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Cozy Books for Winter Days

Cozy Books for Winter DaysThe winter days can be long, cold and dreary, but we’ve got something to engage your mind – great books. Nothing beats cozying up by the fire or under a blanket with a good book to pass a chilly winter’s day. Whether it’s romance, adventure, poetry or drama, there’s something for everyone in the land of books. Based on what Blue Mountain Facebook Friends say they’re reading these days, here are just a few suggestions to get you into the reading spirit!

 MAKING ROUNDS WITH OSCAR: THE EXTRAORDINARY GIFT OF AN ORDINARY CAT by David Dosa – published in 2010.

Oscar, a therapy cat born in 2005, became known for his uncanny ability to predict death in a Rhode Island Nursing and Rehabilitation facility. Called everything from an “amazing cat” to a “harbinger of death”, Oscar has predicted approximately 50 deaths by curling up to certain terminal patients just before their expiration. The “early warning system” brings both a heads-up and comfort to the families of the patients, and a curiosity about his abilities to the world.

THE HELP by Kathryn Stockett – published in 2009.

Recent college-graduate Eugenia Skeeter Phelan is anxious to become a writer, and is encouraged to write about things that disturb her. A social activist in the making, she collects the stories of the black women on whom the country club sets both relies and mistrusts. Aibileen (a maid) and Minny (Aibileen’s best friend) provide Skeeter with their scathing and shocking stories, bringing pride and optimism to the black community, while giving Skeeter the bravery to conquer her personal limitations and accomplish her goals.

 THE SHACK by William P. Young – published in 2007.

Mackenzie “Mack” Allen Philips’ youngest daughter, Missy, is abducted while on an Oregon family vacation. An abandoned shack is the only thing that provides any clues, and the evidence says that she may have been brutally murdered. Four years later, Mack receives a suspicious note (supposedly from God) that invites him back to that shack for a weekend. The revelation that he gets will astound and transform him, and possibly you, the Reader.

 THE HEART MENDER: A STORY OF SECOND CHANCES by Andy Andrews – published in 2010.

While digging up a withering wax myrtle tree beside his waterfront home on the Gulf coast, author Andy Andrews unearths a rusted metal container filled with Nazi artifacts and begins an intriguing investigation that unlocks an unspoken past that took place in his backyard… literally. Set in a period simmering with anger and suspicion The Heart Mender offers the very real chronicle of a small town preparing itself for the worst the world has to offer.

 WHAT SOUTHERN WOMEN KNOW (THAT EVERY WOMAN SHOULD): Timeless Secrets to Get Everything you Want in Love, Life, and Work by Ronda Rich – published in 2000.

Rich explains the mystique of Southern women and why they always get what they want. She also shows women how to achieve the same kind of personal and professional success by retaining their femininity and respect for tradition, choosing their battles carefully, and being courteous and positive.

“Reading her book is like watching a hilarious episode of the sitcom Designing Women.”-The Tennessean (Nashville)”

EAT, PRAY, LOVE by Elizabeth Gilbert – published in 2006.

32-year-old Elizabeth Gilbert had a successful life, but is unhappy in her marriage. An affair followed by a divorce leads her on an introspective journey to Italy, India and Bali to “eat”, “pray” and “love” her way back into a centered, happy life.

What books are you recommending to friends these days? 

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Celebrate Kwanzaa

Celebrate KwanzaaCelebrate family, community and culture – celebrate Kwanzaa! This African American and Pan-African holiday is observed from December 26 – January 1 each year. It was created in 1966 by Dr. Maulana Karenga, professor of Africana Studies at California State University, in order to promote, preserve, and continually revitalize and African American culture.

Origins

The origins of Kwanzaa come from the first harvest celebrations of Africa. The name “Kwanzaa” is derived from the phrase “matunda ya kwanza” which means “first fruits” in Swahili, a Pan-African language which is the most widely spoken African language. Kwanzaa is structured around the five activities of Continental African “first fruit” celebrations, which are ingathering, reverence, commemoration, recommitment and celebration. Kwanzaa is a cultural holiday, not a religious one, so it’s embraced by Africans of all religious faiths.

Activities

Each year, participants take part in feasting, gift giving and in the symbolic lighting of a candle holder called a kinara. The lighting is similar to the lighting of the Menorah during Hanukkah, the Jewish celebration in December. The kinara’s shape is symbolic of the roots that African Americans have in the continent of Africa. During Kwanzaa, seven candles are placed in the kinara – three red candles (African blood shed) on the left, three green candles (the land of Africa) on the right, and one black candle (the African race) in the center. The seven candles represent the Seven Principles (or Nguzo Saba) of Kwanzaa, while the colors of red, green and black represent the colors of the holiday. A new candle is lit on each day of Kwanzaa, with the center black candle being the first. The rest of the lighting alternates between the red and green candles beginning with the outermost red candle and moving towards the center. Each day of Kwanzaa is dedicated to the reflection on one of the Seven Principles.

The Seven Principles of Kwanzaa

Umoja (Unity)
To strive for and maintain unity in the family, community, nation and race.
 

Kujichagulia (Self-Determination)
To define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves and speak for ourselves.

Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility)
To build and maintain our community together and make our brother’s and sister’s problems our problems and to solve them together.

 Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics)
To build and maintain our own stores, shops and other businesses and to profit from them together.

 Nia (Purpose)
To make our collective vocation the building and developing of our community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness.

 Kuumba (Creativity)
To do always as much as we can, in the way we can, in order to leave our community more beautiful and beneficial than we inherited it.
 

Imani (Faith)
To believe with all our heart in our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders and the righteousness and victory of our struggle.

Do you have a special way of celebrating Kwanzaa?

Sources:  http://www.officialkwanzaawebsite.org/origins1.shtml  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kwanzaa   (We are not affiliated with these sites)

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What Is the Winter Solstice?

What Is the Winter Solstice?It actually only lasts a moment, but the WINTER SOLSTICE is celebrated by many cultures with a spirit of rebirth and long tradition. Holidays and festivals mark the winter solstice, the time when exactly when the Earth’s axial tilt is farthest away from the sun at its maximum of 23° 26′. What does this mean for us? Longer nights, shorter days and plenty of celebrations.

 “Solstice” comes from the Latin “sol” meaning sun, and “sistere,” which is “to cause to stand still”. In ancient times, these astronomical events actually influenced everything from harvests to moods, and so people around the planet observed the occasion in different ways.

 Even today, gatherings are valued for emotional well-being in the gloom of winter during the darkest time of the year. Midwinter festivals often feature evergreens, lots of lights, cozy fires, feasts, time with family and friends, and the practice of dancing and singing to get warm in the cold weather.

 The span of celebrations in December is diverse in both religion and culture. Observances around the winter solstice include Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and traditions of Neopagan Wiccans, as well as the Native American tribes.

  Familiar symbols and practices that have evolved with the holidays come from Pagan times: the decoration of homes with holly, ivy, mistletoe; the burning of the yule log; the giving of gifts; the decoration of an evergreen tree; the belief in magical reindeer, and more.

 This year, the Winter solstice in the Northern Hemisphere (UT) will take place exactly on December 21, 2010 at 23:38 (or 11:38pm). However you celebrate, remember to take the time to appreciate family and friends, and to count your blessings.

 What are some of your winter traditions?

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Video Recap of Our Travels to the Gulf Coast

In early December, a team of our BlueMountain.com employees partnered with United Way and traveled to Bayou La Batre, Alabama in hopes of bringing Christmas joy to the families affected by the BP Oil Spill. Using conributions from fundraisers, we raised enough money to throw a joyful and memorable Christmas celebration for 60 wonderful guest-of-honor families!  Bayou La Batre, thanks for welcoming us with open arms, sharing your stories and touching out lives.  You’ve provided us amazing memories we won’t soon forget!

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ROorDIPU0Rs]

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Holiday Entertaining

Holiday EntertainingThe holidays are the time for us to open up our hearts and homes to others. It’s both exciting and a little daunting. Here are some easy holiday entertaining tips to help keep the spirit jolly this season!

Invitations

Be sure to send your invites at least two weeks in advance. Don’t forget the who, what, where and when! Also, a quick menu preview is a great idea, as guests appreciate knowing type of food will be served.

 Decorations

Delight your guests with bright and festive decorations! Use holiday colors such as red, green, silver and gold. Wreaths and garland are whimsical touches, as is the traditional Christmas tree – why not invite guests to join in the fun of decorating it with you?

 Food Prep

Prepare as many foods in advance as possible, so you can spend your time with your guests and not in the kitchen.

Beverages

Make sure everyone gets in the holiday spirit with a wide selection of drinks. Hot apple cider is warm and cheery, and a hot chocolate bar is always enjoyable for all ages.

 Music

Don’t forget to set the mood with some holiday tunes. Do you have musicians in the group? Everyone enjoys a holiday sing along, or impromptu caroling.

Kid-Friendly

Friends and relatives may want to share the festivities with little ones, so it’s smart to have small things for younger kids to do. Some inexpensive coloring books, toys or card games can keep little ones busy and happy.

Toasting

Nothing brings a group together like a festive toast! A short, holiday “thank you for coming” with a raised glass will do just fine. Also, a “cheers” to passed loved ones is always a nice remembrance of people and traditions past.

Clean Up

One word: plastics! Disposable serving ware will save you loads of time and dishes later, just remember to put that recycling bin in a prominent spot for easy clean up.

And you’re ready to party! What are some of your favorite touches that you like to put on your own seasonal gatherings?   Do you have a favorite holiday toast?

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Time-Saver Gift Tips

Time Saver Gift Tips ‘Tis the season to be busy, and for some of us, that’s six-places-at-one-time busy. So when it comes to saving time when holiday shopping, yet still buying gifts that are thoughtful for friends and loved ones, we’re all ears. Struggling through crowded malls and long lines at the register will test anyone’s cheerful holiday spirit.

 If you want to keep your spirits bright this holiday season, try some of these helpful time saving tips for holiday shopping:

 Every efficient holiday begins with a list. Make a gift list of everyone you’re shopping for and ideas of what they might like.

  1. When you must venture out into the madness of holiday mall shopping, try planning your stops to maximize time. Write them down if necessary. There’s nothing like crisscrossing town a few times to wish you’d taken this step earlier.
  2. Want to shop in your pajamas? Go online. Consider sending those on your list an Amazon.com Gift Card, along with a thoughtful, personalized Blue Mountain eCard. Not only will it let you skip the crowds, the lines and the usual bedlam of holiday shopping, but the person receiving it gets to choose from literally millions of items.

 Want to take a closer look at how you’re spending your holiday time – and see how to save some? Try our “Got Joy? Helpful Holiday Assistant”on Facebook. Discover your holiday style by answering a few questions, then share the results with your friends.

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Christmas Angels

Christmas Angels“Thank heaven for angels who help us fly when our wings are too tired.”

 The holidays call us to count our blessings – our family, our friends and our good fortune.  We are also called to recognize the people who need our help to find their Christmas spirit this year. The holidays are the perfect  time to channel our inner angel.

 Anyone can be an Angel. Sometimes just a smile can lighten the heaviest heart. Do you know someone who is lonely or sad? Someone who’s struggling to meet expenses?  Here are some simple things that anyone can do to brighten the season for others.

  • Call someone you have not talked to in a long time, and spend some time catching up.
  • Let go of old hurts and practice forgiveness in all your relationships.
  • Be a Secret Santa to someone who might not otherwise receive a gift.
  • Bake some cookies, make some hot chocolate and invite your neighbors over.
  • Help out your older neighbors by shoveling snow, grocery shopping, or taking out their trash.
  • Think outside the gift box and give the “gift of presence” by spending time with family and friends.
  • Invite an unemployed friend to share in a special dinner or function and take care of the cost.
  • Spend time with those who may be forgotten at Christmas and invite your friends to join you.
  • Include a personal note in your Christmas cards to let people know that they are in your thoughts and prayers.
  • Volunteer at a homeless shelter or food bank.
  • Offer to babysit for a couple so they can get a night out or do some shopping.
  • Donate money or goods to a local charity.
  • Build an igloo or a snowman with the neighborhood children.

 How will you be an Angel this season? Has someone been an Angel to you? 

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BlueMountain.com Visits Bayou La Batre, Alabama

BlueMountain.com Visits Bayou La Batre, AlabamaTwo days prior to our trip, there was an odd sense of peace that overtook the group.  We still had camera equipment to prep, gifts to buy, presents to wrap, crafts to set up, and a hall to decorate.  But despite all of this, there was peace.  This was a tremendous precursor to what laid ahead.

Friday morning came faster than expected.  Before we knew it, we were on a plane to Alabama – it’s really happening!

BlueMountain.com Visits Bayou La Batre, AlabamaAt 11:30 a.m. we arrived at the Mobile airport, and after dropping our bags off at the hotel, we needed to make a quick stop at the United Way of Southwest Alabama.  It was time to finally meet the team that diligently helped us for so many months!BlueMountain.com Visits Bayou La Batre, Alabama

After loading up the vans at United Way with presents, crafts, and decorations, we drove 45 minutes to the small coastal town of Bayou La Batre.

Once there, we met David and Grace from Boat People SOS – a community-based organization whose mission it is to help the numerous families devastated by the Gulf Oil Spill.

We unloaded the vans as quickly as we possibly could!  After that, we eagerly jumped back on the road to catch a glimpse of the Bayou before sundown.  David and a few of his friends from Boat People SOS walked us through the havoc wreaked upon this once thriving Alabama town.  First Hurricane Katrina, and now this.  What more could Bayou La Batre endure?

BlueMountain.com Visits Bayou La Batre, AlabamaFrom inside the vans, we could see water in the distance.  As we started our way across the draw bridge, everything was somber.  There were abandoned ships, closed boat making facilities, and closed oyster and shrimp cleaning shops.  The Bayou was a ghost town.  The devastation that we heard so much about was now staring us in the face: sixty percent of families without jobs and nowhere to go…


The next 24 hours were a blur- we were setting up and decorating the hall, gift wrapping presents, prepping the craft stations, setting up Christmas movies to play on a big screen, and making sure Christmas music could be heard by all.  By midnight on Friday, we were almost completely set up.  Exhausted and emotionally drained (but excited at the same time!), we drove back to our hotel in Mobile to get a few hours of rest before Saturday’s event.

BlueMountain.com Visits Bayou La Batre, Alabama
7:00 a.m. came bright and early. Time to regroup with the team for breakfast (we’d need it!) and to go over the final details of the event!  Craft tutorials, last minute purchases, snack table setup, and photo station prep…

At 2:00 p.m. the event started.  Needless to say, everything couldn’t have gone more perfectly.  We had a blast helping the kids make soap snow balls, edible Christmas trees, Christmas angel ornaments, and greeting cards.  We’re pretty sure the kids enjoyed it too BlueMountain.com Visits Bayou La Batre, Alabama

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Dinner was delicious, Santa was merry, family photos came out great, presents were well received, and fun was had by all – the holiday party was a major success!  And the best part, we got to hear some amazingly touching stories of heartache and triumph from many hard working Alabama boating families.

Thank you for following us through this uplifting experience – and stay tuned for great video clips from the entire trip!

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Your Pet-Perfect Holiday

Your Pet Perfect HolidayThe holidays aren’t the same unless we include our furry and feathered friends, but there are some things to keep in mind in order to keep them safe and secure this season. 

No Bones About It

 Any item outside an animal’s regular diet can be harmful to your pet’s system, but you’ll want to pay special attention to these:

  • Chocolate, sweets with Zorbitol or Xylitol (commonly found in chewing gum and other candy), table scraps and alcoholic beverages – all of these items can cause digestive, metabolic and / or respiratory issues. Some of them can be toxic– even fatal.
  • Hot drippings from pans and pots during cooking can cause burns.
  • Be sure to pet proof the garbage can.  Bones from your meal can easily splinter and puncture your pet’s mouth and digestive tract.

 Look Before They Leap

 Holly and mistletoe, Christmas tree water (which can harbor bacteria if stagnant or contain chemicals from the tree), holiday bubbling lights, and mothballs – all of these can be poisonous to your pet.

  • Tinsel and wrapping paper can wreak havoc on a pet’s digestive tract and cause trouble for curious beaks. The inks and dyes in them can also be poisonous.
  • Stabilize your tree – a climbing cat, jumping dog or perching bird can easily knock over a wobbly tree and be injured.
  • Electrical cords can shock or electrocute if chewed.
  • Candles can cause fire with a tail flick or playful leap. Smoke and fumes from candles can also irritate the sensitive respiratory systems of your birds, as will cigarette smoke and aerosol sprays.
  • Clean up pine needles, and avoid using metal hooks and glass ornaments, all of which can cut paws or puncture the digestive tract if ingested.
  • Finally, don’t tie ribbons around your pet’s neck – they can strangle.

 Paws for Fun

 Make sure you have a safe, quiet place for them to be alone. With all of the extra people around, they may need some time away from a house full of guests!

  • Get your buddy a new toy to play with or treat to munch on while you open gifts. This occupies them and includes them in on the gift opening fun.

Do you have some pet safety tips to add?  Please leave a reply.  Thank you!

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Bring Us Some Figgy Pudding!

Bring Us Some Figgy Pudding!“Oh, bring us some figgy pudding; 
Oh, bring us some figgy pudding; 
Oh, bring us some figgy pudding and a cup of good cheer.”

- From the Christmas classic, We Wish You a Merry Christmas

 But what IS figgy pudding, exactly?

 It’s a little bit cake, it’s a little bit pudding, it’s a little bit booze. This spice cake-like souffle made with figs and walnuts brings out the curiosity in many around the holiday season. Known to most of us from the song “We Wish You a Merry Christmas”, Figgy Pudding is a Christmas pudding that goes back to the 16th century. Popular in England, it became a hit in that country because of the abundance of fig trees in the region. Many versions of this fruitcake-like dessert are made with rum or other combinations of liquor.

 Don’t wait for someone to bring you some Figgy Pudding – you can make some of your own! Here’s a non-alcohol version of the recipe found at www.suite101.com(We are not affiliated with this site.)

Things You’ll Need

  • 3/4 cup (1.5 sticks) of butter
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup molasses
  • 3 cups dried figs
  • ½ cup raisins
  • 1 teaspoon grated lemon peel
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 cup walnuts
  • 2 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt (or to taste)
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

 Making the Figgy Pudding

  1. Chop the walnuts roughly.
  2. Remove the stems from the figs and chop those roughly as well.
  3. Grate the fresh spices including the nutmeg, cinnamon and lemon peel so that they are ready for mixing.
  4. In an electric mixer, mix the butter until it is nice and fluffy in texture.
  5. Add the molasses and eggs and beat the mixture again until well mixed.
  6. Combine the figs, lemon peel, raisins, buttermilk and walnuts into the butter molasses and egg mixture. Blend this together again until well mixed.
  7. Add in the rest of the ingredients which include the baking soda, baking flour, flour, salt, nutmeg and cinnamon. Blend one final time until everything is mixed together well.
  8. Pour this mixture into a greased and floured dish that measures 8 inches 4 inches by 2 inches.
  9. Place the pan in the oven at 315 degrees until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. (This will be an hour to 75 minutes depending on the altitude.)
  10. Spoon the pudding onto plates and serve at the very end of the Christmas meal.

 Enjoy!

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