Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Signing Off

Merry Christmas everyone, and I hope this finds you well and enjoying the pre-Christmas activities.  My guests began arriving several days ago, and more will be coming tomorrow and staying through the next week. In order to enjoy the holiday with my family, I'll probably be posting sparsely until after the new year.

Before I go, let me share with you a collection of our family activities over the last week or so.  We always enjoy being together and enjoying the love of family and friends.  Good food, too.

There were some artists at work, creating two lovely gingerbread houses.

Grandtwins Brianna and Tori - with Tori in charge of quality control
Son Caleb said some goodbyes to his special friend Stacy.  Stacy will be spending the Christmas week in England with her older sister.

Prior to their goodbyes, they attended an Ugly Christmas Sweater Party with the young adults group at our church.

By the way, that necktie plays Christmas tunes.  It's a winner don't you think?

At the annual family Christmas party, everyone was happy when the little princess (granddaughter Ellie) arrived.  She loves to be all fancied up.

Hosted by my parents, this party hit a home run when it came to the delicious spread of food.

With temperatures up into the 60's on the day of the party - very weird for late December in central Pennsylvania - there may have been some snowmen melting in the heat.

Along with the good food, there were plenty of presents to be unwrapped.

Daughter Lindsay and Ellie (in her second outfit of the day)

My father Tom and nephew Zacchary

Between the plates of food and the piles of presents, there was a puzzle that needed assembling.  My parents have a special puzzle table.  Any guests are welcome to add pieces to whatever puzzle is ongoing during their visit.

Nephew Luke
I love the reminder that Christmas is all about the gift of a baby many years ago, and our family is excited to welcome another baby next May.  Daughter Sarah and SIL Lance are excited about this addition.  If you look closely in this next photo, the baby is starting to show us that he/she is growing nicely.

So now we are back home again, and making preparations for Christmas eve and Christmas day.  It's a busy time for us as it is for most families.  There are last minute gifts to unwrap, party leftovers to be eaten,

Christmas day food to be prepared, and beds to be prepared for the next batch of arriving relatives.

Even the puppy is in holiday mode.  She's got her own dangling mistletoe,

A kiss for me, please?
and she already received a few gifts of her own.

Please enjoy your Christmas however you choose to spend it, and perhaps take a moment to think about the greatest gift that was ever given, the birth of the baby Jesus.  

And with that, the gift of Hope.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Just To Torment My Kids

Wrapped items for one family's white box.
I'm writing this blog post and including the following pictures, just to torment my children.

You see, even though they are all grown up (ages 33, 31 29, and 26), the reality is that when it comes to Christmas, they are large-sized little kids.  They still like the mystery and surprise of getting Christmas presents.

There are presents here, waiting for them - the WHITE BOXES - and so now they will have to be tormented, wondering what is in there for them this year.

The story of how our family's weird WHITE BOX tradition started goes back just a few years.

Probably about the time our youngest turned 21, we decided to stop the giving of Christmas presents and just give the kids cash or gift certificates.  We told them ahead of time we would be doing this, and they were just fine about it.

Christmas morning came and the family was gathered as usual around the Christmas tree.  They each opened their envelopes, expressed their gratefulness, and then we sat there and looked at each other.  It was too quiet.

 It just seemed that there should at least be some ribbons on the floor, some balled up and torn wrapping paper strewn around, some boxes to open.  That year there was none of any of that.

I wasn't fine with that.

A loaded white box
And so, the next year, I gathered up some odds and ends for each family and tossed them into a plain white box.  Why the white boxes?  Because the plain white boxes were cheapest way I could find to box up a bunch of little items.

They loved it, and even reminded me the next year after that to make sure there would be white boxes ready again.

Fast forward to Christmas of 2013.  I started getting reminders from my big little kiddos sometime around Thanksgiving, making sure I wouldn't be forgetting about the white boxes.

Apparently it has become A TRADITION.

Here in this post, then, is proof that they are loaded and ready.

But oh, there's still about five more days until Christmas.

Sorry kids, you'll just have to wait, and wonder.....

Hee hee.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Another Crafty Hour

Christmas washi tapes
In getting ready for the Christmas present wrapping extravaganza, this year I decided to make my own gift tags.

Over the years I've tried to use up all our purchased holiday gift tags, you know, those stick-on ones that come 100 or 300 in a pack and never go away?  Well, after 35 years of wrapping Christmas presents in this household, I'm down to the last 20 or so, and there's a reason I keep avoiding using those last 20.  They.  Are.  Just.  Ugly.

 So, I decided to raid my crafting stocks and put some tags together on my own.  After about just one relaxing, quiet, pleasant hour of craftiness, I had 25 or so tags ready to use.

Since I'm fascinated with washi tape, I dug out all my Christmas patterned tapes and some others, too.  I found some package tags, baker's twine, and colored ribbons.

Finally, I located some Christmas stickers and embellishments that I thought could be put to good use.

Then I went to work.  A piece or two of tape here, a sticker there, and a tie.  Done.

Looking back at all the finished tags, it seems as though I was working in color groupings or themes.  

Here are some of the finished tags made in the red and green Christmas theme:

I had a few turquoise and purple Christmas ornament stickers, so I found some washi tapes in those colors and ran with it.

Itching to use up some of my glittery star stickers, I made several tags in the silver and gold star theme.

Making simple washi tags would be a fun afternoon project for elementary aged children to do.  In fact, they could make a bunch of them and even box them up as a handmade Christmas gift.

Easy to use and elegant on the packages.

Now, if I could just get my puppy to stay away from those little strings and ribbons....

Thursday, December 19, 2013

A Family Favorite: Our Shortbread Recipe

I'm on such a baking roll these days.

Three days ago it was Old Fashioned Rice Pudding.  Then two days ago,  I made a double batch of classic chocolate chip cookies.

I should know better than to double any recipes of cookies.  By the end of the process, I get bored and drifty.  Usually that means that I burn a batch or two, and that is exactly what happened.  Daughter Sarah, who considers herself our family's baking expert, was horrified when she saw the picture.

Another friend suggested I may have used dark brown sugar in some and light brown sugar in others.  Nah, I just wandered.

However, I'm not at all concerned that nobody will eat those substandard cookies.  Methinks they will disappear, no problem.

Yesterday then, I made some shortbread, a three ingredient recipe that was taught to me long ago by my very good friend Patti.  These are delicious, but I'll warn you, you must regulate your intake.  They are unbelievably delicious, but mark my words - I never said they are healthy.

Earlier on the day you will make your shortbread, take out 4 sticks of butter, yes 4, and allow them to get semi-soft.

Then when you are ready to make your shortbread, first you need to take a paper grocery bag (or parchment paper if you are fancy schmancy) and cut a single layer to fit down in your cookie sheet.  This will at least soak up about 1/57 of the grease.

Preheat your oven to 360 degrees.  No, that's not a typo.  That's 360 degrees.  I don't know why but that's what seems to work.

Into your largest mixing bowl put:

5 cups flour
1 cup sugar
4 semi-softened sticks of butter (don't cheap out and use margarine - it won't work)

Take any rings or wristwatches off, and using your hands, start mixing it all together.

Trust me, a mixer or a spoon will not do the trick.  You gotta just get in there and do it.

Also, you better hope your phone doesn't ring right about now, or your nose starts itching, or....

Keep going until the dough is thoroughly mixed and forms into a ball.

Now you are ready to start spreading the batter into the prepared cookie sheet.

Press the dough down and around with your fingertips until it fills the pan and is all the same thickness.

Even after you've done your best, it will still look somewhat lumpy and bumpy.  At this point I use my little Pampered Chef roller and roll it nice and smooth.  Before I bought this little pastry roller, I used to use the side of a smooth drinking glass and that worked fine too.

When it is fairly smooth, toss on your sprinkles.  I'm using red and green ones for Christmas.  

This is a great recipe to take to holiday gatherings or summer picnics.  It's always a hit, and you can change the look of it by simply using seasonal sprinkles.  I have pink and red ones for Valentines Day shortbread,  and red/white/blue sprinkles for the patriotic holidays.  

Gently press the sprinkles down into the dough.

There is one last trick I'll share with you, in order to fancy it up a bit.  Use a fork to crimp the edges.

Bake at 360 degrees for 25 minutes.  Watch it closely at the end.  The shortbread is done when the edges turn just a hint of brown.  

Remove from oven and cut into squares immediately, but allow it to fully cool in the pan before removing the squares from the pan.

Wow.  This shortbread is probably my favorite of all the Christmas cookies or other baked goods each holiday.  These heavenly little squares are certainly diet-wreckers, but hey, some things are just worth it.

I bet you can't eat just one....

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Let the Baking Commence....

Rice Pudding ingredients
At the beginning of this week, the "Almost There Week," I set for myself the goal of baking one batch of something or other, each day.

Not including the weekend days.  I wouldn't want to go too overboard with this baking thing.  Besides, daughter Sarah will be arriving for the holidays this weekend, and she can very capably handle the baking detail from there on.

So I decided to ease into the holiday baking, calmly and gently.  I don't even know if we can really even consider this first recipe to be Christmas Baking, but it was so easy.  If you are needing a simple dessert for one of your holiday meals, try this recipe for Old Fashioned Rice Pudding.  It takes just about two minutes to put together.

Credit for this recipe goes to Kathy Yellet, National Executive.


2/3 cup Minute rice
2 3/4 cups milk
1/3 cup sugar
1 tablespoon butter
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 cup raisins
whipped creme


Combine the first 8 ingredients in a one quart baking dish.

Bake at 350 degrees for one hour, stirring after 15 minutes and again at the end of the hour.

Baked and ready for final stirring
 The pudding will thicken as it stands.

Serve this pudding either warm or chilled.

Add a squirt of whipped creme and sprinkle on some cinnamon.


Tuesday, December 17, 2013

There's A Clark Griswold in the House....

His exterior plan
...and he is decking the halls, inside and out.

Boy, does this guy love his family.

These last two weeks he has been busy almost every day after he gets home from work, making drawings and executing his plans, both for exterior illumination and interior festivity.

Let's start with the outside.

Over the weekend we had our largest snow storm to date this winter, and there he is, in the cold, blowing, snowing weather, installing our exterior illumination.

What a guy!  He is the ultimate family man.  The kids are coming, the grandkids are coming, the whole fam-damily is coming, and he's out there all bundled up, fighting the elements and making it ready for them.

He's the best!  The ultimate Clark Griswold family man.

He added a few new features this year, including these lanterns.  The flickering candles inside them are on timers and light up for five hours each evening.

For the final touch, he hung this welcoming wreath on our front door.  A spotlight makes it the focal point of the porch.

Now for the inside.  He's been busy helping me with much of the decorating in there, also.

The Christmas tree is finally finished.  It was a two week process (new tree, new decorations, new tree-topper, new tree skirt, and excavation of the old pickle.)

After shopping unsuccessfully for Christmas tree skirts in all our local department stores, and refusing to pay the high prices for those China imports, I decided to make a skirt myself.  Two yards of fabric, $8.32, and 15 minutes later, I had myself a tree skirt that works for us and will last through the years.

Our resident cardinal flew in finally, too, and helped arrange the beaded garland onto the tree.

Our tiny 16 inch tree from our kids' college dorm rooms is part of the decor again this year.  We just can't seem to get rid of it.  I guess it has too many memories associated with it.

Finally, our reminder of the real reason for the season.  It wouldn't seem right if we didn't include our extensive manger scene.  The hubby did the scene design all by himself this year.  He's way taller than me and so placing the figurines up on the fireplace mantel is easier for him.  He arranged it a little differently from last year.

Here are a few closer views of the scenes, from left to right on the mantel:

This year we changed the location of our stockings, too.  They are now hung on the stairway bannister.

Son Caleb has already begun his every morning routine of squeezing the stocking toes.  Last year Santa fooled him.  Even though extreme snooper Caleb did his every morning stocking toe squeeze, he didn't realize until Christmas morning that all along there had been a $20 bill down in the toe of his stocking.  I think Santa's absolutely brilliant. 

So we are ready for our guests and ready for Santa.

Over in the next town, these two pretty girls are having some fun while they wait for Santa, too.

Grandtwins Brianna and Tori
I've heard it said that this is the "Almost There Week."

I betcha those two girls are wishing it was the "We're There Week."

Christmas is coming, ready or not, and that's just fine with me.