Thursday, November 29, 2007

Christmas card "kissing ball" to make

Here is another wonderful use for old Christmas cards. I have made many of these through the years. I've already posted these directions here in the Christmas kitchen, so just go to this link to find them:
Christmas kissing ball

Have fun!

A Reprint: Christmas Traditions for the Empty Nest

I posted this back in June, but decided to re-post it right now. Maybe someone is facing their first Christmas with an empty nest and needs to read this. I hope this is helpful and encouraging to someone else!

Christmas traditions for the empty nest

Sometimes it can be really traumatic when all of the kids leave home and things are just not the same as they used to be at holiday time. It's unrealistic to expect them to stay the same, however. Even if your married children live in the same town as you do, they should be encouraged to begin their own special traditions as a new family. If they live in another state or even another country, they should not be pressured to "come home for Christmas". Maybe they want to make that a part of their own holiday tradition -- and hooray if they do! -- but we shouldn't pressure them to do so.

I have found that beginning some new traditions of our own (and tweaking some older ones) as empty-nesters has been really helpful in keeping the blues away at holiday time. Here are a few ideas:

* On the day of the first significant snowfall in our area (usually sometime in November) I bake the first Christmas cookies of the season to freeze.

* I decorate to my heart's content! Lots easier without little kids underfoot.

* I often plan special pre-Christmas gifts for my married kids and their families. Christmas books, foods, decorations and crafts to enjoy throughout the coming season.

* We always do some of our Christmas shopping at a very special group of shops (in an old mill) where we traditionally visited when the kids were younger. We like to go in the evening when the street lamps are lit, carols are playing, and a light snow is falling.

* I pack Christmas boxes to send to those family and friends who are far away. It is so much fun to plan what goodies to include. I just want the box to say "Merry Christmas!" when they open it.

* My husband and I fill Christmas stockings for each other. This is lots of fun and something special to look forward to on Christmas morning.

* We enjoy our traditional Christmas Eve Soup whether we have company or not.

* I make a special breakfast on Christmas morning -- usually including an egg bake of some sort (prepared the night before and baked fresh that morning) and a coffeecake or muffins I've baked ahead.

We plan to have "Christmas" together with all of our kids and grandkids whenever we can all be together, no matter what time of year it happens to be. The times all together are so rare we want to savor them fully.

Well, those are just a few thoughts. But above all, let's not forget that "leaving and cleaving" is biblical. Once our married kids leave home, they are a new family and we need to set them free to function as such in every way.

Some ideas for Christmas cards

Well, it's happened -- we've received our first Christmas card for 2007! It actually arrived the Saturday after Thanksgiving. So I thought I'd share a few thoughts concerning those incoming cards.

Each year I display the cards we receive in our front hallway as they arrive. Once I've sent a card in return, I roll up masking tape and tape the cards around the frame of the doorway to the living room. I also tape them to the adjacent wall of the hallway. They pretty much take up the space available and make a very festive display. I keep them up until a couple of weeks after Christmas.

When the cards come down, they go into a pretty wooden basket. They will reside there until the next year's cards take their place. We like to pull out a card a day and pray for the family or person who sent the card. Ideally, we keep rotating through them. We don't always stick with this, but every year we aim at it!

What do we do with the previous year's cards when the present year's cards replace them? Well, we don't throw them all away! Some are so beautiful that I save them to display at future Christmases. For the others, I have several projects for which I like to use old Christmas cards -- some of them are already posted here, but I plan to share a few more in the days to come.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Another easy, lovely cookie

Here is another cookie recipe that is super easy, but fancy looking. These have a definite Italian accent with the ricotta and candied cherries. Note that you need to fill these 4 hours before you want to serve them. Arrowroot biscuits can often be found in the baby aisle of the supermarket near the teething biscuits, zwieback, etc. FRUIT AND CHIP-FILLED COOKIES 15 ounces part-skim ricotta cheese
1/3 cup confectioners sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/8 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 cup miniature semi-sweet chocolate chips (or you may chop regular ones)
1/4 cup red candied cherries, chopped fine
1/4 cup green candied cherries, chopped fine
Arrowroot biscuits
Confectioners sugar for topping Combine the first 7 ingredients and mix well. About 4 hours before serving, make little cookie sandwiches, using the cheese mixture and sandwiching it between 2 arrowroot biscuits for each cookie. Just before serving, sift additional confectioners’ sugar over the platter or plate of cookies.

Two quick but fancy-looking cookie ideas

Here are two ideas that will make your cookie plates look fancy with very little work on your part:

1) Poinsettia Brownies

My mother always made these to add to her gift trays of cookies at Christmas. Bake brownies as usual and let them cool. Before cutting, frost the brownies with a simple white butter frosting and mark them into squares. Using slices of candied cherries (note: NOT maraschino cherries, which could make quite a mess), form poinsettias on the top of each square. Cut the brownies along the marked lines. You can make this even simpler by using brownie mix and canned frosting.

2) Fancy Fig Cookies

These start with purchased fig bars (like Fig Newtons®). Cut the bars in half lengthwise to make sticks, or in half diagonally to make triangles. Dip the pieces in melted chocolate, then in chopped nuts. Place on foil-lined baking sheets and chill until chocolate is set.


Monday, November 26, 2007

Red satin ribbon

I grew up in the 1950s, and I find myself growing ever more nostalgic for the Christmases of those days gone by. One thing that just seems to say "old-fashioned Christmas" to me is red satin ribbon. It seemed to be used so often in those days to lend a festive holiday touch. I inherited many of my grandmother's Christmas wrappings, so I've been able to use some of her old ribbon.

Imagine my delight when I discovered that this beautiful ribbon is still available, for a reasonable price. (I purchase mine through Home-Sew, a mail-order and online sewing supply catalog.) The one-half inch or three-quarter inch sizes are most versatile. I use them to wrap packages, to tie bows on the handles of gift bags, to trim crafts, tie up bunches of greenery, and for decorating in many other ways. Using luxurious, vintage-looking satin ribbons to decorate my home and gifts is one way of helping to re-create those happy Christmases of my childhood.

Little boxes to make from Christmas cards

Most people have probably seen those little boxes made from Christmas cards. These are the easiest directions I have ever found. Most of the instructions I've seen involve a lot of folding and drawing of complicated lines, etc. These are actually easy!

The boxes can obviously be made from any greeting card, not just Christmas ones. These make great little gift boxes or can be used to hold office or craft supplies like paper clips, tacks, push pins, beads, etc. Christmas ones can be hung on the tree or piled beneath a miniature tree.

Here's what you do:

1. Cut apart a greeting card along the fold, separating the front from the back.

2. Start with the back part of the card. Using a ruler, draw lines from corner to corner on the unprinted side of the card to form an X. The center is where the two lines of the X meet.

3. Fold up each of the four sides of the card to meet the center of the X. Crease the folds well.

4. Open the card back up to reveal the creases you've made. Now, holding the card vertically, carefully cut on the two vertical crease lines at the top and bottom of the card, just to the point where they intersect with the nearest horizontal crease.

5. Fold in the tabs you just created by following step 4. You can now see how this is going to form a box. Tape the tabs inside the box. (You may find that each end of the box -- the part between the tabs -- stands up a bit higher than the rest of the box. If this happens, it is not a problem. You can simply fold the excess down inside, over the tabs, and tape it in place. Or, if you prefer, you can simply trim off the excess card before taping.) You have just made the bottom of the box!

6. Now, repeat steps 2 through 5 with the front part of the card, which will make the top of your box.

7. Obviously, this produces a box top and bottom which are exactly the same size, which sometimes means that the cover doesn't go on too easily. Usually, if you just squeeze the sides of the box gently, the cover will go on just fine.

These directions look far more complicated than the process actually is. I've made loads of these boxes with kids over the years, and it really is easy enough for even a 5-year-old to do. So have fun with these cute little boxes!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

A 1950s cookie recipe

Here’s a nostalgic cookie recipe straight out of the 1950s. This is my mother’s recipe, and it was a “must” on her cookie trays every year. Back in those days it seemed as if dates and other dried fruits were used more in festive holiday baked goods. I suppose that’s because they were more in the luxury category back then. These cookies look like the classic Christmas cookie of those days -- perfectly round, with half a candied cherry placed in the center of each one. If you’d like to try a genuine 1950s Christmas cookie recipe for your own baking this year, here’s your chance. These cookies freeze very well.


3/4 cup crisco or softened butter
1 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
3 Tblsp. milk
1 tsp. vanilla
2 cups flour
3/4 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
2 cups old-fashioned oats
1 1/2 cups chopped dates
3/4 cup chopped walnuts
Candied cherries

Mix together thoroughly shortening, sugar, eggs, milk, and vanilla.
Sift together flour, soda, and salt; stir in. Stir in oats, dates, and
nuts and mix thoroughly. Chill dough until it is easy to handle.

Roll dough into balls the size of large walnuts. Place 3 inches apart on lightly
greased baking sheets. (I prefer to use teflon liners.) Flatten cookies to 1/4-inch thickness with the bottom of a glass dipped in flour. Place half a candied cherry on top of each.

Bake at 375° for 10 to 12 minutes. Makes about 3 dozen.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Sparkly Heart Ornaments

Today I thought I would share how to make some very pretty ornaments from simple supplies most crafters might have on hand. I have made many of these for gifts and for decorating my own home. I like to use them on my front-door wreath, but they are also nice for hanging on the tree or anywhere else you like. Some folks I have given them to like to hang these sparkly hearts from the kitchen cupboard doorknobs, to spiff up the kitchen with a holiday air. They would make nice package tie-ons, too. 

Years ago, I saw some similar ornaments for sale in a catalog and figured out an easy way to make them. Here's how:  


You will need: 

 Red felt 
Polyester fiberfill

Needle and red sewing thread

Gold star sequins

Gold glass seed beads

Red rocaille beads
Small shiny brass jingle bells, optional

For each ornament you wish to make, cut 2 heart shapes -- I trace around a a heart cookie cutter to make them uniform -- out of red felt. 

Add beads to one heart from each pair as follows: Thread a needle with red thread, then bring the needle up through the back side of the heart to the right side. Thread on a gold star sequin, then either a gold seed bead or a red rocaille bead. Insert the needle back into the star sequin and through to the back side again, so that the thread holds the bead tightly in place. 

Repeat this process to add as many sequins/beads as desired. (I used about 7 beads/stars on most of my ornaments.)  

Now, using small neat stitches, sew the 2 heart shapes together about 1/4 inch from the edges, leaving an opening for stuffing the ornament. Stuff the heart ornament tightly with fiberfill (it won't take very much) and sew up the opening. 

If desired, sew a jingle bell to the bottom point of each heart. Now use the needle to pull a length of thread through the center top of each heart; knot to form a hanger. 

 The sparkly beads and sequins on these ornaments catch the light beautifully, and if you use the jingle bells, they add the sound of Christmas as well. Another really nice thing about these ornaments is that you can leave them up right through Valentine's Day!

Two Victorian-style projects

Here are a couple of quick and easy craft projects you can make with old Christmas cards or wrapping paper.

The first project is a pin, the second is an ornament.

For the pin, find a small Victorian motif on an old Christmas card or a scrap of wrapping paper. (I have seen several wrapping papers that are basically a collage of Victorian motifs.)

Glue the motif to posterboard or thin cardboard and let dry.

Carefully cut around the edges of the motif through both paper and the board it is glued to.

Hot-glue a pin back to the back side of the cardboard, centering it near the top.

Coat the front of the motif with mod podge at least three times, letting it dry between coats. If desired, sprinkle glitter on the motif before the last coat of mod podge dries.

For an ornament, you could follow the same steps, only instead of a pin-back, hot-glue a loop of gold cord to the center back of the cardboard near the top.

I made my pin round and ran a thin metallic cord around the outer edge. I was quite pleased with the way it came out, but my son persisted in referring to it as my "panic button" so I didn't wear it too often!

I made my ornaments rectangular or oval, trimmed the edge with decorative cord, and glued a tassel made from tinsel to the bottom center of one ornament. I want to make more of these. The photo shows two of the oval ornaments.

Hope someone else has fun with this idea!

Monday, November 12, 2007

My simple Christmas-card system

Here's another reprint from my regular blog that really deserves to be posted here!

My simple Christmas-Card system...

So many people struggle with trying to get their Christmas cards sent out. For years I watched my mother labor with a list, checking off cards received, listing cards sent out... and when I started sending my own Christmas cards, I did the same. Then came a couple of very busy years when cards just didn't get sent. Finally I decided to try a different way of handling this... something that would make it a blessing rather than a chore, that would keep the enjoyment in this special way of keeping in touch with friends and family.

I decided that when we received a card from someone, then I would send that person a card. It keeps the task very manageable. Writing only a few cards a day keeps it enjoyable and gives me time to add a little note to the card if I like. This system is almost foolproof. The only thing that keeps it from being ideal is that invariably we receive some cards from people at the very last minute, like the day before or the day after Christmas. I noticed this the first year, so the next year I bought a couple of nice New Year's cards to use for those people. (If you are trying this for the first time, I suggest buying a couple of New Year's cards right now, to have on hand for this inevitable happening.) By now, I have it pretty much figured out who is going to be late with their cards -- in our case, it's only two people -- and I just send their cards now before we receive one from them.

This system works beautifully for us. Is it perfect? Of course not. But it sure beats struggling to get your cards sent out or just giving up on sending cards entirely, as many people have done. Give it a try and see what you think!

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Old-Timey Tin Icicles

Here's another idea from the December archives of my other blog:

Years ago, my sister-in-law told me about an easy, fun tree decoration. You can actually make these all year whenever you finish a roll of foil, wax paper, etc. Basically, they are icicles which you make from the metal cutting strip* on the boxes of these wraps. (In case you haven't noticed, this is not a craft small children should help with.)

Here's what you do: When you finish up a roll of foil or whatever, very carefully remove the metal cutting strip from the box. Once you get the end started, it will come off quite easily. Then take a pencil and, again working very carefully, wrap the metal strip around the pencil in a spiral pattern. Once the icicle looks the way you want it to, slip it off the pencil. There is your tin icicle! These metal strips often have holes spaced along them, and you can slip an ornament hook through the topmost hole. If your metal strip has no holes, you can simply bend the top of the icicle a bit to stay on a tree branch.

These icicles look charmingly old-fashioned on your tree, and they catch the glimmer of the tree lights beautifully. Have fun with this idea!

* I have noticed that many wraps are beginning to have a plastic cutting strip instead. So if you use up a package with a metal cutting strip and you have any interest in this project, snag it right away!

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Velvet Ribbon Garlands

Last year, over on my other blog, Across my Kitchen Table, I posted a different Christmas idea every day for the month of December. Some of those ideas have been posted here as well, but others have not. So I'm going to copy and paste a few of them over here for those who may not have seen them on my other blog. Have fun.

Here's an easy idea to trim that hard-to-decorate area -- make these ribbon garlands to drape across your window tops.

Years ago, I wanted to make something special to help decorate our living room for Christmas. The problem was that the colors in this room -- gold, green, rust, etc. didn't look all that great with what I could find for trims.

However, I had been given some spools of stiff velvety craft ribbon about 3/4-inch wide. Among the usual reds and Christmas greens there were also some spools of gold and moss green ribbon. I cut pieces of ribbon perhaps 4 inches long, formed one into a loop and stapled the ends together. Then I slipped the next piece of ribbon through the loop and stapled its ends... and so on, and so on, exactly as one would do to make a paper chain. I alternated the gold and moss green colors in the chains, and made each chain long enough to drape across the top of a window, with part of the chain hanging down straight at each end. I simply pinned them in place with straight pins. They really dressed up the room while not clashing with its colors.

Of course you can use any type of craft ribbon you like. I would not recommend using ribbon any wider than one inch, however, and I wouldn't use any sort of ribbon that frays easily. But use your imagination when it comes to colors and ribbons. I can picture a garland of red plaid ribbon looking very nice indeed, for example.

These garlands may be used anywhere you'd like, of course -- mantels, hutches, corner cupboards -- even on the Christmas tree.

Have fun with this idea!

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Fun idea for packaging gift breads

I don't have pics of my more rustic packaging ... maybe this year.  These are wrapped in the shiny food-safe gift wrap.

I love giving small loaves of quick breads or fruitcake for Christmas! These make nice gifts for family, friends, or neighbors, and are a nice little thing to have on hand when someone drops by at holiday time and you’d like to give them a small remembrance. They also work exceeding well in care packages to send to faraway family and friends, because they are sturdy and keep well.

I have a way of packaging these little loaves that is so much fun for me. First, of course, when they are cool I wrap them in plastic wrap and then in foil. I almost always bake these ahead and freeze them, so I want to be sure they are well wrapped.

Next, I wrap them in something else -- either plain brown kraft paper, or -- my favorite -- a cut-apart paper bag. A country shop in our area uses bags which are brown with black print and which look just like an old-time newspaper. I always make some purchases at this shop around Christmas time, and I always save the bags. Regular newspaper might look neat, too.

Then I tie something around the loaf, just as you would tie ribbon around a gift package. I might use red ribbon, or colored raffia, or jute. I stick on a label indicating the contents of the package -- “Chocolate Banana Bread” or “Eggnog Fruit Bread” or whatever. And then, under the bow, I’ll often tuck something decorative, like a sprig of fir, or some silk holly, or I’ll glue on a couple of tiny pine cones.

(And of course, if your tastes run more to the sparkly and elegant, you can wrap your loaves in gold or colored foil paper and use pretty ribbons and shiny trims like mini Christmas balls or charms.)

These little gifts look so lovely and festive! I hope others will have as much fun as I do with this idea!

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Packaging Cookie Trays

Cookies you send out of town require special packaging to get them to their destination safely and in good shape. That’s a topic for another day.

But for cookie trays you give to nearby family and friends, here’s an easy packaging tip. I used to think it was necessary to buy special Christmas plates or trays (usually paper or foam) for my giveaway cookie plates. Then I switched to plain white foam plates and added a Christmas paper doily under the cookies.

I’ve come to realize that just the plain white foam plates work fine. (If you don’t wish to buy foam, you could use white or red plastic plates, or heavy paper plates like Chinet. I wouldn’t use flimsy paper plates, not even doubled or tripled. They just buckle too easily under the weight of cookies.) The point is that the cookies themselves are so decorative, they really don’t need a decorative plate.

I arrange a bunch of different kinds of cookies on one plate, using several cookies of each variety. I group each kind together, and I try to vary the colors on the plate. For example, if I have 2 different kinds of chocolate cookies, I don’t put them next to one another on the plate.

When the plate is arranged as I like it -- and I like it to look generous but not overloaded and definitely not skimpy -- then I cover it with one or two sheets of plastic wrap and wrap it securely. I then add a gift tag of the stick-on type. A stick-on bow is another nice addition. If I am going to include a Christmas card or tract with my cookie tray, I do it this way: wrap curling ribbon around the tray as if I am wrapping a gift, crossing the ribbon under the tray and tying a bow on the top. If I am using a Christmas card, I tuck it under the bow and perhaps tape it in place so it doesn’t slide out. If I’m using a Christmas tract, I punch a hole in the top corner and slide the tract onto the ribbon before tying the bow.

I tend to bake all of my cookies ahead and store them in tins in the freezer; then I can assemble the cookie trays as needed. Near the time I’ll be giving them away, I try to make up several cookie trays and freeze those as well. That way, if a neighbor comes to our door with a treat, I can quickly pull out a frozen cookie tray and give it to her. It would be really nice if I could make up all of my cookie trays ahead, but I seldom get to doing this. And I must say, it does add an element of festivity and fun to be packaging them up shortly before Christmas day.

Monday, November 05, 2007

"Neighbor Gifts"

When I was growing up, my family always gave gifts of food -- fudge, or cookies, or holiday breads --to the neighbors at Christmas time. Mr. T and I have carried that tradition on with our own neighbors. It’s really neat to see how others in our neighborhood now give “neighbor gifts” of their own. We always receive a yummy pie from one neighbor, salsa from another, cookies from others. It’s fun and gives us a nice contact with our neighbors. When I give a cookie tray I often tie on a pretty Christmas tract or card containing the true message of the season.

For years, we always gave our neighbors trays of homemade cookies. In recent years, I’ve changed that up a bit. We may give cookies, or maybe something else, like muffins and hot chocolate mix, or scones or tea breads and a pack of pretty napkins.

I have found it very, very helpful to list down each neighbor we give to and to note what we give to each one each year. I also note if something was a special favorite. Golden Apricot Cake, for example, always draws rave reviews from some recipients. If someone really enjoys a particular cookie or other treat, I will be sure and give them that again sometime.

If you have never given “neighbor gifts” before, why not choose a neighbor or two to visit with a little homemade remembrance this year?

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Last installment of My Christmas Notebook

My Christmas Notebook -- Odds & Ends

I really should go ahead and wrap up the story of my Christmas notebook by sharing what's in the front and back pockets of it.

The back pocket is easy. That's where I store my menus from past Thanksgivings -- the meal plan, who brought what, etc. I also keep a list of what serving dishes and utensils I typically need for Thanksgiving dinner.

The front pocket of the notebook is quite a bit more of a mess. I've tucked in several pretty Christmas pictures (from catalogs, etc.) that I thought inspiring. (But now I have a better place to put them -- my scrapbook-type journal!) There's a Christmas card or two in there that I hope to frame. There are lists and ideas that just don't seem to fit anywhere else -- but as I look these over now, I realize that they could fit into other places in the notebook if I really think about it. Some examples are lists of open-house appetizers and desserts, our menu from last year's "Christmas dinner" (held in February!), and a couple lists of homemade mixes I've given to our parents for Christmas. There are centerpiece ideas, a holiday shipping/mailing guide from the US Postal Service, a clipping detailing how to host a cookie exchange -- even a list of gift ideas for myself, because people sometimes ask and I seldom can think of anything quickly.

Finishing up the description of my Christmas notebook has been a great thing to do today, because it has given me new enthusiasm to get the notebook reorganized and set for a new holiday season!