Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Year in Review 2013

It's been a good year.
Happy times, positive changes and the great apple harvest of 2013!
Lots of good food, parties with friends and some sewing. What could be better than that?
I'm looking back at a year of blessings and I thank God for every one :>)
I just wanted to take a moment and thank every one of you for your visits, your kind comments and your friendship.
 I am wishing you and all your families the very best of blessings and happiness in 2014.
Are you looking forward to anything special in the coming year?

Monday, December 23, 2013

25 Days of Christmas ~ A Visit from the Ice Queen

Yesterday we woke up to an icy fairyland.  A winter ice storm had hit and everything was covered in a layer of glistening ice.
 The sun wasn't fully over the horizon or these would have been blinding!
 The bird netting that we had used in the garden was an intricate icy lace.
And unfortunately our White Pines were badly damaged. What a mess! We are thinking of having them taken down and this may be just the circumstance to make us finally decide to get rid of them. 
Fortunately the roads were not bad, it was above freezing, and although our power went off a few times for a couple minutes each time, we never lost it completely.
I am busy finishing up goodies for the rest of our food gifts, more cinnamon raisin bread, home made marshmallows and other treats.  So much to do and so very little time! 
I don't think I'm going to make it all the way to Christmas with my posts. I see many of you signing off to spend time with your loved ones, and I think that is a great idea!
I will leave you with a photo of my grandmother's beautiful nativity set, don't forget to take time to thank God for his many gifts, the greatest of these being that he sent Jesus to give us hope and grace and forgiveness :>)

♥ Merry Christmas to all my dear friends far and near! ♥

Saturday, December 21, 2013

25 Days of Christmas ~ Make Something Delicious

We are waiting for the ice storm to hit. It's been raining all day and the temperature has started to drop so who knows what we will wake up to tomorrow?
So what did we do all day? Well, after our Saturday morning coffee date and some grocery shopping, we came home and I put my jammies back on and kicked back with my sweetie to watch Craft in America on PBS.  Love that show, and the next installment covers etsy sellers so I will be looking forward to seeing what it has to say. While we lounged around doing nothing, I had cinnamon bread raising in the kitchen. It's supposed to be cinnamon raisin bread but due to some health issues for one of the friends we are baking for we left out the raisins.  We are actually making this for our adult sunday school class tomorrow. Someone always brings in a little something to share and we will be using the bread to make chocolate and walnut bread pudding with a vanilla sauce.
Have mercy it looks good.
I'm also making some cinnamon raisin bread with raisins for some of our gift baskets for friends.
It's a very good recipe, moist and cinnamony.  A keeper I think, and it will go very well with the home made apple butter, marshmallows and white chocolate popcorn that will be included in the gift bags.
I hope you had a lazy Saturday before Christmas too.  It's been a very relaxed season for us and I really like that, how is your Christmas season going? Relaxed or not?

Friday, December 20, 2013

25 Days of Christmas ~ Sit By the Fire

It's a rainy, dreary day here. The perfect day to sit by a nice warm fire. Except...we don't have a fireplace.  No matter, I make up for it by building a fire in a bamboo tray. Birch log candles add a little more realism.  Why should I let no fireplace ruin my fun?
The soft plaid flannel pillows have migrated to the living room because they are just so darn snuggly and warm.  Who cares if they are red plaid on red plaid? Can you really get too much red plaid?
In these dark days of winter, (tomorrow is the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year!) we all need a little more light and warmth.
Whether you have a fireplace or not, you can still enjoy the fire's glow:>)

Thursday, December 19, 2013

25 Days of Christmas ~ The Holiday Kitchen

My kitchen and I have a lot in common, we both clean up pretty nice but we don't always look like this.  Knowing that the lens sees all, I gave it a little extra elbow grease setting up for this session:>) I should tell you this is a "before" photo.  We remodeled this kitchen 20+ years ago and January will be the kick off of the remodel for this room.  It has served us well, it's produced a lot of meals and been the center of many happy family gatherings, but the old girl needs a little work.
I mentioned a couple months ago that Earl was going to,that very day, order the new counter tops from Ikea...well, Ikea changed suppliers and one of the sizes we really needed is out of stock. Indefinitely.
Back to square one. In the meantime, this is where all that holiday baking has been happening, and with the Christmas music playing and the sun streaming through the windows, it's still a warm and homey place to be. So lets get started!

In November I whipped up some white valences from muslin that I had laying around and decided they were way too plain, no time before Christmas to make something else so I added some cute red and white banners for a touch of color. As soon as the remodel is done I will want something else anyway, but these are fresh and crisp in the meantime.

The live rosemary Christmas tree came from Whole Foods. I stepped in the door where they were displayed and the scent of those trees was so fragrant I had to have one. Since then I have thought of  enough ways to use fresh rosemary that I fear the little tree will be denuded before Spring. No ornaments, they would impede my snipping off tips for cooking!
 This is the view from the dining room. It's one big open space, so many times for parties or family get togethers, people sit in the dining room or belly up to the peninsula counter top and hang out while we cook. You can see the Bakery sign I made and, yes, the boots that are necessary this time of year in Michigan.
If I were a home blogger I would stuff the boots with greenery as if that is the way our boots always look and we don't need them. We need them, and I'm too lazy to cut the branches, stuff them, take the pictures and then haul them back out to the woods. Imagine pretty branches in the boots, and while you are at it, imagine red ribbons tied around the top ;>)  Nice.
The Christmas Aprons hang from a mosaic heart that I got from my sweet friend,
Penny at The Comforts of Home.  One of these days, I plan to show you how many things in my home  have been sent by my blogging friends. I think of them in every room as I see the things they have sent.
 Victoria found this Amaryllis bulb at Home Depot while she was shopping there around Thanksgiving and brought it home for me. Sweet daughter:>)  As you can see, it has co-operated nicely and has two blooms flowering now and another two that will open later. I love the color of this!  The plate holder is where I always keep the fresh fruit. It stores a lot without taking up a lot of space. 
 The apples bring a spot of pretty color into the kitchen.
 And here is a close up of the Amaryllis. Gorgeous!
 At the end of the kitchen island is the fridge and some shelves that hold a lot of necessities and some festive little touches. This is an area that used to have built in shelves when we moved in so long ago. They were the only cupboard space we had! The basket on the middle shelf holds the weeks grocery ads, my address book, and lots of little sundries that I need on a regular basis but that I don't want to have laying around junking up the place. I love baskets for storage! The basket below it holds potatoes and onions.
 This shelf is built into the wall next to the fridge.  It is actually a little bump out over the basement stairs, we could close it up, but it's a great place to keep the cookbooks and to showcase a few little holiday touches.
 I found these little guys at the dollar tree. For three bucks they add a touch of whimsy and hold cedar branches that I snipped from outside.
And that is the tour! I'm looking forward to the new year, and a little face lift for this area, but for now it's just fine, and I am pretty sure in no time at all, the counter tops will be filled with more baking supplies:>)
But that is the best decoration for a kitchen isn't it?

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

25 Days of Christmas ~ Hot Cocoa

The kitchen got a workout today. Home made french bread with fresh rosemary stirred into the dough made the kitchen smell divine. I also chopped up the leftover home made bread from the party Sunday and made fresh croutons with salt, pepper and garlic.  I'm looking forward to salad now, especially after all the sweets I have been eating! And speaking of sweets... the marshmallows I made yesterday just seem to be made for Hot Cocoa, although I really can't wait to try them in S'mores!  I had a little fun with the camera today :>) if only I could have found the string of lights with white wire...lol, I will no doubt find them as I am packing everything up :>}
 I had a nice steamy mug of cocoa today with one of the peppermint marshmallows,  minty and decadent!  
I seem to be on a peppermint kick, I also made some popcorn with white chocolate and crushed candy canes to add to the gift baskets. It's sooo good, and fast and easy.
Pop 2 packets of popcorn, melt and stir in one package of white candy melts and whiz up enough candy canes (6-8) in the food processor to mix into the candy and popcorn mixture to turn it pink and flavor it well.  That's it.  Lay it out flat on a cookie sheet or piece of parchment paper until it hardens, break it up and package it for your friends.
I think making all the yummy treats to give (and sample for quality control), is one of the things I love most about Christmas.
What fun thing is a "must do" on your Christmas list?

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

25 Days of Christmas ~ Make Marshmallows

We are in the final stretch now so it's time to make some sweet treats for gift baskets! I love making home made marshmallows to give. Bagged up and in the basket with some hot cocoa mix these look really special!
I made plain vanilla and peppermint flavors, find the recipes here, and then you can decorate them in lots of different ways.
I rolled some in plain powdered sugar, but some of the peppermint flavor marshmallows also got rolled in crushed candy canes,
 And some were dipped halfway in melted chocolate and then crushed candy cane.
 Some of the plain ones got a toss in cocoa. The sweetness of the marshmallow is enough to counteract the bitterness of the cocoa. This is Earl's favorite:>)
 And some were dipped in powdered sugar, melted chocolate, and  sprinkled with gold sugar sprinkles. Wouldn't these look great for News Years parties?
Roll your marshmallows in any color sugar to go with a party theme, or package some of them with fancy chocolates and graham crackers for a special s'mores kit to enjoy next to a crackling fire. Yum! Not your usual Christmas cookie package at all!
These are super easy and inexpensive to make but really special and gluten free if you have someone on your list who has special dietary needs.
Now we are off to enjoy the Hobbit movie, one of my favorite books when I was a kid and I have been loving the series of movies. Have you seen any good movies lately?

Monday, December 16, 2013

25 Days of Christmas ~ A Corner of the Holiday Kitchen

No post yesterday, we were too busy getting ready to have friends over for our Christmas party.  It was perfect, snow softly falling and candle lit lanterns to greet them on the front porch. Everyone brought something yummy to pass and we served hot soup, Pasta E Fagioli in a crockpot and fresh bread, and our friends brought lots of delicious appetizers and desserts.  It was so much fun, nothing fancy, just friends spending time together :>)
This morning the sun was blindingly bright on the new snow and the sunny kitchen is calling me to make some treats to give to friends and family.  Sometimes the best gift is something you take the time to bake or put together that the recipient just doesn't have time to do themselves.  We usually give fresh bread, cookies, home made jams, pies and candies that are a once a year treat to someone who doesn't cook everything from scratch like we do.
When we moved into this house 30+ years ago, this was a door on the built in cupboard that was in the kitchen. We tore that cupboard out to use the space for the refrigerator, and Earl has been trying to sneak them into the trash for years to no avail. I always catch sight of them and haul them back in before the trash man can take my doors! One of them hangs in the hallway painted with hollyhocks, and this one got some chalkboard paint and BAKERY printed on it for the spot near the back door that was just the right size.  It seems fitting since we spend so much time baking and cooking for others and it's a fun piece of our home's history so I'm glad I rescued it!
What is your favorite thing to give (or receive!) in a gift basket?

Saturday, December 14, 2013

25 Days of Christmas ~ Watch the Snow Fall

 I should have adjusted the shutter speed to show the falling snow, you can just see it in the background if you look closely, but it was biting cold and the snow was infiltrating the neck of my coat in a  most chilling way.
Suffice it to say, with a winter storm warning and icy roads, it is a perfect day to putter around the house.  The lights are on, I'm tidying the house and later I will be making bread bowls for the pasta e fagioloi soup that Earl has been making for a little party we are throwing tomorrow.
It's cozy, it's warm and we are together...watching the snow fall:>)
A wreath hangs from the picket fence beside the chicken coop
What's the weather like where you are? Will you have a white Christmas?

Friday, December 13, 2013

25 Days of Christmas ~ Sleep In Heavenly Peace

This is the view down the hallway from the living room. I found a teeny artificial tree in the attic that I had forgotten and decided to pop it into an old crock for the bedside.  At the time I didn't even realize that I would be able to see it from the dining room, the living room and the hallway, but I turn that little guy on first thing every morning and it glows at me every time I glance that way.
The tree sits on an antique birds eye maple dresser that we found at a garage sale this summer. It was marked $35 and Earl offered them $25 and they took it! I thought it was well worth $35, it came with a mirror which I am not using right now, but that's why I love to take him along. he doesn't hesitate to ask for a lower price and I get all shy about it.

I made the little wreath by adding greenery from the cedars in our yard to a little grapevine wreath I found at the church garage sale. I love the boxwood wreaths I have been seeing, but they are expensive, and if you know anything about me it's that I'm a  tightwad bargain hunter.
Free greens work great, and the smell of cedar is so beautiful!
The little cross stitch cottage pillow was made from a little old embroidered linen I found for a quarter at another garage sale. I really love the red roofed cottage so I made it into a pillow.
I also made the heavy red plaid flannel pillowcases. They are the coziest things, really soft, and the red plaid is perfect for this time of year.
 Can you see the lace trimmed sheet? Here is a detail of it. It's an estate sale find and it is a beautiful heavy cotton with 3 dimensional crochet across the top edge. I think I paid $3 for it and since I like to use all cotton sheets year round, (flannel is too hot!) the extra heavy cotton is a nice weight for a top sheet in the winter.

This is what you get when you are in a hurry to take photos, I messed up the first time I lettered this and didn't wipe it down very well, it shows a lot more in the photos than it does in real life!
At any rate, I had this old frame in my stash in the basement. I believe I purchased this frame with some old art in it when I was a young teen while I was at an auction with my mom. You can see I've been a bargain hunter all my life! I brought it up, dusted it off and freshened up the gold with some rub-n-buff  that I found in the craft drawer last week when I was organizing it. I had forgotten I had it, lucky me that I found it because I really needed it for the frame. Earl cut a piece of Masonite to fit and I painted it with blackboard paint and hung it above the bed. Maybe it will help me sleep, do you think?
Stick a fork in me, I think I'm done! With decorating for Christmas that is.  I'm pretty happy with things now and we have a party coming up Sunday.  After that it's too close to Christmas to bother doing much else.  Are you finished with your decorating?

Thursday, December 12, 2013

25 Days of Christmas ~ Send a Card

I'll be honest, cards are often one of those things that end up getting crossed off my list without getting done. there is so much to do at Christmas time! But this year God has pointed out the blessings I have with my family and as I look around I know not everyone has the same kind of big, loving, get together for every holiday family that I often take for granted.
There are lots of people who can't get together with loved ones because they don't live close, there are many older people who have lost nearly all their family and are very lonely.
I can only imagine what it means to them to go to the mailbox and get a pretty reminder that they are remembered.
It is a tiny thing for me to take the time to write out a few cards for the lonely people I know. It doesn't really take much time. Better still a visit with some cookies or a little poinsettia in addition to the card may be all the Christmas they have.  It's a gift that costs very little in time and money, but means so much.
Can you think of someone whose day would be brightened by a card in the mail?
May God truly fill our hearts with love and our lives with praise as we celebrate this Christmas season. 

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

25 Days of Christmas ~ The Dining Room

I spent the day Christmas shopping with my daughter Victoria. Snow was falling in big fluffy flakes and it was cold but not biting. Perfect weather to hit the streets and specialty shops of one of our outdoor malls. Everything decorated to a T and Christmas music playing in the stores.  I do most of my shopping online, but I really do love to get out and see the pretty atmosphere the stores provide.
Today you get a glimpse of the dining room decorations.  I switched out the chalkboard above the buffet for a large mirror that was in the bedroom. I think it bounces a bit more light around this northeast facing room. It has a tendency to be a bit dark in the afternoon and evenings so I lit it up. The buffet lamp came from a yard sale for 25 cents. Yes you read that right. How can you not buy a 25 cent lamp? It works fine and I'm trying to decide on a different lampshade but for now the one it came with looks fine. I think the 25 cent lamp goes so well with the roadside find free buffet don't you? Lol
The bouquet of flowers is from my sweetheart
 I pulled a small, forgotten tree out of the attic, I love when I find something  pretty that I had forgotten! I lit it up and added silver balls and glass chandelier crystals and put my little glitter village underneath. The silver ball wreath was made several years ago as an advent wreath for the table. I think I only used it once, it took up a lot of room.  This year I took the candle holders off, fluffed the balls and silver foliage and poked a battery operated string of lights that I picked up at the dollar store  through the back.  It's on a hollow wire form so the battery pack tucks right in behind unseen
 My favorite part of the arrangement is this old silver tray from Earl's grandmother. I loaded it with all my silvery mercury glass votives, some extra mirrored balls and silver ornaments and each afternoon I light them up. They glow most of the evening and just add a warmth to the room that I love.
So there it is. I'll try to show the rest of the room when I show you the kitchen decorations.
And how are you doing with your Christmas shopping?  Are you done?

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

25 Days of Christmas ~ Buche De Noel

I have to admit that a large part of the way we celebrate Christmas is with food. Christmas cookies, breads, gingerbread houses, appetizers, with so many parties and get togethers scheduled we focus a lot on yummy recipes to share.  Since Earl loves nothing so much as a ridiculously complicated recipe, one of the things he loves to make at Christmas time is Julia Child's recipe for Buche de Noel, or yule log. 
It is re-donkulous in it's complexity and takes him a good 3 hours. 
I watch.
Since last January he auctioned off a full year of desserts to benefit our churches Mom Squad ministry, this was the final month for him to bake something yummy for the winner.  So of course he had to go out with a bang, and that could only be this recipe.  The mushrooms are meringue and the yule log is made by rolling an almond sponge cake around a chocolate Italian meringue filling laced with cherry liqueur. Did I get a bite? No. Will he have enough energy to do this for the family this year? Probably not. I can't blame him and in truth the last thing we really need is another one of these cakes, although I sincerely believe January is the month of atonement for the Christmas cookies. A little less to atone for is a very good thing. Besides, I know that sooner or later he will feel compelled to pull out the cookbook and make this again, and next time this cake is staying home:>)
Do you have any special treats you only make for Christmas?

Monday, December 9, 2013

25 Days of Christmas ~ The Gingerbread House

I missed posting yesterday. It had been my intent to post every day until Christmas but it was a very busy day. First church, then lunch out, a snooze in the big chair by the Christmas tree then we made dinner for our favorite boy and his parents, and Uncle Art. Dinner was amazing, (if I do say so myself), grilled venison roast, roasted potato wedges, a wonderful salad brought by our guests, and pumpkin pie with whipped cream. And for anyone who doesn't care for venison (and that turns out to be no one in our family!) I made a Baked Garlic Brown Sugar Chicken recipe that I found on Pinterest.
Lord have mercy! It was super easy, fast and it tasted amazing. I made it with boneless skinless chicken thighs and I can't wait to make it again.
After dinner I whipped out this gingerbread house kit to decorate with my godson.
 It was a blast.  I had extra candies and chocolate chips for him to use. This was my first time making one of these, the end pieces came cracked so I hot glued them to cardboard. Holy smokes, who makes these things? I tried putting it together with the frosting, I really did. I ended up using hot glue to hold it together and warning him that only the candy decorations would be edible.
He was alright with that.
Sorry for the blurry pictures, little boys move so fast.
 We sent him home at bedtime with the house he made and a bag of extra candy.  Sorry parents!
In spite of how frustrating the house was to put together, I loved this project. It was nice to have a little one around to do a Christmas project with!
Do you have some littles to do projects with?

Saturday, December 7, 2013

25 Days of Christmas ~ Relax

Yes, that's right. The house is decorated, it's the weekend and everything is under control. If you have some unscheduled moments don't you owe it to yourself to sit down with a nice mug of cocoa (topped with whipped cream of course), and enjoy the moment? What good is a lighted tree, beautifully wrapped gifts, and all the other joys of the season if you are overextended? Have one of those cookies you baked. I know, they're supposed to go in a gift basket, nobody will miss the one(s) you eat. Promise.
This year we find ourselves with a lot of free time. Less programs to go to, fewer parties, and the girls are spending more time with husband/boyfriend.  Today we went for coffee, did our grocery shopping before anyone else was at the store, and Earl even took some time to judge the teen cookie baking contest at church. Hey, it's a tough gig but somebody's got to do it ;>)
Now we're home and while he bakes his last dessert of the month (I'll share what his grand finale is tomorrow) I'm grabbing some down time. When he is done with the kitchen I'll make some biscotti. While I wait for the kitchen, let me just point out the awesome new slippers I got at Target a few weeks ago. Leopard print...and sequined all over so my feet sparkle when I walk. I know, hate me.
It's been a good season, and there's still a couple weeks of it left.
Enjoy as much of it staring at the lights, watching Christmas movies, and doing whatever else you find fun about Christmas. It's all about savoring the moment.
Enjoy your Saturday:>)

Friday, December 6, 2013

25 Days of Christmas ~ Make a Banner

So guess what I've been doing? Well ok, I did kind of give it away with the post title up there didn't I? But guess how I made the banner? !  Black Friday found me comfortably ensconced in my jam jam's not getting run over and abused by hoards of shoppers at the height of their good will toward men. Oh no, I was home ordering one of these , a silhouette cameo bundle. Actually, you can still get close to the the deal I got which is the whole kit and caboodle that you need for this for $129.99, (it's usually $286.93). It came with $35 worth of gift cards to spend on designs, and at 50 cents to $2 each, that buys a lot of stuff! No silhouette isn't sponsoring this :>( but I thought if you wanted a fun toy to add to your list, this is a cool thing.
UPS delivered it today.  I hate reading directions, but I did it anyway and I was up and running within about 30 minutes. Look how fun! There are tons of designs and I can tell I am going to get a lot of use out of this, and I'm not even a scrapbooker.  At any rate, I know it isn't a Pinterest worthy photo (sniff), but I had to let you know. If a silhouette machine has been on your dream list, now is the time to go for it.
Does anyone else have one of these? What do you think of it?

Thursday, December 5, 2013

25 Days of Christmas ~ Wrap the Gifts

I love wrapping gifts. It's part of the decorating at our house, the gifts piled under the tree just make the tree complete and the sooner we can get them under the tree so people have to look a them and wonder what they could be getting, the better :>)
I do have a rule though, if you guess what's in the package (out loud) and get it right, the gift goes back to the store. You may think that's mean, but it was a rule set in place, not because our kids were good guessers, no the culprit was Earl and he was just uncanny in his ability to guess!
So I made the rule and now the surprise isn't ruined.
 Some years I am determined to get papers that coordinate, some years I just buy what strikes my fancy and they really look fine all mixed together anyway.  Like this sheet music paper. I couldn't resist.  I buy ribbon on clearance and use it over and over again, ribbon is a must. This year I dug through my sewing ribbons and found this deep red velvet, perfect!
 There is always some red, heck almost every package has red but that's the way I roll, and some should be shiny too!  I keep little gew gaws and gimcracks to add to make them pretty. I think the pinecone and bell pick came off a candle. I think the extras make them extra special :>)
And I usually set up a dedicated area to wrap. It's important to have a surface and area to store everything so I don't have to keep clearing the dining room table. This year I'm using my sewing table because I'm not getting a lot of sewing done right now anyway.
Do you like wrapping?

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

25 Days of Christmas ~ Bake some Cookies :>)

 I think one of my favorite things to do during the Christmas season is baking and decorating cookies. It's one of those things that doesn't call my name that much the rest of the year for some reason, but as a fun thing to do with friends and family it ranks up there among my favorite memories.
 I found this cookie stamp at Marshall's while I was out shopping last week and for $3.99 I couldn't resist.  Once I had stamped these sugar cookies I thought it would be fun to use the lines it made to guide my decorating.
I pulled out the decorating sprinkles and went to work. How many of you thought those little silver balls were bad for you to eat when you were little? My mom always told me to pick them off, as if they were actual little ball bearings put on my cookies by someone intent on feeding me something that would break my teeth. Imagine my surprise when I finally got brave enough to eat one and found it was just...sugar.
I love using them now, they add some sparkle and we all know how I feel about that ;>)
Do you make cookies to give away? Anyone hosting or going to a cookie swap this year? What's your favorite kind of Christmas cookie? Do tell!