Saturday, December 28, 2013

Changing Traditions and a Borrowed Christmas Tree

When I was growing up, I was the kid who was big on tradition.  My sisters and I always went to my grandparents house the week before Christmas.  We decorated their tree, went Christmas shopping for our parents, and enjoyed our (usually) warm Florida Christmas.  My parents came driving in on Christmas Eve and the festivities began.  I loved traditions!  Little did I know all those years ago that my adult life would be focused around constantly changing traditions. In our early years of married life, we managed to form some family traditions, but then things changed a few years ago when God called us to a different life in a different place.

Christmas 2010 - Our last Christmas in our home in South Carolina
Christmas 2011- Our last Christmas (for a while) in the USA
Last year was our first Christmas in Mexico.  Christmas in Puebla, Mexico was beautiful...the lights, the music, the firecrackers (okay, maybe not the firecrackers).  We knew we were going to be moving many times that year and didn't want to invest in a tree and decorations that we'd have to pack up and carry around with us.  I decided to get crafty and make a felt tree that we could decorate and then roll up and take with us!  It worked for the first year (everything was still new and exciting to the kids).

Our felt tree and homemade Christmas PJ's 2012! 
Fast forward a year...after a long year of moving around, the kids are ready to have a home (which will actually become a reality in the next few months).  We decided to spend Christmas at our training center in Oaxaca since other families with kids would be here as well.  After digging around our storage room and finally finding our small bag of decorations, we set up our felt tree again.  The kids were happy to have it up, but every now and then one would ask, "When can we have a real tree with lights and decorations?"   There is just something about having a tree.

Our first Christmas tree sighting of the season in Metepec 2013.
After posting something about our decorations on Facebook, a sweet friend offered to lend us her tree since she and her husband would be spending Christmas in the States with their children.  It was such a thoughtful offer, and we decided to surprise the kids.  They were very surprised.  They both kept saying over and over again that this was going to be the best Christmas ever!  Who knew a tree could be such a big blessing!

Decorating "our" tree
I think Kieran could have decorated it all night.
We even printed off a star for the top!
The other night when I was putting Kieran to bed, he told me that the best thing about Christmas was making sweet memories together.  I think that is a great perspective.  We have managed to keep a few traditions going, but most importantly, we have focused on making sweet memories together no matter where we are or what we are doing on Christmas Day! 
Elyse hosted her first Christmas tea for her friends.
Christmas morning! 
We have no idea where we will be next Christmas or what Christmas will look like at the Toler house.  We do know one thing for sure; we can celebrate His birth in a small cinder block house in the village or in a large city with a fancy tree.  Either way, the Hope that was born over 2000 years ago is worth celebrating. 

May God bless you and your family this Christmas season and into the New Year!  Enjoy your traditions, old and new, but most of all, have fun making sweet memories together and remember the reason we celebrate!

¡Feliz Navidad y Prospero Año!
The Toler Family

Monday, October 21, 2013

Making Memories Monday - Field Trip!

One of the great things about studying U.S. History (homeschool) in rural Mexico, is that you don't have to go far out your front door to find people working and living much like our pioneer ancestors did a few hundred years ago.  While reading Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder with Kieran, we were invited to visit the home a weaver family in a small village about 15 minutes from where we live.  In the book, we read about how the pioneers would sheer the sheep for the wool, wash the wool, card the wool, dye the wool, and then weave it into cloth.  This is the same processed used today in many villages here in Mexico.  It is an art and the weavers are amazingly talented.  The family we visited uses natural dyes for the yarn including a bug that lives on the cactus plant.  It produces a beautiful, vibrant red color. 

WARNING:  There are many pictures in this blog entry.  The process was so interesting and the colors so amazing! 

Here is the wool yard before it has been washed and dyed. 

The ladies are preparing the fire for the natural dyes.  They used pecan shells for the brown and some kind of plant for a green color.

Washing the wool.

The kids enjoyed watching the ladies dye the wool.

Watching the process with our friends who invited us along on their fieldtrip. 

Adding plants to the boiling water to get a new color.

Carding the wool to make it smooth and ready to go on the spinning wheel.

What beautiful colors come from our earth!

The beginnings of a wool rug.

Preparing the wool for the spinning wheel.

Turning the wool into yarn. This lady did it so quickly and perfectly even. 
I'm sure she's had years of practice.
Kieran was trying to decide if he wanted to give it a try.

With mom's help, he jumped it.  It was much harder than it looked!

These intricate rugs take a lot of concentration and time.

Pure indigo is used to make the blue shades.

The red color is made from bugs that live on the cactus plant.

Blue made from the indigo.

The brown dye was made from crushed nut shells.

This is the loom they use to make the cotton fabric (for curtains, table cloths, and clothes)

A beautiful wool rug.

Always busy!
When they aren't making their weavings, they are preparing corn for tortillas.

The green color made from plants.
We really enjoyed learning about the process of making cloth.  There is so much to learn here in Mexico, and we are thankful to be a part of this beautiful culture.  Homeschool will never be boring here!  

Monday, October 14, 2013

Making Memories Monday - Making Chocolate

I can honestly say that next time I bite into a chocolate candy bar, I will appreciate that bar so much more.  Granted, that candy bar was probably made in a factory somewhere, but, nonetheless, after this past weekend, the Toler family has a new appreciation for chocolate.

Last week, my Mexican friend Carmen asked if I wanted to learn how to make chocolate.  As you may know, Mexico is the birthplace of chocolate (I knew we came to the right place!).  If you'd like to learn more about the history of chocolate, click on the the link below:

The History of Chocolate

The process of making chocolate here in Oaxaca hasn't changed much since the times of the Aztecs.  We started by going to the open air market to buy the cacao beans (2 kilos), a comal (a large clay baking stone), cinnamon sticks, and almonds.  We came back to the house and built a fire in the backyard.

Once the fire was nice and hot, we rinsed the beans and then spread them on the comal.  We took turns stirring the beans until they were nice and toasted.  They looked burnt to me, but Carmen assured me they were the perfect color.

Once they cooled a bit, we took the skin/shell off the bean.   This was the most time consuming part.  Elyse didn't enjoy getting her hands black so she supervised most of the time!

Once we had all the beans cleaned off, we roasted some almonds and packed everything up to take to the grinder.  Most towns and cities have places where you can take your corn (for making tortillas), coffee beans, and cacoa to be ground since this is very much a part of everyday life in Mexico.  First, the grinder combined the cacao beans, almonds and/or vanilla, and cinnamon sticks.  A thick, dark brown liquid came out of this step.  Next, he mixed the chocolate with sugar.  He then moved to a different machine and ground the liquid and sugar into a thick powder like substance.

We took home two big backs of the chocolate powder (if you have kids and have every played with Moon Sand, this was kind of the consistency of the chocolate). 

Once home, we took some molds and pounded the chocolate into them.  We had to pound the chocolate until it was packed and had a glossy finish to it.

When we put it out to dry, it looked like chunks of dark chocolate fudge to me (are you hungry yet?). 
We let the chocolate dry over night and now we are ready to try some delicious hot chocolate tonight with some friends. 

What a fun way to experience Mexican culture!