Thursday, December 25, 2008

Wrapping it up

Besides not doing Christmas "theme" decorating, the other thing I don't do is wrap gifts elegantly. I think beautifully wrapped gifts are, well, beautiful. I didn't get the gift-wrapping gene. I think my dad has it. He didn't pass it on to me. But when my brother and I were little, I still clearly remember a gift wrapped by him that looked like a little train engine, complete with wheels made from old ribbon spools.

At our house, all gifts have been opened already and I'm pretty sure no one is going to have a warm fuzzy memory of anything wrapped by me. The thing is, I don't actually wrap. I "bag." Put the gift in a bag, cover it with tissue paper and call it done. This year we didn't even buy cute little Christmas bags. We used what we had (bonus points if the tag was still on it from last year and had the correct recipient's name!) It's all about reducing, reusing and recycling, right?

Now Mark has some different ideas about wrapping gifts. I'm here to testify that sometimes opening a gift from him can be a real challenge. For a time it was pretty easy--he used maps or the Sunday comics. Then he graduated to the gift wrapping "big time." I have received a gift that was wrapped in a whole ball of string. Yep, a whole ball. Another time we had just pruned a tree and he took the time to cut a skinny branch carefully into 2" pieces. He cut a piece of wood a little bigger than the gift (which I can't even remember), nailed the little branch pieces all around the bottom piece of wood, stuck the gift inside, and nailed another piece of wood on top. Imagine the gift being held hostage in its little wooden jail--I had to use a crow bar to free it. Then there was the year of the duct tape. What guy wouldn't think THAT was a great wrapping idea? And last year my ipod was wrapped in wire mesh with a lot of wire "ribbon." We had to take time out to find the wire snippers.

Well, he couldn't let this year pass by without continuing the tradition. The gift he wrapped for Charlotte was in a big ball of bubble wrap. Lucky her--he is starting her wrapping adventure with little baby steps. But she and Levi both better be prepared...and have a big variety of gift-opening tools available.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Favorite (Christmas) things, Part 2

The plan was to post one of these favorites each day until Christmas day, which clearly didn't work out. So I'm bunching them all together today, a rainy Christmas Eve with Christmas music playing in the background.

This was our very first Christmas ornament. We received it from a very dear friend even before we were married. She made it out of a cookie cutter and it is very precious to us.

In a prior artsy phase, I was a china painter. I could do a really good forget-me-knot and some pretty passable pansies. But faces? Forget it. We had an absolute china painting genius in our church. I had purchased this really beautiful nativity set with the idea that I would make an heirloom set to be passed on. I started on the camel robes and then looked at all the faces and knew I was in way over my head. Bettie Wilmoth graciously agreed to paint the whole set for me. And it definitely IS an heirloom.

This cute little nativity set was handmade by a local artist and I collected a couple of pieces each year. When I started collecting, we had very little money to spend on decorations. I started with Mary, Joseph and the Baby Jesus and added to it little by little.

Okay, the lavendar-hued lightbulbs on this chandelier in our dining room are a little disconcerting. Fortunately the lavendar hue goes away from we turn them on. But anyway, each year I hang these really beautiful ornaments from it and it is always the last thing I take down after the holidays.

When I was a little girl and we lived in Oklahoma, where my father was a pastor, a lady in our church made a red felt Christmas stocking for me and my brother. I have always loved it. So when Mark and I got married, I made a similar one for him. And then Aaron, and then Christa, and now each of the grandchildren.

This was a Christmas card we received years ago from our good friend, Dotty, a fold-out card that I just love to put out every year.

This set of angels was made by Mark's mother, Esther. All white, no gold highlights. They are just beautiful in their simplicity and elegance.They have always been very special to me. She passed away this past May. I don't know if the other daughters-in-law were fortunate to receive a set as well, but they hold a very special place in my heart.

So there you have it. My favorites.

And Jill, thanks for these yummy cinnamon rolls. My brother wasn't here to fight me for the middle piece, something he and I always used to do whenever my mother bakes her really great cinnamon rolls. we still do fight for it when he is home for Christmas. But he isn't here this Christmas and Mark wasn't home either, so what was I to do? I brazenly went right for the middle piece--always the best!

Monday, December 22, 2008

These are a few of my favorite (Christmas) things...

Is anyone else still baking...addressing Christmas cards...trying to finish those last-minute Christmas presents? I'll be honest. At our house, the baking didn't happen at all this year. Which is bad and good. Bad...because there are no Christmas goodies to munch on. Good...because there are no Christmas goodies to munch on, which might make for a merrier January.

Christmas cards...also didn't happen. Mark and I usually find some fun and funky picture taken during the year and that's what makes it to our Christmas card. I don't know. Maybe we didn't do anything fun and funky in 2008. But we love receiving Christmas cards so please don't take us off your Christmas card list. Fun and funky next year--we promise.

And the last of the Christmas presents will be finished today. *sigh* Then I can just sit back and enjoy the lights on my tree.

Lights on my tree...which makes me think of my holiday decorations, which actually got put up pretty early this year. I know. Some people have "themes." The holiday magazines are filled with all these "decorator" Christmas rooms. I love looking at them. But really? My heart is warmed by the things we have put up for years. It is comforting. So my house will probably never have a "penguin" theme.

Nope. Instead we have this little trio. We have had them for years, for so long that I can't even remember where we got them. I think we got the strainer reindeer in Kansas, which means he is over thirty years old. We got the little soda can "caroler" when Aaron was small and for some reason it reminded us of him (I'm sure he will be happy to read that...). And the little basting brush Santa has been around for quite some time too. And they all live happily together year after year.
Okay, I have serious refrigerator-envy all year long...except for Christmas. Aaron and Christa have one of those fabulous "French door" refrigerators. You know the kind--with the double doors on top and the freezer unit on the bottom, satin-finish silver, beautiful...This snowman is the ONLY thing that makes me glad to have my old white refrigerator.
And a couple of days ago my parents dropped by the house with a tin of these. An old German tradition, pfefferneuse are little bite-sized pieces of spicy perfection. Yum...

Thursday, December 18, 2008

How COOL is this?

My good friends know that I have become addicted to blog reading. If I had time to spare, I could spend hours reading blogs. You find a favorite and read it, that writer lists his or her favorite blogs, you click on one, or two, or many, and each of them list favorite blogs, and before you know it, you have been reading blogs for a really long time (not that I ever do that....)

Reading one of my all-time favorites, How About Orange, has led me to her mother's blog. Now two of the coolest things about this blog author are that she is from southern Minnesota (pretty close to where Mark grew up) and we are becoming email friends, with the very likely possibility that we will meet in person next summer!

But what are the chances that you will ever actually have a post dedicated to you?

I have been telling her how much Mark misses Minnesota winters this year. Well, every year, actually. She takes gorgeous pictures and yesterday she posted this. COOL, huh?

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Get Real(istic)

This can't possibly be true. It's really only nine days until Christmas? I certainly planned on being like Santa's elves and working steadily all year long on my gifts for Christmas, but here it is, December 16th, and the last-minute rush is on. Handmade. That's what I'm doing this year. And is there anyone else out there who likes the word handmade so much better than homemade? The lights on the tree, the music playing softly, some hot chocolate with a candy cane in it. Ahhh...

But I think I better take my Santa hat off the sewing machine and get to work.

Monday, December 15, 2008

The postcard's in the mail

How to make a fabric postcard:

1. Have fabulous grandchildren. Lacking this, have other great family members or friends who would appreciate something custom-made by you...just for them. Choose carefully. Not everybody fits into this category, and you'd hate to have someone receive one of these little works of art in the mail, read the message, and then toss it in the recycle bin. Send those people an email instead.
2. Choose some fun fabric. With my granddaughter, Charlotte, I tried to pick something appropriate for the month in which it was sent. You know, snowflakes for January, hearts for February. With my grandson, Levi, I decided sports was the ticket. And for his December postcard, really, who could resist little fish wearing Santa Hats and reindeer antlers?

3. Choose some plain fabric for the back, or message, side. I used muslin, but any light solid fabric would work.

4. Get some stiff interfacing with fusible web on both sides, such as fast2fuse, the thinner version, which is about 1/8 inch thick and can be fused using a steam iron.

And yes, I DO realize that photographing white interfacing on a white background probably wasn't the best choice...

5. Cut each of the above 4 inches by 6 inches.

6. On the solid plain fabric, your message will be on the left side and address on the right side. I read somewhere that the post office likes the two sides to be separated with a line and also likes the word "postcard" at the top. You'd think they would be able to tell the difference between postcards, letters, and packages...but maybe not.

7. Compose and write your message using a fine-tip permanent marker, such as a Pigma pen. Heat set for a few seconds with an iron. Note: For Charlotte and Levi, I had decided to send them one postcard each month for their first year. Each month, I wrote four lines that could only loosely be considered a poem, and only because it DOES contain a couple of rhyming words. In the interest of self-disclosure but at the risk of personal embarrassment, here is Levi's current card, ready to hit the mail today. And yes, I have already apologized to their parents for my lack of poetic skills.

8. Fuse to the interfacing. If you are careful, you can make a little postcard "sandwich" and fuse about thirty seconds on one side, then turn it over and fuse on the other side.

9. Set your machine for satin stitch, a really close zigzag stitch. I like to go completely around the postcard twice because it nicely covers up the raw edges.

10. Add a stamp. I use a stamp for first-class mail, not a postcard stamp, because these weigh a little more and I want to make sure there is enough postage. And I also add a drop of Elmer's glue to make sure it's nice and secure.

11. Get yourself down to the post office and ask them to please hand cancel your little piece of art. They will be impressed with your postcard. But I can't help wondering if they are rolling their eyes if they read my poem as I'm walking out the door...

12. If you are making your postcard in December, get a holiday-themed postmark. There are lots of them and it's kind of hard to pick. Of course, there's always the North Pole, either Alaska or New York, and I knew there was a Bethlehem in Pennsylvania, but who knew there were five others? You can check out the list of possibilities here, along with the mailing instructions. Charlotte lived in Oregon for her first Christmas, so I sent her postcard to Christmas Valley, Oregon. Now that Charlotte and Levi live a mile from us, it was a bit harder to decide. Levi's Grandpa is from Minnesota. So won't it be cool to get a postcard from Frost, Minnesota?

Friday, December 12, 2008

Sometimes it's the little things

Every day I keep telling myself that I will start my holiday blog posts about some of my favorite Christmas decorations. However, with Christmas less than two weeks away, when we're all thinking about what to give and what we hope to receive, I am reminded that sometimes it can be just the little things in life that make us happy.

My working life as a medical transcriber involves spending countless hours with my computer keyboard. So the other day Office Max was running a special: buy two toner cartridges and get a wireless keyboard and mouse for free. You know how it goes--sometimes you have to spend money to save money. I figured that some year-end writeoffs might be in order so why not stock up on toner cartridges?

I rushed right on over to Office Max, picked up those toner cartridges (yikes, $97 apiece??) and came home with a box containing my new keyboard and mouse.

I am now wireless, and considering all the other things I have plugged in here in my office (can you say two overloaded power strips...), that is a blessing. And the bonus is a keyboard without lint or dust in those hard-to-reach places.

So here is a picture of my old keyboard (feel free to download this fascinating picture to your own photo album). Do you notice something missing? This keyboard is only a year old and some of the letters are actually worn off the keys. My keyboard and I might need a vacation from each other...

And here is my new keyboard, sans wires. And my cute "jolly" mug? Yep, that's how I'm feeling today.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Show me the money

I did it. Five quarters a year for ten years. I can't believe it's been TEN years. That means that when I started this little project, I was in my mid-40s....but let's not dwell on that little fact. One of my friends collected two sets of quarters--one from each mint. Me? I never even thought of collecting two sets, and I was just happy to get the quarters for one set! So now that I have them all, I actually spent a little time looking at them.

My least favorite? Sorry to anyone from Connecticut, but I'm convinced they minted more of that quarter than any others. I got really tired of that tree they put on it.

My favorite might be Texas, just the outline of the state and a big Lone Star with a cool lariat design as a border. Simple and straightforward. If you want to check out other potential design contenders, this is a cool site.

Um...I just scrolled down to the bottom of that website. I'm NOT done. Nope, they are issuing quarters from the District of Columbia and the United States territories in 2009. Six more to go....