Wednesday, December 24, 2014

In Search of Christmas Spirit - Day 23

Day 23 - Christmas Mass

Today's is my last post before Christmas.  The Advent tree is decorated and later tonight will be topped with its star.  The house is full of secrets.  My husband is being stealthy in the basement and the kids are upstairs wrapping their presents and starting to get excited.  The dog is not quite sure what is going on, so she's in her "I need comfort spot" on the couch.  Feels like Christmas.

This evening we'll go to the children's mass at out local church -- hand's down my favorite part of Christmas.  We've taken the kids to that mass since they were little because the children put on a Christmas pageant.  They are too old to participate now, but over the years our kids have been shepherds, sheep, angels, wise men, and once, my daughter was Mary.

And although they aren't in the pageant any longer, and the church is packed for that particular mass, we still love to go.  The music is familiar and lovely, the beautifully decorated church smells of incense and is full of kids dressed in their Christmas best.  The excitement is palpable.  It never fails to fill me with the spirit of Christmas.

Before I go, I'd like to thank you, my readers, for accompanying me on my quest for Christmas spirit.  There have been some low points along the way like on-line shopping, late nights spent sewing binding and wrapping, and of course, my ongoing troubles with Christmas lights.  But there have been many more high points, such as shopping with my kids, spending time with friends and family, lots of baking and lots of egg nog.  Christmas can be a lot of work, but like anything else, the holidays are what you make of them.  And a few burnt out bulbs, shipping anxiety and long lines seem small in comparison to the joy of the season.

In the beginning of this journey I posed the question, "is it possible to re-peak?"  My answer?  A resounding "Yes!"  Christmas spirit found!

My warmest wishes to you all for a wonderful, joyful, and peaceful holiday!


Tuesday, December 23, 2014

In Search of Christmas Spirit - Day 22

Day 22 - Wrapping, Argh

I've been closeted in my bedroom for the last few hours wrapping presents.  I was almost finished, but then I hit the wall.  So I decided to take a break, stretch my legs, and write this post.

I know wrapping is necessary, but with the exception of Christmas lights -- I think I've been pretty clear about how I feel about Christmas lights -- wrapping has got to be the worst part of Christmas.

Because it's not my favorite thing, I normally procrastinate and end up spending Christmas Eve by myself, locked in my bedroom, wrapping while watching "It's A Wonderful Life" and drinking egg nog.  I love "It's A Wonderful Life" and obviously I'm a fan of egg nog, but having to spend Christmas Eve alone is just not working for me anymore.  This year, I'm determined to have all of my wrapping finished before Christmas Eve.  That leaves me about an hour to wrap up the wrapping.

Wrapping -- not so good for the Christmas spirit.

Monday, December 22, 2014

In Search of Christmas Spirit - Day 21

Day 21 - Christmas Shopping

Today the kids and I went for lunch and Christmas shopping and tonight, my stomach hurts from laughing so much.

The plan was for the kids to take turns shopping for each other, but I still had a couple of things to pick up.  Not easy to do with the three kids in tow, so I asked them to hang out on their own for a bit.  My 14 year old son immediately responded, "Why, did you drop the ball on the presents this year?"  I didn't know whether to laugh, feel guilty, or scold him for his sass.  I couldn't help it, I chose laughter and sent them on their way.

But while I was trying to finish up my shopping, my brilliant kids, knowing I tend to worry, texted me "We're alive" or "Still alive" at least every five minutes.  Kind of hard to focus on the shopping when you are laughing like a fool every few minutes.

And when we were shopping all together it didn't get any easier.  I have no idea why my kids are incapable of walking in a straight line or of keeping their hands to themselves.  They were shoving each other, bumping into me, tripping on each other's feet, and veering in front of me as we tried to walk through the crowds in the mall.  Today's experience should have been totally irritating, but honestly it was so much fun.  My kids are clever and fun and such good company and today was amazing.  Or maybe that's just the Christmas spirit talking...

Sunday, December 21, 2014

In Search of Christmas Spirit - Day 20

Day 20 - Family Party

I'm just about to head off to bed after our family Christmas party.  Spending time with my family, eating (too much) delicious food, playing games, and exchanging gifts made today the best day yet for my Christmas spirit.  In fact, I even listened to Christmas music for the first time since Thanksgiving!  I'm definitely recovering from peaking too soon.

I'd be perfectly happy tonight if I hadn't just looked at my kitchen and floors on the way to write this post.  Disaster.  Sort of wondering why we even bothered to clean in the first place.  I think the smart thing to do is to turn off the lights and go upstairs and pretend that the kitchen doesn't exist because I simply can't face cleaning up tonight.  Out of sight, out of mind, right?!

But before I go, here's an idea for a game that the kids played at our party tonight.  It's called "Pass the Present" and I learned about it at my book club party last week.  It's kind of like musical chairs, but with a gift.  First wrap a small gift over and over with different wrapping papers or even newspaper.  You should wrap the present at least 15 times.  Then play music while the players pass the present from person to person.  Stop the music and whoever ends up holding the present unwraps a layer of paper.  Continue on in the same manner through all of the layers of paper.  The person who unwraps the last layer of paper keeps the gift.  I don't know who enjoyed the game more, the kids playing or the adults watching!

Just a few days to go!!

Saturday, December 20, 2014

In Search of Christmas Spirit - Day 19

Day 19 - Party Prep

Tomorrow we are having a family party at our house, so today we've spent the day getting ready for it.  The house is tidy, most of the food is ready, and the presents are wrapped -- the completed presents, that is.  It's 11:45 pm and I just barely finished my mom's gift.  I have about an hour's worth of work left on my sister's and I'm trying to decide if I can squeeze it in tomorrow, or if I should push on and finish it tonight.  I feel like I'm back in college pulling an all-nighter trying to write a paper.  Shudder.

I'd love to wax poetic about visions of sugar plums and the glow of the Christmas lights, but alas I'm in serious danger of not actually publishing this post before midnight.  So please excuse me if tonight's post is short.  Eek, it's now 11:55 pm!

Here's a gratuitous shot of Casey, who has been my constant companion today.  Hopefully her sweet face will compensate for my brevity!  TTFN!

Friday, December 19, 2014

In Search of Christmas Spirit - Day 18

Day 18:  Christmas Cards

Did I mention that last night's post was going to be short?  Oops, I meant tonight's post is going to be short.  I'm just getting back home from another shindig, this one a cookie swap party.  I now have at least 25 varieties of cookies in the house.  No need for additional cookie baking!!  But parties two nights in a row means that while my Christmas spirit is high, I'm a smidge on the tired side, so tonight is going to be a quickie.

My Christmassy thing for the day was sending off our Christmas cards.  I'm probably a bit late, but I'm optimistic that the cards will make it in time for Christmas, at least to the American addresses  -- sorry Canadian relatives if the cards are late!

Here's the photo that I used for the Christmas card:

Ethan, Grayson, Brian and Casey

It's not exactly Christmassy, it's actually our kids on the first day of school, but for once all three kids were smiling AND had their eyes open in the same picture.  Casey, however, was being less than cooperative -- I have no idea what she was looking at in the distance.  I can't help but smile when I look at this picture and I'm hoping it has the same effect on our Christmas card recipients.  Spreading joy, very Christmassy.

5 days until Christmas!!

Thursday, December 18, 2014

In Search of Christmas Spirit - Day 17

Day 17:  Baking, Again

This is going to be a super short post tonight because I'm headed out the door for my book club Christmas party.  My book club meets once a month and in December we have a party to celebrate the end of the year and to come up with a list of books for the next year.  We also have a Yankee Swap gift game and a cookie dough swap, or as some book club members call it, a "balls and logs" swap.  I'm just going to leave that one alone.

But the cookie dough swap meant more baking.  So I decided to try a new recipe for "Cherry Cheesecake Cookies" a slice and bake cookie from Better Homes and Gardens' Christmas special issue 100 Best Cookies.  Click here if you'd like to see the recipe on-line.  The dough smelled so good that I decided to bake some of the cookies and they taste as good as they look.

And while I was in baking mode, I baked cookies for the kids to give to their teachers and for their school parties.

First I made chocolate dipped shortbread cookies:

And then I made "Jewel Cookies" using Martha Stewart's recipe.  Also found that one on-line, click here.  My family calls these yummy cookies "Jelly Filled Dainties" -- a name we inherited from my mother-in-law who has been making a similar cookie for years.  I think "Jelly Filled Dainties" is much more festive, but I'm not about to tell Martha.  Either way they are delicious:

By the time I was finished this evening, our kitchen island was covered with cookies and the house smelled amazing!

And now I'm off to my party, Christmas spirit on the rise!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

In Search of Christmas Spirit - Day 16

Day 16:  Handmade Gifts

Shhh... Today I worked some more on my handmade gifts and I have to say, I think making gifts may be one of my favorite Christmassy things to do.  And given the calm state I'm in tonight, I'd say it's definitely better for my soul than on-line shopping.

I still can't disclose what I'm working on, but here are some more gifts from Christmases past that may inspire you to make gifts of your own!

Here's a quilt I made for my sister a few years ago because she loves snowmen. This cute pattern from MH Designs is called "Winter Snowmen."

That same year, I made this quilt for my mom.  Also by MH Designs, it's called "Carolers."

And a couple of years ago, I made "Slim the Snowman" quilts for both my mom and sister.  This pattern was designed by Rhonda McCray of Farmhouse Threads and was featured in the Winter 2012 issue of Primitive Quilts and Projects magazine.  I've been meaning to make one of these adorable snowmen for myself.  Maybe next year...

My sister made this quilt for me for Christmas a few years ago and it's her original design.  Pretty isn't it!

And she made this one for me several years ago.  It wasn't actually a Christmas present, but I wanted to include it to show how beautiful her appliqué is.  This quilt was based on the "Homecoming Wreath" pattern in the book Little Quilts by Alice Berg, Mary Ellen Von Holt, and Sylvia Johnson.

My mom made this beautiful cathedral window pillow for me a couple of years ago:

And she made this sweet mini quilt for me the year before that:

Not to be left out, my daughter has also sewn a couple of beautiful gifts that she designed by herself.  First up is her manger pillow.  She made this one when she was 9 or 10:

And she made this adorable snowman quilt two years ago.  I just love the holly leaves and berries on the snowmen's hats:

Finally, here's a gift that my sister-in-law Leisa, an amazing artist, sent to me just the other day.  Isn't he handsome in his scarf!?

I'm surrounded by talented and generous women.  Thinking about them and creating for them today is just what I needed to increase my Christmas spirit and, for that matter, my gratitude.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

In Search of Christmas Spirit - Day 15

Day 15:  Panicked, Last-Minute On-Line Shopping

I'm normally a big fan of on-line shopping.  Sitting at home, comfy and warm, clicking the mouse a few times and then getting on with my life while some nice UPS driver brings my gifts to our front step.

This year has been a slightly different experience.  Our December has been pretty busy so far, so there hasn't been a lot of time for any kind of shopping.  And to top it off, the kids were late getting their wish lists to me.  I would have started sooner, but never having had a brother, I've been stumped about what to buy for my teenage boys (I miss Legos!).  I have the opposite problem with my daughter -- her list is 2 pages long and, literally, has a bibliography.

So this morning I finally got busy on-line.  It took about 5 minutes for the panic to set in.

Right away I found that some of the gifts I was thinking about were out of stock, or back ordered, or unavailable in the sizes I needed.  If I did manage to find an item in stock, I, of course, had to check a bunch of different stores to make sure I was getting it for the lowest price.  I'd discover a low price, only to find that that particular store had high shipping rates and I could have gotten a better total price at another store.  Then I'd have to go through the 20 tabs I had open in my browser to try to re-find the store with the best deal.  All the while, the red printed "Hurry, only 1 remaining," would be flashing on the screen, trying to force me to make a quick decision or lose the only remaining item in the entire country to another savvier shopper.

And if I did manage to get an item in my shopping cart, the whole shipping conundrum would begin.  Should I roll the dice and use the free shipping and not sleep between now and Christmas, wracked with worry that the gifts wouldn't arrive on time?  Or should forgo the worry by paying an exorbitant amount for 2-day shipping.  Of course then when the package arrived 1 day later, I'd wonder if I could have gotten away with the free shipping after all.  Either way it's crazy making.

All day long I've been alternating between work and shopping on the computer.  I think I'm finally closing in on the end, but I am a wreck!  I'm stressed out, tired, second guessing my choices, and already dreading my Visa bill.

Now it's starting to feel like Christmas!!

Monday, December 15, 2014

In Search of Christmas Spirit - Day 14

Day 14:  Decorating Hector

Finally, at long last, tonight we had an evening when the entire family was home long enough to decorate Hector.  No drama rehearsals, no hockey practices, no business trips, no working late.  Just a night at home -- we even managed to squeeze in a family dinner.

When the homework was finished at 7:30, we hauled the ornament boxes upstairs and wouldn't you know it, we discovered that one of the strings of lights on the tree had gone out.  I wasn't surprised in the least (frankly I'm just numb to the whole light debacle), I simply unplugged it, pulled it gently from the tree, and replaced it with a new string that I just happened to have in my bag of tricks.  Jen 1, universe 0.  Nice try universe!  Oops, I probably shouldn't tempt fate like that!  I take it back!

Glitches dealt with, we got to work on the tree.  I don't know if it's because of Hector's small stature, but we had way too many ornaments for the tree.  When I was growing up, my parents would give my sister and I an ornament every year for Christmas.  I've continued the tradition with my kids, and with three kids, the number of ornaments is starting to get out of control!  But I have to say, it's so much fun to pull out an ornament and remember what the kids used to love when they were little.

First there was the Winnie the Pooh phase:

And then Bob the Builder:

One of their all time favorites was Scooby Doo:

And who doesn't love the Grinch (although I'm not so sure I love him on the tree!):

They got s'mores ornaments the year we started camping:

And hockey ornaments when they started playing hockey:

There are snowman ornaments:

And plenty of moose ornaments (we do, after all, live in New Hampshire):

And the year we got our dog Casey for Christmas, the kids had to have dog ornaments:

Hector may be smallish and he may be covered with a hodgepodge of ornaments, but he's beautiful and finally, he's finished.  And if any more strings of lights suddenly go out, they are just going to have to stay that way for the rest of the season because, frankly, I am fed up with illumination!!  Ok, so I guess I'm not so numb to the light debacle after all...

Sunday, December 14, 2014

In Search of Christmas Spirit - Day 13

Day 13:  Baking - Take Two

It's Sunday night and I'm finally home.  There's a fire in the wood stove, all of our activities/duties are finished for the day, and there's a bottle of white wine in the fridge calling my name -- J-e-n, J-e-n...

I think the most Christmassy thing I can do tonight is answer the call from the fridge and enjoy a glass of wine by the light of the Christmas tree.  And what could be better with a glass of wine than something sweet.  Today I baked cheesecake cookies for my daughter's cast party and after the scolding I received from my kids for donating all of the last cookies I baked, I learned my lesson and saved a few cheesecakes cookies at home.

These are cheesecake cookies.  I guess they're officially more of a square or bar than a cookie, but my mom's old friend, Sue Korpella, who was kind enough to share the recipe with us, called them cookies, so cookies they are!  I chose to leave them plain today, but you can use food coloring to color the cheesecake layer red or green to up the Christmassy factor.  However you choose to make them, they are delicious!

And without further ado, here is Sue's recipe...

Sue Korpella's Cheesecake Cookies

For the bottom layer:

5 tbsp. cold butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 cup flour
1/4 cup nuts (I usually use walnuts)

Grease an 8" square pan.  Mix brown sugar and flour.  Cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse meal.  Stir in nuts.  Reserve 1 cup flour mixture and press remaining mixture into pan.  Bake at 350° for 12-15 minutes, until just beginning to turn golden.

For the cheesecake layer:

1/2 cup sugar
1 8 oz. block cream cheese, softened
1 egg
2 tbsp. milk
1/2 tsp. vanilla

Blend ingredients together (coloring if so desired) and pour onto baked crust.  Top with remaining crumb mixture.  Bake at 350° for 25 minutes.  Cool to room temperature and chill before slicing and serving.  Then pour yourself a glass of white wine, put a cheesecake cookie on a plate and sit yourself down by the fire.  You've been working hard!!  You deserve it!!

Saturday, December 13, 2014

In Search of Christmas Spirit - Day 12

Day 12:

Tonight we went to see my daughter perform in "Cyrano de BurgerShack," and while it wasn't a very Christmassy thing to do, it did wonders for my spirit.  "Cyrano de BurgerShack" is a pop musical (yes, that's right, more theater speak) and the kids did such a great job singing, dancing, and acting.  My jaw is sore from smiling for 2 hours straight!

Here's a photo of the City Hall that houses our local Opera House.  If you look closely, you can just make out the Christmas lights in the cupola.  Pretty Christmassy, right?

This is my daughter after the show, hamming it up in her prom chaperone costume.

And just because it cracks me up, here is a a picture of my daughter's idea of flower arranging.  Her technique is very simple -- shove one bouquet on one side of a vase and cram another bouquet in on the other side.  I just love that girl...

Now after a long day that started with an away hockey game and ended with a night at the theater, and with more of the same on deck for tomorrow, it's time for me to head upstairs for a long winter's nap.

Friday, December 12, 2014

In Search of Christmas Spirit - Day 11

Day 11:  Loose Ends

Another busy weekend on deck:  two hockey games and 4 performances of "Cyrano de BurgerShack."  My family is coming to stay for the weekend, so my Christmassy task of the day was to tie up some loose ends.

First, for good measure, I added a couple more quilts.  This is, after all, supposed to be a quilting blog!  My mom made this sweet little quilt for me for Christmas last year.

She also made this one for me several years ago.  Isn't she talented!?

I changed out my table runner too.  This one is called "Cranberry Christmas."

Then I put out the stockings:

And finally, I finished the exterior illumination.  And this time I was smart!  I went out and bought two new strands of lights for the street lamp and the front door, and not just any lights, strands of lights that would stay lit even if a bulb went out.  Genius!  Not me obviously, otherwise I would have already been using them!

So here is the street lamp:

And finally, at long last, the finished house:

The white circles are snowflakes! Cool, huh!?
So with the notable exception of Hector's ornaments (Hector, once again, is our Christmas tree), the house is ready for Christmas company.  I've got champagne chilling in the fridge and my Christmas spirit is growing, despite the fact that I am beginning to wonder:  who is going to help me with the January dismantling?

Thursday, December 11, 2014

In Search of Christmas Spirit - Day 10

Day 10:  Baking

I'm getting home late tonight after chaperoning in the green room for my daughter's play, "Cyrano de BurgerShack".  That's right, the green room.  I think chaperoning qualifies me to use theater speak.  After all, I did have to get finger-printed and pass a background check to be there.  I'm so relieved that my criminal past didn't prevent me from chaperoning.

Because it's so late, this post is going to be short, but sweet.  Sweet because today I tried to increase my Christmas spirit by baking.  I love to bake!  Pies, cookies, quick breads, you name it, I love to bake it.  And the smell of Christmas cookies baking in the oven is enough to fill anyone with Christmas spirit.

First I baked Christmas cupcakes for the cast and crew of "Cyrano de BurgerShack."

I made 2 dozen cupcakes for the kids and they were demolished in 5 minutes flat.  It's so much fun to bake for teenagers!

Then I baked Christmas cookies for the bake sale that will take place during the performances.  I chose a favorite butter cookie recipe from Susan Branch (click here for Susan's recipe).  I love this recipe because it's so versatile.  Today I chose to roll the dough into logs that I then rolled in red and green sugar.  After chilling the logs, I cut them into 1/2" slices and baked them for 11 minutes at 350°.  It's a great way to get a lot of cookies in a hurry, and aren't they pretty!?

Here they are packaged up and ready to sell during the play intermissions:

And now after spending hours and hours with 25 teenagers who were high on adrenaline and sugar, and low on deodorant, I'm off to bed.  Christmas spirit on the rise.  Energy on the wane.