‘Tis the Season

This year’s family Christmas card was inspired by a photo I took in August of Miss L with her cousins. It was such a fun shot and seemed well-suited for our card.

Of course, actually taking the photo was more of a challenge. The oldest was home for the blink of an eye over Thanksgiving, spending most of the visit with his friends. I quickly set up this shot and fired off the camera maybe 15 times before he bolted out the door, back to school. Harrumph.

Lucky for me that I ended up with several contenders for our card. Honey and I picked this one and I set off on making it into a card. That turned out to be the biggest challenge. Everything was too…something. Too busy. Too sweet. Too wrong. I played around with it on and off for about a week before I stripped out all the elements and started fresh, just the black-and-white photo. Added a wide border of white. The scalloped circle in red. And I knew: This was our card.

Sometimes, simpler is better.

Don’t miss the blog tour stops that have already been posted (Lisa, Susan and Jessica) and be sure to comment for you chance to win a copy of Little Girls, Big Style!

Handmade+Holidays

I’m so excited about the annual ICE Holiday Market this weekend not only because it’s a great chance to buy handmade gifts but because I’m going to be a vendor! Yes, my first craft show ever. I’m teaming up with Intown Quilters to bring copies of Little Girls, Big Style, kits so you can make projects from the book and some ready-to-wear items I’ve made. I’ve been sewing away, whipping up some cute skirts (and maybe a few more things!) to bring and plotting my booth space while I work. See you there!

Little Sweetness

I managed to just barely squeak out some Valentines for Miss L’s party today. It was actually a 100th day of school party with a Valentine exchange thrown in, which gave me a couple of extra days to pull everything together.

This year was a little more of a struggle, for some reason. I was trying to figure out some cute yet practical way to package individually decorated cookies but kept coming up with expensive, wasteful packaging ideas. When Megan Tweeted about these cute Valentines I had a little spark of inspiration. (Many thanks to Alissa for sharing the original idea!)

We had that little snow thing on Friday, so outdoor pictures weren’t going to happen. Instead, I used my favorite quick-photo spot — my foyer — and went to town with some digiscrapping elements from the Shabby Princess. I thought it would be fun to break out of the circle with her arm and the lollipop, almost like she really was literally reaching out of the card with the treat. An X-acto knife made quick work of cutting the slits for the lollipop stick.

They were lots of fun to make and L proclaimed them “just wonderful” when she saw them this morning. That makes them a total hit in my book.

Reflect

My kids head back to school tomorrow, officially bringing the holidays to a close. The boys are busy tonight, packing up all the Christmas decorations, which makes for a visible return to “normalcy” in the house. As much as I like the sparkle and hum of the holidays, I find that I miss the routine of our everyday lives by the year’s end. It’s not until the routine of life resumes that I truly think of the holidays as being over.

I’m not sad to see 2009 go. There were some great high points last year but it had its fair share of lows, too. As the final days of the year approached, I found myself wishing for time to speed up and the new year to dawn so I could have a fresh start.

That’s not to say the year ended on a bad note. Far from it! With my oldest child off hunting with his grandfather, I found myself traveling with the other two kids to my hometown — and a bit beyond — to catch up with family and friends. It was such an amazing time, catching up with everyone. And while I managed to neglect my camera somewhat, I did capture some great pictures of the impish Miss L with my Tante (my late mom’s older sister). We were truly surrounded by love everywhere we went.

It was a good send off to a year I’m happy to see gone. That chapter has ended and the one that’s just beginning hints at better things to come.

Three

Traditions guide our holiday celebrations, from setting up the Christmas tree and decorations the weekend after Thanksgiving to the big brunch I cook and serve on Christmas morning. Yet, this year, our Christmas was less steeped in tradition than ever.

For the first time, my sons were not home for the holidays. It was, if you will, a foreshadowing of the mostly-empty nest that we’ll soon be experiencing. While the boys hung out with their grandparents in a neighboring state, we spent Christmas as a family of three.

And it was nice.

Quiet.

Different.

Fortunately Miss L is just like her big brothers in one respect: she slept until after 9 on Christmas morning. But the pace of having one small girl at home is far different than that of having three — with two of them gregarious teenagers. And her appetite is much less, so our brunch was three items rather than 10.

Traditions are nice but sometimes you just have to adapt.

Signs Everywhere

The first part of my Independence Day was again spent in the middle of Atlanta, watching my son and 54,999 others take part in the annual Peachtree Road Race 10K. It’s really a great race to run, as well as watch. I have only participated twice; the distance and course are just a little more than my left knee can handle, so I’ve become a cheerleader instead.

That’s my boy up there on the left, after we met up at the post-race family area. He’s holding this year’s motivational sign. Yeah, we have kinda messed up senses of humor around here. The first year’s sign was “Run fast, Josh! Don’t embarrass your parents!” Last year’s read “Go, Josh! Run fast or walk home!” It’s quite entertaining to see his expression as he reads the sign while running past.

A sign of another kind really moved me. I read it and walked past, then walked back to ask if I could take her picture. Truly a priceless moment for me, the quiet inspiration of a total stranger.

* * * * * * *

We’ve been working on a tradition the past couple of years and spending July 4th with another family. It actually worked out this year that we did the race together (my friend T ran her first Peachtree while her hubby cheered on) before heading to their house for a cookout. It just so happens that T’s birthday falls around this time, so we also were able to celebrate the big day (31 — wooohoooo!). We got home from the race and I whipped up some potato salad and a cake to take with us.

T loves my cakes and I love making them. Unfortunately, I didn’t get started on her cake until about 90 minutes before we had to leave. And the results were … well, see for yourself:

My family has affectionately begun referring to this as “the earthquake cake.” I really made so many mistakes along the way that there’s not one single cause for what happened. If you’d like to avoid something similar, consider these points:

• It is possible for a cake to be too moist.

• Icing a slightly warm cake is never a good idea.

• Halving a ganache recipe only works if you actually measure all your ingredients instead of eyeballing them.

• A cake board underneath your assembled cake is a must when using ganache.

• Sticking a warm cake, freshly coated in warm ganache, in the freezer to harden a bit for transporting is not always the best idea — especially if there’s not a cake board underneath, because your ganache will harden and cling to your wire rack like concrete.

At some point in the not-so-distant past, a cooking disaster like this would have sent my OCD into overdrive and necessitated the disposal of said cake into the trash, never to be seen again. But I really didn’t want to disappoint my friend and I was pretty sure that, in spite of its appearance, it was going to taste just fine. Awesome, in fact.

After a good laugh and many jokes at my expense (especially after one whole section of the top layer stuck to the cake dome), everyone dug in to what turned out to be one of the best tasting cakes I’ve ever made. Not even crumbs were left.

Ho-ho-holiday Time

It’s June 25th and you know what that means: only six months left until Christmas!

Hey, I heard that! Don’t move on to the next blog before giving me a chance to explain.

Like so many others, I have grand plans when it comes to the holidays. I always intend to make X number of gifts. Of course, this impulse typically hits around Thanksgiving and the fact of the matter is that there’s just not enough time to make something for everyone in those last few weeks leading up to Dec. 25.

This year, however, I’m starting earlier — and I’m dragging you, dear reader, along with me. Welcome to the Crafty Christmas Countdown! It’s the six-month (more or less) plan to make the 2008 holidays filled with a few more handmade things and a few less manufactured gifts. I’ll be posting regularly not only my progress but also tons of gift ideas for everyone on your list with links to patterns, free tutorials and even ready-made gifts by other crafters.

Feel free to grab the graphic to post on your own blog or site. I’m also looking for gift ideas to feature, so zip an email to me at mac (at) flourishes dot com with your great idea. Now, on with the crafty gifting!

Everyone has someone on her list who could use a little pampering. (Heck, most of us probably could!) Start with a spa towel wrap, courtesy of this tutorial at CraftStylish. Think how great this would be with a towel that matches the recipient’s decor, or even her favorite color. You can even make a matching hair-wrap towel with the tute here. Add a great bath bomb or salts (like the all-natural Bergamot-Rose Bath Bomb from Dustpan Alley). One of my favorite stress relievers is a scented eye pillow and Amy Butler makes it easy to make one for gifting with a free pattern. (Click on the link, then the Free Pattern link on the site.) While you’re at it, make a few extras to stick in stockings or to have on hand when you need a little something to give that’s more personal than a gift card to the coffee shop.