Every year at Christmastime, my dad and I make my great grandmother Maude’s fudge recipe. It’s not fancy or complicated – in fact, it only has four major ingredients: butter, sugar, chocolate and marshmallow. How can we go wrong with those?Pin It
I found this recipe on Pinterest . . . a quick and delicious breakfast bread for the holiday season! I think it’s the brown sugar and butter strudel topping that makes it so tasty . . . although I was surprised by how much I liked the tang that the cranberries give it. I bought the cranberries from a local Oregon farmer at the Portland farmer’s market right before Thanksgiving, and they stayed fresh in the fridge for some time. Since I’m not a big fan of cranberry sauce, I’m happy to find another way to support our local cranberry bogs!Pin It
Gift baskets for each of my daughter’s teachers:
* Holiday baskets purchased from Michaels
* Cellophane bag of fudge – my dad and I make this fudge each Christmas from my Great Grandmother Maude’s recipe, it’s hard to go wrong with two different kinds of chocolate, marshmallow fluff, and a whole lot of butter!
* A lavender candle handmade in a vintage jello mold (blogged here)
* A jar of marionberry compote, perfect for ice cream topping (blogged here)
* A small loaf of orange bread, made by my mom from the award-winning recipe she created as a young woman for the Pillsbury junior national bake-off
* A printed card in each basket to explain the story and history behind each of these itemsPin It
For a hostess gift at a Christmas party we attended this weekend, I made this cinnamon Christmas candle – I ordered 6″ cinnamon sticks online, then used them to encircle a 3″ x 6″ Pottery Barn ivory candle. After trying (and failing) at a few ways to hold the cinnamon sticks on while I got them tied together, I simply put a rubber band around the candle, then stuck each of the cinnamon sticks in and positioned them. I was going to cut the rubber band off once I tied the twine around, but decided that the band would probably keep the cinnamon sticks in place better than the twine, so I just wound enough twine around to hide the rubber band.
When the candle is lit, it will warm the cinnamon sticks and release the smell into the air. Nothing says Christmastime to me like the smell of warm cinnamon!Pin It
This year I’m trying a more natural approach to my Christmas decorations, and even to my wrapping. I decided to wrap all my gifts in brown craft paper and then decorate with red ribbon and cuttings from our farm – cedar, pine cones, nandina berries, and even a few trimmings off of the new holly trees we’ve planted. I bought blank cream-colored labels, stamped and embossed a red or green glitter conifer on each, and hand-wrote the recipients’ names.
Continuing the theme of bringing nature indoors, I cut a branch from one of our white birch trees and suspended it from the kitchen ceiling, over our kitchen island. Then, using thin-guage wire, I hung the handblown ornaments that our family created at Elements Glass last year. I was nervous at first – what if it fell? – but it’s held on so far, and I love the effect.Pin It
My youngest daughter wanted to participate in our school’s upcoming Christmas bazaar, so we hunted around online until we came up with the perfect project – candy cane reindeer! As with almost everything I find on the Internet, these were harder to make than they appeared, at least until we experimented a little and figured out the best approach.
Initially, we tried holding the candy canes together and wrapping the pipe cleaners around them, but we couldn’t pull the pipe cleaners tight enough to hold everything together, so after trying twine and hot glue, we landed on taping the two candy canes together with clear strapping tape, then twisting 5-6 pipe cleaners together so that the ends lay flat at the point of joining, and then twisting the pipe cleaners snugly around the conjoined candy canes, tucking in the end at the top and bringing the end at the bottom around to the back, with a little bit sticking out (for a tail), and a spot of hot glue to hold the tail in place.
We hot glued on googley eyes and a red puffball nose, and then tied on a tiny bell with a strand of thin red ribbon. For the “girl” reindeer, we tied the ribbon in a bow and hot glued it to the starting point of the pipe cleaners.
My girls were distressed that the candy canes wouldn’t really be edible – at least, not unless you tore apart the reindeer – I pointed out that the “antlers” provide the perfect hook for hanging the reindeer on the tree, so that he can be a Christmas ornament year after year
We’ve had some challenges decorating the front of the house this season – namely, our Great Pyrenees farm dog keeps chewing on all of the gourds and pumpkins. I finally figured the secret: pumpkins too large and heavy for her to pick up and carry off. Still, because I could never be completely sure what would end up secreted away or chewed on, I kept it simple.
I used existing galvanized metal buckets and bought six mums in golden hues, and paired those with six round, white pumpkins. I harvested all of the various sized and colored pumpkins from our garden, and grouped them around the front door, along with an old lantern I found.
Finally, I bought a gorgeous fresh fall foliage wreath at the Portland Farmers Market for the front door. Perfect!Pin It
Five new chicks to add to our flock . . . one is a Barred Rock, I can’t remember two of the others, but the final two are Polish Tophats, you can already see that they have little mohawks going!
It doesn’t get much cuter than this . . . I made chocolate cupcakes, used a wide frosting tip and an icing bag and piped cream cheese frosting around in circles, from the outside rim of the cupcake to the inside, then stuck on the feet and tails. The tails are mini marshmallows, moistened and rolled in white pariels. To make the feet, I melted vanilla candy melts, scraped the liquid candy into a squeeze bottle, then outlined and filled in oval shapes. After they solidified, I added a few drops of food coloring to the remaining candy, re-melted it and used the squeeze bottle to make foot pads and toes. The “feet” hardened quickly and could easily be picked up off of the parchment paper and stuck onto the wet frosting.
Warning: Don’t try making these eggs! I saw the idea on Pinterest and thought it would be easy, but it was NOT! First, sticking the glue dots on the eggs took a lot of time, trial and error – I broke a couple of the eggs when I squeezed them too hard as I tried to get the glue dots on, I kept stretching the dots out of shape (until I figured out that I should not take them off the paper first, but instead stick the dot to the egg and THEN peel off the backing). It took forever to get the dots on, and it was hard to get them evenly distributed (and there was no way to hold the egg once there were dots on without it sticking to my hand!) After the dots were on, the glitter was a whole separate problem – we rolled the eggs in shallow bowls of glitter, but if the egg touched the side or bottom of the bowl anywhere, a dot would adhere to the bowl and when you pulled it loose, part of the shell would come off! Also, the glitter stuck to the dots, but also covered the rest of the shell, and you had to painstakingly brush it off with a small paintbrush. Bottom line – this is an adults-only Easter egg decorating method, and NOT worth the time! Of course, the few eggs we were able to successfully complete after extensive time and effort were beautifully sparkly . . .
This quick and easy project to celebrate the coming of Valentine’s Day was inspired by one of my pins on Pinterest. I initially tried it with standard 6-inch origami paper, and the hearts came out beautifully because the paper was colored foil, but they seemed huge, so I changed to solid colors of handpainted paper, ordered from this website, and cut them into 3×3 squares – this meant I could get four hearts out of each piece of paper! I followed the folding directions here and then used double-sided tape to hold the floral stems in the center of the hearts. I cut the stems in half so they wouldn’t seem so tall and ungainly, and kept folding until I had a vase full. Even my six-year-old was able to master heart-folding – a perfect project for homemade valentines for my girls’ classes at school!Pin It
A great project that took only an hour or so – I knit up two skeins of Fleece Artist Slubby Blue (color Natural) on US 15s (held double-stranded), following the free pattern from Churchmouse Yarns & Teas. Then, I wrapped the wreath form with muslin strips, wrapped the knitted length around the wreath, and used yarn and a darning needle to stitch the lengthwise sides of the knitted piece together at the back of the wreath. Done! I liked how the knitted length looked so much that I ordered more of the same yarn to make into scarves. It would also make a great garland!
I also experimented with different ways to display the handblown glass ornaments that our family made at Elements Glass last holiday season . . . in a silver dish with some greenery looks great, but for the high-ceilinged kitchen, I borrowed an idea from Sunset Magazine, cut a branch and suspended it from the ceiling, and then hung our ornaments from the branch. I hope I don’t hear a crash in the middle of the night!
I knit these Easter eggs last year, as well as the spring critters (frog and bird) but I thought the tree needed a little more in the way of decoration, so I strung together felt balls to create a garland of Easter colors. A quick, fun project – a felt needle was a must, as the felt balls are pretty dense. I used stash yarn and tied a small knot in front of and behind each felt ball, so that they won’t shift around. It took 12 balls of each of five colors to make two garlands approximately 30” long, so you’d need to buy a substantial number if you wanted a lot of garlands, or more length.Pin It
At the beginning of the holiday season, my daughters attended a one-day art camp with local artist Carrie Moore. The techniques they learned with oil pastels and chalk, shading, and perspective resulted in such beautiful finished artwork that I had them matted and framed as a Christmas gift for my dad. To me, the candles are the perfect image for welcoming in the new year. Welcome, 2011!
My mom and Bella, my eight-year-old daughter, worked on the perfect beginning sewing project over the holidays: placemats and napkins. Bella made these as a Christmas gift for her uncle, aunt and cousins. The placemats were easy piecing for the front, then sewing the tops and bottoms right sides together (with batting in between), then turning and top stitching. My mom helped with the pressing, and I used my embroidery machine to sew on each family member’s name.
The napkins are really cool – they’re just half circles, sew fronts and backs right sides together, turn and press, sew the opening closed – the key is how they’re folded. Beautiful!
Bella was very excited to share her finished product; I think maybe we’ll try another set come springtime with some cheery, spring colors.Pin It
This was a quick, last-minute knit project from Purl Bee – I used two skeins of Manos del Uruguay Handspun in color Natural on US 11 16” circular and dpns. I knit one large and two small trees – knit in the round – then felted them in the washer. I wanted to try something different for the decorations, so I varied between embroidery stars (light and dark pink embroidery thread here) and pink and silver beads and crystals.
I stuffed them firmly after sewing on the decorations, but couldn’t get them to stand up without rocking to one side or the other, so I cut cardboard circles, inserted them in the bottom after the stuffing, then sewed them up over the cardboard (which gives them just a little sturdier base).
They aren’t very large, and you need to be up close to appreciate the embroidery and bead work, so you’d want to place them someplace where they’ll be at eye level.Pin It
the candle wax runs all the way off the ledge and down onto the counter and the party still hasn’t ended – I take that as a sign of good company, good conversation, and a very fun holiday party!Pin It
Elements Glass in NW Portland opens its studio every holiday season to novice glass blowers – that is, anyone who wants to give it a try. My family – including our three girls, ages 5, 8, and 10 – signed up to blow ten ornaments, and we had a wonderful time.
These were even more fun than glass blowing pumpkins at Halloween, because there were endless colors and patterns to choose. Do you want your ornament to be clear, or opaque? One color? Two? Three? More? Do you want your colors to swirl together, or form dots, or (as one of the glass blowers showed me), do you want them to “squiggle” by using tweezers to pull on the glass when it’s hot and pliable?
I would have never guessed that there were so many variables to producing a simple glass ball – each color melts and blends differently, and at different speeds, the glass must be constantly turned and repeatedly heated, and how hard you blow through the pipe – this is one of the parts that we novices got to do – dictates the shape, size, and thickness of your glass ball. My eight-year-old liked filling the hot glass balls with air so much so that her ornaments came out too big to hang on the tree! It’s truly an amazing and artistic process, I can see that you could do it your entire life and not even scratch the surface of all of the possible variations.
Elements Glass does have the process set up so that the novice glass blowers are hands-on for most of the time, but still, the artists there assisting us do most of it – we just kind of help hold the pipe, blow when we’re told to, and ask a lot of questions. Still, it’s a great way to spend a rainy holiday afternoon, and if it sparks your interest, beginning glass blowing classes start in January . . .
I confess – I hate hand sewing. I mean, I absolutely loathe it. I think it’s difficult, and even worse, the end results never come out looking as good as they do in the pattern. Ladder stitch, slip stitch, blanket stitch – it doesn’t matter what you call it, all my stitches look the same – messy! And when you have to hold several three-dimensional pieces together while you’re sewing, and get them positioned just right – say, for example, an ear onto the top of a stuffed head – well, forget it!
This lead-in should give you a clue as to how I feel about this sewing project. Yes, it was very simple – basically just sew together and cut out the pieces, and then hand-stitch them together – but the devil is in the details, or in this case, the hand stitching. The body was fine – a big enough piece to comfortably work with. The legs called for stuffing, but I put poly pellets in the hoof section of the legs, then stuffing on top, and I think it gave them a lot more heft (and, as a result, helps Rudy stand more securely). Sewing the legs to the body was actually not that difficult – sewing them through buttons is ingenious, it makes the task much easier, you hide any ugly-looking stitches behind the buttons, somehow using the buttons makes the stitching much sturdier, and finally, the stitched-on buttons allow the legs to move. Great idea!
The part I hated was the ears and antlers. The antlers were supposed to be sewn from a contrasting fabric, but they are so narrow that I found it impossible to turn the fabric to right side out. So, I switched to felt – it looked just as good (if not better), and you could sew on the “right side” and not worry about turning it. Then, the horns were difficult to stuff – even with a wooden skewer, it’s hard to force enough stuffing up into them. The worst part was trying to sew them on – no matter how many stitches I took, I couldn’t get them on securely enough at the base to support their proportionally too-tall height. As a result, they droop – kind of looks cute, but still not what I was going for. Also very difficult to get the ears identically positioned. Finally, hand-sewing on the eyes and nose is too exacting for me – I keep getting the nose skewed off to one side, no matter how many times I tried, and sewing the little pieces of felt on for the eyes was too frustrating, I used fabric glue and then ran a knot of white embroidery thread through the center to secure it (and to act as the pupil).
The pattern correctly suggests a dollmaker’s needle – in other words, a REALLY BIG needle – anything less won’t push through the layers of fabric, stuffing, and felt. Another great suggestion was to use embroidery thread instead of sewing thread to sew the pieces together – much sturdier, a lot less frustration with breaking thread.
I bought the fabric and felt for this pattern from The Pine Needle, a great quilting store in Lake Oswego. The pattern I ordered here – it’s made by Melly & Me. It would be really cute to do an entire herd of these guys, each out of different Christmas fabric, but they won’t be coming from me – I don’t think I can justify spending over six hours again to produce another one of these little guys!Pin It
I quilted this table runner last Thanksgiving after seeing the project idea on Purl Bee. I used Moda fabric pre-cut squares, appliquéd them to the linen background, and then quilted it with a very high-loft quilt batting, so that it is thick enough to double as a hot pad for all of the various Thanksgiving dishes.
The napkins used a similar appliqué method with smaller fabric squares, then I ran a contrast colored stitch along the edges and then frayed the fabric up to the stitch line to create a fringed look.
I haven’t tried washing the runner yet, but the napkins washed so well that I couldn’t tell any difference afterwards.