Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Christmas Trees!

Decorating Christmas trees is one of my favorite things to do in the world. If I could get a job dreaming up themes and decorating trees with those themes, I'd be so happy. If you have such a job available and would like to hire me, I'm willing to relocate. LOL!

We have at least one tree in every room of our home each year, and most of them are some kind of theme. Sometimes it's a loose theme, maybe based on the room, but a theme, none the less.

In Jacob's room, we do a Coca-Cola theme. It's very simple, but that's all he'll allow me to do in there. He is 16, you know. He has a tiny little tabletop tree, about 3' high. It sits in a burlap bag, tied with a red velvet bow. It has a string of white lights on it..and empty Coke cans, tied on with red curling ribbon. Very simple, but really cute.

This tree was in our bathroom. It is decorated in all gold and pearls. The lights are even little pearls. I just use one string of lights on it, so that it's just a soft glow. The ribbon is from the craft section and the pearls are from our wedding reception. I used them on the tables along with oil lamps on each table.

This is a wall tree, hung over our bed in the master bedroom. The "bow" on the bottom is a piece of gold tulle, tied in a bow. The poinsettias are silk with gold centers and all the ornaments are simple gold glass balls. This is one of my favorite trees. I used to do this same theme on a 6' tree in our bedroom, but the addition of some furniture has made the space very limited, so now I use the wall tree.

This is a tree I decorated for fall. I saw a magazine picture of a fall themed tree used for Christmas...and made a fall themed tree for fall. But you could use it for Christmas if you wanted...the "crackers" are homemade and really cute. You'll see these again in another post.

This is my jingle bell tree. All of the decorations on it are jingle bells. The ribbon looped on it has the words to the song...you guessed it..."Jingle Bells" written on it.
We also have a snowman tree, which was in Benjie and Jonah's room last year. It has multicolored lights and all sorts of snowmen on it...6" stuffed ones to tiny little crystal ones. I also add snowballs (Styrofoam balls covered in clear glitter), icicles (glass and acrylic), and a beaded garland that looks like little mini snowballs. I thought I had uploaded a picture of it but I can't find it. I'll post it later if I do.
We also have a tree in the laundry room. Seriously. It's just a little bitty thing, about 2' tall, with a clothesline that has Santa's laundry hanging on it. Very cute. Last fall I made a "witch's clothesline" and put it in the laundry room for our Halloween party, the Boo!Bash! I cut out a witches dress, hat and boots from felt and used little mini clothes pins to hang them on a piece of rope. This year, I'm going to spray paint a mini tree black and hang the clothes line on it.
I also have a rooster tree in my kitchen. It sits on top of the fridge and has all kinds of rooster/chicken ornaments on it to match the kitchen decor. It's a favorite of mine, also.
Another favorite is my redbird tree. I use a white tree, red birds and berries and red and white checked bows. I will post pictures of it later, as well.
Basically, anything that interests you can become a theme for a Christmas tree. Try a birdhouse tree, using little wooden birdhouses from the Dollar Tree or a craft store. Paint and glitter them to your heart's content, then hang them on a tree. Fill in with little faux birds, birds nests and bare tree branches-either plain, painted or glittered!
How about a tea party tree? The dollar stores are just full of little mini tea sets, and they look precious tied to a tree branch with satin ribbon. You could also use crocheted doilies, teaspoons, or even little tea pots to add to the tree.
Don't be afraid to start small, using a little tree then moving up to bigger ones as your collection grows. My snowman collection was originally displayed on a 4' tree, now it's moved to an 8' one!
Use whatever you like to decorate a themed tree, but try to have at least one unifying factor-either by color or by item...all white trees are beautiful with different shaped ornaments, or have a hodge-podge of colors but all one type object-such as snowmen, Santas or even seashells!
Have fun this year with your trees...and if you have a unique idea for a themed tree, by all means leave me a message telling me about it!!
Remember, everything you do to prepare for Christmas in July is one less thing you must do in December!!

Merry, Merry!!

Monday, July 13, 2009

A Fun Christmas Party...a Ladies' Brunch

One of the local churches here host a yearly Ladies' Christmas Brunch. I was lucky enough to be invited one year, and even got to decorate the table. The concept is simple and fun. Each lady who chooses to host a table is responsible for the entire table...guests, centerpieces, flatware, glassware, tableware and table cloth. Each hostess brings a potluck dish to share with the group. We had quiche, hashbrown casserole, fruit, a chocolate fountain with fresh fruit and cake squares to dunk, several other desserts, juice, milk and coffee. It was such a nice morning. There was special music and a guest speaker. Each table was unique and charming in it's own way.

Here's one I really liked...black, white and silver. It was a beautiful, elegant table...and even the chairs were dressed with a black chair cover, tied up with a huge bow. Beautiful.

This one was very pretty, also...the red and gold popped on the white tablecloth...notice the gold rims on the goblets...

This white on white offering was beautiful, also...and the red and green was just the right amount of seasonal color...

And here's our table. We used a deep green tablecloth, then put my Nikko Christmas dishes and the "crystal" stemmed glasses I bought at Dollar Tree. We tied the cloth napkins with a sheer white ribbon and tied on glittery snowflakes.

The centerpiece is a pedestaled cake plate with my Original Snow Village Wedding Chapel as the focal point. We placed a faux green wreath on the table and topped it with a red berry wreath. Then we used icy white beads to drape over the wreaths and spinkled in more glittery snowflakes. Just for some color and a sweet treat...Hershey's kisses wrapped in red, silver and green foil were sprinkled over the entire table.
This was not hosted at my church, but a friend who also attended this party and I have talked for the past two years about doing this at our church (her grandfather is the pastor at the church where it was held). I'm thinking this is our year!
How are your Christmas in July plans coming? Although I haven't done any crafts this year, I've made a lot of plans for food gifts and know what everyone is getting..for the most part. We just need to draw names on my side of the family so I'll know who's stockings we're filling!
Remember, everything you do to prepare for Christmas in July is one less thing you have to do in December!!
Merry, Merry!

Sunday, July 12, 2009

The Song of Mary

Luke 1:46-56

And Mary said

My soul magnifies the Lord.
And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.
For He has regarded the lowly state of His maidservant;
For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed.
For He who is mighty has done great things for me,
And holy is His name.
And His mercy is on those who fear Him
From generation to generation.
He has shown strength with His arm;
He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
He has put down the mighty from their thrones,
and exalted the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich He has sent away empty.
He has helped His servant Israel,
In remembrance of His mercy.
As He spoke to our fathers,
To Abraham and to his seed forever.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Fun Food Gifts

If you haven't noticed, I like to give food gifts. It seems to me that almost everyone likes good food, and it's fun for me to give them things that they might not have on a regular basis. I've not had any complaints yet...

I made these a few years ago. They were soooo good, they make store bought caramels hang their heads in shame! Wrap each caramel in a little piece of wax paper and pile them into a painted clay flowerpot...just use some craft paint and a few stencils or rubber stamps to jazz up a terra cotta pot and saucer, pile in these caramels and wrap the whole thing in cellophane or tulle...tie a big foofie bow on top and VIOLA! A Fun Food Gift!

Ooey-Gooey Homemade Caramels

14 oz. can sweetened condensed milk
1 c. margarine
3 c. brown sugar, packed
2 c. corn syrup
1/4 t. vanilla extract

Combine first 4 ingredients in a heavy saucepan; bring to a boil over medium heat until mixture reaches the soft-ball stage or 234-243 degrees on a candy thermometer (I highly recommend investing in one of these..they are inexpensive and very, very handy to have!). Stir in vanilla and heat for 2-3 additional minutes. Pour mixture into a buttered jelly roll pan and let set. Cut into one-inch squares; wrap each in wax paper. Makes 4-5 dozen.

Biscotti is a traditional Italian cookie...known for it's crispness and yumminess! They are just right for dunking into a cup of coffee or tea...don't tell me you don't dunk. Seriously..if you don't dunk, don't tell me. I think it's wrong not to, and I don't want to think badly of you!

This is nice to give with a baking sheet and holiday pot holders, as suggested by Ellie Brandel of Clackamas, OR, who contributed this recipe to Gooseberry Patch for their Merry Christmas cookbook!

Christmas Biscotti Mix

3/4 c. dried cranberries or cherries
3/4 c. shelled green pistachios
2 c. all-purpose flour
1/2 t. cardamom
2 t. baking powder
*2/3 c. vanilla sugar

Layer all ingredients in a one-quart wide-mouth canning jar, packing down tightly after each addition. Secure lid and attach a gift tag with baking instructions.

Beat 1/3 cup butter in a large mixing bowl on medium speed for 30 seconds. Add 2 eggs and beat on medium until well combined. Stir in jar mix until well blended. Form dough into two 9"x12" loaves on a lightly greased baking sheet. Bake at 375 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes; cool on sheet for one hour. Cut each loaf into slices 1/2 inch thick. Arrange slices on baking sheets and bake at 325 degrees for 8 minutes; turn each over and bake 8-10 minutes or until dry and crisp. Cool on a wire rack. Makes 2-3 dozen.

*Vanilla sugar is easy to make, and makes a great Fun Food Gift all on it's own. Just pour 4 cups sugar into a one-quart jar. Slice one vanilla bean in half lengthwise and add both halves to the sugar. Secure jar lid and allow to sit for 2-3 weeks. Makes 4 cups.

For giving vanilla sugar: Pour desired amount into a pretty crystal sugar bowl, picked up at a flea market or yard sale for a song; place the sugar bowl in the center of a square of tulle, pull the corners up and tie a bow with a satin ribbon. Pretty and elegant. For a more casual gift, or to include in a basket or bag with other Fun Food Gifts, pour the sugar into an old fashioned sugar shaker jar. Wal-Mart carries them for a couple of bucks. Fun!!

And, for a Really Fun Food Gift, how about

Rudolph's Popcorn Balls

12-14 quarts of popped popcorn
1/2 c. butter
16 oz. bag mini marshmallows
red food coloring

Place popcorn in a large roaster pan; set aside. Melt butter and marshmallows in a large saucepan over medium heat, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and stir in red food coloring to desired shade. Pour mixture over popcorn, stir well. Coat hands with butter and shape mixture into softball sized balls. Wrap each in plastic wrap. Makes 4-5 dozen.

For giving, pile popcorn balls into a basket and give the whole batch to a family with a bunch of kids...make sure they have a good dental policy first!

You could use any color of food coloring for these, of course...can't you just see a big bowl of orange popcorn balls at a Halloween party? Or how about a basket of pastel colored ones on an Easter dessert buffet? Cute, yes?

Remember, everything you do to prepare for Christmas in July is one less thing you have to do in December!

Merry, Merry!

A Basket for a Baker

Making themed baskets has always been something that I've enjoyed doing. I used to belong to a social sorority where we had secret sisters, exchanging gifts from time to time. I almost always did a themed basket for holidays and birthdays, and before long it was no secret who the sister was when a basket was the gift. However, everyone seemed to really like them.

More recently, I've prepared "goodie baskets" for relatives for their Christmas gifts, several years in a row. One year I gave a gift card to the brother in law who'd received banana bread and soup mixes several times. I thought he'd be tired of the goodies and would like a gift card to Bass Pro Shop. I think he did, but he requested a goodie basket for the next year! What a compliment!!

So, here's a quick and easy little basket (or big basket) that you can put together for someone. Even if they don't normally bake, this mix is so easy that anyone can become a baker!

Make a big batch of this baking mix, package it any way you like...I personally like quart canning jars...because I can make it ahead and it stays fresh. But other ideas could be a plastic zipper bag full of mix tucked into a cloth bag that you can make from remnants, or a big stocking, or another kind of jar...whatever suits your fancy, nancy! Make it festive...tie a ribbon around the jar or add a handmade gift tag and label...anything to cute it up and make it personal.

Then, add the recipes for using the mix on pretty recipe cards. It's super easy to make these yourself...just go to Wal-Mart or the Dollar Store and purchase a pack of unlined index cards-any size you like. I usually get the 3x5 ones, but they come in a variety of sizes. Then find some fabric you like and that coordinates with your basket's color, and cut out a cute shape from the fabric..a star is always cute and easy to draw by hand...a mitten shape is really cute, too. You can find lots of inspiration on the Internet or in books and magazines...if you're artistic, draw your own and make it your trademark..so that when anyone sees the cute little hand drawn snowman (or whatever) on a gift, they know it's from you. You could also use pretty or fun stickers on the cards. Hand write the recipes-that's the important part, which makes it personal. Then, tuck the jars or bags into a container...

These are Sonic Drive in drink carriers that I covered last year and presented last Christmas...they are just painted with craft paint, then covered with scrapbook paper, cut to fit. Easy, peasy...

Or you could use a basket. Don't be afraid to look at the flea markets, thrift stores and yard sales for cool gift baskets. This big blue darling one, which is now off white and on the back porch holding back porch things, was only $4 at a flea market! It's a big one, but you can find smaller ones for good prices.
You can keep your Baker's Basket as simple as you want, with just the mixes and recipes, or you can add things like mixing bowls, baking sheets and utensils such as wire whisks and measuring cups...tea towels make a cute filler and are inexpensive...Dollar Tree has some darling ones for-oddly enough-a dollar. Make the basket as full or as simple as you choose.
Here's a great recipe for a generic baking mix, as well as some ways to use it. Recipes are from the 20th Anniversary edition of The Spirit of Christmas by Leisure Arts (which is a good ol' Arkansas company!). Enjoy!
Quick Baking Mix
10 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup baking powder
1/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons salt
2 cups shortening
Combine first 4 ingredients in a large bowl; stir with a wire whisk.
Cut shortening into dry ingredients with a pastry cutter until mixture is crumbly. Store in an airtight container at room temperature up to 6 weeks. Give mix with the following recipes.
Quick Mix Biscuits
2 cups Quick Mix Baking Mix
1/2 cup milk
Combine baking mix and milk, stirring with a fork until dry ingredients are moistened. Turn dough out onto a heavily floured surface, knead lightly 3-4 times.
Roll or pat dough to 1/2 inch thickness; cut out biscuits with a floured 2 inch biscuit cutter. Place biscuits on an ungreased baking sheet; bake at 450 degrees for 10 minutes or until lightly browned.
Quick Mix Banana Nut Muffins
1 package (8 oz) cream cheese, softened
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 cup mashed ripe bananas
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups Quick Mix Baking Mix
1/2 cup chopped pecans
Beat cream cheese at high speed with an electric mixer until creamy. Gradually add sugar, beating well. Add eggs, beat well. Add banana and vanilla, beat well. Stir in Quick Baking Mix and pecans. Spoon batter into lightly greased muffin pans, filling 2/3 full. Bake at 375 degrees for 20-22 minutes, or until golden. Remove from pans immediately. Makes 20 muffins.
and finally...
Quick Mix Pancakes
3 cups Quick Baking Mix
1 1/2 cups milk
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
Combine all ingredients, beat with a wire whisk until smooth. For each pancake, pour about 1/4 cup batter onto a hot, lightly greased griddle. Cook pancakes until tops are covered with bubbles and edges look cooked; turn and cook other sides. Yield: 16 pancakes
Doesn't that sound good?
Coming up: other Fun Food Gifts!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Hang on...

I'll have a post up soon...busy day...but I'll be back!!

Monday, July 6, 2009

Christmas 08

I thought today I'd show you some of my decorations from last year...since my computer problems prevented me from showing them during the Tour of Homes...which, by the way, I'm planning on hosting again this December! Make plans to participate or at least check in....details will be coming a little closer to the actual date!

So, here's a little mini tour from last year...

This was on the kitchen counter, in the corner by the fridge. Don't you just adore that baker snowman? Isn't he the cutest thing? Lynn actually won him in a door prize drawing at a Christmas party one time..a long time ago. He's one of my favorites, and always has a place on the counter from Thanksgiving until spring.

Someone gave me this Santa face when I married..I had a Christmas shower and got lots of wonderful gifts...this one included. Isn't he sweet? His beard is glittered..

This cowboy snowman was in the boys' bedroom, which is decorated year round with cowboy stuff and was home to the snowman tree last Christmas. My BFF Melissa gave him to me for my birthday! Love him!!

This is a little vignette in the hallway, with a small part of my Santa collection on it. The clock was Lynn's dad's. The Mercury glass Santa on the left was from that Christmas wedding shower, and the old guy standing at the back is an antique...he's the one that is as old as me and came from the dollar store my first Christmas. The horse was a gift a couple of years ago from Lynn's sister Linda and her husband, Jimmy. He has Santa faces painted all over him. The photograph in the center is a picture of my three boys and Jacob's best friend, Tyler, with Santa. It was Jonah's first Christmas-he was 4 1/2 months old!

Here's a shot of some of the white pitchers I've started collecting, holding faux red berry stems. I'm a nut over red berries and white dishes, so this pairing seemed natural! Notice the Snow Village pieces on top of the cabinets...they are still there. Once I put them up there-it takes all day to get the village set up-I leave it for at least two Christmases. I thought about taking it down this summer, but decided to leave it for Christmas in July. I'll probably leave it until next spring...adding summer flowers, then fall leaves to make it seasonal.
I will have more pictures later to show you from last year. I was especially fond of how our bedroom and bathroom decorations turned out, and I want you to see them!
Coming this week:
*a post on a cute gift basket idea for someone who likes to bake
*a couple of craft ideas, as featured on Magical Holiday Home
*some yummy fun food gift ideas and recipes including Rudolph's Popcorn balls and homemade caramels, along with some side dish suggestions for our weekly special, building an entire menu course by course
*ideas for Christmas tree themes
*a theme party plan, including menu and decorating ideas
*and on Sunday we'll continue the marvelous Christmas story, as told by Dr. Luke!
Stay tuned...the best is yet to come!!
Merry, Merry!

Side note: Sorry the spacing is so crazy and the posting is so sporadic...for some reason I'm having some problems with those issues, but I'm working on it!!

About Me

I love to cook, decorate, entertain and plan the holidays. I'm wife to one handsome man and mom to three handsome boys, I love God, my family and my country. I'm the one at the small town parade waving the American flag!! Almost all the holidays are celebrated at our house, and we like it that way!!