Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Memorizing Christmas

See that blue bowl on the table in the photo above? Sissy made that for one of the kids. She's been making bowls for them for the past several years and it's become one of those things they look forward to each Christmas. What kind of bowl is Aunt C. going to make this year? they start asking a few weeks before Christmas. But I don't tell them. Sometimes I know what she's doing and sometimes I don't. This year I wasn't sure until I saw them. Some years they involve dangerous stuff, like melting record albums. And having to heave them on the back porch because they were burning and giving off toxic fumes.

*Note to self - don't make record bowls. Have Sissy do it. She's already been exposed to dangerous fumes.

She stuffs them with all kinds of things and her nieces/nephew love them.  Other sissy gives cool presents like make-your-own-ice-cream-in-a-bowl presents. The little nieces REALLY loved those! It's hard to top these two sissies, I tell you. 

We spent Christmas Eve with the sissies and their families, along with my dad, visiting from a sunnier climate. We all went to Christmas Eve service at the church Sissy's family and my family attend. Outside of my own family, my church family is who I want to be with on Christmas Eve. I love seeing everyone and wishing them happy Christmas. There's an air of joviality, and solemnity. Of peacefulness and celebration. We sing Christmas carols, and worship songs, and hear the Christmas story, the REAL Christmas story, in a torch lit church on a quiet country road.

K. sang a solo this year, accompanied by J. and a fellow musician on their guitars. She sang beautifully and my heart was bursting just watching her and J. sing and play in front of the congregation. Cool as a cucumber, that one is. She didn't look nervous at all. After church, and much hugging and kissing and bidding each other merry Christmas, we all went to Sissy's house to eat and open presents. It was one of the nicest Christmases we've spent and I want to freeze certain moments in my mind.

Like D. asking repeatedly when she and E. were going to go to bed. They didn't want to miss Santa coming by being up and about. She asked several times and then finally said, "Is anyone going to put us to bed tonight?!"

Like looking around me, and behind me, and in front of me, and seeing my whole family in church, together, for such a perfect night. Surrounded by the people I hold closest to my heart. Worshiping our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. I am a blessed woman.

Like watching K. open a gift from Sissy. A large, really big, humongous locket with a picture of you-know-who in it. K. started giggling and kept a smile on her face the rest of the night. 

Like leaving Sissy's house and seeing a plane with a blinking red light flying across the sky and remembering the year the little girls and I went outside to see if we could spot Santa. We saw a solid red light going across the sky and convinced ourselves that we had seen the jolly old fella. 

Like J. and Grampa realizing that they were wearing pretty similar scarfs (for all you English majors out there, read this) and hats and we all giggled at the idea that a nineteen year old and a sixty-nine year old dress alike.

Like sitting by myself on Christmas Eve while everyone slept, with only the tree lights illuminating the room, the dog curled at my feet, a cup of hot tea at my side, watching "White Christmas" before heading off to slumber.

So many good things to remember. I hope I do.
Serve stuffed french toast for breakfast on Christmas morning. 

What is, "How to make your family love you even more?" Give the woman 1000 points, Alex Trebek.

And what would Christmas morning be without Lego bricks of some sort at the table? J. has been putting Lego mini-figures in the tree for the past three weeks and I. Never. Knew. 

Nope, didn't look at the tree all that closely, I guess. It wasn't until J., and K., and P. were chatting in the living room one evening last week, laughing and smirking at the tree and then at me, and then back at the tree, and then back at me, and then back at the tree...well, you get the point.

I had to get up and investigate. And found 20 something figurines in the tree. 

And a spaceship. A six-inch long spaceship. In my tree.

How on earth did I miss that?
Enjoyed a quiet, slow morning, opening presents, eating food, and spreading more cheer amongst each other. 

Christmas is one of the few days during the year that they don't argue, or bicker, or spat, or do any of the other typical sibling things. I enjoyed every minute of it.

Dad and other sissy and her family came over for Christmas ham, and all the trimmings, and then Sissy and her family joined us for leftovers and dessert. And some harmonica playing. And chess playing.

The lights went out twice, and the last time, Grampa was upstairs in the dark in the powder room. Thank goodness J. remembered him and shouted for him to STAY STILL. We didn't want him tumbling down the stairs in the dark. J. grabbed a flashlight and set off to rescue Grampa. Then the lights came on.

Shortly after that, everyone headed home before we lost the lights for the night. Geesh, where's their sense of adventure? I was asleep ten minutes after they left.
Snow came the next day. And with it came the wind and falling branches and whistling and thumping and howling. 

And then shoveling. Ah, how I do love thee, Mr. Snowblower.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Wrapping Elves

The elves are wrapping, wrapping, wrapping.

I'm taking a break to blog.

But I can't stay. The elves are cracking the whip and I have to go back to wrapping.

Cut, fold, tape. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Cake-Makin' Dream Team

K. and two of her friends entered a cake contest at school.

Her friends? They're boys. They don't really cook. They eat. And they clean. I was very impressed with how quickly one of the boys jumped in to do the dishes. His momma raised him right.

They entered the contest last year. They didn't win.  She was not a happy cake maker.

K. is the cake queen of her French class. She makes a mean chocolate cake with fluffy peanut butter frosting and loads chopped up peanut butter cups on top of it. People request this cake. People offer her money to make this cake.

It's a class favorite.

So it was kind of insulting that they didn't win anything.
They were not going to let that happen this year. So she and her two friends entered the contest again.

They learned from last year's contest.  

Keep it simple.
And colorful.
They won for best presentation.

Yay to the cake-making dream team!
The paparazzi were out in full force. Cell phones whirring all over the place.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Think Small

Recognize this frame from the little pretty in my last post? It sat on my mantel for days before I figured out where it was going to find a home. While it was waiting for me to decide, my little Christmas nisse decided to play peekaboo with me. He's so tricky.

I love his sweet little face and that semi-smile. And those ears that stick straight out slay me.
On a totally random note, something that my passion for photography has revealed is to think small. Look at the little things, the things that often get overlooked. See the details. Sometimes you have to change your view to do this.

I got up on a chair and shot down from the ceiling's view for the photo above. And look what I found.

A star.

Photography makes me think. And look at things a little more carefully.

I like that.
When the Knitwits were at my home this week, they were distressed that I didn't have a photo of my son on display. 

Well, says I, that's because he won't sit still long enough for me to take a photo. But it got me thinking and I kind of remembered a very short shoot he let me do one warm, sunny fall afternoon. 

And I found one decent shot.

So here he is, guys.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Christmas happenings and a little pretty

Christmas party seems to be the theme this week. I hosted the Knitwits party last night with ten of my best girlies coming over for wine, conversation, comfort food, chocolate cake, and presents. 

What a night.

We gave each other our final Secret Santa present and had a hoot trying to guess who our Secret Santa was. Some of us were better than others. I bet they're really good at "Clue".

My Secret Santa was P., our knitting instructor. Guess what she gave me? 


Yay for Secret Santa! Yay for the knitting teacher being MY Secret Santa!

Tonight was a Christmas party at my second knitting group. This is the group that G. and I lead at the library.

Another fun group of women.

I'm surrounded by them. At home, at work, at play. Great women, great friends.

God is so good to have put such wonderful people in my life - those still here and those that have passed.

I always spend some time remembering the past at this time of year. I don't know if it's my mom passing on New Year's Eve that makes me nostalgic or whether it's just another year drawing to a close that brings all those memories forward. Do you think about the past at this time of year?

I remember my grampa telling me not to wish my life away and I didn't know what he meant. Now I do.

As I look back over the year, I'm so thankful for lots of things: the Man and my children, my friends - old and new, my job and co-workers, renewed friendships with some very dear friends, a growing passion for photography - wherever it may lead, and a growing closeness to my Lord and Savior. So many things to be thankful for.

And I am. Truly thankful. And blessed. Oh yes, have I been blessed.

The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make His face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn His face toward you and give you peace. (Numbers 6:24-26)

Well, those were some weighty thoughts. I told you I get to thinking this time of year. I'll try to lift the mood a bit with this little pretty now hanging on my back porch.

I saw this idea somewhere. Don't remember where I saw it, but I fell in love. An old frame, some vintage glass balls, a little fishing line and a red bow.

Love it. Love. It.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Christmas Card Fiasco, part seven hundred


Why won't my printer print envelopes?


How am I supposed to get my Christmas cards finished if I have to write them?


And I can't believe I am fussing about having to handwrite my envelopes. Gosh Pete, it's time to put on my big girl pants and just FINISH these cards already. Remember the days before computers, when we not only hand wrote the envelopes, but we usually enclosed a short handwritten note to the recipient? 

I am so spoiled by the ease and efficiency of computers for mass production.

Except when they won't work. Then they're NOT efficient at all.

They just sucked up two hours of my life.

Pooh to computers. Where's my pen?

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Gingerbread Weekend

Gingerbread weekend. Sissy and I have been making these together for close to fifteen years. Eeek. That sounds like we're old.

We're not. We're worn in, like comfortable old jeans.

We've tried lots of different ideas over the years, some successful and some not. The tootsie roll mailboxes, not successful. Too sticky and they kept falling over. Plus, I ate too many of them while trying to shape just one for the house.

M&M roof, successful. This is the only part of the gingerbread house that we actually eat. Well, we pick off our favorite candies from the sides of the house but the roof is the only gingerbread we eat. It's very tasty with the chocolate M&Ms on it.

We eat a LOT of candy on decorating day. Sissy and I bake the pieces a few days before and then we have the girlies do the decorating. Of course, we have to taste test all the different kinds of candy to make sure none of it is stale.

You can't put stale candy on a gingerbread house that is going to sit out in the air for oh, a month or so.

The girlies like this part.

K. double-dog dared me to frost her cheek. She should know better. I had a splop piped onto her cheek faster than she could say, "You wouldn't dare!"
My friend, C., called me today and asked if I wanted to head to the mall and be part of a "spontaneous" Hallelujah Chorus being sung out at malls across the country this month. Today was our turn.

I have never heard such a thing before.

Voices just kept lifting higher, and higher, and higher.  Smiling faces, cameras flashing, calm children, it was unbelievable. A moment frozen in time, Christmas shopping on hold, while we sang praise to our God.

The Man and I snuggled on the couch with a hot cup of coffee and a warm fur blanket (fake fur, don't panic) and watched "White Christmas" while the kids made gagging sounds every time they walked by.

Now everyone is in bed and I'm sitting here, blogging, and listening to Andrea Bocelli sing "Ave Maria". Does it get any more beautiful than that?

Friday, December 10, 2010

No Blogging

Nope, I'm not blogging tonight. 

I have Christmas cards to write.

Stop distracting me, blog.

Christmas Cards. Not.

Whew. Found my Christmas cards. I buy them after Christmas each year and carefully put them somewhere safe for the next year. 

So safe I never remember where I put them.

But I found them and promptly brought them upstairs and placed them on the table right. next. to. my. chair. 

Still didn't start them.

I bought the stamps today. That's a step in the right direction.

I don't know what it is about cards, but I procrastinate something fierce when it comes to getting them done. Probably because I always imagine witty, chatty, charming handwritten letters getting tucked into each card and it just doesn't happen. 

Once, I wrote a year in review in one hundred words. That was my challenge for myself that year - write the year in review in exactly one hundred words.

With four of us in the family, not counting the dog, that's only twenty five words per person. Can you sum up your year in twenty five words? Maybe if it went something like this it would be easy, "Won the lottery, bought a small island, flew there, and we're not coming back until the weather is much warmer. See you in the spring."

Mine was not like that. 

So instead of writing out some Christmas cards, I played around in Photoshop again. I'm telling you, this program is addictive. I'm going to start calling it crackshop. I can't step away. Every night I discover something new and fun and cool and I just keep going back.
I found a free storyboard to download over at The CoffeeShop Blog.  I used it tell the story of my exciting adventures trying to get the kids to sit still and smile nice for the camera for the annual Christmas picture.

Yeah, right.

Do you see what I have to go through to get one decent picture of them? Sometimes I'm tempted to use the outtakes as the actual picture. 


So...maybe tomorrow I'll start the Christmas cards. 

“I’m going to stop putting things off, starting tomorrow!” – Sam Levenson

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Christmas Vignettes

I found a great photography tutorial a few weeks ago and wanted to share it with you. It's over at Life with My 3 Boybarians and it's called "31 Days to a Better Photo".  She has some great basic information in this series - a lot of what I learned in the photography class I took this summer. And you can learn it for free!
If you have PS, you can find some great links on her page to photography sites with free actions. I found some sweet actions over at Amy McMaster Photography thanks to Life with My 3 Boybarians.

I used the "Berries 'N Cream" action on the first white bottle brush wreath photo below. The second photo is SOOC. Subtle differences, but the overall tone is softer and sweeter, a bit more nostalgic.

And then some photos just beg for a little color pop.
So there's some vignettes from Christmas at my home. 

Now I need to stop playing in PS and start writing out Christmas cards. But it's late and I'm tired. 

As Scarlet O'Hara would say, "I can't think about that right now. If I do, I'll go crazy. I'll think about that tomorrow."

NYC at Christmas

(Pardon the funny framing in this photo. I was shooting down the aisle of the bus and couldn't avoid the seats.)

Went off to NYC for the day on Sunday with some knitting friends. We usually go a couple times a year, once in the spring and once near Christmas. I love the Christmas trip best I think. The hustle and bustle, the decorations, the windows, the shopping, the cold air, the air of expectation. 

I love it all.

As we were driving into the city we saw the Macy's balloon in the street up ahead. Had no idea what was going on. We were detoured around the street and didn't think much of it until the next day. I was talking to a friend who had been in NYC on Saturday. They saw the same balloon in the street, asked a street officer what was going on and he said, "They're filming the new Eddie Murphy movie."

That's why I love visiting the city. You just never know.
First stop of the day was Eataly. Well, let me tell you, it's a good thing I did a bit of reading before we went. I suggested we go first thing in the morning, as soon as they opened, because the crowds were supposed to be horrific.

We had a grand time. Wandered around the shops, picking things up, smelling the delicious foods being prepared, listening to Italian, and French, and Russian, and Japanese, and lots of other languages. People from everywhere were visiting this place.

Some things were reasonably priced, others not so much.

Especially the truffles. Not the chocolate kind.

They were tres expensive. The entree I ordered happened to be the featured dish of the day. You could get it just as it was for $16 or add truffles for $66.

Gulp. An extra $50 for truffles? And I'm not really sure what they are. Some sort of mushroom or fungi?

No thank you. Keep your truffles.
I love this photo. Reminds me of a 1950s LIFE scene.

So many people on the streets. 
I don't skate but I enjoy watching them. No Olympic contenders that we could see.

Love this scene. The taxi is going one way, the sign is pointing the other, people waiting to cross the street, cell phone talker, and the things you can see through the windows of the taxi.

Typical NYC street scene.
Times Square. These lights draw you like a moth.

I can't wait to go back.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Napoleons and my Waterloo

M. and I spent today making napoleons. You know, the puff pastry sheets filled with pudding and then glazed and drizzled with chocolate? Yup, we decided to try making the HARDEST thing in the whole cookbook.

We discovered why Julia had a glass of wine near her while baking. 

To explain this as simply as I understand it, we made a dough, rolled it out a billion times, plopped a large pile of butter (with a little bit of flour mixed in to keep it somewhat less "smeary") in the center, wrapped it up like a newborn baby, and rolled it another billion times.  Then we did it all over again.

And, oh yeah, in between rollings it needs to be refrigerated 45 minutes to an hour. 
It looks so easy to roll this lovely little package, doesn't it? 


It's not.

The blasted butter kept popping out the ends. Somewhere, M. read to add a bit of flour to cover the blow out so you could keep on rollin'.

Holy butter explosion, Batman, this doesn't look like pastry dough. It looks like Pillsbury crescent dough that's been microwaved into soup. Sorry, no pictures of this stage. My hands were covered in flour and butter. Not a good time to grab the camera and attempt to compose a shot. I could see that camera landing in the center of the butter mound.
We had to make homemade pudding, also known as a cream filling in pastry land, which required lots of stirring. This yummy stuff is layered between the sheets of puff pastry.
The eggs are what gives the pudding the creamy yellow color. Recognize that bottle of vanilla on the counter? That's a bottle from the batch of homemade vanilla I made for my very first tutorial. 

Don't you just love the yellow of the egg against the blue of M.'s counter? 
This was the VERY. SCARY. PART.

We kept reading the recipe, looking at the (non)puff pastry, reading the recipe again, and wondering how we were going to cut the pastry in half thus separating the layers. Huh.

I totally chickened out and said I was going to cut my piece in three sections and layer those sections. Never mind that cutting and separating the layers stuff. Nope, I'm not doing it.

So I cut mine in three sections.

M. took one look at it and said, "I'm separating it."

And she did.

What we didn't know, and didn't see until I cut the three sections, was that the center was somewhat undercooked and softer. Wow. That made all the difference in the world. It was like a hot knife cutting through butter. Haha. I make myself laugh with this stuff.

But, truly, it cut so easily and the layers separated just so.
We spread the pudding on the layers, not being too careful about spillage and seepage. 

In other words, it oozed over the sides. Oh well, we're not Julia. Maybe we should have a glass of wine next time we attempt this.
It was a super fun day. We laughed, we ate delicious salad for lunch, we listened to Christmas music, laughed some more and had a perfectly wonderful time.
M.'s fancy-schmancy chocolate drizzling.
I tried dragging the tines of the fork through the chocolate. Looks like a hacksaw went through it.
M.'s hubby, M. (also known as "The Hammer"), grinning at our attempts. He's now "The Hammer" because we got the mixing bowl stuck a couple times while mixing the dough.

M. couldn't get the bowl out. I couldn't get the bowl out.

So we called for M.'s hubby. He came in and got the bowl out. We must have loosened it for him.

The second time he came in, he brought a rubber mallet with him. Thus, "The Hammer" was born.
Saw this very pretty pomander over on this blog. I know M. loves shabby chic, romantic things and it was calling her name. 

Luckily I had plenty of felt on hand. And some styrofoam balls. And some pretty pins.

M. got an early Christmas present.