Thursday, January 26, 2012

Rudolph Day for January

As regular readers know, I follow along with a Christmas forum at Our Home for the Holidays.  Here, Rudolph Day is observed on the 25th of each month.  Participants will try and do something Christmasy on that day, whether shopping, crafting, planning, baking, etc.  You can read about the original concept here at Organized Christmas, a site I highly recommend.  Every year, I determine to be more organized for the upcoming Christmas, and every year I get a little closer to being ready early.  The Rudolph Day concept really helps with that.

I chose to observe Rudolph Day for January on the 24th, since Wednesdays are a very busy day for me.  I didn't accomplish as much as I would like, but did work on my last belated Christmas gift and also cleared my crafting desk so it looks beautifully ready for the next project.  And, I made a bunch of Christmas gift tags out of 2010's cards, to use for 2012's gifts.  I try and do this every year, and you can read about last year's efforts here: Gift tags from recycled Christmas cards.

I had hoped to spend some time working in my Christmas notebook on Rudy Day -- you can begin reading a series of posts about my Christmas notebook here:  My Christmas Notebook Part 1 -- but that didn't happen, unfortunately.  Still, I sipped Candy Cane Lane tea and coffee with Peppermint Mocha creamer (did you know Walmart currently has the big bottles of holiday flavored creamers for $1.98?), listened to Christmas music, and had a great day!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

A few kid pictures from Christmas

I love this picture ~ my favorite from Christmas this year!

Here are just a few photos from Christmas evening at the home of our daughter, son-in-law and family.  It has taken me awhile to get around to posting them, and they are just about the only photos we took on Christmas, so I thought I'd better share them.

One gift I make for the grandchildren when they are old enough (usually around age 3) is an art box, or, as many of them call it, a project box.  You can read about how I make them here:  Art Boxes.  This was Josiah's year to get one.  Of course,  he has since colored his tummy blue with marker, but he was happy to get his own art box!

Another gift enjoyed by young children is the puzzle kits I devised.
One of the puzzle kits we gave this year

Read about them here:  Puzzle Kits.  These involve a small puzzle, a pack of microwave popcorn and an envelope of hot cocoa mix.  This year I gave these to several of the grandchildren.  If you know the children in question can't  have popcorn for some reason, or if their family doesn't have a microwave, you can easily come up with a substitute like animal crackers, goldfish, fruit snacks, etc.

Sam's kit included a 100-piece puzzle.

Kids seem to really enjoy these.  In 2 cases this year I saw the child assemble the puzzle right after opening the gift.  And that doesn't bother me.  I actually like seeing a child take a few minutes to enjoy one gift before ripping open the next one!

Another gift we gave Josiah was this tiny battery-operated train -- bought for pennies at a Christmas clearance last year.  It took no time at all for big brother Sam to help him install the batteries we taped to the back.

Hope you have enjoyed this look at a few of our simple Christmas gifts!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Quote of the day

A scene from one of my favorite Christmas fabrics, now made into a throw
Recently I finished reading Homemade Hospitality, a book by Barbara Sims.  She devotes several chapters to the blessings of extending hospitality around the holidays, particularly Christmas.  And she suggests getting ready for Christmas as soon as Thanksgiving is over.  She writes:

"On the day after [Thanksgiving], I can hardly wait to finish my morning coffee sipped from a china Christmas mug.  The Christmas season officially arrived last night when I pulled those [Christmas] plates off the top shelf in the china cabinet.  Today is special.

"I will decorate the Christmas tree.  The shopping is done  (well, almost), and wrapped packages will be retrieved from where I stored them last summer ...

"If all goes well (and I have a little help from my husband), by bedtime tonight I may have candles in the windows, nativity scenes on the tables, and even stockings by the fireplace.  Once the house is decorated, the Christmas spirit just creeps in and I begin to relax.  Now I look forward to enjoying the season, baking fruitcakes, having friends over, visiting in their homes, and rejoicing in the birth of the Savior."  ~ Barbara Sims, Homemade Hospitality

I think she's onto something here.  For years, I thought people who put their tree  up right after Thanksgiving were really rushing the season.  But this year we started decorating earlier than usual, and I did notice that once the house looked pretty and festive I started to relax as far as enjoying the season went.  (We won't discuss my rush to finish and mail handcrafted gifts, which is another story entirely.)  So next year, I may follow Mrs. Sims' lead and decorate even earlier!

Friday, January 13, 2012

A few Christmas decorating pictures

Now that it is time to take the Christmas decor down and put the winter decor up, I finally am managing to post a few pictures of this year's decorating.  Not everything, by any means.  Just a few pictures, all but one from my hutch.
The Christmas hutch in its entirety this year

I wanted to make this photo extra large so you could see the cute little forest friends by the trees -- carolers, and a mom and child at the nut shoppe! But Blogger cut out half the photo, so I had to make it smaller again.  I had forgotten all about these and was tickled to put them out this year.

A favorite Gooseberry Patch cookbook

Adorable holly-print teacup and teapot ornaments.  I caught my 3-year-old grandson pretending to pour tea!

Several years ago I made dozens of these family photo ornaments -- a Gooseberry Patch project!  Couldn't display this in my usual place so thought it looked cute hanging from a milk bottle.

Milk bottle with candy canes ~ love this idea which I saw  on Sugar Pie Farmhouse last year.  The crocheted coaster beneath was made by my friend J.

I found this cabin tucked away; it had been a school project by one of my daughters. 

A few of the glittery houses in my collection.  Some others are hanging on the Christmas tree.  And another "Forest Friends" figurine, this one a mother and baby mouse out for a walk in the snow.

I  usually put that family photo ornament in the center of this garland amid the icicles and snowflakes.  But this year I had something even better -- a lovely mitten made by Linda Stubbs of Prairie Flower Farm.
I should admit that our Christmas tree is still up.  It's artificial, and my hubby wanted to leave it up until this weekend.  So we will!  But I have changed other areas to winter decorations.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Wonderful idea for entertaining friends

Yesterday I happened to be glancing through one of my favorite Gooseberry Patch Christmas books, Simple Joys of Christmas.  You can read my review of it here:  Simple Joys book review, and I'm sure you will see why it's one of my favorites.

The book includes memories as well as recipes and some entertaining ideas.  This idea came from a lady named Pat Crandall.  She wrote:  "During the first week in December I send invitations to friends to join me for a Christmas tea.  I ask each of them to bring a Christmas story, poem or personal remembrance to share.  After we spend time enjoying one another's company, then we go to the dining room where everyone can make an ornament to take home; afterward we have dessert and coffee.  We all love spending time together and for me, this is one way I can show my friends how much I appreciate them."

I love this idea!  For some time now I've wanted to do something for the ladies in my Sunday School class at Christmas time.  One year I gave them each a handmade ornament and a poem I'd written, but I have really wanted to have them over and show hospitality to them in my home.  I've considered various ideas -- a brunch, a cookie exchange, etc. -- but all seemed too complicated and time-consuming.  I wanted something simple yet special.  This gathering sounds as if it would be just right. 

If you are interested in obtaining a copy of Simple Joys of Christmas, it is (sadly) out of print, but I found reasonably priced used ones on Amazon.  You can go there directly or use my affiliate link:  Simple Joys of Christmas.  If you, like me, love Christmas and vintage things, I am sure you would enjoy this book.

Monday, January 09, 2012

Pecan Cherry Bark

(Photo by Taste of Home)
I enjoy making candy as well as cookies at Christmas time, and this recipe for Pecan Cherry Bark has been on my want-to-try list for a long time.  The only thing was that it called for 3 pounds of almond bark, which could really add up.

I wanted to take some candy to a party this past weekend, and that coincided with a 75% off price for almond bark at my local Hannaford supermarket.  So I got out the recipe and tried it.  It was good, but in my opinion too thick.  It was hard to break the candy into pieces.  So next time, I will only use 2 layers (2 pounds) of bark, one chocolate and one white.  But otherwise, the candy was good and I will try it again.  The sugared pecans are fantastic!

Friday, January 06, 2012

Almond Shortbread Thumbprint Cookies

(Photo by Land O'Lakes

For the past few years, I think this fantastic cookie has been my very favorite of the special-occasion cookies I make.  We include it on our Christmas cookie trays, but it would be wonderful for any special occasion.  These  cookies tend to disappear off the trays very quickly at a gathering or potluck, and people often comment about them or ask for the recipe.  So I thought I would share it with you all.  I found the recipe in Cook & Tell, an old favorite recipe newsletter, but the recipe originated with Land O'Lakes, and may be found here: Raspberry Almond Shortbread Thumbprints.  The cookies freeze and defrost beautifully, glaze and all.  They have so few ingredients and are so easy to make.  I just love this recipe!

These cookies are wonderful with raspberry jam, but they are also very, very good with apricot jam.  You can use any favorite jam you like, but those are the two I usually use.  Although ... someone gave me a jar of terrific cranberry marmalade for Christmas.  Wonder how that would be?

Thursday, January 05, 2012

Chocolate Butter Cookies three ways

One of my favorite cookies which is a "must-make" on our kitchen gift list each year is Sacher Torte Cookies.  These yummy cookies are made with a chocolate instant pudding mix and no sugar. They are a chocolate thumbprint cookie and, when baked, the thumbprints are filled with either apricot or raspberry jam and drizzled with melted chocolate.
Well, this year when I wanted to make Sacher Torte Cookies, I found that I had no chocolate instant pudding mix in my pantry.  I remembered that last Valentine's Day the same thing had happened, and I had used a chocolate butter cookie recipe from Land O'Lakes for the cookie part.  So naturally, rather than make a trip to the grocery store on an already busy day, I turned to that recipe again.  You can find it here: Chocolate Butter Cookies.  I just filled the indentations with a half teaspoon of jam as usual and spooned a half teaspoon melted chocolate over each one to cover the jam.

Then I remembered another cookie that I really wanted to try and thought the same dough would work for it.  It too was a chocolate thumbprint cookie, but the dough balls were dipped in chopped nuts first, then filled with a white chocolate filling (just melt together 4 ounces chopped white chocolate and 2 Tablespoons butter) and topped with a quarter teaspoon of seedless raspberry jam.
(Photo by Taste of Home)

So I doubled the chocolate butter cookie recipe and made 2 kinds out of it.

Later, I saw another cookie I wanted to try, but the Chocolate Butter Cookie recipe was easier.  So I made it again, this time substituting vanilla for almond extract.  We filled the indentations with melted white chocolate and sprinkled them with crushed candy canes.  Very pretty!

We got a lot of mileage out of this recipe in the Christmas kitchen this year.  I highly recommend it!  Undoubtedly there are many more variations one could try.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

More fun with felt food

Darrin and Emily enjoying some of the felt food I've made previously

I am going to try over the next few days to share some photos of some of the Christmas gifts I made this year.  I try to make most of our gifts, although often for men we end up resorting to gift cards or to consumable food gifts. 

Several of our grandchildren absolutely adore felt food.  Their moms tell me that the play food comes out nearly every day to be played with, fed to stuffed animals, and so on.  I had big plans to make a lot of felt food for Christmas, but the more challenging items were put on hold and I will plan to make them for birthdays instead.  I thought I would show a few pictures of the easier items that I did make.
Tree and gingerbread man felt cookies
I also made red frosted bell cookies and yellow frosted star cookies.  The "sugar crystals" on all of these are glass beads securely sewed on.

Orange, cherry and lime felt popsicles
A second set of felt popsicles -- grape, lime and orange

(Photo by Turkey Feathers, which is where I found the tutorial for these felt pancakes.  I made mine the exact same way.  I forgot to take a picture of my pancakes before giving them away.)

I wasn't sure how to make "maple syrup" to accompany these pancakes, but ended up using a small, empty, very clean plastic syrup jug to accompany the one set.  For the other, I bought a tiny plastic jug full of real maple syrup and advised the recipient to use it on real pancakes and then have his mom clean it to use with the felt pancakes.  I had seen some felt maple syrup bottles on Etsy, but didn't have time to figure out how to make them.  The solution I came up with worked fine, and it's fun for them to have the real, albeit small, maple syrup jugs to use.

From the kids' reactions, I think there is quite a bit more felt food crafting in my future!