Saturday, December 25, 2010

Happy Christmas, hopefully

This year I have not been much in the Christmas 'spirit'. I was excited to put our tree up for the first time in our new house and I love it. I love the glimmer of the tree, I love the bright lights along the eaves of the house whenever I pull into the driveway after dark. I love hot mochas with Kevin and Christmas cookies and watching the cats play and sleep under the tree. I love watching 'It's a Wonderful Life' and 'A Christmas Story' and in a way trying to recapture (or capture for once) a different, happier feeling that Christmas is supposed to evoke. I'm pretty sure after 26 Christmases that the feeling of the Christmas spirit, of joy and magic in the air isn't so real as I hope - just make believe. I guess it's just made up by adults to make the very youngest of children feel like there is something wonderful about life and something to look forward to - cuz us grown ups are looking for it, too. Reality and the truth about false expectations sets in and we realize Christmas is just another man made holiday like the rest and just an excuse to buy things and eat more sweets than usual.

This Christmas Eve, my cousin Mike passed away. He had cancer and was fighting it hard for a couple of years. He leaves behind two wonderful young children and many, many friends and colleagues.

He is missed and will be missed as time passes and the truth of this reality sets in: he's not there anymore if I want to text him or have him over for dinner. I won't be at his house anymore drinking boxed wine and laughing about something trivial or talking about his next art show.

I feel angry and sad and shocked and uncertain. I am not sure what I feel or how to feel but I am pretty sure I have a conglomeration of feelings and conflictions going on all at once.

A pretty sad thing to dwell on at Christmas. We're supposed, I guess, to think about family and love and Jesus and lots of good food and company. It's next to impossible to do that when life's razor-sharp ability to sorely disappoint our expectations kicks us in the butt when we let our guard down just a little and dare to hope just a little.

Today Kevin and I are having turkey and mashed potatoes and peas for lunch and I'm drinking some Chardonnay. There's something ironically happy about the Christmas music playing in the background and the cats playing with each other. The lights are still on, the music still plays, and people still talk and live with one another. It just helps you appreciate a little more, I suppose, those people that you care about while they are here for you to talk to and see with your own eyes.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Holiday Baking - Part II

These are the last cookies I baked this month but I hadn't uploaded any photos yet. They were SO good and not too sweet. They are Lemon Pistachio Cookies. I love the crunch of the nuts and the tang of the citrus glaze. You can find the recipe here. If you don't have a wreath cookie cutter (which I do not) just use a round one - or the lip of a smallish glass - to cut simple circles.

Very easy and very yummy with a steaming cup of Earl Grey.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Curtains & Christmas Lights

I thought I would post some photos of our living room once we got our new lovely curtains hung, at last (on Nov. 30th). Kevin took down the old (awful) curtain rod and we patched up the wall in a few spots. Someone had put the middle 'brace' for the rod completely off center over the window so we patched that spot and had to touch up the paint a tiny bit. Then we (Kevin) drilled fresh holes and mounted the new curtain rod - and actually *centered* it correctly over the windows. The little bit of OCD in me is rejoicing. ;) 

I got this curtain rod at Garden Ridge for $19.99 ... here, Kevin is making some adjustments to it on the wall. We're waiting on the curtains to steam in the washing machine.

And here are the lovely curtains, hung at last. The furniture is still in flux at this point but I had to snap a photo. I'm SO pleased with the height of the curtains; they are absolutely just right. I wanted them nearly brushing the floor, but not. It looks a little weird in the photo - I think the cats had already messed them sitting in the window or something.

I thought, while the couch was in the middle of the living room, it might be nice to just rearrange the room. I had been thinking about 'flipping' everything and putting the couch where the chairs were. I think it looks better this way, at least for now; I will probably get sick of it in another 6 months and come up with an entirely different way of arranging the furniture. But for now it's great. I think the chairs (especially the orange swivel one) look great against the light blue curtains.

Here's a photo of the couch in it's new spot. I think it looks nice. =)

Also, our Christmas lights are up! Kevin and his brother put them up one afternoon (Dec. 2nd) and I came home from work not quite recognizing my house! It looks great but completely different. Somehow all those small bulbs, en masse, light up the house like daytime and make it look sort of (dare I say) magical and just a little bit charming.

Here is a close up at our front door. I love being able to see the tree through the door. (Perhaps it's time to move the pumpkins??)

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Good Things For your Closet! (plus one other thing)

I found out the other day (for at least the second time - apparently my memory is not what it used to be) that the caps on those Wallflowers from Bath and Body Works twist open the opposite way of any normal, American container. I had purchased some online while they were on sale (with a giftcard!) and we tried very hard to open them with no success. Huge amounts of torque; a pair of pliers; teeth: nothing. We decided to return them. The lady laughed and said we were twisting them the wrong way. We laughed, too. Now our house smells like Kitchen Spice, Caramel Apple and Lavender (in the bedroom to induce relaxing sleep, supposedly). All that to say, I really enjoy Wallflowers. I rarely have them in the house but when I do I find they are mild and pleasant, not overwhelming or cough-inducing (like that air freshener my mechanic hung in my car the other day ...)

While we were at the mall 'returning' the Wallflowers, we stopped at Payless - Kevin thought they might have some slippers. I have been on a mission for slippers for a while now since my old ones I've had for 4 years completely gave out. The soles are coming loose and the fabric is frazzled and permenantly stained from going outside ande scuffing around the house almost every night. He found the perfect pair of slippers for me! I wanted slippers that had a closed back (those backless 'scuffies' that slip on don't really keep my feet warm). I wanted slippers that were fluffy and cozy. I wanted slippers with a relatively durable sole. These have it all. I am so excited! I wear them all the time now! They sort of look like bigfoot feet, or like I'm wearing one of my cats on each foot. I guess that's what makes them so cozy -- cats DO make good footwarmers. I highly recommend these comfy slippers! They are very economical and very cozy ... perfect for cool winter nights on the couch when you're trying to save money on your heating bill. ;)

Next on my list of good things for the week is colorful tights.

I have wanted to get several pairs for a while but haven't been able to find them anywhere in colors other than black and gray (BO-ring); either that or they are like, $30 which I think is completely unacceptable for a very perishable accessory. At last, I found some at Target the other day and bought three pairs. I am still looking for a pretty golden color but I did score the bright hunter green and warm, plumy magenta I wanted. I also got a light, ashy-gray pair which is nice with more colorful shoes. Yesterday I wore them with a knee-length floral skirt (small print) and orange mid-heel lace-up pumps. I think tights are a fun way to accesorize and incorporate color. If you have a more classic, neutral wardrobe, they are great at punching up the color and changing your look. Even with colorful or patterned pieces, tights can bring out an accent color or just transition a knee skirt or shortsleeved dress from Summer into the cooler months.

Here are some great examples of how to wear colored tights. Photo from this website.

I also must recommend this great website I discovered on my quest for tights; it's called We Love Colors. They have TONS of tights and leggings in every possible color. Their classic opaque, footed tights are $12.50 and come in 51 color options (nuts!). I guess they really do love colors? They have a color called 'Gold' which is just what I'm looking for! I might have to give it a try, even though it's pricy compared to my $5 Merona tights at Target. American Apparel also has opaque tights in a wide range of colors for $14.

Another "I heart" is definitely colorful shoes. I'm working on gathering several different colors and styles for my closet. I'm sort of over tan and black and brown shoes. I want greens and reds and yellows and blues. Happy colors! Happy colors for my feet! Doesn't it make you happy having color on your body? It makes me happy. I am not completely abandoning all the neutral tones for bright colors; they can be friends. But I just like color in places that I am not used to having color ... I wasn't raised with colorful shoes or colorful tights (well, when I was 5 I had red tights I think) or colorful scarves. It was all about the neutrals so you could have a 'versitile' wardrobe. But I want the best of BOTH those worlds ... which is why colorful accessories are so darn great.

Like these red ruffly pumps I found hiding under my bed the other week ...

And these cheerful loafers (I got the green pair on sale) ...

And of course the 'famous' orange lace-up pumps ... one of my new favorites!

And here are two more yummy pairs as found at the mall a couple months ago ... both drastically on sale (can you tell I like finding things on sale?) and adorable ... on the left: Gap rhinestone flats (you can buy they here) and on the right: from Nordstrom, BP Shoes brand which I just don't think you can buy anymore ... maybe on eBay.

That's all. Please share your favorite closet staples or fashion trends. It's fun isn't it? So long as it doesn't get too expensive. ;)

Friday, December 10, 2010

Holiday Baking - Part I

I have always enjoy baking for Christmas. I have always been the most festive person in any house I have lived and so the baking and decorating seems to be my responsibility. When I lived with my parents, I was the one baking the huge snowflake sugar cookies with blue glaze and silver dragees and now with Kevin, I am still baking and putting up the tree and insisting on Christmas movies and music and a DVD with a crackling fireplace. We don't have a fireplace in our house so I figured a big screen TV with a video of a fireplace was the next best thing - and it doesn't hurt our energy bill!

This year I hunted around for easy but pretty (and yummy!) cookie recipes. I found several at, of course; you can always rely on Martha to provide some nice recipes. I also decided to make my 'traditional' Peppermint Bark which is so easy but always seems a popular favorite among recipients. Here are a few recipes and photos from my baking endeavors so far this December. More to come, I'm sure. =) There has been some recipe swapping among friends so I think I will experiment with some new goodies this year.

Crispy Molasses Snaps (this is from Martha but I renamed them)

2 c all-purpose flour
1-1/2 t baking soda
1 t cinnamon
1/2 t nutmeg
1/2 t salt
1-1/2 c sugar
1-1/2 sticks (3/4 c) butter, softened
1 egg
1/4 c molasses

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Whisk together flour, soda, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt. In a separate small bowl, pour 1/2 c sugar. Set both aside.

In another bowl with electric mixer, beat butter and remaining 1 c sugar til fluffy. Beat in egg and then molasses til combined. Reduce mixer to low and gradually add dry ingredients just until a dough forms.

Pinch off and roll dough into balls, about 1 T each. Roll in reserved sugar then place on baking sheet (does not need to be sprayed or lined) about 2 inches apart. Bake about 10-15 minutes til edges are just firm. Cool on sheet for a minute then transfer to cooling rack.

NOTE: It's better to bake these for the least amount of time possible; just keep an eye on them. Baking them JUST too much makes them too crispy and the centers are no longer chewy as they should be. Edges: crispy; center: chewy - perfect with a glass of milk, still warm from the oven! Enjoy!

Angelettis (another Martha recipe)

4 c all-purpose flour
2 T baking powder
1/2 t salt
1 c (2 sticks) butter, softened
1 c granulated sugar
6 eggs
1 t vanilla

For glaze:
16 oz confectioner's sugar
1/4 c lemon juice
1-2 T water
sanding (or other colorful) sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

In medium bowl, sift together flour, powder and salt; set aside.

With electric mixer, cream butter and sugar til fluffy. With mixer on medium, add eggs one at a time; blend thoroughly before adding the next. Add the vanilla. Gradually add the dry ingredients and beat until dough comes together.

Scoop dough into tablespoon-size balls onto sprayed baking sheet (or lined with parchment or Silpat). These cookies don't really 'spread' when baked so an inch or so apart is fine. Bake for about 15 minutes til the edges turn a little golden. Cool on wire racks.

NOTE: This dough is about the worst dough I have EVER had to handle. The cookies are lovely and came out delicious and flaky and perfectly accented by the mildly-tart lemon glaze. However, the dough was very difficult to handle. I think you probably need a scoop like this one to work more easily with this dough. Alas, I do not have a scoop. The alternative is to flour your fingers generously before scooping up the dough; this worked well for me, but my cookies are slightly more 'free form' than I think they are supposed to be. Didn't affect the flavor at all, but it's a good-to-know 'fun fact' before starting this recipe.

For the glaze:

Combine the powdered sugar with the 1/4 c lemon juice and about 1-2 T water; whisk together til combined. Dip the tops of your cooled cookies into the glaze and set back on the cooling racks (place a cookie sheet or a strip of wax paper or paper towels under the rack to catch the excess glaze). Let set for a short time (about the time it takes to dip an entire cooling rack of cookies) then sprinkle with sugar of your choice. I had some green and red sugar sprinkles and some golden turbinado sugar.

Once the glaze is set you can store them in plastic storage containers or zip bags. The flavor is very moderately sweet for a cookie and is a great compliment to coffee or tea.

Dipped Pretzels:
So easy but a yummy, slightly-lighter treat.

I have a bag of pretzel rings but really any pretzel shape will work (pretzel rods would look nice with the peppermint sprinkles)

Peppermint Pretzels: Melt semi-sweet chocolate chips in a double boiler (I add about 1 T of water for every cup of chocolate, as well as about 1/2 T of butter). Once chocolate is melted, dip pretzels in the chocolate and then sprinkle with crushed peppermint (I use candy canes and whir them in my mini prep for a few seconds). Lay pretzels out on wax paper to set. yum yum

Peanut Butter Pretzels: Soften some peanut butter (about 1/2 a cup) on the stove - just to warm it through. Using the same melted chocolate, dip the pretzels in peanut butter then in the chocolate and set out on wax paper to dry. (NOTE: Scoop some chocolate into a separate bowl since the peanut butter likes to drip into the chocolate; this way it doesn't affect the entire bowl of chocolate, just the portion you are using for the peanut butter pretzels).

White Chocolate Peppermint Bark:

I'm not a really big fan of white chocolate but for this application it's perfect. You mostly taste peppermint anyway; the white chocolate is just a really nice canvas for the pepperminty goodness.

1 bag of white chocolate chips or morsels
12-16 candy canes, chopped fine (you can either do this in a plastic bag - pound the candy canes with a rolling pin or heavy pot - or in a food processor)

Melt the white chocolate chips using the same method as for the pretzels: melt over a double boiler, medium-high heat with about 1 T water for every cup of chocolate; this does not have to be precise but it IS important to have enough water so the chocolate can melt successfully - otherwise is seizes up and turns into a dry clumpy wad. Gross, even for chocolate. You can add more water as the melting progresses if you think it's necessary, just mix thoroughly. The chocolate should not be too thick, but should run smoothly off the spoon or spatula, almost like syrup.

Once the chocolate is melted, remove the bowl (this double boiler method works well with tempered glass mixing bowls over a medium pot) to an oven mitt or trivet. Make sure the mixture is smooth then add the crushed peppermint, reserving a little bit for later. Mix this in thoroughly then pour onto a baking sheet lined with wax or parchment paper. Spread it out relatively thin, then sprinkle the top with the remaining peppermint. Let this set then chip pieces off with your hands. Store in an airtight container.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Beading Revival

This morning I woke up to find my cats spooning, Smiley cleaning Carmen's little gray head. For some reason I always think it's the sweetest thing when they clean each other. They fight sometimes and bite each other, but I think they are good little cat friends nonetheless.

I had decided (yesterday) that breakfast this morning would be waffles; Kevin's request was to make them with blueberries, and I decided some chopped almond would be a nice addition. And so I whipped up some blueberry almond waffles while some warm coffee brewed. We have nothing to do today so it's been lovely having no pressure and going from room to room, task to task with no thought of time limits or being somewhere or doing something other than what I want to do in my own cozy house on a Sunday afternoon.
After a few mugs of coffee and a plate of waffles I decided completely randomly that I wanted to pull out all my beading supplies; I haven't crafted in months and thought it would be nice to make something. I get a hankering for it from time to time ... I suppose now is one of those times. Perhaps I was inspired by the several items I have been able to find on eBay for ridiculously low prices: Full, glimmering strands of semi-precious stone and glass beads, crystal bicone beads and some lovely silver findings; can’t wait to get them in the mail and create some new pieces.

I had put my boxes of supplies under my bed a while back so I went to pull them out and take stock of my inventory. In the process I found some lovely shoes I had forgotten about. I had it in my head that I had returned them since they didn't fit, but in actuality I had exchanged them. I like little surprises like that; sort of like finding money on the ground: completely unexpected and pleasant. Now I’m wishing I had a lovely colorful pair of tights – yellow or plum – to wear them with tomorrow.

I gathered all the beading supplies and took everything to the dining room; it’s nice and bright and our table makes a sturdy surface for spreading everything out in great heaps of tiny plastic baggies and compartment-ed plastic bins and little trinket-y boxes of assorted beads and charms. 

Today I’m making a pair of earrings with a mix of colorful glass beads. I have these lovely lemon yellow glass drop beads – they look like a huge vitamin E capsule and feel sleek and smooth in the palm of my hand. I decide they will look nice with some similarly cheerful colors, and set about partnering them with orange and pale mint beads on silver chain and hooks. I’m debating now whether or not to add beads all along the length of the chain or leave them as they are. I really don’t want to muddle the energy I get from the 3 beads but I don’t want them to look naked either.

I really need to do something with these delicious little amber briolettes - don't they look like sweet little honey drops? I'm super inspired by this use of amber briolette (love me some bees!). They are quite small, but I think they might look pretty clustered together as a charm on a necklace or dangling from a shiny earring? Hmmm … too many choices sometimes keeps me hung up just admiring all my goodies and not making anything out of them.

I realized I had finished these darliing little earrings and left them in my supply box ages ago. They are out now and definitely going to be worn - too cute to be stuck in a dusty box under a bed! 

And these, too? 

MAYBE I should start my own Etsy shop or something; that would force me to stick with this hobby and not tuck it away for months on end. What do you think?? I'm open to critique! Let me know what you think about my craft endeavors. For now, I'm headed back to my dining table and the sprawl of beads that are waiting for me.


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