Sunday, December 22, 2013

More Christmas cookie fun...

Today we BOTH had the day off AND A didn't have homework AND we had NO commitments. It's a Christmas miracle, really. 

So... Last night on our way home from a lovely Celtic Christmas concert we tried to think of something to do. We were bone dry on new ideas that didn't require a multi-hour drive or boat loads of money. So A set about late last night looking for something to do...

We started the day with a trek down to Truro to the old Air Force base. It's abandoned and now part of the  National Seashore... but it doesn't feel like anyone has been there for decades. It was actually pretty creepy as it was almost 60 degrees, windy and very foggy and all of the buildings look haunted or at least like critters have taken up residence. They are crumbling with broken windows and asbestos warnings everywhere. You couldn't have dragged me in one if there was a pot of gold waiting for me inside. Okay... Maybe for a pot of gold but I'd have been wearing a hazmat suit and carrying a big stick!

Unfortunately because it was so fogged in, we couldn't see the tower that A wanted to see so we walked the dogs for about 45 minutes through the grounds and then hit the road to Provincetown. We originally thought maybe we would have lunch down there but after a trip down Commercial St, we didn't see much open that interested us so we headed back up the road toward home. 

On the way home I talked A into making cookies for our neighbors when we got home. He'd missed out on the "Treats for Troops" cookie-making so he was easy to convince. 

We spent the afternoon making sugar cookies and decorating them. Here are a few of my favorites!

I mixed the royal icing a little too thin in order to get it into my decorating squeeze bottles so it did some interesting things when mixing together. After a while I started playing with the mixtures and I like how they came out. I love the non-traditionally decorated cookies and the creative ones! Mostly I REALLY enjoy that my husband is up for this type of activity and actually really as fun with it! 

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Dashed Entrepreneur...

Today I stopped at a miniature craft fair being held in the lower level of our new dog food store. I regretted entering immediately. There were only six vendors in the tiny space and three customers including me. The first table was "staffed" by a ~10 year old boy selling homemade body scrubs. If there's anything I don't need right now, it's body scrubs but I wanted to give the young fella a chance to tell me what he made. He did a great job explaining the products and what they are best used for including Epsom salt in one that is good for arthritis. 

I was beginning to consider buying something just to support his efforts... But then his mother stepped in and ruined the sale. She was SO pushy and played the "he's trying to raise money for school trip to Quebec..." line and when I was giving the clear signs of walking away she wouldn't stop... She absolutely lost me for her kid. My $8 wasn't going to make or break his trip anyway but I just couldn't give in to her hounding! 

She had her own booth with photographs next to his and immediately  started grinding me on her stuff too. I moved quickly on to the quiet lady in the corner selling baby items (which I clearly don't need!) so I moved quickly on to the next and as quickly as possible out the door. That over-solicitous woman ruined it for ALL of the vendors with me because the space was so small I couldn't get away from her! I cannot stand when people put the hard sell on you when it's clear you are not interested in making a purchase and are just being polite. 

Part of me wanted to slip back in there and tell the kid "You are doing a great job! Here's $5 just for you but you should know that your mom lost you my sale." But... It was not to be. 

So as to not end this post sounding like a total grinch... I then left the mini event and met a friend for a lovely 1.5 hour walk in the woods! It was 57* out which made me feel NOT Christmassy but a lovely walk was a great way to spend part of the afternoon! Then I came home and cleaned out the basement... not because I was particularly driven to do but because I gave in to the Christmas cookies at my third Christmas party... and beyond... and I badly need to get reacquainted with my Pilates machine which was buried under a pile of debris! No more excuses now! 

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Getting crafty...

This year I have been in the Christmas spirit for months which has given me time to plan out craft projects BEFORE it's too late - a major personal victory!

I've been getting crafty for gifts... But not good about photographing them before I wrap them. I'll need to work on that!

For my first craft, I wanted to make gifts with coconut oil. I'm a HUGE proponent of coconut oil for it's many many uses! People comment on my skin frequently and I'm quite certain it's in as good condition as it is (not to sound vain) because I use coconut oil every day. (And no harsh cleansers or makeup ever.)

So for my first use of my new Kitchen Aid mixer (which I got for only $166 after rebates, cash back and discounts!) I mixed up some coconut oil body scrubs. I used simple ingredients and the process was so easy! So easy I'll be making more this afternoon! 

One batch contained:
Coconut oil
Coconut sugar
Sea salt
Olive oil
Vanilla extract

The other batch contained:
Coconut oil
Coconut sugar
Lemon essential oil
Lime essential oil

Both are delectable! (I had to use up what wouldn't fit in the jars... 😃) They smell good enough to eat! A thought I smelled a bit like a cookie after I used the first recipe. Yum!

Then I made tags for the items that look like this on each side:

Next I moved on to a project I'd seen on Pinterest. For less than $5, I made this:

It's one vanilla candle, two dozen cinnamon sticks (which I found at Christmas Tree Shop for $1/bag of about 30 sticks and bought several bags in October when I saw them. Yes, I'm pretty pleased that I actually followed through with the project!), the rubber band that comes on the asparagus (to hold the sticks tight against the candle under the ribbon), some wreathing wire left over from unpacking our Christmas tree, some bells strung on the wire, and a piece of ribbon. Oh... And some Gorilla glue (which I don't recommend getting in your mouth or it sticks to your teeth and tongue... Don't ask. Luckily my teenage step-son taught me what to do in the event of that emergency so I was prepared when reason left me momentarily and I tried to recap the glue by holding the cap in my teeth... Duh.)

Anyway... My Christmas spirit is still is full swing and my house is feeling cozy and bright (inside... Outside looks a bit grinchy except for the traditional hubcap wreath made by my mother. (What?!? Not everyone has a hubcap wreath?) We just can't seem to get a good day of weather when we are both home to put up lights. It might not happen this year but that's okay. 

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

O Christmas Tree...

Last night a teenager called my Christmas tree "lame". He's getting coal this year or at least maybe I'll let one of the dogs pee on his mailbox. Hrmpf!

Our tree is NOT lame! It IS artificial and I agree that an artificial tree is less than ideal BUT it makes sense for us. The tree is in the living room and no matter what, it's within ten feet of the wood stove that we heat with so live trees dry up and molt almost instantly regardless of watering. And cleaning up pine needles almost daily from a carpet is not something I've got time for. The other thing is that we are SO busy that even finding time for the two of us to go get a tree together is nearly impossible so on the day we say "It's tree day!" we simply go to the basement and haul it up. Easy peasy. 

I never love how the tree looks when it's bare but after I've plumped the branches and then we've loaded on the ornaments, I LOVE it!

And so do the dogs...

We do have one rule about the tree... If someone is home, the lights are on at all times! It's just too beautiful to sit there in the dark and not be enjoyed! And if those lights are on, all of the other Christmas lights should be on too! (I've now added a couple of strands to the banister arrangement and a couple of strands in the kitchen and dining room. I needed a little something to cover up the still-under-construction French door lack of trim in the kitchen.)

This year I went a little nuts with the candle arrangements too. The other night we had "festive nights", "balsam fir", "gingerbread", and "candy cane" scented candles all burning at the same time  it was like walking through scent zones! 

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Christmas decor...

Decorating for Christmas is one of my favorite things about the whole season. Probably for some people they have the traditional layout of where everything goes. Not us. We tend to reorganize the house at least once per year which means that surfaces that used to be there may no longer exist. That's okay because it gives me the chance to be creative!

If I had the time and/or money, my house would look like the ones in the Hallmark movies with wreaths and fresh garland everywhere you turn. But that's not reality for us. 

Over the years I have collected a nice assortment of ornaments but didn't really go beyond that. Since I used to move every two years on average, amassing a large collection of decorations just wasn't  feasible. When A and I got together, he was pretty much in the same boat in terms of a collection. So over the past ten years, we have been slowly adding to it.

I'm not entirely a traditionalist (though I do prefer white lights on Christmas trees) and will often incorporate some other random items and consider them Christmas decor after some minor adaptations. 

The other thing that has happened over the years is that I've been handed things or picked up things along the way... Sometimes fairly random things... And because I'm my mother's daughter, I see the beauty in them... and I hang on to them with the intention of someday figuring out a way to put them to use. 

A is buried up to his eyeballs with schoolwork again tonight but we are less than three weeks away from Christmas and except for the Christmas lights on the beams in the living room, a tin angel and two snowman candleholders I forgot to put away last year... Our house was NOT ready for Christmas! Because we came back from our whirlwind trip to CT for Thanksgiving and A went straight to training for two days and I dove into the "Treats for Troops" project, we didn't get around to decorating the house Thanksgiving weekend like we usually (try to) do. With so little time before the big fella gets here, it was clear that decorating the (interior) house was up to me! (But I refuse to decorate the tree without at least A to help me - that just would NOT feel right!)

So tonight I've set about quietly (aside from the later-mentioned bell project and one near tumble from the hassock while hanging some items overhead) putting together what I consider my little Christmas vignettes in various rooms on the main floor of the house. Nothing is in the same place as it was last year... 

I started with a project I meant to do last year... and out of kindness for my very patient husband should have done before he got home. I had bought a dozen hackeysack-sized red and green bells last year and intended to string them up but never did. This year they came out of the decoration box next to some sparkly green double-wire ribbon. Perfect! I set about the incredibly noisy task of attaching the bells to the ribbon (while A assured me it wasn't disturbing him) and after ~15 nerve and otherwise jangling minutes, I was done. So was dinner. So A got a reprieve and after I finished eating, I quickly hung my creation along the banister while he finished his dinner break. I'm quite pleased with how it came out... though the photograph tells me it might need a little more umph... And running upstairs tells me that there will be no sneaking up/down the stairs without a little jangling...

Last year I made another little project that I thought I'd disassemble and use in different ways but I like it enough that it's making a second appearance this year. I started with a "frame" made from an old drawer of a chicken incubator. Then I used unbreakable ornaments to create the shape of a Christmas tree. You'll see that I added a few other items as well. (Don't worry, I won't light the candles while they are in there.)

This year, for about the third year in a row, I eyeballed a baggie of tiny shiny ornament-like balls attached to small stakes. They are from Christmas flower arrangements that my mom received (possibly one from me?) a few years ago. This baggie is an example of the random bits of pretty things I am often given. So... I decided this was the year to use them!

I searched around until I found a fun "vessel" for them - an old spring from a trash clean up project I did last year. And then I just started poking the stakes into the spring until I liked the outcome. I added a snowflake that my niece made us that is no longer sturdy enough for the tree and voila! 

I've just finished editing A's paper and I think he's all caught up on homework through tomorrow so HOPEFULLY tomorrow evening we can get the tree up and decorated! 

Today in Hyannis, I identified where ole St Nick gets his tobacco for his pipe... I managed to snap a picture quickly before he stepped inside. 

Saturday, December 7, 2013

"Treats for Troops"...

Recently I stepped into a role to plan an event to benefit our deployed service members. A's Masonic Lodge has started a project to send packages to service members overseas a while ago but when they hit a roadblock, the project ground to a halt. When A became Master of the lodge, we decided that it was time to follow through with this and get these packages in the hands of those that serve our country. But the ten boxes that had been half assembled didn't seem like enough so we kicked it up a notch. Here's how...

First we decided that we would assemble and ship around 25 boxes. We also decided to include homemade treats and a wide variety of goodies in each box. 

Next I set up an event and invited members of our family, the community, and the lodge members to come help decorate cookies and make crafts etc. 

Then... I started realizing how many cookies we would need so my friend came over and we spent several hours making sugar cookies the week before the event. (I had no idea you could freeze baked cookies! What a lifesaver!) We pre-made about 20 dozen sugar cookies. Whew!

I also asked people to donate homemade cookies and treats with the idea that each package would get a dozen sugar cookies and a dozen other homemade treats. That's a LOT of cookies!

So we got together at the lodge and had four stations set up:

Station 1 was to write Christmas cards to the service members. We ended up writing 80+ cards from different people. About 60 of them went into the boxes and the balance were shipped to "Holidays for Heroes" to be distributed to other service members. 

Station 2 was to cut out (and when possible, decorate) Christmas trees from fabric. This was a last minute craft idea so the decorations were pretty slim... Something to think about for next time. 

Station 3 was the grandest achievement - the cookie decorating station!

A second big table was used for drying and packing the cookies. I LOVED the creativity of the decor and... Of course since the cookies were coming from the Cape, we had to include some sea life-shaped cookies. 

Station 4 was where the kids could draw pictures to include. (They were SO sweet!)

We also included non-breakable Christmas ornaments and decorations, candies, nuts, socks, baby wipes, a few toiletries, donated DVDs, word search/soduko books, magazines, handwritten letters and notes, local beach sunrise photos, and various treats. 

In the end, we had enough materials to fully pack 22 large priority shipping boxes to the brim! 

I had hoped that during the event we would finish all of the baking, decorating, crafts and packaging of cookies so that the packing process would be quick and easy. Unfortunately there was a lot to organize so it took us a couple of days to finish loading the boxes and get them shipped but we did it!

We are planning to do it again next year so I'm hoping that we get some good feedback from the service members. We gave them our contact information so hopefully we will hear from some of the folks.