The ‘ghosts of Christmases Past’

DISCLAIMER: This is long. The memories came tumbling out. I apologize in advance.

When I saw this writing challenge on WordPress so many things went through my head. Some of my fondest memories and some of my very worst, all happened at Christmas. Are they “ghosts” or are they just moments in time that helped shape me into who I am today?

I can’t really call these memories ghosts. They don’t haunt me, but they do remain in the back crevices of my mind, returning every now and then to remind me that the holidays are about remembering the things that matter, putting aside the things that don’t and finding it within myself to not confuse the two. The latter is a constant battle with me.

I can take a look within myself and attribute so much about me to some of my “ghosts of Christmases past.”

1976: Growing up, we always had presents from Santa. Some years more than others. In fact, some years almost none.   I was a product of a single-parent family for most of my childhood. Money was often scarce, but my mom always made sure Santa made a stop at our house. My children, now almost 20 and almost 11 still get Santa gifts.

I do remember one Christmas in particular that my mother had a new job and apparently a larger paycheck. I’ve heard her talk about this too in her latter years. It was the first time she was really able to go overboard with the gifts under the tree. I remember it like it was yesterday. This year there were quite a few wrapped gifts under the tree in the days leading up to Christmas. In fact, I think this is the year she chose not to put name tags on the gifts to keep us guessing. She also kept herself guessing as on Christmas morning she couldn’t remember which gift belonged to which daughter. There were so many. Our tiny living room literally looked like Santa’s bag exploded under our tree. My sister and I were so excited.

I was just young enough to still want a baby doll, but old enough to know this was probably my last year to get one. I got a “Baby Come Back.” She was beautiful. She had a hard plastic body and crawled all on her own.  That was the year I also got a Jaws game and a blue typewriter. I loved that typewriter encased in blue plastic. I’m sure my “career” began on that manual beast. I wish I still had it.

1978: Christmases weren’t all about the gifts, but this was the year of my multi-colored RABBIT coat and my new “Grease” album! (Still one of my very favorite movies of all time!) That’s all I am going to say about that. I had arrived.

I don’t have the coat, but I do still have that album in a box somewhere. It was just a few years ago some girlfriends and I took our daughters to see a live community theatre version of “Grease.” We had so much fun singing (quite loudly and I’m sure out of tune) to every song in that production. My daughter didn’t quite appreciate it as much as I did. But, I am sure that will be a memory she will someday look back on as fondly as I do that rabbit coat and that old album. (My daughter once told us she knew what an album was – “a large, old timey CD.”)

1990: Jumping ahead … I got engaged on Christmas Eve to a very big, red-headed Teddy bear. He was well-liked and loved by everyone who knew him and he wanted me to be his wife.

1993: Jumping ahead even more … I sat on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day Ewriting little notes in a journal and nervously playing with a tiny, plastic nativity set designed for a child. I was trying to pass the time as I waited on the arrival of a very overdue bundle of joy. I was pregnant. I was fat. I was tired.

Once that beautiful baby girl made her appearance in January 2004 I forgot all that. She forever changed me. At that very moment I knew my purpose in life was to watch over her, protect her and help her grow up to be a beautiful young woman.

On that Christmas Day before her birth, I couldn’t wait to see her and to hold her and to watch as she clutched that tiny, plastic Baby Jesus in her own hand. She played with that nativity for years. I still have it tucked away in a box waiting for my first grandchild some day in the far away future.

1996: More than any other Christmas Eve, I will never forget this one. It tested every ounce of strength I had to survive and forced me to hold on to the belief I had always been taught that God would not give you more than you can handle. He came close. I was working that day. I was news editor of a small-town newspaper so there was no Christmas Eve off. I was young then, but had already developed my panic-driven approach to Christmas. I was busy. I wanted to be off work so that I could get to a family gathering that evening. The result was stress over lack of time. To this day I regret that. The last time I saw my husband, he was sitting in his truck staring through the newspaper office door, probably upset over my stress level that morning and a disagreement we had just had.

Later, I heard the dispatcher over the police scanner calling for Life Flight to be sent to the scene of an accident. I sent a reporter out. Just a few moments later a DPS officer walked into my office holding my beautiful daughter. God spared her. She was not hurt. He kept her here for me. The rest doesn’t need to be said. To this day, that was my worst nightmare.

1998: I am remarried. To the opinion of many it was too soon. But for me, it was what I needed. I had met another man who stepped into my life, helped me pick up the pieces and took over caring for my young daughter. He has always treated her like his own. To her, he is dad. We started our own Christmas traditions that year including a new themed tree (which has morphed into several themed trees today). To this day, he makes sure we are all home together as soon as possible on Christmas Eve.

With him, I had another child who made our family complete.  I had a wonderful boy and spent another Christmas waiting on him, as he was also born in January.

2013: I’ve skipped over many Christmas memories – lots of fun times, lots of baking, lots of gifting … but this is long enough. As I sit here finishing this, I am trying very hard to focus on what all this has taught me. My house isn’t clean. I didn’t decorate as much as I would like. There is baking yet to be done. I know I will never be Martha Stewart.

But I do promise this to myself: I will sit down tonight. I will forget about the dirt on my floors and the fourth tree that I never put up. I will just breathe and enjoy the smell of cupcakes coming from my oven and the happy chatter of my family as we watch a holiday movie.  It’s these times that are important, not the picture perfect holiday — wait I can’t say that.  This is perfect.

Merry Christmas.

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A’Tempting’ Tuesday: Crock Pot Candy (my secret revealed)

DSC_4740As usual, I am in a mad dash to get in all the cooking, crafting and gifting I want to do for the holidays finished.  So at roughly a week before Christmas day, I’m always doing something easy.  Crock Pot Candy is definitely a go-to for easy hostess gifts or little extra gifts just to have in case you need it.  I plan to take this to all the men in my office (which is everyone, as I’m the only female).

I got this recipe from a friend several years ago. I have since used it several times and have seen several different versions.  It is easy, makes a lot and compared to the amount of candy it yields, is relatively inexpensive.

This candy is a perfect to make this time of the year.  It makes me think of some kitchen-gadget infomercial that used to come on.  I don’t remember exactly what gadget it was, but the guru who was peddling it would always say “just set it and forget it.”  You can do that with this recipe.  I start it and can usually complete another dish or project before I have to begin spooning out the candy.

So here goes.  You’ll thank me for this:

Crock Pot Candy

DSC_4726Ingredients:

  • 1 (16-ounce) jar dry roasted salted peanuts
  • 1 (16-ounce) jar dry roasted unsalted peanuts
  • 12 ounces semi sweet chocolate chips
  • 32 ounces almond bark
  • 1 (4-ounce) German chocolate bar (found in baking section)

Directions:DSC_4737

  1. Put peanuts in the bottom of your slow cooker.  Add all other ingredients on top of the peanuts.  (I don’t even chop the almond bark or the German chocolate.)
  2. Cook on low for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, stirring occasionally.
  3. When all chocolate is melted and incorporated with the peanuts, drop by rounded spoonfuls (mine wind up being about 1/2- to 3/4 -tablespoon) onto wax paper and allow to cool completely.  The candy will harden as it cools.

Cook’s talk: 

  • Like I said, I’ve seen several versions of this recipe, many of which use white almond bark.  I prefer the dark.
  • As the chocolates start to melt, begin keeping an eye on the mixture and stir occasionally to mix the peanuts into the chocolate.  If they remain on the bottom too long, they can scorch.  I’ve seen some recipes that say to cook the mixture for 4 or more hours.  I think that is way too much.  I’ve never gone more than 2.
  • You can be creative and add other nuts or ingredients as well.  I have used lightly crushed pretzels, adding them in just before spooning onto wax paper.   Be creative.  Just be careful of when you add your ingredients.  For example, when I use pretzels, I add the at the end so they retain their crunch.  Harder ingredients such as nuts can withstand long periods in the slow cooker as opposed to softer ingredients you don’t want to become soggy, or other candies (such as peppermint) that you wouldn’t want to melt completely
  • I always put the wax paper directly onto my counter when spooning the candy.  Once, I used sheet pans so that I could easily move the candy around.  The metal retained the heat a little longer and it took much longer for my candy to harden.

Now you know my secret!  This candy is so yummy, I almost hated to share the recipe.  Until now, everyone I have given it to thought I had worked really hard.  It’s the thought that counts, not the amount of time you spend in the kitchen, right?

I hope you enjoy.  Next week:  Chocolate Pecan Pie

Until next time…..

What is it About the Holidays?

Texas Tree and Mantle

Texas tree and mantle (Sorry for the quality. I used an iPhone photo)

It’s finally Friday, y’all.  (We won’t talk about it being Friday the 13th).

I am a failure.  It is December 13 and I have yet to turn my house into the holiday wonderland that I envision every year.  You think one of these days I’d either:

A.  Learn that it is impossible.  Or….

B.  Just breathe and relax.

What is it about the holidays that I find completely overwhelming?  I have the skills to do what I want.  I have the vision.  I try to plan ahead.  I have an attic full of holiday decorations and a craft room bursting at the seams with a plethora of every craft supply you can think of.  Yet, it never seems to happen.

Are my dreams of a Martha Stewart meets Norman Rockwellesque holidays too much?  I don’t know.  I always get part of the way there, but never reach the top.  As the queen of all things you’d think I would know the thrill of having sugar plums floating through every room of my home, of being the envy of elves everywhere, and of feeling the awe and admiration of all my friends as they enter my magic kingdom of all things Christmas.

Well….

Let’s mark this post down in the “chaos” and “life happens” category of Cooking, Crafting and Chaos.  I had a huge holiday “to-do” list for this past week.  There aren’t as many lines marking tasks done as I’d like on that list.  On the bright side, I am making some progress.   Let’s see if I can pick myself up out of the “Ho Ho Humdom” I am feeling at the moment,  review some positives and remember that I have lots to be thankful for:

  • My daughter is home for the holidays!  Both kids are under one roof for the next month.  Yay!
  • Three of the four planned Christmas trees are put together.
  • One of the above three trees is completely decorated.  (And looks quite nice if I do say so myself.)
  • It’s Friday and I have time tonight and tomorrow to finish the trees and maybe even get some wrapping done.
  • Sunday is set aside for a little shopping and some holiday baking.
  • It will be a great weekend.
  • I am very proud of my mantle decor.
  • My kitchen is decorated.  (And clean… an even bigger accomplishment)
  • I’ve stayed true to my promise to utilize what I have and buy very little in the way of holiday decorations this year.  (I spent less than $20 — $12 for new stocking hangers and $4 in supplies to make a small wreath.  Gotta love The Dollar Tree.)
  • Some of my Christmas shopping is done.
  • This past weekend I got to enjoy a Christmas party for work and another one with great friends.
  • I’ve done everything so far without taking a day off from work.

A partial shot a clean and decorated kitchen

A partial shot a clean and decorated kitchen

My $4 wreath made with supplies from The Dollar Tree.

My $4 wreath made with supplies from The Dollar Tree.

Wow.  I guess it’s not as bad as I thought. I may not be Super Woman or Mrs. Claus, but I have managed to put a little holidays in to my home.  I still have a way to go, but it will get done.  This week, I pledge to finish my projects, but I also plan to just breathe.  I want to sit on the couch with my children, enjoy our Texas tree and maybe even one of our favorite holiday movies (Most likely Elf).

Until next time ….

Not much crafting going on … but a lot of making memories

Christmas with Taylor

It’s finally Friday, y’all!  I missed last Friday, but for good reason.

We had such a wonderful time over the Thanksgiving holiday visiting my husband’s family.  They just happen to live in the same city my daughter goes to college in, making it that much more enjoyable.

This is the first time we’ve gone away from home for Thanksgiving in several years,  so I didn’t plan well.  I came home already behind on holiday decorating, which I normally do the weekend after Thanksgiving.  One of the items on my Cooking, Crafting and Chaos “bucket list” is to have a holiday planner or binder for next year.  I’ve already made note to include checklist items such as preparing ahead of time for Christmas decorating should we travel for Thanksgiving again.    We also came home to an empty kitchen, so I think I should plan ahead for some meals on our  return as well.

It’s all good though, because it was well worth it.   I don’t have much in the way of new craft projects to share here, but  I was able to help my daughter decorate her first apartment for Christmas and do a little “crafting” for her bedroom.  She and I had so much fun with my mother-in-law working on these projects.  Isn’t that what it’s all about anyway?  Crafting memories?

All is not lost!  I actually have a small craft to share with you after all.  I just got word from my daughter (after she reminded me she will be 20 in exactly one month!  Ugh!!  Where has the time gone?) that she received her finals week goody box, so I can share a card I included.  I thought it turned out pretty cute if I do say so myself, and was a fun way to tell her to just “hang in there.”

photo (6)b

You’ll probably see me share a lot of handmade cards. I love sending cards and I love making them.  I can usually make them from my stash of paper scraps, and they give immediate gratification when I need to get in a little quick crafting.

My “girl cave” is currently full of projects I’m working on.  I hope to finish them all soon and have photos to share.   My projects include a mini-album of our Thanksgiving weekend, a new holiday banner for our mantle and a “December Daily” album that contains a scrapbook page for every day in December.  You are my witnesses.  It’s written here, so I am committed!!

Projects are moving along slower than I’d like, but I am doing them.

Until next time…

Tool Talk:   I stayed true to my promise to myself on all the items I made to include in my daughter’s box of goodies.  I bought no new supplies.  I made the card using my Silhouette Cameo and a cut file purchased for a previous project.  I just used a basic kraft card base and envelope I already had in my stash, and paper from an older stack by K&Company.  The smaller accents were made from scraps.

A’Tempting’ Tuesday: A Very Christmasy Cookie

Cookies
Whew! I’m really behind. We traveled over the Thanksgiving holiday for the first time in years, so I am not only behind on blogging, but also decorating. I still have Fall pumpkins all over my house.

I am a firm believer in leaving the Fall décor until the day after Thanksgiving, but on that day we were six hours away from home. It was worth it though, as we had a wonderful time visiting my in-laws and spending time with our daughter in her college town.

But, now we are “that” house on the block with no lights up yet, or no Christmas tree in the window. Fortunately, my recipe for today is definitely a holiday one and has me in the mood to decorate.  Since it is now December 3, I must get a move on.  But, first the cookies!

I’m invited to a cookie exchange this weekend. I really wanted to do something festive that I haven’t done before. I definitely have some great cookie recipes that are always a go-to, but decided it was time to try something new. I had a “friendsgiving” get together at my house recently so in preparation for the exchange, I made my friends my guinea pigs.

I picked this cookie mainly because of its holiday ingredients and appearance.  It calls for candy cane “dust.”  Doesn’t that just bring visions of Santa’s elves hard at work in the North Pole’s bakery?

I also chose these because my son is very much a fan of chocolate, minty-type things. This recipe for Chocolate Fudge Cookies with Candy Cane Buttercream fit the bill. It is definitely minty, and is a very pretty and festive cookie. My photo here really does not do it justice. Its appearance just screams “holiday”. Crushed candy canes give the buttercream frosting that is sandwiched between to chocolate cookies a pink color, with little flecks of red running through.

Again, this recipe came courtesy of another blogger, who I think found it from another. You can find the post I got it from HERE.

This recipe makes approximately 2 dozen cookies.

Chocolate Fudge Cookies

1 cup + 1 Tbsp all-purpose flour
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
8 ounces semi-sweet chocolate, chopped
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
5 Tbsp unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
3/4 cup light brown sugar
1/4 cup sugar
1 cup mini chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Sift together flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl. Set aside.

Melt the chocolate in the microwave for about 1 minute. Stir. Continue to melt in 30 second increments until fully melted and smooth. Set aside.

In a small bowl, whisk the eggs and vanilla. Set aside.

With an electric or stand mixer with paddle attachment, beat the butter until smooth and creamy – about 1 minute. Beat in the sugars, scraping down the sides every 10 seconds or so. The mixture will be granular.

Mix in the beaten egg and vanilla until incorporated.

Add the chocolate in a steady stream and beat until combined.

Add the dry ingredients on slow speed.

Fold in the mini chocolate chips. Do not overmix.

Chill dough for at least 30 minutes.

Scoop about 1 Tbsp of dough and roll into a slightly flattened ball.
Bake for about 10 minutes, or until the cookies have just begun to set with the centers still appearing very soft. They will firm up as they cool.

Candy Cane Buttercream
3/4 cup (1.5) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
2.5 – 3 cups confectioners (powdered) sugar, sifted
3 teaspoons vanilla extract
1-2 Tablespoons heavy cream or milk (I prefer heavy cream in frostings)
1/2 cup candy cane dust (about 8-10 candy canes ground to a fine dust in a food processor)
Crushed candy canes for rolling, optional (I did not do this)

Beat the butter for 1 minute with the paddle attachment on medium speed.
Add 2.5 cups of sifted powdered sugar and slowly mix on low speed.
Increase mixer speed to medium and add vanilla extract, salt, and 1 Tablespoon of cream/milk. Beat for about 1 minute.
Manually stir in candy cane dust.
If your buttercream needs to be thicker, add more powdered sugar. If your frosting needs to be thinned out, add remaining milk/cream.

Frost the bottom end of a cooled cookie and top with another to make a sandwich.

Cook’s Notes: 

  • I premeasured everything before I began preparing the cookies.  I know this makes more mess to clean up, but baking is so much quicker and easier when I do this.  I don’t mind washing a few more prep bowls and measuring cups.
  • The original recipe I used called for sifting the ground candy canes before putting them in the butter cream.  I did not do this and it was fine.  If you pulverize it enough I don’t feel there is a need for the sifting.
  • This is a really, really sweet cookie.  Almost too sweet for my taste.  I do recommend using the dash of salt in the buttercream to cut some of the sweetness.
  • I did not prepare extra crushed candy canes to “roll” the cookie sandwich in.  I think for the exchange I will roughly crush candy canes of a different color, maybe green.

Tool Talk: 

  • I would recommend using a stand mixer with paddle attachment for the cookie dough if you have one.  (My Kitchen Aid Professional stand mixer is my pride and joy.)   It could certainly be done with a hand mixer, but the dough is really thick and is handled much easier with a stand mixer.

All in all, this batch of cookies was a success and I think they will work quite well for the cookie exchange.  As I mentioned above, it is a very sweet cookie.  Although they are good, one cookie is almost too much for my taste because of the sweetness.  I may try making smaller cookies for the exchange.

Hopefully by Friday, I will have some handmade tags for the cookie “packages” to share with you.

Until next time, enjoy….

Next Week:  Old Fashioned Cornbread Dressing

Crafting Memories ….

photo6

Hi y’all. It’s finally Friday!

I don’t have a new “crafty” something I’d like to share this week. I have been very busy getting ready for a get together at my house. But, I do have a “craft memory” to share. I guess for me, crafting is quite often about creating memories through various projects and scrapbooking.

But, I have been organizing myself and getting ready for the transition between Fall decorations and Christmas decor. I remembered a project from last year that I absolutely love and plan to expand on this year. Well, I guess this project started about 14 years ago. Now, you say, “she is the queen of unfinished craft projects.” Not quite, but close.

When my daughter was about 5, I decided we needed a Western themed Christmas tree. (I have several themed trees now). Western-themed Christmas stuff, at least in Texas can be expensive! It’s not too bad when you are only adding a piece or two, but we were starting from scratch. So, it was DIY for us. We started by recreating some rope garland I had seen in a department store. I don’t remember the exact cost, but it was something like $40 for a 6- or 8-foot piece. Pfftttt! We made it with an old red bandana and $5 worth of rope from the hardware store. It turned out quite nicely, if I do say so myself. We are still using that “garland” today.

However, you can’t fill an entire Christmas tree with rope, so we also made ornaments out of dough. Using cookie cutters, we made boots, stars and Texas shapes. My daughter helped me make them. Those are some of my most favorite ornaments I have ever had because of the memories we made. Unfortunately, over the years, the dough ornaments have fallen apart. I think I only have one or two of those left. I have been able to amass quite a collection of holiday stars, cowboy Santa’s and more since then. Even though that tree is full to the brim now, I still enjoy shopping the after Christmas sales every now and then for new finds or picking up new items while on adventures with my family.

Whew! That was a lot of jabber to get to the point of this. Sorry. Last year, I wanted to add something larger to the tree, and do it within a budget. I’ve already talked about my Silhouette Cameo and this is just another example of a project I was able to do.

Fotor1122110823

I made these stars from red, green and Kraft scrapbooking cardstock. I made them in several sizes, using one 99-cent cut file purchased from the online Silhouette store. I don’t remember quite how many I made, but there are quite a few. In all, I spent less than $10 including paper I’m sure I bought on sale. Cutting them out was a cinch, however gluing all the green and red insets onto the star was a little time consuming. Some of them I ran through the sticker machine and sped the process up a little. You could also totally do them without the insets and the project would take literally minutes.

This year, I am making a few smaller stars to add to the garland on my mantle. It should cost me nothing, as I already have the cut file and some of the paper left from last year. Yay for no-cost projects that make a big impact!!

TOOLBOX TALK: I’ve talked more than once about my Silhouette Cameo and how much I love it. This is not a new machine, but it is a good one. The biggest plus, you don’t have the added cost of buying cartridges of files to cut.

There are so many files out there you can cut and you can pick just what you need, rather than buying a whole collection only to use one or two items from it. There are a multitude of websites that offer low-cost and even free files. I get most of mine from the Silhouette subscription program. Subscriptions start at $9.95 a month, but for that $9.95, you get $25 worth of files. Most files are 99 cents. They also offer a clearance section each week with files for 50 cents, and every Tuesday they offer one FREE file. LOVE it! I’m addicted. I’m amazed at all the scrapbook embellishments I’ve used and crafts I’ve done using their files. I just use the search function to find something specific to match what I’m working on. There are thousands of files and fonts you can choose from. Check it out if you have a chance:

Silhouette Online Store

Keep in mind, you can also cut the fonts you already have on your computer and convert any clip art or shape you have to an SVG (cut) file. I use an online converter, but if you are computer savvy there are other ways to do it as well, I just like the ease of the online converter I found.

With Silhouette software, you are also able to create your own art, alter or resize files you already own. It is so easy.

The only drawback I see (and it is small) to this electronic cutter is that is not super portable. You do have to hook it to a computer with the Silhouette Software on it. This computer “houses” all your cut files.

Until next time ….