Max Turns Fourteen

Fourteen years ago today he was born.  He was large and squalling and hungry.  He doesn't squall anymore, but other than that...nothing much has changed.  Seriously, what a joy he is!  He's kind-hearted, responsible, and fun-loving.  Happy birthday, Max!

Christmas Day

We had a lovely and relaxing Christmas day.  I hope you did too!

We spent the morning opening presents, until all that was left under the tree were a couple of birthday presents for Max.

Colette and Max did a little target practice with Max's new airsoft weaponry.

We had mid-day munchies.

Some people indulged in naps, others spent time on laptops, and I curled up with my new bread baking book and read for awhile.  I love getting at least one book for Christmas!

Technohubby and I went for a walk with the dog in the crisp air.

The table was set, dinner was made, all partook of the feasting, and the guys did the dishes (thank you!).

And the sun set on another beautiful, blessed Christmas day!

Christmas Day Menu

- Christmas Morning -

Egg Casserole
Potato Casserole
Raspberry Coffee Cake
Coffee - Hot Cocoa - Orange Juice

- Christmas Dinner -

Glazed, Spiral-Sliced Ham
Mashed Potatoes and Gravy
Orange-Glazed Carrots
Spinach Salad with Raspberries and Candied Pecans - Raspberry Vinaigrette
Dinner Rolls
Chocolate-Raspberry Trifle

Party Planning

At this time of year, when people are frequently hosting parties and having guests, here are a few things I've learned over the years of parties and events we've hosted in our home. 

- A lot of people worry during a party whether or not each guest is having a good time.  I gave up worrying about this a long time ago.  One year, I looked around our home filled with wonderful friends, and was just overwhelmed at what fabulous friends God had blessed us with.  And the thought occured to me, "If someone doesn't have a good time at this party, it's their own fault, because we have really fun friends!"  That was a turning point for me.  I absolved myself of the responsibility and let each person own it themselves.  So complaints!

-Forget about creating a "perfect" party, and focus on creating memories for people.  You'll be happier, and everyone will love your party!  This is probably my best party planning tip.  It changes everything.

-Remember the little guests.  Remember to greet all the children at your party, offer to pour them a drink, ask them if they got enough to eat, point them towards the trampoline, have some crayons and paper handy, fill the candy jars, have a few foods that they'll remember (those would be gingerbread men at our party).

- Let your invitations set the tone for your party.  The wording on a Christmas party invitation should be joyous in tone!  Ours typically say something like, "Come!  Be of cheer!  Indulge your sweet tooth!"

- Serve a variety of beverages.  Even if it's a cold night, some people will want a cold drink.  Water should be available throughout the party.  People appreciate being able to choose the tea bag they want, so have a carafe of hot water available.  Coffee is a must.  I always have milk and sugar cubes available for coffee and tea drinkers.  (I use sugar cubes because they're fun, and occassionally little kids sneak a few...and that's a happy party memory for them!)  Don't forget stir sticks or spoons.  I avoid serving hot cocoa, because if it spills it's bad news for the carpet.

- Serve a variety of foods.  Even for our cookie party, I make sure there's something for people who like chocolate and those who don't, for nut lovers and people with nut allergies.

- Have fresh fruit available for people who would just like something fresh.  I'm always happy when people ask me if they can eat an apple at a party filled with cookies.  It tells me that they feel at home at our home, and that's a blessing!

- Appeal to all the senses.  When you're planning your party, ask yourself, "What will appeal to people's sense of taste?" (food, drink, candy)  "What will appeal to the sense of smell?" (simmering wassail, no wet dog smells, scented candles)  "What will appeal to the sense of sight?"  (everything clean and pretty)  "What will appeal to the sense of touch?" (warm hugs for a welcome and parting greeting)  "What will appeal to the sense of hearing?" (background music, singing)

- Lighting should be ambient.  Overhead lights on dimmers are wonderful!  (The key is to have the lights up enough to keep people awake, but low enough to be cozy.)  Lamps turned on.  Candles lit.

- A warm welcome starts at the front door (or before).  We hang a lantern with a candle from our mailbox at the street.  This year we set lanterns all along our front walk.  A pretty, seasonal wreath on the front door, potted plants on the front porch...all say "Welcome!  I've made a fuss for you because I love you!"

- Ask yourself, "What do I want people to remember about our party?" and plan your party to create those memories.  Then it's sure to be wonderful!

Baking Week

Every year for the last 18 years (minus the year I was enormously pregnant with Max), we have had a Christmas Cookie Open House.  The girls and I bake hundreds and hundreds of cookies the week of the party.

This week we have been very busy with chocolate.  I love the way Baker's chocolate has a colonial woman on every square of chocolate.

Colette busied herself with a double boiler.

There were nuts, of course.

We went through two or three dozen eggs.

This is the "menu" for this year's cookie party:

-gingerbread men-
-dark chocolate-dipped macaroons-
-peppermint sticks-
-raspberry pita-
-dark chocolate-dipped pecan shortbread cookies-
-chocolate peppermint crinkle cookies-
-chocolate-raspberry bars-
-chocolate-cranberry brownies-

For the chocolate-cranberry brownies, I simply use Martha Stewart's Chocolate Chocolate-Chip Brownie recipe (from her original Quick Cook cookbook) and replace the nuts with fresh cranberries.  The...ahem...massive amount of sugar in that recipe sweetens those cranberries up just perfectly!  But really, you could use any good brownie recipe, or even an excellent mix, like Ghiradelli, and just add fresh cranberries.  This year, the cranberries were exceptionally large, so I chopped them slightly.

Coffee, tea, and steaming hot wassail will complete the "menu".  Tomorrow night's the night!

The Family Tree on the Christmas Tree

Among my favorite Christmas ornaments are some I made many years ago that contain copies of old photographs of family members.  Grandmothers, grandfathers, great uncles, great aunts, and more adorn our tree. 

I regret that I can't tell you what to buy to make these, because I have never since found the supplies.  But I'll describe the process, and maybe it will inspire some creative person to adapt them and use them.  To make them, I bought: clear glass frames with a thin metal edging with metal rings to use as hangers (this is what I can't find anymore), velvet ribbon (burgandy and green), and black and white copies of old photos.  I cut the photos to fit the frame, plus a piece of cardstock for the back.  I placed the photo on the glass, and then slipped the cardstock just under the rim of the metal frame, thus holding the photo in place.  Threading the velvet ribbon through the rings provided me with a hanger.  On the back of each one, I wrote as much information as I knew about the person in the photo (name, relation to me, age at the time of the photo, location, etc.).  Wonderful old, familiar faces on the tree.

Peppermint Bark

Peppermint Bark
1 – 11 oz. bag dark chocolate chips
1 – 11 oz. bag white chocolate chips
7 candy canes

Line a rimmed cookie sheet with two layers of aluminum foil, overlapping the edges. 

Crush candy canes in a ziploc bag.

Melt chocolates (separately) according to melting directions on packages.  I melt the chocolate in short intervals at 30%-50% power in the microwave, stirring well between melting times.  Drizzle dark chocolate over the covered pan, trying to stay about 1/2″ from the edges.  Then drizzle white chocolate in same manner.  Swirl two chocolates together with a metal spatula to marble them.  Sprinkle crushed candy canes over melted chocolate.  Cut another piece of aluminum foil about the same size as pan and place atop.  Press down gently all over aluminum foil to imbed the candy cane bits in the melted chocolate.  Leave foil in place.  Place in refrigerator for about 30 mins.

Remove from refrigerator and break into pieces of desired size.


Decking the Halls

"Deck the halls with boughs of holly,
Fa la la la la, la la la la!"

Felicity came over to help us deck the halls for Christmas.  Before pretty happens comes the mess of the blue Christmas boxes bursting with garlands and berries and lights.

Many hands make light work, and before you knew it everything had gone from chaos to Christmasy. 

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