Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Catching up on Christmas

 I'm so happy that the holiday season is drawing to a close! I enjoyed it, for the most part, but things were hectic at times!

Whatever possessed me to think that homemade cookies and cakes would be easy, inexpensive gifts to give? I worked my butt off, and the fruitcakes and cookies and other treats ended up costing an arm and a leg. BUT, everything turned out great....especially the fruitcakes! I still have a whole one and half of another left for our enjoyment, and the people who received one raved about them. Since I ended up winging it in regards to the actual recipe, I was certainly relieved that they ended up tasting fantastic! There were also lots (and lots!) of homemade sugar cookies.....

My favorites were the cutout snowflakes, even though they were the most time consuming to make and decorate.
While I'm on the subject of holiday baking, I'd like to give a shout out to Liz over at The Vintage Inn for sending me a lovely Christmas cookbook published in 1958 for my vintage secret Santa gift! I adore vintage cookbooks, and have a growing collection of them. In fact, all sorts of vintage items from the 1930's through the 1950's fascinate me, but housekeeping, cooking, and etiquette books top the items I look for whenever I'm scouring thrift stores. Thank you, Liz! The book was perfect. And thanks again to dear Jessica over at Chronically Vintage for coming up with the secret Santa idea in the first place, and then making it happen. It sure was fun!

Despite the hectic days leading up to Christmas, the actual day itself was peaceful and relaxing. It was just me, my dear husband, and our animal companions. Santa left bird toys and dog bones at our house.....


Messy George takes EVERYTHING
back to the dog bed, even sticky bones.
Ginger takes hers outside,
like the polite, mannerly girl she is!
 ....which kept Marco, George, and Ginger occupied for the first part of the day.
GB and I had lots of good food. I'd bought a nice (miniature) honey baked ham, and King's Hawaiian bread for making delicious sandwiches with it. We had raw veggies with dip, three cheeses, assorted crackers and nuts, tangerines, homemade fruitcake saturated with brandy and rum, and sugar cookies.
We took two long walks with the dogs in the afternoon. Several neighbors were out and about, and a few called out "Merry Christmas!" as we passed. I love that kind of neighborly interaction. The sun was out and the temperature was only cool enough for a light jacket. A great day for walking.
 I hope everyone had a good holiday, too. Now onward into the New Year!


Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Midwinter Nights

I know several other bloggers have shared the following poem, but it's one of my favorites this time of year and I wanted to post it here for those who may not be familiar with it. It's from my one of my very favorite midwinter reads, Susan Cooper's "The Dark Is Rising".

And so the Shortest Day came and the year died
And everywhere down the centuries of the snow-white world
Came people singing, dancing,
To drive the dark away.
They lighted candles in the winter trees;
They hung their homes with evergreen;
They burned beseeching fires all night long
To keep the year alive.
And when the new year’s sunshine blazed awake
They shouted, revelling.
Through all the frosty ages you can hear them
Echoing behind us – listen!
All the long echoes, sing the same delight,
This Shortest Day,
As promise wakens in the sleeping land:
They carol, feast, give thanks,
And dearly love their friends,
And hope for peace.
And now so do we, here, now,
This year and every year.
Welcome Yule!
~ The Shortest Day by Susan Cooper
These days and night surrounding the solstice have been appropriately dark, cold, and wet. Brooding, chilly fog has been hovering over the area every day, and it's been perfect for lighting the fireplace to chase away the chill. Holiday lights glow warmly in the gloom. Our house smells of cookies and cakes baking, spices, and oranges. We're grateful for all of our comforts and the love of family and friends during these short, dark days while we wait for the light to return.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Tipsy fruits!

After searching for weeks for the perfect traditional fruitcake recipe, I ended up feeling overwhelmed with all the possible variations in methods and ingredients.  Since no one recipe seemed just right, I finally decided to wing it and come up with my own version, with a little help from my vintage (40's and 50's era) cookbooks. I don't know yet how it's all going to pan out (pan out! ha!) but I've got about 6 pounds of good quality dried fruits and nuts marinating in brandy. I'll be baking the cakes tomorrow, and I sure hope they're not failures. If they are, they'll be expensive failures.

Soaking up the holiday spirit!

The dried fruits and nuts I chose:

Tart cherries, golden raisins, cranberries, apricots, dates, pineapple, candied lemon peel, figs, pecans, and walnuts.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Tis the season (to be busy!)

Christmas is only thirteen days away. Thirteen! I can't believe how this month is flying by!

The last of the Christmas cards were filled out this morning and will be mailed later today. The ingredients for the cookies, cakes, and other treats I'll be making for gifts have been purchased and are ready to go. A few small gifts for family and friends have been purchased, but nothing over the top or too expensive. I'm still trying very, very hard to keep the holidays simple.

Yesterday I found the cutest little gifts to give to a couple of lady coworkers of mine......

They're glass globes with a bit of moss in the bottom and tiny little "air plants" (Tillandsia, a kind of bromeliad) inside. They are meant for hanging in a windowsill. Aren't they pretty? I'll also include small boxes of homemade sugar cookies for the ladies. For the guys, I plan to buy craft beers to be given alongside homemade cheese wafers and Chex mix.

I'm also taking part in a secret Santa gift exchange my friend Jessica over at Chronically Vintage is hosting, and I finally found the gifts I want to send to the person assigned to me, and will be shipping those out (to Alaska!) this weekend as well. I'll post photos of the package I'm sending as soon as Christmas gets here. Although I'm almost certain the recipient doesn't read my blog, I'd hate to ruin a surprise. And I'm eagerly waiting to see who got my name and what they will choose to send to me! Jessica is a dear for coming up with this idea and making it happen. It's been a lot of fun!

Well, I'm off to swing by the dollar store before work to look for some gift wrapping, ribbons, and bows, as well as goodie boxes and tins. Then comes another busy Friday night at the bookstore!

How are your holiday preparations coming?

Monday, December 1, 2014

Catching back up, and keeping Christmas simple

Where the heck did November go???

It's December 1st already, and despite my best intentions these last couple of months to sit down and give this blog more attention, I keep finding myself too busy to do it. Part of the reason, of course, is that old ball and chain, work.

 Retail management is pure drudgery during the holidays, and preparing for them begins in earnest in October. My job, while never happy, has been particularly difficult this year. We have a couple of members of the management team that have completely gone off the rails in their personal lives, including some serious drug addiction issues. As you can imagine, that leaves the rest of us forced to cover their absenteeism and neglect of their job duties. The rest of the store team is demoralized, which has led to calling out, bad attitudes, loss of productivity, and a whole lot of turnover. The atmosphere is so negative and things are so bad that the turnover has included several of our most dependable, long-term employees. Slowly but surely they're finding other jobs without all the dysfunction. And who could blame them?

I was so hopeful at the start of this year that I'd be one of the lucky ones with a new job by the time the holidays rolled around! It was my one and only resolution for 2014, and I have to admit I'm disappointed. The local economy isn't good, and competition for the kind of job I want is high. I was very discouraged for a while, but now that I've resigned myself to the fact that it's not going to happen as quickly as I'd hoped, I'm feeling better about continuing to search. In the meantime, I'm putting in extra hours and coming home extra tired, and that's put a damper on lots of things, not just blogging. Days off have been spent doing the necessary housework, chores, and caring for our feathered and furry housemates.

I've also been trying, during odd moments, to prepare for the upcoming holiday. I'm keeping gifts simple and inexpensive this year. Homemade food items, like flavored vinegars, vanilla extract, and Christmas cookies, and homemade (but simple to make) filled candles will constitute a majority of the gifts we'll be giving this year, with a few books or small items thrown in here and there. I can't take the crowded stores, the mad rush of shopping, the feeling like nothing you buy is ever enough this year. I despise it all, including the fact that the Christmas machine starts up earlier and earlier every year, and then really kicks off with the travesty known, appropriately, as Black Friday. No thanks. This year, I want to try to take it easier and find some small portion of the holiday to enjoy.

Stay tuned for photos of the gift projects I've finished so far, as well as some knitting I've been working on. I'm also still looking for a good, traditional fruit cake recipe and deciding on what kinds of Christmas cookies to make, so if anyone has suggestions I would love to hear them! Anyone else out there making or baking gifts this year? Or finding other ways to keep the holidays simple and inexpensive? Please share!