Places to Party

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Our Little Holiday Village

Our Village Tree.

Beautiful Holiday,
   Beautiful Displays

In the busyness of the holiday season, it is sometimes hard to just sit back and admire the true beauty of the season. The quietness of nature during the winter season attempts to coax us to sit back and reflect upon our lives and what is truly important. Sometimes when we ignore Mother Nature long enough,  she decides the force the issue and today was that day.

Last night the rain of the daytime turned to the ice storm of the night.   

Each and every tree, grass and weed was covered in a shimmering layer of ice that just turned the world dangerous but magical. Eventually due to the weight on the powerlines, the power went out. While this can be a pain logistically, it also forces you to sit back and reflect.

No electronics, just quietude.

rushing, just a quiet meditation.

Nothing that can be done but to
look out and truly admire how incredibly beautiful decorating
job that Mother Nature has done.

Pine Tree with Shimmering Ice


Eventually we went out for supper and on our way  back home we passed through our tiny village. The lights were on and the streets were quiet. The village trees were lit and the lamposts were decorated pine boughs and the pictures of our local villiagers that are actively serving in the military.


While New York city may have that giant holiday tree in Rockefeller Center, I have to say I love the tranquillity and solemn dignity of a small western NY village. Small town life is by no means a small life. Kind of like the Tardis of Doctor Who... it's so much bigger on the inside than the outside.

Happiest of Holidays!

Monday, December 16, 2013

Homemade Holiday Surprise "Heath" Bars

Happy  Holidays!

With this week being the start of the holiday week for many, I thought I'd offer you an early gift. Salted caramel seems to be a "hot" and "with it" flavor right now among foodies. But my family has enjoyed these simple to make, impossible to resist, homemade toffee bars for years. They are quite unique from just about anything I've seen in that the center of the cookie is such an unthought of surprise.

They are a very rich bar cookie and perfect for your upcoming holiday potlucks or parties where you want a simple but decadent finger food dessert. Much like the beloved candy bar they are named for, they are equally at home in your child's lunchbox.

My holiday gift to you......

Homemade Surprise "Heath" Bars    
So Yummy!

Large cookie sheet with sides
Tin foil to line said cookie sheet

Saltine crackers, enough to line
your cookie sheet
1 cup brown sugar
1 stick (1/2 cup) butter
1/2 pkg. choc. chips.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.


On a foil lined cookie sheet with sides, place saltines in a single layer. (I did a triple amount in this photo.)

I sprayed the foil with a bit of non-stick
spray and it worked fairly well. Very little
though so you don't make the saltines mushy.

Melt butter and brown sugar in a small saucepan. Once brown sugar is thoroughly mixed with the butter (you will have some "gritty-ness" to the mix, it never gets perfectly smooth), pour mixture over saltines  and bake for ten minutes. Take out of the oven and, while still hot, pour a layer of chocolate chips over the entire pan of saltines.

Place back into the oven for a couple of seconds, only long enough to soften the chocolate chips to a spreadable consistency and remove. Spread the now melted chocolate chips over the whole of the saltine bars and let cold until cool enough to handle. Put in the freezer to solidify. Once the chocolate has become solid, remove and break into pieces. Delicious!

Monday, December 9, 2013

C is for... Cookie Cutters!

I love baking and making cookies, much to the dismay of my waistline. There is something very homey, very sweet about making cookies. When making cookies, we envision some 1940's or 1950's housewife making them in the kitchen and having them ready when her beloved children burst in the door from school and there is this rosy sunny tint to this collective memory.

BUT... this isn't a blog about cookies, rather, this is to elevate the common cookie cutter.

I love cookie cutters. I collect cookie cutters. For something so basic, there are a multitude of variations and it's so fun to collect and see what else is new. No other season that the holiday season brings out the glory of the cookie cutter.

I think everyone's mom had these..

First and foremost, I think we all strive at some point to collect the cookie cutters of our youth. I think everyone's mom had some variation of these. My mom certainly didn't have all these and my husband's mom had those that my mom didn't. I collected these from a local craft co-op and I think half the fun is trying to get all of them. (I also have the bunny, the turkey and the lion).

Skull and mask from a business trip in New Orleans,
Heart biscuit cutter from Millington, Michigan and
Mickey Mouse cutters from Downtown Disney in Orlando.

Then there are those cookie cutters that I collected when I travel. Don't overlook cookie cutters as a souvenir. Cheap but unique, every time you make cookies with them it'll bring back charming memories of your trip. I love these.

Martha Stewart Moon cookie cutter (love the graphics),
and a "donut cutter".

Then there are the cutters that cost you a little more or or unique and you just have to have them. It took me a while to finally spring for the Martha Stewart moon cutter (I bought off Ebay so not as expensive as it was originally priced) and the cookies are so huge that I don't think I've ever used this cutter but I absolutely love it!

My newest find however isn't a cookie cutter at all, it's a cookie PRESS. These are fun in that instead of a flat cookie, you get an embossed cookie with a design. While this isn't a particularly new "cookie technology", they've been part of Scandavian and Bavarian designs for centuries, they are a new adventure for me and I love the look.

So grab your favorite cookie recipe and pull those cutters out of the closet. It is baking time my friends! Lets get to it!


Thursday, December 5, 2013

The Christmas Plan, or How To Actually Enjoy the Holidays....

Santa with baby Dixon
The holidays are all about joy, family and love… but there will be gifting involved and unless you want to spend December in a frenzy of putting yourself into debt and run a stress marathon, there needs to be a plan.

My goal every year is to be DONE by December 1st. Usually I’m right on target. This isn’t because I’m some super organized diva but rather, because December was always an iffy month for us. You see, my husband worked for a large photo-finishing company in Rochester NY and all my tradeshows and other major work were done by the end of October. Both of our companies typically would do layoffs in December in an effort to get the employees off the books by the New Year. Ironically, the one year I wasn’t worried about it was the one year that, on December 17th, I got pink slipped

Having a young child means that Santa has to come whether or not mom and/or dad have a job that year so to shield us away from the uncertainty, I created a plan that helped to have as much done before the month of December hit. Because most if not all of the stress of gift buying is finished and the debt has generally been paid throughout the year, you enter the New Year without a huge credit card bill in January. So here is the plan in ten simple steps.

  1. Start your shopping on December 26th.
    The best sales of anything holiday related is generally right after the holiday. I pick up any (non-food, non-expiration date) items such as candle gift sets, baskets, etc... and stash them for next year’s Christmas. This is the ideal time to buy your wrapping paper, gift tags, and holiday cards as well. I also will purchase solid wrapping paper that I use for baby showers, birthdays and other gifting occasions. This can be dressed up with ribbons, artificial flowers, etc. so that they don’t resemble anything like holiday gift wrap.
  2. Give Meaningful Gifts.
    Most of the time, the best gifts you give are the    
    Some beautiful beaded and the Ukrainan woven beaded necklaces
    found at Arts and Crafts Fairs.

    one’s that have the most meaning. While at an art and crafts festival last year, I met a woman that
    made beautiful Ukrainian beaded necklaces. I bought some for myself and loved them.
    Now, my grandmother had given me a beaded necklace that was well over 100 years old. It had broken in two because the threads were so old as to be brittle. I contacted this lady and had her make three necklaces, one for each grandchild out of this one necklace. This way, instead of having one child inherit a broken necklace, all three can pass this down to their children knowing they have a piece of family history that is well over a hundred years old.

    Now, you may not have an heirloom to pass down, but what about looking up a branch of the family history on a genealogy website that has always been unknown to your family and present that as a gift. Or create a family cookbook with all your family’s recipes and pictures. (Snapfish, and others will do this at a reasonable rate.)
  3. Make Your Gift.                                                    
    A homemade gift says I though enough about you
    to gift you the most precious things I have. My love
    and my time.

    Forget what the commercials say, when s
    omeone has actually spent time to put the loving energy to make you something you know you are loved. A crocheted scarf, a pair of knitted mittens, a piece of stained
    glass or a quilt that you made lets your recipient know they are cared about and that you took the time to actually make something for them. Let’s face it,
    anyone can buy something, it’s something really special when someone made something for you. And who knows? It may become the next heirloom.

  4. Not Crafty? Visit Craft Fairs Year around.                        
    Let me just say, craft fairs are fun. Some are better than others but you never know what you are going to 
    Unique gifts are remembered and not
    that hard to find at craft fairs.
    find. Some of the best gifts I’ve given or had made where from people I met and the local summer arts and craft fair.
    Handmade doesn’t always have to be your hands making them. You can find some of the best local artists this way and as you are helping your community by buying local (in most cases anyway) it’s kind of like gifting on the double, the money stays in the community. Some of the best things I’ve gotten at craft shows included: aforesaid beaded necklaces, welded sculpture out of reclaimed goods, a porcelain Cabbage Patch style doll and Maple Sugar (great for foodies).

  5. Shop for Stocking Stuffers Year Round.
    Back to school is an excellent time to find crayons and markers for next to nothing. Couple this with a few coloring books and you have a nice small gift or stocking stuffer. With couponing, you can often score free travel sized items, free cosmetics for your teenage girl or body spray for your teenage boy.

  6. Buy "Christmas Candy" on November 1st.
    As soon as Halloween is over, the candy typically goes on sale. Stock up on any fun sized candy bars that do not have any Halloween markings on them. Put in the deep freeze and they are good to go on December 24th.
  7. Do Your Christmas Cards by Thanksgiving or the Day After and Get Them Mailed Out.
    In the lull after everyone has been fed and gone home, sit at the table, count your blessing and get the cards addressed. It’ll take you ten to thirty minutes tops and you’ll get it done. If it takes more, then either get your children involved or cull your list. You shouldn’t go into debt to wish someone holiday greetings.
  8. As You Buy, So Shall You Wrap
    As soon as you get home and as soon as the recipient is out of sight (or in bed) wrap those gifts so you have one more thing done that doesn't pile up. 
  9. Check Out the Sales Year Round and Stock Up.
    One year, a national toy shop had buy one get one Hasbro games. What do you think each kid got as a gift that Christmas? Yankee Candle does a buy one get one usually around September or October. Sign up on their website and get the emails alerting you. I stock up at that time and they make wonderful gifts.
  10. Food Gifts Make Wonderful Gifts.                        Not everyone has someone to cook for them.Very often single people won’t take the time to create the traditional Christmas Cookies or fudge or peanut butter brittle. Or what about your famous Sunday Sauce or jam? When you are canning in the summer, make some extra for gifts. A gift of banana jam may be the one thing that a Grandma who used to can may absolutely love because she no longer does it herself.

This is how I get to spend my free time in December actually enjoying my family and going to fun and interesting places. I get it done early so I can enjoy the wonderment of the holiday season. Blessings to you and yours.


Monday, December 2, 2013

Home for the Holidays

The Gift of the Magi
For there lay The Combs--the set of combs, side and back, that Della had worshipped long in a Broadway window. Beautiful combs, pure tortoise shell, with jewelled rims--just the shade to wear in the beautiful vanished hair. They were expensive combs, she knew, and her heart had simply craved and yearned over them without the least hope of possession. And now, they were hers, but the tresses that should have adorned the coveted adornments were gone.
Jim had not yet seen his beautiful present. She held it out to him eagerly upon her open palm. The dull precious metal seemed to flash with a reflection of her bright and ardent spirit.
And here I have lamely related to you the uneventful chronicle of two foolish children in a flat who most unwisely sacrificed for each other the greatest treasures of their house. But in a last word to the wise of these days let it be said that of all who give gifts these two were the wisest.

                                                              The Gift of the Magi
                                                                              O. Henry

This is the play that was always performed a Crossroads’ (historical) Village when I was growing up. A hundred years ago, the holiday season was not what we know it today. Simple, homemade gifts were given to our loved ones as a token of affection. Christmas started becoming the commercial entity it is really when the soldiers came home from WWII. As the economy picked up, people were able to spend more and give their kids more than they had when they were kids. Then the fifties came along and it became all about keeping up with the Joneses. With each succeeding generation it escalates and it starts to seem that these once beloved holidays are simply one large commercial enterprise that starts in August and doesn’t end until January. Christmas morning often looks like the holiday tree threw up gifts.  And that handmade gift that someone took so long to put together with you in mind? The giver is now told that their time has been wasted because no one wants handmade gifts. Their told, “Give them something that they really want this year”…

A simple gift that says you thought of them.


That MP3 player is not likely to be an heirloom. That new phone? Replaced as soon as the newer model comes out. That must-have toy that you killed yourself getting? Forgotten about within a week.

Think about it. With the exception of maybe a few toys that you REALLY wanted, when you think of your holiday memories do you remember what you got each year? Probably not.

Ultimately the holidays are all about family. It’s about creating shared memories with the people that you love and care about more than anyone in the world. Family can be, but doesn’t need to be, blood. For some, “family” is that group of friends that are closer to you than anyone else in the world. Essentially family is what you make of it.

I was very lucky growing up to have a large extended family. Our holiday tradition included going “up to the farm” to spend time with the great grandparents, grandparents, great aunts, uncles and the multitude of cousins. It was great to be with all these people and have shared stories. We’d catch up on what each of us were doing and what was going on in each other’s lives. There would be clam chowder on the stove in the kitchenette in the basement, mom would bring her lasagna and there would be all sort of other

dishes and appetizers too numerous and delicious to list for all the aunts and uncles. The children would be all excited for we knew that at some designated point in the night, Santa would come to visit our clan and give us the first of our holiday gifts in front of our entire family. My father would become the elected “Santa’s Helper” and call every recipient’s name. While seeing the kids go up was fun, the best was when one of the aunts or uncles were called up and sat on Santa’s lap.

These are the things we remember. These are the things that are important.


So this year look around your community for opportunities to create memories. In our area there are a couple of historical parks, community events and community theatres. Go to your town’s tree lighting event. Go to the craft fairs and pick out something unique that someone handmade. Make it something meaningful. Meaningful is not bought a mall; it’s created with those you love.