The Best Way to Spread Christmas Cheer is Singing Loud for All to Hear (288th new thing).

February 14, 2012 § Leave a comment

I don’t own any Christmas albums, not even any cheeky or cheesy holiday classics by Bing Crosby or Adam Sandler’s “Hanukkah Song.” I’m pretty sure he only time I listen to the seasonal tunes is at my parents’ house when my mom insists we have a soundtrack to our festivities. Maybe in the mall as well should I ever be forced to fight the crowds for last-minute shopping. So on Day Two Hundred Eighty-Eight I decided to enhance my Christmas spirit by listening to holiday songs played continuously on a local fm radio station. I also bought a Christmas song on iTunes: “Merry Christmas Everyone” by Shakin Stevens, a real English classic that reminds me of my cousin’s school recital nearly ten years ago.

I realized that my taste in holiday tunes definitely trends towards the classics I listened to as a kid. Wham!’s “Last Christmas” brought a smile to my face as did Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas is You.” I almost changed the station during the second airing of a Mannheim Steamroller song, but I was glad I didn’t when David Bowie and Bing Crosby’s “Little Drummer Boy” came on.

The music made me cheerful and filled with holiday spirit. I curled up next to my still bare Tree and for the first time in years, it really felt like Christmas time. It probably helped that I was bawling my way through Elf.

Being Betty Crocker (287th new thing).

February 14, 2012 § Leave a comment

My mom has often made giant plates of holiday goodies around Christmas time. Mince pies, sausage rolls, sugar cookies, shortbread, and white chocolate dipped oreos have been included in these giant trays of deliciousness. She’ll give some to neighbors or friends and the family gets to eat the rest. On Day Two Hundred Eighty-Seven, I decided to try my own hand at baking. I made home made shortbread, peppermint bark, and the old standby, chocolate chip cookies.

I researched some sweet tooth recipes online before narrowing down my selection to items that should be easy enough to make in an evening. While I have indeed made chocolate chip cookies from scratch before, it had been long enough for me to question my baking abilities. Usually my method of making cookies involves scooping out the dough from a store bought tube.

I began with the shortbread, using the easiest recipe I could find (with the most positive reviews). I whipped together the sugar (both brown and white to merge a few different recipes), butter, and flour then rolled out the dough thickly. Too thickly. After they came out of the oven, golden brown and ready for sugar to be sprinkled on top, the pieces kind of looked like small bricks, three times the size of the traditional Walker’s Shortbread. At least they tasted good.

Next I moved onto the peppermint bark. I gathered my ingredients: milk chocolate, white chocolate, peppermint oil leftover from Patrick’s birthday Grasshopper Pie, and crushed candy canes from last year’s tree. The chips melted easily in the microwave. I mixed in some peppermint oil and then layered the gooey mess over a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. First the milk chocolate, then the white chocolate on top (after first popping the beginning layer in the freezer to set). I sprinkled in some peppermint pieces and returned the concoction back to the cold recesses of our ice box. Once it had set I clumsily broke apart the chocolate into jagged pieces. Another success.

Finally it was chocolate chip cookie time. I had bought Ghirardelli milk chocolate chips and chose to simply follow the recipe on the back of the bag, adding walnuts as a personal preference. By the time these staples came out of the oven I had gorged myself on enough dessert to have me set for the entire holiday season, but there is always room for chocolate chip cookies. The still melted chocolate stuck to my lip as I greedily wolfed down a few bites cookies. They were really good.

Once I had finished my baking experiments, I looked around the kitchen and figured I had too many sweets in the house. I gathered my mom’s old Santa plate from the previous year and piled a little bit of everything onto it. I would take a page out of her book and bring some to share with my coworkers the next day. The rest I felt sure Patrick and I could take care of.

Mardi Gras Christmas (284th new thing).

February 11, 2012 § Leave a comment

Every holiday season, my mom and her best friend, Cindy, alternate who hosts the pre-Christmas get together. Aunt Cin lives in North Georgia, and my parents in North Carolina, so it’s always a bit of trek for someone, especially since Nicole and Ryan live in Alabama and I live in Atlanta. The ladies also like to theme each gathering with an international flair. Last year was Buon Natale where we drank a lot of Italian Chianti and ate lasagna. The previous holiday was Feliz Navidad where copious amounts of margaritas were consumed along with some enchiladas. This year, we stuck stateside and had a Mardi Gras Christmas, my first, on Day Two Hundred Eighty-Four.

Donning our masks for a group portrait

A festive table

All in the details

Six year old Claire struggles with her mask

Patrick decided to bring the ingredients to make Sazerac, a New Orleans Old Fashion. Rye whiskey, simple syrup, bitters. Lack of the absinthe-like ingredient changed the drink a bit.

Drinking the Sazerac. Not my favorite, but certainly sippable.

My family is really loud. Murphy takes precautions.

King Cake. I didn

My cousin Claire is quite the ham. One of the most memorable parts of Mardi Gras Christmas was her version of classic Beatles’ songs and a few modern tunes. There was a mirror behind me (and my camera), and like I did in my youth, she sang passionately to her reflection. Here’s some blackmail material for her teenage years.

The Gift of Warmth (282nd new thing).

February 8, 2012 § 3 Comments

I knew I would be making and gifting circle scarves for the ladies in my life, but I didn’t have an idea for a homemade mens present. That is, until I stumbled upon a tutorial on making rice filled heating pads. You know, the ones that you can either pop in the microwave to warm up or lay in the freezer for an ice pack. On Day Two Hundred Eighty-Two I once again pulled out my sewing machine (which has been seeing more use this year than ever) and set to work to make a heating pack.

There are many different tutorials online to sew your own version of the microwavable warmer, and I looked at several different ones before starting off. I ended up simplifying all I had read into an easy, streamlined process.

Ready to go fabric.

Most of the tutorials instructed me to create a simple pack of linen or muslin, and then sew a washable cover for the outside. Yeah, that seemed like too much sewing, so instead I just used the fabric. I bought some of the “fat quarters” found in any fabric store and folded the large rectangular material in half, ironing it flat to erase creases. Then I folded it in half again and re-ironed. It was a good size for a neck warmer, and without having to measure or cut anything, I was happy.

The machine does its work.

Next I sewed the folded over edge of fabric and one end to create a tube once it was all turned inside out. Now I could fill it with rice, scented with a touch of relaxing lavender oil I had leftover from some other random craft project.

Once the rice was added I sewed up the final opening, folding the seams inward and ironing for a flat surface. I added a finishing top seam on the other end for balance, et voila! My own rice heating pad!

A chair of rice pads.

I tested it out on Patrick and it seemed to work very well. The double thickness of fabric made it feel sturdy and didn’t allow the initial heat from the freshly microwaved pack to burn the skin. The lavender scent was pretty awesome too, although maybe a touch strong.

And everyone marveled at my craftiness come Christmas. We sat around the house with our heating pads draped around our necks, relaxing under the lavender warmth.

Lights in the Garden (274th new thing).

January 30, 2012 § Leave a comment

Every year around Christmas, the Atlanta Botanical Gardens decorates their grounds with almost one million lights in a month long event called, “Garden Lights, Holiday Nights.” On Day Two Hundred Seventy-Four I visited the Botanical Gardens for the first time to see this holiday spectacle.

Atlanta Botanical Gardens

A Chilhuly in the Garden Leftover

A light show accompanied by festive music

Staying warm in blue

Bokeh

Bear Topiary in the Greenhouse

Under the Canopy Walk

Walking through the lights

Despite the freezing air, I really enjoyed myself. We were able to see an orchid in bloom in the greenhouse night. Apparently it only flowers under the canopy of darkness, and even many employees of the Botanical Gardens have never seen it in full flower.

The whole tour took us about an hour or so, and eventually the chilly temperature proved to be too much. The gardens are beautiful, and I would love to see them again in full bloom, during the day. Maybe after I’m thirty.

Holiday Joy for my Door (273rd new thing).

January 29, 2012 § Leave a comment

I had leftover trimmings from my Christmas Tree adventure. The Lowes employee suggested I take home the evergreen leaves and make a wreath out of them. I took his advice on Day Two Hundred Seventy-Three and channeled my inner Martha Stewart to fashion a holiday decoration.

Ready to Wreath

Speaking of Martha, I found the most basic “how to” on her website. Basically you keep wrapping bundles of leaves or twigs around a wreath base until a circular garden appears. And it was really that easy.

Half way around the wire frame

I think my wreath looked a bit wild, with its longer pieces of Christmas Tree  jutting out at odd angles. But it also gives the garland character. I added a few stolen spray painted pine cones from the fall decorations at work and some purchased fake holly berries.

The most difficult part of creating my ode to Christmas was affixing the ribbon to the back. I ended up jerry-rigging the red fabric into a knot tied around a wire loop. At first the wreath hung crookedly, leaning forward as though trying to leap off the door, but after a few carefully coordinated maneuvers, I managed to somewhat secure the thing in an acceptable manner. I had Patrick help me fasten the ribbon to the top of the door with a pushpin and voila! My very first door wreath.

A scene worthy of a Christmas card

Cyber Monday (265th new thing).

January 27, 2012 § 2 Comments

I think I’ve only fought my way through the mad rush of shoppers on Black Friday once or twice, probably with my mom. I don’t particularly like crowds or fighting, so it’s not really my cuppa tea. However, sitting in front of my computer on the Monday after Thanksgiving, perusing the internet in my pajamas with no pushing and shoving? Yes, please. Thus, on Day Two Hundred Sixty-Five, I completed the majority of my shopping on what is deemed Cyber Monday, all from the comfort of my living room.

I found some pretty good deals, including a necklace for my mom, running gear for Patrick, grill tools for my Dad, and plenty of items for myself. That’s the problem with shopping, I always seem to find something I really want as well. I found a lot of deals on Amazon for craft supplies (to fashion those cherised and cheap home-made gifts), and coupled with the free trial membership of Amazon Prime I was a shopping machine.

I may have gone a little overboard.

The other bonus to shopping online is not having to load a bunch of crap into your car and then your house. Especially with the free two day shipping a ton of sites offered on Cyber Monday, I could casually hang out for forty eight hours before having to worry about wrapping anything. Plus it was like Christmas for a week, with the number of boxes I would come home to find on the front porch. Even if they weren’t items specifically for me, it was exciting. I may never step into a store again.

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