Monday, December 31, 2012

Post-Holiday Recovery!

It’s December 31… Christmas is now behind us. We spent 9 of the last 11 days with friends and relatives. We had lots of visitors, cooked and ate lots of food, talked, played games and watched a couple of Christmas movies. We really enjoyed spending time together with our loved ones. We also exchanged gifts. We generally try to downplay the “gift” aspect of Christmas for our kids, trying to focus their attentions on the giving end of things more than the receiving, but they do still get a fair amount of gifts from their very generous grandparents, aunts and uncles! By the last round of visitors, we were swimming in a sea of legos, toy cars, books, clothes, art supplies, craft kits, etc, etc! My kids, of course, are thrilled to have all these new toys, and I am thrilled, too, as occupied kids are happy kids!

But… once all the wrappings were cleared away, the relatives were gone and the last gingerbread cookie had been eaten, we entered the “Where to Put the Stuff” phase of Christmas. I actually don’t mind this part, as it gives us a good reason to clean and organize our toy storage areas! I have posted about organizing kids stuff before (see here and here) and in those posts I mentioned our rule about getting rid of old things as new things come into the house. With five children sharing two small bedrooms, this is absolutely essential! This year, we had one large bag and two boxes of stuff to donate, and two bags of stuff to toss. From there, we switched up a few storage bins, reorganized a few things, and found places to put the new stuff. I’m pleased to report that we now have everything tidy and organized once again!

December 31 also means that we are preparing to say goodbye to 2012, and to welcome a New Year, full of promise and hope for health, happiness and prosperity. Now is the time to think about the Blessings of the past year, and to make plans for the future.

Happy New Year to all! 

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Solstice, 2012

My family enjoyed a lovely Solstice together last night! This is a very special celebration for me, for several reasons. First of all, I love celebrating the changing of the seasons... it makes me feel connected to our Earth and it's cycles. Second, from the moment we change the clocks in October, I look forward to the Solstice, when finally the days begin to get longer again, minute by minute, each day. I also love taking the time to think about how our ancestors have celebrated the Return of the Light for thousands of years. This dark time of year is a time of reflection, appreciation and togetherness. Here is how we celebrated last night:

We started by placing some ice lanterns we made onto the front porch at dusk...
Our front door, with our Solstice Ice Lanterns

Our Ice Lanterns

For some of our lanterns, we froze some evergreen into the ice. 

Then, we came inside and had a nice Solstice Feast! We were joined by my parents who are visiting from Florida for the holidays. We had candles lit in all the windows, and on the table.
Our table, set for our Solstice Feast

We planned to have a fire out in our fire pit after dinner, but torrential rains all day soaked our firewood, so we just stayed inside, and enjoyed some hot chocolate and spice cupcakes. It was a lovely evening spent together with Family! We are now looking forward to celebrating the rest of the winter holidays... Christmas Eve, Christmas and the New Year. The next several days will be spent cooking, baking, finishing up last minute gifts and enjoying the company of those we love.

Blessed Holidays to you and yours!

Monday, December 17, 2012

Chocolate Dipped Pretzels!

 Look what we made this weekend! Some delicious chocolate-dipped pretzels! They are such fun to make, and they are great to give as gifts for the holidays. These are so easy to do, that even very young children can help.

We kept this project simple... we melted a milk chocolate and white chocolate in the microwave, and started dipping, using a spoon to make sure they were well-coated. Next, we just set them on parchment to set. Then, we made them "fancy" by drizzling the milk chocolate ones with white chocolate, and the white chocolate ones with milk chocolate. If you want, you could even add sprinkles to make them really festive. We chilled ours for a few minutes to make sure the chocolate was really well set, then we wrapped them up in cellophane bags from the craft store.

These are nice small treats to give to teachers, the mailman, etc. They also make a festive addition to larger treat baskets (maybe along with some homemade hot chocolate mix, too!)

We have several other projects in the works this week... Can you believe it's just one week until Christmas Eve?!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Homemade Hot Chocolate Mix

When the weather outside gets chillier, there is nothing better than coming inside to a nice, warm cup of hot chocolate.  Sometimes I get all fancy and make fresh, homemade hot chocolate from scratch… heating up the milk slowly on the stove… whisking in sugar and cocoa and a dash of vanilla… stirring patiently until it’s ready. Mmmm-mm! But then other times, I want to just use a mix, so I can just add water and start sipping. So each year around this time, I mix up a couple of jars of homemade hot chocolate mix, to get us through the cold winter months.

I decided to start making my own mix a few years ago, after reading the label on some packaged stuff. It contained things like corn syrup solids, hydrogenated oils and artificial flavors… Yikes!  I looked for some recipes online, and have been making my own ever since. Sometimes we make up a few extra jars, to give as gifts at the holidays. This is especially nice if you wrap it up with some cute mugs and some cookies or other treats.

Homemade Hot Chocolate Mix
(makes about 3 pint jars)

6 cups of dry milk
¾ cup of good quality cocoa (Do NOT skimp on the cocoa. Seriously. Good hot chocolate needs good cocoa. My favorite is Ghirardelli)
1 cup of sugar (I use organic raw cane sugar)

Pour everything into a large, deep bowl. Use a whisk to blend together thoroughly. Scoop into jars. 
To serve: Use 4 heaping teaspoons for each 8oz. cup of hot water. Stir until dissolved. Top with whipped cream or marshmallows, if desired. 

Jars of Hot Chocolate Mix... ready to gift!

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Making Holiday Wreaths

So last post I shared our candle-making adventure, and I promised to tell about our wreath-making, as well. It's taken me a little while to get this post up, as I've been spending every spare moment knittingknittingknitting like a madwoman, to finish all the gifts I'm making in time for Christmas! But I promised myself I'd get the wreath post up before the end of the weekend, so here we go!

Our wreath-making supplies:
Evergreen branches, clippers, florist wire and ribbon.
I love making our own fresh evergreen wreaths for the holidays! Sometimes we make them fancy, using different types of greens and adding in some pinecones, faux berries, etc... and other times we keep them simple. This was one of the simple years. We just used some fraser fir branches which we'd cut from the bottom of our Christmas tree, and finished it up with a pretty bow. The process for making holiday wreaths is the same as for the herb wreaths we like to make, but on a larger scale! Greens can usually be found for free at many tree farms and lots. If you can't find any free greens, you might be able to find bundles of greens at garden centers this time of year. Any kind of evergreen will do... fir, spruce, pine, juniper, or a mix of a few. It's best to use branches which are fresh and soft, as they are easier to work with, and your wreath will last longer. Here is our front door wreath:
Happy Holidays!

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Making Beeswax Candles

One of the things we made to give as Christmas gifts this year was beeswax candles. What a fun (though, I will admit, messy) project! We did both dipped and jar candles... the dipped ones came out a bit lumpy and odd, so we'll keep those for our own use... but the jar ones came out lovely! They smell so nice when they burn... light, natural and clean.

This was our first attempt at beeswax candle making, so we learned a few things about what works and what doesn't. One thing that I will change next time is the type of wick we used. I had read that hemp cord makes a nice wick, but I found it difficult to work with. It took a bit of effort to straighten it out and get it ready to dip, and it was hard to keep it straight. Next time, I will purchase ready-to-use candle wicks at the craft store, I think. Another thing we learned is that it's very important to cover EVERYTHING that is potentially in the path of the wax with newspaper. We did a pretty good job with this, but there were a few spots here and there where we had to clean up wax drips. Here is a little overview in photos of our adventure!

Beeswax, shredded up and ready to melt. This was the hardest part, grating the beeswax, because you need a lot of it. Next time, I may use beeswax pastilles instead of a block.

Ladybug stirring the wax, after we microwaved it to melt it. 

Noodle and Ladybug, dipping wicks into the wax. We poured the melted wax into a quart jar, and set the jar in hot water to keep it liquidy while we dipped. We did have to re-melt it a couple of times.

Our lumpy dipped candles, in progress. We used a pole balanced on chair backs to
hang them on., with newspaper underneath to catch the drips.

When we didn't have enough wax left for dipping, we poured the rest into little votive holders with a wick in the middle. This was much easier than the dipped candles, and they came out much nicer. The hardest part was keeping the wick straight while the wax hardened. 

Next post, I will share one of our other holiday crafts... making wreaths!

Monday, December 3, 2012

Pre-Christmas Busy-ness!

There hasn't been much blogging going on this past week or so, because we've been quite occupied with Pre-Holiday Preparations! This is the time of year when all of our "free" time is spent preparing for the Winter Holidays! We've been making lists of cards to send, gifts to make/buy, and things we'll need for our winter holiday celebrations. We've made wreaths for our front and back doors. We've been making lots of gifts... handmade candles, knitting and crocheting hats and scarves and such, and a few other fun projects. We've done some shopping (including purchasing our annual "Toys for Tots" donation) We've started wrapping. We've begun boxing up some outgrown things to donate. There are still many more gifts to make, menus to plan, and things to do. We try not to leave too much till last minute, as we like to make sure that the week leading up to Christmas is relaxed and fun. We like to spend that last week celebrating the Solstice, baking, and doing fun family activities.

In the coming days I will be posting about some of our projects in detail. I'm especially excited to share our adventure in beeswax candle making! It was our first time, and we really had fun with it! Until then... Happy Monday, everyone!