon and seasons, "but also with occasions to tell our children the stories of our faith community's past so that this past will have a future, and so that our ancient way and its practices will be rediscovered and renewed every year."

(This column is written by Shirley Prudhomme of Crivitz. Views expressed are her own and are in no way intended to be an official statement of the opinions of Peshtigo Times editors and publishers. She may be contacted by phone at 715-291-9002 or by e-mail to shirleyprudhommechickadee@yahoo.com.)


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