Thursday, December 31, 2009

Ringing In the New Year

Well 2009 wrapped up quite well for me in the end, though the first ten-and-a-half months were pretty painful. I asked a friend of mine while on a short road trip last spring how she had made the move to turn her life around from a series of dead-end jobs to a three-year intensive school program that put her on the path of a wonderful career. She told me I had to hit rock-bottom first. Believe me, things were feeling pretty granite-like. So while I've done nothing so dramatic as going back to school and changing my career completely (I really think I should win an award for the person who has CONTEMPLATED the greatest number of graduate programs without actually following through--or even applying--or even taking the entrance exams), things have started to look up the last month or so. I'll keep you posted as to how it goes (in fact you'll probably know before I do if I sink into another March in Maine--or is it Maine in March?--depression).

Anyhoo, I just reviewed my New Years Resolutions and To Do List for 2009. My results? Pretty dismal. Lots of incompletes. I did join the Y and swim weekly from January through June (yea!). I did start to balance my checkbook (at least three times...ugh). I did finally read Dickens (I made it all the way through A Christmas Carol--last week!--it's kind of been a holiday tradition of mine to start that book every December and never finish). I was definitely not patient or grateful (we did send out Christmas thank-yous last year, though).

It seems I still have a lot of work to do. I'll keep that list on hand as kind of a running self-improvement plan, though without any specific deadline for finishing (should probably get that damn will written--apparently you can buy one for $1 at the probate court).

As for 2010 specifically? I kind of want to give myself a break. Learn to accept who I am as I am (though keeping that list in mind...ahem...writing every day for instance). Though C did buy me this book, One Year to an Organized Work Life, for Christmas. I'm not a super-big fan of self-help books, but I think it's sweet that he's so excited about my new job and wants to help me be successful (probably he hopes that if I like my work, I'll be less of a shrew at home). I'm trying to convince him to go through the book with me (on the principle that I'll be more successful if I don't spend the whole time thinking, "This is helpful, but you know who could really benefit from this advice?" Let's say he could use a little assistance in the organizational realm as well). I'm hoping (and I gather from the introduction) that my home life will ride on the wave of organization I'm bringing to my work...or something.

How about you? How did 2009 wind up? What are your hopes and plans for 2010? And is it just me, or are these years flying by now that we're all old with kids?

The Back Side

I somehow failed to upload the picture of the backs of my beautiful mama-made mittens yesterday...and while the palms are incredibly beautiful in and of themselves, you really need to see the backs to get the full effect!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Handmade Holiday Part 3: Received

If you're wondering where I get this handmade mania, you can blame my mom. I remember the year she and my aunt made red flannel nightgowns/pajamas for all of the cousins in the family (and tried to get a picture of us all in front of the tree, with my baby cousin screaming his head off).

This year she outdid herself as usual. There were the annual Christmas Grandma pajamas for the three boys:

A snowflake hat for C:

And these incredible rainbow snoflake mittens for me. I am truly in awe of their detail:

My dad, who had been making little wooden animals for the boys, switched gears this year and made these cool puzzles:

While the gifts I make can't compare in skill or caliber to these, I hope that their recipients welcome them into their lives with the same awe and reverence with which we received these gifts. A handmade gift is truly a gift of the heart. Thanks Mom and Pop.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Handmade Holiday Part 2: Child Labor

This year I got the kids involved in making gifts for the various grandparent figures in their lives and whichever aunts/uncles/cousins whose names they drew in our family name draw. I think this was an excellent idea, if I don't say so myself. Not because it was any less work for me (it wasn't), but because who wouldn't love a gift handmade by a four-year-old?

For the grandfather-types, we made key hook boards (like the ones we made a couple of months ago) and for the grandmothers, we made bookmarks (inspired by the portrait bookmarks from Handmade Home, except I quickly realized I'd never have time to embroider them all and instead purchased fabric markers and set the boys to drawing right on the fabric):

Z drew Uncle Little-K's name, and we used a picture from his journal to make a freezer-paper-stencil shirt. Z was reluctant in my choice, and finally conceded only if I would use every single thing in the picture. There were a LOT of extra UFOs and asteroids and things which I edited out in the end, for my own sanity if nothing else. I was a bit nervous to show him the finished product, but his face absolutely lit up when he saw it. My brother loved it too:

E drew his cousin M's name, and drew a flower, which we also made into a stencil. I think it came out quite sweet, but I haven't heard a report on how it was received:

M and I tried out an iron-on transfer to make a shirt for his Uncle E. I had no experience with iron-ons, and should have practiced first, because it didn't end up sticking right everywhere and I'm afraid it won't last long (M and I agreed we'd try again for E's birthday), but Uncle E loved it anyway:

We also stenciled a shirt for Papa, with a picture by each boy (I found myself squatting in the basement trying to finish the eyes on an alien octopus sea monster--or something--at about midnight Christmas Eve, trying to keep it as secret from C as possible) of which I never got a picture (I find it amusing that I make shirts for kids with art by grownups, and shirts for grownups with art by kids).
Mostly I hope the boys learn that they are capable of making wonderful things that people will love, and that they can use their skills and talents rather than spending a lot of money to make Christmas merry.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Handmade Holiday: What I Made

Here's a round-up of gifts I made this year. Though I think I tried to keep it a little simpler than last year--and put a little of the load onto three little elves (more on that tomorrow) there was still plenty of handmade goodness (and late nights) around here. This year was more fun than last year, because instead of mass-producing gifts (mittens and candy), we made gifts especially chosen and designed for the recipient.

First, I made a flock of needle-felted bird ornaments for an ornament exchange I do with my aunts, my sister and my mother, and several more for my multitudes of mothers-in-law (the cardinal flew off without posing for a shot):

For the little boys, I knitted silly gnome hats (from the Fall issue of Living Crafts. I made one for C too, but ran out of yarn about two inches from the top):

I knitted this Hill Country Hat for M (also running out of yarn before it was long enough to cover his ears...I ripped it out back to the increases and made it eight stitches smaller around, giving it enough length, and a snugger fit...and finally finished it on December 27...the third day of Christmas):

For my sister V, who actually does yoga, unlike myself who mostly just talks about it, I made a yoga mat bag:

And for my sister E, I made this beaded headband from the Alabama Stitch Book, which involves all hand-sewn projects (and don't tell my sister this, but most of them are made from recycled T-shirts):

I also made a soft tree for my mom (photo didn't come out), a Mama Bag for one of the mothers-in-law (finished it about 10 minutes after they arrived at our house for dinner, so no photo), a stenciled shirt for M (with a picture of his favorite single prop plane, an F6F Hellcat) and matching pants and shirts for E and Z (Z was home sick, watching me sew the whole time, trying to guess what I was making and who it was for, and when I finished, said, "I LOVE that you can do this!" Did that make struggling through flat-felled seams and finishing just minutes before they had to get dressed for their holiday concert? Totally. Did I get an acceptable photo? No.).

And the piece de resistance--I made this flip book with the faces of everyone in my family (my siblings and parents, my brother-in-law, my niece, C and my kids) for everyone in my family. I've heard mixed reviews so far--some people loved it, some thought it was creepy (my own kids think it's hysterical). If you ever wondered what I'd look like with a beard and red hair, now you know:

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Holiday Traditions: Wrap-Up

Sorry for the bad pun, but I couldn't help myself.

One of my favorite holiday traditions is the wrapping party C and I have on Christmas Eve Eve (that would be Dec. 23--tonight). We pile all of our respective purchases on the living room floor, along with our wrapping supplies, put It's A Wonderful Life on the DVD player and wrap away. (At some point, C sneaks down to the basement to wrap my presents and I take that opportunity to wrap his.) It's A Wonderful Life is a very long movie, and even though our pile of gifts may be huge, we usually finish around the honeymoon in the falling down house, and no matter how tired we are, we stick it out through Auld Lang Syne.

A couple of weeks back, I wrote a post that generated a lot of discussion about ecologically sound gift wrapping practices. I thought I'd share some of the commenters' thoughts and practices in terms of wrapping with you. But first I must make a confession--I love gift wrap. It really makes me happy to see a big pile of presents all wrapped up in shiny bright paper. I usually buy several rolls of it on sale at K-Mart right after Christmas. However, I did not buy any last year (it was still Buy Nothing Year) and it's possible I didn't buy any the year before, so I'm pretty sure I'm very short on wrapping paper. I'm not entirely sure how I'll handle this situation (I'm hoping to draw inspiration from George Bailey tomorrow night), but here are some ideas I might consider, if not this year, then next:


I just sent a box of gifts to my family in Colorado. Last year I packaged everything nicely in (recycled) gift bags, but they ended up taking up a lot of space and so I found myself in the post office the Saturday before Christmas, trying to cut my huge box down to something more reasonably sized (did you know the USPS charges for size in addition to weight?). This year I was determined to scrunch everything into a large flat-rate box, so there was no room for dead space. Many of the items I sent were made from fabric. These, I rolled up tightly, wound with festive red yarn and attached a gift tag (homemade and recycled, using blank mailing labels--rescued from the bottoms of mailing label sheets that didn't all get used--and my kids' artwork--idea found at the Crafty Crow). Perhaps not the prettiest presentation, but highly functional and low on waste. (As you can see, I also used tissue paper, held together with yarn, to wrap book-like objects).


One of the gifts I sent home was tinier than the others with some delicate bead work. To protect it a bit more, I wrapped a scrap of red fabric around it before tying on the yarn. I sent several small items to my mom and dad; these I placed in drawstring bags that we had received gifts in in the past (normally I just re-use those in-house so that I can use them again, but they seemed ideal for my purposes in mailing. However when Z saw me sending them away he got very upset for some reason and I had to promise to have his grandparents send them back!)

Sara wrote: "I was all keen on trying not to wrap any presents this year in wrapping paper. I had seen another blogger use all play silks. But I am struggling a bit with it all. The boys can understand that we are trying to use all recycled materials but I am trying, trying to keep the Santa magic alive still (schoolmates are undermining). Will "Santa's gifts" wrapped in recycled/reusable materials be a give-away (you know my sons)? Also, if we did the play silk thing could they enjoy the unwrapping part in the same way? I am picturing them getting frustrated struggling with the knots required. Give me some ideas about wrapping presents this year, keeping the fun & magic of the morning unwrapping, but still being environmentally conscious..."

I have to agree that part of the fun of unwrapping is the crackly crinkling of the paper. I do like the play silk idea, for at least some of the gifts, especially if the silks are part of the gift. (I ordered E and Z each a small silk, which I think I'll use to wrap something I'm giving them).

I suggested to Sara that they use drawstring bags and then make a big production of mailing them back to Santa after Christmas. Of course I have not done this. I do have at least one big piece of Christmasy fabric (that my sister-in-law wrapped a gift for us in several years ago), that I keep thinking of making into bags...just haven't gotten to it yet!

Deborah said: "so funny - i haven't encountered this problem yet! for years, i've only wrapped in leftover paper bags, newspaper or re-cycled gift bags but it didn't occur to me that at some point the kids are going to "recognize" my approach as being very similar to Santa's! I don't suppose you could convince them that Santa has gone "green" this year? you know, one thing i do is that i bring a giant bag down to M's family and as the kids and everyone tear the wrapping paper from their gifts (because the rest of the family thinks i'm cuckoo with the recycled stuff) i gather it up and take it home to be used throughout the year. but perhaps that sort of thing could be hidden away and only used for the following Xmas and the presents from you could be the plain old brown stuff?"

This is how my Grandma Lani did things. She would literally cut the tape on any gift she received with scissors and fold away the paper for future wrapping (maybe she even ironed it?). Years later you'd get your present wrapped in crackly, yellowed paper. I used to save all the wrapping paper I got, until we got married and I was stuck using wedding paper for years and years (I think the wedding paper is finally all gone, but I quit saving paper!) I do still save gift bags, and one of my goals last Christmas was to make a dent in the huge stash of gift bags I have in the basement, but I'm afraid at least as many came in as went out.

Santa Doesn't Wrap

Lone Star Ma said: Here, presents from Ma and Dad are wrapped, but Santa presents are not - they are found out in the open in all their glory.

And Mary said: Growing up Santa NEVER wrapped our presents. I also thought it was funny that my friend's gifts were wrapped. Just another idea (Santa going "super green").

We have always wrapped Santa gifts around here (unless it's something large, like a sled or a play kitchen); C even goes to the extent of wrapping stocking stuffers! I only just started designating some gifts from Santa and some from us--up until M could read, we just put all the gifts out the night before Christmas and dove into them Christmas morning. Still most things come from Santa around here, unless it was quite obviously made by me (like the hats I've been knitting every second I get--even in front of their recipients). My mom always had certain Santa paper and certain Mom and Pop paper, but I remember one year she used the previous years' Santa paper and I totally called her out. She covered up quick, though, and said Santa had sent his leftover paper for her to use. I'm surprised M with his logic brain doesn't pay more attention to handwriting and wrapping styles and the like, but maybe his logic brain tells him that believing in Santa is the best route to take if you want to rake in the loot Christmas morning.

Other Kinds of Paper
For the boys' birthday presents, I used only that off-whitish packing paper that came in the gifts I ordered for them. I rubbed some crayon on it and used some clever origami moves to wrap it without tape (I ran out of tape sometime last spring and was determined to not buy any more. I finally gave in and bought a roll last week--I even paid three times more for a refill roll to avoid the plastic dispenser--mostly to fix ripped books and hang up some Christmas decorations on our windows. I must still be subconsciously opposed to using it, because I immediately lost both the tape and the old, somewhat broken dispenser I was going to put it in). The boys seemed perfectly happy to open presents wrapped in this manner.

When I wrote about that greenish paper we used to wrap up our book advent, I was mistaken about its use. It's for masking off areas of the floor when you paint and is available (or was eight years ago) at your average big box home improvement store. I don't know if it's environmentally preferable to wrapping paper (it looks and feels just like newsprint, only it has a light green hue) or how much it costs, but a roll of it lasts a long time.

Then there's always the funny papers.

I think the prize for most creative--and hilarious--wrapping idea goes to Mary, who wrote: "for YEARS we have used towels for almost all family gifts (hard to give a towel-wrapped gift at a kid birthday party and then ask for it back). Most of our bath towels are white or green and we use (and often re-use) ribbons to keep it together. At Christmas we do use some paper...but now even our parents/sisters/brothers expect us to arrive at their houses and wrap our Christmas gifts in their seasonally appropriate towels. Pillowcases also work and washclothes/teatowels for smaller items."

So perhaps, I'll be hitting the linen closet tonight, just as George launches himself off the bridge.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Holiday Traditions: The Twelve Days of Christmas

I started to come up with this idea last December 26, just as the Day-After-Christmas Letdown began to set in. Is it just me or do you feel this big build-up of anticipation and hard work leads to a kind of anti-climatic ending. Or at least a sense of, "that's it?!?!" (Or is that my Grinchy side just shining through?). Anyway, I wanted a way to extend the festivities through the twelve days of Christmas, or, the pagan Twelfthtide. I thought something similar to an advent calendar would be nice, but without gifts or any association with more stuff (except Jan. 6 when The Three Kings--or Befana, the Italian witch, I haven't decided who will be bearing shoe gifts this year--will put a small gift in each person's shoes).

My inspiration for this Twelve Days Calendar was this book by Maine author/artists Dahlov Ipcar. In it, the narrator looks out her window on Christmas night and, one at a time, sees twelve groups of objects on her tree--a bright shining star and eleven animals indigenous to Maine.

I made a quilted Christmas tree and needle felted one of each animal (I did not want to make 12 chickadees, 11 chipmunks, etc.!) and a star. I put little pockets at the bottom to store the animals until their appointed day arrives. I envision it like this: We'll read the whole book Christmas night, then we'll open the present in which the tree is wrapped, hang it up, and each night take turns adding an animal, and reading that passage from the book.

You might notice a big space where an animal is missing (btw sorry about the poor lighting/photo quality, but I'm home during only about five minutes of natural daylight these days). The blue jay flew off somewhere between finishing the hooks and hanging loops on the couch and carrying it up to my bedroom Sunday night. I'm hoping it flies home to roost before Christmas, or at least before January 3, its appointed night of appearance on the tree. Here's a close-up of it, for identification in case you see it fly by (you can go to my Flickr page to see the rest of the animals up-close).

From what little I have read about Twelfthtide, it involved fire and candlelight (quite logically). I bought one of these twelve-candle birthday rings (I wasn't going to, because they are rather expensive, but then Rosie Hippo had a sale, making it a bit more reasonably priced--of course I ended up buying three more things so I did not save any money...and spent quite a bit more than I planned!) I thought we'd light all of the candles on Christmas night, then take one away each day, replacing it with a small wooden tree, snowman or person (I was going to buy some more, bigger trees, but they were out of stock by the time the idea came to me--next year!)

I thought these might be two tiny but nice ways to carry ritual and celebration into the more bleak time of year. I'll keep you posted on how it works (and maybe even a better picture of the tree and its denizens some day when the light is better!)

Monday, December 21, 2009

Holiday Traditions: Solstice, Observed

Working full time is not very conducive to celebrating astronomically-based holidays, yet we made do by having our Solstice celebration on Sunday (today is the actual Solstice--Happy first day of winter everyone!).

First, the boys and I strung some popcorn strings, which we hung on a little spruce tree out front, along with some peanut butter and bird seed ornaments E and Z made at the Make-A-Craft fair and some old apples from one of our many wild apple trees. Making a tree for the birds is something I've wanted to do for a long time (at least since last year, with inspiration from Lone Star Ma), but have only just now gotten around to it. I also finally cleaned and filled our bird feeders and put some seed in the platform feeder, so the birds and squirrels should be quite happy now.

Later we made some sugar cookies (the third and final batch in the holiday cookie parade). I used a recipe that I came across many, many (many) years ago, when I was in college, and two of my housemates wanted to make cookies to mail home to their boyfriends for Valentine's Day. I worked in the library and randomly grabbed a cookbook off the shelf and photocopied this sugar cookie recipe. They ended up buying pre-made cookie dough, and I ended up with this amazing sugar cookie recipe, which I really believe makes the best sugar cookies, hands-down. It's my Christmas gift to you (with no citation because the book it came from is long gone from my memory):

The Best Sugar Cookies

1 1/2 c. powdered sugar
1 c. butter
1 t. vanilla
1/2 t. almond extract
1 egg

Sift or whisk together and stir into sugar-butter-egg mixture:
2 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
1 t. baking soda
1 t. cream of tartar

Refrigerate at least 3 hours (or overnight). Roll out 1/8" thick. Cut with your favorite cookie cutters. Sprinkle with granulated sugar (unless you plan to frost them). (I would suggest chilling each batch for 15-20 min. before baking). Bake 7-8 min. at 375 degrees F.

The powdered sugar makes them light and flaky and the almond extract makes them almondy-delicious.

In the afternoon we went for our second annual Solstice hike. This year I took along a picnic of cheese pasties, hot chocolate and cookies and we built a small bonfire along the river, using last year's Christmas wreath and some deadfall branches and twigs.

After our bellies were filled and our toes were getting cold, we walked home in the falling darkness, guided only by the luminescence of the snow and our muscle memory of our old trail.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009


Ooof. I have finally produced Issue 11 of my zine, GEMINI. For some reason, this issue just did not write itself as the first ten did (OK, maybe they didn't write themselves, but they did come together a bit more smoothly than this one has). I was just totally blocked on the writing front all spring (I think, looking back, that I was probably a bit depressed—which was no doubt evident to everyone who reads this blog, except me), then this summer I was working on material for the course I took, and then I just felt so busy, busy, busy all fall. Finally (when I started contemplating a full-time job) it occurred to me that, no, no one was going to hand me a large chunk of time to devote to writing—I had to make time. And that time, it turns out, was there all along. It's called 5 a.m. (or, more often, 5:18 a.m.). I never, ever, thought I'd become a morning person, but it's now my most favorite time of the day—and I am soooo much more personable once 6:30 rolls around and I have to start dragging kids out of bed than if I am just then dragging myself out of bed too!

Anyway, back to the zine, I picked them up from the printer last week, finally got some stamps yesterday, and, if all goes well and I make my way to Staples to pick up some mailing labels soon, they should be in the mail by the end of the week (which is, technically, still fall, so I'm not lying when I call it the fall issue). If you have a subscription or we trade, expect yours in time for post-holiday relaxing! If not, I'd like to offer blog readers a free copy of this issue. Just leave a comment on this post before Wednesday December 23 and email your mailing address to andreaelani (at) yahoo (dot) com. No I'm not a stalker and I will not give away your address or use it for any non-zine-related purpose.

In this issue (GEMINI #11: Along the Tangled Path):

In the Hot Springs Pool
The Fifth Circle of Hell: Halloween 2007
The Witching Hour
A Day at the Fair
How it Came to Be that I Was Thrice Saved by the Hausfrau

Plus poetry, cartoons, and lots of amusing kid quotes.
This is the stage at which I begin to doubt myself, think that this is the worst crap I've ever written, fear everyone who reads it will hate me and consider chucking the whole lot in the nearest dumpster (the only thing that stops me is all the money I just spent on printing—and my recycling ethic). But I send them out anyway, and then later—a few weeks or months or years (yes, folks I have been creating this thing for nearly FIVE YEARS now!!) later I'll pick up the back issue and read it, laugh a little, generally enjoy myself (except for the typos!!) and think, “Hmm, not bad.”

So don't's probably not bad, and who doesn't love to get mail?

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Seasons Round Exchange

I just participated in my first ever blog-craft-exchange. I first read about the Seasons Round Exchange on Emma Bradshaw's blog and was instantly enamored with the idea of making/finding a few small items to adorn someone else's nature or seasonal table. I really had a ridiculous amount of fun coming up with and creating little treats that met the winter theme of "light"---so much so that I was almost finished before I was even assigned a partner (yes I'm easily amused).
Here's what I sent:

An art card by local artist Helen Stevens (I adore this picture of the little girl peaking into the treasure chest), in a card stand made with cherry twigs held together with sparkly gold twine. A soft tree made with some of my favorite Kaffe Fasset fabric, that I think is supposed to be flowers, but looks like twinkly lights to me. A star-shaped beeswax candle (it took me three tries to create one that looked decent, and I'm afraid it might not burn that well; does anyone know if beeswax candles require thicker wicks than paraffin?). A tiny Saint Lucia (no religious significance intended; I also didn't realize that she has seven candles in her crown...not four). And a little papier mache bowl made with some tissue paper flecked with gold tinsel and filled with bits of the Maine woods.
My exchange partner was Kendra from the blog Crafty Me. Here's what she sent me:
An adorable knitted Santa gnome and a lovely spiral beeswax candle.

Two little ornaments; a knitted lantern and a mistletoe made from felted sweaters (when I saw that making things from felted sweaters was a speciality of Kendra's I secretly hoped she would send something sweaterish; this little ornament is more wonderful than I could have imagined).

This beautiful rainbow-maker made of twigs, some blue light-as-air yarn in a six-pointed star (which made a nice addition to our Hanukkah festivities--such as they were--Saturday) and tiny crystals hanging down to catch the light (how did she know I love hanging crystals in my windows?).

It all came packaged with boughs of greenery and a big hank of lovely white wool roving which I can't wait to make into something (some Christmas tree gnomes are in order, I think).
E and Z had a lot of fun playing in the greenery with various little holiday characters.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Holiday Traditions: More New Celebrations and Overdoing

You realize Christmas is, like, next week, don't you? I'm really quite put out with how quickly this holiday is bearing down on me. I really am going to start a campaign to get it moved to the end of January (or perhaps even February), because really, where it is in the calendar right now, just makes winter start one month earlier than it should (it's still fall people!), and leaves us with nothing to look forward to but a long, bleak winter. Who's with me?

In any case, the reason this is stressing me out is that I have (as usual) given myself too much to do in way too little time. If only I could be a normal presents and, you know, BUY presents, it would be fine, but something about this time of year turns me into Crafty Sue. I would blame the Internets and my obsession with craft blogs, but I remember one Christmas, way back in the late 1990s before anyone even used the Internet for anything other than term papers and weird chat rooms (when the only computer we owned was the Big Mac--one of those old, all-in-one Macintosh's--that definitely did not have any way to access the Internet), when C and I made the paper for 50 Christmas cards that we printed with a hand-carved wood block. So apparently it's my nature, not the interwebs' fault.

Anyway, this weekend was a flurry of celebrating. We had our annual Hanukkah feast Saturday night with our usual golden latkes made with half sweet potato using the Sundays at Moosewood blender technique (though I left half the potatoes unblended for a bit more texture). And, as usual, me acted like I was poisoning him, though Z gobbled his down and E, with a little help from me (is it wrong that I still spoon-feed my 4 1/2 year old most dinners?), ate his too. Sunday I got up early and made Lucia buns for St. Lucia day, and then the boys helped me cut out gingerbread boys, girls and babies. (Does it sound like our multicultural celebrations just involve eating? Hmmm...maybe I should work on this). I used the Lucia bun recipe from Christmas in Scandinavia, which we checked out from the library for the occasion, and I always use a chocolate gingerbread cookie recipe from a back issue of Martha Stewart Living (I don't often have good luck with Martha recipes--usually they involve a huge amount of work for kind of "meh" results--but these cookies rock my socks).

I'm really liking this new system of making one batch of cookies each weekend all December, and then just eating them, without worrying about saving them or giving them away (though if anyone is around, we do share!). I've also found that it works great for me to mix the dough Saturday evening after the kids are in bed--it saves me from the arguments over every 1/4 teaspoon of ingredients (my turn! no mine!), and it gives the dough time to chill, so that we're not all tired of making cookies before we even start making cookies--and then involving the kiddos in rolling/cutting Sunday morning (it also makes the day a bit longer--we were done with buns and cookies by 10 a.m.!). It also divides the dishwashing over two days, which is nice.

No pictures of either cookies or buns (which didn't turn out that pretty anyway because I had a bit of trouble with the egg wash--forgot to mix in the water and no longer have a pastry brush since mine got all moldy and disintegrated) because we also spent the weekend in Sweat Shop mode, with the kids cranking out holiday gifts and me cracking the whip...nothing like enforced creativity. Actually Sunday C took over for the most part, and things went a bit more smoothly than Saturday when their tired and cranky (because she went out to celebrate her last day on the old job) Mama was at the helm of the Fabric Marker ship.

Sunday afternoon we met friends in Waterville to see a performance of The Nutcracker. I've taken M the last two years, but this was E and Z's first time. They lasted until about the last 10 minutes when they got restless, but they were quite rapt through most of the show (though now Z claims to only have liked the soldiers!). We finished out the night with Thai food and drove home through the snow-turning-to-rain, for our Advent book of the day (Emmet Otter's Jug Band Christmas--a favorite around here) and early bed, so I could spin my wheels a bit on Christmas projects (I really am pushing the limit on making things that I need to mail to Colorado ASAP) before retiring for an early bed myself.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Holiday Traditions: The Tree Elf

We have a tradition of non-traditional tree-toppers in my family. When I was a kid, we always put a straw scarecrow on top of our tree. I have no idea where it came from or what the significance was--I've never seen or heard of a scarecrow in other holiday customs or traditions (have you?), but looking back I think, "how cool!" As kids of course, my sister and I begged for a big, shiny, sparkly star and my mother, bless her heart, let us buy and install this horribly tacky silver and red with flashing lights star one year. Thank god that thing only lasted a few seasons.

C and I have always put this little elf on top of our tree. His mother used to work at Annalee Dolls, stitching little elf bodies, and had given C this elf some time ago. C has an affinity for mythical woodland creatures (perhaps because, as our friend Andrea--no relation--conjectures, he was raised by the elves and gnomes in the woods), so he makes a perfect, friendly and pagan topper to our tree.

Our kids, like me when I was a child, of course beg for a big, bright, shiny star to top our tree, but so far I've held firm (E was on the verge of making one the day we brought our tree in, but we were so busy with visitors and getting ready to go to the town tree lighting and caroling event, that no one had time to help him--he has apparently forgotten this mission). I wouldn't mind one of those glass antique tree toppers that slides down over the tippy-top branch of the tree, but I haven't found one in my travels yet.

To carry the elfin theme down to the base of the tree, this year I made a tree skirt using Christmas Flower Fairy fabric. We've never had a skirt before--I've always just tucked a piece of Christmassey fabric around the tree stand, and that was fine, but now that I have one, I like the way it kind of defines the tree's footprint or personal space.

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