Sunday, December 23, 2012

Hostess with the Mostest

'Tis the season for holiday parties, or maybe you're simply going over the river and through the woods to Grandmother's house for Christmas dinner. Either way, be a fabulous guest and take along a hostess gift, won't you??? One of my favorite ideas at the moment is the breakfast basket. After a night of entertaining, what a thoughtful gift to give your hostess, so that she doesn't have to put much effort into a meal the next morning. This one was done by Jenny Steffens Hobick, see her blog for details.

So, today my sister was throwing a Christmas Open House and the big surprise for Shimmer and Shine was that my Mom would be there! We visited her over Veteran's Day but didn't think we would see her at Thanksgiving or Christmas this year, so her stopover on the way to spend Christmas with my Grandmother was an unexpected treat!

Now my sister and I don't exchange Christmas gifts these days; but, she is always generous with gifts for Shimmer and Shine, so I wanted to take her a nice hostess gift. I decided maybe some extra bubbly might be perfect for her party or to have on hand for New Year's Eve. I couldn't find the Cupcake Vineyards Prosecco that I wanted to buy her, but I was able to wrap up my selections with a pretty idea I spied on Martha Stewart. Isn't this Champagne Bottle Wrap so festive?!?!

I added some of my favorite printable tags from this season and voila!

Who wouldn't want to receive a bottle like this?

Pack it pretty... and, CHEERS!!!

When we arrived back home tonight, Shimmer and Shine opened one of the last books remaining in their advent pile. It turned out to be a great little book called One Snowy Night.

This is a book that they forgot they even had... so cute with the fuzzy little hat on each page. Our book project has been one of the best things we have ever done. We read each night together and have enjoyed stories we haven't told in a long time, as well as, some new favorites that are destined to be classics in our home. I hope you have spent this advent season reading together, too!

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Sand Tarts

I finally finished baking our sand tarts last night. With Shimmer not feeling well I was pretty much on my own decorating them this year, although Shine did come in from building a snowman to help with the last dozen. Here are a few photos from last year's sand tart day.

These cookies are so much work and the dough can be really frustrating to roll (it is dryer than normal sugar cookie dough); but, they are THE best cookies and it wouldn't be Christmas in our home without them. The recipe has been passed down through my dad's family. I've seen other cookies that people call sand tarts; but, these I believe are a Pennsylvania Dutch tradition.

Does anyone else make them like we do? We use vintage HRM Christmas cookie cutters. Or, do you have a family recipe that's a staple at your house over the holidays? Love's family favorite... Viola's Orange Cookies. I'm still mastering that one ;)

Shine chose a book from the small pile remaining tonight. It was a beautiful book that Hallmark put out at Christmas a few years ago featuring two classic carols, Up on the Housetop and Jolly Old St. Nicholas.

He will be heard singing these songs throughout our house for days now ;)

Friday, December 21, 2012

Pack It Pretty

Last day of school today before Christmas break, means classroom Christmas parties. Sadly, Shimmer seems to have caught whatever is going around and is running quite a fever today. She will miss her party... crashing at home on the couch. Here are a few pictures though of the treats I whipped up for Shine's class.

These popcorn balls were basically made with a rice krispie treat mixture of marshmallow, butter and vanilla, sprinkled with some festive nonpariels. What makes them extra-special I think is the packaging. Christmas cupcake wrappers, ribbon reminiscient of candy canes, bakers twine and pretty gift tags up the cute-ness!

Do small things with great love... hopefully making their days merry and bright.

Speaking of merry and bright, you should've seen the smiles when the kids opened their advent book tonight. Even Shimmer, who is definitely not herself today with this flu-bug, showed some excitement when she relized what was beneath the wrapping paper. A new book for both of them to share... Dr. Suess's How the Grinch Stole Christmas.

She read for awhile before getting tired and turning it over to Shine, who was eager to help anyway, and I finished it up. Glad to see they like their new book :)

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Paper Love

Since the terrible events of last Friday, I've been feeling so heavyhearted. Praying, crying, and praying... wishing I knew how to help these families and their community. Today I heard about a wonderful way to reach out to the surviving students of Sandy Hook Elementary School.

When they return to class, it will be in a different building in another town, an unfamiliar environment — all in the wake of last week’s tragedy. There is a grass-roots project under way (spearheaded by the Connecticut Parent-Teacher-Student Association) to decorate their new school with homemade snowflakes and create a welcoming winter wonderland.

The Snowflake Project... a small way to help. I am doing this... You can do this...

photo from

If you and your little one would like to contribute, please send your snowflakes by January 12, 2013 to Connecticut PTSA, 60 Connolly Parkway, Building 12, Suite 130, Hamden, CT 06514.

Please spread the word and share with your friends, families and teachers!!

Shine unwrapped the advent book tonight to find one he received at my company Christmas party several years ago when he was only a year old, called Christmas Lights.

The story is a cute rhyme, but the charm is in the lights that actually blink when you press the button on each page. Look closely and you'll see he turned them on for you :)

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Brown Paper Packages Tied up with String

Have you wrapped your gifts yet or are you a late wrapper like me? I've spent many a Christmas Eve up until 1:00am wrapping those last few gifts for under the tree. Last year, I set up "gift-wrap central" in our attic and actually wrapped them all before nightfall; but, yes, it was Christmas Eve. I leave everything out up there, by the way, for Love and Santa to wrap their gifts also so everything coordinates... of course ;) This year, I'm hoping to put a dent in the wrapping I have to do on Friday while the kids are at school.

Here are a few photos of my wrapping last Christmas. I was all into the kraft paper trend.

Shimmer and Shine liked all the embellishments I used to decorate their packages and Love commented more than once on how much he liked the simple style of the brown paper packages.

This year, I plan to add a little glitz to the mix... I picked up some sparkly silver snowflake giftwrap at Target, some gold polka dot giftwrap at Hobby Lobby and some irredescent aqua foil giftwrap at Michaels. I love adding natural elements to the ribbons and plan to cut some everygreens to do that. As much as I take pride in finding the perfect gifts for my family and friends, I put just as much love into making the package pretty, too!

Have fun wrapping and let me know if you have a color-scheme or theme for your giftwrap this year!

Tonight Shimmer unwrapped a new book that Mommy picked out for her this year... called Winter's Gift.

This is a book I wasn't familiar with, but since Shimmer is such a horse-lover it caught my eye.

The reviews convinced me it was a must-have. Look it up and see if you agree...

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Brotherly Love

Seeing images today of the little boys from Sandy Hook who could be classmates of Shine brings me such saddness. I hope that this tragedy teaches us all to love a little more... really teaches us.

Do you have a special little boy on your Christmas list this year? Here's a gift that Shimmer and I put together for her brother last year. We saw the idea on the blog ARMOMMY and knew we had to do it for Shine!

Shine already had a lantern, so we just added a cuddly forest friend, and knowing his love for frogs and old-fashioned toys, the wind-up hoppy frog was another perfect addition.

Shimmer and Shine couldn't wait to try and set it up in his room... the close quarters didn't spoil their excitement one bit!

Here's a picture of the fort in better use outdoors this past summer...

What a fun gift, don't ya think???

We were a little late opening our advent book today. I hosted my second annual Christmas party for fellow school board members and their spouses at our home, so we pushed bedtime back a bit and saved the book for after all our guests left and read this one... The Three Snow Bears, as a bedtime story down by the fire.

Night, Night all...

Monday, December 17, 2012

Teacher Appreciation

I started my day at the weekly chapel service at Shimmer and Shine's school this morning. I sat just a few rows behind them, fighting back tears. How hard it is to fathom what the families of Sandy Hook Elementary School are facing this Christmas and all that follow. The advent candle for Joy was lit this morning.


News like this leads me to lose faith in mankind. My heart knows we cannot lean on our understanding though, and I will never lose faith in our Heavenly Father. God hear our cries of anguish and please show us how to pray for these families...

A representative of our local police stopped at our school office this morning lending their support. It was comforting and frightening all at the same time and tears welled again. Bless them, our teachers and staff.

Over the past couple weeks, I've had a few friends ask me for ideas of Christmas gifts for their children's teachers. Today seems like the day to share some of those... I hope you have time this week to do something, or at the very least, personally thank the teachers in your family's life for this most important role they fill. May these images give you inspiration and if you want more details on any I'll be glad to help you find the original links.

In closing, I often find comfort in hymns and today is no different, this is the lullaby my heart is playing for Charlotte, Daniel, Olivia, Josephine, Ana, Dylan, Madeleine, Catherine, Chase, Jesse, James, Grace, Emilie, Jack, Noah, Caroline, Jessica, Avielle, Benjamin, Allison, Anne Marie, Dawn, Rachel, Lauren, Mary, Victoria and Nancy.

Children of the heav’nly Father
Safely in His bosom gather;
Nestling bird nor star in Heaven
Such a refuge e’er was given.

God His own doth tend and nourish;
In His holy courts they flourish;
From all evil things He spares them;
In His mighty arms He bears them.

Neither life nor death shall ever
From the Lord His children sever;
Unto them His grace He showeth,
And their sorrows all He knoweth.

Though He giveth or He taketh,
God His children ne’er forsaketh;
His the loving purpose solely
To preserve them pure and holy.

After school today Shimmer and Shine chose a book from their advent pile. It turned out to be this wonderul folktale... The Tale of Three Trees.

What a beautiful reminder that God has plans for each one of us and never loses sight of any of his children or their dreams.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Gingerbread House Love

Gingerbread and I do not have a good relationship. Two years ago, Shine wanted me to add some gingerbread men to the list of Christmas cookies we make. Of course, I was happy to give it a go. Unfortunately, let's just say things did not end well. I have never been so frustrated making cookies before! The dough was so sticky... and Shimmer needed to be picked up from dance class, and I think I managed to make four gingerbread men before I scrapped the whole project. Shine got to decorate a couple and I vowed to never make them again. So, the thought of attempting gingerbread houses has honestly never crossed my mind!

Enter our new local arts center and their invitation for the community to bring their children to make gingerbread houses yesterday. I was all for that... let the kids have at it and no mess at home!

We took a break from the party prep at our house and headed downtown. I think the whole community WAS there!

Fun for the whole family! Shine showed excellent technique with his icing bag and Shimmer was quite the landscaper, adding some sweet shrubs around her gingerbread house.

I'm still not planning to attempt any gingerbread men this year; but, today after church, I came home and printed out some free printable gingerbread houses I had "pinned" a week or so ago. The kids cut them out and I handled the gluing for them. Definitely more my speed...

Now we have a whole village on our piano :)

Today's advent book is one of my favorites, given to Shimmer by Mommy when she was very small. It's a beautiful book illustrated by Becky Kelly, called And Then in a Twinkling.

With the heart-wrenching news we've all been saddened by this weekend from Newtown, Connecticut, there was a reminder in this book I needed to hear today... "For Christmas brings goodness, redemption and light and helps reconnect us to all that is right." May God hold the families of Sandy Hook Elementary School in the palm of His hand. I know in my heart, Jesus is holding each child on His lap and weeping with us.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Holidays Rule

After a week of cleaning, de-cluttering, and decorating for Love's staff party the night finally arrived. To make things easier on myself, we decided to cater the big event and I am so glad. I'm learning to admit that I cannot do it all and still be a nice mommy/wife for the week! The menu and food from TWN were to die for... shrimp cocktail and baked spinach artichoke dip for starters; followed by sausage and chicken jambalaya over rice, coffee-rubbed beef tenderloin, and potato pancakes with sour cream and applesauce for dinner. We had cheesecake bites with an incredible cherry topping and my lemon cookies to end things. I also made some cranberry simple syrup and served up Christmas cocktails with Cupcake Vineyard's Prosecco garnished with lime and frozen sugared cranberries... Mmmmmmm!

Sorry, no pictures... simply enjoyed the night. There's nothing like sharing the holidays with good friends. May all your days be merry and bright, and if you're looking for an excellent Christmas soundtrack for your holidays, let me suggest this one:

I bought it because I love the Civil Wars, but this collection of songs and artists is so diverse and fun... TRULY a must-have!!!!!!!!!

p.s. Before company arrived, Shimmer and Shine opened their advent book today and found a book that they both actually have a copy of... Aunt liked this one so much she bought it twice! It's called The Gift of Christmas and it is full of the spirit of giving.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Italian Lemon Cookies

Getting today's post in just under the wire! It's been a busy week around here ready-ing our home to host Love's staff party tomorrow. I spent this afternoon baking some cookies to serve. Like my mother, I bake several different kinds of Christmas cookies; but, I ran out of time this week, and rather than stress about having a variety ready for tomorrow, I decided I would just make a classic that I think almost everyone loves... italian lemon cookies.

These are my favorite cookies. Love used to bring them home for me by way of his favorite bakery after skiing. Believe it or not, I've never made them for myself! A sweet Italian lady that I used to work with years ago, named Filomena, gave me her recipe one Christmas and yesterday I pulled it out of my recipe file determined to make a batch. Here it is for you to try:

2 sticks butter softened
2 cups sugar
2 eggs
2 lemon rinds grated
1 tsp lemon fresh sqeezed lemon juice
1 cup (heaping) ricotta cheese
4 cups flour (plus, extra)
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt

Cream butter and sugar. Add eggs, lemon rind, lemon juice and ricotta and mix until creamy. In a separate bowl, whisk flour, baking soda and salt together. Slowly add flour mixture to wet ingredients, scraping bowl often.

Form small balls (about the size of a walnut) or make shapes (roll into ropes, then twist).* Place on silpat or greased cookie sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for 10-15 minutes.

* If the dough is too sticky to roll into balls add more flour. I needed to add a little less than 1/2 cup more flour and I also lightly floured my hands about every third cookie I rolled.

Let the cookies cool completely before icing. For the glaze, you will whisk 3 cups of confectioners sugar and 7-8 tbsp of fresh squeezed lemon juice until smooth. Dip the top side of each cookie into glaze, letting excess drip off. Return the cookies to wire racks (on cookie sheet), glaze side up, and sprinkle with nonpareils. Let dry completely before storing. I place a sheet of parchment between each layer of cookies.

This recipe made about 6-1/2 dozen cookies for me. I split that between the traditional ball shaped lemon cookies and these lemon wreaths.

As pretty as the wreaths are, I think the cookies turned out to taste better in the ball form and they take less time, too! Let me know what you decide :)


Shimmer and Shine had their Christmas musical at school tonight.

They are blessed with such an incredible music director! Shimmer played Hark the Herald Angels Sing on the piano and her class also performed a few numbers on their recorders. As a 4th grader, she even had a few speaking parts and played Mary in the musical. Shine is only in first grade so his parts were limited to the choir songs, but he did terrific, too! I really enjoy watching all the students do so well and come into their own.

They opened their advent book before bed tonight and Shimmer read the story to Shine again.

It's a Margaret Wise Brown version of the nativity, called Christmas in the Barn. The perfect ending to a busy day... and now I am finally going to end mine. To all a good night!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Fa la la la la, la la la la

Decking the halls seems like it has taken a week around here... actually, it has! I finally finished trimming our tree last night and got all the boxes packed back away today. I felt like our built-in bookcase nearby needed some organization and seasonal updating though, so I worked on that this afternoon. It could use some tweaking and maybe I have too many things on the shelves, but for my first attempt at a stylized bookcase I'm pretty happy.

Personally, I liked some of the nutcrackers up on the top shelf; but, Shine likes to play with them and really wanted them within reach, so I revamped my "design" for him and promised I would reach the others for him when he wants them. Deal!

Here's a hint for today's book...

"That cold winter's night

beneath the star's light...

...a Little One came for the world."

...a classic Christmas book you really should add to your library if you have younger children.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

A Dozen Ideas...

Hmmmm... how to mark this historic date??? How about a list of 12 of my favorite websites/catalogs for finding unique gifts for everyone on your list? That is for the few gifts you are buying this year. Remember we are paring back!

Our family makes a real effort to shop locally, and we are certainly blessed with a downtown full of quaint shops; but, if I am being totally honest, I can't resist the unique things you can find online either, or the convenience of having them delivered right to my front porch. So here's my list... maybe you're familiar with all of them; but, if not, I'm hoping you discover a new favorite today or at least that perfect item for someone left on your shopping list.

Pretty much clockwise, from top left:

1. party-lovers -- bhldn

2. children's clothing -- Olive Juice Kids

3. artsy types -- anthropologie

4. girls/womens clothing/home -- Garnet Hill

5. gourmet kitchen -- Sur la Table

6. stocking stuffers -- Restoration Hardware

7. toys -- Nova Natural Toys + Crafts

8. foodies -- Stonewall Kitchen

9. business gifts -- Red Envelope

10. outdoor enthusiast -- Sierra Trading Post

11. earthy types -- Viva Terra

12. kid stuff -- Land of Nod

Now, I purposely didn't mention the ever-popular Pottery Barn; Williams Sonoma; JCrew; Crate & Barrel; Ballard Designs; etc. because, if your mailbox is anything like mine, this time of year you've already thought about them.

This list doesn't even touch the myriad of handmade and vintage items you can find on another addiction of mine... etsy. That may be a post for another day ;)

p.s. Another advent book reading after school. This has been one of the best things I've done with Shimmer and Shine. We read everyday and they are excited about it. Today Shimmer read Shine a sweet story called You Can Do It Sam.

One of Shine's beloved preschool teachers gave him this book at Christmas time a few years ago. It encourages generosity all while overcoming shyness... a keeper.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Finding the Unexpected

You know how you feel when you put on a coat you haven't worn in a while and reach in the pocket and pull out a $5 bill? I had something very similar happen today! I'm trying to get our house decorated for a business cocktail party we're hosting this weekend, and was unpacking some ornaments today when I came across a handful of beautiful bobbles all wrapped neatly in tissue paper with price tags still on them. At first I was wondering why in the world I would have hung these last year with the tags on them. Very confused! Then, I remembered these were ornaments I had admired and purchased at a terrific discount AFTER Christmas last year, during the fabulous moving sale at our town's gem of a home decor boutique.

Aren't they just so pretty??? Definitely fit in with my rustic glam theme! Oh, and I have a thing for birds, too... I'm such a pushover for a little birdie clipped to the branch of a Christmas tree. Finding these brought me such happiness... I wish you some unexpected joy this season, too!

Shimmer and Shine had a little surprise also to end the day. Before bed, they opened their advent book and finally hit one of the new ones I wrapped up for them. This turned out to be a book that Love and I picked out on a recent date night for Shine.

He's our little nature lover (actually, creating an appreciation for nature and God's wonderful creations is one of the things I am most proud of developing in my children). Anyway, this is a newly and beautifully illustrated renditon of Robert Frost's classic poem, Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening. We're sure to find Shine studying these pictures for years to come.

Monday, December 10, 2012

It's Beginning to Look a lot like Christmas

I've been working on our Christmas mantel the last few days. Do you have a color scheme you like for your tree or throughout your house? I love adding elements of nature all year round in our home and use them during the holiday season, too. I'm drawn to anything that shimmers, so my Christmas color scheme is mostly golds and silvers with a little green or turquoise thrown in here and there. I guess it's kind of a subtle, rustic glam!

Last week I was out shopping and stopped into Hobby Lobby. Found this platinum Christmas tree and the glittery bird half price! Brought them home and placed them on our mantle (which was already empty, since I had cleared it off for our painter on Monday). Then, I printed off this free O Holy Night printable and framed it. As soon as that was on the mantel, I could just envision having a big empty frame with a wreath in it as the focal point. Wish I would have thought of that while I was at Hobby Lobby, but I didn't. Last night though, I remembered some collage frames of Shimmer and Shine that I used to have in my office. They are stored in our basement, so down I went this morning to get one... I knew it would be the perfect size and have some of the ornate-ness I was picturing!

Added a few mercury glass cups, I had admired at a favorite local shop and picked up over the weekend, and a pinecone wreath I got on sale at our local antique store... and TA-DA!!!

I love it when a vision becomes reality! I'm still planning to add some sprigs of holly or evergreen to the mercury glass, and we have to hang our stockings too, but I couldn't wait to share our mantel with you.

I hope it gives you some ideas for decorating in your home this season...

p.s. After school today, Shimmer and Shine picked a book from their remaining pile and it turned out to be this Look and Find Night Before Christmas activity book.

They spent a good 45 minutes searching out the hidden characters together, while I made some yummy chicken pot pie soup for dinner.