Merry Christmas!

I’m taking a few days to spend with my darling daughters and play with their Christmas presents. I’ll be monitoring Facebook and our Etsy shop, but the blog will be quiet while I take a little vacation. I hope you all have a wonderful Christmas. Thank you for being part of my year!

(Illustration by Maree Truelove Illustration & Design)

A Christmas Message

While I close up shop for a few days to spend Christmas with my family, I want to share with you an excerpt from a sermon my father preached on Christmas Eve, 1982. We’ve had a blessed — and messy — year, and we are more fortunate than many right now. It’s not a “holly, jolly Christmas” type of sermon, so be forewarned, but that’s sort of the point.

We’re usually surrounded by aspirational parties and happy, smiling children on this site. As lovely as that is, I’m so cognizant that our life is messier than the pictures show — as, I’m sure, are your lives. And so I’m grateful for a God who came down to be with us in the mess — the mess that befalls us and that we make for ourselves. So from my messy house to yours, Merry Christmas, and God Bless.

Christmas Eve 1982 Christ Church + Washington Parish, Washington, D.C.

Mangers
are messy.
And into a manger,
God came down.
The Word became flesh—
not a smiling baby Superman,
crowned with a golden halo,
lying there listening
to angelic cantatas.
The Word was made flesh—
just a red and wrinkled infant,
crying when he wanted milk,
and messing up his swaddling clothes
when he got it.
The Word has made flesh—
that is,
God became mundane . . . messy—
God got all messed up—
God got human.
And humanity?
Well, humanity got holy.
And a few people noticed—
some ordinary folk and some important folk,
some shepherds and some kings.
And now, today
Santa is the symbol
of both the human and the holy,
Santa the saint
of the sacred and the secular;
down the chimney,
or in the manger . . .
Let me tell you
how it happens.

Wednesday afternoon
I got a call—
churches get lots of calls at Christmas.
This call was from Lawrence;
Lawrence had called before;
Lawrence was laid off again.
The call was local and collect;
Lawrence wanted a ham for Christmas—
He’d spotted one at the Safeway
For $11.35, he said.

When Lawrence got here,
we sat down and talked a little,
about how it was;
and it wasn’t very good—
no job, no food, no fun;
but the rent was paid ‘til January 1st.
I like Lawrence;
he’s from North Carolina—
and always had ham for Christmas as a boy.

We went down to the basement
to see if we could find
a coat for his son.
I wasn’t very hopeful—
since not much had come in
since the last rummage sale.
But we rummaged around—
not finding anything, really,
except an awful lot of books.
And then, tucked away behind the junk,
way over in the corner,
there was a box.
And what a box!
caps and mittens and jerseys,
and a little fleece-lined denim jacket—
and some turtleneck sweaters,
just his wife’s size!
Lawrence was so excited . . .
and so was I . . .
it was like Christmas . . .

And then . . .
I saw a name . . .
and I knew whose things these were—
and, Oh,
it was Christmas and Good Friday and Easter
all in one.
For these were Alexander’s things,
and the sweaters were Anne’s,
his mother.
And you remember,
Alexander and Anne,
don’t you (some of you)
Alexander’s father (with a knife)
killed the little boy and his mother Anne,
and then killed himself . . .
And the family
came to this old church
for help with their awful mess;
and we did what we could—
and buried them quietly
one evening this fall.

Mangers can get messy;
but somehow
God is there.
God gets through,
no matter what we do (or don’t)—
Only God is God;
and God gets through;
down a chimney,
or in a manger—
on a cross,
or in a tomb—
God gets through.
It is a Mystery.

Christmas is a very human time
because it is a very holy time—
And being holy is simply
the art of dealing well with people.
Or to put it another way,
loving one another.
making someone feel “at home”—
that is, safe, unafraid,
giving them sanctuary.
So Christmas is also a very homey time—
because home is where we are most human,
however messy the manger may be.

Early tomorrow morning,
I’m going to a rather messy manger—
called “My Sister’s Place.”
It’s a “safe-house” (a sanctuary)
for battered women and children;
and it really is pretty messy.
But it is also home, right now,
to 15 children and their mothers—
a very human and very holy place.
Michelle invited me,
last Thanksgiving;
and I accepted, as your emissary.
I’m going as a Saint of the Church,
in rented red vestments
and a fake white beard.
I’m going as an Angel of the Lord
to say to them,
HO HOHO! Be not afraid!
I’m going there because you are here;
and for that
I thank you.

BECAUSE—
The people who walked in the darkness
have seen a great light—
Lawrence and his little family;
those who dwelt in the land
of deep darkness—
Alexander and his mother, Anne, and his father—
on them
has light shined.
And the angel of the Lord,
appeared to them—
call the angel Michelle or Janice or Lorrie—
and the angel said to them,
said to Jorge (2 1/2) and Antonia (5),
and Basil and Macio and Issa and Dale
Nathaniel, Marlando, Cathy, Antoinette,
Alex, Melvin, Ami, Waiyaki, and their mothers,
said to them,
“Be not afraid.”

— The Rev. Dr. H.L.H. Myers

Christmas Eve, Christmas Morning and Christmas Day Menus

Every year, I get my December issue of Southern Living and see terrific new recipes to try for Christmas, and I never make them. I just keep coming back to these menus because they are reliable and I can do much of the work ahead of time. Everyone likes them, so why mess with success?

Here are the menus and recipes or links to recipes.

Christmas Eve Menu

  • Ritz Carlton Turkey
  • Pecan Cranberry Wild Rice
  • Strawberry Salad
  • Allen’s Green Beans (open the can and heat on the stove)
  • Bread
  • Red Wine
  • Pecan Pie
  • Vanilla Ice Cream

Christmas Morning Menu

  • Paula Deen French Bread Casserole (Three notes: 1 – I don’t do the extra syrup because this is plenty sweet without syrup. 2 – There also is a “light” version if you are horrified by the calorie count. I say just don’t look at the calories once a year. 3. Use the super skinny French bread because it’s easier to completely cover with the cream mixture.)
  • Leftover strawberries
  • Bacon
  • Mimosas (OK, I’ve never actually made Christmas morning mimosas, but a girl can dream.)

Christmas Day Menu

  • Lasagne
  • Caesar Salad
  • Leftover Bread
  • Leftover Wine
  • Leftover Pie

Here are the recipes.

Ritz Carlton Atlanta Slow Cooker Turkey

(I have modified this one slightly. It’s a favorite and we also make it at the beach. LOVE this turkey, especially because you can put it in the Crock Pot in the afternoon, go to Christmas Eve services and come back to dinner already made.)

1 boneless turkey breast, about 5 pounds

Coarse salt and ground black pepper, to taste

1/4 cup Madeira wine

1 onion, halved and thinly sliced

1/2 teaspoon thyme leaves

1 large garlic clove, thinly sliced

1 tablespoon honey

Remove netting from turkey and rinse turkey. Cut off excess skin. Season the turkey with salt and pepper. Place plastic liner in oval slow cooker. Place breast side up in slow cooker. Pour Madeira over the turkey; add onion, thyme, garlic and honey. Seal with lid and cook on high heat for 3 to 4 hours, turning once.

Remove turkey to a cutting board and drape with tin foil. Let turkey rest before slicing. Pour broth into a fat separator or remove grease with a spoon. Strain the broth into a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Taste and adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper. Keep warm over low heat.

When ready to serve, thinly slice the turkey, then spoon Pecan Wild Rice onto the plate. Place turkey on top of rice and spoon over some of the reserved warm broth. Serve immediately. (It was suggested that you serve with Persimmon Creek Riesling, $22.99.)

Ritz Carlton Atlanta Pecan Wild Rice

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

3 cups cooked white rice, such as basmati

1-1/2 cups cooked wild rice

1 cup chopped pecans

1/4 dried cranberries (optional: add apricots and currants also)

Coarse salt and ground black pepper to taste

Heat butter in a large skillet over medium heat until melted. Add rice, wild rice, pecans and dried fruit. Stir to combine. Taste and adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper. Serves six. You could make this ahead of time and reheat it.

Lasagne

For lasagne, I just follow the recipe on the back of the Barilla no-boil lasagne noodle box, but I make my own sauce. Here’s the recipe.

Spaghetti Sauce
1 28 oz can tomato sauce (I use Hunt’s w/o Italian spices)
1 can tomato paste (again, Hunt’s, no Italian spices)
1/2 medium to large Vidalia onion, chopped
1 T olive oil
1 lb. ground beef
1/2 t oregano
1/2 t basil
1/4 t thyme
1 bay leaf
1 t garlic, diced
splash of Worcestershire sauce
splash of cooking wine (or the real stuff)
salt to taste
pepper to taste

Over medium heat, in large skillet (that you can cover) or pot, saute onion in olive oil til onion begins to brown. Add meat and brown, segmenting meat as you go. Pour off grease. Add tomato sauce, most of tomato paste, and then all other ingredients.Turn heat to low, cover, and stir periodically.

Jack Daniel’s Chocolate Chip Pecan Pie

Pecan pie with a kick. Warn your tee-totaling family members.

3 extra large eggs, lightly beaten

1 cup sugar

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

1 cup dark corn syrup

¼ cup whiskey

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

½ cup semisweet chocolate morsels

1 cup whole pecans

1 10-inch pie crust

Combine eggs, sugar, butter, syrup, vanilla and whiskey. Mix well, then strain. Sprinkle chocolate chips over the bottom of the unbaked pie crust; cover with pecans. Pour filling over chips and pecans. Bake at 375 degrees for 35 to 40 minutes, or until a knife inserted halfway between the center and the edge comes out clean. Set aside for at least 30 minutes before cutting.

Shopping List
My favorite part of using the same recipes each year is that I don’t have to make a new shopping list. Please note: this list assumes you have staples like spices on hand.
  • White rice
  • Wild rice
  • Dried cranberries
  • Chopped pecans (2 cups)
  • Whole pecans
  • Vanilla
  • Red wine
  • Madeira
  • Honey
  • Evaporated milk
  • Eggs (2 dozen)
  • Brown sugar
  • Dark Kayro syrup
  • Light Kayro syrup
  • Cinnamon
  • Nutmeg
  • Stick butter unsalted
  • 5 lb. boneless turkey breast
  • Vidalia onion – 2
  • Red onion
  • Dinner bread
  • Refrigerated pie crusts (the kind you unroll) – 2 packages
  • Vanilla ice cream
  • Jack Daniel’s whiskey
  • Semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • Allen’s green beans
  • Arugula or bag of spring mix lettuce
  • Sliced sugared almonds or chopped walnuts (for strawberry salad)
  • Strawberries
  • Shaved Parmesan cheese
  • Balsamic vinegar
  • 1.5 lb. sweet potatoes
  • 1.5 lb. Yukon gold potatoes
  • 2 cups shredded Gruyere cheese
  • Sugar
  • Milk
  • Half & Half (2 cups)
  • Heavy cream (3 cups)
  • Loaf French bread
  • Bread crumbs
  • 28 oz. tomato sauce
  • 1 can tomato paste
  • 1 pound hamburger
  • Worcestershire sauce
  • Barilla no-boil lasagne noodles
  • 15 oz. ricotta cheese
  • 4 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese

Polka Dot Christmas Break Fun Jar Craft

We have 17 days to fill over Christmas break, and while the holiday and visits with family and friends will take up some of that time, I know I’m going to need to have some fun projects ready to go for our six-year-old twin girls. Hence the Christmas Break Fun Jar! Take a cookie jar, use The TomKat Studio Vintage Rudolph printables, and embellish with whatever you have on hand. I used ribbon scraps and jingle bells left over from our teacher gifts.

Inside, I used more of Kim’s printables: one a day, each with an activity for the day. Each card went into an A2 size red envelope from Hobby Lobby so the activity would stay a surprise. I chose ideas that we could do any day, so it doesn’t matter what the girls draw when. (We won’t draw on Christmas.)

By choosing all our activities ahead of time, I can pre-purchase any supplies we need. I also can decide what our activity budget is, so most of the ideas are inexpensive at-home crafts. The girls will take turns drawing cards, which I’m hoping will eliminate the squabbles we sometimes have about how to spend an afternoon!

Off to play board games and drink cocoa!

Here are all of our plans (plus a few extra) — maybe you can use some, too!

  1. Make coffee filter snowflakes.
  2. Bake pretzel treats.
  3. Wrap gifts (this may sound mundane, but Meg and Grace love wrapping).
  4. Make crayons (this is making new crayons out of broken crayon bits).
  5. Birthday party craft #1 (they love helping plan their parties).
  6. Birthday party craft #2.
  7. Playdate.
  8. Make playdough.
  9. Take Christmas photos (can’t believe we still haven’t done this).
  10. Science experiment (we got a science kit last year and haven’t used it yet).
  11. Decorate playroom for New Year’s Eve (I’ll be sharing this one with you).
  12. Drive around to see Christmas lights.
  13. Make cookies for Santa.
  14. Ice skating.
  15. Practice rainbow cake for birthday party.
  16. Go see Chipmunks movie.
  17. Do red/green at-home mani pedis.
  18. Family slumber party under the Christmas tree (this was my hubby’s idea).
  19. Shop for sister’s gift.
  20. Drop off Toys for Tots donation (I think it’s important for the girls to be involved and understand that not all kids will have a holiday like theirs).
  21. Lego-building contest.
  22. Make orange and clove pomanders.

Enjoy! Jennifer

Freebie Friday: Reindeer Food Tags

Last year, we sprinkled reindeer food on the front lawn for the first time, and the girls loved it! Our Christmas Eve tradition is an early service at church, Crock-Pot dinner (I have a great recipe I’ll share with you), then jammies, riding around to see the lights, setting out the cookies for Santa and finally bed. Whew! So you would think we couldn’t add more to the night, but you’d be wrong!

Reindeer food is basically dry oatmeal, glitter, sugar crystals … really, whatever you want to throw in there. Your kids can help make it; proportions don’t really matter. Just mix it up and you’re good. Package it in baggies, top with one of these cute printables, and then let your children sprinkle it on the lawn.

The light from Rudolph’s nose will make glitter shine and guide Santa’s way to your house!

Shindig Parties TO GO: FREE Reindeer Food Tags

{Free Printables} Reindeer Food Tags! | The TomKat Studio

Freebies –  Whimsie Doodles

Polka Dot Inspired Teacher’s Gift

A week or so back, Sally of Polka Dot Market posted on Facebook about these red and green polka dot tumblers. They are $5.99 each or two for $10 at CVS. Sally mentioned how great they would be as teacher gifts and another commenter suggested adding ribbon and a jingle bell.

I know a good idea when I read one, so I ran out to our CVS, and added a Starbucks gift card, red crinkle paper and a TomKat Studio gift card from Kim’s Vintage Rudolph collection.

I checked yesterday, and my CVS still has these no-sweat tumblers in stock, so it’s not too late for you to jump on this bandwagon.

Enjoy! Jennifer

P.S. And yes, we need to work on the spelling of “from.”

Real Party: Braydon’s Polar Express 7th Birthday

My girls’ friend Braydon had a fun and beautiful Polar Express birthday party on Saturday and I couldn’t resist taking pictures and sharing it with you. (Please excuse the photography that does not do the party justice!)

Braydon’s mom Tricia turned her whole first floor — including garage and backyard — into a winter wonderland that all the kids loved. (And can I just say there were 25 kids in attendance and they all had a great time!) Are you ready to be impressed? Not including food, Tricia created this entire party on a $95 budget! We love thrifty, crafty moms!

So let’s start with Tricia’s homemade invitation — a train ticket: perfect.

Tricia used clipart that she found online to create the invitations and then she personlized it using PowerPoint. She also offers this great tip: “If you are doing a Polar Express birthday theme, there is a great website, polarexpress.com. The website has printable games, coloring pages, name tags, and other ideas to use.”

The party started at 6 p.m. and so our first order of business was pizza for the kids and hot hors d’oeuvres for the adults. From Tricia’s dining room table chandelier, she hung snowflakes to set the mood.

In fact, Tricia’s entire home was charmingly decorated for the holidays, and I thought she was so smart to choose a party theme that took advantage of the Christmas decor she already had displayed. She did an amazing job of incorporating natural elements, like magnolia leaves and walnuts — I would never have thought of walnuts! And I love her colors: green and bronze. So how great is this grouping of one mirror and two old frames?

After pizza, the kids went to the garage to decorate gingerbread houses. So once again, hats off to Tricia, because it would not have occurred to me to use my garage when in need of extra space! But with two long card tables and a space heater, this was the perfect setting. Tricia pre-made all the gingerbread houses out of graham crackers and then provided every kind of candy imaginable and zip top baggies of royal icing for the kids to work with. (She averaged 5 houses for 1 box of graham crackers.)

I love that Braydon and his younger brother helped Tricia make the royal icing and put the gingerbread houses together. Tricia even shared her great royal icing recipe with us! 4 cups of confectioners sugar and 3 tablespoons of meringue powder sifted together (meringe powder found in baking section of Walmart, Michael’s or JoAnn’s). Add 6 tablespoons of water and mix with electric mixer 5-7 minutes. It took 6 batches to put together 30 houses and to make 30 individual frosting bags.

The boys enjoyed this activity every bit as much as the girls, although I saw two differences between the groups that made me chuckle. One – they divided themselves into a boy table and a girl table — no intermixing. Two – the boys finished this activity much more quickly than the girls, who created more detailed houses. The boys did their decorating and then ran for Braydon’s plastic swords and Nerf guns!

Here’s the birthday boy.

Once the girls finished their houses, they went to the backyard to play. Tricia borrowed some lights and inflatables from her mother (love using what you have!) to create the backyard wonderland (which also was warmed with space heaters and a fire pit). When the boys realized all the girls were outside, they went on the attack. To the girls’ credit, they bravely guarded the nutcracker gate and did not let the boys pass without correctly guessing the password!

We rounded the kids back up for present opening and “cake” — Braydon prefers brownies and Rice Krispy bars, so they stood in for a cake — smart mamma! During all this, the door bell rang and Braydon received a surprise guest: Santa!

Then it was back outside for marshmallow roasting.

At the end of the night, each child took home a goody bag that Tricia decorated with a tag from The Polar Express and a felt reindeer that she made. Inside each goody bag was a necklace that Tricia made. The boys and girls loved these and  you can see Braydon wearing his in the photo above. A local elementary school student created the idea for these necklaces; you can find them under the brand name  Zanzy Bands. But since Tricia had 25 goody bags to make, she created her own from pony tail holders and  “O” rings found in the make-your-own jewelry section at Walmart, Michael’s or JoAnn’s. The goody bags also included candy (always a hit) and — of course — a bell, proof of Santa for all those who believe.

Many thanks to Tricia for letting me share Braydon’s party!

Christmas Party Brownie Bite Treats

Both my girls have their class Christmas parties today, so on Sunday, we got busy in the kitchen. Our plan was to make brownie pops. I’d read somewhere that you could use two brownie bites to make the ball for brownie pops, and I was excited about that time-saver. But, it didn’t work for me. The brownie bites did not want to merge and, even though they were moist, they crumbled.

But there I was with two tubs of brownie bites and I wasn’t going to let myself eat them (or at least all of them), so we improvised! All I did was dip each brownie bite about 1/3 of the way into red candy melt and then dip it into snowflake sprinkles. Best part: Grace got to help and she is very proud of her work! Here’s hoping this is an easy way for your to dress up your own Christmas treats.

Enjoy! Jennifer

Freebie Friday: Christmas Subway Art, Bell Countdown and Tags!

Today, Freebie Friday is bringing you three Christmas printables from three terrific designers. Just remember, all these printable are for personal use only.

Subway Art

This Christmas subway art is from Laura Londergan of Eye Candy Event Details. I love the pop of aqua with the red and bright green. This print is sized for an 8 x 10 frame but could easily be enlarged to fit an 11 x 14 or whatever size you needed. Print it out at home or take it to a printer for a larger size. Laura creates new subway art monthly, so be sure to visit her site to see what’s up for January.

Eye Candy Event Details: {FREE Christmas Subway Art} print for download.

Eye Candy Event Details specializes in the little details that give your event that special touch. They provide decor, invitations, card boxes, graphics and logos for weddings, birthdays, and showers.

Read her blog: http://eyecandyeventdetails.blogspot.com/

Follow her on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/eyecandyeventdetails?ref=ts

Shop her store: Etsy > Eye Candy Event Details

Christmas Countdown Bell 

Remember yesterday’s great Christmas Countdown Bell from Green Beansie Cards? Well another friend from Martha Stewart’s Dreamers Into Doers also created ANOTHER bell printable just for Double the Fun Parties readers! This bell from Lisa of HR Creative takes a more modern approach and uses a jingle bell. Very cute!

You can download it here: http://www.scribd.com/doc/75125906

HR Creative designs personalized printable party products and stationery designs. Lisa’s services also include graphic design, logo design and web graphics. (And be sure to click the Free Printables tag on her blog!)

Read her blog: http://hendersonrubincreative.blogspot.com/

Follow her on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/hendersonrubincreative

Shop her store: Etsy > HR Creative Design

Tags and Subway Art

Our last freebies come from Kathy of Tickled Peach Studio (who, by the way, is practically my neighbor). She has a full Holly Jolly printables collection available on her Etsy shop. But first you’ll want to drop by her blog to see the cute party photos and pick up these free parts of the collection.

Click here for Kathy’s printables: http://tickledpeachstudio.com/2011/12/holly-jolly-christmas-collection-free-printables/

Tickled Peach Studio offers personalized printable invitations, announcements, party decor, and much more. Kathy also loves custom orders and metro Atlanta area party styling.

Read her blog: http://tickledpeachstudio.com/

Follow her on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/tickledpeachstudio

Shop her store: Etsy > Tickled Peach Studio

Free Christmas Countdown Printable

You may have seen this idea before, but I never had, so I wanted to share it with you. My daughter brought home a Christmas countdown bell from school last week — and I love the idea. (Way to go Mrs. Long!) I thought you might like a version for your own family. So I turned to Wendy Oliver of Green Beansie Cards and she volunteered to create this printable version just for you!

The poem on the bell reads:
December 1st to Christmas is the longest time of the year.
Seems as though old Santa Claus never will appear.
Undo a chain each night when the Sandman casts his spell,
And Christmas Eve will be here by the time you reach this bell.
Merry Christmas!

Click here to download your bell printable. Just print and cut out the bell, then have your kids make a paper chain of 25 red and green links. Attach the construction paper links to the bottom of the bell. Remove a link each day to count down the days til Christmas.

Green Beansie Custom Printables offers crisp, classic and nautical themes inspired by creator Wendy Oliver’s love of vintage interior design coupled with an up-town modern edge.
Her designs have been featured on The Martha Stewart Blog, Amy Atlas, Pizzazzerie, Tip Junkie and Chic & Cheap Nursery.