Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Trees and Dogs

I have two random things to share with you today so I thought I would lump them together into one post. 

First, in art class we carved lino blocks and printed the designs onto blue-striped IKEA tea towels. You can see them in the photos above - the green trees are mine and the red trees are my mom's. Have you ever done any printing? It is a very satisfying project.

I printed evergreen trees down the sides of the tea towel and then dipped a pencil eraser into silver paint and dotted the sky with stars (I'm sure you knew those were stars, right?)  It is a fun project and I like that you end up with a useful item.  I'm using mine as a table runner rather than a tea towel. 


It was the husband's birthday last Friday and we celebrated on Friday with dinner out and on Saturday with lunch out with the family.

It was a significant birthday so the kids and I went all out and did some extra special things for him. One of the things we did was list all his accomplishments on a long paper. It was so long I hung it across the lights in the dining room. We had fun reading them together and adding more things we had forgotten to the list.

And the really big news is that the husband is getting a dog for his birthday. And no I didn't wrap a dog up in that big box on the table - it if filled with dog paraphernalia. The husband has wanted a dog since Juno passed away in February, but I have been reluctant to get another one because of the difficulties when you want to go away. There is always give-and-take in a marriage and since this was the husband's heart's desire it seemed the perfect time to give it to him (well the permission to get his heart's desire anyway, as getting a dog is turning out to be quite the process). 

A funny thing happened - on Wednesday I bought a dog collar to give him as a placeholder for the actual dog and tucked it carefully away. The next day I realized I had no idea where I had put the present (honestly, I can be so absent-minded sometimes) and the husband's birthday was the next day. So at lunch on Friday I had to run out and buy another placeholder. Since I was in the pet store anyway, I decided to buy a bunch of things like a dog bed and a leash and some food which is why the box was so big. 

Now we just need to find the right little dog - one that will fit the adorable coat and sweater I bought for it!

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Christmas Craft Party

Last weekend was my third annual Christmas Craft Party. There's nothing better than spending an evening sitting around eating and chatting with friends from my art class while we make Christmas crafts.

So here is what we made this year.


What you need:
  • twigs and sticks in a range of thicknesses
  • acrylic paint - red, flesh-coloured, white
  • corn starch
  • paint brushes
  • trays for the paint 
  • popsicle sticks for mixing
  • black Sharpie

This was probably my favourite craft of the evening. My Mom and I collected twigs at the cottage about a month ago so we could make these Santas. We chose twigs that were a range of thicknesses from about a pencil size to a couple of centimeters across. We used the large clippers to cut the end on an angle to form the hat. Then we painted the hat red and the face using flesh-coloured paint. We mixed corn starch with white paint to make the beard fluffy and we added eyes using a Sharpie. I made more Santas on the day after the party (it isn't easy for me to get much done during the party itself so I took advantage of having everything set up and I crafted the next day too before I cleaned up) and on some of the Santas I used fluffy white wool for the beard, instead of paint.


This craft really got everyone being creative and making different things which is always fun to see what everyone does.

What you need:
  • twigs and sticks in a variety of sizes and shapes
  • wire to hold the sticks in a round shape
  • ribbon, wool, twine, baker's string, fake berries to decorate the letters
  • blocks of wood
  • clippers, scissors, wire cutters
  • glue guns

My Mom and I gathered all the twigs we would need for this craft at the cottage too. I kept them in the garage so they would stay pliable which seemed to work. I want to give a shout-out to Lowe's and Rona as both stores gave me wood blocks for free and even cut a few scrap pieces up for me. I was so grateful as I didn't want to spend a lot on the craft projects and I had initially tried one other hardware store and they had said no, so I was very happy when Rona and Lowe's were so generous.

I made more letters on Sunday. I finished up "NOEL" which you can see in the back row of the first photo that is missing an "L" (get it, no 'L'. Ha! Ha! I crack myself up) and made "JOY" as well.


We've done this craft for three years in a row so this will be the last one, but I really wanted to do it again so I would have a bowl full of carved oranges. I only had four and that just isn't a good number to display so now I have seven and I'm good to go.

What you need:

  • oranges
  • carving set
  • bowl to put peels in

The only trick to this craft is to make sure the oranges are really dried out before putting them on display. I do that by putting them on our floor heat vent for two weeks and then they are fine.

I have to say that this craft party is one of my favourite Christmas activities. I love sitting around chatting and visiting with people who like to play with twigs. 

By the way, if you are curious what we made in previous years, you can see them here, here, and more details here.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Christmas Cookie Week - Speculaas Cookies


The Speculaas cookies I made last year were such a hit that I had to make them again this Christmas. Last year I used the cookie plank I was given when I lived in the Netherlands years ago. This year I wanted to try decorating them with almonds which I remember was often used on speculaas cookies in the Netherlands. It was fun to arrange the whole almonds and slivered almonds into flowers and stars or just into patterns. Sometimes I got lazy and just put an almond in the middle of the cookie though, which also looked good.

I always consider it a happy coincidence that my husband was born on the day when Sinterklaas is celebrated in the Netherlands (December 5th). When I met my husband I had just returned from living in Utrecht for a year and I loved that his birthday was on such an important Dutch holiday. Well that day is today and my handsome husband is celebrating a milestone birthday, which he feels the less said about the better. I however am quite excited about the plans I have cooked up (can't reveal anything on the blog in case he finds out though).  Happy Birthday Honey!

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Christmas Cookie Week - Mom's Oatmeal M&M Cookies

Last year I made M&M Chocolate Chip Cookies. They were fantastic and very popular, but the life of a blogger is that you have to change things up. So this year I decided to make similar cookies, but with a slight variation - my Mom's Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies with festive M&Ms.

1 cup margarine or butter
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
2 eggs
1/4 cup milk
I cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole-wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
3 1/4 cups quick-cooking oats
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup sunflower seeds
1/2 cup chocolate chips
1 package Christmas M&Ms

1. Combine first five ingredients
2. Add flours, put soda on top and mix into flour
3. Beat into liquids
4. Add oats and raisins, sunflower seeds, and chocolate chips
5. Drop by teaspoon onto baking sheet
6. Bake 350F for 14-15 minutes. When there is about 5 minutes left on the baking time gently put a few M&Ms on each cookie. Makes 45 cookies.

I can never decide which I like better - chocolate chip cookies or oatmeal chocolate chip cookies. Life is full of difficult decisions. So if you want regular chocolate chip cookies you can check out last year's post (here) or if you want oatmeal chocolate chip cookies you can give these ones a try. They both taste fantastic.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Christmas Cookie Week - Brownie Bites

I know I have shared this recipe on the blog before, but it is a great tried-and-true recipe and you can never have too many of those. Our family loves brownies so I have to make them every year for the Christmas cookie plate. I thought long and hard about how to change them up this year and finally decided to make them into mini two-bite brownie muffins. 

I put chocolate chips into the batter rather than icing the brownies so they would be easier to freeze. Using chocolate chips might sound like a good idea, but I had my doubts when I tried to take the first batch of cooked brownies out of the tray. All the chocolate chips had stuck to the pan and most of the brownies came out broken into pieces. So I'm passing along my tip for how to avoid this problem. What I did was pour the batter into each well and then add a few chocolate chips on top and gently smooth some of the batter over the chocolate chips. That worked like a charm and the brownies all came out of the pans like they should after that.

Here's the recipe:

2 squares unsweetened chocolate
1/3 cup butter or margarine
2/3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
3/4 cup chocolate chips (or more if you want a thicker icing)

1. Melt chocolate with butter in microwave on medium heat.
2. Mix together flour, baking powder, and salt.
3. Beat eggs, then gradually add in sugar.
4. Blend in chocolate mixture and vanilla.
5. Stir in flour mixture.
6. Spread in greased 8-inch square pan (or muffin pans)
7. Bake at 350 for 25-30 minutes or until brownies begin to pull away from sides of pan.  

You can can see my usual easy brownie icing here and my brownie s'more version here.


Don't forget to come back every day this week to see what other cookies and squares I made.