Monday, January 28, 2013

Rudolph Day for January

The first Rudolph Day of 2013!  I really didn't accomplish all that I'd hoped to, but managed a few things. 

Three of my grandkids were here for  part of that day, so I decided that for one of our activities together we would try a couple of new fudge recipes.  That would count toward Rudy Day;  since I like to make fudge for kitchen gifts and goody trays, I could try these new fudge recipes with an eye to next Christmas. 

One kind of fudge I had really been wanting to try is this one: 100 Grand Fudge which is meant to taste like a 100 Grand candy bar.  It's a basic milk chocolate fudge with crisp rice cereal in it and a caramel swirl between 2 layers of the fudge.  It was easy to make and turned out well, but the caramel layer oozed out even when the fudge was frozen.  I think another time I would use less caramel, or perhaps add a little cornstarch or flour to it to thicken it a bit.

The other fudge was a real experiment.  I had found some peppermint swirl mini marshmallows in Walmart for half price after Christmas.  On the package back, it was suggested that one could add some of these pretty marshmallows to a basic chocolate fudge recipe.  I chose this one: basic chocolate fudge which, being made with sweetened condensed milk, did not take a lot of cooking time and so I hoped it would not melt the marshmallows too much.  I made the fudge as directed and added 2 cups of the peppermint mini marshmallows.  They did melt a little more than I would have liked, but the fudge tasted good.

The kids enjoyed making the fudge and sampling it later.   They also liked the idea that they could take some of each kind home!

After they left, I worked a bit at refurbishing a bargain bottle brush tree (Christmas clearance again!) and a miniature plastic house I had painted some time ago.  I had decided that they would benefit from some snow medium and glitter.  No pictures of any of this,  I'm afraid, but I'm sure you get the idea.  As the little house and tree sat on my crafting desk next to a multicolored lit tree, the newly glittered house reflected the tree lights so beautifully.

I also did a little work on the pieced Christmas place mats I'm trying to finish -- a UFO of several years' standing.  I'm hoping to get them all done this month, and am halfway there.

And that was pretty much my Rudy Day for January!

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

A bit of after-Christmas crafting

2 Christmas Star dish cloths
 Just wanted to share a few of the crafts I've completed since Christmas!  First, I've made a couple of Christmas Star dish cloths, as seen above.

I want to make a set of ten of these place mats.  Five are now completed.
The first place mat.  I completed this last year, I think.
The next 2 place mats.  As you can see, none of them are really alike and yet they all "match" because they use red, white and green Christmas prints and are backed with the same green gingham.
Place mats #4 and #5.  There is also a table runner which I made a couple of years ago that matches the set of place mats.
Hope you have enjoyed this quick look at some of my after-Christmas crafting.

How about you?  Have you done any post-Christmas crafting?

Before-Christmas fun with grandkids

 Just a week before Christmas, Mr. T and I took 3 of our grandchildren on a little mystery trip.  We wouldn't tell them just where we were going, only that we were going out for ice cream to start with.  In retrospect, it would have been best to do this on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon -- which, actually, was what we had planned to do, but our plans were derailed by one thing and another and we were now down to only evenings after work to choose from.  The place we wanted to take them for ice cream sundaes closed at six p.m. so we had to do something very unorthodox and eat dessert first.

We got there a few minutes after five and had the ice cream shop area to ourselves.  It took awhile to decide on a base flavor at the ice cream buffet (actually, it didn't take any time at all for me.  In my opinion vanilla is the only suitable foundation for the varied toppings) but eventually all three kids decided on strawberry.  Then they went through the buffet line and chose toppings -- things like hot fudge, hot butterscotch, strawberries, marshmallow sauce, peanuts, pineapple, and the like.
A flag always goes on top!

Then we all sat at cute little ice cream tables in the classic ice-cream-shop chairs.  They were so busy looking around at the interesting surroundings, the player piano (which we simply had to put a quarter in) that it was hard for the littlest one to concentrate on finishing his ice cream.  But he managed it!

Then we took a quick look at the candy shop and candy making area downstairs.  We discovered they also have a candy buffet, and the kids were interested in doing that another time if we make this little outing a tradition -- which we hope to.  There wasn't time left to look at much else, though they have a lovely Christmas room and a toy room and many, many other intriguing areas.  If we do this again, it will have to be on a Saturday to allow more time.

Then it was off to McDonalds for supper.  The kids loved this, and the one we went to even had a fireplace and a (pretend) talking moose head on the wall.  Sam and I ate our supper by the fire while the others sat at a high table next to us.  So much fun.  Wish I had remembered to take the camera in.

After supper, we headed off to one of our favorite shopping places.  This place is a fun one to visit anytime, but it is especially magical at night in the winter.

The kids had to see the waterfall from several vantage points and they loved spending time in the book and toy store.
There, I did a bit of shopping while the kids played with the train table and other fun toys.

Then, we headed to a dollar store so the kids could buy some Christmas gifts (funded by us) for their parents.  This is something they had never really done before, so it took a bit of time, but soon enough the choices were made.

The kids' parents were out for the evening too, so our plan was that when we got back to their house we would wrap the gifts and put them under the tree.  But all of our activities took so long that the parents returned before we did!  That was okay -- we had already made a "plan B".  I took the gifts home and wrapped them, then gave them to the kids in a big (stapled shut) bag later that week.  The older two smuggled them into the house and  under the tree, and all three managed to keep quiet about it, so it was a fun little surprise for their mom and dad.

All in all, it was a lovely but busy evening that we hope to repeat next year -- only in the afternoon if at all possible!

Friday, January 18, 2013

Handmade Christmas gift tags

 One recent project I've been working on is making Christmas gift tags out of 2011's Christmas cards.  I do this every year and I never have to buy tags.  I have tag templates that I use to trace and cut the tags,  and then punch small holes to string crochet cotton through (red, green, or white) or in some cases I use gold or silver cord as a hanger.  Many people probably have the paper punches that punch out tag shapes, and that would work great too. 

This year I decided to clear out the box I keep my tags in.  It was my grandmother's, given to me years ago filled with vintage tags, along with a bunch of wrapping paper she was getting rid of.  It's a sturdy box and the perfect size for tags, and ... did I mention it was my grandmother's?  She loved Christmas so much and, as I've mentioned before, wrapped her gifts with such an artistic eye, that throwing out her tag box would be unthinkable. 
One of Gram's tags
But it was getting a bit full, and clearly needed to be decluttered.  I sorted out tags that would work well for labeling items to sell at craft fairs and put them in a separate place.  Then I sorted out vintage tags, for possible sale on Etsy and elsewhere, and set those aside in a box where I keep vintage bits and pieces.

So after disposing of bits of ribbon, string, and card stock too tiny to save (plus some dust) I was left with a fairly neat and full box of tags.  Among them there was one handmade tag I'd made years ago and wanted to share with you all.

I think the idea may have come from Gooseberry Patch originally, but I tweaked it somewhat.  I made loads of these to label gift mixes I was making for our elderly parents.  There was room inside to write down the particulars of preparing some of the mixes.

 If you would like to make some, here is what I did.  You will need:  blank 3 x 5-inch index cards, scraps of Christmas fabric, pencil, scissors, fusible web, cookie cutters or other templates for designs, hole punch, crochet cotton, fine point permanent marker, buttons and hot glue.  Fold the index card in half and crease it.  Punch a hole in the corner, going through both layers.  Fuse fabric to web and trace desired designs  on the paper side; then fuse the fabric shape to the front of the tag.  Hot glue a button to the center of the design if you like.  Use the permanent marker to make little "stitch marks" around the outer edge of the fabric shape.  Cut a short length of crochet cotton and thread it through the holes in the corner of the tag.  You are finished!

When ready to use, write whatever message you like inside the tags.

Why not make up a bunch and have them ready for next Christmas?  When I did these before, I did the same fused fabric/button technique on plain old paper lunch bags, and they came out so cute.  I used them for the mixes.  This year, I found some white lunch bags at Walmart, and they would be great for this, though the brown ones look very nice.

I've been making lots of projects (mug rugs, place mats) out of my Christmas fabric stash,
"Christmas Tea" mug rugs
Front and back of another set of mug rugs made for a friend
Pieced placemat -- I am making a set of ten; I have completed five.
 and still am finding I have quite a few smaller scraps.  This would be a perfect use for these, I'm thinking.  So many projects, so little time!

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Another inspiring Christmas quote

Here's another inspiring quote from Tammy Maltby's wonderful little book, The Christmas Kitchen:

"Your kitchen, whatever it looks like, is your number one resource for holiday celebrations and decoration.  It's your comforting place to nurture relationships with people related by blood and those you choose to welcome into your life.  It's rich with possibilities for gift giving, for expressing thanks, for reaching out to others and showing love to them.  It's also an ideal place to connect with children, passing along the experience of Christmas and recovering a little of the child in you at the same time."

I hope to do a review of this book soon.  It's available on Amazon and other places, and I'm sure many of you would enjoy it as much as I do.  It has some great recipes, too.

In the meantime, enjoy these little quotes!

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Brown paper gingerbread men

 I made these ornaments many years ago and they are still holding up well.  They are simple and fun, so I thought others might like to try them as well.  You will need:
* Brown paper bag or a roll of brown kraft paper
* Pencil
* Gingerbread man cookie cutter (optional)
* Polyester fiberfill
* Sewing machine (threaded with color thread of your choice; white, tan, brown, or even red would work)
* Pins
* Thread and needle
* Scissors
* Dimensional squeeze-bottle paints in white, black (or dark brown)  and red

1. First draw (or trace, using the cookie cutter) two gingerbread man shapes for each ornament on the brown paper.  Cut out the shapes.
2. Pin the 2 shapes together and sew most of the way around them, leaving room to poke in some fiberfill.  You don't want them too puffy; just use enough to give them a little dimension.
3. After adding the fiberfill, finish sewing the rest of the way around the shape.
4. Thread a needle and add a hanging loop to the top of the gingerbread man by piercing it with the needle, going through both layers.  Trim to size desired and knot ends of thread together at the top.
5. Add eyes, smile, buttons, white "icing" trim and a little red heart if desired, using dimensional paint.
6. Allow paint to dry before hanging the ornament wherever you'd like.
 They look nice not only on the tree, but in a window, on a chandelier, hanging from a rag or evergreen garland, as a package tie-on, or even piled in a basket like real gingerbread men.  Have fun!

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Christmas quote of the day

"The kitchen is where so many Christmas memories come from, where so many Christmas dreams begin.  It's a place of intoxicating aromas, tantalizing tastes -- of bustling activity and endless creativity.  It's a place where old meets new, where tradition gets spiced up with fresh new ideas, where grown-ups and kids, friends and family, come together to cook and prepare and enjoy the  festive results."  -- Tammy Maltby

That's my goal for my Christmas kitchen all year round!!

Saturday, January 05, 2013

Rag garland and silhouette ornaments

One of the Christmas red and green rag garlands in the kitchen
A dozen years ago or so,  I made a number of rag garlands.  Two of them are done in bright Christmas reds and greens and are in our kitchen during this season.  One is over a kitchen window and another draped over the top of a corner cupboard.

I made a third garland in more muted, darker reds and greens to go over the picture window in our living room.  Then, shortly thereafter, I acquired for free a beautiful pine and fir garland with faux berries, real pine cones, etc.  Ever since, that evergreen garland has been over the picture window (with trims changed seasonally) and the darker rag garland has been packed away unused.

This year I decided to try using the rag garland over the windows at the other end of the living room.  I hung some brown-paper gingerbread men and fabric trees on it.  It looked nice, so I left it up, but still felt that it needed something.

Lo and behold, in our daughter's Christmas package, the perfect addition to the garland.  She made these Silhouette Ornaments from scrapbooking paper and they were just the right touch to finish off the garland decorating.  

Aren't they pretty? This spot in the living room really needed something, and I think this was it!

Friday, January 04, 2013

"How beautiful!"

We may have all said those words more than once this Christmas season as we viewed a poinsettia, a light display, a decorated table, a snowy landscape or a glittery Christmas village,  listened to a Christmas carol or a carefully practiced Christmas offertory, or as we opened a particularly lovely gift.  I know I probably said them a dozen times or more.  But this time the words were spoken spontaneously by a four-year-old boy.  They will be a special memory of this past Christmas.

He is one of the three grandchildren who, with their parents, were having dinner at our home on Christmas day.  I had planned a little activity for the children to keep them busy while their mom and I put the finishing touches on dinner.  I'd forgotten to bring down something out of my craft closet so, of course all three children had to come along when I went to get it.

The four-year-old, Josiah, had quickly scrambled up the stairs first and was a bit ahead of the rest of us.  As he passed the open door to our bedroom, I heard a little gasp and then, "Oh, how beautiful!"  (Only he said, "bootiful".)  He had caught sight of the lighted tree in our bedroom.  I thought it was so sweet how he just popped out with what he was thinking. He quickly made sure his brother and sister saw the tree as well.
The boy who thought the tree was beautiful
Interestingly, as I had worked in the evenings sewing on Christmas gifts in the room across the hall, I could see the reflection of that lighted tree in the window behind my sewing machine.  And every time I noticed it, I too would find some words to express how beautiful it looked.  I hope that none of us will ever stop noticing the beautiful things in our lives, and being sure we thank God for them.

A favorite glittery house on the lighted tree 
Not sure how we got this effect, but isn't it pretty?

Thursday, January 03, 2013

A festive mess

Just some food for thought as we look back over our Christmases of 2012 -- gifts we gave, recipes we tried, decorating and craft ideas that worked (or didn't).  These thoughts came to me a few years ago and I always intended to expand on them before posting them.  On re-reading, I decided these few words will stand just fine on their own and serve as an encouragement to me and maybe to you as well.  Here they are:

A number of years ago, I looked around my house one late December day and declared, "What a mess!"  I don't recall exactly what I was looking at, but it was doubtless the familiar late-December jumble of Christmas shopping bags, wrappings, ribbons, boxes of cards, half-finished gift projects, racks full of cooling cookies, etc.  One of my daughters, in either high school or college at the time, consoled me with these words:  "Well, at least it's a festive mess!"

Those words have stuck with me over the years and have brought a chuckle every time I think about them ... and a good reminder as well.   Every December, there's always a "festive mess" in my home (and probably in yours as well) -- and when you think about the true reason for our festivity, we can only thank God profoundly that we have such great cause for celebration:  the birth of our Savior!

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

A fun Christmas decorating find at Marshalls

This vintage parchment card with glittery pine cones was obviously taped up in the recipient's home.  One can still see the mark of the cellophane tape!
A few days after Christmas, Mr. T suggested we stop in at Marshalls and check out their Christmas clearance, which was 60% off.  I was game, of course, but wasn't sure how much might be left to choose from.  There was actually quite a bit.

One thing I always like to look for is Christmas coffee.  One can often find the 12-ounce bags very inexpensively.  There were still some left, so I bought several, plus a 2-pound bag of coffee beans -- the latter was only around $6!  Amazing!  When I find coffee at prices like this, I put it in the freezer and bring it out at a later date.

I also got some Christmas paper napkins -- red with white snowflakes.  These are wonderful to tuck into a gift basket for someone, perhaps with hot cocoa mix, mugs, mug rugs and candy canes, for example.

And I got some nifty stickers that look like Christmas lights -- the big, old-fashioned colored bulbs.

But my favorite buy was this pretty wall hanging.
It's hanging by an old-looking gray velvet ribbon.
It cost just over $3.
A closer look at the picture -- people entering a lighted church on a snowy evening.
A closer look at the bells and holly in the corner.  Love the touches of glitter!
I've been admiring this artwork and thinking about how I could make something similar.  I have scanned many, many of my vintage cards and could easily mod podge one onto a board or even foam core, then add glitter as on this pretty scene.  Smaller ones might make sweet Christmas ornaments.

I am finding myself more motivated than ever to try and make some special Christmas things for the coming year, and to start soon.