Friday, November 28, 2014

Annnnnd....We're Off!

Thanksgiving is over, the leftovers are bagged and in the refrigerator!

We turned on our Christmas lights that we had put up.  That is our tradition, each year we put up the lights on a nice November day and wait until Thanksgiving is all cleaned up, and then we go and turn on the lights!  We ooooo and ahhhh over them and go inside to enjoy more visiting!

I participated in a darling ornament swap hosted by Vicki from Life on Willie Mae Lane.  I received two darling gingerbread people who were handpainted by Nancy Carroll.  These two darlings were a perfect addition to my cashmere skinny tree that I put in my kitchen.  This year I decorated it with burlap ribbon, sparkling red berries, dried orange slices, cinnamon stars and all my gingerbread ornaments.  My husband found the perfect tree skirt for it, a simple burlap circle that finishes off the tree perfectly!  Thank you to Nancy for the lovely, handpainted ornaments. 

Christmas season has officially begun!  Merry Christmas, dear friends!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Christma Songs Abound!

What is it that this year has such wonderful music out?  Is it that I am more aware, or are we having a banner year?

Enjoy this special video of Baby It's Cold Outside.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Main Street Marketplace, St. Charles

I am a participant in an upcoming swap.  My swap partner loves all things primitive.  I was so glad to hear that, as it gave me a chance to shop in one of my favorite spots:  Main Street Marketplace.  The store is located in an old German style house built in the 1820s.  It is precious, small rooms, a side garden and porch.  Adorable.

The shop always has tastings out of their soups, dips, and jams.  I was a good girl and avoided all the extra calories there!  The shopping was so fun that I didn't even miss the food!

You can see from the photos how cute this place is!  When the storekeeper saw that it was my birthday (from checking my driver's license for my check) he put a darling turkey pin in my bag.  Totally adorable!  One of the reasons I love shopping small business!

New Christmas Song!

I wanted to share this cute little Christmas song with you.  It features two of my favorites, Kristen Bell and Straight No Chaser.  While the song itself is delightful, please hear the undermessage, that is:  communicate!!  If you can text, you can talk, especially for something as important as wishing someone Merry Christmas!!

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Christmas Book Review: Bright Christmas: An Amish love story

Bright Christmas: an Amish love story was written by Susan Rohrer.  It was published in July, 2014.  The interesting thing about this book is that Amish literature is so popular!  There is a whole readership of people who love reading about the Amish way of life. 

This story starts with Charity Bright finding a letter in the pocket of her Datt's coat.  Later on she learns that she has an aunt, her deceased mother's sister, who left the order shortly after her mother died.  Charity gains permission from her Datt and the religious leaders of her community to go on a rumspringa, a type of field trip, to find her aunt and bring her back to the fold.

The story continues to unfold, with delightful, heart warming characters.  The characters are likeable by their choices and their kind actions to others.  Even the young woman that shares the apartment with the aunt, English through and through, turns out to be a woman with character.

The ending is full of fun twists and turns, and is unexpected but happy!  I believe most readers will enjoy this sweet book, set during Christmas and with a lovely ending.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Singing Christmas Carols!

On of the most magical things about Christmas is the music!  Music genres of all kinds have music for Christmas.  Below I have made a list of my favorite Christmas tunes.  I am sure I will be adding to it as the season progresses as I am sure I have forgotten some!

All I Want for Christmas is You by Mariah Carey
Christmas Wrappings by The Waitresses
Do They Know It's Christmas Time by Band Aid
Happy Christmas by John Lennon
Santa Baby by Marilyn Monroe
Santa Claus is Coming to Town by the Jackson Five
A Wonderful Christmas Time by Paul McCartney
Rocking Around the Christmas Tree by Brenda Lee
Christmas Baby by Michael Buble
Last Christmas by Wham
Christmas Time is Here by the Charlie Brown Gang
Mary's Boy Child by Harry Belafonte
Winter Wonderland by Elvis
Santa Claus is Coming to Town by Bruce Springsteen

I love the old Christmas hymnal songs as well.  Silent Night, Carol of the Bells, O Holy Night, We Three Kings, Angels We Have Heard on High.

And of course, the Christmas goodies like We Wish You a Merry Christmas, Good King Wenchelas, and The Holly and the Ivy.

I just heard this duet and it made my day!  Watch it to see this surprising duo:

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Choosing Christmas Cards

Every year I go through hundreds of cards trying to find the card that best expresses my sentiment for the holidays.  I generally save some photos for just that purpose.  I love receiving photo cards and I especially enjoy saving them to enjoy over the years.

I absolutely love ordering from Vistaprint and have had several cards made from their styles.  I have also enjoyed Tiny Prints as well.  Both offer quality papers and photos and have many styles to choose from.

A few years ago I asked a local artist to sketch my house and I used that as a card.  I loved that card and have a copy of it framed in my house. I also had an artist I met through blogging do a sketch of my tree.  Iove that piece, too, as it has my great grandmother's chair in it!

Painted by Fifi

Sketched by Marj Watson

Since I have moved in the past year, I am thinking about going the route of the sketch of my home, but instead of making foldable cards, I am thinking of how I might be able to use Vistaprint or Tiny Prints to make it into one of their cards.

I'll be pondering this for awhile, but in the meantime, I have purchased my stamps and the return address labels.  I love the stamps this year, so many options!

I have ordered ink for my favorite pen, and when the time is right, I will be addressing Christmas cards with my pretty pen, with my favorite hot chocolate and Christmas music (or maybe the Hallmark channel!) playing in the background.

I'd love to hear about your Christmas card traditions.  Do you think it is a dying art?  Do you get less and less cards over the year?  My husband and I do a Christmas blog each year instead of the annual letter, but with Facebook, so much of what we would share is already been posted.  I have to remember, though that not all my contacts are on Facebook, so I should go ahead and share this way as well.  Good to remember!

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Christmas Crafting: Holiday Dip Ornaments

On Saturday my friend and neighbor hosted a Pinterest Christmas Party.  We all brought over our crafting supplies and made it while sharing treats (also Pinterest inspired) and good company.  I made gifts for my neighbors, inspired by this pin:

I purchased clear, craft ornaments at Michael's to fill with the mixture that I had made in advance.  For 12 ornaments I mixed together the following:

7 T and 1 t of dried parsley
7 T and 1 t of minced onion
7 T and 1 t of chili powder
3 T and 1 t of dried chives
3 T and 1 t of cumin
1 T and 1 t of salt
1/2 c parmesan cheese

I mixed these together well.  I washed and dried the ornaments and cut narrow, festive ribbon into 6 inch lengths.  I took the mix, the ribbons and the ornaments along with the makings of tags to the party.  There I filled the ornaments, made the tags, and tied the tags on with the ribbon.  I now have 15 gifts, either for my neighbors or to use as a hostess gift.

We all took a Pinterest inspired treat.  Mine was Eggnog Cake.  I love my mother's eggnog so this was something I really wanted to try.  Easy to make.

Crockpot Hot Chocolate
Holiday Pinwheels
Bake up a vanilla cake according to directions.  While the cake is still warm, poke holes in the cake with the end of a wood spoon.  Make french vanilla instant pudding, replacing the milk with eggnog.  Pour immediately over the warm cake, pushing the pudding into the holes.  Let sit in the refrigerator overnight.  I am going to add a layer of the Condensed Milk caramel before serving.  I will top it with French Vanilla cool whip and a sprinkle of fresh nutmeg.

Here are what others were working on...

Bird feeders wrapped in homemade boxes

Candy cane wreath

Burlap wreath

Christmas ornament wreath

Twig stars
Such a fun way to meet neighbors and learn a thing or two about crafting!  Will be on my "annual" list to either go to or host this party!

Friday, November 7, 2014

Christmas Book Review: A New York Christmas by Anne Perry

Everyone has their own Christmas traditions and one of mine is to find new Christmas stories to read each season.  This title, A New York Christmas by Anne Perry, was released November 4, 2014.  The following is a synopsis from Amazon:

The year is 1904. Twenty-three-year-old Jemima Pitt, the daughter of Thomas Pitt, head of Britain’s Special Branch, is crossing the Atlantic. She is traveling with an acquaintance, Delphinia Cardew, who is to marry the aristocratic Brent Albright in a high-society New York wedding—a grand affair that will join together two fabulously wealthy families, titans of the international financial world.

But Jemima senses a mysterious shadow darkening the occasion. Missing from the festivities is Delphinia’s mother, Maria, who is marked by disgrace. Nearly sixteen years ago, Maria abandoned young Delphinia and disappeared—and now the Albrights refuse to mention her name. But when Harley, the groom’s charismatic brother, asks Jemima to help him search for Maria and forestall the scandal that would surely follow if the prodigal parent turned up at the wedding, she agrees to assist him.

From Hell’s Kitchen to Fifth Avenue, the Lower East Side to Central Park, Jemima trudges through strange, snowy streets, asking questions but getting few answers—and never suspecting that she is walking into mortal danger, from which not even a handsome young police officer named Patrick Flannery may be able to protect her.

My take: Anne Perry stayed true to the era, police procedures seemed to be true of the time and place.  The characters are richly developed and it is evident through the writing that the author cares for her characters.  The story is less about the Christmas holiday and more about the spirit of Christmas.  For me, I would have liked a little more about the season in her descriptions.  However, it is a delightful read for the holiday and if you are a who-dun-it reader, you will find this novella rewarding.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Thinking about Christmas Past

Do you keep a holiday notebook?  A group of friends and I formed our current Christmas Notebooks almost fifteen years ago (is that right, GLU Girls???) and I have continued to use mine to plan my holidays.  I will say though, that after doing this work for all this time, I don't really have the need to review my plans.  I like to look at the Notebook, though, to take a walk down Memory Lane!  I have had a  Christmas Notebook  39 years, evolving into what my current notebook is today!

This year, I made a special event of looking at my notebook.  I got my favorite red mug, made some hot chocolate, turned on some holiday music and started turning the pages.

My first section is filled with holiday cards that I have sent over the years.  I love looking at them, they show much organization and love!  Some of these cards were planned for months in advance.  One of my favorites, the one shown below, is an artist's sketch of my darling dogsons, Truman and Wilson.  The artist is Fifi and the link is to her Etsy shop. The sketch is of a photograph I took.

Other sections include recipes, gifts given, Christmas letters, party planner (my husband had a party for the staff for twenty years at our home.  All the plans for those parties are still in my notebook!), photos of decor throughout the years, budgets, Christmas ornaments purchased, and some odd and end lists.  Such a fun experience to relive the past holidays!

How do you remember past Christmases?  Do you have a notebook?  I think the future does not bode well for notebooks, I think that the internet, blogging, Instagram, etc., will hold all our memories!

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Christmas Book Review: Mr. Miracle: A Christmas Novel

I am a fan of Debbie Macomber's book and this newest Christmas novel was as delightful as her other books!

Synopsis:  (from Amazon)  Harry Mills is a guardian angel on a mission: help twenty-four-year-old Addie Folsom get her life back on track—and, if the right moment strikes, help her find love. Posing as a teacher at a local college in Tacoma, Washington, Harry is up to the task, but not even he can predict the surprises that lay in store.

After trying to make it on her own, Addie has returned home to Tacoma for the holidays, but this time she plans to stay for good, enrolling in the local community college to earn her degree. What she doesn’t plan to do is run into Erich Simmons.

Addie and her next-door neighbor, Erich, are like night and day. Growing up, he was popular and outgoing while she was rebellious and headstrong, and he never missed an opportunity to tease her. Now she intends to avoid him entirely, yet when they’re suddenly forced to spend Christmas together, Addie braces for trouble.

Perhaps it’s the spirit of the season or the magic of mistletoe, but Addie and Erich soon find they have more in common than they thought—and that two people who seem so wrong for each other may actually be just right. With a little prompting from a certain angelic teacher, the two are in for a holiday miracle they’ll never forget.

I loved this story, it provided as much comfort as hot cocoa!  The characters are likable and realistic, and while I would have like to have had more conversation on the Dickens novel between characters, what was there was insightful.

There is a Hallmark movie coming out this season on Mr. Miracle.  It will be fun to see this book come to life.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Scheduling Christmas

There is so much to see and do at Christmas and I don't want to miss a thing!  Every year I try to get my family to make their plans so I can be sure to avoid any conflicts with family events, but boy, sometimes it is like pulling teeth to get everyone to commit!  Last year I missed out on opportunities because my family procrastinated in making that decision.  This year, I blocked out the last two weekends and told my family they could have us for one of those.  Then I went ahead and scheduled all the events around those two weekends.  I am happy to say that my family has scheduled their holiday on one of those two weekends and now I have another weekend I can plan!

One of last year's events
How do you go about getting your extended families to plan for the holidays?  I am always looking for ideas!

At both sides of the family for last year, instead of exchanging gifts, we did a stocking stuffer exchange.  We bought guy gifts and gal gifts and kid gifts, stuffed the stockings and had fun unwrapping the gifts!  We still bought gifts for the little ones.  So much fun!  We didn't set a limit, but most of the gifts were under $5.  We got ink pens, sharpies, bubble bath, candy, ornaments, barrettes, earrings, hand lotion, and nail files.  The guys got batteries, flashlights, socks, flash drives, hand lotion, hand sanitizer and other goodies.  We brought our own stockings and brought them back home again. 

Stockings are stuffed and ready to open!
What are your go-to events?  Our neighborhood has a tree lighting ceremony, a homes tour and a craft show.  Those are musts.  Then our larger, neighboring city has a bunch of concerts to choose from.  This year we are seeing Trans Siberian Orchestra (new show!), Manheim Steamroller and Straight No Chaser.  The local college puts on a play and this year it is A Christmas Carol.  My PEO, DAR and DKG chapters all have Christmas parties.  There are always a few one-of-a-kind events that occur, this year it is at the library, Jan Brett is coming to discuss her new holiday book! The Polar Express is coming to town, as well.  A train will take travelers to the North Pole while hearing the story, eating cookies and driving hot cocoa.  I convinced my 29 year old daughter that she needed to do this with me.  We will wear our pajamas on board, too!   My friends from out of town have chosen my new town as their shopping trip for the holidays so I will get to entertain my friends this year.  My husband's company will have a holiday meal.  It hasn't been decided yet, though.

Busy, busy, busy, but.... I still have time for reflection and the winter months will come along soon enough where I will stay home and hole up.  Time enough for winter activities later!

Sunday, November 2, 2014

How to Decorate a Christmas Tree

While I am no professional, I do decorate a lot of Christmas trees for my own home.  The most I have had in my house at any one time is fourteen.  That's a lot of decorating!  Here are the steps I follow to get a pretty, sparkly tree.

Set the tone!  If you like Christmas music and the atmosphere is right for hot cocoa, go for it!

1.  We always use prelit trees.  That being said, the first thing we always do is to make sure the lights work!  Skipping this step might require you to remove all your hard work, then fix the lights and redoing the decorations!  Turn off your lights before you start, if you are like me and will sweat while you decorate.  This keeps the heat to a minimum and let's you have the wonder of turning on the lights when you are done!

2.  Add sparkly items near the trunk.  I use inexpensive sparkly ornaments found at the Dollar Tree.  These ornaments have a single job:  reflect back the lights to create a more sparkly tree.

3.  Add some larger ornaments or items.  Tuck in some large ornaments inside the branches.  Wire in larger items, like a lantern, into the tree.  Make sure the lantern has picks or fun items inside!

4.  Add garland.  Those shorter, four foot pieces are perfect.  Start about 1/5th of the way down from the top and tuck in garland.  I use 3-5 pieces or one long one, depending on the height of the tree.

5.  Now it's time to add in your ribbon.  Some people like to keep their ribbon in long pieces.  That makes a beautiful tree.  I like to cut 2 foot sections of ribbon and tuck them here and there.  Using two or more strands of ribbon at a time adds interest and visual appeal.

6.  Twist in any picks that you like, tucking them in here and there.  This is a good way to add that consistency you want, by having 10-20 picks of the same type.

7.  If you like flowers, I'd add them in now.

8.  Now it is time to add the ornaments!  I make piles:  Showcase ornaments, Large ornaments, Sparkly ornaments, Monochromatic ornaments and whatever other piles you need.  I add the largest ornaments to the bottom first, adding in a bit of each pile as I go, finishing with the smallest ornaments at the top of the tree.  For this tree, my ornaments were starfish and icicles.

9.  Add in your filler, twigs, pinecones, whatever you like!

10.  Decorate the top, starting about 1/5 of the way down, working up.  Add your tree topper, if you are using one.

11.  Add the tree skirt, step back, and tweak!  Tweak, tweak and tweak some more!  I haven't found the right tree skirt yet, so we are doing without for the moment!

Turn on the lights and be dazzled!

I would love to hear any variations that you might have in decorating your tree.  It's good to put many ideas together to get the perfect tree scenario!

Postscript:  Remember when I said tweak, and tweak some more?  Well, I wasn't satisfied with what seems to be a large green space on the left.  I found this adorable tin ornament and it seems to be what I needed!