Thursday, December 31, 2009

Life is like a box of chocolates...

"My momma always said life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're gonna get." -Forrest Gump

A few weeks ago I was explaining this quote to my daughter, who hasn't experienced the mystery of chocolates. We realized that most of the chocolate boxes she'd seen had the "map" in the cover (probably to identify the candy with nuts, don't you think?). My husband joined the conversation and this became the quote of our week around here, so I shouldn't have been surprised when a large box under the tree (To Emily, From Forrest) turned out to be a two pound box of chocolates.

As much as I love chocolate, of course I've been sharing with everyone else (because let's face it, 2 pounds is a lot of chocolate...plus, that's just how I roll). Yesterday my husband took a bite of one and exclaimed, "The box of chocolates was good to me this time!" I asked what he meant, and he said, "This time it was a truffle."
"Didn't you look on the map?" I asked him.

"Nah," he said, "I like to be surprised."

I sat with that for a few minutes, realizing that I had looked on the "map" every time I made my selections. I wondered what that said about me. I wondered what that said about him!

Usually at this time of year I reflect on the previous year. I think about the goals and plans I made for myself at the beginning of the year, and consider which things worked and which were unsuccessful. Of course lots of things in life ARE like Forrest's box of chocolates: not everything is mapped, and we can't know what's around every corner. However, like the tragedies that sometimes come, opportunities are as likely to appear in the same way: unplanned and uninvited. Can I deal with tragedy and take advantage of opportunity if I "wing it" a little more? More planning...or more surprise?

If you could know what you were getting every time, would you always look, or would you choose to be surprised? Do you make a lot of plans and resolutions for each New Year, or do you "wing it?" What do you think?

Monday, December 28, 2009

Word of the Week: Downtime

According to the dictionary, downtime is 1 : time during which production is stopped especially during setup for an operation or when making repairs
2 : inactive time (as between periods of work)

I always think of vacation time as downtime for myself. I'd love for downtime to always look like this picture, but vacation often ends up being downtime for my computers, as well. This year I'm upgrading a few things and this rarely happens without glitches, so I'm making sure I can get everything back to "normal" before I start up work again next week. So that's not technically working, since no lip balm is being produced, but...

I know, that's not much of a "vacation." But hey, I DID have a long weekend! And my husband is home all week, too, so I'm sure there will be some fun movies and games with the kids. (If we would get a little snow instead of all this annoying rain, we could even do some goofy skiing like this photo.) But because of our computer downtime, there will not be any of the usual work this week.

If you need something for an event in January, please do email or call me and I will respond as soon as I can. We'll be starting right up again on January 4, so if you placed an order in the past few days--or if you plan to in the coming week--we'll start shipping on Monday.

Hope some of you are enjoying some downtime this week, too. Did you have a nice holiday? Any big New Year's Eve plans? Be working on those resolutions so you can share them with us in a few days!!

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas

"Not what we give,
But what we share,
For the gift
without the giver
Is bare."
~James Russell Lowell

Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Christmas Breakfast: Orange Waffles!

For years now we've had waffles for Christmas breakfast/brunch. My kids always try to have chocolate (and nothing else), but we insist on adding something "real" to the mix. I know, "real" in this case includes syrup, whipped cream, or other sugary toppings...call it a compromise! This is our favorite recipe.

These are raised waffles, which is perfect because you can start them the night before (or even a few days earlier), put them in the fridge, and add the remaining ingredients just before making them. What makes them special is the zesty citrus flavor. I used to use orange zest, but now I like adding orange oil, instead. Either one is delicious.

1 pkg dry yeast (2 1/4 tsp)
1/2 cup warm water
2 cups warm milk
1/2 cup butter, melted
1 tsp sugar
3/4 tsp salt
2 eggs
2 cups flour
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp orange oil, or 1 Tbsp grated orange zest

Dissolve yeast in warm water. Add milk, melted butter, sugar, salt, and flour and blend until smooth. Cover mixture and let stand overnight at room temperature. If you aren't using it the next day, you can also place it in the fridge. (To be honest, I leave mine out for an hour or two but always refrigerate overnight.)

When you're ready to make your kids eat Christmas breakfast, prepare your waffle iron, then add the eggs, baking powder, and orange zest/oil to the batter and mix well. (The batter will be really thin.) Pour into the waffle iron (mine takes 1/3 cup per waffle, but follow the directions of your iron) and bake until golden brown. Serve with maple syrup, whipped cream, jam, or any other favorite topping. We also serve with fruit (you know, so it counts as "real" food).

What do you have for Christmas breakfast? Do you have a good waffle recipe? Any ideas for good toppings? Let us know what you think! Hope you're enjoying the season!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Word of the Week: Thanks

I received a truly thoughtful gift from a customer today. She said she "just wanted to say thank you." I realize how many opportunities I have to show appreciation for my friends, family, and the people I work with, and though I do try to do it, I don't express it enough. What a perfect time of year to say an extra thanks!

Thank you! Yes, you! You know who you are! Thanks for stopping by here to read my ramblings. Thanks for your comments, your feedback, the emailed responses when you don't feel comfortable sharing here. Thanks for letting me know that you're out there. It sometimes feels weird writing here if I think no one is hearing. So thank you.

"I can no other answer make, but, thanks, and thanks." ~William Shakespeare

"If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is 'thank you', it will be enough." ~ Meister Eckhart

"I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought, and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder." ~ G.K. Chesterton


Friday, December 18, 2009

Last Call Last Minute Gifts

This is the end. Don't worry, I'm not gonna start channeling Jim Morrison. What I mean is, this is the end of our holiday products. We only have a few things left in stock to ship out in time for Christmas, so this is it!

I marked several products out of stock yesterday, but I goofed! I have a few of some things left and ready to ship...check below and see if any of this will help you to finish up! (We can even add a handwritten gift note if you'd like to ship anything directly.)

Gingerbread soaps: Only 6 of these remaining, and discounted to $2 each. (see photo above)

Limited Edition Holiday Balm: 2 each of the Sugar Plum and Cranberry Orange. (see at right) These will arrive wrapped in organza bags with Art Nouveau-style hang tag.

Specials: Lip balms for $1.50! Mini Candy Cane Pedicures! And Shower gel/lotion gift sets wrapped in organza bags!

Twilight-Inspired Gifts: Okay, so there are a few of these remaining, as well...namely the Bella Gel Sets. I have three. Marked down to $5.50. Anyone interested?

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Spanikopita? I say "Mini Quiche"

In Nora Ephron's new film Julie & Julia Julie Powell tries to cook all of the recipes from Julia Child's first cookbook. I wish I could say that I'd tried all (or even most) of the recipes in any of my cookbooks, but when it comes to cookbooks, I'm more of a "dabbler".

I like to try a recipe here and there, and I rarely prepare a dish the same way twice. This recipe is an exception. It's from The Philadelphia Orchestra Cookbook, which was a wedding gift from my mother-in-law. I don't "entertain" much, but have used this recipe for appetizers, side dishes, hors d'oeuvres, even picnics. They're called "Spanikopites" but this crust isn't like phyllo, and I have come to think of these as mini quiches. They aren't difficult, just a little time-consuming. Fuss now, and the resulting deliciously cheesy spinach pockets can be frozen after assembly and popped in the oven when needed. Any parties coming up? Try these (or a variation!) and let me know what you think. (This recipe claims to result in about 110 pieces, but I usually get somewhere closer to 80.)

Pastry
2 cups flour
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
8 ounces butter, softened

Cream butter and cream cheese together, then incorporate flour, working with hands until it gathers into a ball. Chill for a few hours.


Filling
1 pkg frozen chopped spinach
1 large onion, chopped
3 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 to 1 tsp dill weed (I just use a sprinkle)
8 oz feta cheese, crumbled
1/2 cup grated sharp cheese (Kefalotiri, Locatelli; I usually use cheddar)
4 eggs, slightly beaten
salt and pepper to taste

Prepare spinach according to package directions; drain well, and place in large mixing bowl. Saute onions in olive oil until translucent, then add to spinach. Add salt and pepper, dill, cheeses, and eggs, and mix well.

Roll out chilled pastry on floured surface until it's 1/8" thick. Cut out circles 2 1/2 - 3 inches in diameter (use biscuit cutter or water glass). Place 1/2 tablespoon of spinach filling in each circle and fold pastry over filling, sealing edges with the tines of a fork. You can freeze them at this point (freeze on a cookie sheet, then store them in freezer bags). Bake fresh or frozen at 375° for 20 minutes or until golden brown.

Mix this up by adding some mushrooms to the onions while they're cooking, leave out the spinach, then substitute Parmesan and Swiss for the cheeses. Or for you meat lovers out there, how about a ham and cheese variation? Any greens would work in place of spinach; lots of cheeses would be wonderful, and even low fat varieties are delish. I have made these with reduced fat cream cheese (try the Philly Neufch√Ętel cheese) and low fat feta and they still have excellent flavor. (Just make sure that the cream cheese you choose can be baked...some of the low fat versions are not meant for baking.)

You can play around with the size, too—try a two-crust quiche, then cut into triangles for serving.

Let me know if you think of any other variations!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Last Minute Gifts

We're winding down this week, but for those last-minute gifts, shop through noon EST on December 16 and take 15% off. Use promo code DECEMBER15. (BONUS: Promo code takes 15% off our specials, too. And there's new stuff there. Like this Candy Cane Mini Pedi.)

Word of the Week: Great

This is the top of a receipt I was given by my town office recently. It says, "Have a great day everyday." They were extremely helpful and courteous at the town office, and if everyone had that positive attitude--and left you with such a happy sentiment--it would be hard NOT to have a great day, everyday.

But I've been reading everywhere how miserable people are being to each other this holiday season. At stores people are shoving each other out of the way to get the last bargain item. They're mouthing off to clerks who don't offer them the product they want or the service they think they deserve. They're cutting each other off in parking lots, honking at each other and swearing at pedestrians.

I would bet that in many households, the opposite behavior is being observed in children. Even naturally obstinate kids comply with their parents' requests this time of year. The mouthy are sweet, the messy clean up their acts, the bratty are watching their step. What's the difference? Three little words: Santa. Is. Watching.

What a shame that adults don't believe in Santa Claus! I know, many of us still do believe in an unseen being who watches us and judges our behavior. What a shame that doesn't keep adults in line the way it does our children! And I wonder why it isn't enough to know that other people are watching—friends, family, kids, and complete strangers are taking note? I know the word of the week is "great" but maybe we should start with Santa's recommendation: Be good.

When my kids aren't getting along, my reminder to them is to "be good to each other." So that's been my thought as I go out into this pre-holiday madness: be good to each other. If we could be good to each other, we'd all be much more likely to have a great day (everyday).

Hope you are all enjoying the holiday season!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

A Little Snow, A Little Chocolate

We had snow on Wednesday, and a snow day for the kids. They're 9 and 11 now, so you'd think they could be outside for hours on end while I putter away inside, uninterrupted, but it never happens that way. With snack breaks and wardrobe malfunctions, there were too many distractions to get much accomplished. And when they came inside, they expected lunch (grilled cheese) and hot cocoa.

Most of the time we take the easy way out with the hot cocoa, boiling water and adding it to a packet of mix (with those little astronaut dehydrated marshmallows...you know what I'm talking about). But we were all out, so today they got the Real Deal. Which I do so infrequently, I needed to find a recipe for the right quantities.

It was so yummy I thought I'd share, just in case anyone else has forgotten what a real cup of hot chocolate tastes like. I admit, I had forgotten.

2 cups milk
3 Tbsp unsweetened cocoa (I used Ghirardelli)
3 Tbsp sugar

Whisk ingredients together in a saucepan over medium-low heat until warm. If you want to, add a dash of cinnamon or nutmeg (or both), then pour in mugs. Add marshmallows, a scoop of marshmallow cream, or a swirl of whipped cream, and garnish with a cinnamon stick or candy cane.

For really "hot" chocolate, stir in a dash of cayenne! What other ingredients do you add to your hot chocolate? Please share your own recipes and ideas!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Traditional Christmas Gifts With a Twist

The holiday season is all about traditions, and gift choices are no exception. Whether it's the floral arrangement, the bottle of bubbly, or the much-maligned fruitcake, there are gift ideas that we all fall back on every year. This year, why not turn tradition on its ear by choosing traditional gifts with a twist?

In Vino Veritas
If you'd usually bring a bottle of wine for a hostess gift, why not consider a different kind of "vinotherapy"? This Custom Vinotherapy Mask from The Grapeseed Company contains detoxifying clay and moisturizing coconut and honey, along with red wine extract and its "age-fighting" resveratrol. Choose your own botanical extract or essential oil to customize your mask for face or body. Mask-to-go box includes instructions and application brush in takeout box.

When you Care Enough
Even in this electronic age, many of us still enjoy sending (and receiving) holiday greeting cards in the old-fashioned way, with sentiments of the season, holiday stamps, and cute family photos. Dippylulu's holiday cards provide the "updated perspective on every special occasion" that this year's twist on tradition dictates. Inspired by the design of the "Keep Calm and Carry On" British propaganda from the late 30s, the reassuring demeanor of these cards appeals to me. Perhaps others have not insulted family and left in a huff (don't ask), but who couldn't use a gentle reminder to "control rage over cheap gifts"? Visit Dippylulu's Etsy shop for lots of gift and card ideas.

Sweetness and Light
Most people consider a candle a perfect gift at the holidays. With a gentle light and a seasonal fragrance, a candle can help to set the holiday mood. If you're looking to set a different kind of mood--or you want a multipurpose gift--how about about choosing a candle that's also a massage lotion? The Scandle is a body candle that burns at a low temperature, and contains soy wax and skin-friendly oils and butters that create a warm massage oil. Packaged in reusable ceramic canister, with refills available, the Scandle is also an eco-friendly gift choice. Available in a variety of fragrances, gift sets, and even travel candles.

Think Chocolate
Delectable bonbons, rich hot cocoa, milk and white and dark...we
would never suggest forgoing a gift of chocolate! But there are so many ways to indulge, why would you limit yourself? Instead of truffles, give Bella Lucce's Peruvian Chocolate Moisturizing Syrup. Imagine soaking in a tub with moisturizing oils, chocolate extract, cocoa absolute, and honey. Sounds like cocoa bliss! Bella Lucce has a whole line of chocolate spa goodness with products like Chocolate Silk Bath Bubbles and Peruvian Chocolate Body Wash. Create a paradise for the chocolate lover in your life!

To Fruitcake, or Not To Fruitcake
As tempting as it may be to send another fruitcake (and risk the wrath and ridicule of friends and family), why not consider another fruity option? Lip balm in flavors like Sugar Plum, Cranberry Orange, Pomegranate, and Red Currant contain holiday fruit taste without the strange textures and bitter candy peel experience. Natural ingredients like sweet almond oil, avocado oil, shea butter, and beeswax leave lips soft and moisturized. Available in tins, jars, and tubes, or wrapped as favors, GCDSpa's lip balms are just the right size for little office gifts or stocking stuffers.

Milk and Cookies
Every year we bake holiday cookies for neighbors, and the neighbors bake holiday cookies for us. And of course, we leave a plate of them for the guy in the red suit. I wonder how many of us would rather get some of Cactus and Ivy's new Body Souffle? Instead of milk and cookies, we could all be indulging in Butter Cream or Almond Biscotti fragrance souffles, with whipped shea butter and peach kernel oil. Bonus: Cactus and Ivy's Body Souffles are 100% Vegan, and they hydrate and soothe skin much better than milk and cookies. Santa would be delighted.

Do you have any ideas for twists on the traditional holiday gifts? Please share your gift ideas below!

Follow all of these businesses on Twitter at:
grapeseedco, Dippylulu, ScandleCandle, BellaLucce, GCDSpa, and cactusandivy.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Word of the Week: Twilight

Last year, like so many millions of other tween (teen? thirty-something? middle-aged?!) girls, my daughter discovered Twilight. Since I didn't know exactly what it was she was reading, I also "discovered" Twilight. And then my husband did, too. We liked the books, though not quite as much as my daughter did!

When I was planning my holiday products for this weekend's craft fair, choosing fragrances and putting together gift sets, a set of Bella and Edward-inspired fragrances caught my eye. Actually, my daughter saw them and insisted that we order them. And we liked them so much, we had to make some Bella and Edward gifts for the fair.


The Bella fragrance is a floral blend of lavender and freesia (as her scent is described in the books). It's a fresh scent, a soft musk with additional notes of rose, violet, and iris. This fragrance is available in several gifts and stocking stuffers, including a set of purse-sized lotions (along with an Edward lotion), a bath gel and lotion set, and a Dolly bag gift set with hand cream and purse potion perfume. Our purse potions are dry perfumes that leave a hint of scent and a dusting of glitter (sort of like a vampire in the sun--sparkly!!).

Edward's fragrance is "honey, lilacs, and sunshine." The addition of vanilla, grapefruit, heliotrope and dry wood creates a sporty, clean scent that is suitable for men but enjoyed by women, as well. (My daughter prefers this to the Bella fragrance.) Edward is available with the Bella fragrance in the sampler lotion set mentioned above, and also in the lotion and bath gel stocking stuffer set.

Our Bella and Edward gifts are only available while supplies last, so order soon!

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Craft Fair

We had a great day at the Williams-Cone School Craft Fair today. Here are my kids, who were excellent salespeople (along with their dad!). And a few pics of our table, too. I'll be putting some of these show specials on my web site in a few days--I'll let you know when you can get your very own Bella and Edward fragrance gift sets! We also have a few extremely limited edition sugar plum travel sets. Great stocking stuffers!

Thank you to everyone who came by the table to say hi or make a purchase!



Thursday, December 03, 2009

In Defense of Small Things

This morning I read an article about artist Willard Wigan, a man who creates sculptures small enough to fit inside the head of a needle. I just had to share this--his story is incredible. There's a slideshow of his work with the article.

Different people, from art critics to curators and even scientists, have weighed in on the significance of his work and process. His own take on his work is that it is "a defense of small things...It is showing people what they can overcome." When you read about his early childhood dealing with undiagnosed dyslexia, it's clear what an impact that "belittling" had on him and on his view of the world.

He had a built-in excuse to fail, was the classroom poster boy for failure. Instead, he has become a successful micro-sculptor, selling his work for millions. It's amazing to me how that childhood humiliation shaped his vision. Without the criticism and pain of those early years, he probably would not have developed into the artist he is. I guess it is as Mary Case says: "No pressure, no diamonds."

What do you think of his story and his sculptures? Do you have a new appreciation for "small things"?

Photo of Willard Wigan's work "Moon Landing", part of an exhibition called "Art in the Eye of a Needle: Micro-sculpture by Willard Wigan", on display at the Parish Gallery in Georgetown through Jan. 23.

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