Monday, December 27, 2010

Thank you

Once all the paper is torn off (and the excitement has worn off), it's time to say, "Thank you." Every year I print out cards for my kids to make it a little easier for them to express their thanks. I use them, too. We keep it simple, making a list for each kid (and grown-up) while the gifts are still fresh in our minds. The notes aren't long or elaborate, but I encourage them to take a bit of time to think about each person.

Do you write thank you notes? If you do, and you'd like to use these simple holiday-themed cards, please feel free to download the PDF. (For your own use, not for resale or to post elsewhere, please.) Print onto card stock and cut in half, then fold in half again. Each sheet will give you two cards, one of each design, which will fit into A2 envelopes.

I don't write them all at once, but keeping the cards on my desk reminds me to work on them a little at a time. My kids do a few every day, too. I think it's important to say thank you, or to find other ways to show appreciation for the things people give and do. What do you think? Do you write notes? What other ways do you say thank you? Please share your thoughts!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Holiday Photo

Are you chewing gum??!!

Cheeeeeeese-y...


Smile, Shmile...

There's an antler in my face!

Finally got it right. Happy Holidays!!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Wonder

Did you ever hold out your mitten to catch a snowflake? And then marvel at how intricate and beautiful it was? If you're like me, it was probably when you were a kid. To grown-ups, snow is that annoying stuff that's hard to drive in and a pain to clear from the sidewalks. That sense of wonder about snow (and maybe about other things, too) has been replaced with the practical and mundane. "Oh, great, it's snowing again. Yuck."

Last week I got a preview of this book called Bentley's Snowflakes. It's a part of Dover's Clip Art series, available as CD-ROM and Book. The book description says, "For almost a half century, American photographer W. A. Bentley captured on film thousands of snowflakes in his Jericho, Vermont, workshop. Intended as research and teaching aids for scientists and art instructors, his painstakingly prepared images were remarkable revelations of nature's diversity in uniformity: no two snowflakes are exactly alike, but all are based on a common hexagon."

This book contains 576 images. Some of them look just like storybook snowflakes. Other snowflakes look like flowers. Some appear to be miniature tinker toy constructions: tiny, elaborate frozen structures.

Others resemble alien spacecraft right out of Spielberg's imagination. Still others look like sparkling jewels. Each one is different. Marvelously, wonderfully different.

Looking at these photos I remembered learning as a kid that every snowflake that ever falls is different from every other. I remember how that thought allowed me a glimpse at the impossible enormity of infinity. I remember how much time I spent just thinking about how things worked and why the world was the way it was, and I realize that filling every minute with activity (the way most of us do) leaves me little time for wonder.

As I wrap up my last work week of 2010, I am looking forward to some quiet (and loud!) time with family, hopefully some snow (our first significant snow is falling as I write this), and a few days to enjoy the season. Maybe this year I'll be able to sled and make snowmen without worrying about wet clothes and the snow we'll all track inside? Maybe I'll even make some hot cocoa for myself, too? Maybe catching a few snowflakes will help me recapture the wonder? What do you think?

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Chocolate Peppermint Fudge


You never know when you're going to need another little gift for someone, and everyone likes fudge. I made some chocolate fudge today, and just for fun I topped with white chocolate and crumbled candy canes. (It looks pretty, and peppermint and chocolate taste great together!) Here's the recipe I used:

Chocolate Fudge

2 Tbsp butter
2/3 cup evaporated milk
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1/4 tsp salt
2 cups mini marshmallows
1 1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1 tsp vanilla extract
about 1/2 cup white chocolate chips
1 or 2 candy canes, crushed (great use for the broken ones!)

If you've never made fudge before, it's a good idea to get all of your ingredients ready. Line an 8-inch square baking pan with aluminum foil, then measure out your mini marshmallows and chocolate chips into a bowl and set aside. Combine the butter, milk, sugar and salt in a saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly. Boil for 4-5 minutes, still stirring, then remove from heat. Add the marshmallows, semisweet chocolate chips, and vanilla extract and stir until melted. Then pour the mixture into your foil-lined pan.

In a microwave safe bowl, melt the white chocolate chips. Then use a spoon to drizzle the white chocolate over the top of the fudge. While the white chocolate is still warm, sprinkle crushed candy canes over the top. Allow fudge to harden completely before cutting.

Do you like making fudge? What flavor is your favorite?

Friday, December 17, 2010

The winner is...

...Susan! Random.org chose number eight out of eight comments, and that makes Susan the winner of the holiday book! Thanks so much for participating.

I'm so glad I've gotten to hear more about your holiday traditions from the comments you've left here in the past few weeks. I hope that you will keep sharing your thoughts even when it's just a regular ol' post without a giveaway! (Though I do plan to continue offering giveaways, too.)

Speaking of which, remember there is still another giveaway going on and I'll be selecting a winner of that one tomorrow (Saturday) at noon. It's happening over at Facebook, where I'm giving away a candy cane pedicure set. If you haven't joined us yet, come on over!

Hope your holiday season has been fun! Have you finished your shopping yet? I need to pull everything out and see what I've got...I sorta lost track! Happy shopping (baking, crafting, etc.)!!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

15% off on the 15th

Just once more, with feeling...

It's the 15th. I know it's supposed to be Wordless Wednesday, but we're having a sale so I have to talk about it.

One day only, 15% off even discounted items. And we have more discounted items now. Lots of good stocking stuffers. Totally worth checking out. Promo code 15FOR15 at checkout.

Remember that all holiday orders need to be in by Friday so we can ship by Monday. Thank you!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Blessings

This has been a challenging year. I know that I've talked a lot about what we've accomplished here (a new office, for example), but I'll be honest: nothing has come easily. Our building projects ran into problems and budget issues and miscommunications. We negotiated these pitfalls as well as we could considering the other difficulties our summer had in store. First my 15-year-old furry eldest child (of the feline variety) was diagnosed with kidney disease. This seemed pretty sad until I heard that my grandmother would need surgery for several blocked arteries. Shortly afterward, an uncle fell ill, followed by an aunt. Around this time my mom was also diagnosed with cancer. There was a moment in the middle of this craziness when I realized that it would be easy to feel sad and worried all the time. There was always someone hurting, always someone who had something bad happening to them.

By nature I am a nervous person and I tend to worry about things. This summer, for some reason, I didn't. I was upset, of course, and tried to offer help as much as I could, but for once in my life I stayed pretty cool. I kept joking that once I got to a certain level of stress you could keep piling it on and I wouldn't feel it anymore. Maybe I really did reach my limit? His Holiness the Dalai Lama said, "If you have fear of some pain or suffering, you should examine whether there is anything you can do about it. If you can, there is no need to worry about it; if you cannot do anything, then there is also no need to worry." Seems logical, doesn't it? Could I have adopted this way of thinking without even knowing it? Or maybe it was simply because this summer was gloriously beautiful beyond words. The sun was shining and my garden was thriving and there was always some small something to be grateful for. Everywhere I looked there were little blessings.

Early in the summer a customer contacted me with a request. She told me that a friend of hers had been diagnosed with a terminal illness. All of her friends were going away with her to spend special time together, and this customer wanted to order some of my products to share with them at their getaway. I have made gifts and favors for many special events, but making gifts for this occasion really meant a lot to me. It also served as a great reminder: celebrate loved ones while you can. Don't wait for an occasion. Make an occasion. Don't wait for things to be happy and perfect and good. They may not be happier or more perfect or better than they are right now. Life is hard. It's sad and painful and difficult. But every day there are little blessings. Every day there are good friends and laughter and chocolate. Enjoy them now, right now, today.

There's a lot of pressure at the holidays to create THE celebration of the year, the occasion everyone has been waiting for. It's a hard time of year for some people, and I admit at times I've had the wrong focus. It's easy to fall into that trap of doing too much, feeling overwhelmed and exhausted. This year is different for me, and it's all because of the blessings. Amazingly, my mom, grandmother, aunt and uncle are all OK. (Even my cat is well.) I am so grateful, and I am looking forward to spending more happy occasions with them in the coming weeks (and years). It will be fun to bake and shop and make gifts for everyone, but getting to spend time with them, honestly, is enough.

I wish you many, many blessings this holiday season and in the New Year. Thank you for being here.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Holiday Books for Kids

Remember when it seemed to take forever for the holidays to get here? The weeks before Christmas seemed to drag on, but part of what made the wait bearable for me was all of the stories. Of course some of them were on TV...Charlie Brown and The Grinch, for example. But I also remember reading lots of holiday stories. I have continued that with my kids by sharing Christmas stories from Dr. Seuss and Charles M. Schultz as well as from Matthew and Luke. I love how kids' stories get right to the heart of what's important about holidays and their traditions. (I'm into the pictures, too.)

This year I decided to branch out to other holiday stories, as well. My kids are older and have learned a bit about other religious and cultural traditions, but at home we've mostly talked about Christmas. I felt ignorant, really, and I figured the best way to get a crash course in anything is to get the picture book. Enter Moishe's Miracle: A Hanukkah Story and Seven Spools of Thread.

Moishe's Miracle is the story of Moishe the milkman, a generous, kind man; his scolding, greedy wife Baila; and a magical latke pan that only Moishe may use. What happens when Baila can't resist trying the pan for herself? This book, by Laura Krauss Melmed and illustrated by David Slonim, was a New York Times Top Ten Picture Book of the Year and the winner of the National Jewish Book Award. The illustrations are magical; you will be amazed by how dabs of paint become such expressive characters. The book also includes a brief description of Hanukkah and a glossary of Yiddish and Hebrew words used in the story.

Seven Spools of Thread
was the book I chose to read about Kwanzaa. Kwanzaa is a cultural holiday celebrated by people of African descent from December 26 to January 1. For each of those seven days a candle is lit to represent one of the seven principles, or Nguzo Saba. Seven Spools of Thread uses the story of seven quarreling brothers to teach the seven principles. The brothers must learn to work together in order to gain their inheritance; the lesson is enough to transform their whole village. The story is by Angela Shelf Medearis, with gorgeous linoleum block prints by Daniel Minter. Need more encouragement to check this out? A 2001 ALA Notable Book for Children and a Notable Social Studies Trade Book for Young People for 2001, this book concludes with a section describing the woven cloth of the people of Ghana, and a project detailing how to weave your own cloth to make a belt.

Moishe's Miracle is recommended for kids 5 - 8, and Seven Spools of Thread for kids 9 - 12. My favorite ever Christmas book is recommended for kids 8 and up, but I still laugh out loud when I read it. The Best Christmas Pageant Ever is about what happens when the meanest, loudest, "baddest" kids take over the church Christmas pageant. They aren't familiar with the Christmas story at all, so of course they ask the most appalling questions. Introducing the Herdmans to the Christmas story transforms not just them but many of their neighbors, who see the story in a whole new light.

I ordered all three of these books for my kids a few weeks ago, and got an extra copy of Barbara Robinson's The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. I'd love to give it away this week! Please share your favorite holiday books in the comments below for a chance to win this book. I'll be randomly selecting a winner from the comments at midnight EST this Friday, December 17.

What holiday stories do you share every year? Do you read about other religious and cultural traditions as well as your own? Please share your thoughts!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Holiday Schedule

Sometime in the last week I realized we have really run out of time to have an open house party. I'm a little disappointed, but it's been such a busy fall that it would have been hard to get everything ready! I did take some time tonight to have a tree-trimming party with some friends. Didn't they do a great job helping me to decorate out in the office?

I also realized we're down to the last week before we close for the holidays. We'll be taking orders through December 17 for shipping by Priority Mail until the 20th. This also means we won't be accepting new rush orders until we return in January. I apologize for any inconvenience this may cause. If you are interested in ordering favors or gifts for an event in January, please contact me as soon as possible so we can schedule delivery for you.

I'll be returning to the office on January 3, and any orders received between December 18 and January 2 will begin to ship that Monday. Please let me know if you have any questions at all!

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Baby's First Christmas Ornaments

My kids are old enough now to do crafty projects with me, so I bought the book Softies: Simple Instructions for 25 Plush Pals (affiliate link) by Therese Laskey. I figured I could take advantage of their obsession with stuffed animals and inspire them to make their own! The first project we tried was Alicia Paulson's paper doll dress, which is a tiny felt-and-fabric dress hanging from an adorable wire hanger. They look just like ornaments to me, so we made a few for holiday gifts. Then I wondered what else we could make to put on adorable wire hangers, and we put together these little baby onesies.

Three of my cousins are expecting babies at the moment, so we have a bit of baby craziness in our family! If you are looking for a cute holiday gift for a newborn, this is super simple to make. You'll need:

Felt in pastel colors
Embroidery floss in pastel colors
8- or 9-inch piece of 20-gauge wire for the hanger
Embellishments: tiny buttons, bows, flowers, etc. to decorate

I have created a template for the onesie which you are welcome to download for your own use (it's a PDF). The ones I made are 2.5" across and 2.5" high, but I also have included a template for a 3" ornament if you'd like it a little larger. The hanger for this would need to be a little bigger, as well.

Print the template on card stock, then cut out the pattern size you'd like to use. Fold the felt and place the bottom of the template on the fold. (You'll end up with one big piece, with the front and back sides of the onesie folding over at the "snap-crotch".)

Add your embellishments to the front of the onesie. We added tiny buttons to the boy's and a bow to the girl's, but you can add flowers, pearls, beads, sequins...whatever you'd like. Do this before you sew the two sides together.

Once your embellishments have been added, fold the onesie with wrong sides together and use two strands of floss and a blanket stitch to sew together. You'll need to sew the shoulders, then under the arms and down the sides. Make sure to leave the neck and sleeve holes open (and leg holes, too, so it looks wearable!).

To create the hanger, use a pair of pliers to shape the wire. Curl under one end of the wire into a tiny loop, then create the top of an S shape for the hook. Put bends at the neck area, then bend for the two shoulders and twist the end back onto the neck of the hanger. Slide the finished hanger into the neck and sleeves of the onesie and you're done!

I can see the talented embroiderer (that would not be me!) embellishing with more elaborate stitches, or even adding the baby's name. These little hangers make me want to fill the Christmas tree with an entire wardrobe! Use your imagination to make ornaments just perfect for your own (or a friend's) tree!

And make sure to visit Alicia Paulson's website. Posie: Rosy Little Things features projects from her books, and many patterns you can purchase to make amazing gifts!

Do you enjoy making gifts? What's your favorite project this year? Please share your thoughts!

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Nana's Ginger Snaps


This is my favorite holiday cookie. The recipe is my Nana's, but she isn't able to bake them anymore. I have such fond memories of her cookies. She made a mean chocolate chip, and often baked a soft molasses cookie that was wonderful, too. But this is my favorite, and has become the one recipe I always turn to each Christmas to share with my friends and family. I hope that you'll love them just as much as I do (and enjoy sharing them, too).

Nana's Ginger Snaps

2 cups flour
1 tsp ginger
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp salt
3/4 cup butter
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1/4 cup molasses

Measure dry ingredients in sifter. Cream butter and add sugar. Beat and then add egg and molasses. Add dry ingredients and blend well. Form dough into balls and roll in sugar. (I add a sprinkle of red and green sugars to the white to make them more festive!) Bake on ungreased cookie sheet for 12 - 15 minutes at 350°. They are soft when still warm, but get snappy as they cool. Delicious with a glass of milk! Happy Holidays!

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Gift Idea: Make an Ikebana Vase

The Japanese art of flower arranging, called "Ikebana," has developed over centuries. Those who study ikebana consider it more than simple flower arrangement; it is a spiritual practice that reflects an appreciation of nature, with all parts of the arrangement in harmony. It uses not just blooms but also stems, branches, and other materials in several styles that follow precise techniques.

One ikebana style, called moribana, uses shallow dishes to create a piled-up floral look. The blossoms and branches are often arranged in the container by placing into the spines of pin frogs, or needle holders. This type of vase is very simple to make and it's a beautiful gift.

To make an ikebana vase, you'll need a shallow pot or glass dish. The container is important when designing the arrangement, so many different shapes, colors, and sizes of containers can be used. I chose a stoneware pot, likely intended for bamboo plants, which was shallow and also had no holes in the bottom (very important!).

You'll also need a pin frog and some adhesive. You may choose to use floral clay instead of permanent adhesive to stick the pin frog to the bottom of your container. You can also use more than one pin frog. When deciding where to place the pin frog, it helps to look at some examples of ikebana arrangements. They are often asymmetrical, so you will probably not want to position the pin frog exactly in the center of your container.

Once you've placed the pin frog, you may want to add some stones to the bottom of the container. Polished river rocks in different sizes and colors will add color and interest to the arrangement, particularly if your shallow container also has a very wide opening.

Depending on the type of container you use, this project can make a very inexpensive gift; mine was around $16. You can always include an ikebana book with your gift, too, to provide everything they will need to start learning about Japanese floral arrangement.

Have you ever tried creating an arrangement in an ikebana style? What types of flowers or branches did you use? Did you use a special vase? Please share your thoughts!

Ikebana photo top left from Wikimedia Commons.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Celebrating 1,000

For a few weeks we've been just shy of 1,000 "fans" (or "likers"? Or what is it we're calling ourselves these days??) at the GCDSpa page on Facebook. On Monday I asked for help and a few friends (you know who you are) shared the page with THEIR friends, so when I checked in on Tuesday morning we were over 1,000!! Yay! THANK YOU to everyone who shared and to those who decided to join us.

Of course something like this deserves thank-yous (read: prizes), so we're giving away a gift set to celebrate! All you have to do to enter is to comment on this photo at our Facebook page. You'll see that it looks just like this photo here, and it was posted on December 1 at 11:30 am. I'll be choosing a winner from that list of comments on December 7, so make sure you comment on that photo!

Can I also say how excited I am that Tammy G. won the Candy Cane Pedi set from Chic Galleria?! I was so pleased by the number of people who entered, and completely floored when I recognized the winner's name! Congratulations, Tammy!! And thank you so much to all of you who entered. If you haven't won any of our giveaways, please don't be discouraged: there are a few more surprises coming! Please join us on Facebook for more goodies, and make sure you're subscribed here at the blog so you can get all the latest!

Thank you so much for participating in our holiday craziness these past few weeks! I'm looking forward to sharing more ideas, recipes, projects, and reviews in the coming weeks. Please feel free to share your thoughts and ideas, too!

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