Sunday, November 24, 2013

Christmas traditions... Old and new.

On Sunday a friend came over and helped me bake ~20 dozen sugar cookies in preparation for the "Treats for the Troops" packages we will be assembling on Saturday. As we were measuring, mixing, rolling and cutting, we talked about each of our family Christmas traditions. 

I've got fuzzy memories of my childhood - what I do remember is more like snapshots rather than detailed, lengthy events so reclaiming memories of traditions is sweet. 

Among my favorites....

At Thanksgiving and/or Christmas dinners my mom's dad (who would probably be called a "foodie" in today's society) often brought "exotic" items for us to all try. I'll never forget the year he brought raw oysters (which I still won't eat!) and we all had to try at least one. It made me more adventurous to try new things and is how I get the kids in my life to try new things at least once before they judge it. It also inspires me to often try cooking something new when contributing to or preparing a holiday meal. 

Writing our letters to Santa and burning them so he could read our wishes in the smoke is one that I've learned is quite unique. Over the years we have burned the letters in a variety of ways... A few years ago in a rental house in NC, 15 adults, two teens, and a pre-teen partook in that tradition (which included my brother reading all of the wishes aloud before burning them on a charcoal grill) for the benefit of my then four year old great-nephew. I'm honestly not sure who enjoyed it most!

Reading of the story "'Twas the Night Before Christmas" - it didn't matter who read it when we were kids - my dad, my step-dad, my mom... Didn't matter. It just mattered that before bed on Christmas Eve the story was read before putting out cookies and milk for Santa and carrots for the reindeer. 

Opening one present on Christmas Eve. 

Midnight Mass/local Christmas pageant - we did one or the other (sometimes both) nearly every year growing up and I really liked the tradition. Occasionally we do it now depending on A's schedule. 

Somewhere along the line we stopped doing individual stockings. My mom got a HUGE stocking that was stuffed with little wrapped items for everyone. Until then, each of us raced around trying to find the BIGGEST sock we could find... And every Christmas morning, the toe of the sock would bulge with the traditional Christmas orange. A few years ago I bought a huge stocking and we do the little wrapped presents too. And I often include oranges just because...

Since we've been married, A and I have developed some of our own traditions. Like the following...

While we decorate our tree and house, we watch "Miracle on 34th Street" and/or "A Christmas Story". 

My step-son J gives up all other plans with friends when we tell him it's our night to decorate for Christmas because he LOVES it! It's his job to always put the angel on the top of the tree. Throughout the year we often buy an ornament or two when we are traveling - it's a fun way to revisit some of our adventures over the years. 

Each year we pull two names of children from the donation tree. We always pick one boy and one girl. This year we selected a 6 year old boy who wanted cars and trucks and a 7 month old girl in need of clothes. Honestly... I enjoy shopping for friends and family but I LOVE picking out gifts for these kids!

Cookie day! A few years ago we were going to A's cousin's house for an afternoon visit a few weeks before Christmas. On a whim, I packed the ingredients to make and decorate sugar cookies. A delightful tradition was born and we've done it every year since! We often make and decorate about 30 dozen cookies which we then give away to a wide variety of people. This year we are incorporating cookie day into a "Treats for the Troops" event that I'm helping to coordinate for A's Mason's Lodge. I'm hoping that the event becomes part of our Christmas traditions (though my real hope is that there not be a need for ANY service members to be deployed anymore).

Some of the traditions that I love about A's family are...

Every year they receive or make a plum pudding (last year's was an authentic one shipped from A's cousin in England) complete with the flaming booze to warm it. We dim the lights and often sing a carol or two while the alcohol burns. 

Singing the Doxology before a holiday meal... We stand in a huge circle, usually around the island in his aunt's big kitchen, holding hands and singing:

Praise God, from whom all blessings flow;
Praise him, all creatures here below;
Praise him above, ye heavenly host;
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Amen.

Just the experience of doing this together makes me smile from the inside out. 

Playing charades in front of the fire. It's usually truly terrible and short-lived but it's often quite comical while it lasts!

A new one we started last year that I hope catches on is a family-wide Yankee swap. The rules were it could be either something from your house that you want to pass along (ditch!) or something purchased for $15 or less. I think last year everyone passed along an item from home. It was hilarious seeing what items appeared and I can imagine that some of them will make a re-appearance this year!

It's fun to see how that traditions all weave together. We will be with A's family for Christmas Eve again this year and I'm hoping to get them to join the tradition of writing down a Christmas wish and burning it. I think they will enjoy it and so will I. 

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Bubbly delight...

We don't drink soda. Okay... Well... Because we are on this no sugar diet and can't satisfy our sweet tooth with some juice or the like, we do occasionally like some diet soda to break the water monotony. 

However, I am absolutely opposed to aspartame etc and finding diet soda without it is a stretch. So we don't drink much soda...

A few months ago I was visiting my friends in Maine and B made "soda" for her girls. She carbonated some TAP water and added a little juice... And the girls thought it was a lovely treat! She used her Sodastream to do it and I have been intrigued with this gadget since then. 

A few weeks ago I finally broke down and bought one and we LOVE it! I had been buying seltzer by the case and hating all of the waste so this purchase just made sense.

It's as easy as fill the Sodastream bottle with very cold tap water (we run ours through the Brita filter container that we keep in the refrigerator), screw the bottle into the Sodastream contraption and push a button 3-5 times to "charge" the water with the CO2 cartridge, detach the bottle and pour the now-fizzy water into your glass with the flavoring of your choice. Or just enjoy fizzy water aka seltzer!

When we need some taste use a variety of sugar-free flavorings for now but we look forward to the day we can use fresh cranberry juice or orange juice or the like. We use just a splash of the flavorings now - just enough to make it taste like something other than water because we drink SOOO much water, it's nice to have a little change of pace. We aren't people that will often pour ourselves a glass of straight juice of any sort because it's often too sweet so having "bubbly juice" will be perfect! Until then, we are making do with what we've got and enjoying it!

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

From $20 Rummage Sale Shelf to Priceless Custom Desk!

About three years ago I spotted this shelf at a rummage sale in our home town. A gave me the "Really?" look when I insisted that we buy it (and didn't negotiate with my favorite Cornwallian Octogenarian on the price) for $20. Thankfully we had brought the truck to CT that weekend - something he curiously votes against when we are traveling if the bed is empty... he's afraid I'll fill it up. (He's not wrong...)
BEFORE - $20 Rummage Sale Shelf

So we brought this home and I had vague visions of it becoming the base for a custom-built surround for our television. But the vision was only half-baked and I won't let him start on any project until the vision is more fully formed... so it was put into the sun room and housed all manner of decor since then.

When I was pretty sure that I was going to get the new job (which I love, by the way!), I told A that I could no longer operate on the cobbled together desk (compressed wood balanced on two wire racks pushed up against a built-in desk to make a faux L-shaped desk in the smallest room in the house) and needed a proper office. Thankfully he agreed. We quickly agreed that being on the main floor in the under-utilized sun room made a lot of sense and freed up the small guest room for guests (and possibly a shoe closet for me... but that's another story...).

We spent one long afternoon searching every office store we could find looking for a desk that had a lot of desk surface but didn't cost a fortune. We struck out. So my clever husband suggested building me a desk. I love him and his craftiness! :-)
BEFORE - In desperate need of a coat of paint...

A few days later we had zeroed in on the $20 shelf as the base, purchased a large piece of beautiful birch plywood, and chosen a quart of chocolate brown paint. The project wasn't really that hard. I was in charge of painting the shelf - that was a two night project that took minimal effort on my part. A was responsible for the desktop and the assembly of the desk.

AFTER - the $20 shelf painted
chocolate brown (and loaded up...)
A spent a couple of days (between everything else he has going on) preparing the desktop. I gave him my preferred design and measurements and he took it from there. He cut it the exact shape that I wanted, rounded all of the edges and leading corners, and drilled in holes for the cords. Next he attached it to the top of the shelf and added a leg (purchased for $.25 at the Habitat for Humanity ReStore). 

Then he started the process of finishing the desk top surface which included sanding everything multiple times and then putting on a coat of urethane, more sanding, more urethane and so forth. Finally it was finished and I had to be very patient (which I learned after dragging my fingers through dry-looking-but-still-tacky urethane) and let it set for several days before I could "move on" to the surface. 

In the meantime I scoured the house (and TJ Maxx...) for various organizational bins/baskets/trays etc. I
AFTER - All in place and ready to roll!
moved in to the shelf below days before I could put anything on the surface. (Yes, Ms. Impatience asked every day "Today?" to which my very patient husband told me, "You CAN but it will probably leave marks in the surface." (His very sweet way of saying "No! Be more patient!" :-))) So I busied myself with cleaning everything in the office (there was a mildew smell that made my face itch - turns out it was in the bookshelf so I took every book out, wiped it all down and put it back - MUCH better!) and finding various decor items around the house etc. (I am sooooo drawn to the earth tones of orange, brown, green, blue etc of fall which came through in this color palette as well... Oh well!)

At last I got the go-ahead to really settle in. It was TOTALLY worth the wait though and I absolutely LOVE how it came out! The whole office is cozy and homey - everything about it makes me happy!
AFTER - The view from above (two steps up in the dining room
with my camera over my head). The brown and green thing
on the right is my new Yogibo seating which I also LOVE!
AFTER - A closer view of my finely finished desk top. LOVE IT!!!
Now when I sit down to work, I feel like a real professional! I often have to do video calls with my computer for work now and I feel great about where I'm sitting. I'm comfortable and have everything that I need within reach!

And we did the entire project for less than $100! Yahoo!