Thursday, November 25, 2010

Santa Claus Is Coming! (Say No to Doorbusters)

I wrote this last year, and it still applies, so I am reposting it. There are, however, a few changes for this year: Boonton's Christmas Parade & Opening of Santaland is on Small Business Saturday, 11/26 at 1 p.m. while in Denville, the Holiday Parade is Sunday, 11/27 at 2 p.m.  

Santa will be at Dash of Thyme Gourmet from 11 - 12:30 p.m. on Saturday, along with the Yuletide Carolers. 

While I am not sure if BMS is having their holiday boutique, Ward Vogt's Santaland cards are now available at both Heavenly Temptations, and Savannah Hope Vintage, on Main Street in Boonton. The Santaland carda, and Magic Keya for Santa will also be available at our Pop-Up Holiday shop on Saturday at 106 Broadway in Denville. We rented out 106 Broadway (the gallery/art studio) in Denville for a special shop with unique items, including the cards, keys and lots more fun and unique items. Join us from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Free coffee and wine for shoppers, while supplies last. Contact me for details: 

Now, read last year's blog to get in the spirit this year! 

Santa Claus is coming to town. Maybe not your town, but he's coming to my (neighboring) town.

Barring a rain storm, Santa will be coming to town on none other than a fire truck this Saturday, as part of the Boonton Fire Department's 17th Annual Holiday Parade. The parade begins at 1 p.m. on Main Street and ends at Santa Land (intersection of North Main and Highland Avenue). Here, kids get to meet Santa, enjoy a petting zoo and pony rides, and drink some hot cocoa, all provided free of charge. Now, this isn't one of Santa's helpers dressing as Santa, like in the mall. This is the real deal, Holyfield. Santa Claus himself. 

I've loved Santa Land since I first saw it. It sits right on the Rockaway River, which is a peaceful setting in the middle of Boonton's Historic District. Trees are everywhere, and the Grace Lord park is right across the street. At Santa Land, they have a sleigh and reindeer, toy soldiers, and a real mailbox for kids to send letters to Santa, direct.

On left is a note card with a photo of Santa Land and the famed mailbox.

I loved taking my son there when he was younger, and watching as he carefully put his letter for Santa inside the white, red, and green painted box. Later, he'd look to me wide-eyed as if to be shocked that such a thing was possible. It's because of my love for the place that I asked Ward to do a photo card of Santa Land. The card (shown above) is now available at the Boonton Holiday Boutique on Main Street, so that kids can go get one, then write their letters to Santa on those cards. I like to keep my son's Santa letters and lists, so I have him write one letter to Santa to mail, and the other to leave with Santa's cookies on Christmas Eve. The one he leaves with the cookies is the one that I keep. (Now, where did I put those past year's letters...)

Cookies for Santa, and a key I made for him to get into the house.
This year, I am not sure if he's too old to go. I will ask, but won't be surprised if he decides to pass. I am going to try and milk it for as long as I can. Regardless, I will visit Santa Land anyhow once or twice, sometime during the day. I will sit in his sleigh, and remember when my little guy stood inside the giant wooden train set pretending to be a conductor. Or when at only three years old, he sat in the sleigh, calling proudly to the reindeer and getting the names all wrong. He laughed and laughed until he literally fell over.

My son, in the Santa Express train at Santa Land, 2004
This holiday season, I hope that you take the time to enjoy the spirit of Christmas. No doorbuster 3 a.m. sales or running like mad trying to get the last $50 iPod. Instead, take time to create lasting memories with your family. Cook and bake together, make decorations, sing Christmas carols, and go see Santa. All that will mean more in the long run than any cheap (or expensive) present ever could.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Don't Take It For Granted

I was just reading someone's* blog post, and she wrote "A simple bar of soap can help stop the spread of the disease and save so many kids' lives. Here's a thought: try 'not' washing your hands with soap for just a week and see how sick you get... " 

She brought this up in reference to a charity called, Clean the World. This charity recycles soap products, like the half bars you leave behind in hotel rooms, and distributes them to homeless shelters in the U.S. and to impoverished countries around the world.

We take soap and clean hands for granted. We have signs in our public bathrooms begging us to wash with soap and water before leaving the bathroom. Begging us to wash our hands, when so many people would love the opportunity to soap their hands clean. The Clean the World website says, "Impoverished people around the world die every day from acute respiratory infection and diarrheal disease because they have no soap. The death toll is staggering. Each year more than five million lives are lost to these diseases with the majority of deaths being among children less than five years old. Studies have shown that simple hand washing substantially reduces the spread of these diseases." 

I am not writing this as a call to donate to Clean the World (though I am sure they would appreciate it), but to remind you how lucky we all are to have soap available, and how washing hands is so important. It prevents the spread of disease. This is a big deal. Twenty seconds of your life can help you stay healthy, and washing hands is really quite a pleasure if you don't rush through it. What's better than nice warm water and soapy hands rubbing together to get clean? For me, hand washing is a luxury. I love the smell of the soap and the way my hands get covered in frothy bubbles. I love trying other people's soaps, and in restaurants, and other public places just to see how they feel and smell. I also keep a bar of soap in my bag, in a plastic container, just in case I go somewhere where there isn't any soap available. 

You don't need to use antibacterial soap. Actually, I try not to whenever possible. The Mayo clinic says, "Using antibacterial soap may even lead to the development of bacteria that are resistant to the product's antimicrobial agents — making it harder to kill these germs in the future." I prefer bar soap (I like Soap and Paper Factory), but for my pump dispensers I use depth hand soap in bay coconut. It's very gentle on the hands and smells great. (I don't, however, like their conditioner, but that's another story.)

Since we live in an imperfect world, I do have wet wipes for the car, and for times when we just can't get to a sink. I buy Herban Essentials Towelettes in either lemon or orange, depending on my mood. They also come in Eucalyptus and Lavender, but I haven't tried them. The other scents seem more appropriate for the hands. Now, they are ridiculously expensive. A bag of 20 individual towelettes is $15, so use them sparingly. I wipe down my steering wheel with my son's used ones, just because they are too expensive not to reuse. They are worth their weight in gold, though.  

The point, as I go off on my tangents, is that we are so lucky to have soap and clean, running water. Please, instead of taking advantage of our capitalism by spending money on garish items, spend it on some really good soap. And then use it.

*Teresa Guidice

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Lost the Battle, Won the War

It was one of those days. The last of those rare, unseasonably warm 60* days on the East Coast in November. Usually, it's in the 40s. Since I hold myself to having the house Christmas ready on the Friday after Thanksgiving, I hang (but don't light) Christmas lights on the warmest day that follows Halloween, and though I don't like any of it showing before that day, today I had to make an exception.

I knew that if I didn't at least dress the house with holiday garland today, I would be paying miserably on a 43* day following Thanksgiving. My son and I went to our local garden center, Hamilton Farms, to pick up some garland. It was fun. Before we'd even gone, actually as soon as I picked him up from school, he said, "Mom, turn on 106.7 FM. It's Christmas music." When I asked him how he knew, he told me that his teacher, Ms. Furka, had announced it to the class. He was very excited about this. Our ride was full of caroling, and the whole time he was smiling, asking how many days we had until it was December.

When we returned home with the garland, Johnny jumped out of the car, singing a Christmas song (I forget which), asking to help me decorate the house. I had to pump the breaks. "Babe, you can help Mommy with the garland, but we will wait to decorate the house until the day after Thanksgiving, okay?" He agreed. I laid out the length of the garland, then prepared to light it. First, I plugged in the brand new lights to make sure they worked. They did. I unplugged them and wrapped them around the garland, which I'd doubled up for looks. (I'd actually read that tip in House and Home magazine last week.) Every few loops around, Johnny would cut me a nice sized piece of florist wire to secure the lights to the garland. After the whole 40' of it were wrapped and tied with florist wire, I prepared to drape it over my front door.

It was heavy. Not just heavy, but barely liftable heavy. I had to get it a couple of feet over my head, standing on a step stool, with my 60 lb., nine year old to help me. It fell, time and again, just as I was about to get it secured. People walked by with their dogs, making comments about Christmas, giggling. They must have found it amusing to watch the blonde down the block trying to get the Christmas decorations up.

I'm nobody's fool.

Come hell or high water, I wasn't going anywhere until that garland was up. I decided that the magazine's clever 'doubling the garland' tip was the major problem. It was too heavy to lift, to secure, and frankly, the trim over the door was nearly bursting from the weight. So I pulled the 40' garland back down, clipped the random florist wires I'd tied, and unwound the lights. They kept getting tangled, as the wire is over 100' long. God, I was frustrated. I was balancing on my toes in a squat and kept falling back onto my bum, or forward onto my knees. My hands were covered in a rash from the prickles, and parts of them were even bleeding.

After everything was untwisted, I began again with just one strand of garland. The process went a bit faster; the garland was much lighter. As I made approach number God-knows-what, I felt unstoppable. I'd been outside nearly an hour and a half, and it had gotten dark. Perhaps I'd lost the battle, but the war wasn't over.

Lift, support the left. Good. Lift the center, now support the right. Don't fall. Stay balanced. Good.

I did it. I got the garland up, and comfortably secured. I lit the lights and was astonished at the fact that I'd gotten it all done. Bloody, itchy hands, yes. But for a good cause. I called to my son, who'd gotten bored and gone in the house, to show him what I'd done. He wasn't so impressed.

After going back inside and washing my hands, I opened a package that had arrived at my door. It was a  big, flat box. Johnny begged to open it. We knew it was the stockings I'd ordered, hand knit to my specifications. He really wanted unpack the box so that he could show the stockings to me, to be the one to give me the lovely surprise. I let him. Mine was first out of the box. 'Tiffany', knitted across the top, with decorations across the thick belly of the stocking, and '69' (my birth year) on the toe. Very cool. One by one, we went through them all. Johnny's, Em's, Mol's,W's. Each a bit different. All spectacular.

I paid $50 per stocking, which might sound like a lot, but not for a personalized, hand knit stocking done to my specifications. Just the knitting time alone must be ridiculous. I got to pick the colors, the designs, the size. Mostly, I deferred to the knitter. I wanted traditional red and green, and based on her photos, I wasn't sure if those were the colors she'd used. (Her photos look more brown than red, which may be the actual case. I don't know.) Our colors were perfectly traditional colors, as I'd hoped. Our names were on both sides of the stockings, knit in. Each stocking has a different decorative accent (snowmen, gingerbread men), and are so well knit that I would imagine that even a snippet of air would fail at getting through those stitches. We gave them a test run, hanging them on the fireplace, just to see how they looked, and to take a photo.

Our stockings, hung by the chimney with care.

If you read my   on wanting hand knit stockings for the family, like my mom has, you'd know how much this means to me. At the time of that blog post, I'd thought that I had secured someone to make them locally, but in the end she wasn't able to do it, and I was determined to find someone who would. I turned to etsy and found a bunch of knitters. I convo'd them all, and this particular seller, Nana's Knits, seemed to be most traditional and offered the best personalization options. These are the real deal, the kind our kids will show their grandkids. I feel oh so blessed to have found this knitter, Pam, through her etsy shop. I told my son that we were going to put them back in the box, to receive again as a whole family, all five of us, the night before Thanksgiving.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Keep the Turkey and Cranberry Sauce. Pack Up the Mashed Potatoes.

If you are a regular reader of my blog (oooh, thank you!), you know that I promised you some leftovers' recipes. I thought it best to post them before Thanksgiving, so that you will know what to keep and what to pack up for the family. I saw these recipes last weekend on a show called Ten Dollar Dinners with Melissa d'Arabian. (This episode is re-airing on Wednesday, November 24th at 9:30 a.m. if you'd like to watch her make these recipes. It's good to see the techniques used.) W was outside blowing leaves and the kids were playing. I had just put on a pot of slow-cooker chili, and decided to lay down on the couch for a few minutes and watch t.v. before the football game started at 1 p.m.

I have never made my own taquitos, but I love the frozen variety. When I saw how easy they were to make, I dvr'd the show and went back and watched it again to get the technique down. It's important to have your oil very hot (the host used a thermometer but I will just make sure a drop of water pops when it hits the oil -- who has time for a thermometer). Since the meat is already cooked, the oils heat is important primarily for the crisp factor, so worst case, they are just gonna be a little oily. It's also really important to get the toothpick in securely to hold the taquito in it's wrap. Otherwise, the whole thing just might unroll.  They only cook for 3 minutes, so just be sure to keep an eye on them.

The cranberry salsa didn't initially pique my interest. I am, personally, not big on cranberry. When I saw what was added, however, I liked the idea, and at that point W was back in the house and said it looked good. I love cooking for him, so when he's interested in something new, I usually make it. The salsa is done in the food processor, and it doesn't take very long at all. 

I hope you enjoy these lovely Tex-Mex recipes after traditional American meal. My notes are in italics, FYI.

Turkey Taquitos (makes 18)

  • 2 cups plus 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1/2 white onion, finely chopped
  • clove garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon minced jalapeno
  • 1 1/2 cups shredded turkey
  • 1 1/2 cups shredded jack cheese
  • 1/2 cup Mexican-flavored canned tomatoes, drained and chopped
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 18 white or yellow corn tortillas
  • Serving suggestion: Serve with Cranberry Salsa, recipe follows
  • Special equipment: toothpicks


Sweat the onion, garlic, and jalapeno in a saute pan with 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil. Remove from the heat and add to a large bowl. To the bowl, add the shredded turkey (I will just pull mine with my fingers), cheese, tomatoes and season with salt, and pepper, to taste. Mix the ingredients thoroughly.
She says to warm the tortillas in the microwave for 10 seconds so they are pliable, but I don't have a microwave so I will steam mine in a double boiler with a wet towel over the top until the tortillas seem pliable.
Fill the tortillas with a tablespoon of filling (don't overfill) and roll into a thin taquito, securing with a toothpick. Keep the taquitos covered with a damp towel before cooking otherwise the corn tortillas will dry out and crack. Heat 2 cups oil in a straight-sided pan to 350 degrees F (again, if you don't have a thermometer that's okay, just make sure the oil is super hot). Place the taquitos in the hot oil in batches and shallow fry until crisp, rolling to cook all sides, about 3 minutes.
Drain the taquitos on paper towels and salt. Remove the toothpicks before serving.

Cranberry Salsa

  • 1/2 cup canned whole cranberry sauce
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves (just eyeball it)
  • Zest and juice of 1 lime
  • 1 jalapeno, coarsely chopped 
  • 1/2 white onion coarsely chopped, covered and microwaved for 1 minute (no microwave like me? just sweat the onion for a minute or two in a pan with olive oil)
  • 1/4 cup diced red bell pepper
  • 1/4 cup diced green bell pepper
  • 1/2 cup Mexican-flavored canned tomatoes, drained and chopped
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper


Place the cranberry sauce, cilantro, lime zest, lime juice, jalapeno pepper, onion, red pepper, green pepper, tomatoes, and salt, and pepper, to taste in a food processor and pulse until blended, but still chunky.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Thanksgiving, Pumpkin Pie, and Broccolini

I am so excited for Thanksgiving this year. It's been a long, rough year, yet I still have so much to be thankful for. My health, and the health of my family and good friends, a roof over my head, great food to eat, logs burning in the fireplace nearly every night, books, and really, the list goes on. To be able to sit down to dinner, breathe deeply, and have a hearty meal with family is going to be very nice. 

The day before Thanksgiving, the kids are going to help set the table, make place cards, and decorate. In my eyes, this is when Thanksgiving begins. When the kids are home, and we are all together. I won't be making too much. A salad, mashed potatoes, broccolini, corn (for the kids), cookies, and Libby's Famous Pumpkin Pie. 

I am a mostly from-scratch baker, but with this pie, I'm more Sandra Lee than Alton Brown. I have never successfully made a crust. Never. It's either too flaky, or so buttery that it shrinks under the pie. I can't blind bake a crust, either. I've tried more than once, and frankly, I've given up. When it comes to pumpkin, I always use canned. This recipe is quick and delicious. My only addition is the nutmeg. I like the way it spikes the flavor of the pie.

The kids aren't too keen on pumpkin pie, and they asked that I please make chocolate chip cookies. I am going to do the cookies on Sunday afternoon (I hope), then do the mashed potatoes on Tuesday. You boil and mash them, then put them in the refrigerator. On Thanksgiving day, you take them out, put them in a big pot, add the cream, the butter and salt, heat and mash. Easy. I will do the salad that morning, and of course, the veggies. It's going to be a relaxing week with lots of good stuff to look forward to. Keep posted for two leftovers recipes tomorrow. I want to post them in advance so you know which leftovers to keep and which to give away.

Here's the broccolini and pumpkin pie recipes, in case you want to try them, too, this Thanksgiving.

Barefoot Contessa's Sauteed Broccolini

  • 1 bunch broccolini
  • Kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/2 lemon, zested
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper


Blanch the broccolini in a large pot of boiling salted water for 2 minutes. Drain immediately and immerse in a bowl of ice water.
Melt the butter in a large saute pan. Add the lemon zest and garlic and stir. Drain the broccolini and add it to the garlic mixture and heat for 2 minutes. Add the lemon juice, 1/2 teaspoon salt and the pepper, and toss well before serving.

Libby's Famous Pumpkin Pie

  • 1 (9 inch) unbaked deep dish pie crust
  • 3/4 cup white sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 (15 ounce) can LIBBY'S® 100% Pure Pumpkin
  • 1 (12 fluid ounce) can NESTLE® CARNATION® Evaporated Milk


  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.
  2. Combine sugar, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and cloves in small bowl. Beat eggs lightly in large bowl. Stir in pumpkin and sugar-spice mixture. Gradually stir in evaporated milk. Pour into pie shell.
  3. Bake for 15 minutes. Reduce temperature to 350 degrees F.; bake for 40 to 50 minutes or until knife inserted near center comes out clean. Cool on wire rack for 2 hours. Serve immediately or refrigerate. (Do not freeze as this will cause the crust to separate from the filling.)

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Make A Super Warm Blanket In 5 Minutes (no sewing required)

I made something really amazing today (directions and photo below). I want to say it was because I spent the day with crafters, but I'm not sure that "crafters" are the right term. They make things from scraps of other things. Does that make them crafters? I like to call them repurposing designers. 

W and I were selling photos and note cards from our business, Ward Vogt Designs, at a holiday boutique today. It was amazing. We sold out on all of our Celebrate Mountain Lakes note cards and received a bunch of back orders. Plus, we got to spend the whole day together! Networking was amazing, and I got to see friends selling there. My friend Mary was selling her chocolates, Amsterdam Chocolates, and they are so good (and safe for nut allergic children). You must try them! 

All that do-it-yourself repurposing stuff got me motivated. I bought hand sewn goodies at Van Ryzin Design. Turns out the seller, Georgia Van Ryzin is an etsian, too. Her etsy store doesn't show all her great stuff, and I hope she starts to list it all for sale, because they are unique and cuddly and adorable. I got the kids (from the big, jolly fella so don't tell) great fingerless -- she calls them "texting" mittens -- with this cool fringe on the sides, and I also got some adorable dolls. She also had blankets and scarves, that were the same material as the mittens and dolls. I think they are acrylic but they feel like perfection. She had hand-knit funky winter hats from toddler sized to adults. And bags, and aprons. I could have bought it all. Loved her!

After a big day of sales, followed by a night of unpacking the car and cooking dinner, I was spent. The house was nearly neat enough for me to feel comfortable calling it a day. Nearly. Floating above my head, though, were about seven oversized Mylar balloons that were just begging to be put out to pasture. My birthday, a week ago today, brought me a wealth of healthy, colorful Mylars that tonight, though still full of air, look exhausted. With Thanksgiving a week away, they needed to come down.

I had a plan for the balloons. You see, when I go to acupuncture, my acupuncturist, Susannah, sometimes covers me with a Mylar blanket to keep me warm. The second it covers me, I feel my body heat reflecting back at me. I joked that I was going to go home and cover myself in my birthday balloons. She mentioned that she actually has a client who made one from balloons, and hers was just more colorful than the one that was in the acupuncture center

And there it was...  

Mylar blankets are used for many reasons. They are used to offset hypothermic reaction. They are the silver things you see thrown over runners' shoulders after a marathon. I figured I'd give making one a try. It's not like they are so expensive (between $10 and $20), but I thought this would be a nice way to save my birthday balloons, and heck, free is free and it's always fun to make things. 

I didn't do this neatly at all, and still, I love the way it turned out. I just cut the balloons in half, so that they could lay flat, and then I sort of taped them together, collage style. It was so much fun, laying the balloons out on the floor and making fun patterns with them. After I finished the blanket, I asked my son to test it out...

Great success! He loves it!

Now, after making it you do need to fold it neatly. You can't cuddle in it -- it is Mylar. You just drape it over your body to get warm. I made sure mine was taped together pretty well, and I am saving it for nights when the heat isn't working, or when we come in from playing in the snow. Who knows? It's just such a happy blanket, and does so much for the body with really no maintenance at all.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

That Girl With the Water Bottle (never was a cornflake girl)

"You're going to be that girl with the water bottle" said Dr. C to me today. I'd just been given the diagnosis of Meniere's disease and a new diet plan to prevent water retention (which causes ear troubles). My doctor wanted to make sure that I clearly understood the importance of the direction "aggressive hydration" from  treatment paperwork. Drink water endlessly. He wants me to always have a water bottle in my hand.

It seems that this Meniere's is going to be a blessing, and by the time it clears, I will be healthy and set in a schedule. I need to eat a very low sodium diet, under 2,000 mg per day. That's not much at all. Some foods just loaded with sodium are cheese, tomato sauce, soup. Butter. Everything fried. Pretzels, bagels. The list goes on. While I can eat those foods in moderation, I need to be very aware of everything that I am eating. For a girl who prefers salty over sweet, this is a bit challenging. I like a good challenge. 

Apparently, I am also going to be the girl who reads labels. And the one who always orders off the menu, and begs the waitress to tell the chef not to add salt. 

The doctor's very first question to me after taking my medical history was, "Are you under stress right now?" Stress is a common cause for the onset of Meniere's, as is salt (again, causes water retention). I need to manage my stress. For me, that means going back to yoga, and staying consistent with my acupuncture.

In a nutshell, the treatment is a short course of steroids, six months of a diuretic, and a super healthy diet and lifestyle. Smaller portions of my killer chili, naked tacos, and finding new ways to make salty foods taste great without salt. Expect some new recipes soon and feel free to share yours with me.

I never was a cornflake girl.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Ward's Blog

Okay, ladies. Here it is. W seems to think that blogging is for the birds. He makes fun of nearly every word I type, and so, while I was making dinner last night, he decided to hijack my blog and write from what he thinks is my perspective. It's was not your normal Domestic Goddess Files type of post. And frankly, though he painted himself as a complete jerk, he's actually quite wonderful.

He thinks it's funny that I call him my "long term boyfriend", so he referred to himself as such, and hates when I write his name in my blog (like no one knows who he is.. bleh), so he called himself Mort. He can't spell last night's main entree "empinada" (he writes "empinotta"), and for all intents and purposes, he spilled his beer all over himself last night and wrote about that, too. He wrote that my hand resting on his belly annoys him to no end.

He wrote more.

He wrote about how he knows every line to every movie (true) but that he cannot remember that we have dinner plans on Friday (also true). And after I read the blog entry, he asked me once, twice, three times to delete the blog. I thought that maybe if I wrote a preface, he'd change his mind. But he didn't. And so, to my sincere disappointment, we erased his blog.

Sorry ladies. I really, really tried to get his permission to publish it. Now, I'm going to join him on the couch, attempt to curl up with him, which will annoy him profusely, and then talk through the movie until he pauses it, rolls his eyes, and rewinds. 

D.G. Gets Crafty

Today I am starting on a craft project. While I am definitely into baking and cooking, decorating, party planning, and home making, I admit that I fall a bit short in the crafty department.

I can appreciate a good crafter. Someone who can make something special from leftovers. I love when people turn junk into art, who create amazing things from nothing. And today, I found a blog that offered a great craft idea that seems easy enough to do, even for a lay crafter like me. Martina, who writes M's Art Impressions, the blog I am speaking of, wrote about this in her blog post: Friday Pretties: A paper wreath - and how to make it. As soon as I read it, I knew I wanted to try. I don't like cutting up books, but I do like having words on the wreath, as I am obsessed with reading. I am using a book that I won't read again: Alfie. I pulled three leaves off of my Tabasco plant; one small, one medium, one large, and will trace them to make a template for my wreath's leaves. It seems that Martina's wreath isn't covered around the sides and back, so I am going to first decoupage mine with pages, and then pin the leaves on.  She has another one I'd like to try for Christmas: Creative idea: Yarn Mobile, but I think I should take these projects on one at a time. Baby steps.

I will keep you posted as to how it actually goes, the type of bow, what worked and what didn't, or if it was a total disaster. Wish me luck, and should you attempt to join me on this venture, just click on the underlined Friday Pretties to get to the blog post. And remember to please let me know how yours works out. I am excited!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Dear Karen (a letter to the sender of my first Christmas card this season),

Dear K.T., 

You beat me to the punch. Since I've met you, I've felt a kinship with you. We both love artists. We write letters, stamp, and mail them. We both go junking, or shall I say, antiquing, or better yet, we vintage shop. You make your own photo cards on shutterfly, as do I. You put your Christmas tree up in mid-November - I've put up my lights, though not the tree; and get Halloween up (usually) on September 19th. Aren't we just the cutest holiday early birds!

And now this? 

I didn't think it could be done. A Christmas card, mailed via the United State Postal Service with this year's holiday stamp on it -- the very one I plan on using (and the only proper way to mail holiday cards, in my book), and received on November 15th? K.T., you've won my heart.

Fear not, I did read the fabulous note inside explaining that it's a joke, and that this is an old card from 2006. That makes it even better. Not only did you get my humor, and agree with it, but you went and hunted down a card, took the time to get it all together in the most wonderful of ways, and actually mailed it to me. (And heavens, you sure are organized.) In my eyes, getting the card with the rest of the batch being sent out is always exciting, but getting one randomly, just me, in the middle of November just for a laugh? Well, my dear, that is just classic.

Thank you, thank you, thank you for making an otherwise humdrum Monday so ridiculously special.

KT... you rock!


Sunday, November 14, 2010

It's Time (if not now, then when?)

As I was hanging my Christmas lights along my pine and spruce trees, my next door neighbor came out of her house and asked, "Is it that time already?" I had the lights lit so that I could see where I needed more and where I needed to move wires. For my neighbor, it's still Halloween. Her deflated ghost balloons hang lifelessly from branches, plywood graves still stand in her front yard, spotting her green grass. Though it is only mid-November, in just two weeks Thanksgiving will come and the weather will, undoubtedly, be colder. I hang my lights on a warm day, but I don't light them until the night after Thanksgiving. I think this makes perfect sense.

And while I fear for the turkey's figurative life, as Claus and his parade of Christmas orderlies tromp all over this quickly dwindling, if not politically incorrect holiday, I do understand the desire to put Christmas decorations up early.

It's dark here on the East Coast at 4:30 p.m. Skies are grey, and the chill in the air bites without apology. We need something to lift our spirits, and those bright lights and sparkly decorations are like the dinner bell for Pavlov's dogs.  My darling friend, Karen T., already has her Christmas tree up. Denville Library's giant conifer is lit. In Boonton, Santaland is up and ready for (at least) outdoor visitors; Santa won't be there until he's paraded in on a fire truck Thanksgiving weekend. 

I am sort of chomping at the bit to decorate for Christmas, not to rush the holiday but because I have some great handmade fabric Christmas banners that I recently got on etsy. I'm excited to hang them. They are available at Funky Junky Art, and my purchased banners were the last of the Christmas banner listings. You can see the harvest version (and maybe even request a special order of your own) by clicking here. For now, I have my pine cone swag decorating my fireplace mantel, a few gold turkeys on display, and some harvest color flower bouquets out on tables. I'm looking at this time as a small respite from major decorations overwhelming my otherwise unburdened little Cape.

And here's your last minute reminder to get going on your holiday cards. Mine have been addressed, sealed and stamped for over a month now; I've just been waiting for stamps. I needn't wait any longer. Holiday stamps are already available on line; I am not sure if they are in the post office yet, but I'd bet that they are. This year, I am going with the style, Holiday Evergreens (which, by the way, are Forever stamps). In years past, I have used the Madonna and child stamps, and then something non-religious for those who aren't Christian. I don't know if they just didn't issue a new Madonna stamp, or if its the same one as last year, but it just isn't working for me. Next week, I will buy and stamp all hundred of them, and just wait to drop them in the mailbox on Thanksgiving morning.

Finally, in my attempt to help you embrace (not erase) Thanksgiving, I will be blogging about Thanksgiving dinner and dessert, and will share with you two cool recipes I saw on today's episode of Ten Dollar Dinners. I will be making them for W and the kids over the Thanksgiving weekend.

Stopgap Family (found in Amelie* moments)

This week, a variety of things have happened that have made me rethink my perspective on life. I just opened an art show (that I curated with another woman) last week, I was finally getting a chance to catch my breath. I was coming out of a hurricane experience, and the change left me feeling depressed, though a bit less stressed. My thoughts are still raw, and they may change, but for today they feel profound enough to share. 

My 41st birthday was on Friday. Having been obsessed with my right ear's adventures, my poor birthday could have gone by unnoticed. My focus had been on finding a cause for my ear's noise, and getting through the day without panicking over it all. Just two days before my birthday, however, I discovered that an old high school friend (my best friend's boyfriend, actually) had tinnitus. He's a cool guy who lives a pretty adventurous life, and who seems to have a positive outlook. When I asked him how he deals with it, he said something to the effect of, It's hard at first, but you adjust. After reading an alarming number of testimonies from people who said they've been suicidal over it, his words were a gift. I decided from that point on to stop asking around, and to believe what he said whole-heartedly. And that night, for the first time in weeks, I slept soundly (despite the ringing) through the night.

On the morning of my birthday, I had plans to go to acupuncture, and then spend the day with my boyfriend. He offered to do whatever I wanted that day, and I had special (private) plans for us. That day, my friend Betty went to our favorite morning coffee place, Heavenly Temptations, and called to meet me to see if I would meet her for coffee. I couldn't, but she wished me a happy birthday and we should meet next week. An hour later, when I returned home from acupuncture, I found a bunch of cards between my storm and wooden doors. And presents. A friend of mine who works at Heavenly, came to my house to drop off her card and present, and also dropped off a card from Betty. Anne's card was from Scotland (her homeland), and the present was a bunch of my favorite handknit washcloths that she makes. Everything was so personal, and they were brought to my house and left for me. How do I get to have such good people in my life?

My day with W couldn't have been more beautiful. Without giving it all away, I can only say that everything was perfect. It was sunny and 60*, and our whole day was like a dream. Being outside with the man that I love, in sunlight, on a very warm November day, made my birthday complete.

But wait. There's more!

If you read my blog regularly, you know that I work diligently at being First Mom. My birthday was no different. I pulled up to school just after 2 p.m., killed the engine, reclined the seat, and put my bare feet out the window. I had just started reading an article on Jay Bakker (famously known for being the son of Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker) in New York Magazine when I heard a car pull up beside me. I sat up and saw my friend Betty (the same Betty who wanted to meet me for coffee, and whose card was delivered to my door) with her two kids in the car. They sang the entire birthday song, start to finish, for me. I couldn't believe it.

It continues, on and on again. Mandy and her daughter driving by and stopping to wish me a happy birthday, calls from friends, from my mom, my dad, W's family. I arrived home to a chair tied with a huge bundle of oversized mylar balloons, a bouquet of flowers, and a set of Learning to Speak Italian CDs from my mother. My ex-husband and his wife took my son to get me gifts, and my boyfriend's ex-wife took the girls to get me gifts. Heart-warming gestures.

That afternoon, I had lunch with my son at Roma Pizzeria. The family that owns it knows us so well, that going in there feels like a giant hug. It was a wonderful afternoon. And that night at dinner, W had the waitress and her posse (along with the entire bar at the Second Half) sing me Happy Birthday. W belted it out loudest of all, because he knew that it would make me laugh shamelessly. Then today, we had breakfast at our favorite diner. Our waitress, Mina, who is also the owner of the diner, brought out two pieces of her mother's homemade dessert, Kataifi -- one for W, one for me -- with a big candelabra type candle standing in the middle, lit.  So sweet, in every way possible.

And tonight was the cherry on top of the whole shebang. Our kids (along with W's exquisite help) planned a little surprise party for me. On the sly, they went to Party City and got streamers, balloons, and festive plates and turned W's house into a disco. They even got a disco ball mylar balloon to match the disco ball that they'd placed and lit in the kitchen. And when the kids had a dance off, taking turns breakdancing in the kitchen, I was so overcome with joy that I couldn't imagine why I'd ever been unhappy. 

All of these experiences moved me. 

What I realized most is that life is about the family you create, not the one that you are born into. I can honestly tell you that W and the kids are my family. But that feeling extends out to all of the people who show up, who create the moments that matter. 

Oh, and if you don't know or haven't figured out what an Amelie moment is, do yourself a favor and rent the movie.  Here's a link to the trailer: