Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas from our family to yours!

Our 2010 Christmas Card

We finally got the picture taken on a random Monday night when the kids both happened to be wearing red.  We had to keep throwing Alex into the chair next to Elizabeth.  He thought it was a great game and both kids were laughing like mad.  Here are a few of the hilarious "out-takes" -


My personal favorite...
I'll be taking a blog break for the next week so I'll see you in 2011!

Happy New Year!


HOLIDAYography: Non-Baking Baking

Hello.  My name is Melissa and I am a horrible baker.  I am a decent cook but baking is not my strong point.  Ok, that's a serious understatement.  I have tremendous difficulty measuring and reading directions.  Fortunately the hubby is quite a good baker so we have balance in our marriage.

So, if you are down to the line and you need to get some homemade sweets on the table for Christmas, here are some super easy ideas for you!

But, once a year, I do a little baking - Christmas.  It's the only time that I actually want to bake and semi-enjoy it.  Some would say that what I do is not really baking but I do put sugary things in the oven so I think it qualifies.  I like to give these things to people I work with, bring to our families, and of course the parking  attendant in my office garage to whom I entrust my car on a daily basis.  You know - the important people in our lives.

Sugar Cookies

I am  still a traditionalist and I love sugar cookies at Christmas.  I totally cheat and buy the dough.  I don't think the store bought dough is the best dough and I think it spreads a little too much, but it gets the job done.  And once those cookies are covered with icing and sprinkles, who really cares what shape they are.  This year we did all stars although I have a plethora of cookie cutters.  Elizabeth, my 4 year old, loves to help cut out and decorate the cookies.  It's a fun family activity because sometimes Jim will get into it too.  I keep the icing simple - confectioners sugar, melted butter, and milk.  Don't ask for measurements because I eyeball it.

Magic Bars

Magic bars are my favorite kind of baking.  No measuring whatsoever, seems complicated and fancy, and readily available ingredients.  I usually have everything on hand except the sweetened condensed milk.  I use the recipe for Eagle Brand (found here), but I tweak it a bit by adding butterscotch chips as well as semi-sweet chocolate.  I always make a double batch because these things are tasty and they look great on a cookie plate and they keep for more than a week.

All Recipes

Peppermint Bark

I like to balance my cookie plates with some sort of "candy".  This year I finally found a non-baking candy recipe which doesn't even require an oven - just a microwave!  I found it in the weekly newsletter from You've Got Supper, an awesome site for recipes and weekly meal plans. It took no time at all and looks totally fancy.

Let's hope everyone enjoys the cookies!  I ended up with 3 huge containers of cookies to share at Christmas with my family. 

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There you have it!


HOLIDAYography: All the rest!

Finally, the rest of our holiday decor.  This is hodgepodge post so bear with me.

When our stairs were in our living room, I used these garlands to decorate the stairs.  I couldn't figure out a way to do that this year without interfering with the stairs - and we have a lot more stairs now!  So, this year, I used the same garland and just wrapped it around the newel posts on the first floor and on the landing near the driveway door.  I think it adds a lot to that entry way where most of our friends and family come and go. 

On the side door, I also put up wreaths for the first time.  Hanging them was a challenge initially because they were intended for the outside.  Turns out standard wreath hangers don't work on Anderson patio doors (which is what those driveway side doors are), so I ended up just hanging the wreaths inside.  I got them for $9.99 each at A.C. Moore and wish I had bought a few more.  I like them so much hanging inside, I'll have to find something new for the outside next year!

 In the family room, I added a few little things to our bookcases - next year I will definitely do more. 
On the windows on either side of the fireplace, I hung these sweet Santas that I bought at Tuesday Morning last year.  I almost never go in there any more because I think their prices have gotten a little out of whack lately but every so often I stop in and find a little gem like these. 

Finally, on our back door, I hung this metal Santa which my mom gave me a really long time ago and which has lived in almost every room in our house at one time or another.  I think he's adorable.  Fishing line was my decorating friend this year!


HOLIDAYography: My Holiday Kitchen

I don't generally do a ton of Christmas decorating in the kitchen.  We have enough going on in there without a lot of added complications but I do like to have a few little things.  The little bits of red really pop against our white cabinets and black granite countertops. 

This year I brought back my favorite hurricane candle with peppermints on my center island.  Total cost $1.50 for peppermints.  I decided not to unwrap them because I think they would get pretty gross and sticky after a while. I like how the green candle contrasts with the candies but I am on the lookout for a red flame-less candle on the post-holiday sale racks.

The chandelier in our kitchen eating area got a neat little trimming with some fake green garland wrapped with some sparkly red apple garland that I have had for years.  I also added these fun reindeer from the Dollar Tree (two for $1 actually!). 

The centerpiece is a glass vase with five or six Dollar Tree red and green picks.  I didn't know what I would do with them when I bought them but knew there would be plenty of opportunities.  I love them with the vase.

Over the sliding doors in the eating ware, I propped up this "Believe" sign.  It's made of mental and really neat.  Next year I may use it outside over the front door but I need to seal it well first.  
This adorable snow family hangs out near the sink.  I bought them one of the first years that we lived in Washington but at a flower shop in my hometown, Hudson Falls, New York.  I still love them.
Over the sink I put a sweet little plaque.  It is just balancing up there - good thing we don't have earthquakes very often.

A couple of other kitchen touches -

How do you decorate your kitchen for the holidays, or do you totally ignore it?


HOLIDAYography: Our Budget Christmas Dining Room

I am finally getting around to showing you our holiday dining room decorations.  I really love how everything came out this year even though I spent less than $10 to add some sparkle this year.  I tried to rethink how I used some things in the past and change it up so it feels new to me.  A major money saver!

Here's where I ended up.  The only new things I bought this year were a few Christmas balls.  The ones hanging from the chandelier are from the Dollar Tree!  They are plastic which means I don't have to be very careful packing them up.  

I have always put green garland around the chandelier but this year I decided to play up the chandelier and just add the balls.  I hung the balls from the crystal hangers and it took all of 1 minute. 

The centerpiece is not my favorite but I could not find anything I liked more for this year.  I have had this paper mache fruit for about 6 years at least and the candles for much longer than that.  I never burn them because I love them.  The tablerunner was a bargain purchase from Lillian Vernon about 4 years ago.  I'll have an eye out for a new centerpiece (or the makings of a centerpiece) in the after Christmas sales. 

This year I dressed up the windows with these jingle bell candy canes I bought from Marshalls last year.  I used them in the family room previously but I thought they were a bit too glittery for there. 

The china cabinet was one of my favorite results this year.  On top and in the crystal bowl inside, I added simple red balls from CVS (about $4 for a whole bunch).  I put my Christmas accent plates out as a backdrop for the crystal and serving wear.  Finally, I added the little gold bow to the key just for a little extra sparkle. 

Finally, I couldn't overlook the bar area where I reused some picks which have been used in many iterations of holiday decor in my house - from a wreath to chandelier decor to a pine garland spruce-up (pun totally intended).  I added another bow to one of the bottles there and the last of my $1 Christmas balls.  The table runner was a Christmas gift from my mom last year.  Next year, I may use this runner on the main table if I can find a centerpiece that works. 
Check back tomorrow for the rest of our holiday home decor!


HOLIDAYography: Getting the Christmas Cards Out!

I finally got the Christmas cards out today - well most of them.  I am still waiting on a few addresses for friends who have moved this year.  It seems that our friend circle is rather mobile!  I send over 100 cards every year and that's after culling the list a bit last year.  If I never hear from you, you won't get a card.  In case you were wondering about my current card display (more about that here), it is now very full (65+ cards) and looking great!  I can definitely fit another 25 or so, so keep those cards coming!  (hahaha)

Now about our own cards.... Since we've had a dog or kids, we have always used their picture on our card.  We never include ourselves for some reason.  Maybe we'll change it up next year though.  Taking the photo is always an adventure which I try to complete before Thanksgiving.  This year, that didn't happen and we finally got it done on a random Monday night.

I ordered the card on Shutterfly as I do every year.  I like keeping all of my picture related stuff on one site and Shutterfly has great designs and they let you "stack" coupons (meaning you can use a bunch of coupons on one order).  Often I save 40% or more off the retail price of the cards - making them less than $1 each for a custom card.

I finally stopped individually addressing each card about 2 years ago.  I started using printable labels and it has made the process so easy.  I prefer the Avery 18660 labels because they are clear and work well with my inkjet printer. I actually try to maintain the same list over the course of the year so if I hear someone moved, then I add them to the list.  And if I get a card from someone who I have not previously received a card from (or I later realize that I forgot someone), then I add them to my list although I usually hand address those if the the other cards have gone out. 

Once I have the addresses and the cards, the whole process takes me 1 hour.  Yup - 1 hour!  I do things in an assembly line - completing each task for every card before moving onto the next.  I start by embossing all of the envelopes with our return address.  I have a hand embosser that I love.  It leaves a perfectly raised address every time so long as the envelopes aren't too thin.

Then, I stuff every envelope, then attach every label.  I generally enlist Elizabeth to do the stamps.  The post office will still deliver even if they are upside down!

My last (and totally ingenious step) is using a glue stick to seal each one. I have tried licking the envelopes (have you seen Seinfeld?!) and I have tried using various tools to dampen the self-stick sealer.  All failures.  Two years ago I came up with the idea to use the glue stick.  I will never go back!  Works every time perfectly and even the edges are sealed.  Woohoo!

If you want to see our final card, you'll have to check back here on Friday!


HOLIDAYography: Gingerbread Magic

My incredibly sweet and generous neighbor and friend Meghan hosted a gingerbread party for 8 kids 6 and under last weekend.  Of course, it was all for a good cause - an fundraiser auction item for our children's preschool.  Although I admit I was skeptical that pre-Christmas-sized attentions could be held for 3 hours without disaster, it was a complete and total success.  I was happy to help her out and provide a few details, but she was the definite ringmaster of this three ring circus!

Here's the play-by-play in case you want to host one of these parties.

1)  The houses -  Meghan did ALL of the work on the houses and they were really amazing.  She started with a small milk pint container and then made a template from that.  Each house had a milk carton base which made it very sturdy and easier to assemble.  She used the gingerbread and icing recipe from Joy of Cooking.

She mounted each on piece of foam board covered in tin foil.  How cute is this?!

2)  Table set-up - We started with a plain white paper tablecloth with a plastic lining (purchased at the grocery store) to protect the table.  The perfect blank canvas.  Each kid had an assembled gingerbread house, a plate of candy, a plastic knife, a small dish of icing, and a dish with candy in front of them when they sat down.  We tied balloons to each chair - red, green, and brown. (Side note - brown balloons are not standard colors at most grocery stores so you may need to plan further ahead (I didn't) and head to a party store instead).

3)  House decor - Here is a list of the stuff that we had on hand for the kids to decorate with.  In hindsight, we probably should have unwrapped anything that was wrapped.  We didn't use anything with nuts.  Each kid had a gingerbread dish in front of them, but there was also candy strewn on the table and in other bowls and plates which they threw passed around.  Each kid also had a small dish of royal icing in front of them which we replenished as necessary. 

  1. Peppermints
  2. Andy's Candy Mints (great doors)
  3. Necco Wafers
  4. Marshmallows - large white and pink/green holiday ones
  5. Twizzlers
  6. M&Ms - holiday and regular colors
  7. Mike & Ike's holiday
  8. gumdrops
  9. gumdrop rings (make great wreaths)
  10. Junior Mints
  11. Candy canes - we had large ones but you could use either large or small or both
  12. Square pretzels (make great windows)

4)  Trees - Meg's hubby Jeff made Christmas trees with cone shaped ice cream cones dipped in green royal icing.  The kids loved decorating them for their gingerbread yards!

5) Snowmen - Big white marshmallows make great snowmen!  

5)  Inspiration - We printed a few pictures of gingerbread houses we found on the internet to give the kids ideas.  I think they had plenty of ideas without looking but it was some good inspiration for some.

6)  Goody Bag - Each child took home a goody bag in addition to their gingerbread house.  The goody bag was a plain small brown paper gift bag.  Meg had stickers and markers on hand for decorating.  It only took them about 5 minutes to decorate but that was a great time filler between snack and pick-up time.  The goody bag included a ceramic gingerbread shaped dish that we used for candy (we washed and dried them while the kids took an outside play break), a homemade Christmas music CD with a custom "Gingerbread Play Date 2010" label (may main contribution to this entire project), and a gingerbread cookie wrapped in cellophane.  We tied a balloon to each bag.  What kid doesn't like balloons?!

6)  Party Schedule (roughly)
  • 2 p.m. - Kids arrive and head to the basement playroom until everyone arrives.
  • 2:30 p.m. - Decorating (and candy and icing eating) begins.  We each help the kids along a little but they quickly get the idea and are gung-ho with decorating!
  • 3:30 - Kids head outside to run off some sugary energy with Jeff.  Meg and I clean up the table and move the houses to the sideboards for safekeeping.  
  • 4:00 - Snack time - Popcorn and hot cocoa.
  • 4:15 - Kids decorate their goody bag with stickers and markers.
  • 4:30 - Awards!  We award each child an award certificate - Most Beautiful House, Sweetest House, Most Decorated House, Most Sparkly House, Most Christmas Spirit, etc.
  • 5:00 - Parents picked up - Meg offered everyone beer and wine so things were a bit festive for them too!
Here's a sample of the award certificate.
    If you are thinking about hosting this party, I would not do it with less than the 3 adults that we had on hand at all times to help out with the 8 kids.  We probably could have done it with 2 but it would have been much crazier.  It was also great to have Jeff take the kids outside to run off the sugar while we did a quick clean-up and prepared the snack. 

    Here are some of the kids' awesome creations!

    We put Elizabeth's on the mantel in our family room!

    Overall, it was a tremendous success.  All of the kids were really into it.  I don't think I would try this with kids much younger than 3.5 without having their parents on hand as well.  The parents all seemed so impressed with the result and loved the goody bags - people were telling me days later at school that they loved it.

    All of this creativity really got my juices flowing.  I think both Meg and I both were dying to get our hands on a house and decorate.  Maybe we'll have to do that sometime over a glass of wine!  The possibilities are really endless.

    In case you are interested, check out these other parties I have hosted!

    Have you done a gingerbread party? What worked and didn't work?

    p.s. In 2011, this is the most linked page from my blog on Pinterest!

    As featured on Apartment Therapy's ohdeedoh!


      HOLIDAYography: The Mantel Part II - The Living Room

      After doing my typical family room mantel and feeling a little let down with the result (read about that here), I decided to change things up in the living room.  Here is where I started which was basically the work of my four year old with a few things left over from the fall.  And, yes, the lampshade really looked that way because I didn't have the right light bulb to hold the shade.  Talk about forlorn.

      It was about 15 degrees outside so I took on the challenge of doing everything without buying anything or even leaving the house!  So, I shopped my house for things to use.  I quickly settled on glass and crystal, as well as golds, silver, and splashes of red.  It's hard for me to get away from red at Christmas.

      Here's where I ended up and I LOVE it!   

      When I searched my house for stuff to use, I was thinking outside of the regular Christmas decorations.  Anything that I had a bunch of and was gold or silver was game for inclusion.  I had these small apothecary jars still in the box for potential use in my master bathroom.  The candlesticks and other silver pieces were in my dining room (mostly unpolished - oh well).  I filled the glass and crystal with Christmas garland, berry picks, small brass Christmas ornaments that I have not used on my tree in years but which have sentimental value, and even gold and silver napkin rings!  The gold garland was previously an old centerpiece which I dismantled this year so I could use the pieces.
      I had bought these reindeer ornaments at the dollar store earlier this season.  I think they were 2 for a $1 and they are adorable.  I love how they bring a touch of whimsy to the display and dress up the sconces a bit. 

      What do you think? 


      HOLIDAYography: Tree Skirt Alternative

      The Christmas tree skirt was really bugging me and I had to tell you about it.  We've had this skirt for at least 5 years so I didn't feel any loyalty to it.  It's a bit too glam for what I have going on and I am not digging the burgundy since the majority of our ornaments are really red.  I'll likely put it in the yard sale box tonight. 

      [Please ignore the pine needles.]

      I had thought about making a new tree skirt.  I love the idea of making a tree skirt out of red and white felt and putting the kids' hand prints on it every year.  If you are interested in making one, click here for a tutorial in Family Fun Magazine.  But, it's already mid-December and I haven't sent my Christmas cards or wrapped any gifts so maybe a new tree skirt is too ambitious. Clearly I am getting old.

      Having ditched the old skirt, I started prowling around the house for an alternative.  I found some fabric which would work, but wasn't really adding anything.  Then, I remembered the wool plaid throw I brought back from Scotland as a gift for Jim back in 1996 (!).  It's perfectly red and green and...

       It's the MacGregor tartan!

      Even better, it's one less thing to store in the attic which will make Jim so happy.  After Christmas, I'll send it through the washing machine and put it back in the basement play room where it will likely become a fort again. 

      Maybe next year I'll tackle a new tree topper.  

      What do you use as a tree skirt?  Did you make it?  Does it have any sentimental value?