‘Tis The Season . . .

The Christmas season is definitely upon us. If you’ve shopped (I laugh at this – of COURSE you’ve shopped!), you’ll know that Christmas stuff is on the shelves along with Halloween. If you have a Hobby Lobby in your life, you’ll know that there are some Christmas things out year-round. And that’s OK. Crafters can’t wait until October to start projects.

My projects at Christmas revolve around two areas – decorating and cooking.

2016-12-03-23-08-38For some reason I feel the need to decorate most of the nooks and crannies of my house. Every year I say I’m going to cut back, not have my house look like North Pole South, but once you get all those boxes OUT, I mean, you may as well do SOMETHING with it, right? I pick up a Santa or a Snowman and remember where I got it, a funny anecdote that happened in years past. When the ceramic nativity scene comes out, I remember that my sister-in-law got that for us early in our marriage, and that it was crafted by a special-needs sheltered workshop in the area. The mantle just doesn’t look right without the Holy Family in the center.

2016-12-03-23-08-08And then there are the Christmas tree ornaments. SO. MANY. ORNAMENTS. We’ve had to start putting them on from most important to least important. For some reason the Cracker Barrel store and the Scrabble board ornaments always make their way on to the tree when I’m not looking.

But the cooking – I’m talking fudge, peanut butter snowballs, truffles, spiced nuts, party mix, cookies. It’s the candy I love the most, although I have a new recipe for spiced pecans that are out of this world. Really.

spiced-pecansThe best part of the holiday prep, though? Getting ready to have both my daughters home for the holidays. This week the youngest finishes her next-to-last semester of college and will be home, and next week my oldest and her boyfriend will be flying in from NYC.

So, I have candy to make, more spiced nuts to make (because my husband and I have demolished the first batch), gifts to wrap, Christmas music to sing and play, and a house to prepare.

Then, I will rest. I will enjoy my family. I will sit on the couch and look at the twinkly tree and Nativity on the mantle. I will love the life God has so graciously given me.

I hope you all have a Merry, blessed Christmas, and a Happy New Year!

Warm hugs,

Regina

merrickchristmas2014P.S. Selfies and bifocals do not mix well – but I love this pic of us!

 

Deluxe Rice Krispie Bars

In our home, we’ve adopted the KISS method for celebrating Christmas: Keep It Simple, Sweetheart! We decorate two trees: a small one for our family room where we spend the majority of our time, and a larger one for our living room.

The larger tree is filled with an eclectic collection of ornaments from homemade to Hallmark. I’ve purchased ornaments for the family every year, so nearly every branch on our tree holds an ornament. And every year, the kids hang their own Christmas 2014ornaments on the tree. It makes it fun and personal. Someday, when the kids move out and take their ornaments with them, maybe I’ll have a theme tree, but somehow I just don’t think it would mean as much as this one does.

This year, I also created a book tree for the first time, and I built it with an Inkspirational theme. Each book in the tree is written by an Inkspirational Messages contributor (Rose Ross Zediker, Shannon Taylor Vannatter, Lorna Seilstad, and me). I can’t wait to see the tree next year when it grows by several more books!

When it comes to recipes, I also employ the KISS method. In this case, I keep it simple by letting my husband do the creating. This Deluxe Rice Krispie Bar recipe was handed down from his Grandma. It’s simply delicious!

DELUXE RICE KRISPIE BARS

Set oven to 350 degrees

Grease 9 x 13 pan

Cake bottom:

Cream together:

1/2 cup softened butter
3/4 cup sugar

Mix in:

2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
3/4 cup flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt

Fold cake mix into pan. Bake at 350 for 15 minutes.

Remove from oven and layer the entire top with mini marshmallows. Put in oven for (3) minutes

Topping:

Combine:

(1) – 6 oz package butterscotch chips
(1) – 6 oz package chocolate chips
(1-1/2) cups peanut butter

Microwave together to melt.

Stir in (3-1/2) cups of Rice Krispies, then fold on top of cake bottom.

Refrigerate to set

Welcome to our homes

O Christmas tree

O Christmas tree

How lovely are your branches.

I’m sure you recognize those lyrics because few things are more symbolic of the season than the Christmas tree. Whether yours is real or artificial, flocked or natural, or Scotch pine or white pine, how you deck your tree  tells something about you and your family.

For the next two weeks, the Inkspers will be sharing photos of their trees (or those in their cities), along with a Christmas recipe that’s sure to please.

My Tree

photoWhen my husband and I were engaged, we purchased ornaments for our upcoming first tree at an after Christmas sale. We bought ornaments with musical notes and instruments on them. We planned to change the trees “theme” every five years.

Today, we still have the music notes on the tree.

They’ve been joined by ornaments representing many other parts of our lives. Each year, we gave our children an ornament representing something special to them that year. Last year, our youngest daughter got an ornament with pancakes on it. It’s one of her favorite foods. We have an ornament with  boy doing taekwondo and a young man doing taekwondo. Both belong to my son and the two sizes represent when he began and when he got his third degree. My older daughter gets very sentimental while hanging up her collection–red shoes, Tweety bird, American girl dolls, and more.

Our tree is a sort of scrapbook and we love to reminisce as we hang the ornaments and laugh about how I’ll move them around when they aren’t looking. I tie the “look” together with gold ribbon garland and red ornaments.

Now for my recipe.

My mother made Yule Logs cookies every year. When we were kids, we avoided them because of the nuts. Today, however, we all love them. They remind us of yesterday. Today, I sell cookies at Christmas and this one is always popular.

Yule Log Cookies

2 sticks of butter (cool room temperature)

1 C. sugar

1 egg and 1 egg yolk (Save white for topping)

1/2 tsp. salt

2 tsp. vanilla

2 1/2 C. flour

Topping

Egg white from above

1/2 C. chopped pecans

Sugar in a bowl

1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2.  Cream sugar and butter. Add egg, egg yolk, salt, and vanilla.

3. Add flour.

4. Divide dough into fourths. Roll one fourth on a floured surface into a rope and then cut 1 1/2″ logs.

5. Dip each cookies in egg white, nuts and then sugar.

6. Bake at 350 for 10 minutes.

Do you have any family favorite cookies? What about traditional ornaments?

 

Timber!

ugly-christmas-treeThe first year I moved out of my parents’ home I was excited at the thought of decorating my little apartment for Christmas all by myself. Feeling adventurous I decided to do things the old-fashioned way. Heading back to my parents’ farm, I slipped into my old boots, grabbed my dad’s hand saw, and trudged through the snowy field in search of the perfect Christmas tree.

Unfortunately exquisitely groomed pines don’t grow in abundance in these parts. Scrappy little cedar trees do, however. (Of course I already knew this, but I thought for sure the perfect little tree would materialize just for me.)

Charlie Brown would have had a heyday that day. Me—not so much. After wandering around for about an hour, I gave up my dream of finding the perfect tree and settled on an odd-shaped little thing that would look sorta normal if turned just so-so. I dropped to my knees and realized I would have to lie on my stomach in the snow in order to reach the trunk. In case you’re not familiar with cedar trees, they’re a million times pricklier than pines and sticky with goopy tree sap too. With the needles poking my face, I slowly hacked away at the trunk until it toppled.

My anticipated simple adventure turned into a whole afternoon ordeal by the time I dragged that tree a half-mile back to the house—uphill through half a foot of snow. Mom and Dad assured me that the tree would look beautiful, so I shoved the scratchy little thing into my trunk and headed for home, determined to make this thing a feast for the eyes.

After dragging that tree up a flight of stairs into my apartment, I wondered how I would ever hold it up straight and tighten the tree stand at the same time. (I also noticed that when I’d chopped down the tree, I sawed the trunk at an angle instead of straight across. Since I was naïve, or maybe a little dense, I didn’t see this as a problem, though.) By the time I finally managed to get that tree to stand upright, I was more than a tad bit grumpy.

grinchMy mood didn’t improve any as I struggled with the strings of Christmas lights, and I wondered why I ever wanted this stupid tree anyway. Well into the evening, I felt the first hint of satisfaction as I hung the last ornament. I filled the tree stand with water and added a little green food coloring because I’d heard this would help keep the tree green longer.

Feeling proud of myself I sat on the couch and admired my little tree, all sparkly and twinkling with colored lights. By George, it turned out to be kind of cute after all.

Then it happened. The tree slowly began to lean; then it toppled over in a heap on the floor. Ornaments crashed and lights flickered. I gasped at the puddle of green water soaking into the carpet.

Racing to the kitchen I grabbed a towel, frantic that the green water would soak through the floor and drip into my landlords’ living room. I sopped it up as best I could, praying that I wouldn’t get evicted.

With the mess finally cleaned up, I realized the importance of sawing the trunk straight across, but since I had no saw to fix it, there was only one thing left to do to keep the tree upright—tie it to the plant pole. (Remember those suspension rods from the ‘80’s that reached from the floor to the ceiling?)

I never did get a phone call from my landlords about a green stain on their ceiling, and the tree stayed firmly secured to the plant pole until I took it down a few weeks later. I also never discovered whether or not green food coloring helps to keep a tree green.

After that first Christmas in my new apartment, I knew one thing for sure. I was cured of the desire to cut down my own tree ever again.

Oscar's 1st Christmas

I can’t really say I’ve ever had a disastrous Christmas. No candle snuffing, breaking traditions like Lorna. And since I do my best to only bring one tried and true dish to any gathering I attend, I’ve never seen a raw turkey or tried to cook one. So I thought back to our first Christmas. Not really disastrous, but funny, thanks to Oscar.

Six months worth of red gold fur with floppy ears, short legs, and a loooonnnnnggggg body. Yes, Oscar Meyer Weener was our first weenie dog. My husband brought him home shortly after we got married.

My mistake was buying tennis balls and wrapping them for Oscar. He could smell them. He waited until I was gone and unwrapped the tennis balls, knocking over the tree in the process. When I got home, there were tennis balls everywhere and three broken ornaments. I spanked our little darling, scolded him, wrapped the tennis balls up, and put them back under the tree.

But it wasn’t a one time thing. The next time I left, down went the tree and he unwrapped the tennis balls again. After the third tree incident, I took all the breakable ornaments off and put them  back in storage. The next day, he didn’t knock over the tree, but opening the tennis balls became a daily thing. Each time, I scolded him, wrapped the tennis balls back up, and put them under the tree. He already had tennis balls, why couldn’t he wait?

I don’t know why I was so determined he not open them until Christmas or why I didn’t put them up somewhere he couldn’t get to them. I guess it comes down to me being a rule follower and not realizing weenie dog puppies aren’t built that way. I kept thinking he’d give up. He kept thinking I would.

With a week left until Christmas, Oscar decided maybe there were tennis balls in all the packages under the tree. Yes, he opened each one and knocked the tree over again. He didn’t knock the tree over anymore after that, but he opened the tennis balls plus two or three other gifts each day until Christmas. Eventually, I got tired of re-wrapping. As Christmas neared, the tree was looking bent and bare and the gift wrapping a little shabby as I just taped the rips closed.

One day, I was off work and home all day. We didn’t have any incidents. Until in the middle of the night, I awoke to whimpering downstairs. Oscar usually slept in his bed upstairs in our room, but he wasn’t there. I went down to check on him. I could hear him whimpering in the living room, but couldn’t find him. The tree was down, numerous presents were open with numerous tennis balls scattered about. But no Oscar.

I stood the tree up. The jacket I’d bought my dad lay underneath. Then it moved. The sleeve was packed full with a nose sticking out one end and a tail sticking out the other. The only thing I could figure was Oscar hid his ball in the jacket, then went in after it and got stuck. I. Could. Not. Get. Him. Out. I had to wake up Grant and have him pull on one end of the jacket, while I held onto Oscar.

We both folded after that night, I let Oscar have the tennis balls and he didn’t bother the presents again.

The next year, we repeated the process, minus the jacket. The year after that, Oscar grew out of his puppy hood and left the tree and the tennis balls alone.

Has anyone else had weenie dog experience? Did anyone besides me have bad seventies carpet when they first got married even though it was the eighties?

So Not Ready

Every year, my husband wants the tree up early. I’m talking practically Halloween early. I love Christmas. Love my tree, but if it goes up too early, it’s in the way and gets on my nerves. I held him off until the week of Thanksgiving. He brought it in and put it up himself.

But I’m the decorator. I didn’t have the time or the energy this year. I’ve had to really focus on the book I’m writing in order to meet my deadline amidst countless distractions. So the tree sat there for almost a month with no decorations. Thank goodness it’s pre-lit, so it still looked pretty and every night, my husband plugged it up.

I wanted to finish my first draft before my son got out of school for Christmas break. I was on schedule with two and a half days and four thousand words to go. But then he got sick, so I had to keep him out of school. I stayed up until three AM the other morning and finished the book.

It took all my energy and brain power, so now I’m catatonic. But my son and I finally decorated the tree last night. Why bother when it’s only six days before Christmas? For this blog. How could I talk about what we do for Christmas when our tree stood bare?

So about the tree—it’s white. You see, I have matching issues. Green just doesn’t match my house. Two years ago, I saw it. Beautiful, white, pre-lit with multi-colored lights. The lights look pastel against the white branches and I love pastels. I know that red, sage, and gold are the in colors. But I’m a pastel kind of gal even when those colors aren’t ‘in’. But I’m cheap. So I wouldn’t buy the tree.

The next year, I went out to the shed to get our green tree out and to my delight I found the white pre-lit tree. For a few minutes, I couldn’t imagine where it came from. Then I had a vague memory of snapping it up for twelve bucks the day after Christmas the year before. I don’t know how I forgot that. I usually remember when I get a steal of a deal.

Anyway, my living room is mauve, thistle, pale aqua, and off white. Thistle is my favorite color and no one knows what color it is. It used to be in the Crayola coloring box. It’s like a mixture of mauve and lavender. So guess what color my ornaments and decorations are. Yep, they match the living room, plus some gold thrown in just because I love gold.

Other than typical ball ornaments, I have gold ribbons and iridescent nativity scenes, stars, and doves. But remember, I’m cheap. I’ve bought ornaments after Christmas at half of half off for years until I finally got enough to cover the tree to my satisfaction. My son really doesn’t get why we decorate the back of the tree. I even got  a gold tree skirt last year for $1.50. It’s so pretty, I almost want to wear it, like Berniece from Designing Women. It’s way too pretty to cover up with gifts.

I try to make our tree reflect what Christmas is really about. Right down to the wrapping paper, which has Bible verses, nativity scenes, or angels which is increasingly hard to find. So each year when I find it, I stock up. And I’m willing to pay full price for it. That way for the years I can’t find it, I’m still set.

There’s only one slight problem. It happened last year. We bought new furniture. I love my pastel flowered couch, which was hard to find since that style is so out of style. But it’s bigger than the furniture we had before and there’s no room for the tree.

We ended up putting it in the dning room and I like it in there. But my dining room is peach and off white. So my ornaments and thistle garland match my living room, but the tree is in the adjoining dining room. I’ve put up with it for two years now. Peach is out or I would’ve hit the stores after Christmas last year. No peach this year either.

By next year, I’ll either have to rearrange the living room to make the tree fit or buy new  ornaments. Maybe peach will be in by then. Maybe I subconsciously put off decorating the tree this year because my everything-has-to-match psyche just can’t take it.

As far as traditions, we attend the Trans-Siberian Orchestra each year. It was as awesome as usual. And we put one of their CD’s in the stereo when we decorate the tree, even when we do it six days before Christmas. At some point during our family gatherings and church services, my husband reads The Tale of the Three Trees and he always cries, so others always join him. I love that Christmas is on Sunday this year. It just feels right to be in church on Christmas.

We don’t have any dinners at our house. I do my best not to cook the main meal and so far I’ve gotten away with it. I’m a side dish and dessert kind of gal. Other than the tree, I don’t decorate. I did when we first got married, but I soon realized it’s a pain to store and a pain to put up and take down each year. So the tree is all I do and I’m happy with that. Or I will be once I find some peach ornaments.

I even have shopping left to do and I haven’t done my Christmas cards yet. At least I know what I’m buying for the few remaining gifts I need. I just have to get it done. The Christmas cards have to wait until we get our annual family picture taken. We’re scheduled for that tonight. They’re supposed to be back on Christmas Eve and Christmas is Sunday, so we can pass out cards with our pictures inside at church. Can you say cutting it close?

Maybe next year, I’ll be more ready. With my peach ornaments and Christmas picture taken in November and my cards mailed on December 1st. But I doubt it. I’ll probably fly through by the seat of my pants like I always do.

I threw in the picture of my shoes just for fun. More of my matching issues. I just don’t feel put together unless my shoes match my outfit. In my defense, about half a dozen of my shoes were given to me, several in black. I don’t often buy black. Why get black shoes when you can buy orange, gold, yellow, pink, peach, aqua, and red? And the majority of them were on sale or I had store coupons. Hmm, I wonder if I’ll get any shoes for Christmas?

Do you have all your shopping done? Do you have matching issues, or is it just me?