Sunday, December 28, 2008

Cheerio Nuggets

We drove through two hours of dense fog and heavy rain to get to my parents' house yesterday to finally celebrate Christmas together. My whole family showed up, which surprised me, seeing how they had all celebrated together last Sunday when we were supposed to be there, and then they all got together on Christmas day, too. Needless to say, after yesterday's gathering, they have all had their fill of Christmas!

Fortunately my mom didn't put out all the food for the gatherings earlier in the week. She saved a lot of it, including this Cheerios mix. I love this stuff. I don't know when the recipe first came out, but my grandma started making it back in the early 1980s. I think it is Cheerios answer to Chex Mix. It's sweet rather than savory, and completely addicting. I rarely make it myself, in an effort of self preservation, because I can't stay away from it when I know it's in the house.

Cheerio Nuggets

1 C packed brown sugar
1/2 cup margarine or butter
1/4 cup light corn syrup
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
6 C plain Cheerios cereal
1 C peanuts
1 C raisins
(I have also seen versions of this recipe with a cup of M&Ms as well, but we've never tried that addition)

Heat oven to 250 F. Grease either two 13x9 cake pans or one jelly roll pan (15x10).

Heat brown sugar, butter, corn syrup, and salt in a two-quart saucepan over medium heat, stirring until it is melted and bubbling. Stir in baking soda until mixture is foamy and light colored. Pour over combined cereal, peanuts and raisins in a large greased bowl. Stir until completely coated. Spread the cereal mixture evenly in the pan (or pans). Bake for 15 minutes.

Remove from oven, stir, and let stand for 10 minutes. Loosen with a spatula. Let stand until firm, about 30 minutes. Break into bite-sized pieces. Store in a tightly covered container.

This is yummy to have at home, and also makes a nice hostess gift or gift for friends and neighbors.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas


Merry Christmas to All!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas Eve

Enjoy the Peace and Hope that is Christmas Eve.






Sunday, December 21, 2008

These are a few of my favorite things

Waking up to a snow day on Friday, sleeping in, and coming downstairs to find the kids outside shoveling. Unusual behavior! You'd think it was almost Christmas or something. My Christmas Patches Santa, which hangs on my living room wall year round. I stitched this one in 2002.

Love and Joy banner.


Ornaments that represent my family.





Vintage egg ornament. I don't know if my mom bought it at a school bazaar or if someone gave it to her, but it's older than I am. It's made out of a real hen's egg, and has survived many, many Christmases!






Another vintage ornament from my childhood. I have two of these, this one, and one in red. I used to talk to the elves when I was little.






Finding unexpected faces in unexpected places.





Watching the Christmas advent playscapes fill up every day.

















And a not so favorite thing: disappointment. We were supposed to go have Christmas with my family today, but they are in blizzard conditions and the drive there would have been too dangerous. It is not snowing here, but we have temperatures in the single digits (Fahrenheit; well below zero Celsius) and wind gusts of 40 mph. The kids are trying to find things to do today. They were supposed to be at grandma's, eating too much food and getting presents! Instead they are home where it's too cold to go outside. My husband is teaching my daughter how to play solitaire, which is actually quite clever of him.


Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Gingerbread Cookie Mobile


This is what I've been like this year. Instead of doing the holiday things I planned, I hatch some other project out of thin air and do that instead. Making a gingerbread cookie mobile wasn't anywhere on my list of things to do. It wasn't even in the gee-I'll-have-to-try-that-someday part of my mind. I can't really explain why last night I became possessed and had to make one. And this is not a holiday tradition, so I am really breaking out of my mold.
I made the mobile with cinnamon applesauce ornaments, rather than real gingerbread. For years I'd been wanting to make applesauce cinnamon ornaments, and this was my year. My daughter and I made them this past Sunday. I followed this recipe, but found I needed a half cup of applesauce (rather than only 1/4) to make a workable dough. I was worried the glue would ruin my bowl, but it didn't at all. It mixed right in with the cinnamon and applesauce without making a sticky mess. I bought a 4 oz bottle of Elmer's and poured the whole thing without using a measuring cup.
We used cookie cutters to make our shapes and did the bake-at-200-for-2-hours drying method. They were perfectly flat when I flipped them after the first hour, and it wasn't until after I flipped them (which the directions say will prevent curling) that they started to curl a bit. I just let them go, and when it was time to take them out of the oven I laid another cookie sheet over them and put a pot filled with water on top of that to weigh them down. They flattened out nicely using that method.
We got several dozen ornaments out of the batch. They were lying on a plate in the kitchen for a couple of days, looking exactly like gingerbread cookies, and we all kept wanting to eat them. It didn't help that I'd made a batch of real gingerbread cookies the same day we made these, but we couldn't eat those, either, because they are for my daughter's classroom party, and a double recipe made exactly the right amount for her classmates with no cookies to spare. We are in a state of gingerbread deprivation here. I will remedy that this weekend.
I made the mobile by sort of following these directions. I only had a 6 inch hoop, so I used that, and I didn't paint it red because I didn't want to have to wait for paint to dry. I had a hard time getting the red hanging ribbons just right so that the hoop would hang evenly. When I finally got it to hang evenly I stapled the ribbons together at the top and faked the knot. Also, even though I was being very careful about how I tied the ornaments to the hoop, they all twisted to face the inside rather than the outside. The fear of that very thing happening is why I did not paint them to look like decorated cookies. I also didn't stagger the ornaments' heights. That is sort of bothering me, so I might fix that later. Or not!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Christmas Traditions: Driving myself crazy

This little ornament has been with me a long time, and every year when I pull it out of the box, I remember with crystal clarity the night my then-boyfriend, now-husband gave it to me. The year was 1987. I was in my 3rd year of college. I was taking a political science class. I hated political science. I don't even remember what this particular political science class was called, but I do remember that I had a semester-long research project to compare and contrast the socioeconomic and political developments of Chile and Argentina from, like, the beginning of time to the present day (well, the 1980s at any rate) in a 20-page term paper. It was assigned in September and due in mid-December, and in a spectacular display of massive procrastination and utter stupidity, I put this project on the backburner all term, thinking I had plenty of time, until suddenly it was the beginning of December, I had done no work on it, and I realized I was in deep, deep doo doo.

For two weeks I didn't sleep. This was before the Internet, before online library catalogs, even. I practically moved into the library. I'd hunt through the card catalog, write down call numbers, and race to the shelves, only to find the books I needed weren't there. I was a wreck. I was so unhappy with myself. I was so scared.

I managed to find enough books to do the research. I read and took notes, read and took notes, for days. Then I started to write. I didn't really understand what I was writing, but I was putting words on paper and desperately hoping they sounded coherent. Word processing was still relatively new-fangled back then, and not something I was comfortable with. I couldn't compose at a keyboard. I would have had to go to a computer lab to do that, and that wasn't something I wanted to do. Instead, I sat in a study carrel in the library, or at the dining room table in my apartment, and wrote my term paper long hand in a spiral notebook. I cried a lot. I cursed myself. I snapped at people I loved. I didn't sleep. I ate things that were bad for me.

When the wretched thing was finally written, it was far from being done because I still had to type the beast, complete with footnotes and a bibliography. The deadline was only 10 hours away when I loaded my first page into my typewriter. I was facing a long, dark night. I was exhausted. I felt so defeated. That's when there was a knock at my door. It was my honey, coming over to cheer me up. He gave me a hug and handed me a box. Inside was the little penguin ornament. I took it out of the box, looked at its cute face and its tiny popsicle, and I burst into long, heaving sobs. I felt unworthy of such thoughtfulness. Boyfriend/husband left me alone to type, but I perched the penguin on my typewriter, and he kept me company all night long.

I turned my paper in, almost on time, and received a very good grade. It was a miracle. I still don't know how I did it. Getting it done was complete misery, misery of my own making, I might add!

Every year I am reminded of that term paper ordeal when I find my little penguin ornament. (I love him, but the sight of him makes me slightly sick!) This year I realized that I go through a similar ordeal every single fall. In September, I start thinking about all the great things I want to do for the holidays. I want to go see a live show in the big city, I want to go to all the craft shows, I want to drive around and look at lights, I want to make my own cards and make everyone a handmade gift and try new crafting skills and bake tons and tons of cookies. But then suddenly it's the middle of December and I realize that I haven't done most of the things I wanted to do. Do I start rushing around like a mad woman trying to get it all done, or do I just feel happy with what I have managed to accomplish and enjoy the season? I usually choose to shrug it off and enjoy the season, but I will admit to feeling a small sense of disappointment that I can't seem to live up to my own expectations!

This blog is a case in point. I had lots of ideas for tutorials and other fun seasonal posts, but I find myself not posting them, because posting takes time, and I have so many things I want to be doing right now. I find that I have to forgive myself for not yet sharing my candy cane ornament idea, or my sock snowman tutorial, or some of my favorite recipes. I wanted to get it all out there in plenty of time for other people to read before Christmas, but I don't think it's going to happen!

I am not going to fret that I haven't yet done it all, that I haven't yet blogged it all. I have decided I'll get to it when I get to it. So, if you see posts here about candy cane ornaments in January, you'll know why. And if those posts show up before then, well, good for me!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Christmas Traditions: Gingerbread House

We decorated our gingerbread house this weekend. The weather has been gloomy, with no end of clouds and dreariness in sight, so I don't think I'll get better photos than these, even if I wait a few days.



Gingerbread houses were not part of my childhood. Making them seemed to be something from the past that no one did any more. Then when I had children it suddenly seemed everyone was making gingerbread houses again. I wonder if the premade gingerbread kits available in stores had something to do with the resurgence? We made our first gingerbread house when my son was in kindergarten, 6 years ago.



We always make our house from a kit. The fun part of gingerbread houses is putting together the structure and decorating it. If I had to bake the pieces, I doubt we'd do a house every year.



We make just one house, and the children decorate it. I'd like to make my own, too, or have a whole gingerbread village, but we don't really have room to display more than one, so one it is. There was disagreement this year over what side of the house should be the front, so the house ended up with two fronts!








My contribution to the house was the mini marshmallow snowman.






Last year my son made a gingerbread house at school. He had pretzel sticks to use for decorating, so he made a split rail fence. He also made a sled out of mini candy canes and a waffle pretzel. We didn't have any pretzel sticks or mini candy canes at home this weekend, so no fence or sled this year, but I have a photo of last year's!






Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Makin' stuff

I was on a click-happy journey through Flickr the other day and stumbled on a tutorial for making this mushroom pincushion. Love it! I dropped everything to make one. I tried not to make mine look exactly like hers, but what appealed to me most about hers was the rambling vines of flowers, so mine ended up looking very similar. Which is not a bad thing!

I plan to thread a ribbon through the top and use it as an ornament.

Here's a slightly angled view to show the window.
I bought some wooden snowmen figures from here last year, but never got around to doing anything with them until now. My daughter helped paint them. I bought a whole army of them, thinking they would be cute to give as little gifts to her friends or to my sisters, but my daughter thinks they're all so cute she doesn't want to give any away! I like the rosy cheeks she gave some of them.



In case anyone is wondering, these are the 2 and 7/8ths inches tall snowmen.
I know this post makes it seem like I'm getting things done, but really, I am not. I need to put all these things away and clean up my house and focus my attention, because lately I've been hopping from one project to the next, and I think I need to stop that for a while. I feel the need to pick one big project, like a big cross stitch project, and just focus on that and not worry about a million other little projects. Let's see if I can do that!

Monday, December 8, 2008

Christmas Traditions: Straw Stars

These straw stars are older than I am. I am fuzzy on all the exact details of their history, but I know they were handmade in Germany, either by a relative or a very close friend of the family. I am not certain if my mother brought them with her when she moved to the U.S., or if they were a gift sent to her after she had already settled. I may not know the nitty gritty details of their provenance, but I know the important basics: they are handmade, they are from Germany, and they are treasured heirlooms.

These fragile stars hung on my family's Christmas tree for as far back as I can remember. They were much revered. Only my mother could handle them, never trusting my sisters and me to hang them for her. We had probably 40 of them. The tree was not complete until the stars were hung. They were the unifying element to an eclectic collection of ornaments. We never used tinsel or garland or bows. We had the stars.

My mom stopped putting up a tree a few years ago. Last summer, when I went to visit, we had Christmas in July. All the ornaments were laid out for my sisters and me to go through and select for ourselves. We divided the stars evenly among us. We each got a fair share of stars that are still in pretty good shape, along with a share of those that are showing some wear and tear.



I did get a little bit greedy about the packaging though. I insisted on having the ancient school book cover that the stars have been stored in all these years. I couldn't bear the thought of not having it!



Everything I love, right there. German words, a toadstool, a pointy hat, a school room setting out in the woods, anthropomorphized critters... I think that is an Ida Bohatta drawing, although I cannot verify that.

The straw star ornaments have influenced my other choices in Christmas decorations. I didn't do this purposely, but I noticed it this year as we decorated. Check out the tree topper

and the window light.






Neat.



Sunday, December 7, 2008

And the winner is...

Anne of Green Jello! Congratulations! Anne has a lovely blog, so be sure to check it out if you are not familiar with it.

Thanks to everyone who stopped by and left a comment. I had so much fun reading all of them, and I wish I had something to send to everyone. Happy crafting to all!

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Christmas Traditions: Pickles

If you are clicking here from Sew, Mama, Sew, for the give away, you have until midnight tonight (eastern time) to enter. Just scroll down to the Dec. 3rd post and leave a comment there.This holiday tradition is brought to you by Hallmark, which is a little embarrassing for me to admit, but my kids love it so much, I have to share.

Three years ago at this very time of year I had mono. I was utterly exhausted for weeks and weeks. One day I managed to drag myself to the store to do some much-needed holiday shopping, and in my near-delirium I bought this elf ornament at Hallmark because I thought it was cute. (The cuteness didn't come from me being nearly delirious. He really is cute. I have a weakness for pointy hats and striped stockings.) However, the delirium prevented me from realizing that this elf was named Pickles, and that he's a game as much as he is an ornament. This was all written right there in plain English on the box. I just didn't notice because I was concentrating too hard on not collapsing in the middle of the store.

You've probably heard of the alleged German tradition of the pickle ornament on the tree. Parents hide the pickle on the tree on Christmas Eve, and the first child to find the pickle Christmas morning opens the first present. Turns out it's not a German tradition at all (which I found out the hard way twenty years ago when I saw a glass pickle ornament in a store, complete with the legend written on an attached card, and I bought it for my mom because she was raised in Germany and I thought it would be a great piece of nostalgia for her, but instead of weeping tears of joy when she opened the ornament she just gave me a puzzled look, and the pickle ornament--which was really sort of ugly!--made its way into her next yard sale). Regardless of authenticity of the tradition, ornament makers everywhere try to capitalize on this legend, and Pickles the Elf is Hallmark's nod to the tradition of the Pickle.

I bought Pickles the Elf, not realizing he was Pickles the Elf. It wasn't until a few weeks later when we were decorating our tree that I noticed the name on the box, along with a list of suggestions for how to use Pickles. Family members take turns hiding Pickles on the tree and finding him. Make the game more challenging by hiding him anywhere in the house! Or pay it forward with Pickles by slipping him under the pillow of a family member. Whoever finds Pickles under her pillow must secretly do nice things for one person in the family all day, and at the end of the day must slip Pickles under the pillow of that person.

Our game of Pickles is pretty much confined to playing hide and seek with him on the tree. The kids find this game waaaay more entertaining than I expected they would. They hide him for each other (and try to trick each other in the process), or they ask me to hide him so they can race against each other to find him (which usually involves much screaming and laughing). They even have visiting friends play the game. When Pickles is unearthed from the box of ornaments every year, the kids erupt with a cheer, and fight over who gets to hide him first.

Any family can start this tradition (hopefully without the fighting!!), but you don't need to buy a special ornament at Hallmark to do it. You could craft a special ornament to be your Pickles, or you could choose an ornament you already have and designate it as your Pickles. You don't even have to call it Pickles. Name it anything you want, come up with your own games, and make the tradition yours.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Christmas Traditions: Fabric Gift Bags


If you are clicking here from Sew, Mama, Sew for the giveaway, there is still time to enter! Just scroll down to the Dec. 3rd post and leave a comment there to be eligible.




One of our best holiday traditions is our use of fabric gift bags instead of paper wrapping paper. Wrapping gifts in paper was a tedious, time-consuming process for me. It would take hours to cut the paper, to struggle to situate the paper on the gift (you know how wrapping paper always wants to roll back on itself), to rip the tape, to stick the tape... I hated it. I also felt a little bit sick watching all that paper go to waste. Even if we would recycle it or reuse it, I wanted to simplify the whole gift-wrapping process.





Enter the fabric gift bag. I had thought about making them for years, but never made the time, probably because I thought it would be too complicated, until one year I finally just did it. I bought half yard cuts in a variety of Christmas and winter themed fabric. I am not skilled at sewing structured objects, so I made the bags very simply. I folded the half-yard cuts in half, right sides together, selvedge to selvedge, and sewed a 1/4 inch seam up both raw sides. Then I folded the top edge down twice and sewed that hem, turned the bag right side out, and ta da, I had instant reusable gift wrap!


I toyed with the idea of making drawstring bags, but that was more sweat equity than I was willing to put in, so instead I simply cut 30 inch lengths of cord to tie around the sacks as a closure. Name tags are easy to attach, too. You can make your own tags using any method you like, or you can buy nice tags at the store.


I have both homemade and purchased tags, and we reuse those, too, year after year. Any tag on a string works well. You simply loop the sack cord through the string on the tag before tying the cord around the sack.



You can make the bags in any size you need. I made a variety of sizes, but the most useful size has been the half-yard bags, which turn out to be about 18x22 inches big. Clothes don't need to be boxed before wrapping; they just go right in the bag. Books stack up nicely, too. Even if the gift is much smaller than the capacity of an 18x22 bag, the sack still looks cute when it's tied shut.


Wrapping gifts now takes me about 30 minutes, as all I have to do is put the gifts into the bags and tie them shut. No more struggles with the paper, scissors, and tape! And, of course, no more waste.

The gift bags are so colorful under the tree every year. There's something about all those fabric sacks lined up that looks so cheerful and homey. I've been asked if my kids mind not being able to rip wrapping paper off their gifts in a mad frenzy. No, they don't mind. We've been using fabric bags since they were tots, so this is what they're used to. I suppose wrapping gifts this way makes it easier for them to sneak peeks before Christmas, but I don't think they do that. And if they do, well, they're just ruining their own Christmas morning!


Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Give-Away

I am participating in the Sew, Mama, Sew Give-Away Day 2008, which is today! I think you can see the full list of participants here. I would LOVE to give away something I've made myself, but I couldn't get it together in time for today, so instead I will be giving away this Mill Hill Snow Charmer Kit. This kit is unopened, and has all the materials you need to make the pictured cross-stitch ornament: Mill Hill glass beads, a charm, perforated paper, floss, needles, and a chart with instructions. I don't know the exact dimensions of the finished ornament, but I think it will be about 3 inches tall. I have made ornaments using Mill Hill bead kits before, and they're very easy to understand. This would be a nice gift to make for someone, or you could give the kit itself as a gift to someone who enjoys needlework.

To enter your name for the give-away, please leave a comment by midnight (eastern time) Saturday night. You can tell me your favorite holiday tradition, what kind of crafts you like to do, or you can just say hi. I will choose a winner, either by putting all the names in a hat, or by using a random number generator, and I will announce the winner Sunday morning. I will be happy to send this internationally (which would be anywhere outside of the U.S.!), so don't be shy!

I do hope to have a give-away sometime soon with something made by me, so please stay tuned.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Christmas Traditions: St. Nicholas Day

One of my children's favorite holiday traditions is St. Nicholas Day. Adapting the European tradition for our family, I have my children put their shoes outside their bedroom doors at bedtime on Dec. 5th, and in the morning on Dec. 6th, they each find treats and a Christmas ornament in their shoes. Their anticipation for this day always runs high. They love love love this holiday!

My family did not observe St. Nicholas Day as I was growing up, even though my mother, who was born and raised in Germany, observed it as a child while she was growing up. For her, the day was one of fear, as St. Nicholas himself walked around the neighborhood with a big sack, knocking on doors and asking parents if the children had been good. If the parents said the children had been good, St. Nicholas handed the children a treat, but if a child had been bad, St. Nicholas threatened to stuff that child into his sack and take him/her away. My mom and my uncle hid under the table, clutching each other in terror, when St. Nicholas came knocking on the door. They didn't care about the possibility of a treat when the threat of being hauled away from home loomed large! With those horrible memories of St. Nicholas Day, my mom chose to ignore the day altogether when my sisters and I were little.

When I had my own children, I wanted to make the holiday season a season, not just a big blur of preparation for one day of Christmas, and observing St. Nicholas Day traditions, the fun St. Nicholas Day traditions, was a perfect way to do that. When my son was two, we put his shoes outside his bedroom door on the evening of Dec. 5th, and in the morning he was very surprised to find a shortbread cookie inside his shoe! He told everyone he saw that day about the cookie in his shoe. And so our new tradition was born.

For the first few years, the kids found just small food treats in their shoes, and nothing else. Back in those days, I made a handmade ornament for them every year, something that reflected their current interests. This was very easy to do when the interests were things like trains and firetrucks.


But then suddenly the interests of the day were Buzz Lightyear, or Clone Troopers, or Superman. I may be crafty, but ornaments like that were beyond my means! One year I decided to spare myself the insanity, and I handed the ornament responsibility over to St. Nicholas. He did not disappoint!








My daughter always finds something cute that reflects her current interests, too. She got this Crayola snowman when she was three, because crayons were indeed her favorite toy that year.







Then her fascination turned to princesses




and now fairies





The kids cannot wait to see what kind of treat and ornament they will find in their shoes this Saturday morning! Neither can I!





Monday, December 1, 2008

Christmas Traditions: Advent




Happy December! For as much as I dislike November, this year it certainly went by in a rush, and I am happy to be in this busy, happy month of December. We're starting off on the proper note with just enough snow to make everything pretty and Christmasy, but not so much that it hinders our comings and goings.



This month I hope to blog about our Christmas traditions. We always put our tree up the weekend after Thanksgiving. Our family uses an artificial tree for no reason other than that both my husband and I grew up with artificial trees, so that is what seems normal to us. I love watching my kids get so excited when my husband hauls the tree box up from the basement. The kids love sorting the piles of branches and assembling the tree. The excitement of being able to build something huge right there in the living room, combined with knowing that it's the kick-off to a fun season, makes it such a joyful event.


We do simple advent activities in my family to count down the days to Christmas. Years ago, before I had children, but with the hope that someday I might, I made this advent quilt.






I am a self-taught sewer and quilter, and this was made early in my learning curve, so it has telltale signs of being made by someone who didn't really know what she was doing, but I love it anyway. Every day we move an ornament from the buttons on the bottom to the buttons on the tree. The children take turns choosing the ornament for the day. The ornaments are a mixture of handmade and purchased. Nice and simple.






Each child also has a Playmobil advent calendar which we've reused every year since they were very young. I'm trying to remember the first year my son did this. I think he was either 3 or 4, so this could be the 9th year we've used one of the calendars.





Every day the children open up the appropriate box and remove the play piece of the day to create a winter scene that grows larger each day. I'll take more photos of this throughout the month, as for the first few days there's really not all that much to see! The snowman will get his hat tomorrow. My children still enjoy this advent activity, even though the contents of the boxes aren't a surprise any more. They make it more exciting by trying to remember what each day's box holds before they open it up.