Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas

Today we are: giggling over old family video clips... cooking some deliciousness for a Christmas Eve dinner that we will share with some neighbors... being together.




(Hats that I sewed out of some red flannel plaid for a Christmas community event several weeks back)


 Have a very merry Christmas weekend!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

My plan to plan backwards

Last week I got my hair cut, and, as per the usual, dyed it a new color.


This is a burgundy base with a black gloss over it -- the result of an initial mistake, but it ended up exactly the way I'd hoped.  Always good then that happens.

It would seem that I cannot ever come up with a Reasonable Christmas Gifting List.  Every year, I come up with what I would like to make, then somehow, mid-crafting, come up with all sorts of "wow, but if I did this, it would be EVEN BETTER", or "since I'm in a creative zen mode, I'll also make 17 of this other thing...".  You can see where this leads.  TO COMPLETE INSANITY and the distinct possibility that I will be holed up in my studio for weeks on end, not able to spend more than a few moments a day with family during the time that...well, is really all about celebrating love and cherishing family.  So that doesn't work out all that well.


A hat for my 12-year-old sister to match the one I knit for Daisy (it's a modified Meathead)

This year, I made a list.  And I (mostly) stuck to it.  I did the "must do" stuff first, and then I was able to kick off the "really didn't need to do this year" projects, and now I'm in the "...well since I have a little more time, I might as well do these other little projects that are just so cute."  Greg still thinks I'm still being an overachiever, but friends, I am being way reasonable compared to what could be going on.


An apron for my mom, Simplicity 4282, view E

Next year I have this plan to buy a personal planner/organizer, and that way I can put projects and Great Ideas into my calendar, and actually do some backwards-planning so that I'll have a better chance of getting them done.  I hate it when deadlines sneak up on me, and I also hate the feeling of always working on something that should have already been done.  Let's see if I can actually get on that at the turn of the year.  I have great plans....


An afternoon Hot Chocolate break in my studio with handmade marshmallows can sometimes save the day

In the meantime, even amidst the business of the season and all of the baking and making that has been going on, we've still made time to have fun together as a family.


Some books the children and I have read together this week


Decorating gingerbread cookies


Eating the leftover frosting is the Most Important Part for some of us



I look forward to having the time to show you the things I've made for my children, but that will have to wait till after Christmas.

I hope that, as Christmas is nearly upon the doorstep, that each of you are able to put aside the notion of "doing enough", and instead make the time for the ones you love, and fully enjoy every facet of this beautiful season.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Happy birthday, Billy!

Dear Billy,

Today, you turned 2.  It seems like a lifetime ago that I was pregnant with you, waiting for your daddy to come home mid-deployment, waiting to meet you at last.  Two days after he came home, you were born, exactly on time.  Thanks for that.


Last year was our first Christmas in Texas.  We had been here for 3 months, and had already begun to feel like this was truly home.


(In a new outfit from Aunt Mary Ann and Uncle Bob)

Looking back on the past two years, so much has happened, so much has changed, yet in some ways it seems no time has passed at all.  Somehow, right in front of my eyes, you have grown from the fussiest newborn into the funniest little guy I know.  It is true that you can often be found beating up Daisy or destroying some part of the house, yet you have a tender side that never fails to melt my heart.  Your chubby little arms around my neck, the way you gently pat my back when I hold you, the fierce Never Surrender way that you give me a kiss; I love you like crazy, my little friend.


Last week, when Daddy gave you the first ornament to put on our Christmas tree, I just watched you.  The smell of the evergreen tree, your heavy breathing as you tried to get the hook over the branch, the way your belly stuck out as you drew back to look up through the pine needles at the shining lights... Each year seems to speed by, and is always done before I feel through with it, but in my memory, these precious moments will live on.

I cherish every day with you.  Through the tears (yours and mine), through the laughter (you make everyone smile), through the loud (when you punch Daisy and then shout over her screams "FEE FYET!!" = "BE QUIET!!") and through the quiet (when we read...when you sleep), I am so glad that you're my son.


My precious boy.   A baby for today, my child forever.


(Fell asleep in the hall before I could get you into bed for naptime)

I love you.  Happy birthday.

Love always,

Friday, December 17, 2010

Link-tastic Friday

Last night, as is becoming our tradition, I sewed pajama pants for the boys so that they could each have a brand new pair for their school's Pajama Day.


As everyone knows, waking up to new pajama pants is Very Exciting!  (Green bugs for Sparky, red monkeys for Max.)

On to the links!

Looking fabulous:
 My eyeshadow used to fade within hours of putting it on, or (even worse) end up all in the crease of my eyelid.  Now, before I put on eyeshadow, I always use an eye primer first.  I like L'Oreal DeCrease.
My favorite new eyeshadow line is Maybelline Eye Studio Color Plush.  I have Sapphire Siren and Green With Envy.  They're smooth, sparkly and intense.  So fun to use!
I've recently discovered the wide world of make-up tutorials on YouTube.  Check out this one (and the links to the left of the video) for tips on applying the Color Plush line.

Crafty and gifty:
Beautiful, quirky, and affordable watercolor work by Slovly.
Next year I will definitely visit Etsy shop HeyYoYo early in the season to trick out my holiday baking with a great big dose of SUPERCUTE.
Delish Magazine -- a rather delightful new crafty/gifty free online zine.
If you read Soule Mama, you will have seen her recently posted Granola and Lip Gloss recipes.  Must try!  (Also check out her other beautiful and nourishing gift ideas in this Week Of Elving.)
I won't have time this year, but I'd really love to make buntings for Christmas...New Year...birthdays...
I bought baker's twine from The Twinery in Maraschino to tie up my holiday baking this year.  (Pssst --use code "PA25OFF" for a 25% discount at checkout!)


Candy boxes tied up with Maraschino twine from The Twinery

Food (savory):
Tamale Pie.  I made this earlier in the week, and we all loved it.  I used a mixture of ground beef and pork, so it didn't have to cook as long, and used less of the chiles so the children wouldn't shy away from the heat of the spices.  Delicious!
These Asparagus Sticks from Weelicious look so tempting that even Daisy might like them!
I am making this Hominy Casserole for our church's Christmas potluck tonight.  It's Pioneer Woman, so I trust it will be tasty and a crowd pleaser.

Food (sweet, from our list of holiday baking in the past week):
Buckeyes from Smitten Kitchen (half the sugar of the usual recipes, so you can actually taste the peanut butter.  I used Green & Blacks organic dark chocolate for dipping, and they were OUTSTANDING.)
Lia's Butter Toffee with dark chocolate and fleur de sel from Pioneer Woman.
Honey Vanilla Bean Marshmallows from Joy the Baker -- hands down, BEST MARSHMALLOWS EVER.
Caramel Corn with salted peanuts from Orangette.  I actually only sent this one to my brother this year.  He's deployed to a Very Far Away Place, and popcorn travels well.  I sent enough to share with friends, because...well maybe not everyone has such a nice sister.  :-)
Whole Wheat Sables from Orangette.  I'm on the fence about these.  I definitely liked her Whole Wheat Chocolate Chip Cookies better (those were insane!!)...but I still included them in the holiday food gifts anyway.  Because I'd already baked them.  A double batch.
Sugar Topped Molasses Spice Cookies and World Peace Cookies by Dorie Greenspan.
Chai Spice Sugar Cookies from Cook's Illustrated.  Of all the things we made, this was my children's absolute favorite.  They have a lot of cardamom, and an unexpected little kick from black pepper.


The Christmas baking assembled, waiting to be packed up.  WOW that's a lot of sugar for one table.

Have a wonderful weekend!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Link-tastic Friday (Saturday)

This weekend we're decorating our house for Christmas.  I can hear Greg's footsteps on the roof overhead as he's setting up the lights, and tomorrow we'll go to cut a tree.  At some point I hope to grab a few moments to make a burlap wreath inspired by this tutorial.

Burlap to make a wreath

At the moment, however, we're preparing to head out to a Christmas open house party with friends; I've got a pot of Tuscan White Bean Soup (with rosemary and dry cured ham) simmering on the stove, and a bundt pan of brown-sugar cinnamon Monkey Bread in the oven.  So since I can't get to crafting immediately, how about a little link round-up?  (I intend to make this a regular weekly feature here every Friday -- there's so much cool stuff out there, and I want to have one place to share all of the great ideas!)

Lets get to those links!

Looking Fabulous:
Lip products reviewed by style blogger Keira at A Pretty Penny

Crafty and gifty:
Cute and quick monogramed ornaments.
Simple handmade gift roundup (the quilted notecards will find their way into teacher's gifts this year).
Real cookie ornaments never appealed to me (hello pest attraction!!), but I love these Felt Gingerbread Ornaments.
I intend to make some of these Chocolate Marshmallow Pops for teacher gifts.
I want one of these Ruffle Headbands for each of mine and Daisy's outfits.
If you're into felt, or want to be into felt, check out Felt-o-rama.  It'll rock your (felty) world. (Thank you Heather!!)
Are you still searching for the perfect Christmas Stocking pattern?  Check out this cute and quirky one by Denyse Schmidt.
These "Santa's Orchard" produce stickers almost make me wish that my children believed in Santa Clause.  Almost.
I love these gift wrapping ideas at Giver's Log.
Are you doing a Secret Santa gift-around with family or friends?  Check out this automated organizer.

On the possible menu for this week (savory):
For these chilly December days, a nourishing Spinach Soup with Gruyere
Filling but simple Green Olive Gnocchi
I love beer bread -- this Cheddar Apple Beer Bread is a delicious looking variation.
I've been in a curry mood lately; I made Beef Braised in Coconut Milk in my crock pot last week (subbed in venison -- delicious!), and I intend to make it again soon.
If I thought that Greg and the children would actually enjoy this, I'd love to make Joy The Baker's Kale and Sweet Potato Soup.

On the possible menu for this week (sweet):
I've had this recipe for Baked Jelly Donuts printed out for about a week now, and it makes me hungry just looking at it.
In case you're getting Same Old Gingerbread fatigue, check out this chipotle spiked version over at Vanilla Garlic.
Perhaps if I made my own Oreos, they wouldn't give me a tummy ache.
Even if you don't have an open fire, you can still enjoy Roasted Chestnut Cookies
If you're as crazy about hot chocolate as I am, be sure to scroll all the way down to the end of this Hungarian Heat Hot Chocolate recipe for a bunch of innovative and delicious variations on this traditional winter drink.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Grocery store terror and the joys of soft pretzels

On Monday morning we needed to get out to the grocery store for a few things, but didn't manage to make it there until 11-ish.  I knew that I was playing with fire (too close to naptime), but what I didn't realize was that Billy was not going to be happy unless he had a Car Cart.  And we weren't parked near any.  So I didn't get one.  This would have normally been fine, except that he actually saw another kid riding happily out of the store in a precious Car Cart, and that. was. it.  Even more sadly, the safety belt in the front part of the regular cart is now too small to fit around his deliciously plump belly, so I had the fun challenge of hanging onto his thigh while he screamed and wept as though someone was killing him.  Translation of the unending scream/sob/hysterical weeping: INEEDACARCARTORIWILLDIEOHMYGOSHOHMYGOSHOHMYGOSHNOBODYUNDERSTANDSTHEHORRIFICTURNMYDAYHASTAKEN!!

It was a truly soothing experience in the produce section.  He got so entirely beside himself that I finally had to just take him out, pushing the cart with one hand (with Daisy loaded in the back of the cart), and trying not to crash into the astounded/annoyed/horrified elderly around me.  Once we reached the snack aisle (note to self: next time, go there FIRST.  OBVIOUSLY.), I was able to pacify him with a bag of bite-sized Vanilla Creme flavored rice cakes, and all was suddenly right with the world.  We definitely got a few strange looks when we inevitably saw some of our fellow Produce Section Shoppers in other aisles, and Billy was chuckling and singing to himself.  Good stuff.

Once we got home, I popped a few Alieve, put the little ones down for their naps, and I was feeling right as rain again.  AND we had food.  BONUS!

In the afternoon, we had a visit with a little girl my boys know from school, and I planned our favorite playdate activity: pretzel making.


It's like playdough, with a bonus snack!  Unless you're Billy, and then you're eating playdough as a snack anyway, so it wouldn't matter.  But you're probably not Billy.


We've made Smitten Kitchen's recipe several times before, and it always turns out delicious results, regardless of the dexterity of the little fingers shaping the dough.  I sub in 2 cups of White Whole Wheat (King Arthur sells some), which adds wholesomeness without heaviness.  Serve it with some chunks of cheddar, and you've got a little meal.

A few tips:
  • Be sure that your dough mixture is more on the firm side than the soft-and-sticking-to-the-bowl end of things.  Otherwise you'll have a sad moment when your pretzels deflate as you attempt to peel them up off of the baking sheet to drop them into the water.  Although they'll still taste good!  They'll just look a little rough.  
  • When you lift them out of the water, be sure to set them on a cooling rack first to drain for a moment, before transferring them to the cookie sheet to salt and bake.  If you don't remember this step, you'll most likely have a soggy-bottomed pretzel, which -- while still quite edible -- may not be exactly what you had in mind. 
  • If you're using a really large saucepan to simmer these in (mine is a 12 inch 5 quart, and I fill it to a depth of about 2-ish inches), increase the baking soda/sugar ratio by 1-1/2.  (i.e. 6 Tablespoons baking soda, 3 tablespoons sugar).  The baking soda/sugar is the Magic Ingredient combo that makes these pretzels taste...well, like pretzels!  And the baking soda allows them to go all beautiful and golden in the oven.  Hooray!

The most important thing to remember though: relax and have fun!  Pretzels are not rocket science, and they don't have to look good to taste great.  Enjoy!!

Monday, December 06, 2010

Gilded Acorns

Why do the writers of Private Practice feel compelled to make the world fall apart all the time?  Just sayin'.

Moving right along: last week, Sparky and Max collected a bunch of great big acorns from a nearby field (are they acorns?  Not sure.)  I bought some metallic paint (DecoArt Dazzling Metalics in Splendid Gold, Worn Penny, and Festive Red), covered our little picnic table with newspapers and waxed paper (for the painted ones to dry), and let my boys work on painting the acorns themselves.


I showed them this Autumn Acorn Tutorial round-up from Dana over at Made, and let the boys go from there.


Letting go of a project...letting them do it themselves is sort of difficult for me.


Maybe I'm a little bit of a control freak sometimes.  But I did.  I put it entirely in their hands, just checking in occasionally to make sure they didn't move on to painting the patio...or the house..or the fence (the two little ones have me conditioned now to expect the worst.  I think I'm developing a twitch over one eye.  God help us all.)  But they did such a fantastic job, didn't make a huge mess, didn't waste the paint all over the newspapers... overall, they did a beautiful job, and I'm so proud of them.


We have them set out in a trifle dish, and it makes me smile every time I see it.


The 6th and final Boots Project outfit:


Yet another Mendocino dress -- I don't think that I ever blogged this one, but it's a linen blend, and my very favorite shade of Turquoise.  (Yes, it's wrinkled, and no, I didn't feel like ironing it.  Whatevs.)

It's way too chilly to wear this today (even with my Aspen Shawl tied into a wrap), but this is my absolute favorite of the whole lineup.  I look forward to being able to wear this for real!  Right now though I'm really enjoying the frost in the air.  It very nearly feels like winter!

Thursday, December 02, 2010

The Christmas Countdown has begun

This past week has been a blur of toddler messes and fights, of Impatient Mommy Yelling, crazy baby business...Billy learned to open the front door, flush the toilet, and open the child-proof locks on the cabinet doors.  On Tuesday I found him standing in front of the kitchen sink, having just sprayed his shirt with bleach, and holding a can of Raid.  No less than 10 minutes later, I discovered him coloring wildly on the wall with a ballpoint pen, and then found a large patch of colorful marker art on the rug in the front room. 

Today, he has dumped a bowl of cereal (with milk) (of course), pounded the heck out of Daisy about 12 times (or maybe 25 -- I lost count), and I found him carefully painting the toes of my leather slippers with diaper cream.  Daisy, for her part, has been working on a project called "coloring the piano keys with pen", and "drawing on Mommy's sheet music".  Today she painted the kitchen counter with red paint (caught this one early enough to clean up!), and flipped the coffee table over on a whim.  This has been one rockstar of a week thus far.  I need a little lie down just thinking about it.

But look!  Two finished Christmas gifts!!

A hat for my dad.  If it fits this soccer ball, it'll fit my dad.  He's got a pretty big head, and the 2x2 rib is stretchy enough that it will (hopefully) fit him in a snug-but-comfortable way.  I'm sure he'll let me know.


Hat and mitten set for my 2-year-old nephew.


My local yarn shop was out of the original color used for the hat and most of the mittens, but I found a complimentary navy in the same yarn, and I actually kind of like how it looks.  Quirky, but not too clashy, I think.

Every year, I've wanted to make a special advent calendar for my children, but each year instead, we've just bought the chocolate ones from the store, because I can't seem to pull it together in time.  They love it, of course, but I've always felt like there could be something better... This year, I found this adorable sticky-note Advent at Giver's Log, and knew that, for this year, I had found my answer.

I had to play around with the size of the PDF a little and ultimately trim my sticky notes down just a bit, but the fussiness was totally worth it, and MUCH less time consuming than any of my other supposed plans.

I printed this out twice so that, when we take a sticky-note off the kitchen blackboard each morning, I can put the note on each of my boy's sandwich containers, as a special little reminder of the Christmas Countdown in their lunches at school. I think I'm going to add a little treat to their lunches every day too, starting tomorrow (only because it hadn't occurred to me until just now), as part of the Advent fun, so that they won't miss the whole "popping out chocolate" part of the other kind of calendar they've had in years past.

When we were in Germany, I had always wanted to buy an Advent wreathe, lighting one new candle each week.  I could probably find one here, or make one myself, but I don't know if I'll manage to get it done (once again) this year.

What are some special things that you do for Advent?


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