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Posts Tagged ‘Christmas’

Christmas

Matching jumpsuits for Christmas: My family was multiple shades of awesome in 1976.

Actually, we’re still pretty awesome, even with fewer matching jumpsuits.

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This month’s Rocket City Bloggers’ shared carnival topic — “your favorite tool” — was a gimme.

It’s the set of screwdrivers that my grandmother gave me for Christmas the year after I got married.

One of the first realizations I had after moving in with the husband was that our organizational styles differed. He could live with items in any number of places, whereas I enjoyed finding the same items in the same places time and time again.

Screwdrivers, for some reason, were an early ongoing issue. I would find them on the kitchen counter, under a bathroom sink, on a bookshelf or in the car. Anywhere but the toolbox. And I would NEVER find the model I actually needed. Sure, it was nice to know that the medium Phillips head was on the end table, but that knowledge wasn’t helping me tighten the flat-head screw on the top bookshelf.

My grandmother heard my laments and came to the rescue. Christmas morning, I was the envy of all the men in the room, with my full set of Craftsman screwdrivers (complete with a bonus pair of RoboGrip pliers that have since met their demise).  The tools were packaged in a vinyl organizer, so it was easy to keep track of them, and keep track I did. I all but made the husband sign a checkout card when he needed to use one for a project.

The vinyl organizer disintegrated a couple of years ago, so the screwdrivers now reside in a plastic box that formerly housed jewelry. I had to steal back the favored medium Phillips head from the husband’s office for this photo, so obviously my efforts to keep them all in one place aren’t always that effective.

It would be too simple to say that these screwdrivers are my favorite tools because my grandmother gave them to me. I mean, she made sure I had the BEST screwdriver set that she could find. What could have been a throwaway joke gift was, instead, a well-planned purchase that I’ve used time and time again.

The woman who had given me a toaster and a mixer at my wedding shower was perfectly content with the idea of her granddaughter wielding a screwdriver in the name of DIY. Awesomeness personified.

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Two years ago, I completed a successful search for a recipe that tasted like the fabulous Gingeroos that I bought at a Las Vegas Trader Joe’s but couldn’t find in Nashville.

The husband and I spent Christmas in Vegas this year, and when I spotted the bags of Gingeroos on the shelf at TJ’s, I knew it was the perfect time for a taste test since we had just polished off the last of this year’s Triple Ginger Cookies a couple of days earlier.

The verdict? My cookies are actually BETTER than Gingeroos. Either I originally gave these cookies more props than they deserved, or the recipe has changed over the last three years. They were lighter than I remembered, more like a basic gingerbread than the spicy cookies I’ve been making. The big chunks of candied ginger that I recalled simply weren’t there.

Don’t get me wrong: Gingeroos are still one of my favorite store-bought cookies (granted, this is not a long list). They served as a delicious impromptu hotel snack and got us through the last 30 minutes of a long flight home.

The revelation that they’re not the best cookies in the world, however, has made me realize that I not only can make foods that are just as good as store-bought, I can make them BETTER.

End-of-the-year ego boost? I’ll take it.

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I have purchased no eggnog this year.

Normally, I would be on my second carton by now.

When I first spotted cartons of eggnog in the dairy aisle a few weeks ago, however, it just didn’t seem worth the calories.

Part of this attitude, admittedly, results from attending boot camp at 5:30 a.m. three days a week. I’m not negating that much hard work with 6 ounces of sugar and fat.

Part of it, though, is the realization that eggnog is simply a nostalgic food for me, a trip back in time to childhood.

When I was a child, eggnog was something that I drank only at my grandparents’ house, and only in the days leading up to Christmas. We drank it out of these fabulous Santa mugs:

As my friends Kristen and Harold have noted, however, nostalgia can be burdensome. I can’t re-create those Christmas scenes, and I shouldn’t want to. Every day of the year gives us another chance to create NEW memories. Trying to redo the past, even the little pieces of it, can only lead to bitterness and disappointment.

My brother’s kids are going to remember that Tia always made red velvet cake pops for them at Christmas, and Tia’s going to remind them that, for little girls under 50 lbs., they ate an impressive number of the rich morsels. And in 20 years or so, I hope they come up with their very own tradition, leaving cake pops in the dust if that’s not really their thing anymore.

I’ll give them the Santa mugs, though, if they decide that eggnog is their thing.

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The “Do One Thing” series chronicles my yearlong effort to tackle one project every day to organize my life and home.

Day 51: Still recovering, but I did manage to help the husband a little as he hooked up the drain pipe in the downstairs bathroom.

Day 52: The problem with hidden, built-in storage is that you store stuff in it and then forget all about it. Sometime before Christmas, I had stashed some paperwork in the piano bench while doing a quick pre-guest pickup in the living room. I remembered the paperwork only last week, when I went crazy trying to find a form that, oddly, I hadn’t seen since before Christmas. Today, I got most of the stash out of the bench and filed it away upstairs.

Day 53: I have a unique wall hanging that I’ll write more about later, but today I did an epic amount of research on the best way to hang it, since right now it’s just a folded piece of fabric in the closet. I’ve come to a final decision, and it doesn’t involve going back to the seamstress that made me feel bad for not knowing what kind of seam allowance I wanted.

Day 54: Admittedly, I spent what little organizational time I had today coloring paper balloon cutouts for a failed cat photo shoot.

Day 55: I finally redeemed a Groupon I purchased in December for a 16-by-20-inch gallery wrap from Canvas on Demand. I had narrowed my choices down to two photographs when I discovered that the site offered personalized customer service interaction that helped me choose the winner. Now I’ve got two weeks to decide where to hang it.

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I got cake balls right this year. I followed Bakerella’s instructions, for the most part, but I also scouted around on a few other food blogs to try to improve on my last effort.

I discovered four secrets:

  1. Chill the undipped cake balls in the refrigerator for a couple of hours to get them firm enough for dipping. If you’re in a hurry and decide to pop them into the freezer instead, prepare for cracked cake balls. I only used the refrigerator for this last batch, and I had exactly ZERO cracked cake balls. More than half of the previous batch, which all went into the freezer so I could dip them more quickly, cracked within an hour after dipping. Plan ahead and leave yourself plenty of time.
  2. Put the refrigerated cake balls on lollipop sticks before you dip them into the melted chocolate coating. This technically turns cake balls into cake pops. Go with it. Dip the tip of each stick into the melted coating before inserting it into a cake ball, then put the cake balls back into the refrigerator for at least five more minutes. The lollipop sticks make the coating process a lot easier, and, if you heed the advice in steps 3 and 4, they give you a more professional-looking product.
  3. Melt the chocolate coating in the microwave if you like, but hold it over simmering water in a double boiler to keep it thin enough while you’re dipping the cake balls. This will make the dipping process go faster, since you won’t have to worry about thickened chocolate that has to go back in the microwave every few minutes. Maintaining the melted coating at the same consistency throughout the dipping process simply results in prettier cake pops, too.
  4. After dipping the cake balls in the melted chocolate coating and letting the excess drip off for a few seconds, drizzle the wet cake balls with colored sugar or sprinkles — if that’s your decor of choice — and stick the clean end of the lollipop stick into a sturdy piece of Styrofoam (you may want to poke tiny holes in it before you start so the sticks will go in easily). This eliminates the flat spot and messy melted chocolate spread on the bottom of the finished cake balls.

I covered the business end of most of the cake pops with a small, clear treat bag and secured it with a small piece of Christmas ribbon, quickly tied into a simple knot (you can also just use twist ties). This made the cake pops fancy AND portable and helped keep them fresh for the better part of a week.

I won’t lie. These take forever and a day to make, and you’ll be cleaning chocolate smears off your stove and countertop and sweeping colored sugar off your kitchen floor for days. But well-made cake pops are beyond delicious and will impress the heck out of most people. Especially the 5-year-old princess fanatics in your life.

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The “Do One Thing” series chronicles my yearlong effort to tackle one project every day to organize my life and home.

Day 2: I labored over whether I should include purchases in this challenge. As the sole board member, I voted “yes.”

When we were in New York City in early December, I saw this nifty little device in Pylones that allows you to stack up to 10 bottles of wine safely and efficiently. I realize that other people have wine racks on their countertops and walls and even on top of their kitchen cabinets, but proper wine storage demands protection from light and temperature variations. Thus, most of our everyday wine (“everyday wine” … we sound so sophisticated) is stored in the bottom of the pantry, far away from the stove and other sources of heat.

The bottles, however, tend to arrange themselves in a mishmash, no matter how carefully they’re initially placed. Any stacking at all requires something extremely heavy and unneeded to prevent rolling, and unstacked bottles rolling around on their sides waste a tremendous amount of vertical cabinet space.

Thus, when I saw the incredibly neat pyramid of wine bottles enabled by the Wine Stack, I pointed it out as just the thing we needed to fix the wine problem back home. My husband looked at it and declared that we would definitely figure something out when we got back.

I should have picked up the Wine Stack and carried it to the register, but what I didn’t realize at the time (yep, still learning after 15 years) was that his comment could be translated as follows: “I do not recognize this wine problem you describe; therefore, I shall forget this discussion in approximately 3 minutes.”

So, when I was trying to put the pantry in order last week after a round of holiday baking, I mentioned this solution we were going to figure out. The husband paused for a couple of seconds, and said, “I guess we should have bought one of those wine things while we were in New York.”

Sigh.

I ordered my Wine Stack on Sunday night, and I’m counting it as my second Do One Thing act of the year.

Day 3: I cleared off the piano bench, a hotspot for downstairs junk like books, magazines, gloves and scarves. Every house has a spot like this. Of course, now that I’ve swept it clean, I need to maintain a subresolution of keeping it clean.

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