Friday, December 28, 2007

Up and About

After a second bout with the most unpleasant flu I've had in years, I'm up and around again. That is, if you call "up and around" lazing around on the couch playing a new Nintendo game with Caroline (thanks to my sister), waiting for another batch of jello to firm up, and fiddling with the new camera. I actually ventured out to return books to the library and get a new batch. Quite the exhausting day.

But I did manage to capture a shot of Gemma's classic eye roll. It's one of my favorite things about her, how she can keep her head still and so expressively roll her eyes.

Tomorrow I'll embark on massive tidying to prepare for a visit from dear, dear friends of ours from Maine. We are all excited to see them, so it'll be a real treat to have them here.

Now, off to a soup-and-jello dinner...

Holiday Merriment

Christmas certainly flew by, and a grand time was had by all.

Christmas eve: Christmas songs played on a hammer dulcimer, Prosecco and pomegranate juice, velvety butternut squash soup, cold cracked crab dipped in melted butter, sourdough french bread, sampling of traditional Christmas cookies and chocolate bark, hunting for silly Christmas videos on Utube, and lots and lots of giggles...

Christmas morning: hot coffee, flying wrapping paper, cats jumping in and out among the holiday debris, Caroline's squeals of delight, Roger's laughter at unexpected gifts, apple cinnamon french toast, Gemma's confusion at which new toy to play with first, lots of pictures with the new camera...

Christmas evening: ham warming in the oven, mercury glass gleaming on the table, Joshilyn's "fat potato fat fat" in the works, happy arrivals of family members, the champagne cork popping, oohs and aahs over the traditional Christmas artichoke dip from Laura, more paper flying, happy exclamations over presents, new collars for Gemma and Katie, announcements of our charity donations in lieu of gifts (we're not so great at the "in lieu of" part), yummy dinner (ham, aforesaid fat potato fat fat, annual raspberry jello, spicey orange green beans, rolls), MMMMMMinty ice cream cake for dessert, a family round of Apples to Apples, more laughter, Caroline's glee at winning among all the grownups, comfy post-prandial couch-sitting.

A lovely, lovely holiday.

Followed by more flu in the household, causing Dec. 26 and 27 to pretty much vanish, but things are looking up.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Merry Christmas!

This Christmas, may you have...

a tree that doesn't fall over,

a delicious meal,

the joy of giving and receiving presents,

something bubbly to drink with friends,

warm hugs from loved ones,

greetings from friends and family,

and the peace of love in your heart.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Random Acts of Christmas

The other night, Roger took to bed early to head off a cold, and I suggested a surprise holiday outing to Caroline. We made up a batch of hot chocolate, filled our travel mugs, and ventured out for a drive around town to see the Christmas lights. We had a lovely time, pausing in front of each especially well-lit home to gaze in admiration and sip our cocoa.

One of our favorite sights in town is a metal sculpture of a horse grazing alongside a walking path. As we went by, Caroline said, "Mom, that horse needs a Christmas treat!" We looked at each other and grinned. Luckily, the grocery store was still open and we were able to pick out a wreath and bow to decorate him.

So, there we were, at 10:30 at night, giggling and adorning this steed with his own Christmas wreath. We dashed back to the warmth of the car to admire our handiwork -- he looks stunning and placidly happy now, we agreed.

I cruised by today to take a daylight picture.

I wonder how many folks will notice?

We had so much fun that Caroline and I decided that we will make that late night (well, late night for an 11 year old) city tour an annual event.

Spreading holiday cheer, one wreath at a time...

Sugar Rush

My sister Laura and I had a productive afternoon of baking yesterday. Brown sugar shortbread (above), the classic spritz cookies...

And chocolate peppermint bark.

Today's all about wrapping. No peeking!

Saturday, December 22, 2007

You'd Better Watch Out...

I was emailing with my friend Sharon recently, and mentioned how I think of her each Christmas when I'm setting out our Christmas decorations. I always thought I set out pretty elaborate Christmas decorations...until I saw Sharon's house. Her house is just amazing. Sharon sent me a few pictures of this year's decor and has graciously allowed me to share them here.

Sharon's big, country-style home is filled with warmth and Christmas cheer. Every wall has at least one festive quilt, sometimes groupings of several quilts. There were big trees and little Christmas trees, something festive everywhere you looked.

But to be honest, my favorite part is Sharon's amazing collection of cross-stitched Santas. They are everywhere... in small sachet-sized pillows hanging from the knobs on her dining room cupboard, on pillows artfully arrayed on the furniture... Like this:

Regular stitchers may recognize these as the Prairie Schooler collection of Santas. Prairie Schooler is a counted cross-stitch pattern design company that has issued a different small Santa pattern every year, and I recognized them because my sister Laura ("the Two Handed Stitcher") has stitched a bunch of Prairie Schooler designs.

So I was especially impressed at Sharon's assortment of Santas because I know how many hours of work they represent. Lots and lots and lots! Look, here's more:

Sharon says she's stitched one every year for 24 years. Wow! (And thanks, Sharon, for letting me show them!) It almost makes me want to try cross-stitch again.

Coincidentally, just after I'd gotten these photos from Sharon to post here, I discovered that my sister is showing a few of her Prairie Schooler Santas on her blog.

I guess it's that time of year when Santas come to town. Better not cry! Better not pout!

Food and friends, friends and food

Marie of ZQuilts asked what kind of camera my new one's a Panasonic Lumix FZ18. It's an 8 megapixel "SLR-like" digital camera with a Leica lens. It's in the category the camera folks call "ultra zoom" or "bridge" cameras...It's not an SLR ("single lens reflex"), but it has a really great zoom lens and does far more than the typical point-and-shoot camera. But you can't change lenses (the way you can on a true SLR) and it's not big and heavy. You can read about it here. I'm able to take basic pictures so far, but it has all sorts of setting programmed for different situations (snow! bright backgrounds! night skies! moving subjects! multiple faces!) and I suspect it'll be awhile before I figure that all out.

Meanwhile, I did take it with me to my holiday lunch at Pat's house. Pat -- a very talented cook -- made a lovely lunch of butternut squash soup with cornmeal bread and an assortment of cheeses. And Rita supplied champagne, so we were in fine celebration form.

Here's Pat, demonstrating the hand-held GPS unit she adores.

And Rita, fondling the GPS unit because she covets it.

And Janet, looking on with amusement.

For dessert, Pat presented her annual Italian fig cookies and pizelles. Yummers.

Which makes a nice segue into what I'm doing today -- baking, baking, and baking. Tommy has inspired me to make a few batches of chocolate bark, too. Can you smell the chocolate?!

Friday, December 21, 2007

Point, Shoot, and Nap

Look! My first picture with the new Christmas camera! (I was willing to put it under the tree and forego playing with it until Christmas, but Roger informed me it is my holiday obligation to figure it out so I can take Christmas pictures with it.) Not bad, considering I was sitting in a very dimly lit room and I hadn't even read the manual. I can tell there's going to be quite the learning curve to figure out all the fun things this camera does, but it has a great automatic mode that will allow me to have fun pointing and shooting while I figure the trickier stuff out. Exciting! (And for the person who asked, the camera DOES have a pops up when you want to use it but otherwise stays folded down.)

Can you tell Gemma spent the afternoon romping with her canine cousin Katie?!

I was similarly tired, having just returned from Nevada City where I spent a quick overnight with my aunt and uncle. My aunt (yep, the one I was with earlier this fall when she was recovering from surgery) took me and my cousin-in-law Linda out for a fancy Christmas tea.

I love doing "high tea" at Christmas time -- it's such a lovely ritual. We nibbled on scones and quiche and tiny sandwiches while sipping tea (Earl Grey for me, "Raspberry Truffle" for Linda, "China Gold" for Auntie Carole). How civilized! We had a lovely visit.

Now it's counting down to Christmas. Yikes! I woke up at 5 this morning with my mind spinning through the stuff I need to get done. I ended up getting out of bed to finalize the Christmas dinner menu, make the grocery shopping list, and sort out the baking I need to do later today and tomorrow.

Oh! And while I was in Nevada City, Roger called to tell me that the tree FELL OVER. This particular tree seems to be jinxed. Luckily, the ornaments were not on it yet. He righted it and ended up wiring the thing to the walls (it's in a corner). I tell you, the artificial tree is looking better and better. We'll finish decorating it tonight. I have never had an unfinished tree this close to Christmas, so I'm eager to get it up and looking sparkly.

Okay--I'm off to do some wrapping, then to lunch with good buddies Pat, Rita, and Janet... Having wonderful friends is the best holiday gift of all, don't you think?

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Capable of Thousands of Words

Look what I'm getting for Christmas! It's hardly a surprise...I picked it out and ordered it myself. And it'll be here within the next day or two. Yahoo!

You may have noticed the lack of photos here... which is due in part to my being fed up with the old camera I have, which has such a shutter lag that it's hard to get a clear picture of anything that moves (such as people and animals and things being jiggled by a passing breeze). Roger is similarly irked with his tiny point-and-shoot digital camera, so we opted to upgrade our cameras as our gifts to each other.

I've enjoyed researching and reading and checking out cameras in stores...and I finally landed on this Panasonic SLR-like camera with an attached Leica telephoto lens. I think it'll far more than I'll ever need it to do, and yet it's still pretty small and something I'd throw in my bag to go places.

Roger's still deciding... not sure whether to go the digital SLR route and take advantage of some great Canon lenses we have, or to go the route I've chosen and go for something a tad smaller.

Oh--the tree, by the way, is UP in its stand but not yet decorated. (That's tonight's excitement.) After dinner (and fortification by a glass of good Shiraz) Roger and I tackled the tree together. Yes, it did need additional shimming to get it to stay upright in the stand...but we discovered that the tree trunk itself is bent, so when it was resting right in the stand, the tree looked crooked. Geez.

I tell you, I'm shopping for bargain fake trees on sale after Christmas.

Monday, December 17, 2007

O Christmas Tree...

Roger and I generally divide the holiday decorating. He does outside, I do inside. And this works out quite nicely, usually. This is his busy time of year (what with the end of the semester, final exams, and papers to grade) and I care more about inside decorations than he does. Way more. (He still marvels over the fact that we have specific boxes for Easter decorations and Halloween decorations in the garage.) So typically he gets the outside lights up some weekend after Thanksgiving, and I start bringing out the holiday decorations to suit my indoor theme. (I know -- I got inspired to decorate in "themes" by a) getting tired of putting the same stuff in the same place every year; and b) watching all those HGTV holiday decorating shows ever year, culminating in the White House decoration extravaganza that is impressive and beautiful and ridiculous, all at the same time.)

ANYway. We've had all of the decorations up for weeks now EXCEPT for the Christmas tree. We didn't want to get it up too early, as our good friends are coming from Maine to spend New Year's with us and we wanted the tree to have a least a tinge of green by then. And then there's been the flu and what with one thing and another, the tree isn't up yet.

So, while Caroline and I stayed home in our jammies yesterday, Roger ventured out and brought home a lovely tree. A Noble Fir, our favorite kind, not too wide at the bottom. We were going to get it up last evening, but by then Caroline's fever had returned, I was feeling achey and tired still, and Roger had papers to grade.

When I stumbled downstairs this morning, Roger paused as he was heading out the door (briefcase and coffee mug in hand already) to say "Shall we bring in the tree and set it up in the stand before I go?"

Now, I don't know how easily your trees go up, but around here it's a struggle. Aside from the required moving-of-furniture, it's never an easy or quick task. Inevitably the tree is too wide for the stand, or too narrow...or it requires creative shims to make it stand straight. It's not a 5 minute job.

Is that just me?

I tried not to roll my eyes too obnoxiously and sent him on his way. But later in the morning, after I'd had coffee and dressed and gotten Caroline squared away with gingerale and a holiday movie to watch, I figured I'd at least shove the furniture around and set up the stand and get things ready for the tree.

And once that was in place, I figured I could get Caroline to help me get the tree into the stand, if I lifted the tree and she guided it into the stand's bowl. That's where it went awry.

And you know, that's where things go badly every year. Maybe it IS me.

Yep, sure enough, the tree is quite narrow for the stand, so it wouldn't stand straight or balance and I simply couldn't get it screwed into the stand with any sort of stability. There was the annual muttering-of-swear-words while clutching onto armfuls of pine, there's a great tradition to hand down to your child at Christmas, eh?

We pulled it out. We attached wood blocks to the trunk to add width. We re-inserted. We wrestled and muttered and snapped at each other and pulled it out again. At one point, I dashed downtown to pick up one of those small cheap tree stands, thinking that it'd suit the narrow trunk of this tree better...but no, all that happened was that the tree screws BENT as the tree slowly tipped over. You guessed it -- more muttered swear words.

I tried and tried, with Caroline gamely helping, for FAR too long. I'm talking spending 3 hours doing this. And finally, I dragged the tree back out to the garage, where it is now sitting in its bucket of water.

Roger and I had been looking at artificial trees, thinking that we may have hit that developmental stage where an artificial tree sounds like a wonderful relief, as opposed to a horrid sacrilege. (That's the developmental stage that come right after getting a car with automatic transmission feels like a good thing, too.) I've even selected the tree I'd want (check out the very realistic trees at -- I've seen these in person and they're pretty darn remarkable for artificial trees.) But they're pricey. Any of the decently-realistic ones seem to be.

And right now? I'm sitting here with some sap and pine in my hair, my back aching, and my hands stained by tree-sap and tingling with pine-needle pricks, and Caroline has been chastizing me about the words she's heard come out of my mouth this morning.

I figure I'd pay $1000 to never have to do that all again. I think an artificial tree would be a bargain.

I'll rest up and be in a holiday mood tomorrow. Once the halls are decked...

Saturday, December 15, 2007

What Do You Want for Christmas?

Do you have people around you (say, a spouse maybe) who, less than 10 days before Christmas, suddenly ask you what you might like for a Christmas gift? And, if that happens, do you instantly go blank and have no idea of where to steer your good-natured and willing gift-buyer?

Just in case that happens to you, here are a few ideas ... And you know, you can just email the link as a visual aide for your last-minute shopper friends! These places have last-minute shipping, too!

Some great books are new on the shelves to provide inspiration for art quilters:

Jeanne Williamson's The Uncommon Quilter (you can read my review from a month ago here)

The Painted Quilt by Linda and Laura Kemshall -- great ideas and inspiration on design, painting, surface design, and more.

Nancy Crow's newest book, "Crossroads: Constructions, Markings and Structures" is available for PREORDER here (wouldn't you love a note tucked into a card that says you'll be receiving immediately in the mail when it's released?)

"Living the Creative Life: Ideas and Inspiration from Working Artists" by Rice Freeman-Zachary. A fascinating assortment of thoughts and ideas about creativity from working artists in all areas.

"Kaleidoscope: Ideas and Projects to Spark your Creativity" by Suzanne Simanaitis. This book has stories, exercises, and fun ideas to jumpstart your creative exploration.

Rex Ray: Art + Design features the abstract design of San Francisco artist Rex Ray. Luscious shapes, great color, wonderful inspiration.

Neogeo: Illustration and Urban Art by Robert Klanten - covers geometrical forms and solid colors in current design. Very intriguing and more great inspiration.

Okay, maybe books aren't the only things you want... Here are a few supplies you might not buy yourself but they'd be lovely to receive:

Paintstiks Holiday Starter Packs - these come with the "Paintstiks on Fabric" book, rubbing plates, and six paintsticks to get you started in your explorations.

Creative Textile Tool -- sort of like a wood-burning tool but for fabric. You can use this to play with applique, embossing on velvet, fusing, stencil cutting, and more.

Jacquard ExtravOrganza (sem-transparent silk organza sheets) and opaque silk (in sheets or in a roll),all ready for inkjet printing!

Angelina Fiber Jeweltone Sample Set -- Can't decide what color of Angelina Fiber you want to play with? Or are you always missing the one you want? has several different assortments in different price ranges.

"Bead Gravy" and "Bead Soup" -- Maybe Santa will fill your stocking with these great color-sorted assortments of glass beads from Equilter!

"Complex Cloth: The Workshops DVD Set" - If you can't take a class with Jane Dunnewald herself, you can watch these DVDs of her as she demonstrates the processes in her Complex Cloth book.

So, here's what you do. Print out this list (go ahead, hit that print button up there) and circle or check off the things you want. And keep it handy so when your ready-to-shop buddy asks, all you need to do is hand it over.
Sorry, I don't provide gift wrap! Happy Holidays!

Christmas essentials

An essential part of our Christmas tradition is the nightly reading of a Christmas story at Caroline's bedtime. This started when she was tiny, of course, and I've added a new Christmas book or two every year to her collection. No matter how old she gets, she still wants (and I still love to read) these wonderful books at this time of year. And I see we are not the only ones... even after I planned to do an entry about our favorite books, my friend and kindred spirit Loretta listed the ones she shares with her well-into-their-teens kids every year. (We have read a number of them today in bed, as Caroline has come down with my creepie-crawlie flu. Roger is staying clear and washing his hands like a maniac to try to avoid it.) But we are cheery -- we will be healthy well in time for Christmas!

Anyway, the books:

A gorgeous classic illustrated version of the ballet story.

Okay, this is one of my personal favorites, because it's about a harried mom with the flu on Christmas eve, and the Christmas tree lights are a tangled mess, and the dog knocks over the tree... what more can go wrong? It's a very fun rhyming story.

Don't you love Jan Brett's illustrations? "The Mitten" is my favorite...Caroline prefers the reindeer one.

We LOVE Madeline's Christmas, and Caroline laughs every time when I say I wish I had a genie who'd make my dirty dishes disappear, too.

In this wonderfully-illustrated book, a snowman gets sick of NYC in the snow and heads away for a tropical vacation...

Caroline loves this cat's eye view of Christmas:

And we have to read this, over and over:

And of course, popcorn of at the movies makes the mouse want to string it on the tree...

Oh! And have you seen these Look Alikes books? Joan Steiner makes amazing scenes with every day objects, so you can pore over ever picture and find oodles of items, cleverly disguised. They're very fun for kids and adults. We keep this sitting on our living room coffee table.

Another personal favorite... Mr. Willowby buys a big tree and cuts off the top to make it fit in his house, and then all the animals of the forest get to share as more of the tree gets cut off...very charming.

And we always love the stories about strong women...

May you enjoy many snuggly hours with your loved ones reading your favorite holiday stories!