Sunday, December 23, 2007

Merry Christmas!

favorite Santa ornament
That's my favorite Christmas ornament. I picked it out when I was about 3 years old and it's lasted all these years.

I'm still wrapping gifts and stitching up some last minute things that I doubt I'll be able to photograph. I made 2 of THESE today to hold the Jolly Rancher candies my children always long for and I never buy. I made a cool simple item for my mom and her travels, but it's a secret!

We stay home for Christmas and we want our family to know that we love and miss them and look forward to seeing them at less stressful times during the year!

Enjoy the holidays!

Hello Kitty wishes you a Merry Christmas!
Christmas Hello Kitty Granny Square

Friday, December 21, 2007


Holiday prep is winding down and we are in the home stretch. Today, I baked gingerbreads for the neighbors and started writing our Christmas letter. We always end up wishing people Happy New Year because I usually send our cards on Christmas Eve.

We received this beautiful card in the mail from some good friends:
Christmas Card

We have many international holiday decorations, but this card will get a frame and go into our permanent decoration collection.

We send out special blessings and prayers this holiday season to all military service people and their families.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

School's Out!

We just finished my daughter's holiday party at school. Of all the activities I over-prepared, I'm most happy with this snowman craft.

Snowmen 1

We had to have something that a small group could do in about 10 minutes and this was just the thing. I got stick on google eyes and I prepared the felt hats, scarves, and paper punch colored buttons ahead of time. The snowmen are cotton balls.

Snowmen 2

This was a good use for the acrylic felt I'm not so fond of, although the quality really varies with this type of craft felt. I wish I knew what brands these are, so I know what to avoid and what to purchase in the future.

I've got enough supplies leftover to make about 20 or 30 more of these.. maybe we'll do it again at next year's party.

The next holiday job to tackle is baking for the neighbors. I think I'm making some gingerbreads, but who knows? I passed out some really delicious lemon curd too, so I might make that. My husband and I are also nowhere near done with our shopping although we've already exchanged with most people except the intimate family we'll be with on Christmas Day.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007


Our son came home from school demanding to know when we were doing our tree: "Christmas is in 8 DAYS!"

"Talk to your father."

Tree is Up!

We did it! We got the tree up. Honestly, it goes faster than all the other decorating we do. (What am I saying? I do all the decorating, except the tree.) Since the tree pretty much sits right in the middle of the living room, I don't want to deal with it for an entire month. My daughter has her own little tree upstairs that she decorates by herself. When she was younger, she just hung some of her little toys on it.

Christmas Tree
The kids still always hang their ornaments in one spot on the tree, although they are getting better about it. Our tree is totally full of ornaments. I learned a long time ago to have a Sharpie handy to put the year they each were received or made. Our son thought it was cool to climb under the tree and hang ornaments on the underside.... I had to move those. It isn't finished until we get my Grandma M's thread crochet snowflakes on the tips of the branches.

Now that the tree is up, we move our nightly advent ritual into that room. We even drag out our Christmas Carol songsheets. The kids are so excited! Doing all these rituals is a great way to take the focus off of gifts and Santa for the kids. I am not at all against Santa though. We don't find that Santa interferes with our spiritual goals at all.

My house looks so dark in photos.... I still haven't found the magic setting on my camera.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Christmas Q & A

My friend Sarah just posted this Q&A. I like to read about how other people handle the holidays so here goes:

1. Wrapping paper or gift bags? Wrapping Paper.. I don't like storing the gift bags over the rest of the year.

2. Real tree or artificial? Artificial.. we have limited space and the artificial tree is more narrow at the bottom. I also always forget to water a real tree and then I worry about the giant dry fire hazard of a dead pine tree...

3. When do you put up the tree? Late in the month. I do all the other decorating first and then we have a special night with the kids and do the tree.

4. When do you take the tree down?
First week of January.

(The perils of cutting and pasting.. #5 was missing!)

6. Favorite gift received as a child? Hmm... I always got great gifts as a child.... We had a funny tradition of new socks and underwear, and my mom used to give me various kinds of gourmet chocolate... yum!

7. Do you have a Nativity scene?
YES! I have dozens... they are handcrafted from all over the world, but they are a pain to set up. All our books have to be stored away so the bookcases are clear for them. We really play up Advent with our children.

8. Hardest person to buy for? Anyone who says they want gift cards... I hate exchanging gift cards and refuse to do it anymore. My policy is that I really don't care if someone wants to return my gift for the money, but we are going to go through the ritual of picking something out and wrapping it up.

9. Easiest person to buy for?
Our own kids.

10. Worst Christmas Gift you ever received? All my Christmas gifts have been perfect! ;)

11. Mail or email Christmas cards? Mail, but I give myself a pass and this is the last thing I do for Christmas. My cards usually are Happy New Year cards. Just to get the word out: I love those photocopied newsletters about what you were up to this year! Please send those along! When we just get a photo, I always wonder what my out-of-town friends have been up to.

12. Favorite Christmas Movie? I cannot list one favorite movie in any category. I like A Christmas Story, Meet Me In St Louis, It's A Wonderful Life, Elf, The Nativity Story...(Actually, I can name one favorite movie in one particular category: My favorite Arnold Schwarzenegger movie is Conan the Barbarian...)

13. When do you start shopping for Christmas? I get serious after Thanksgiving.

14. Have you ever recycled a Christmas present? Hmmm... maybe...;)

15. Favorite things to eat at Christmas?
Treats! Endless treats! And the cheese fondue our friend John serves at his annual tree trimming party.

16. Clear lights or colored on the tree? Clear, because our tree is pre-lit, but I like the colored lights best.

17. Favorite Christmas song or album? We have a Billboard Christmas album that is our favorite.. it's actually a cassette tape

18. Travel at Christmas or stay home? We stay HOME. Hooray!

19. Can you name all of Santa’s reindeer? Yes!

20. Angel on the tree top or a star? Star

21. Open the presents Christmas Eve or morning? One on Christmas Eve and then the rest in a marathon on Christmas morning.

22. Most annoying thing about this time of year? Everything happens all at once.

23. What is the “silliest” family tradition you do, or miss doing? When I was a kid, we had small family Christmases, so my mom made up some little traditions. The silliest was that we always baked an angel food cake and put our number 1 birthday candle on it and sang Happy Birthday to Jesus.

24. Ugliest Christmas Decoration ever invented? They are all great! I have to say that I think it is really boring in some upper class communities when they only put up tasteful white lights and green garland outside... I like color and some silly inflatable lawn ornaments!

25. Which looks best, theme trees or homey trees? Homey all the way!

26. Gingerbread or sugar cookies?
Gingerbread with lemon icing

I'm not in this photo. My spot is the empty place on the sofa. Happy Holidays!

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Elf Clogs

I did some elf clogs too! These are for my friend Ginny and her new husband, Joe.

Elf Clogs


Thursday, December 13, 2007

Stockings are up!

Green Stocking

I had some nice fair isle sweaters from my last trip to the Salvation Army store. I was saving them to make totes, but really... We need some cute Christmas stockings.

Christmas Stockings

Ours hang in our entryway along the staircase. The one on the far left still needs it's cuff... I added the poinsettia because they needed a little bit of pizazz and something to unify them a bit. The poinsettia is one that was a paper craft project I did with my students (back in my "past life" as a teacher) at holiday time when we studied holiday celebrations in Mexico. I always loved this poinsettia pattern and wanted to do it in felt. It's not like me to use glue very much, but these are put together with fabric glue and I expect to just tack stitch them to the stockings sometime before Santa arrives.

Here's a tip for sewing with felted sweaters: The curved seams looked terrible and wonky when I turned them for the heels and toes of each stocking. They just needed a little blocking and now they look fine. Blocking is when you dampen the wool with water and shape the wool as desired and let it dry.

Beginning Band Concert
My son likes reading my blog so he'll want you to know that he had his first band concert last night. About half of his fifth grade signed up for the band so there were about 250 students playing at his first concert. Since they've only been playing for about 6 weeks, they managed things like "Mary Had A Little Lamb" and "Hot Cross Buns". His teacher is terrific so the kids were very proud and well behaved. It was great fun!

Monday, December 10, 2007

Christmas Fabric Trees

Fabric Trees

These are our handmade ornament for this year. The pattern is over at The Small Object HERE. They are super easy, although you do need to use interfacing and a sewing machine zig-zag stitch. My daughter picked out some wild combinations and we are stitching some up for her to give to her teachers. I put a pom-pom and a string on mine. I also found that a pom-pom between the layers also gives a better staggered effect.

Wrapped gifts

We did a first round of Christmas with my brother and his family. I had time to use some tartan plaid fabric strips as ribbon and those tags are the Christmas Dangles from Jenny B at Allsorts HERE.

Ever had an awkward gift to wrap? We had a hula hoop to give our niece and I just wrapped it up in extra fabric. My brother told his daughter that it was a "Portable Particle Accelerator" so she could have her own playtime Fermi Lab.
Presents Wrapped

Sunday, December 9, 2007


Ever seen the film, My Neighbor Totoro?

This 20-year old film is still amazingly undiscovered by far too many people. It's from the great Japanese film animator Hayao Miyazaki. Almost all of his films are wonderful, but this one is quite special. If you are steeped in Disney, it is much more low key and quiet than those films, but the adventure is more real and palpable than in our familiar animated features. That clip is in Japanese, but the film is available in a dubbed English version. My 10 year old son was sure he'd hate it, but then got caught up in the imaginative sequences and it's a favorite for our family. I was going to post the clip of the scene where the little girls are waiting for the bus with Totoro, but it's so charming, I don't want to give it away.

HERE are the opening titles which have cute animation. This morning I made a connection... that singer is the singer on the potty training song, "She is a Super Duper Pooper".

Today our plan is to get up the rest of the Christmas decorations except the tree, eat something homemade for supper and watch Totoro together.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Holiday Treats

Thanks to my good friend Susan for her annual cookie package! Yum! My fave is the peanut brittle, but everything is delicious.

Here is what I made yesterday for my Dad (and Mom). They don't read this blog, but these treats are never really a surprise to them.

First are these fantastic Herbed Cheese-and Cracker Bits. The recipe is from the Food Network's Paula Deen , and actually are not made with butter (her recipes almost always have a half or whole stick of butter in them). Actually I think these are the sort of thing that is either repellent and disgusting to some, or savory and delicious to others. Members of our extended family fall into both camps. We love them and I only make them for special holidays and the Super Bowl. My parents love them and every gift list they always put down that they want those "yummy salty crackers". The oiliness soaks in over time. I use canola oil so they are sort of healthy, right?

Cheesy Snack Crackers

This recipe is from the Food Network, but I'm going to write it up here for you. If you can't find cheese Ritz Bits, I think you can substitute oyster crackers:

Herbed Cheese and Cracker Bits
Recipe courtesy Paula Deen

2 (9 1/2-ounce) boxes cheese crackers (recommended: Ritz Cheese Bits, not peanut butter flavor)
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 (1-ounce) package salad dressing mix (recommended: Hidden Valley Original Ranch)
1 heaping tablespoon dried dill
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon celery salt

Place the crackers in a large sealable freezer container. In a bowl, mix the oil, salad dressing mix, dill, garlic powder, and celery salt. Pour this mixture over the crackers, cover the container, and invert it to coat the crackers with seasoning. Refrigerate for at least 24 hours, turning the container every so often to keep the crackers coated. Let the mixture come to room temperature before serving. Store in the covered container in refrigerator.

Secondly, I went into granola production. My Dad gets the largest container of it. It makes the house smell like delicious cinnamon and vanilla. Although there are a lot of ingedients in granola, it is not difficult to make. It keeps for a long time and makes a great gift. Seriously, I think the key to granola is being generous with the nuts. I'd say I put in like 3 cups of various types. This batch has almonds, cashews, pecans, and walnuts.

Holiday Granola

Susie’s Granola

Part 1

3/4 cup canola oil
3/4 cup brown sugar ( I prefer dark)
1/4 to 1/2 cup honey (Also try maple syrup as a sweetener)
2 T. cinnamon
2 T. vanilla (add when removed from heat)

Part 2 (Approximate measurements)

5 cups old-fashioned oatmeal (not instant or quick cooking)
1 cup wheat germ (or ground flaxseed or both)
1 cup salted sunflower seed kernals
1 cup (or 2 or 3cups) chopped nuts (almonds, pecans, walnuts, cashews) more = better
Also add whole grain cereals as available. I like All Bran or Fiber one

Part 3

2 cups or more dried fruit as desired (cranberries, raisins, cherries, dates, apricots, bananas, apples)

In your very biggest mixing bowl, stir together cereals and nuts.

Heat liquids with cinnamon until hot and smooth. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla.

Mix wet and dry ingredients thoroughly. Spread in large baking pan or jelly roll pan. You might need to use 2 pans. Cook at 325 for 40 - 50 minutes stirring every 10 minutes until nicely toasted. (Cooking time depends on amount of mixture and type of pan used) Don’t overbrown or the flavor will be off!

Remove from oven and add dried fruit. Stir as it cools to break up clumps. Mixture hardens as it cools. Sometime during the cooling process I transfer the mixture back into the very large mixing bowl because it is less messy to stir this.

Store in an airtight container. It can also be stored in the freezer. Eat with fruit and yogurt or as a healthy cereal. Yum!

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Doughnuts and Rankin/Bass

Jelly doughnuts sounded like a better idea than they actually were. Oh well. I've always wanted to make them and now I have!

Overheard in the kitchen: "I hope I don't get one with the jelly in it..." I'll stick to regular doughnuts next time...or cream puffs... Those are easier and really delicious.

I'm feeling kind of badly that I'm not really crafting for gifts this year. I've done a few ornaments to give away, but other than that, I've given myself a pass this year. Fall was a bit heavy on the crafting for me with 2 craft shows and a couple of swaps to co-organize. I didn't even take the Handmade Pledge. I do handmade so much all year that I guess I need a pass this time. I also don't want to dictate to my loved ones that they have to do handmade if that isn't their thing. We always exchange treats and cookies and that definitely counts as handmade.

So this week they've been showing those Rankin/Bass Christmas specials on television. Maybe we have the writer's strike to thank for this nostalgic programming. When I was a young kid in the 1970s, when these television specials aired every kids watched them and talked about them at school the next day. My own children don't seem to be as excited about them, but here is my favorite scene from "A Year Without a Santa Claus". I honestly used to cry at the end of Frosty the Snowman when he melted away. My dad reassured me: "Don't be sad, Susie. He'll be back again someday."

I need to add this song to our holiday song sheets. Maybe we are total geeks, but Christmas Eve, we sit under the tree and sing all the Christmas Carols we know. My parents and their friends are church choir people and its something of a tradition. The singing of my totally tone deaf, rhythm impaired husband is officially "charming".

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Winter is here!

Happy Hanukkah to my Jewish friends and readers! I hope to make jelly doughnuts today to celebrate. I used up all the potatoes over the weekend making latkes, which make my family swoon with joy.

We have a glorious snow here in Chicagoland today. It's been snowing all night long and we have about 6-8 inches of really light fluffy stuff that is still coming down. I don't live in a particularly rural area, so the kids still had school. Today we learned that neither of their boots fit, although the snowpants are fine. I promised to go out today and find the right sized boots. I am a procrastinator about stuff like that...

Witness the scene in the backyard. It's all white and still, and if I feel like lounging in it, we still have the hammock out. Indeed, I neglected to pick up the cushions from the patio furniture, so if we want to have a picnic, we can still do that too...
Winter is here!

I do love the snow. We lived for a few years as transplanted midwesterners in San Antonio, Texas. We recall that period of our life as an adventure, but man, the weather stinks in San Antonio. It's hot practically all the time. We left there for West Michigan and when it started snowing the first time, we thought we were in heaven. Summers there felt like air conditioning compared to the Texas heat.

I get little butterflies of excitement about the snow. It's a beautiful blanket of quiet and the light seems to come from all around. I even like shoveling it, since thank goodness we have a short driveway, and I need the exercise. I can of course be thrilled about the snow since any driving I do will be optional. I hope the kids get to play outside at school. It can be pretty hard to get anything done when all the kids can think about is the novelty of new fluffy stuff outside.

SInce it's that time of year, I have to post this song which everyone has seen, but it's still fun:

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Work Areas

I can't possibly be the only person who is fascinated with the way that people organize their work areas.
Bedside Craft Table

This is my beside craft area. It was actually my husband's suggestion to get the basket shelving available at Ikea and use those in this area for storage. I like to work here, because it is really comfortable and the lighting is excellent during the day when I've got the house to myself. If you are highly motivated, you can click on the photo to see the version where I labeled all the areas and drawers.

I tuck my embroidery floss bin under the bed and have 2 drawers for wool/rayon blended felt, 3 drawers for yarns, organized by fiber type, and 2 drawers for miscellaneous storage of little patterns, beads, glues, google eyes and stuff like that. Acrylic felt is banished to a less convenient cabinet across the room. I'm trying to get my husband to agree that we should get a set of dressers for this room. We have plenty of closet space for our clothes, but think of the craft storage possibilities!

Embroidery Floss Storage 1 Embroidery Floss Storage
Here is the bin I use for my floss. It is organized by color in 2 organizer bins I found at Ikea. There is room on the bottom for my hoops and embroidery needle storage. I've tried them, but I don't like using those wind up bobbins. I prefer to keep my floss in their paper sleeves.

All purpose work area
This is my sewing area, also known as the dining room. My husband has to shove aside my projects to use this area as his office if he gets home early from work. The lighting makes it look dreary, but really that is a pleasant window and the light is usually good. I didn't photograph it, but my 7-year old daughter also has a work table of her own in this area where she colors, cuts, and glues her special projects.

I didn't photograph the basement where I have all of my fabric stash. I'd prefer to have just one work area, but I guess this set up allows me to be part of the family instead of hidden away in a glorious craft studio.

Here is my wonderful, fantastic sewing machine. She's a Husqvarna Viking Lily 550 and is about 9 years old, I think. She has a bunch of computerized stitches I never use. She works like a dream! My Lily 550

We purchased her the one year that my husband got a really good bonus. The company wasn't used to people actually earning the bonuses, so they restructured the system and employees earned useless company shares instead of cash. We saved carefully and used the rest of the small windfall for my graduate school degree, and occupational and speech therapy for our toddler-aged son.

We've been flirting with the idea of purchasing a bigger house, but there really are many advantages of being a family in a smaller space. This house is bigger than our first house and WAY bigger than the 2 bedroom home where my grandparents raised 5 happy children. My dad and his 2 brothers had to get roll away beds out to sleep in their living room every night. Our children have their own rooms and we seem to negotiate our shared spaces well.

We decided to finish our basement, stay more organized, and spend some of the money we'll save keeping our current mortgage on a bi-weekly cleaning service and the kid's college fund.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Real Vintage Tea Towels

I still haven't figured out the settings on my camera. I went through my vintage linens drawer to photograph my tea towel collection. I LOVE these things.
First, These Days of the Week towels were done by my Grandma N:
Days of the Week towels

She also did these adorable Sunbonnet girls. Up in the closet, Ihave a Sunbonnet Girl quilt stitched for me by my other Grandma McK.
Sunbonnet Girl

I can't show vintage family embroidery without telling this tragic story. My dear mother-in-law was visiting us and we were talking about how great it feels to clear out the closets and give away things we never use. She said she finally, just the week before, gave the never-been-used days of the week tea towels stitched by her grandmother for her wedding day to the fundraiser rummage sale at the Basilica in Minneapolis. I couldn't temper my reaction. "You did WHAT? I collect those!" I would cherish something made by my daughter's great-great grandmother for her grandmother's wedding day... Dear Nana, mortified, went white and as soon as she got home, she tried to rescue them. Alas... I hope they raised lots of money for the poor! All is forgiven, Nana.. I'll stitch my own tea towels instead. Now I get all the handstitched family things.

Back to the towels. This adorable set was a gift from my Mom who knows exactly the sort of things I like. There is lots of cute blanket stitching on them. There must be 3 or 4 more towels in the pattern set, but this came with only these three:
Bride and Groom Tea Towels

Four actually, this one was with them and the fabric is a similar super soft linen:
Baking Tea Towel

I'm pretty sure these also were a Christmas gift from my Mom. I love the clumsy girl here. My Grandma N used to brag that she never ever broke anything her entire life. Dear Grandma... that is totally preposterous. Mom and I would always chuckle a little about this assertion.
Clumsy Girl Tea Towels

Mom stitched these (or maybe Grandma N) I remember them, we had them out for years when I was a child:
Vegetable Tea Towels
Here's a detail. The vegetables are all cross-stitched:
Tomato Detail

This one is another family one. Mom used it for years before retiring it to the keepsake drawer. I love the use of rick-rack. It has a big yellow splotch right above the motif, unfortunately.
Rick Rack Flower towel

These are less interesting, but I did them when I was a teenager. We always visited my Grandparents in Iowa over Thanksgivings. Saturday after the feast was the day I'd do crafty things with my Grandma N. (Friday was shopping day with my Mom. I don't know what the guys did...) This particular year, Grandma taught me stenciling and I went crazy with it. I very quickly ran out of tea towels and raided my dad and brother's suitcases. My brother got a big elaborate stenciled Christmas Goose on his tidy whities and my dad got a little moon.
Stenciled Towels

Finally, someone in the family is going to have to help me remember where these are from. They are possibly from an antique mall...
Tea Towels

Saturday, December 1, 2007

December 1

It's snowing and the weather is appropriately cozy for this time of year. I sent my kids out in their snowpants to clean up their toys from the yard (yes we are procrastinators, and a little bit messy...)

Happy Birthday to our beloved Nana!

Here's the garland that I made from the pattern by Jenny B. If we had a mantle, I'd hang it from there, but this ledge is where our advent wreath will go and the staircase ledge is where the stockings hang. Our house is one where Santa has to come in the front door...

Felt Garland

Felt garland detail

I used a variety of vintage style red buttons on the little pouches. Now I'm making the little fabric trees posted at The Small Object. So cute, but I have to go down into the depths of the basement to get the best fabric combinations from my stash.

The maid service cost a small fortune. Such a luxury! It was money well spent and I'm really in the Christmas Spirit now.