‘Tis the Season to Get Rid of Crap

…fa la la la la, la la la laaaa! So, now that we’ve been downright blessed with all things fun or practical or lovely (or all three) for Christmas, we look to the post-holiday season as the time to purge unnecessary items and generally decrapify our lives and home.


For the last bit of December (and, of course, spilling into January), we’ll be going through some of our closets, cabinets, built-ins, toy baskets and bins, dressers, and more. There are a few reasons.

1) The obvious — We don’t want to live amid piles of stuff, so Christmas + Normal amount of stuff = Way too much stuff with not enough room. Wow. How much can I say “stuff”?! Anyhoo, the gist is a basic idea of displacement; if you pour too much water into a space, it spills out. Same with stuff.  And we don’t want to live like hoarders.


2) We try to live a simpler life. We look to our house and our love of history and old movies as guides to living. For example, back when our house was built, the average person didn’t own 5 pairs of black pants (or quite possibly more) like I do. We don’t need everything we have, so to simplify we’ll be assessing what we love, what we need, and what we can do without.

3) Less clutter, more mental clarity. Great way to start the new year! Although, admittedly, this isn’t really a resolution. It’s an all-year, never-ending search for clarity and organization. (It isn’t that we’re above resolutions; it’s that I, for one, suck at public statements of commitment. I’m lucky marriage has worked so well for me!)

4) We obviously don’t just toss what we don’t need; we donate it. So, it’s a great feeling to think that someone else will benefit from our purge…hopefully!

So, what’s our strategy? I’m glad you ask! Although it sometimes differs from item to item (toys vs. clothes or bills/office stuff vs. medicine cabinet vs. food, for example), there are a few questions that we ask ourselves to get the ball rolling —

1) Is it outdated? This is mostly relevant for medication and food, but can also refer to clothes. I loved a white, short-sleeved jacket for the longest time, but I finally woke up and realized that every time I put it on I’d think, “Well, those sleeves are awkwardly puffy. Um, yeah, no. Not today.” So, having not worn it in over a year, I woke up to the fact that it’s outdated and finally ditched it.

2) Hand-in-hand with being outdated is will I use/have I used it? If it’s in your house already, has it been used in the last year? If it’s new, you may think you don’t know if it will be of use, but don’t just stuff it away willy-nilly. You may immediately be able to say, “That’s the 3rd pull toy Hadley has and he doesn’t play with the others” (just an example, not true at all; he loves pull toys) or “That’s an ugly sweater; I’ll never wear it.” Give yourself credit and listen to your internal REALISTIC voice; not the internal IDEALISTIC voice (the one that optimistically gives everyone and everything a chance; you know the voice. It can be great in the right situation; not in the purging environment).

3) Is the item in disrepair? This probably should be up there with #1, along with “does it fit?” If an item doesn’t fit, don’t keep it until it does (be it small or large) unless you REALLY, REALLY love it. Does the item have an irreparable tear? (If you have the correct button or can steal one from the inside of the garment, that’s fine; if the button’s long gone and you have no option of finding a new one, call it a loss and move on — we don’t have the time these days to hunt down proper buttons and such.) Yes, I’ve been known to sew the hell out of some shirt armpits or loose hems or holes in pockets, and I’m all for sewing on buttons, but if the issue’s not an easy fix…it may be time to say “adios” to that garment.

4) Will you need it? This is a VERY difficult question, especially as a mom/parent looking at clothes. This is where the “size” issue I mentioned above can be brushed aside — but ONLY if the item was of exemplar benefit to you at a previous time. In the case of clothing (and in my example as a mama), I allow you to evaluate your pregnancy body (during AND post; don’t forget the “post”!). In my situation, there were pregnancy pieces that just did the trick far more than any others, so I know I’ll need to keep those on hand for future bambinos. Oh, and the particularly wonderful thing about those items is that they were generally great for layering, so whether I’m pregnant in the fall, winter, spring or summer, I’m covered. After having Hadley, I was in a larger size for awhile, so those transitional pieces are in storage with my preggers stuff — they’re great for when you start to show and when things are “dying down” at the end. Plus, in my sometimes-rare case, breastfeeding caused me to lose mad weight — like, a size below my pre-pregnant self. Now that he’s tapering off, I’m still between the lower and pre-pregnant sizes (yet I still try just to have stuff that I can wear NOW in my dresser drawers and closet).

On a side note, this goes for stuff like hand lotions and that stuff that so quickly can clutter a hall closet. Much of what I receive as gifts in this area aren’t what we generally use; ie not eco-friendly, not an appealing smell, etc. I find no fault in regifting such a thing (especially if it’s a quality brand and clearly unused) if I think the gift receiver would APPRECIATE it (I don’t want to pawn off something just to clutter someone else’s space; we try to be cognizant of others’ wishes when gifting), or finding a women’s shelter or other facility that can use things that we won’t ever need.

5) Why am I keeping this? Here’s where we get all “come to Jesus” on ourselves. See if you can honestly answer. Sometimes there’s some real value in keeping something; other times, it’s an emotional attachment (be it rational or not). Here, I have a hard time with cards. Birthday cards, thank you cards, Christmas cards…yeah. Do I NEED to keep them? No. If I do, our basement will end up looking like a Great Depression survivor’s, with stacks of newspapers from every week…ever. Silly. So, I keep the prior year’s, then that 1 year anniversary rolls around, I look at what I should keep. This year, my grandfather scrawled a Christmas card in his very shaky, very difficult to understand hand. It may very well be his last. That, I keep.

Those are pretty much the questions mulling around in our heads as we tackle our spaces. While practically every corner of the house needs some decluttering, our main areas include: TOYS (Dave just got a new fabric bin, so we now have a large basket and a bin in the living room; it’s working for now), CLOSETS, PILES (I’m a piler; the hard part is going through them to find a final resting place for every…little…piece…of…paper. Gah. I’m overwhelmed already.), BOOKS.

Is anyone else attacking some clutter this 2014? What stuff are you going to be sifting through and saying “goodbye” to? Are you doing it cheerfully or begrudgingly? (Admittedly, we’re happy after something has been tackled…but we hate it while we’re doing it.)

Christmas French Toast Casserole

For Christmas this year, I decided to make things a little easier on myself as far as breakfast was concerned. I guess with any meal, we could make things easier just with some extra planning (it goes for weekly meal planning and sticking to a budget when grocery shopping and a whole buttload of other food stuff that I’m only successful at half the time). So, after spending far too much time preparing our morning feast last year, my thoughts immediately went to french toast — casserole, that is.

Now, I’m not usually a big fan of casseroles, but the ability to make it in advance and pop it into the oven as needed had me at “hello.”

Here’s the meal plan:

The day before (I did the first three earlier before our Christmas Eve get-together, then the last before bed) —
– Cut loaf of French bread into 1″ squares
– Thaw bacon
– Dice/cube (depending on how big you like them) sweet potatoes for hash browns
– Assemble rest of casserole and allow to sit overnight in fridge

The day of —
– Turn on the oven and take out the casserole to sit for 30 minutes — Open stockings 🙂
– After stockings, throw the casserole in and start the hash browns in a frying pan with olive oil, salt, and pepper, over medium-low — this should avoid any burning, and using a lid allows the insides of the potatoes to cook. If you like more brown, start higher and allow them to get some color before turning down.
– After opening the rest of your goodies, check on the casserole, stir the hash browns and cook any sausage/bacon.

If you like coffee, get that started first thing. We did tea, though, which doesn’t take long at all.

The only way that I swayed from the meal plan was thanks to the fact that my boys slept in. So, here I was…up…not doing anything…so, I started the meat and sweet potatoes earlier than I probably should have and kept them at low before serving.

The french toast casserole recipe that I used came from Taste of Home, but while I decided to throw in some extra cinnamon and some nutmeg, it made the top appear burned (but it wasn’t). So, if I make it again, I’ll do a sugar topping (maybe with a little cinnamon mixed in) but probably put most of the seasoning in the egg mixture. Regardless, here’s the recipe, in case anyone wants to try it:

French Toast Casserole

1 loaf french bread, cut into 1″ cubes
8 eggs
3 cups milk (I used whole; you could use half and half, but I wouldn’t do skim or 1%)
4 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
3/4 teaspoon salt
a few sprinkles of cinnamon (or you can mix more directly into the casserole)

Topping:
2 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

  1. Place bread cubes in a greased 13-in. x 9-in. baking dish. In a large bowl, whisk the eggs, milk, sugar, vanilla and salt. Pour over bread. Cover and refrigerate for 8 hours or overnight.
  2. Remove from refrigerator 30 minutes before baking. Dot with butter. Combine sugar and cinnamon; sprinkle over the top.
  3. Cover and bake at 350° for 45-50 minutes or until a knife inserted near the center comes out clean. Let stand for 5 minutes. Serve with maple syrup if desired. Yield: 12 servings.


So, what do you do for holiday mornings? (You know — those days when things are crazy enough without having to figure out a way to sustain the family until that late afternoon meal.) Casseroles? Do you eat breakfast? Brunch? Do tell! It’d be great to hear how other folks juggle the holiday craziness. 

On that note, I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas! It seems to have come and gone so quickly!

Wordless Wednesday – Merry Christmas!

As we joyfully tear open the goodies that Santa has so kindly left for us (and hoping beyond hope that I haven’t passed along the stomach bug to my boys), I thought I’d share a few more pictures from our recent trip to the Cooperstown Farmers’ Museum for their Candlelight Evening.

Thanks so much for reading. It warms my heart to know that even one person (beyond myself) gets any enjoyment out of this quirky little place. Oh, and if you’re bored as things die down this Christmas, have a listen to the Ilion Little Theater’s podcast version of “A Christmas Carol”.

Merry Christmas, friends!

Here We Come A-Wassailing

Almost every year, we haul our heinies out to Cooperstown to the Candlelight Evening the Farmers’ Museum puts on (we skipped last year since the bambino was, like, crazy little…I use “little” loosely). The Farmers’ Museum is seriously one of my favorite places ON EARTH. It’s a living history site where houses and buildings from the mid-19th century have been transplanted to create a small village-like atmosphere. 


There’s a building with an exhibit, but the rest is like a step back in time. The print shop creates mailers and flyers for events; the blacksmith makes shoes for the horses (it is the Farmers’ Museum, after all), old flat, square-headed nails, and products for the store; the “house” has a front AND back garden (GAH! LOVE IT!) and, depending on the time of year, shows how folks were putting things up or weaving and dying their own clothes or baking up a storm; the broom-maker (I’m sure that’s not the real name) shows how they were made; the “hotel” (which has an awesome balcony) is opened serving food and showing just how different it was to stay in an inn back then…and so on. I wish I could live there.

So, this year, we literally braved a brutal storm to have a family visit. There was only one goal for the day — to see Santa. The REAL Santa. We actually know the fellow who portrays him, so the fact that he says “hello!” to us by name is beyond cool. He dresses more like St. Nick, with short pants (freeeezing!), a real beard, a long hat, and a big sack flung over his shoulder.

But, thanks to the storm (we’re freaking crazy — we always plan for the coldest possible weather — I wore 2 pairs of pants, wool socks, 3+ shirts, a hat, two pairs of gloves…still cold), there were hardly any lines. So, that being said, we got to have our first ride on a horse-pulled wagon (where Hadley viewed Santa, or “Ho Ho”, from a mile away), chat up the printer on our own (I have a secret: This is the warmest spot in the place, thanks to their TWO stoves. I learned it on my 4th grade field trip, when I was assigned to the print shop and got to create my own “business cards” and “greeting cards”. You’re welcome.), and down some wassail.

We caught up with Santa before he started his story time at the school building, and Hadley was enamored with him. Oh, he also handed over an old-fashioned (albeit red dye-laden) chunky peppermint stick which he sucked on for a half hour. (I grabbed chunks out of his mouth and ate them so he didn’t choke. He still doesn’t have enough top teeth to help in this respect.)

Then, we finally headed indoors to hear some more caroling and buy two HUGE turkey dinners (which came with cocoa and HUGE pieces of gingerbread, which Hadley enjoyed) before trekking back home at half the speed in low visibility. But, we don’t care. It. Was. So. Worth. It.

So, if you’d like to experience some of the old fashioned Christmas, try some mulled cider. Wassail. Whatever you call it, it’s a lovely way to cozy up on a chilly winter’s night. And what makes it even better? It’s super simple to make. You don’t even need cauldrons over huge bonfires (which is how they do it at the museum).


Here’s another one of my “wing it” recipes, but it’s only because you really can’t mess it up. Want to sweeten it? Use maple syrup or sugar or whatever you like to use to sweeten stuff. Or don’t; it’s still delicious!) Don’t have cloves? That’s okay, leave it out this time (although use it when you have it on hand again…I respectfully advise. ;-)).

WASSAIL

2 1/2 cups apple cider
1/4 – 1/2 c. orange juice
1 -2 tbsp. maple syrup or sugar (or not)
1 tsp. (or less) cinnamon; or 2-3 cinnamon sticks
1/2 tsp. (or less) nutmeg
1/4 tsp. (or less) clove

Bring all the ingredients to a boil on the stove and stir; reduce heat to low and allow to simmer for as long as you can wait. (Five minutes…ten…or thirty. Whatever floats your boat.) If you don’t like “things” in your beverages, strain into mug and enjoy. Serve with a cinnamon stick if you’re a fancypants.

* Grown-ups who REALLY need a warm-up, throw a shot or two of rum in and say “good night.” Or, at least, that’s what would happen to me. I really can’t hold my booze anymore.

C is for Cookie, That’s Good Enough for Me

Is it not the strangest thing in the world that the characters that we grew up with so many decades ago are still cherished by the youth of today? There must be something innately appealing to little ones. The fur? The colors? The voices? Hadley is enamored with Sesame Street characters (he watches the old episodes as well as the new ones, although we try to skip over that Abby Cadabby crap) as well as Mickey (I’m 50/50 on this one — I love that he enjoys “A Mickey Christmas Carol” from beginning to end, but I don’t want him to be surrounded with Disney paraphernalia or to feel the need to visit the “most wonderful(ly overpriced) place on Earth”). Along with his dozen or so words, he has gestures for each of his favorite Sesame Street characters — “bam bam bam” (arm with fist pounding) for Oscar and “nom nom nom” (open hand to mouth repeatedly) for his favorite, Cookie Monster.

So, while I made Christmas cookies last year, this is the first year that OUR little Cookie Monster can actually partake in the treats. I try to keep my versions “real food” friendly — using butter instead of Crisco, organic raw sugar rather than white, unbleached organic AP flour rather than the regular bleached (I didn’t do whole wheat because I wanted to try to keep the consistency relatively similar, but you could do half-and-half or even all whole wheat if you don’t mind a texture switcheroo), and so forth. Honestly, most of what’s in these is organic and GMO-free, which is our priority right now.

Oh, and fun fact time: I only make cookies my husband will WANT to eat. Sure, he’ll eat my favorites (anything with peanut butter), but he doesn’t necessarily WANT to, which means he ends up “forgetting” they’re sitting in our cookie container until they go stale or I eat them all (whichever happens first…ahem). So, I ask Dave what his favorites are, fully realizing that my mom or sis or someone equally lovely will provide me with a couple of peanut blossoms or chocolate-covered peanut butter balls at some point this holiday season…and I sleep soundly knowing that my hubby and son will eat the crap out of whatever I have made. It’s all good. Maybe one day (when he’s able to eat nuts; we’re not testing his allergy levels to nuts quite yet!) I’ll have a house full of kids that will override Dave’s aversion to “super peanut buttery” things. That’ll be the day!

I made these cookies in less than an hour each on two different nights, after Hadman had gone to bed. First was the jam thumbprints.

Now, back in the day, I used to make these with Ina Garten’s recipe (my mom LOVED them when I made them — isn’t that the greatest feeling, to make something for the person who made everything for YOU and to have them enjoy it that much?), which was so full of butter I can’t even stand it (yum!). But, I didn’t use that recipe because a) they made a million cookies (we don’t need a million) and b) they were covered in coconut. My husband’s a basic guy, so I made the equivalent of shortbread cookies…with a thumb smashed in…with some wayward jam poured in for good measure.

Here’s the recipe I used (from Love and Olive Oil – LOVE this site!) —

Jam-Filled Thumbprint Cookies

Yield: 40 cookies
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 2/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 6 ounces (or so) assorted jam

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone mat.
  2. Beat together butter and sugar with an electric mixer on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 2 to 3 minutes. Beat in egg yolks and vanilla extract. Add flour and salt and mix until incorporated and dough comes together in a ball.
  3. Form dough into 1-inch balls and arrange on prepared baking sheet. Flatten balls slightly with your thumb or the back of a small spoon, leaving an indentation in the center.
  4. Bake cookies for 8 to 10 minutes or until bottoms are just barely golden. Remove baking sheet from oven. If indentations look shallow, further define them with the back of a spoon and then fill each with approximately 1/2 teaspoon jam. Bake for an additional 3 to 4 minutes, or until jam melts slightly and edges of cookies are lightly golden. Transfer cookies to wire racks to cool.


Read more at http://www.loveandoliveoil.com/2013/09/jam-filled-thumbprint-cookies.html

Jam-Filled Thumbprint Cookies

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
2/3 cup granulated sugar
2 large egg yolks
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. salt
6 oz. (or so) assorted jam (I used a test pot of “razzleberry” jam, some apple butter {Delish! And super sweet}, and some strawberry/blueberry/rhubarb jam)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper (not waxed) or a silicon liner (I used parchment on one but ran out and used butter on the other; they both came out fine).

Beat together butter and sugar with an electric mixer on medium high until light and fluffy, 2-3 minutes. Beat in egg yolks and vanilla. Add flour and salt and mix until incorporated and dough comes together in a ball.

Form 1-inch balls and arrange on baking trays (they won’t expand much at all). Press slightly with your thumb or the back of a teaspoon to form an indentation for the jam.

Bake for 8-10 minutes until bottoms are barely golden. Remove from oven. If indentations look shallow, press a bit more. Place approx. 1/2 tsp. of jam or jelly in each indentation before placing back in the oven for 3-4 minutes (until lightly golden). Transfer cookies to cool on a rack.

Jam-Filled Thumbprint Cookies

Yield: 40 cookies
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 2/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 6 ounces (or so) assorted jam

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone mat.
  2. Beat together butter and sugar with an electric mixer on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 2 to 3 minutes. Beat in egg yolks and vanilla extract. Add flour and salt and mix until incorporated and dough comes together in a ball.
  3. Form dough into 1-inch balls and arrange on prepared baking sheet. Flatten balls slightly with your thumb or the back of a small spoon, leaving an indentation in the center.
  4. Bake cookies for 8 to 10 minutes or until bottoms are just barely golden. Remove baking sheet from oven. If indentations look shallow, further define them with the back of a spoon and then fill each with approximately 1/2 teaspoon jam. Bake for an additional 3 to 4 minutes, or until jam melts slightly and edges of cookies are lightly golden. Transfer cookies to wire racks to cool.

Read more at http://www.loveandoliveoil.com/2013/09/jam-filled-thumbprint-cookies.html


The other cookie that Dave requested, which I also made last year, was Chocolate Crinkles (although he just called them “the chocolate ones that get wrinkles all over with white sugar all over them”). It took awhile to find one that just used cocoa powder (homey don’t got time for meltin’ chocolate), and all I had was some leftover Hershey stuff (and while it’s not organic, it’s natural, non-alkalized, etc so it’s pretty good), but my powdered sugar was organic from our trip to Vermont and they came out just right — puffy and “wrinkly” and tasty.

For this recipe, I turned to Williams-Sonoma. Wait, what?! Yep. I scoured the Internet (okay, the first page of the Google search) and it hit all the marks: 1) used cocoa powder vs. melted chocolate (or a combo of both) and 2) only made a couple dozen cookies (again, we don’t need a million hanging around that won’t get eaten and will turn stale). And, for future reference (to myself…hi, future self!), it’s from a kid-friendly cookbook…so, yeah, Hadley can help someday.

Chocolate Crinkle Cookies


1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar
1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
(reviews suggest between this and 3/4+; use what you like)
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room  temperature
1 1/4 cups sugar

2 eggs1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract


(Love that the recipe said this: “Be sure an adult is nearby to help.” I asked my husband to stand by. ;-))


Preheat an oven to 350°F. Grease 2 baking sheets with butter.

Put the confectioners’ sugar into a bowl and set aside. (I didn’t use half of this amount, so feel free to start with half and use more as needed.)

In another bowl, using a wooden spoon, stir together the flour, cocoa, baking powder and salt. Set aside.

In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat the butter and sugar on medium speed until creamy, about 3 minutes. Turn off the mixer and scrape down the bowl with a rubber spatula. Add 1 egg and beat on medium speed until blended. Add the other egg and vanilla and beat until blended. Turn off the mixer and add the flour mixture. Beat on low speed just until blended.

Using a tablespoon, scoop up a rounded spoonful of dough. Scrape the dough off the spoon into the palm of your other hand. Roll the dough into a ball. Roll the ball in the confectioners’ sugar until covered. Place the balls on a prepared baking sheet. Repeat, spacing the balls about 2 inches apart.

When 1 baking sheet is full, put it in the oven and bake the cookies until they are crackled and puffed, 10 to 12 minutes. Using oven mitts, remove the baking sheet from the oven and set it on a wire rack for 15 minutes. Using a metal spatula, move the cookies onto the rack and let cool completely. Repeat with the rest of the cookies. Makes about 24 cookies.

Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Kids Baking, by Abigail Johnson Dodge (Oxmoor House, 2003).

I’m thinking of throwing together a molasses or ginger-type cookie since it’s another kind that I DIE for — maybe my grandmother’s recipe (though I’m not sure if I have the right “kind” of molasses for that; seriously, they can end up taking up the whole pan if you’re not careful, and I’m not aiming for molasses bars) or something like that. I also do cutouts, which we’ll probably attempt as more of a hands-on family thing if Hadley actually wants to “make shapes.” If not, I’ll still make them and hopefully get a good, soft texture (vs. crunchy…you know the kind) so he can at least eat them afterwards. And, a nice, fluffy white frosting sounds perfect — no dyes necessary. If I don’t make these, though, it’s fine — at least I made SOMETHING. But, if I do make something, I’ll be sure to share the recipes.

What about you? What cookies are you making this Christmas? Or if you’re not baking any, are there any kinds that you’re looking forward to eating? I’m always fascinated to hear what kinds of cookies folks consider a “Christmas cookie.” Some are traditional (like Polish Kruschiki or regelach – which I always thought was Italian, but the interwebs informs me is Yiddish – both of which I enjoyed as a child) while others make me go “huh?” (um…chocolate chip cookies? Really?) Do tell!

No Small Parts…

Well, we’re back at it again. Dave’s had an idea floating around in his noggin for quite awhile — I like to blame Orson Welles, but I could probably blame him for 1/4 of Dave’s schemes — and it’s finally getting implemented. Last week, we had a cold reading for an old 1939 Christmas eve radio presentation of “A Christmas Carol” which we’ll be putting a modern twist on.

See, several Ilion Little Theater members have chatted for awhile that it would be fun to put together a podcast, and Dave’s thoughts went in this direction. I love the idea of taking a classic written in the 1840s, then performed for the TV-less audiences of 1939, finally producing it for an audience from 2013. Consider the evolution! From written word to public readings (Dickens was known for ’em) to plays to movies to radio (and more movies)…and, finally, to the interwebs! I’m sure it’s probably been done in this modern capacity before, but not with our friends at the ILTC.

I didn’t really know what to expect from the sit-down reading. I knew that the first priority is to have fun (as with most theater). The second is to put on a stellar performance, which became easier and easier as we heard the voices emanating from our fellow performers — our Scrooge is impeccably cantankerous without being cloying; our Cratchit is perfectly warm-hearted yet full of the neuroses only having Scrooge as a boss can create; our Marley is deep, booming, and a tad bit terrifying; our our tiny Tim is adorable and heartbreaking (although being played by — get this — the same fellow who voices Marley!!! I laughed so damn hard, but his performance was truly inspired!); Cratchit’s wife is so convincing as a worried (and later, mourning) mother that it’s difficult not to cry along with her (I play her daughter, although she’s only a little older than myself); there are several more incredible performers, but you get the point. The better a performance it is, the more fun it is.

The third point seemed to be an unspoken, yet quite known one. Given the show’s history, and the integrity of the work, we knew that it must evoke the Christmas spirit. Needless to say, the seriousness we’re all taking the performance with is humbling. Considering that we needn’t any costumes or lights or sets or even literal sounds (our sound guy is using downloaded tracks, yay!), we hope to at least make the show come alive for any and all who listen to it.

So, if all goes according to plan, we’ll be recording in one fell swoop (all at once, no stopping, just like a radio performance) then uploading the whole shebang to iTunes for listening before Christmas.

While this wasn’t my idea of a “return to stage”, I’m glad to be back at it. And, yes, it’s a very small part — but, what they say is true. Plus, we only needed to get a sitter twice! That being said, I plan on returning to the stage in earnest with one show next season.

Christmas Decorating, Act Two – SHINY + RUSTIC

I recently told you about our Christmas tree and outdoor decorating. Today, I’m back to share with you the final act of our little saga — or, as I call it, SHINY + RUSTIC (yes, I’m saying that loudly…in a dramatic, humorous Shakespearean tone).

We’re already surrounded by tones of brown and tan, neutrals (and I kept the lighter blues…frosty and wintry, is where my head is). I introduced some greens — lighter, more pea green/puce tones as well as natural evergreens. The only red I used came in the form of accents — through my cute “JOY” pillow ($1 at Target), stockings, and on my “card clothesline.” Otherwise, the dining room boasts more than enough red (ick) on its own. It sounds like a hodgepodge, and maybe it is, but I also sprinkled a handful of clementines around for a traditional nod to the past while throwing in a pop of modern color.

Here’s the dining room —

 
It’s really a simple variation on what I did for autumn. I kept the gauzy scarf (there’s the 2nd scarf! See the tree post for the first…) as a runner and the antique drawer for the centerpiece, as well as a couple of candles and stuff, but otherwise, I just sprinkled in some greenery, pine cones, clementines, mercury glass…and some Christmas magic, of course.

I tried to keep it simple with a few smaller vignettes. Here’s my “sweater” vase, an antique creamer with a clementine stuck in (my people were dairy farmers…but, yeah, the orange makes no sense, but ’tis cute), and the musical snow globe my mom bought for Hadley last year. LOVE all the texture just on that thing alone, with its rough-hewn reindeer, cozy soft fabric, and leather and wood accents.

On the other side is a little woodland vignette. I bought the “tree” on clearance at Target, stood a pine cone up to appear tree-like, and put a couple of bottles and a more bronzy mercury glass candleholder (under a buck at Goodwill!) in a random pattern. Oh, and the bottle with the greenery is from my family’s own dairy farm — just sayin’.

And for the sideboard, all I really did was put a huge, green hurricane filled with silver bead garland and a candle on a vintage cake stand, a cute (but pitiful) plant and mercury votive on some magazines, and a vintage teacup full of cinnamon sticks throughout the front.

One of these days, I’ll clean everything behind this stuff off, but I like most of it too much — books, old and new; Waterford sugar/creamer set; a McCoy pottery teapot; a very old pewter pitcher; booze in case we’re ever cool enough to have anyone over (along with the mixer)…oh, and Hadley’s first piece of art. What’s not to love?

And here’s the living room —


We pick up the white “urchin” whenever our toddler “urchin” gets interested in poking his eyes out with it. Oh, and this is yet another “use whatchya got – decorate with a scarf” instance. (Third. Bam.)



Our “landing strip” between the living room and dining room, which houses our “Card Clothesline.” For incoming Christmas cards (and a wayward Santa hat), I strung some twine between two nails, added some clothespins and a couple of stockings, and voila. We’re also putting cards on the opposite side so the dining room doesn’t feel left out. 🙂


Simple — Vintage cake stand (from our wedding), twine-wrapped candleholder/vase, mercury glass + gold candleholders (I feel rebellious mixing metals here), and a handful of outdoorsy pieces (greenery, pine cones, cinnamon sticks).

Across the “strip”, I mimicked the mercury glass, but piled it a bit more. (See below for details.)


My faux mantle. (No fireplace here — le sigh.) Very understated — just added a sprig from the tree, an orange, and a mercury glass votive, but there’s just enough texture and variation to make it less than boring.


Just Hadley’s stocking, hung from a shiny silver holder. I threw an orange on each holder for interest, but in the future I’ll put labels or a toy representing the receiver of said stocking (this year, it would be one of his “Little People” — either Superman (which has mysteriously gone missing) or the blond elf who looks suspiciously like Hadman). Or, maybe it’s where we’ll leave our Santa letters. 🙂


A fun little close-up of the textural variation. Atop a stack of old magazines, I put a very vintage copy of “The Complete Home” (I bought antiquing years ago), a replica of vintage playing cards, a pine cone, a clementine, and a large mercury hurricane (which also has more pine cones and a sprig of green). Oh, and if you look closely you can see me with my red “Keep Calm and Carry On” iPhone case and gray hoodie — the uniform of champions.

The chalkboard on our wall o’ frames had been home to this lovely thought since…maybe Valentine’s Day(?) —



For the holidays this year, it says this
(and probably will until Valentine’s Day again; I don’t look upward enough) —

And on that sentimental note, I think we’ll end our little tour. How do you decorate for the holidays? Do you make it a blatant Christmas-centric thing, or do you add a bit of shimmer and “season” (I kind of did both — red and green, and Santa’s hat, of course…but it’ll be easy to transition into a winter theme). Do you do bright modern (think “shiny aluminum Christmas tree”), cozy traditional (reds, greens, evergreen), or a fun hodgepodge of sentimental, hand-made stuff? I love hearing how others choose to deck their halls for the holidays.

Yo, Yogurt!

Happy Friday the 13th, y’all! As you may or may not know, every time one of these “unlucky” days rolls around, I count my blessings — Hadley was born on a Friday the 13th and he was obviously one of the luckiest things to ever happen to me. 😉 So, happy 17-month birthday, munchkin!

During a recent trip to Hannaford, I discovered that they were no longer carrying Stonyfield’s organic “YoBaby” yogurt. (The toddler version is low-fat. Our homey don’t play that. I, however, have jumped back on the bandwagon of Chobani low-fat Greek yogurt. Purely for taste reasons.) So, I finally decided to make a poop-or-get-off decision to make our own organic, whole milk, minimal ingredient take-along yogurt for Hadley to bring to the sitter.

I even made it “fruit on the bottom.” Score!


I took my mini Ball storage jars and put some thawed, cut-up strawberries (with a little juice from the bag) in the bottom, followed by a few spoonfuls of plain, whole milk yogurt. Easiest. Recipe. Ever.

You can also make it vanilla by adding a teensy bit of vanilla extract, or sweeten it with a drizzle of maple syrup. I’ve also thrown in blueberries or applesauce with some cinnamon. The possibilities are almost endless. Well…within reason. 😉

And, for a special treat, I’m sure some organic chocolate syrup (yes, it exists…stop laughing ;-)) would be cool.

Christmas Decorating, Act One – Keeping It Real

Today’s part one (Act I, if you will) of a two-part holiday decor-fest.  UPDATE: Here’s Act II, as it were, with living room and dining room decor!)

Last year, I told you all about the slightly irritating (yet charming) Christmas tree escapade we undertook to go from fake tree to real. For 2013, we found one pre-cut at a local-ish tree farm (maybe next year we’ll up the ante and find and cut one OURSELVES! Adventure time, Hadman). We decorated (rather, poor Dave had to chase Hadley around when he’d get distracted as well as the cats when they got mischievous — but Hadley did pick several spaces for some of the ornaments), and are now able to bask around it as a fun-lovin’ family.

*Already stirring the homemade hot chocolate mentally, humming “White Christmas”

Things are getting simpler in some ways, and complicated in others. It seems our decorating this year is more of a daily metamorphosis. Every day that goes by, a little more gets done.

Slowly, slowly, said the sloth.

So, first, up went some new, white bulb lights on our porch — never before had we attempted outside lights, and while I had the idea (all I did was purchase the things from Target, bring them home, and hand them over to Dave — who then had to figure it out), all props go to the hubs for hanging them on a very cold day.

As days went by, I wound some fake greenery around the perimeter of the porch and down the railings. The final touch this year was a cute little (real) evergreen wreath with a red bow that we picked up along with the tree. Simple and sweet and classic.

(Side note: The cute little wreath is actually quite, um, bushy…so it does get a tad squished between our storm door and red door. Ah, the plight of an upstate New Yorker. Snowy areas can’t do without a storm door, no matter how cute a house looks without one.)

Speaking of tree, up it went, followed by a tangle of lights. (Let’s just say it’s not perfect this year. I’m usually impeccable about the lights. They’re actually overlapping in different directions. Disgrace!) The next day, Hadley “helped” hang ornaments. We didn’t put up half of what we had. Some are well-made but HUGE for the kind of weak branches we were workin’ with. But, we still put up a few of our quirky cheeseball “so us” ones. Hello, Superman and Yellow Submarine. I swear some year I’m going to get a small tree dedicated just to the weird ones, then have a separate “pristine” tree. But, for now, this is our life — it’s real, it’s messy, but it’s full of joy.

Oh, and I was also undecided on a topper. We don’t do the angel thing, or even the star thing (there were too many “drunk angel” jokes growing up, and I’m still far too immature to shove a tree up an angel’s dress); normally, I do a cascade of ribbons with a beautiful bunch at the top. I considered this…then considered doing nothing…when I suddenly had an, “Oh, this is different. This is rustic. This is kinda cozy-cute” idea. Scarf. And not just any scarf. It was my dad’s. So, hands off the scarf, buddy. (A longer scarf would allow for an adorable bow-tied effect — go for it if you have one!)

Just add a top hat and it’s Dickens in tree form.
…gotta find a top hat.

The tree (AKA pine-flavored kitty drinking fountain) is shorter and fatter this year, but that suits us just fine. We don’t use that room except for cat pans and cat stands (I suppose it’s the cat room), and a new-but-old-school radio/record player that we listen to Christmas tunes with. S’all good. It takes up the front room (it’s like the room was MADE for a Christmas tree; I finally listened to my mom and others and stuck it out there last year…they were right).

Oh, and it’s difficult to tell in the pictures, but in order to have a large enough “skirt”, I decided to use two past “skirts” and overlap them to make one — a crimson blanket that has a sweater weave goin’ on, and a piece of faux lambskin. It looks pretty darn cute by the light of day, and I appreciate the detail. One of these days, I’ll finally DIY a skirt that doesn’t look too feminine, nor too plain…and I’ll use the heck out of it year after year.

So, that’s all for today. Stay tuned for Act II, or as I call it SHINY + RUSTIC. In the meantime, feel free to weigh in below: Real or fake? Hodgepodge of ornaments or one streamlined “theme”? Lights outdoor or simple wreath? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

(And if you have kiddos at home, I LOVE reading David Shannon’s “The Amazing Christmas Extravaganza” to my kids at school. Mr. Merriweather loves his simple tree and wreath, but one year decides to add a string of white lights outside. When his grouchy neighbor, Mr. Clack, mocks his dinky display, things get out-of-hand (and, needless to say, the real meaning of Christmas is overshadowed).)

Toodles for now!

Traditions

We try not to cling too tightly to traditions. We realize that, as Hadley gets older and as we (hopefully) add to the family, it’s best to stay flexible and avoid the disappointment when we’re not able to celebrate something the exact same way every year. Besides, it cuts down on the stress.


However, it’s important to have SOME. A few, maybe. Okay, so we may not always go to one of our parents’ houses for Thanksgiving (I WILL cook one for more than just our little triad someday; I’m frickin’ Martha Stewart, let me show it!) and the running around of Christmas eve and the big day will simplify one day, but for now, we have a few traditions that fill our hearts with love and cheer year after year.

Christmas movies. It doesn’t matter whether we see all of them or not, as long as we see a handful. The Grinch (the original). Charlie Brown (the original). Rudolph (the original…see a trend?). The Bishop’s Wife, It’s a Wonderful Life, Frosty…they all work. And once in awhile, we add a new-old favorite, like how Dave “found” (I won’t say “stole” since we all taped these specials off of TV when we were kids, right?) the Sesame Street Christmas special that we remembered watching the heck out of as kids. And, true to form, Hadley sat through it from beginning to end. So proud. Oh, and what is UP with this new “It’s a Wonderful Life” concept?!?!?! Not happy!

“The Polar Express.” I love the movie, I love the Josh Groban song from it, I love the book. But, when Dave worked for a local news station, he and his meteorologist friend were asked to come read it (along with another holiday book) every year at our Barnes and Noble. It was one of the few things we thought, “Awww, they won’t want you back for the book-reading” after he left. But, luck had another thing in mind. He was recently tracked down to fill in last-minute and, of course, he said “yes” as quickly as he could. We’ve seen him go from anxious to cool-as-a-cucumber after many nights of practice reading with Hadman, to the point where he’s bringing along his second book in case Barnes and Noble doesn’t have it. The student has become the master. Oh, and last year Hadley made a splash greeting his minions…this year…well, he preferred socializing to sitting still. Such is the life of a toddler.

The tree. I grew up with a fake tree. I don’t really mind one way or the other, but let’s just say that I would’ve had a fake one up before Thanksgiving weekend was over, and all other decorating would’ve been done. (Usually the tree kickstarts my motivation to decorate the rest of the place.) But, our new tradition involves a real one, so this year we picked one up recently as a family. Last year, Dave dragged one home from Lowe’s in the middle of the night, so it’s an improvement. Next year, we’ll probably attempt to cut one down as a family. Lord help us. (And I’m not religious.) But, regardless of how I try to decorate the rest of the place, the tree stays. You go. (Kidding. ;-)) Christmas isn’t Christmas without a tree.

Cards. Whether we’re able to write a few lines or just “Best Wishes, the Delleceses” (man, that looks weird pluralized), there’s a reason we don’t cut this out or email folks faux cards. We’re traditionalists. Modern, but traditional. Hey, if Bing can find some time to write out a few cards (Irving Berlin, actually, but work with me here; Bing’s the man), can’t we? Damn straight, we can. We may pare it down a little each year to just the essential friends and family that we want to touch base with, but we still do it.
Cookies, cookies, cookies. Even when I’m the only one eating them, I MUST make cookies! I still remember poor Dave wrangling Hadley while I attempted to make a couple kinds (including the time-intensive cutouts…at least, it was time intensive with a 5-month-old hanging around). This year, I’m demanding help from the little munchkin. Plus, he can help me eat them this year. And, yep, they’ll still be all-natural/organic/real food…but yummy and full of sugar. Besides, what else can we leave for the good ol’ Kris Kringle?

Santa. Speaking of the big guy, sure, of course Santa visits us. He’s been coming since Beardslee first found us…wait, probably before that, even. Why would Santa stop coming? Psht. Craziness.

BRRRRKFST!!!! (I know that’s not how it’s spelled, thanks; but that’s how I say “breakfast” when it’s decadent and super special – with excitement and zero vowels.) Now, I don’t mean that I’ll make the same thing every year, but know that there will be a delicious breakfast meat (usually it’s locally-raised bacon that is to DIE for, but I’ve recently fallen for Applegate’s chicken and apple sausage (although I realize that they also have chicken and maple…and chicken and SAGE?! Man, my Hannaford sucks), so we’ll see what we get. Maybe both. As for the rest, scroll down here to see what we had last year — eggs, a bagel, and so forth. But that’s kinda work-intensive for a morning feast, right? I grew up some years having this french toast casserole type of thing that Mom made the night before and popped into the oven to bake off while we opened presents, and I’m considering concocting something similar this year. And I’ll probably cut up some sweet potatoes (or plain potatoes) for some home fries, which are an absolute MUST. Nom nom.

Um. Presents. Why do I type that wracked with guilt?? Probably because we wish we weren’t as consumer-driven as we are. And, y’know what? In all honesty…I’d be happy with a few very well thought-out gifts (which my husband is usually awesome at), and that’s it. Our joy really comes from mulling over our selections for those we love. We’ve got a couple of Grinches who tend to be pretty hard to buy for, but for the most part knowing that someone will get lots of use out of something means so much more than stacking my Kia to its roof with crap. That totally sounds ungrateful, but I suppose that’s how you become when people overbuy; it means far less and even puts a damper on things.   

Pretty classic traditions, right? Maybe one day we’ll try Elf on the Shelf…or not. Maybe we’ll make ornaments…or not. Maybe we’ll get into making a nice holiday ham…or not. The cool thing about traditions is the memories they create, and the continuity they provide in your life. I don’t expect to keep all of our traditions, but as long as we keep a few and I have SOMETHING to look forward to, I’m good.

What traditions can you not do without? Anything wacky? Or pretty much traditional (ha, get it? Traditional traditions!)? I’d like to hear!