It’s Better to Give Than Receive

(Okay, I know it’s the first week of March, and Christmas is the last thing on ANYONE’s mind, but I have to post about what drove me absolutely banana-shit crazy the few weeks before the holidays.)

I’m lucky that my nephew and nieces are still young enough to “appreciate” handmade gifts.  Really, put anything in a sparkley box and tie a ribbon around it and they’d like it.  I make their gifts because I know in a few years I won’t be able to get away with it- they’ll want electronics and designer duds and ponies.  All stuff I would love to get them but can’t/won’t.  So for now, everything I give them is wondrous (for a second) and beautiful (until the next gift).

I don’t really make anything for Raymond because trucks and cars and guns are not in my arsenal of sewing ideas.  We did get him a lab coat because he’s a SCIENTIST and an ant farm because he’s a SCIENTIST.  We included in his gift bag some stuff Zombiegirl made: Sidewalk chalk (in cute shapes, like butterflies and shells), and Snow globe soap inspired by Alphamom.  Unfortunately, Raymond’s chalk was stepped on in the pandemonium and was crushed in a billion pieces.  S’okay…he stole his sister”s…

For Sammy,Lily and baby Hannah, I made these tiered skirts from this fabulous tutorial,

with matching headbands using this tutorial:

(Hannah got a matching baby scrunchie headband.)

Each of the older kids got a puppet washcloth, courtesy of Running with Scissors awesome tutorial

(I thought these were so cute I made one for Zombiegirl and one for Beena’s boyfriend’s nephew, Super Jesse, cutie-pie.) I really like working with terry cloth and I have a feeling I’m not done making these…

Add some barrette holders for each of the girls:

and aprons for my SIL Paula and the two older girls (following Amy Carol’s Bend the Rules Sewing pattern),  a jewelry frame for my older niece Elize and Fiesta Ware cup and saucer bird feeders for my MIL, SILs and Mother-in-law once removed, Gerry.  The gifts were well received among the older relatives (thank goodness) as well as the kids considering Lily immediately put the skirt on as a top (think “tube top) and the apron on the bottom, leaving her bee-hind blowing in the wind.  Once Hannah is older, I have visions of sewing matching sundresses and floppy hats and bags and…

Okay, enough. Stop the insanity.  I have enough to do for now before I tackle anymore gifts.

BTW- blogging from home sucks.  I didn’t read this over and edit because I’m up and down to the kitchen making my first King Cake for Fat Tuesday.  I’m distracted and not used to typing my blog on my laptop with (gasp!) one monitor.  I guess I have to get used to slumming it…

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The Best Christmas Gifts Ever

I looked over my blogs from last year and I can’t believe I didn’t write about my favorite Christmas gift of 2009 (Insert Interrobang here…ha!)  I loved all my gifts, but the one that I’ve used time and time again over the past year was the one Dad got me.

This beauty:

For about 70 cents, I can make a loaf of bread with ingredients I can pronounce.  Nothing artificial goes into our bread.  The bread flour I use isn’t bleached, not that it matters, most of the family likes whole wheat bread better.  Beena gave me this fantastic book for my birthday and I’ve been working my way through the recipes.  Our favorites?  Country White, Household Loaf, Honey Whole Wheat, Hamburger and Hot Dog Buns, pretzels and of course, the Thursday night staple- pizza dough.  I tried the Quinoa bread the other night and it was absolutely scrumptious. 

When I told people I got a bread maker for Christmas, 8 out of 10 people said something along the lines of “You’re going to gain so much weight eating all that fresh bread!”  WTH?  I know I have to cut down on my carbs and all but I’ve never, NEVER been tempted to eat a whole loaf of bread, freshly baked or not.  I shake my head sometimes at the stupidity.  Fine.  No bread for you!

Last year, prior to Christmas, I posted things I coveted in my “I’ll make buying me a gift easy for you” list at the left.  In no particular order of covetedness, they were:

(Okay, did you notice that the Silhouett Cutter was bold?  I guess there was an order of covetedness…)

My wonderful family reads my blog AND takes hints.  MR got me the Silhouette Cutter (more on that in an upcoming blog post), Zombiegirl got me fuzy warm slippers (ahhh, sigh), Beena and Kansas got me the fourth season of Dexter (yay!) and Dad got me the purple Leatherman (it’s so pretty!  I’ll never have to bother MR for a screwdriver again…), the Espresso Vodka (yumminess to the 10th degree!  Gets you drunk AND buzzed at the same time…) and the Hans Christian Anderson DVD (which was as good and cheesy as I remembered as a kid.  Unfortunately, none of my children wanted to watch this classic with me.  And when I went around the house singing “Hans Christian Anderson…Anderson, that’s me!”  they groaned and left the room.)

Pure awesomness.  The gifts AND the family.

It was definitely a boozy holiday.  From my Secret Santa (BIL Eric) I got Danny DeVito’s Limoncello and a beautiful ceramic decanter to serve it in as well as Bacardi Gold.  Cuba Libres for everyone!

So now that my wish list has been cut in half and my birthday is in less than two months, I’m revising said list with more stuff I covet.  In no particular order of covetedness (Yeah.  New word.):

My needs are simple.  In fact, I would forgo any of the above for a weekend away with my husband.  Here, here or here would be fine.  I would even settle for an overnight on the Appalachian trail.  Something, anything. We haven’t been away alone since our honeymoon.  And no, Beena.  I do NOT count Riverhead because there’s always Danny…

Thank you, family, for the wonderful gifts this past Christmas! See?  Wasn’t that easy?

Next up, what I gave for Christmas.  It IS better to give than receive…

Countdown to Christmas – Calamaties Part Deux

I’m feeling 98% better now.  Seems I had a sinus/lung infection.  Thanks to Kansas and her Pizza Posse, the whole house caught the cold she brought home.  For some weird reason it lingered and festered in my body.  Enough that I had to drag my ass to the doctor for a round of antibiotics.  Beena’s on AB’s too.  That’s a good thing because she started student teaching today.

The week before Thanksgiving, I had a few of Z-girl’s friends over to help decorate turkey sugar cookies.  I brought out my box of cookie cutters and Dad gave me the rest of Mom’s, so my collection doubled.  I used her big turkey cutter and the girls and I baked then decorated.  Zombiegirl went for the shock cookie- a zombie bunny, complete with blood dripping from it’s fangs.

She’s such a weirdo.

I got the recipe from Recipe Girl’s No Fail Sugar Cookies.  I think I should always cook/bake something with the title of “No Fail” from now on.  These cookies were really good and really easy.  I got the royal icing recipe from the The Hungry Housewife– the same lady I borrowed the Oreo turkey idea from last year.  I was pleasantly surprised by the way the turkey cookies came out:

This was my first attempt at decorating sugar cookies (the semi-professional way.  Decorating cookies with Mom as a kid shouldn’t count.)

They got rave reviews at Thanksgiving at the in-laws.  No one wanted to eat them.

What’s with my desserts and no one eating them?

Don’t answer that.

I was psyched to make Christmas cookies the same way.  I have all these great cutters and the perfect icing…I couldn’t wait.

December ticked slowly by and the cutters stayed on the counter mocking me.  I wanted to wait until everyone was free before we baked, but if I waited that long it would be President’s Day.  I mixed up a batch and tossed it into the refrigerator to chill.  It was DAYS before we finally sat and started on the cookies.

On Christmas Eve Day.  Yup.  We finally found the time to bake the day before Christmas.  Have I mentioned Procrastination is my middle name?

 We rolled and cut and threw them into the oven.  A whole nativity was cut out as was every Christmas tree we had a cutter for.  Finally, they were baked.

Go ahead, ask when we decorated them.  After the presents were opened, ping-pong games were played and before the “guests” arrived, I tossed together the icing ingredients into the mixer and sat the younger girls down to decorate. 

When I pulled the icing out, for some weird reason, it was a little too thick.  I chalked it up to me pulling the wrong recipe up in Gmail.  What I didn’t realize as I ran from my office to the kitchen (because I was too lazy to print it out) was that I shorted the recipe about 1/4 cup of water.

Did I mention I suck?

I gave the girls all the colors they asked for and like the troopers they were they spread the stucco-like icing on the cookies.  I was too stressed (sick) to care.

After dinner, Beena took a good look at our cookies.  I think she used the words “vomit” and “sick” while talking about them.

 What is this, an Oompa Loompa?

         This snowman looks like he was hacked with a machete to his neck.           

This tree has star pus.

This holly looks stucco’ed.

This is the only pretty cookie…

 

Everyone’s a critic.

They tasted really good, though.  The lack of water in the icing brought out the sugar taste REALLY well.

New Year’s Resolution #1- Read all directions carefully.

Countdown to Christmas – F*cked Up Fudge and Other Christmas Calamaties

Yeah, yeah, I know.  Christmas is over. Stop counting down to Christmas, moron.

But Christmas slipped by while I was in a semi-delirious state.  I know I cooked, I know Dad came over, I know I got everything I asked for, but I can’t for the life of me remember much of that day.  Or the day after.  Or the day after that.

I know it snowed.

I know I did dishes.  I remember eating some cookies.  I remember sewing.  Looking back on the last four days seems like looking into a murky fishbowl.  I see shapes but nothing’s clear.

I think I have the flu.

Sore throat, stuffed head, hacking cough, chest pains, chapped lips…and a partridge in a pear tree.  The MINUTE I boasted that I NEVER get sick, hubris slaps me upside the head and banishes me to bed.  I haven’t finished posting the crap I did before Christmas so bear with me.

I had this brilliant idea to MAKE Zombiegirl’s teacher’s gifts.  When there was only one or two teachers, it was easy (and probably more appreciated) to give an Amazon gift card.  With seven teachers, I couldn’t afford to give them all gift cards, so we decided to make candy- peppermint bark, fudge and peanut brittle and put them in tins.

All good intentions.  The BEST intentions.  ZERO patience and talent.

The peppermint bark was easy.  I only burned the white chocolate once and the bark separated when we cut it but it was still pretty and edible.

The peanut brittle got nixed by Z-girl because she suddenly hates peanut brittle.  It’s disgusting (news to me.)  So we substituted Oreo Cheesecake balls.  Again, easy to make, not that pretty to look at.  We dipped them in semi-sweet chocolate and milk chocolate.  They held the shape, but looked like piles of poo.  Covered in cookie crumbs, it looked like poo taken out of a cat box.  NOT pretty.

I was excited to try the fudge because it was my Mom’s recipe.  Dad had just given me a gold-mine of recipes he found on his PC.  Mom had typed them all out for him before she got too sick to do so.  Nana Francis’ fudge was one of them.

Fudge batch Number One:  We followed the directions to a T.  When it reached soft ball stage, we popped it into a pan and put it in the fridge.  The next morning, it was still in a caramel stage- it never fudged.  I kept it cold hoping it needed more time.  It didn’t.

Fudge batch Number Two: I got this recipe from the internet- 5-minute Microwave Foolproof Fudge.  Hey- they know me!  Fudge created just for me!  The first batch finished up and we popped that into the refridgerator and quickly made a second batch.  When that was done I spooned it over the first batch since that layer was so thin.  It must have melted the first layer because when I cut into it, the top layer was fudgey but the bottom was melted lava.  There was no making squares from this spreading ooze.

It’s now too late to make anything else- Z-girl has to bring the presents in the next day.  I arrange the bark and the truffles in six of the tins and am relieved that there wouldn’t be any room for fudge anyway.  I put bows and tags on everything, then realize I’m missing a tin for the seventh teacher.  I miscounted.

S’kay, me being the recycle queen, I never throw anything away.  I washed up one of those organic salad-for-one containers, slapped an old Christmas card over the label and lined it with parchment paper.  I’m convinced if you stick a bow on it, it will look pretty.  Seriously, it worked out just fine.  The teachers liked the gifts, tasting the truffles immediately and declaring them delicious.  I only hope they don’t find the mystery ingredient.

Is dog hair nutritious?

I panic when I make anything in my kitchen since the dogs lay practically at my feet while I’m cooking hoping I drop ANYTHING.  My kitchen mantra is “Go inside”, “go inside” while I’m cooking.  They of course, don’t ever listen.  I should therefore list dog hair as an ingredient just so people are prepared…

Anyway, I complained to Dad that the fudge recipe didn’t work so he tried it at home.  He brought over some on Christmas and even his didn’t fudge properly. 

This year’s cookies were a disaster, too.  I misread the frosting recipe for Royal Icing and our sugar cookies came out looking spackled.  I’ll post about those tomorrow.  Dad’s delicious lace cookies never “laced” up and his butter cookies came out all wrong (it didn’t stop MR from eating them, though). 

We made Thumbprint cookies (Mom’s recipe) but they weren’t touched.  They’re still wrapped up on the platter.  The only thing that was eaten for dessert was the chocolate pudding pie Kansas made at the last minute and the canolis I asked Dad to pick up at the Italian pastry shop in his neighborhood.  Everything else stood untouched.

I guess I planned too much dessert for seven people.  I never learn.

Then, I had planned on making a chocolate ginger cake with bourbon icing for the day after Christmas (going up to the in-laws) but the oncoming blizzard postponed those plans.  Thank goodness I didn’t bake.  I would have a cake standing untouched along with those cookies.  

Merry Frickin’ Christmas.

Countdown to Christmas – It’s in The Cards

One of my projects in my 101 in 1001 days is to make my own Christmas cards.  This insane idea usually gets started around Thanksgiving when I realize “Holy shit, I forgot I have to make the Christmas cards!”  I had an idea of what I wanted to do all year, but in my usual procrastinating way, I didn’t plan until it was too late.

Last year, I did the Iris Folding cards  but this year I wanted to utilize a book on pop-up cards I had bought (and NEVER OPENED) a few years ago.  I found a fairly easy design (insert sarcastic “snort” here…) and decided I’d make the thirty I need.

I. Never. Learn.

Sequestered behind my little walls at work, I furiously cut, glued and wrote out the cards.  When I finished up after a few weeks, I figured I had to be close to thirty.

I had ten.

I FORGOT I had to cut out TWO of each tree in order for the damn card to “pop”.  I had to go back and cut out all the other sides.  Shiiit.  I sliced and diced (oftentimes my finger- can I utilize my blood as an ornament on the tree?)  I went through six Exacto blades and practically a whole ream of paper (I had to hit Rob up for more).  As the time for mailing drew near, I had to start putting these suckers together.  I cut scrapbook paper for the shadow and glued the trees together.  They were written out and folded and…

How the hell do these things go together?

The book is written by a Japanese author and I think it was translated from Japanese into (very bad) English.  I had to figure the whole card out myself because the instructions were so vague.

So I forgot a step…

The whole inside of the card has to go into a folded outer piece, making the outside of the card. 

Back to the cutting board.

More glueing and decorating and I’m finally ready to pack the up and address the…envelopes.

Crap.  I don’t have any envelopes.  Whatever I do have is too big.

Online searching found me an easy template (I’ll post the link- it’s a good one to have- when I find it) and I was able to adapt the pdf to a size I need.  The green construction paper we DIDN’T use at the Cookie Exchange was perfect for the envelopes.  A little glue, a sticker and…

I’m still 10 short.

There isn’t any more time.  I apologize if you didn’t get a tree card from me this year.  You’ll have to settle for a Hallmark star card (I picked these out two years ago and never used them) but they’re really pretty, too.  Next year, I promise.  I’m starting the 2011 card next week.

Mmmm.  Yeah, we’ll see about that.

Countdown to Christmas – The Sounds of Silence

If it’s Tuesday or Thursday I’m in my own office at work, behind my little wall and I’m able to blast music courtesy of Pandora.com.  (It helps to drown out the “ambient” noise of our very friendly help-desk lady.)  Starting December 1, my stations on Pandora changed from Zydeco and New Orleans Jazz to Swingin’ Christmas, Classical Christmas, Christmas Radio and Trans-Siberian Orchestra.  Whenever I’m in the car, I change the radio station to 106.7 Lite FM, where they play 24-7 Christmas music until December 26th.

I also listen to the radio in my head.

There is a continuous soundtrack rolling through my brain.  It’s very suggestive- if you hum a song, the soundtrack will immediately pick it up and loop it for hours.  I’ll often find myself whistling or humming and sometimes even singing out loud to something I’ve heard hours ago.  The most inappropriate songs pop-up at the weirdest times.

Ring My Bell by Anita Ward ringing through my head at church.

Soul Man by the Blues Brothers in my weekly CAFM Meeting.

Pass The Dutchy by Musical Youth getting all snuggly with MR.

It’s like I have WKRP transmitting in my skull.  I hear this music while people are talking, when reading or on the train.  It gets distracting sometimes when I’m really trying to concentrate on work.  Other than that, I’m pretty used to it.  I can tell you at any time what’s playing on my head-jukebox.  Sometimes it’s snippets of song interwoven with other lines from other songs.

But it’s NEVER original.  I would be able to make a fortune if I was MAKING UP songs in my head. 

Christmas time is the worst.  I’m listening (happily) to songs I don’t hear during the year.  For a few weeks in the beginning of December, all that was continuously playing was You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch.

Yes, sometimes the songs reflect my mood.  I Want a Hippopotamus For Christmas makes frequent appearances.

I should utilize my iPod more.  Plug into real music.  That’s the only time I don’t hear any overlapping music in the old cerebellum.

Except for this morning.

I was between Snooze Alerts (that blissful 9 minutes of twilight sleep where most of my vivid dreams occur) and I had just laid back down from smacking the Snooze Button.  I snuggled further under the comforter and tried not to think about anything.

I then realized nothing was playing in my head.  No talking.  Nothing.  Pure silence.  About 30 seconds worth.

I shook my head, waking myself up further, and at that moment jump starting the radio-brain- kind of like smacking the side of an old Zenith to get between the numbers to pick up a stronger signal.  Bohemian Rhapsody started in on “Bismillah, no, we will not let you go…” verse.

Sigh.  I guess it could be worse.

There could be voices in my head telling me to kill…kill everyone.  Kiiiill.

“All the single ladies, all the single ladies, all the single ladies….”

Countdown to Crhistmas – Traditions

We’ver been doing so much Christmas-y stuff these past two weeks and I haven’t been posting about them because I lost the cord from my camera.  I knew it was in my office somewhere, which means it’s either under the two-foot high pile of proposed sewing or under the mess of my worktable- the catchall for everything in the house that doesn’t have a place.  Or maybe under the piles of craft boxes on my floor that you have to step over to get to the sewing machine or computer.

I need a professional organizer.  One with a strong stomach.

I eventually found the cord- in my camera case (go figure) so I can now upload pictures.

I’ve already blogged about one of our Christmas traditions- the decorating of a gingerbread house.  This year I bought one Zombiegirl wasn’t really happy about.  (I don’t really like the Wilton houses either…)  We finally made time to sit one Saturday morning and do it.  It turned out that Beena and Kansas were home so we all were able to decorate it.  A few spats ensued (seems no one likes my icicles or my dancing bears) but in the end it was really nice that we were all able to work on it.  The minute we finished, Zombiegirl was ready to eat it.

I convinced her to save a piece for Santa.