Monday, December 29, 2008

A Partridge in a Pear Tree

For Christmas dessert I made a cupcake version of a Partridge in a Pear Tree from this adorable book. All started and was going along just fine, until I placed the pear cupcakes out in the snow, in a plastic container to chill for the night. You know when there is not an inch of space left in the refrigerator, due to all of the other holiday preparations? Yeah, that is where I was. Did I check the weather forecast for Christmas Eve?!? No I did not. It rained and poured and the snowbank that I had stashed the cupcakes in was all but washed away, leaving the tub of pear delicacies on their heads, sideways on the deck. Good times.
I was determined to serve these anyway, after the several hours I had invested in making them. I patched them up and here they are, droopy, sliding and not in the original state they were in before the monsoon. Oh well-they tasted good and I think our family will excuse this one baking disappointment from my kitchen. Just this once.
My husband always puts a little something crazy in my stocking, this year we all got a crazy accessory on Christmas morning. As our family members arrived for the two shifts of Christmas that day, they were greeted at the door by all 3 of us, bespectacled in our holiday finery.
Ava wanted to wear her sunglasses all day and squealed every time she saw her Dad and I wearing ours. I even squealed a bit every time I saw my husband wearing those Elton John style goggles too!
A little sleepy and greatly anticipating her pancake breakfast, Ava's second Christmas started and ended with calm and fun, no tantrums, no meltdowns. A very good Christmas indeed.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Ray of Light

I was so delighted to receive a box from my mother yesterday. I couldn't wait to open it. Literally, couldn't wait. And didn't wait. Christmas day will be particularly busy with two ten person meals and a one year old and what not. I am an adult and I finally decided that it is okay to open a present or two, early. Okay, I forgive myself.
What I found inside the box was a ray of light, that made my heart sing. A stack of pinwheels made by one of my grandmothers and assembled by her mother, my great grandmother in the thirties. Sadly, or fortunately, however you look at it, the quilt was not finished before Great Grandma Bess and Grandmother Virginia passed away. Now I have inherited the pristine collection and am thinking of what to do with it.

I spent several hours hand washing and ironing each square and triangle. At first I thought I should complete the quilt, as there is a large section of the quilt already started. But I am leaning toward sharing some of the squares with some special people in my life and making something else with with the other pieces, as the idea comes to me. I like the idea of sharing some of these almost 80 year old treasures with the people who are treasures in my life today. Friends who would really appreciate them and make something of special magnificence from them.

Yes, I think I will share the light with others. I can't wait to see what becomes of these squares, hand sewn from 2 ladies almost 76 years ago.

I will be taking a few days off from writing, we have so many crafts, recipes, cleaning projects and other holiday preparations to make-we will be burning the mid night oil. Here we are last night, in a whirl of activity, my husband near me, but transparent in his movement-the kitchen trashed and a gazillion peanut butter kisses are now born unto the confectionery earth, to be enjoyed by our family and friends.

I hope you all have a merry and bright holiday with your friends and family as well.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Daisy Chain Tweed Tote

I can't stand it. I will have to make another for myself after the holidays. What started as a very time restricted gift (I had an hour and a half from first fabric cut to last bow on the wrap!), ended up being one of my favorite gifts this year. I raided my stash for a suitable fabric combination and came out with a gray and black wool tweed, a little pressscious from my friend's stash, and this Amy Butler daisy chain in green, gray and black.
No pattern again, just fast cutting, fusing of interfacing and a lining. I like that the outside is a bit conservative, but the straps and top edge hint at the deliciousness inside. It is on it's way to Vermont as we speak for a special someone. A big, roomy tote to carry a gal's necessities.
Now I am off to the kitchen to make oh, about 300 peanut butter kisses. Good times will be had by all.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Winter White-Such a Delight

I have been inspired by my friend's winter white theme lately-and it just snowed here in Maine.These two inspirations gave me the idea to use winter white yarn for another Christmas gift on the list. I used this pattern-but before you look at my result, go see the picture of what is was supposed to look like!
I made my usual uneducated and foolish modifications-ignoring the yarn size and needle size for a yarn I wanted to use from my stash and the only knitting needles available without knitting already on them. I omitted the flower as this recipient isn't the flowery type and time didn't permit me to make a smaller one to customize as I would have liked. I made a covered button with some velvet from my stash for the closure instead. The yarn is Lion Brand Yarn, "Wool Ease Thick & Quick" the color is "Fisherman". This only took me about 4 hours to make and was a fun exercise in a different kind of pattern that looks more complicated than it is. I also learned two new stitches: yo (yarn over) and ssk (slip, slip, knit) fun, fun, fun! This web site helped me get through the new stitches, as it was too late at night to phone a friend for help. Again, my favorite part was the binding off-perhaps because that means I am almost finished with a project?!?
I apologize for the flash photography-it was a late and moonless night when this little sunggly was finished!
Even though I used a recipe for disaster again, I am not unhappy with the result- it is a bit bigger and more snuggly than the pattern, but I think it will work in these frigid (-6 degrees one night last week!) Maine winters.
And the button is simply divine!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

A Pillow for Your Advice

Recently I reached out to a fellow wedding professional for some guidance. This woman is the epitome of kindness, talent success and savvy. I am a little stuck in some areas of my business, not sure of the path ahead, it is a little foggy. I asked for a beacon of light. She obliged with candid, honest and humble advice for me.
I am usually hesitant to reach out, afraid to offend someone, be a bother, or come off as "not all together and perfect", you know? Having your own business, when you are the business is really personal, something I take very seriously. So much so that the line between me and the business is blurry at times. Currently, I don't have any staff meetings, marketing departments or bosses to guide me or share insight and input. It can be isolated and sometimes I lose direction, focus-motivation.
But the one thing I never seem to lose is passion. I remember why I love what I do so much, why I can't stop doing it. Why I get excited even looking at a photograph of a wedding dress or seeing a wedding invitation. I think part of the fascination for me are the long and winding paths we go on to get to this point, of choosing to spend the rest of our lives with someone, and then the huge undertaking of putting together the ceremony and celebration to mark this occasion. I love each individual couple's story, I love becoming a part of such a monumental event in strangers' lives. Strangers who, by the time of the wedding, are more like family, who have laughed with me (and sometimes at me), who have cried on my shoulder and expressed frustration with their in -laws, their brides maids, and yes, even their fiancees. When I remind myself of these things, I feel inspired enough to overcome my fears in order to continue doing what I love. I get up the courage to reach out and ask for guidance.
I like to think of us in this industry as a group, a net, a collection of people who are working toward the same goal, of providing exceedingly excellent services to clients getting married. I don't subscribe to the "we are competitors" theory, though I have definitely felt it from others at times.
It is exciting and a morale booster when you happen upon a sophisticated, smart, talented professional who is also kind, generous and real. I have had the privilege of meeting a handful of these ladies in the past couple of years, and to them I am very grateful for their friendship, understanding and candor. This particular gal has a great and inspiring story. Read about her Pink Initiative on her blog and visit her web site too, she is a busy and interesting woman as well as a world class photographer.
So here you are dear emilie, (yes, with a lower case "e"-it just looks right that way!) a pillow for your advice.
I finished it today and will send it along to you in the morning. I hope you enjoy it and thank you!

Monday, December 15, 2008

The Weather Outside is Frightful

But I think it is so delightful. The first snow here in Maine is magical. Even though it marks the beginning of 5 months of more snow, for some reason, I regard it as the beginning of something new and fresh and exciting. Ava actually made her grand snowsuit debut outside, as last year she was only a few weeks old during the first snow.
She didn't provide the reaction we expected, instead, in her true cautious curiosity, she watched. She looked at the sky. She looked at the ground.
She carefully reclined back in the snow with her little mouth open in amazement. And there she would have been happy to stay.
There was no thrashing, no squeals of delight, just quiet observation. Hmm. That surprised us. She is usually into everything, curious about how everything works, how it goes together and how it comes apart. The snow seemed to still her. I helped her up for a walk to hear the crunching of snow under her little boots.
This at least produced a smile and wee laugh.
Finally Auntie Poopkins made Ava a little tiny snowman, "the tiniest snowman in the whole world." Sweet little snowman, sweet little baby. No frightful here.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Gingerbread Template Update!

I meant to note that if you click on the pictures of the gingerbread templates, you should be able to save them in your computer and then print them from your saved files. This should produce a 100% image print. I hope this helps. And works!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Ta-Da! Gingerbread House Tutorial

So, you want to make a Gingerbread house of your very own? Well, roll up your sleeves and get ready to have some fun and then sweep the kitchen floor afterward! Below is a tutorial for a simple gingerbread house construction.
You can print and cut out the templates below if you like. I hope these will work, let me know if you have trouble with them. They should print at 100% of the size they should be!?! You may need to adjust your paper trimming a bit to make sure your lines are as straight as you want them. Me? I prefer the lines just a bit off, but the tops of the end pieces (the pointy part) and the roof pieces work best if they are straight lined.
The house part templates:
The Gingerbread Recipe: (You can make this a few days ahead and keep it in the refrigerator)
1/3 Cup soft shortening (Crisco)
1 Cup Brown sugar
1 1/2 Cups molasses
2/3 cup cold water
6 Cups all purpose flour
2 tsp. Baking SODA
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. Allspice
1 tsp. ground ginger
1 tsp. ground cloves
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
In a large bowl: Mix shortening, brown sugar and molasses thoroughly. Stir in water In another large bowl: Combine flour, baking soda and spices.
Combine the two mixtures, mixing a bit of dry ingredients into wet at a time. (This makes it a bit easier to mix!)
Mix well, roll with greased hands into one or two large balls, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate until stiff and chilled.
Line baking sheets with parchment paper.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
When ready to roll, soften dough a bit by working in your hands, or kneading into a smooth ball. Flatten dough into a pancake shape with your hands to ease rolling pin work. Flour your rolling surface to prevent sticking.
Roll out dough to about 1/8" thick. The thinner your dough, the more "tidy" and less puffy your house parts will be.
Lay the cut out templates on the dough and cut around the outside edge with a sharp knife. Peel away excess and carefully transfer cut out pieces to a lined baking sheet. You may have to tap the edges in to get them straight again, the picking up and moving process causes some stretching. I recommend cutting out your doors and windows after you have placed the large pieces of dough on the baking sheet. If you want to have the front or back door ajar, save the piece you cut out for the door and you can attach it later with frosting.
Repeat the rolling and cutting process until you have all house parts cut out and on baking sheets.
Bake pieces at 350 degrees for about 15 minutes (oven times may vary) watch for color. Don't let the gingerbread get dark around the edges. The Master informed me that there is no definite baking time-just take them out when they are a little darker than a cookie you would eat. Hmmm. Use your best judgement here. I say to err on the side of underdone, you can always put the pieces back in for a few minutes. Let pieces cool for about 5 minutes before transferring to a cooling rack. Completely cool all pieces before assembling.
To assemble:
I like to make a double batch of Wilton Meringue Powder "Royal Icing". The recipe is on the insert in the can of meringue powder. The trick with this is to really follow the mixing time in the instructions. Really. When you do it right, the frosting is stiff, but smooth and silky.
Fill pastry bag with a star or medium size piping tip, fill bag with frosting.
Wrap your base with foil or your chosen material. I usually mark the outer outline of the walls with a Sharpie marker on the base covering, while holding each piece of gingerbread on the base for a guide. This may take 4 hands. The sides should be tucked inside the ends, so account for that when you are holding pieces up.
Pipe frosting on your lines on base, leaving a space for any door openings.
Lay each piece of gingerbread on your frosting lines, tucking the sides in between the end pieces as you go. You may need 4 hands again or you can prop the pieces up with juice glasses just until you can get the seams piped with frosting.
Pipe all seams in between the pieces on the inside and out.
ALLOW FROSTING TO SET UP completely BEFORE APPLYING THE ROOF. Please. Just wait. Otherwise the weight can cause a total structural loss. No fun. This should only take about 15 minutes, but give the topless house a wiggle before proceeding to be sure.
Pipe frosting on the roof lines (the pointy parts) and lay the roof pieces on the pointy parts. Press GENTLY.
Pipe a long line of frosting along the seam at the middle of the roof.
Pipe a squeeze of frosting the width of your door, at an angle outside the house, as if the door was ajar. Stick on the door and pipe the seam between the door and the house.
Now wait until the roof has set up. Please!
Then pipe on frosting for glue wherever you want and press candy of your choice into the frosting. Go wild, have fun, be creative. You will get messy and sticky and likely have a bit of tummy aching after the inevitable snacking you will partake in, but that is all part of it.
You may have to refill your piping bag with frosting several times as needed.
Did I leave anything out?!? I hope not. Please let me know if I have, or if you have questions or need clarification or help.
Happy Gingerbread to you!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Gingerbread House How-To Coming Soon!

I have had a request from a fellow blogger for a tutorial on gingerbread house making-of course! Why didn't I think to share the process with everyone!?! Thank you Ashley and yes, those are meringue mushrooms, colored with cocoa powder and piped out of a frosting bag, same recipe as for assembling and decorating the houses!
I am assembling my wares, recipes and making some new, legible and not- covered -in -flour templates to scan in so folks can get a pattern too. I found the math for this a bit daunting at first and have made so many mistakes by miscalculating. I would rather everyone be able to make something they are happy with than leave details out and have people's hard work be wasted on disappointment!
If you are interested in making your own house, you can get ready by :
1. Getting a small (4 oz.)can (if you are making only 1 house) of Wilton's Meringue Powder (usually sold with the bridal items at craft stores, such as A.C. Moore, Michael's-Wal-Mart or your local grocery likely has it too)
2. Make sure you have the following ingredients on hand:
1 twelve ounce jar of dark molasses
1/3 cup of shortening (Crisco)
1 Cup brown sugar
6 cups of flour (plus a half cup or so for rolling process)
Baking soda
Ground Ginger
Ground Cloves
Ground Cinnamon
Parchment paper
Assorted candies that you love to decorate with. Mini candy canes, gum drops, chocolate non- pariels, jelly beans, Skittles and mini Tootsie Rolls work well. Use your imagination here too. (I once did a whole house in pink and black to go in our bedroom. (Think pink Canada mints and black licorice!)
For the base: a piece of stiff cardboard and tin foil for wrapping, or you can use a piece of plywood, wrapped in fabric or wrapping paper too-use your imagination, but it should be able to be disposed of later, not precious and stiff enough to hold the house and be mobile. The base can be as big as you want, to allow you space to decorate the "yard" if you like. I like mine pretty snug so I can fit them on the shelves of a hutch I have. The templates I will be sharing will produce a 8" high x 7" wide x 5" deep house (approximately!!) A base that is 10" wide x 8" long should suffice.
I will try to have this up this week so you can make a house and enjoy the scent and sight of it for a few weeks before Christmas. (or you can leave it up until Valentine's Day too!)

Passing of the Torch

My Dad recently told me that my step-mother (not really a fitting title for someone who really is a mother to me), our family's resident Gingerbread House Master is unofficially retiring from the Gingerbread House business. I can't say I blame her. After years and years of countless hours spent teaching others how to make houses, mixing, kneading, rolling, cutting and baking, hosting assembly parties, coaching and making her own extraordinarily engineered Gingerbread house gifts to be shipped around the country, it was a lot of work. I mean really, it takes some muscle to mix a dough with that much molasses in it! Especially 3 triple batches of it. What was I thinking?!? This endeavor has taken me a total of 7 nights after Ava goes to bed, until well after midnight, and even a 20 minute morsel here and there, while she is awake, under the guise of "Let's play patty cake!".
But that's okay, this year I will quietly, humbly and unofficially carry the torch for a bit. On a smaller and much less grand scale. It is time consuming. My results are clearly not those equal to the Master's, but I will get better.
This year I am making 10 smaller houses and assembling them for family, and friend's children to decorate. After some market research and poll taking, it was determined that the children don't have as much interest in the baking and assembling as they do in having an All-Access pass to the candy for decorating.
Well just this once I will bake the houses for them, next year the older ones will have to don an apron and come in the kitchen with me. Someday, someone will have to take the torch for me. The Little Red Hen story comes to mind... Maybe another year I will really research and plan and make some large scale, extraordinary houses of special magnificence. Maybe when Ava is old enough to help me and really appreciate the endeavor. Until then, these quite imperfect, questionably architected, and structurally compromised versions will have to do. Once you get them all covered with candy and sweets, the amateur engineering doesn't really show so much.
The smell of gingerbread baking is such a nostalgic scent this time of year. I am enjoying the hard work of it! I remember when I was little, absolutely, unconditionally and with purpose, wanting to LIVE in a gingerbread house. I probably still would if I could.
My sister and her boyfriend came over Sunday to decorate their house, my sister is a veteran gingerbread decorator-she whipped her house up in about 10 minutes! I had fun watching my now 29 year old, "little" sister, hand selecting each candy with precision and passion, just as she did when she was my 9 year old sister. Nostalgia, ahhh...
A fine house indeed. Now I am off to assemble the mobile decorating kits for the houses that will be delivered for decorating. Happy Holidays!

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Birch Paper Gift Wrap & Giant Fungi

Okay, so I might have embellished the truth when I said that I put down all of my other projects. Just a bit. Anyone who knows me, has likely come to realize that I never have only one project going at one time. I always have to be totally overwhelmed by my own doing, my own expectations and ideas. Submersed. When will I realize this and embrace it so I can stop being so frantic?!?
So while I was stretching my tendonitis elbow from the green knitting, I whipped up some birch bark (looking) wrapping paper for the holidays. The idea came from the play box I made for Ava's birthday. When my friend saw the box, she mentioned wanting some birch bark wrapping paper. I can't have a friend wanting. So I went to my stash and found a roll of left over white craft paper and some basic black acrylic craft paint to make her some.
I am not sure. The result may be more like a zebra print, but I guess it will just be my interpretation of birch bark. This was an easy project, one that left me enough nap time to make a few giant felt mushroom ornaments. Use and application still to be determined. Husband feels they are "too giant" for the Christmas tree?!?! Giant Smyant I say. Maybe I will applique one of these Giants on Husband's pillowcase this afternoon. Hmmm, that is an idea.
That will teach him to mess with me and my giant mushrooms!

Friday, December 5, 2008

A Dolly Named Disaster

So I have posted about my "Marf" or man scarf that is actually a turtle neck type scarf, over- the- head -neck -warmer -device. Knit with yarn. Well, in my usual frantic nature, I thought such a device, umm, garment, would be a fitting gift for another person this Christmas, a lady this time. I guess in hindsight I cast on a few too many stitches, in an attempt to make this "Larf" or lady scarf, a bit more substantial, ruffly if you will. I mean really, I think it is time that I only knit according to a pattern, and stop thinking I am the queen knitter and don't even need a pattern... And, no, I am not sure what I was thinking when in an attempt to rein in some of the "rufflyness" about 75% of the way in, I started decreasing with fury. What resulted was a, well, tube? No. A doily? No-a skirt for Ava? No, it only covered the front of her and I am sure I could not replicate this creation for the back. I know, I know, I really need to accept when I have messed up beyond salvation, and just rip out the knitting, but no, I had to bind off and use my 'ole imagination to whip this little disaster into something useful. How else could I account for the several hours of my life I had spent knitting?!? And so, a Dolly named Disaster was born. Little Disaster will be a fun Christmas present for Ava this year, with a sassy, knit dress for twirling. Clearly this little Lady needed a head, so again, with no pattern, but one of pure determination to reach a productive end result, I forged ahead with scraps from the stash. I am off to attempt a head attachment and face embroidery...We will see where this little disaster takes me!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Okay, I Love You, Bye...

I love having my sister back in Maine, but perhaps my favorite part of our relationship continues to be our seemingly endless phone conversations. I think we do our best sisterly work over the phone.
It doesn't seem to matter if she is in Montana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, North Dakota, Alabama or Texas. It doesn't impact the quality of our calls if I am on the road in Connecticut, in a hotel in Boston, Rhode Island or Saratoga Springs, New York. It never slowed us down when I was at a huge sales convention in Orlando, or regional meetings in Columbus. We simply are a well oiled telephone communication machine. We talk just as fast, laugh just as hard and are baffled by our family just as much, while we are on the phone, as when we are in person.
We conduct all sisterly business over the phone with the same intensity and focus as a live meeting. We review web site designs, business collateral fonts, potential business product lines, family photos, and Myspace goings on, over the computer while on the phone. We talk over each other and into each other's sentences. We share family and friend news and gossip, update each other on our lives, jobs, pregnancy, births, travels and relate disbelief and opinion, insight and share humor.
I am not sure that our mates quite understand. Many a time my husband has come out on the deck in the wee hours of the night to find me on the phone, laughing until I am crying, and he always just mutters, "You are talking to your sister, aren't you?" I don't ever reply-he just knows.
We have a different way of talking when we are on the phone. Tonight was one of those unexpected, any-old-day, great, long calls. It started with my sister saying, "I'd like to start by saying that I am sorry in advance for calling to tell you this.." and ended with us laughing so hard, we couldn't even say goodbye, we just hung up to the sound of each other's snorts.
In these times of technology, I am so grateful to always be able to hear my sister's voice, no matter how far apart we actually are from one another. That one person who really has been through all of it with me. All of it. From the beginning, or at least since her beginning, four years after mine. The one person who knows what I mean, what I am thinking, and what I will say next, and is already laughing before I say it. Our calls always conclude long after we intend them to, with the sign off, "Okay, I love you, Bye." Consistently. Even when I have to get off the phone quickly to avert my one year old from impending poisoning or traumatic head injury-the words are always said, "Okay, I love you, Bye."
Tonight was a nice night, sitting by myself in the glow of the Christmas tree, with a glass (or two!) of much deserved wine, gossiping and hissing with my Seester, my Sissy, my Poopkins. I am already looking forward to our next phone call. It is getting late, okay, I love you, bye.