Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas!

Wishing you a very merry Christmas, from my family to yours.
May your homes and hearts be filled with
love, laughter, peace, joy, and contentment
today, and every day.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Friday, December 23, 2011

Day 23: Last Minute Gifts

Gifts of time (you could print and wrap a certificate for these):
     *A scrapbooking/baking/crafting/whatever day at your house
     *A night of babysitting
     *Help with the housekeeping (in general, or a specific and hated chore)
     *Pet sitting or grooming
     *A movie night at your house - you supply the movie, popcorn, candy, etc.
It is, admittedly, a bit late to be getting things mailed off. If you don't mind running late, these ideas could be adapted to be shipped off. For example, you could put together a baking basket with ingredients, supplies, and recipes; a scrapbooking basket with scapbooking supplies; a movie basket containing a movie or gift card with popcorn and candy, etc.

Tomorrow being Christmas Eve, I hope everyone is ready, and that you will be able to just relax and enjoy this holiday and the people you are sharing it with.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Day 22: Decorating Traditions

All of us have collected decorations to bedeck our homes and trees at Christmas. The most interesting ones, in my opinion, are the ones that have a story.

Like this ornament and musical globe that my dear husband and I received as wedding gifts.

Or these ornaments, sent throughout the years, from dear family and friends.

Decorations I made while in high school, and others that my dear son has made over the years.

Or these stockings and nativity set given to us by my dear mother-in-law.

Each object tells a story of a place in time, and a person so dear to us. Being able to pass these stories onto my son, and hopefully, someday, his children, is what makes putting up the decorations special to me.

I hope everyone is able to share their stories with the ones they love.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Day 21: Crochet Ornaments

These little beauties are quick to crochet, and look lovely on a tree.

Group a few together and you've got a fantastic gift.

Pattern Name(s): Drops Extra 0-571 (Heart); Drops Extra 0-585 (snow stars)
Pattern Designer(s): Drops Design
Pattern Source: Garnstudio/Drops Design
Yarn: Crochet thread -- I don't have the details as I don't have the labels
Hook(s): Size 5 and US C

Day 20: Geeky Decorating

I was browsing through the blogs I read, when I saw that Coggie had shared these.

and C3PO.

I think I need to make some with my family.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Day 19: A Hat to Match the Gloves

When I finished the fingertip-less Treads mitts, I had about 1/2 a ball of yarn left over. I decided the best use of it would be to make a hat that goes with the mitts.
The pattern is very simple. I cast 88 sts onto a set of US 5 (3.75 mm) double-pointed needles, dividing them evenly between the needles. I then worked in 1x1 rib (k1,p1) for 2". Next I knit one row, then the next row was a lateral braid. Another knit row came next, followed by a band of linen ridge stitch, 2 more knit rows, and another lateral braid.
I then went back to the 1x1 ribbing, and worked for 2 1/2" before beginning the decreases. The decreases were worked in pattern, with p2tog, and either a k2tog (if the first 2 sts on the needle) or a k2tog tbl (if the last 2 sts on the needle. I decreased 2 sts per needle, for a total of 8 sts per round. After the first decrease row I knit 2 rows, then did a decrease row every other row until there were 12 sts remaining on each needle, then every row until there were 8 sts remaining on each needle. On the next row, keeping in pattern, I decreased 4 sts per needle using the same decreases as above. Then next row I did a decrease row again, then using a tapestry needle, wove the end into the stitches, pulling them taut.
The hat was finished, and just as easy to complete in a brief period of time as the mitts, making it another excellent last-minute knitted gift.

Pattern Name: A Hat to Match the Mitts, based on the Treads pattern by Victoria Ann Baker
Pattern Designer: Brenda McCunn
Pattern Source: This is it!
Yarn: Krystal Acres Alpaca's Awesome Alpaca Yarn in Topaz
Needles: US 5 (3.75 mm) Clover double-pointed needles

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Day 18: Christmas in the Heart

‘He who has no Christmas in his heart will never find Christmas under a
~Roy L. Smith

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Day 17: Keeping Things Safe

Today I just wanted to take a minute to remind everyone who has pets to keep the holidays safe for them. Many of the decorations pose a hazard, and the stress of the season affects them, too. If presents are left within their reach, the unwrapping may come a little early. So, just be mindful of your fur babies, and let's keep everyone safe, happy, and healthy this year.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Day 16: Fingertip-less Mitts

It seems that during the winter months, I am always cold. Especially my hands and toes. For the toes, I simply put on some wool socks and my felted clogs, leaving my feet warm and toasty. My hands were left to freeze, however, because I didn't have any mittens, gloves, or variations thereof.
So, when I finished my latest deadline project, I determined that I needed something to keep me warm. I knew the yarn I wanted to use, Awesome Alpaca Yarn from Krystal Acres Alpaca, but needed to find a pattern. I took advantage of Ravelry's advanced pattern search and found the Treads pattern by Victoria Anne Baker. One quick note about the yarn: It's listed as being sport weight, but I found it to be more of a worsted weight. Bottom line, swatch before using!

The pattern is detailed, clear, and very well written.  Mrs. Baker also put links in the pattern to techniques used, so if you're unsure about anything you've got guidance built in. It is an excellent pattern and I highly recommend it.
The patterning is so interesting; there's always something going on, and that makes you want to just keep going 'til they're done. They are knit from the cuff to the fingers, with 1x1 ribbing for the cuff, and 2 bands of linen ridge stitch that is set off by lateral braiding. The stockinette field is created when making the thumb gussets, and knitting the fingers in the round finishes them up. Weave in the ends and, abracadabra, my hands are now cozy.

What does this have to do with the Christmas countdown? Well, these would make a fabulous gift. And with Christmas just around the corner (only 9 days left!), they are a quick knit that can easily be finished in time. I would estimate that most knitters could have them done -- start to finish -- in 6-8 hours. Just don't forget to swatch, and swatch in the round, since they're knitted in the round.

Whether you use this pattern or another, hand knitted  gloves, mittens, mitts, etc. all make truly wonderful gifts.

Pattern Name: Treads
Pattern Designer: Victoria Anne Baker
Pattern Source: Ravelry
Yarn: Krystal Acres Alpaca's Awesome Alpaca Yarn in Topaz
Needles: US 5 (3.75 mm) Clover double-pointed needles

*Almost all of the links used in this post are Ravelry links, so you'll need to sign in to access them.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Day 15: Frosted Sugar Cookies

It turns out that the thing that most puts me in the Christmas spirit is baking. Throughout the years, I've always made a selection of cookies, candies, pies, and breads during the holidays (Thanksgiving to New Year's Day). These cookies are one of my favorites.

If you've ever had the sugar cookies sold in bakeries or convenience stores that are really soft and covered with plenty of frosting and maybe some sprinkles, you'll know what these are like. The dough itself isn't overly sweet, so the addition of frosting doesn't make the teeth ache.

Soft White Sugar Cookies
2 eggs, beat well
1 C. shortening
1 C. sugar
1/2 C. milk
1 tsp. vanilla
4 C. flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking soda
4 tsp. baking powder

Preheat oven to 400ยบ F and lightly grease cookie sheets. In a large bowl, combine eggs and shortening; beat until fluffy. Add the rest of the ingredients and mix thoroughly - it will form a ball. Roll out dough on a floured surface to 1/4" thickness. Using your favorite cookie cutters, cut out the cookies and place on prepared pans. Bake for 8-10 minutes. Place on a rack to cool completely. Decorate with your favorite icing or frosting, and whatever candies or sprinkles make you happy. Make approx 4 dozen.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Day 14: Gingerbread Houses

Jay's house
For the first time ever, we made gingerbread houses this year.

When I was a child, we made our "gingerbread" houses out of graham crackers. It was a lot of fun, and some lovely memories. In fact, I don't know that I'd ever had gingerbread until I was an adult.

So when December rolled around, I knew I wanted Jay to be able to have memories of making a gingerbread house, and I wanted to do it from scratch, with gingerbread.

I went on the internet to search for recipes and, using this recipe:

Gingerbread House

I made the gingerbread, but used templates that I created. The recipe made enough to make 2 houses, a few mistake pieces, and about 3 dozen small gingerbread people.

Creating these is at least a two day process. The first day is dedicated to making the dough and pieces. It's important to let them cool completely, so let them cool overnight. The next day, the icing is made and used to "glue" the pieces into the proper form. Let it set for at least 30 minutes, then let the decorating begin.

Using the icing and a selection of candies, Jay and his girlfriend Miss S. decorated the houses. There were M&Ms, gumdrops, Nerds, Sweetarts, miniature candy canes, Laffy Taffy, Gobstoppers, and Kisses, all used to great effect.

Miss S's house
 So today's idea: make your own gingerbread houses from scratch.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Day 13: Holiday Concerts

Jay and I went to a holiday concert that the band, choir, and vanguard of his school was putting on. We arrived a bit late, and missed all but the last song performed by the band.
 Next was the choir, performing a selection of Christmas songs,
as well as selections from Beauty and the Beast.

 This young lady sang as "Belle",

and this young man sang as "the Beast".

For their final number, they had a group come out and sign the song while the choir sang.
Then the color guard came out and did a routine that they had been performing all year, called "The Dark Night".
The drum line was next, giving quite a good percussion performance.
Finally, the drum majors stepped to the front and led the marching band in a several selections they had performed this year, and, of course, the school song.

I would like to encourage everyone to go to a holiday performance in their area. Whether professional or amateur, they can be a lot of fun. And since many of them are performed at no cost to the public, they are a penny wise way to create some wonderful memories and share in a little Christmas cheer.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Day 12: A Literary Gift

As you may have noticed, I love books. I'll read nearly anything, but some of my favorite books are The Classics -- works by Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, Leo Tolstoy, Louisa May Alcott, Nathaniel Hawthorne, etc. Because the books were published so long ago, most have entered into the public domain.

You may be wondering what this has to do with gifting. Well, if you have someone on your gift list that also likes the classics, but maybe doesn't have the chance to do much reading, might I suggest making a CD or MP3 file of you reading one of their favorite books? Or if you can't do the reading yourself, Librivox has an excellent selection of books that have been recorded by volunteers. If you were looking for something a little more recent, you could always purchase audiobooks from Audible.

Another idea for a tablet or eReader that is going under the tree for a loved one, is to download books onto it from Project Gutenberg. While Audible is a pay for purchase site, both Librivox and Project Gutenberg make their catalogs available at no cost.
If your recipient is a crafter, and the tablet/eReader supports PDF files, you could also load some of their favorite patterns, or patterns they'd been wanting.

Disclaimer: I am not affiliated with any of the websites or organizations mentioned in this post.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Day 11: Christmas Cards

Christmas cards are, to me, one of the best parts of the holiday. You see, I love getting mail that isn't a bill or junk, and hearing from far flung family and friends. With or without the newsy messages, they bring a smile to my face.

I like to display the cards I receive, and have done so in myriad ways over the years. In our previous home I would place them atop the half wall between the kitchen and living room. I've put them on ribbon and hung them as a garland. I've displayed them upon the piano. This year, I haven't yet decided how to display them, but one idea I'm tossing around is hanging them off of ribbon so they form the shape of a Christmas tree.

So I'm wishing everyone a plethora of Christmas cards this year, and the creativity to display them in a fun, interesting, and/or unique way.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Day 10: The Sounds of the Season

When I was growing up, each year as we were setting up our tree we would put on a cassette of Christmas music. I loved the music. I don't know what became of that cassette, or even what it was called, but for many years I searched for a copy of it based on the playlist, without any success. Time has faded my memories of what all of the songs and singers were, so I no longer seek it out. I would, however, snap it up in a second if, by some fluke I found it.

I still like listening to Christmas music. One of my favorite albums that I listen to every year is Holly & Ivy by Natalie Cole. The jazzy arrangements to traditional carols that accompany Ms. Cole's singing make for a very fun and lively set of music. It also introduced me to a lovely traditional English carol called The Holly and the Ivy.
                            *Download the album from iTunes
                            *Purchase the album from Amazon

This ancient carol, like much of the trappings of Christmas, has it's roots in Paganism. The church, however, took the Pagan fertility symbols of holly and ivy, and gave them a Christian meaning. Decorating churches with these items was commonplace during the 15th and 16th centuries. This song has been around for long enough that the date of its origin has been lost, however, the version that we are most familiar with was published by Cecil Sharp in the 19th century.

The Holly and the Ivy 

The holly and the ivy,
When they are both full grown
Of all the trees that are in the wood
The holly bears the crown
O the rising of the sun
And the running of the deer
The playing of the merry organ
Sweet singing of the choir

 The holly bears a blossom
As white as lily flower
And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ
To be our sweet Savior
O the rising of the sun
And the running of the deer
The playing of the merry organ
Sweet singing of the choir

The holly bears a berry
As red as any blood
And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ
To do poor sinners good
O the rising of the sun
And the running of the deer
The playing of the merry organ
Sweet singing of the choir

The holly bears a prickle
As sharp as any thorn;
And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ
On Christmas Day in the morn.
O the rising of the sun
And the running of the deer
The playing of the merry organ
Sweet singing of the choir

The holly bears a bark
As bitter as any gall;
And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ
For to redeem us all.
O the rising of the sun
And the running of the deer
The playing of the merry organ
Sweet singing of the choir

The holly and the ivy
Now both are full well grown,
Of all the trees that are in the wood,
The holly bears the crown.
O the rising of the sun
And the running of the deer
The playing of the merry organ
Sweet singing of the choir 

Friday, December 9, 2011

Day 9: The First Christmas Tree

Decorative Image


Once upon a time the forest was in a great commotion. Early in the evening the wise old cedars had shaken their heads ominously and predicted strange things. They had lived in the forest many, many years; but never had they seen such marvelous sights as were to be seen now in the sky, and upon the hills, and in the distant village.
"Pray tell us what you see," pleaded a little vine; "we who are not as tall as you can behold none of these wonderful things. Describe them to us, that we may enjoy them with you."
"I am filled with such amazement," said one of the cedars, "that I can hardly speak. The whole sky seems to be aflame, and the stars appear to be dancing among the clouds; angels walk down from heaven to the earth, and enter the village or talk with the shepherds upon the hills."
The vine listened in mute astonishment. Such things never before had happened. The vine trembled with excitement. Its nearest neighbor was a tiny tree, so small it scarcely ever was noticed; yet it was a very beautiful little tree, and the vines and ferns and mosses and other humble residents of the forest loved it dearly.
"How I should like to see the angels!" sighed the little tree, "and how I should like to see the stars dancing among the clouds! It must be very beautiful."
As the vine and the little tree talked of these things, the cedars watched with increasing interest the wonderful scenes over and beyond the confines of the forest. Presently they thought they heard music, and they were not mistaken, for soon the whole air was full of the sweetest harmonies ever heard upon earth.
"What beautiful music!" cried the little tree. "I wonder whence it comes."
"The angels are singing," said a cedar; "for none but angels could make such sweet music."
"But the stars are singing, too," said another cedar; "yes, and the shepherds on the hills join in the song, and what a strangely glorious song it is!"
The trees listened to the singing, but they did not understand its meaning: it seemed to be an anthem, and it was of a Child that had been born; but further than this they did not understand. The strange and glorious song continued all the night; and all that night the angels walked to and fro, and the shepherd-folk talked with the angels, and the stars danced and caroled in high heaven. And it was nearly morning when the cedars cried out, "They are coming to the forest! the angels are coming to the forest!" And, surely enough, this was true. The vine and the little tree were very terrified, and they begged their older and stronger neighbors to protect them from harm. But the cedars were too busy with their own fears to pay any heed to the faint pleadings of the humble vine and the little tree. The angels came into the forest, singing the same glorious anthem about the Child, and the stars sang in chorus with them, until every part of the woods rang with echoes of that wondrous song. There was nothing in the appearance of this angel host to inspire fear; they were clad all in white, and there were crowns upon their fair heads, and golden harps in their hands; love, hope, charity, compassion, and joy beamed from their beautiful faces, and their presence seemed to fill the forest with a divine peace. The angels came through the forest to where the little tree stood, and gathering around it, they touched it with their hands, and kissed its little branches, and sang even more sweetly than before. And their song was about the Child, the Child, the Child that had been born. Then the stars came down from the skies and danced and hung upon the branches of the tree, and they, too, sang that song,—the song of the Child. And all the other trees and the vines and the ferns and the mosses beheld in wonder; nor could they understand why all these things were being done, and why this exceeding honor should be shown the little tree.
When the morning came the angels left the forest,—all but one angel, who remained behind and lingered near the little tree. Then a cedar asked: "Why do you tarry with us, holy angel?" And the angel answered: "I stay to guard this little tree, for it is sacred, and no harm shall come to it."
Decorative Image
The little tree felt quite relieved by this assurance, and it held up its head more confidently than ever before. And how it thrived and grew, and waxed in strength and beauty! The cedars said they never had seen the like. The sun seemed to lavish its choicest rays upon the little tree, heaven dropped its sweetest dew upon it, and the winds never came to the forest that they did not forget their rude manners and linger to kiss the little tree and sing it their prettiest songs. No danger ever menaced it, no harm threatened; for the angel never slept,—through the day and through the night the angel watched the little tree and protected it from all evil. Oftentimes the trees talked with the angel; but of course they understood little of what he said, for he spoke always of the Child who was to become the Master; and always when thus he talked, he caressed the little tree, and stroked its branches and leaves, and moistened them with his tears. It all was so very strange that none in the forest could understand.
So the years passed, the angel watching his blooming charge. Sometimes the beasts strayed toward the little tree and threatened to devour its tender foliage; sometimes the woodman came with his axe, intent upon hewing down the straight and comely thing; sometimes the hot, consuming breath of drought swept from the south, and sought to blight the forest and all its verdure: the angel kept them from the little tree. Serene and beautiful it grew, until now it was no longer a little tree, but the pride and glory of the forest.
One day the tree heard some one coming through the forest. Hitherto the angel had hastened to its side when men approached; but now the angel strode away and stood under the cedars yonder.
"Dear angel," cried the tree, "can you not hear the footsteps of some one approaching? Why do you leave me?"
"Have no fear," said the angel; "for He who comes is the Master."
The Master came to the tree and beheld it. He placed His hands upon its smooth trunk and branches, and the tree was thrilled with a strange and glorious delight. Then He stooped and kissed the tree, and then He turned and went away.
Many times after that the Master came to the forest, and when He came it always was to where the tree stood. Many times He rested beneath the tree and enjoyed the shade of its foliage, and listened to the music of the wind as it swept through the rustling leaves. Many times He slept there, and the tree watched over Him, and the forest was still, and all its voices were hushed. And the angel hovered near like a faithful sentinel.
Ever and anon men came with the Master to the forest, and sat with Him in the shade of the tree, and talked with Him of matters which the tree never could understand; only it heard that the talk was of love and charity and gentleness, and it saw that the Master was beloved and venerated by the others. It heard them tell of the Master's goodness and humility,—how He had healed the sick and raised the dead and bestowed inestimable blessings wherever He walked. And the tree loved the Master for His beauty and His goodness; and when He came to the forest it was full of joy, but when He came not it was sad. And the other trees of the forest joined in its happiness and its sorrow, for they, too, loved the Master. And the angel always hovered near.
The Master came one night alone into the forest, and His face was pale with anguish and wet with tears, and He fell upon His knees and prayed. The tree heard Him, and all the forest was still, as if it were standing in the presence of death. And when the morning came, lo! the angel had gone.

"They are killing me!" cried the tree
"They are killing me!" cried the tree.

Then there was a great confusion in the forest. There was a sound of rude voices, and a clashing of swords and staves. Strange men appeared, uttering loud oaths and cruel threats, and the tree was filled with terror. It called aloud for the angel, but the angel came not.
"Alas," cried the vine, "they have come to destroy the tree, the pride and glory of the forest!"
The forest was sorely agitated, but it was in vain. The strange men plied their axes with cruel vigor, and the tree was hewn to the ground. Its beautiful branches were cut away and cast aside, and its soft, thick foliage was strewn to the tenderer mercies of the winds.
"They are killing me!" cried the tree; "why is not the angel here to protect me?"
But no one heard the piteous cry,—none but the other trees of the forest; and they wept, and the little vine wept too.
Then the cruel men dragged the despoiled and hewn tree from the forest, and the forest saw that beauteous thing no more.
But the night wind that swept down from the City of the Great King that night to ruffle the bosom of distant Galilee, tarried in the forest awhile to say that it had seen that day a cross upraised on Calvary,—the tree on which was stretched the body of the dying Master.
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