Thursday, December 31, 2009

Goodbye, 2009 ! Don't let the door hit you on the way out!

This is the final post of 2009 !! I, for one, am glad to see 2009 go. This definitely wasn't one of my best years. It's been a tough one. I'm eager to get started on a new year.

I've been busy giving my 2010 Goals some deep thought. I don't make resolutions. They simply don't work. I set goals instead.

It seems when you make resolutions, they quickly fall by the wayside. Once you've broken the resolution, you simply let it fall off the face of the earth - at least, until next New Year's. BUT, with a goal you just keep working toward it. You know, "the try, try again" philosophy. You can change tactics and go about it in another manner. It can be fine-tuned over and over and even expanded upon.

I'm proud to say I really did accomplish a number of last year's goals. Some were quite personal and I'm proud of those successes. A few were more public.

One you've been a part of. I set the goal of posting regularly to this blog as 2008 was quite sporadic and had little continuity. With the exception of the last few weeks, I've done a pretty good job of posting almost daily. These last few weeks were just very hectic with Christmas preps, quite a few orders, house guests and both The Big Guy and I had a few days of illness. Something had to give. Unfortunately, it was the blog.

I think I'm back on the job again and plan to be here daily starting today. That is one of my "public" goals. Related to that is a goal of having a few standby, stock piled pieces that simply require pushing the publish button if time gets really tight. I've got a little notebook where I jot down ideas for a few generic posts "when I have time" to put them together. These are the pieces that are somewhat timeless and can be pushed aside when and if there is something of immediate news or action.

There are some goals related to my business and expanding several areas there. Some of those still need some fine tuning. I'll share them as time goes by. As with most years, there are a number of personal goals that deal with myself and/or family relationships and things on the homefront. These are quite personal and won't be discussed here in public.

One of the most immediate goals is to continue with the challenge I issued sometime ago to all you bloggers out there. It was actually a double dog dare thing. Remember? I wanted to go through and check out each of my blog followers, getting to know them better and taking time to comment on their blogs. I really did start and made some progress there but it's a slow go and there are a lot of you. I'm getting right to that one again. In fact, I'm even going back and touching base with the 40 followers I already did this with. It's been long enough I feel I should start over.

So, if you'll be so kind - leave the light on please, 'cuz I'm a-comin!

Monday, December 28, 2009

Shhhh! Santa's sleeping. Or, at least, he should be!

Okay, so how's an elderly, fat (morbidly obese) guy who eats way too many cookies. runs non-stop for who-knows-how-many hours without a break survive Christmas?

I, for one, am flopping all day today! I'm tired - very tired. This is the first day I haven't had to rush to deliver packages, get something together to take in the way of food, get myself fixed up and presentable for socializing, etc.

I've got the house to myself. I stayed in bed late this morning. That felt wonderful! I mosied out for a glass of tea (I'm an iced tea addict. No hot tea for me in the morning.) Tea in hand, I cuddled up in a big chair with an afghan and relaxed some more.

Yeah, I will need to do some laundry and The Big Guy would appreciate a nice dinner so I guess I will have to do something. I just don't plan to do much today.

I've already read two chapters in my latest book and I'm thinking about settling in for several hours of catching up on my blog reading. Things have been so hectic that I haven't had time to post myself, let alone read everybody else's musings.

Today is like a respite in a storm. I do have several items ordered for delivery later this week. So my paint brushes won't get much break. I'm just not doing it today! We still have some folks to visit with this week so the partying goes on.

As of today, we have no big plans for New Year's Eve which is good as they are predicting another possible snowstorm moving in on Thursday and another on Friday.

You know, being snowed in for two days with my man and no outside commitments, doesn't sound bad!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Ahhh! Two days past...

Two days past the big day and not a creature was stirring. Their bellies were full, their bodies exhausted and their minds were drained. It was time for that long winter's nap.

----------

I stopped panicking on Wednesday. it was getting me no where. I took time refine the "To Do" list, adjusting the priority system to reflect the chores, first, in the order they'd be needed and, secondly, in the order of absolute necessity. All the while, I slowly repeated my mantra: FLEXIBILITY - FLEXIBILITY - FLEXIBILITY !!!!!

Ultimately, I looked at each item and asked several key questions: * Is it necessary? * Is there an easier/quicker substitution? * Can somebody else (i.e. The Big Guy) do it? * What happens if it doesn't get done? I managed to eliminate a few items from the list.

Life goes on. Even if there are no presentable-looking poinsettias left on the Christmas Eve afternoon when the party delegated to purchase one (as the main gift for a close family member) finally gets himself to the store -- life goes on. (The "make do" gift was just as warmly received - maybe more so.)

We set a record, I think - only one domestic dispute throughout this highly stressful, hectic week!!

All in all, it was a great holiday !

We spent time enjoying great food and drink with lots of family over several days. There was lots of chatter, laughter and hugs and kisses. After all, time spent together making memories is the best part of the holidays.

REMEMBER - These are the moments we'll talk and laugh about at future holiday get-togethers !

Friday, December 25, 2009

It's here !!!!!

MERRY CHRISTMAS, Y'ALL !!!!!!!!

Make it a safe, happy and memorable one.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Christmas Countdown - Less than 3 days !!!

So much for counting in days - I can hear the clock ticking. I HAVE to be ready by 6 p.m. Thursday. That give me less than 50 hours !!!

I've spent the day frantically making candy. Those few days lost to illness last week certainly slowed the machinery down around here. I won't be dreaming of sugarplums, I'll probably be running from chocolate monsters in my dreams !!! The house has this very strong chocolate aroma. Who needs scented candles ?!?

I still have "one last store run" to make . (yeah, right, ONE !) Tried to make a quick trip to Target earlier today. That was a laugh. They have the worst cleaned lot in town. It appears they never attempted to take it down to blacktop so it is now simply hard-packed ice which means everybody is parked at haphazard angles hoping to get a few wheels on a clear spot for traction, etc. Walking across the lot is treacherous. I made the precarious trip in only to find they didn't have any of the items on my list. (We're talking basics like my hair conditioner, not the in-demand toys and such.)

I'm sure we're all in this boat, getting all those last minute needs taken care of. Who are those folks they always show on T.V. who are sitting back leisurely on the couch watching Christmas specials and having a cocktail with their families. The gifts are all neatly wrapped under the tree and there's a tray of perfectly decorated cookies on the coffee table. I've never met those folks, have you?

Good luck, y'all !

Monday, December 21, 2009

A moment to breathe - finally!

Okay, so what's kept me so busy?

Besides shoveling!








Well, there were the hamster shirts. I was surprised how difficult it was to make them really look like hamsters! The customer was very happy with the end product.










Then, it was time to work on some of our family gifts.
Some of those I can't reveal here for the moment as some of the family actually reads these posts!!!

Most of the little girls in the gang are getting variations of paper doll style flannel board play sets, complete with individual flannel boards. Each set is different as to colors and styles of the dolls themselves and outfits for each. I've had lots of fun doing these and they really weren't very difficult or time consuming!

The hardest gift each holiday is my mother-in-law. Her health and physical activity level makes it very difficult to find something useful for her. She certainly doesn't need any more clothes, has very limited space for trinkets and such and cannot see well or do much activity at all. She has always loved her dogs and we have, for years, made an effort to give her something with dog designs on it. I finally hit on a bag for her walker made out of a dog print. I think it turned out quite well if I must say so myself! I hope she likes it.



Today, I'm working on getting all those Christmas cards addressed and in the mail. Maybe folks will even receive them before Christmas!!

I'm also planning to fix a worthwhile dinner tonight for my man and I need to do a little housework. Then, back to holiday must do items!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

SNOW !!!!

Winter won't officially arrive until about noon tomorrow but it's definitely made it's presence known along the Chesapeake this weekend !

It started snowing about midnight Friday and didn't stop (at all!) until about 10 p.m. Saturday night. We've got 19" in our neighborhood. Communities around us have measured out anywhere from 17" right on up to about 23". This is NOT the norm in these parts. Someone forgot to tell Mother Nature we ARE south of the Mason-Dixon line.

The Mid-Atlantic does not deal well with snow. I, personally, do not do snow. I'd prefer not to do winter at all if the facts be told.

I "lucked out" and was sick all weekend. What a fantastic excuse not to go out and shovel!!! Since The Big Guy had breathed his germs on me earlier in the week sharing a nasty intestinal virus, he felt guilty and did not complain about that. Between he and the neighbors, they have our cul-de-sac in fairly decent shape and I should not have any trouble getting out today. Normally, I'd attempt to hibernate until it was gone but I do need to do one final Post Office run. All of my orders have gone out but I still have some family gift shipping to do at a high expense today.
This mass of white stuff wreaked havoc in my life more than one way. This was supposed to be "candy making" weekend. Since my help (read "family") has about a a 90 minute drive on country roads in good weather, they canceled out on me even before the first flake fell. (That was before I got sick.) I, obviously, understood this move and accepted the fact that I had 25 to 30 pounds of candy making ahead for me, alone. When I got sick Friday evening I realized that was out for the weekend, too. So, here I am, late Sunday night, still looking ahead to hours and hours of candy making.

Looks like, once again, I'll be making and packing candy on Christmas Eve! So much for planning. This production weekend was originally scheduled for four weeks ago and kept getting pushed back for one reason or another.

Want to know the real clincher in all this? They're predicting more snow for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. We'll probably be stuck at home anyway with all these packages of candy and the gifts I've rushed to make and then won't have any way to deliver that day! (Our Christmas Day run involves about a 200 mile round-trip run with five stops.)

---------------
One of the interesting side notes about this snow storm was the work done to pull off the Ravens v. Bears football game at M&T Stadium in Baltimore.

A crew of 750 folks made up of ground crew staff, volunteers and work details from a near-by prison, hand shoveled 25 million pounds of snow from the stadium seating area !!! They started shoveling at 1 a.m. Saturday morning and finished just before game time at 4:15 Sunday. (The snow was hauled off and dumped in the bay. Before you panic about the state of the bay, this was clean snow.)

As there were a few areas that simply weren't cleared, folks whose assigned seats were still snow covered were allowed to find open seats elsewhere in the stadium. Late in the game, they showed a picture of some kids up in the Upper Deck who had created a large snowman in the seat next to them and put a Ravens hat on him. I guess they needed to do something to keep warm!

By the way, the Ravens won!
--------------- Well, we're guaranteed a white Christmas. This stuff isn't going anywhere as it won't be warm enough to melt by then.

Stay warm, my friends !!!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

More Tree Tales


They always say you marry a man like your Dad. Well, he's never waited till Christmas Eve to buy the tree and he's always helped me come up with a fairly presentable one, so I guess The Big Guy may be an exception to that rule (at least when it comes to the Christmas tree buying.)

However, he's not really much of a tree man. He can take or leave it - and has.

What is it about men and Christmas trees? Why don't they see the importance of finding and decorating the perfect tree each year?

Our first Christmas together, The Big Guy decided we weren't going to have any tree. I tried pouting, begging, even full out crying, to no avail. He was determined. At the time, it was HIS house, not mine, so he stood his ground. We had NO tree at all but we DID have a huge family party on Christmas Eve. His family. Of course, he expected them to see his reasoning and was shocked when every single person entered the house and immediately asked where's your tree? he swore I called each one and instigated them to do so. (I didn't need to.) He swore trees were a "woman thing" and was surprised to find even the men in the family thought this just wasn't right. He did not do this again. We call this one the "Year with No Tree."

We went along smoothly for several years, with me going and getting the tree, bringing it home and, often, even setting it up without help. He sometimes assisted in getting it in the house but the rest was all my job. With a number of "single" years in my past, I was up to the challenge.

---------------

Then , one year, he and his mom went shopping and purchased artificial trees. She bought a nice one. All I can say about ours is, I didn't know they made artificial Charlie Brown trees! It was pitiful. I know why he thought it was such a great price. It started out straggly but lost as many needles with each use as a real tree. One had to hang the ornaments carefully so the tree was balanced weight-wise all the way around. I still had trouble keeping it standing so we started tying it to the rail along our stairway.

It was the kind that had a dowel for a trunk with little angled holes into which you inserted the individual branches. The branches were color coded to the holes so the tree had a gradually widening shape. I complained about it from day one but tried to make the best of it that first year.

The second year, the little angled holes starting cracking a little and the branches tended to droop a little lower as the holes crumbled at the edges. The Big Guy did not see this as a problem. According to him, I was nit-picking. I duct taped the branches in.

The third year, duct tape wasn't cutting it. I was having to completely skip branches here and there where the holes had deteriorated. It was beginning to look like it had survived a bombing. The Big Guy redrilled some of the holes. The tree was now just slightly cockeyed due to the now unbalanced placement of the new holes. It was unstable enough, I needed to tie it right from the start. The light string was heavier than it could handle! I complained for a full hour while decorating it.

The Big Guy sat in his chair, seeming to ignore me. He finally jumped out of his chair, shouted "Then throw the d------ thing out!", pulled the ornaments and lights off, grabbed the scrawny little fake weed and carried it out (fully put together) and jammed it in the top of the trash can ! To add emphasis, he dragged the can up to the curb to wait for the garbage man !

I was a little stunned. We had that danged party scheduled for the next night and, once again, we didn't have a tree. I could not face that again. I screamed, cried and argued. He got mad and went to the bedroom to watch T.V, slamming the door behind him.

I then grabbed my keys and headed for the nearest tree lot where I bought the most expensive tree I've ever had, had it netted and tied to my car by the man at the lot. I brought it home where I found The Big Guy still holed up in the bedroom.

It was almost dark. The tree needed a fresh cut and I had no idea where the big saw was. There I was, out on the front step with a tiny little hack saw trying to take an inch or two off. My neighbor saw me, assumed The Big Guy was ill or something and offered to help. He whipped out an electric saw, trimmed the bottom and carried the tree into the house for me where he helped get it bolted into the stand. I quickly decorated it and by the time The Big Guy was feeling remorseful and came out to apologize, we had a beautiful tree in residence.

The clincher was the next night, when as guests arrived, they walked past the tree sticking out of the garbage can. As they came in the door, they called out, "Is it safe to come in?" They figured there'd been a war!

Ultimately, we did have one of our prettiest trees that year. Of course, it cost more than twice what most of our trees have cost as I wasted no time shopping around. I think the salesman felt how desperate I was and took advantage of it when it came to quoting a price!

That was the "Year of the Trashed Tree."

---------------
Next came the "Year of the Smashed Tree."

We had an absolutely stunningly fantastic tree that year. It sat centered in front of the big window in the living room and was all decked out with the many fancy glass ornaments I had been collecting for so many years as well as quite a few family heirloom ornaments dating back to my grandparents. It was quite large and seemed fairly stable.

The night after Christmas, something woke me in the wee hours of the morning and, after going to the bathroom, wandered to the living room instead of going directly back to bed. I stood in the doorway, ready to admire my beautiful tree which should have been glistening in the moonlight but there was no tree there. I turned the light on only to find the tree laying full out on the living room floor. There were bits and pieces of colored glass everywhere.

I was devastated. So many of my treasured ornaments so lovingly wrapped and stored each year were gone. To quote The Big Guy, "smashed to smithereens!" Since I didn't think he'd appreciate me waking him in the middle of the night to tell him the tree fell over, I crawled into a chair and cried for about an hour and then went back to bed.

When the alarm went off an hour or so later, I told him the tree had fallen over. He thought I was dreaming and mumbling in my sleep so he was shocked when he entered the living room, too. He was able to lift the tree and lean it against the wall. We began to mop up the spilled water and did a quick run-through with the vacuum cleaner but that was just the beginning of the clean up. We both needed to go to work.

When I came in from work, he had already begun the clean up of the glass.He knew I was heartbroken and he was properly sympathetic. None of my grandmother's ornaments had survived. Many of those I'd been given or bought while I was a kid were also destroyed. I picked pieces up here and there and commented on how old each was and where it had come from. I think that was when he truly understood the importance of the tree to me.

After dinner, he did his best to make things right. We went to a local department store known for their beautiful ornament selection and attacked the after-Christmas sale full on. I bought many a great and unique looking ornament. (I think we bought something like 30 ornaments that night !) Most were more expensive than I ever would have considered before the holiday. We came home and redecorated that tree.

One of our best friends showed up a day later with a new, extremely heavy cast iron tree stand for future use. Nothing could knock that stand over.

Until the next year. That's when we had "Smashed Tree Two." (And another after-Christmas shopping spree in the ornament section!!)

Our trees ALL get tied in place now. We don't take any chances.

Here's to you and all of your beautiful trees out there. May they stand solidly for the duration!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Christmas Eve Tree Tales

As a child, I recall, we always put our tree up on Christmas Eve.

In fact. there were a few years there where we actually bought the tree on Christmas Eve. I believe those may have been a matter of Dad "making a point." (He could be quite stubborn and determined at times. ) There were a couple of times when I remember a real life scenario depicted in so many heartwarming Christmas movies. You know the ones where the family arrives at the tree sale just as they're closing and there are only a few trees left to choose from. In the movies, they always find the perfect tree at that moment. I'm here to tell you, there are usually only pitiful imitations of perfect trees left at that point in time.

Charlie Brown had nothing on my Dad when it came to finding a tree. One time the choice was so bad, we actually had to tie two trees together to form one!! (I kid you not.) Tinsel, lots and lots of tinsel, can hide a multitude of flaws.
Then there was the year that he simply stayed too long at the office party, wandering in sometime after dark. This may have been the latest he ever pushed things. The fact that we still needed a tree didn't phase him. I, on the other hand was terrified that without a tree, Christmas simply wouldn't happen. Mom was simply perturbed, to put it mildly. (Let me take a moment to clarify, Mom didn't drive so we were dependent on him to get the tree.)

"Never fear," he admonished me, "There are tree lots on every corner around here." At least there WERE, a few hours earlier. By 6 p.m., most had closed down and gone home to celebrate the holiday with their families.

Dad and I set out to get the tree. On our way out of the neighborhood, we noticed one of the local delis had three trees leaning up against the wall with a little handwritten sign stating "Trees for Sale." We laughed at the pitiful twigs and drove by. After 20 minutes or so, going from closed lot to closed lot, we started considering those twigs again. There were only two left when we returned to the corner deli. I don't know what price they were asking but if they paid Dad any less than twenty bucks to take it, he was crazy!!! I was in tears by the time we got it home. (Maybe we should have just cut a bare limb from one of the maples in the yard. It would have had as many needles.) Mom was speechless though I'm sure she later found words and expressed them behind closed doors. It took an inordinate amount of tinsel and ornaments to turn it into a Christmas tree. The deli was called Anchor Bay and, to this day, we call it "the Anchor Bay tree."
---------------
There was a major decorating routine and it rarely wavered. Sometimes I think it was Mom's way of sticking it to Dad. (Payback's a B----, you know!) She was always busy elsewhere in the house - doing Christmas dinner preps, wrapping gifts, whatever. Dad set the tree up and got the lights situated. Then, he supervised the decorating. He was usually assisted in this job by our hapless, bachelor neighbor, Jim.

Our tree was always situated in the center of our large bay window and Dad and Jim would sit in chairs against the opposite wall, with cocktails in hand, and shout out things like, "You need a red one down there", or "Put some color in that section", "Hang a long one over there", etc.

There was always at least one crash of a beautiful and treasured ornament in the process. I can still see my brother perched on a 6' ladder and staring down at the pieces of ornament he had just dropped. Poor Neal. It was always one of the ancient ones Mom claimed had come from her paternal grandparents. She usually was a bit upset but quietly swept up the broken glass. As a kid, I thought she over-reacted. Now, I can feel her pain. I've lost quite a few important old and irreplaceable ornaments myself.

Somehow, it always came together, Mom would come in and "ooh" and "ahh" over the finished product and we'd be pleased. Then, there would often be popcorn or brownies for the exhausted decorating committee.

All was well with the world.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

My Life's Story on a Tree

For most of us, trimming the tree is a walk down memory lane. We have those "special" ornaments that mean something to us whether bought as a souvenir on vacation, received as a gift from a close friend or relative, simply indicative of something meaningful to us or handed down through the ages.

The tree this year is a little slimmer than the last few and holds way less ornaments. Each time I sit and admire it (as I tend to do often), I realize another "special" ornament didn't quite make it on the tree this year. But since all of our ornaments are memorable in some way, I love each and every one and like to simply look at them and think about their significance.

This is one of the oldest balls on our tree. There are about 4 of these left in my collection. When I was a little girl, my mom had a trio of these (in different colors) hung on ribbons (the old-fashioned curling kind) from a bow and a set hung in every window of our house. (We had a lot of windows back then, too.) For whatever reason, I adored these particular ornaments. We were constantly admonished to be very careful, as they were "very old." Since there was set for each window in that particular house I would assume she had specifically put these together when they moved there in 1953 or shortly thereafter. At one point in time, I had about 12 of them. In fact, one set was still tied in the little set of three until about a decade ago. Obviously, these remind me of Christmases at home so very long ago.


This tiny pink glass horn is another oldie but doesn't quite go back that far. I bought this one when I was still a kid in school and had started decorating a small tree in my room each year with my very own ornaments. I would put the card table up and drape it with a piece of Christmasy fabric. I had a small artificial tree that was about 3" high and I would go to town decorating it. This was one of the first ornaments I bought with my own money at the "after Christmas sale" at a huge Christmas specialty store that was in our community. Many of my friends and their families made a special trip to those sales to get the "fancy" stuff at 50% off each year. It was local tradition. It dates back to around 1970, give or take a year or two.


Yet another old one, this probably came to me in the 70's. I bought it simply because I liked it and it reminded me of so many of the old ones on our tree back home. The significant thing about all three of these is that they are a part of the small set of survivors that have made it through two major tree catastrophes when our tree fell completely over, smashing many an ornament.

Those incidents brought this beauty into my life.








It's a big glass ornament featuring a beautiful bright red cardinal with a bright yellow pear with a white flower. Green leaves add another touch of color. Again, we bought this at an after-Christmas sale for 50% off. At that rate, it was still expensive but I loved it. That was the first year the tree fell over. I was heartbroken at the loss of so many of my treasured ornaments and The Big Guy took me out in an earnest search for new ones. The cardinal was always my mom's favorite bird and it makes me think of her.


Lastly, this little guy is one of the newest members of the family. I collect reindeer and have over 500 in various forms. This is his second year with us. Plugged into the string of lights, he gallops constantly but never makes any progress. He gets a lot of attention by visitors so he smiles sweetly, too.

Well, we've still got houseguests so I really need to run. Just wanted to share some of these with you.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Another day, another missed blogpost. (9 more days on the countdown!)

Sorry about that folks! (I'm beginning to feel like Maxwell Smart saying that so often.)

What can I say? It's been so hectic around here - typical pre-Christmas. Today's the last day I am accepting online orders for Christmas delivery so, hopefully, I can breathe easier soon. (I'll still have some local deliveries but they are manageable at the moment.)


The tree is actually decorated ! It looked like it was the same size as last year but must be skinnier. It took a whole box less of ornaments this time around. (I'll have to share some better shots of it later but the lighting is bad here at the moment.)


I actually got some candy made last night and this morning. Our guests arrived and, yes, we were ready.


The Big Guy planned a quick, impromptu get-together for friends at a local restaurant tonight and we've got 19 people planning to show. Not bad for last-minute plans! Maybe we can get him a gig as a party planner after retirement.


Well, we've got company so I've got to run.


Oh yeah, only 9 more days to go, folks. Kick it into high gear NOW !!!!!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Still driving that paint brush at warp speed!

It's been a busy weekend. I've spent many hours painting (and sewing) to complete the orders I have. Surprisingly, I've had more off-line sales than online. (I had anticipated the opposite!) I'm pleased so many of my old customers have returned with customized orders.

Here's a peek at some of my recent work.
Duckie finally got his wheels on and his finishing touches.









I'm eager to get to my Christmas delivery deadline this week so I can get busy and complete the items on our own gift list. Otherwise, I'll be one of those folks shopping at the last minute at Walgreen's!!!

I was also motivated as we have houseguests arriving on Monday for several days. I'd like to spend some quality time with them instead of holed up painting or staying up all night to get the orders done. (Been there, done that before!)

We did get our tree and it is in the house but not yet decorated. It has a nice, somewhat sporadic, array of lights on it. We tested them all before stringing them onto the tree but once up, half the first string stopped working. The Big Guy played with it a bit and it started working. he went ahead and hung the second string. These were all good but that string won't blink. About half way through the third string, half of that one stopped working!

The Big Guy was getting a bit tired and grumpy at this point. He had done a really good job of tucking the lights in and really integrating them into the tree branches. He managed to rearrange the working half od the third string so the tree had lights at the top and we agreed to have a dark bottom foot or two of tree.
At this point, he has done his job. He gets it in, stands it up and puts the lights on. The rest of the job is mine although I do ask for some help for the highest ornaments and the angel. (He's tall and doesn't need a step stool. I'm klutzy and have visions of falling into the fully decorated tree while using a stool to reach!)
Maybe after I get these shipments out in the morning, I'll get a chance to sit down and write one of the many posts I've had rambling around in my head these last few days. I know it will get hectic once our compnay gets here.

Hope y'all are getting all your preps done.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

F*L*E*X*I*B*I*L*I*T*Y

Yep, I'm back to that old mantra - "flexibility... flexibility... flexibility." If I say it enough, maybe it will be easier to just go with the flow and keep the panic down.

With just two weeks to go, I'm definitely getting overwhelmed. I'm a day or two behind on completing orders, something I'm hoping to get back on track with tomorrow. I'm definitely not ready for the company that's arriving on Monday (but I will be). My candy making committee (family) has backed out of Saturday's work session and I'll be on my own for a good part of the production. (Okay, they did come up with some really good excuses.) I do not have the gifts that need to be shipped ready, yet. (Again, hopefully, remedied this weekend.)

Then, today, I had a great plan for going to get the Christmas tree (Yes, we still get a real tree and, no, we haven't gotten it yet.) and the bottom fell out of that when, instead of being several hours early getting home from work, The Big Guy ended up running several hours late! I needed his vehicle for this task. (His muscles and arm strength usually come in handy there, too.) This was a two-fold obstacle, I had also figured we'd grab a bite for dinner while running that errand. With him running so late, I had to fix a meal, too. (Now, I'm all out of those "pre-fixed" meals that I stocked in the freezer for the last minute rush. So much for all that advanced planning.)

The crowning stroke was when he called to tell me he was running so late and asked if I'd looked at the front step at all during the day. (He figured I hadn't since he hadn't gotten a call from me during the day.) I had not. I had not even been out the door all day, moving from one indoor project to the next. It seems our wrought iron railing on our front steps had simply fallen off during the night. It broke off right where it's posts were sunken into the concrete steps ! As it had not seemed loose or cracked, it's quite a mystery. It had simply fallen back on top of our plastic garbage cans stored in that corner and would not have made much noise as it fell.
Ultimately, it creates the same problem no matter how it happened. We have no rail on our steps and quite a drop off on the top step which serves as our "porch." I'm guessing this will be more of a problem to me than anyone else. I'm the klutz in the clan and I'm the one who cautiously holds the rail as I go in and out.

While it does need to be replaced, it is not the highest thing on The Big Guy's list this week (or next). First, he needs to figure out just how to replace it. It's unlikely he'll be able to simply drill into the concrete block of the step to sink a new rail. The almost 40-year-old block is unlikely to survive such drastic impact and we're not ready to replace the entire front step area at this point in time. It doesn't help that the temps this week are the lowest of the year and not conducive to outdoor work. This is a problem that will need some brainstorming these next few days.

The upside of this latest problem : I can now cross putting garland and lights on the outside rail off my list.

All right!!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Working the Shows Wednesday - Boutique Shows

With only two weekends until Christmas, the holiday show season, for most of us, is now over. Surprisingly, for most of us, it has been a good season.

We were all braced for the worst in view of the economy but most of my crafter acquaintances have reported better than usual sales at most shows, even those in the areas of the country most devastated by the financial crisis and unemployment. There were some shows that were cancelled early on due to the economic situation and fear of extremely poor sales. As always, there were a few shows that simply weren't able to produce the shoppers for whatever reasons. This was nothing new. Show veterans find a few of these every year.

I believe people shopped more carefully this year. It seemed functional items sold better than pure art for art's sake items. If it was functional AND cute or unique looking - even better. Folks did, however, seem to want a reason to give the item. It had to serve a purpose of some sort.

Boutique Shows

The last two show I attended this year were boutique style shows. For those unfamiliar with this term, these are shows where the crafter generally drops their merchandise off for a show of multiple days duration. It is a consignment arrangement of sorts. All items are tagged with the price and coded with that crafter's id code. The show promoter (or "owner") then sells the items from one central checkout point. At the end of the show, each crafter's sales are totaled, a percentage is kept by the promoter and the crafter is paid. The crafter returns to pick up any unsold stock.

These are called "boutique" shows as most are set up like a gift shop or boutique with the crafts mixed together in a pleasing manner as opposed to separate displays for each crafter. Most are set up by the promoter (also known as "owner" or "manager") and usually use display merchandise provided by the promoter. In some cases, the crafter will provide some supplemental displays especially if they have a unique craft that requires unusual display methods.

Most of us like doing these sales as they have our merchandise out there in front of the world while we're off doing something else. Most are run by crafters themselves who are also showing their own work and are, therefore, concerned about making the show a success. They appreciate the merchandise and handle it with care. The only drawback is that you have a sizable amount of stock tied up, usually during a prime selling period. The good points are your work is on sale 7 days a week for the duration, you're not hauling displays in and out and not spending down time sitting there waiting for a sale.


The consignment percentage is set by the promoter but the crafter sets the selling price. In some cases, crafters are asked to work one or more "shifts" during the show's run where they work the show floor or register. The two shows I attended this year ran for one month (November) and for 10 days, respectively.

Run by one woman, the first show has been taking place twice a year for over 20 years. Over this period, the location has changed a number of times but excellent advertising, postcards to a large mailing list and word of mouth by the crafters has kept it alive and well. It's most recent location (for about 4 years now) is way off the beaten path and a little difficult to find but the crowds have managed to come. Return customers look for new items by specific crafters and also have an eye out for something "new and different" each show. There are about 30 crafters who have been participating in this event for most of the 20 years. Every show, there are a few new folks and a few old ones fall by the wayside for whatever reason.

Producing these shows, twice a year, keeps this lady quite busy. There is a lot of paperwork and planning involved. New crafters contact her on a regular basis. She must meet with each one to review their work and determine if it will fit in with her show. She's careful not to have competition in any area of the show. Multiple jewelers must have entirely different types of work. Painters must do different types of products. If you wish to expand what you offer, you must run it past her. Often, she will nix a specific item as it too closely resembles someone else's product. In addition, she does her own craft and must spend time creating. She and her husband are always on the lookout for new display pieces. (The style of the show is a general store type look and she uses quite a few antique pieces for her displays.)

I began doing shows with this lady over thirty years ago and she participated in a boutique style show I helped to run in those days. I remember her having her first "boutique" show in her living room. It ran for three days and we considered it a big success. Like me, she did as many as 40 shows a year in those days. Now, she makes a healthy income off of just these two shows.

The second show is held in the same general neighborhood. They sometimes run consecutively and shoppers go from one to the other. This show is done on a much smaller scale and has a committee of 5 ladies working together to produce the show. They hold shows four times a year in a club's social hall and it runs for anywhere from 7 to 10 days at a time. They are all participants and choose the additional crafters very carefully so as not to compete with any of their own products. There are a total of about 20 crafters involved with this show. This show also started in one of their homes a number of years ago and has been held in the same public location now for about 8 years.

They also use a large mailing list to send postcards. They post handmade signs on key intersections around the community and run small classified ads in the local papers. They, too, have a devoted following. Interestingly, they require their crafters not to participate in the other show in an effort to provide some exclusivity. I used to think this was bad policy and created a bit of animosity but since they draw on the same clientele I can see why they want to offer merchandise that is different from the other show.

Both shows claim to have had excellent sales this year. While the larger show said sales were about the same as last Christmas, the smaller show noticed a fair increase.

I hope you were able to enjoy excellent sales, too, and are now ready to devote yourselves to your own holiday events.

This will be the last Working the Shows Wednesday post for a while but as the Spring show season approaches I'll bring the series back. For now, we'll all just take a breather.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

16 Days and Counting!!!

It's time to panic !!

With my order deadline approaching quickly, I can see the light at the end of that tunnel. Of course, there's a convergence there and I need to head down another track full speed ahead! There are gifts for family and friends that need finishing and, on some of them, I even have a tighter time schedule as we'll be seeing them before the big day! I have these various "To Do" lists based on when we get together with who.

As various members of the family will be heading out-of-town for the actual holiday we've scheduled "Christmas" with them a few days early. The first batch of gifts need to be ready this coming week with the second following closely on the next weekend. That's pretty much my cut-off date for shipping the gifts to the family that lives out-of-town, too. Oh, there are plenty to be delivered to their recipients on Christmas Day, so I'll most likely be frantically finishing things up on Christmas Eve, as usual. Don't we all swear that will never happen again?!? It's like New Year's Resolutions - mostly totally unattainable.

One year, I actually did have all my gifts bought, made and wrapped a week or two ahead of time. Know what? I think I missed it. I felt left out of that mad last-minute dash. For most of us, the frantic rush, late night baking, Christmas Eve run to the drug store and lack of sleep for several nights are part of the tradition of the holiday and who are we to mess with tradition?

Well, not one to mess with tradition, I'm just getting my decorations out today and candy production MUST start this weekend. Oh, did I mention we're having houseguests next week? Guess, my schedule is not quite set in stone yet! Maybe I'll get the tree up by then. They'd get a real kick out of me being that together! Last year hen they were here, our tree was up and had lights on it but wasn't decorated yet. Made for some interesting pics though! (Yes, it did have ornaments by the big day!)

Hope all your plans are moving along smoothly. Remember to slow down now and then and sniff the pine and cinnamon along the way!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Okay, so I didn't get those pics posted today. Maybe tomorrow. Today I was still working steadily on orders and calling local customers about pick-up and delivery appointments.

Why is it when you are so busy you barely have time to breathe, your mind goes wild with new ideas? Why does this always happen when the holiday is just around the corner and there's no time to make the items, let alone market them? I've been making lots of little notes that I hope still sound great next Fall when I start gearing up for the holidays of 2010. (There have been a few years along the way when I never found those notes again!)

In between new ideas, I've been struggling with the list of what I need to get made for our own gift-giving, the mounds of candy I still need to make, the cards that need to be addressed, the decorating to be done (I'm determined to get my window wreaths up tomorrow) and the long list of routine household chores that need to be taken care of in the next few days - just as soon as I get through all this painting and sewing.

Just to test how much I really can accomplish, The Big Guy had an eye doctor's appointment today which required him to be chauffered as his eyes would be dialated. So I had a forced break this afternoon while we took care of that. It was like a mini-vacation. I had an hour to sit and read while he was with the doctor. Then, we went out to dinner. I came home feeling rejuvenated and was able to finish base-coating the piece of children's furniture I was working on. It's ready for me to do the detail work in the morning.

Tomorrow, I'll have another forced break as we have plans to have dinner with friends, weather permitting. While we're not expecting anything like our Midwest friends and family are planning, we do have some frozen mess due to start in the early evening. I've made no secret here or anywhere else that I am NOT a winter person! If it's cold and wet, I try to hibernate. That is actually one of the best things about not working outside the home these last few years. I go out in it when forced but am not happy about it.

We've been lucky in our end of the world and have had two really easy winters but I believe the Weather Gods probably have a surprise in store for us this year. Last year was colder than normal but much drier so we had very little messy weather to deal with. In fact, all of the snow-driving I did last year, I did while on vacation. We hit snow on two out of three of our trips to the Midwest, a lot of snow on a weekend visit to the Pennsylvania mountains in November and even on our South Carolina winter getaway last year. The coldest weather we experienced last winter was in Tennessee, of all places!

We got our first dusting of snow this past Saturday. This seems to be the weekend that opens our snow season around here. It has snowed on that weekend for 6 out of the last 9 years! Not usually amounting to much but enough to wake us up and shout, "Winter is coming!"

I saw a plaque last week that I plan to make for myself this year. It state's my sentiments eactly - "Winter can't last forever!" I already feel that way.

Stay warm and dry y'all! (And think 80 degrees and sunny!)

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Busy, Busy, Busy !!


Once again, I've missed a few posts. While I miss getting the chance to chat with y'all it's been a good thing. I've been busy working on orders!!!

I was beginning to worry as business had been slower than I had anticipated but suddenly, folks started calling and a few etsy sales started rolling in and, all of a sudden, I'm quite busy!

Most of my repeat clients have wanted customized designs which have involved some real brainstorming and numerous test sketches. This weekend alone, I've had numerous projects in the works. I finally drafted a ride-on plush duck pattern that worked. (The first two drafts just weren't anything to quack about!) It's sewn, stuffed and painted. (That's him above. Just wanted to give y'all a sneak peek!) All that's left to do is attach the functional soft sculpture wheels tomorrow. (Okay, so nothing is easy!)

I switched gears and paint boxes and moved on to a couple of customized and personalized painted wine glasses. They're baking now. (The paint is a heat set type of enamel.) I've finished dying a onesie to the right shade of green and it's currently in the dryer. I'll be painting that in the morning.

I've spent the last hour sanding a wooden stool so I can do the first base coat before going to bed. The wooden pieces take the longest to paint as they need multiple layers of base coat and are shellacked before I even begin the detail work. There's a lot of "drying time" involved between coats.

Within the next few minutes, I'm starting to paint two custom design shirts. Both feature hamsters. These are my first hamsters and they aren't as easy to sketch as one might think. (Go ahead. Draw one. Does his personality shine through? Would a total stranger know it's a hamster and NOT a guinea pig or such?) It's a shame no one has ordered an armadillo, as that's what one of my early sketches looked like! Grandma has provided very specific details as to the proper coloring of each of the hamsters.

I'll have to post some finished pics for you tomorrow. For now, I've got to get busy!!

Friday, December 4, 2009

Where art thou, Christmas Spirit ?

I need to catch the spirit. I just can't seem to wrap my mind around getting ready for the holiday.

Oh yeah, I have been making Christmas merchandise and sales have picked up some so I do realize the season is happening. I'm slowly getting the gifts I need to give together but my heart just isn't in it yet.

Maybe the weather in the morning will drive the date home. We're expecting the first snow of the season - not much, just an inch or two - more a nusiance level than a "turn the world white" sort of thing. According to one of the many Christmas movies we've watched in the last week or two, snow will bring the shoppers out and make them feel "Christmasy." Personally, it usually gets on my nerves. I'm not a snowbunny. Give me a seat on the beach in the sunshine, anytime!

I am trying. I've had my car radio tuned to a station that's playing all holiday music for the last week and I've spent a lot of time watching the Hallmark Channel and ABC Family. Both began running Christmas movies before Thanksgiving. I've probably had one on at least once a day while I'm working on orders.

I've started the candy-making (Christmas tradition around here) and began putting social dates on the calendar for those holiday events. We normally don't put our tree up early so that's not in the running yet. I've traded in my culinary mysteries and have been reading some Christmas stories but I just haven't caught that holiday magic, yet.

Maybe I'll get the decorations out and get the house decorated a bit this weekend.

So, if you're one of those folks who just oozes the holiday spirtit, please send some my way. I need a good hard shove.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Thursday ?!?! Are you sure ?

How did it get to be Thursday already? What happened to Wednesday? I know I was around for Wednesday. I accomplished some of those things on Wednesday's "To Do" list. I DIDN'T get my Working the Shows Wednesday post up, though. So sorry. (I promise to run that story next Wednesday.)

To be honest, after a busy day of painting in the early morning, shopping with a friend most of the day, rushing home and preparing a meal for dinner guests, spending time with those guests before and after the meal, then, taking care of a little business - I made the mistake of sitting down for a second. It only took that long to fall asleep in the chair! When The Big Guy woke me up around midnight, I did the "zombie walk", literally bouncing off walls on my way to the bedroom where I quickly fell back into a deep sleep.

As most of you know, exhaustion is pretty much inherent in the pre-holiday rush. Those of us attempting to run a business, especially one whose business is centered on the season, run at a sleep deficit for weeks at a time. The older I get, the harder it is to maintain that kind of schedule. In the old days, I could go two days without hitting the sack when necessary and then rebound after just one 6-7 hour sleep session. Oh, to be young again!

It is important at this point, to PRIORITIZE. While we have orders to complete, gifts to buy, homes to maintain, family to take care of, etc., we also need to take care of ourselves. Sure, we can all handle a short night here and there but we need to realize we can't do it over and over without end. As we get tired, we take longer to create our product and make more mistakes in the process. Ultimately, we gain nothing in the process. A tired person is also more susceptible to whatever germs are floating around and with the flu season in full swing, you really don't want to let your guard down. A sick person accomplishes very little quality work and stays sick longer if they are forcing themselves to keep going at an unreasonable pace.

The secret to keeping it all together? SIMPLIFY where you can. You can make the daily meal times a lot simpler with a little planning and preparation. I'm a great believer in making planned leftovers. Basically, I cook at least double amounts where possible. This can usually be accomplished in the same amount of time but makes two dinners instead of one. Once cooked, freeze one of those meals. When you want to use it, simply thaw it out and pop it in the oven or microwave. This not only saves prep time but also clean-up time. I actually do this year-round, not just at the busy times. I also take an entire day every few weeks and stock pile food like stuffed shells, enchiladas, jambalaya, pulled pork, etc. These all freeze well and can be cooked up with very little effort. The wasted day really does pay off.

ACCEPT HELP. We all know we usually can't farm out our craft but we can allow our family members to assist with other need like KP duty in the kitchen, laundry, running to the grocery, even making the Post Office runs. If they offer to cook or clean, let them do it. Maybe they won't do it just the way you do, but it will most likely be perfectly acceptable. Most of all, don't criticize the help! Quietly accept however it comes out and be sure to say "Thanks."

We each have to determine where we can accept a little less perfection in our everyday life and what events we must take part in, whether it is attending the children's school pageant, having dinner with friends or even having house guests during the made pre-holiday days.

Just remember, you really can't do it all, something has to give. Don't let destiny determine what gives. Let it be your choice and plan to let somethings fall by the wayside. That way, the really important parts do happen and they happen in the way you want them to. You'll be in control of what really matters.

So, go ahead and turn in and get some creativity rest. (I've given up on the concept of beauty rest!)

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

OMG!! Christmas is in 23 Days!!!

Well, Santa may actually be in town already (just check your local mall) but he'll be at my house (and yours!) in just 23 days and a couple of hours!! So how ready are you?

I've scheduled PANIC to begin on Saturday of this week. I don't have time for it until then. I need to post a holiday shipping deadline in my shop tomorrow, right after I post some more holiday merchandise. I'm definitely behind schedule on getting some things into the shop. I'm keeping my fingers crossed for last-minute shoppers.

If you're an online seller, have you gotten all your merchandise listed yet? Don't forget to note a shipping deadline for holiday arrivals.

Last year, I received an order five days before Christmas! (Well after my cut-off date as posted.) I emailed the buyer and told her I would do my best but could not guarantee on-time arrival at that point. (I did not offer any over-night shipping last year and have not decided to do it this year either. In most cases, overnight costs more than my products.) I then found I had trouble obtaining the appropriate garment to paint in the requested size. With no time to dye the garment, I ended up making a last-minute color substitution and was unable to take the time to get customer approval first. I sent a note along, stating I tried to find an acceptable substitution but wanted them to have something for their child to open on Christmas Day. If they did not want the alternative color, please return it - unused - and I would replace it with the originally requested color and refund any return shipping costs. Turns out they loved it anyway!

I've still got quite a few items to photograph and get listed. Most still need a finishing touch or two. The good news is, I'm behind schedule due to working on existing orders. After all, a sale's a sale! My offline sales (mostly repeat buyers) have been satisfying this season but my online business has been disappointing.

Beginning Saturday, I also need to kick it in gear as far as my own shopping list goes. We have to ship a fair number of our own outgoing gifts and, since I make most, I need to get busy, get them done, packed and mailed.

Did I mention I haven't started decorating or baking yet? The good news is, I have a reindeer collection, currently numbering a little over 500 deer. Many stay on display year-round in curio cabinets and shelves around the house. So I'm always a little decorated for the holiday! I have actually scheduled candy making day. To be precise, that's the day I have a little help. Other families gather to bake cookies together, I have the girls help with the general and easier candies for an afternoon. I then spend a number of days working on all the rest myself! Candy comes first. If I have time, then I make cookies.


These tree ornaments are some of my newest listings. They measure 5" tall and look so cute piled on my table in a mound. I was tempted to use a photo of the pile for the listings but didn't want to waste a detail shot.

I also made some that can be personalized. My mom began a tradition of giving each of the children a special ornament each year that was their very own. Although she made many beautiful ones herself, she usually bought fancy, unique glass ornaments. I still have some of those despite the tree falling over several times in the last decade or so. I've lost many beloved ornaments that way!

Monday, November 30, 2009

Hello, again!

Still trying to get caught up but taking a few minutes to post for the night.

I've been really disappointed with my online sales this holiday season so far but my offline sales have been fairly steady. Most are coming from repeat customers which is a good and rewarding feeling. Most have been for customized items requiring a fair amount of designing effort and , in one case, a couple of trial and errors on designing the pattern! This was for a large plush creation. I can usually eyeball the pattern design fairly well and rarely have any totally unusable disasters but I've really had to work on one particular item. It's been a bit of a learning experience. I think I've finally worked it out and should be able to complete that project within the next day or two.

In addition to the sewing projects, I've been painting quite a bit each day. (Yes, I even put in a few hours with the paint brush on Thanksgiving Day!) Most of the past week, I've worked on clothing orders but this week will involve some smaller furniture pieces which means some time spent sanding. I'm hoping to find time tomorrow to list a few new items in the shop and to work on stock for some of my direct sales.

This year, I've tried a sales approach which I'm referring to as "Totebag Sales." Basically, I've provided totebags to a few sales agents (nieces and other family and friends) filled with "little" items which they can simply sell right out of the bag. These have included potholders, ornaments, mini-plaques, hair accessories, some smaller clothing pieces, etc. I've also included some one-of-a-kind items. They collect the money and keep their cut (sales commission) right off the top. They also have some catalogs/fliers featuring a limited selection of my larger items (mostly personalized products) which they can take direct orders on also. I deliver those items to the sales agent and they, in turn, deliver to the customer.

This approach is working fairly well. The smaller items generate quite a bit of cash flow but are not really practical for online sales as shipping costs as much as the item in many cases. I find folks are more likely to buy small items in this manner rather than needing to order them. I have asked the agents to e-mail me the orders each evening instead of holding them until a specific date so I can work on the products as the orders are coming in. I tried this in a very limited way last Christmas and I fine-tuned it a bit this year.


As I mentioned above, my potholders seem to be a popular item this year. I include a cookie recipe with each set and, in my direct sales, also include a cookie cutter. Luckily, I can make these fairly quickly. I hope to get some more sets up in the online shop but they seem to be moving so quickly through direct sales that I haven't had a chance!

Well, I've still got painting to get done before I go to bed, so I've gotta run.

See y'all tomorrow!!

Just saying "Hi!"

Hi, all !

Sorry I've been MIA for a few days. No crises or any other earth shattering events, just holiday activities messing up my routine. What can I say? We had four very busy days, a few "rush" orders came in and needed my full attention and exhaustion kicked in each evening. I normally post in the late evening or wee hours of the morning and by the time those hours rolled around, I've been sound asleep. I'll try to do better from here on in.

I hope everybody had a terrific turkey day and a wonderful weekend with friends and family. We did. For those of you "in the biz," I hope sales took a giant leap and you are busy producing and shipping. (Mine really haven't.)

I'm caught in a time crunch at the moment but plan to get back to do a regular full post in a few hours. Till then, keep on keeping on!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Last minute Thanksgiving advice --

"...No one will remember the perfect Thanksgiving anyway. Five and ten years from now, family and friends will be laughing over the time the turkey burned and you had to order in Chinese food. Or the impossibly hard biscuits Aunt Beth insisted on making every year. All the perfect food will be long forgotten. ...relax and enjoy [yourself]. It's the mishaps and the funny incidents that create the best memories --Sophie"
So says Krista Davis in The Diva Runs Out of Thyme

As you rush about today, doing all those last minute preps for the big meal, keep these words in mind. They are, oh, so true. Go ahead and ask your family about their most memorable Thanksgivings (if you dare). I'm sure the ones that stand out will be the "imperfect" events. A bonus of doing this is the laughs you'll all share as a family reliving those unique memories.
Now, go ahead and get that pie in the oven, today!

Then, sit down and have a glass of wine while you contemplate all the rest of that work.

ENJOY !!!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

30 Days and Counting !!!

Yep, folks, just thirty days till Santa comes! (More importantly, just two days until we all gather for turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes, etc. - National Eat Till You Burst Day!)

I'm starting to get that panicky feeling about those folks who are always hard to shop for and that churning tummy feeling about how much this all is gonna' cost! I've been keeping alert and watching carefully for some unique but impressive easy to make gifts.

Do you happen to have any family recipes that are written in your Mom's or Grandmom's handwriting? I recently saw where a friend had used some of these to decorate her kitchen.

She had taken the recipe cards and scanned them onto the computer and then tinged them a bit in sepia tones to make them look even a bit more aged. (An easy trick with any photo system you may be using.) She then found and copied some old photos of each grandmother. She stained two wooden plaques to match her cabinetry and then mounted a recipe and that grandmother's picture on each plaque. She even found a family photo taken one year at the holidays featuring her parents, siblings and both grandmothers. She mounted that in a matching picture frame and hung it between the two recipe plaques. Fantastic grouping and a real conversation starter.

This new attraction made its debut when she served Thanksgiving dinner at her house last year and both of her sisters raved over the idea. A lightbulb went off in her head and she did the same for each of them as their Christmas gifts. Both have hung those family memories with great pride and told her they have been among their most cherished gifts.

Related ideas include a family cookbook which can be as simple or as complicated as you'd like. I did that two years ago but made it very elaborate. Mine included many pictures from "the old days", a few essays about our grandparents and funny family cooking stories as well as treasured recipes. I ended up making 32 copies. It took most of a year to create, print and put together.

My sister-in-law, on the other hand had done one for her children simply by typing in about 25 family recipes, printing them out on her computer and fastening them with basic paper fasteners. She says it was a quick weekend project. She then rounded it out a bit by adding a cute potholder set and cookie cutter to each. I happen to know those cook books are still in use, several years later.

The friend who did the plaques mentioned above has come up with a new gift for her mom this year. She has spent the last month or so gathering statements from all members of the family about "the best thing about Christmas at Grandma's." These range from a little one's quote that "She makes really pretty cookies" to elaborate heartfelt statements by one of her brothers about the significance of gathering the generations together at the original home-base. She has mounted these in a scrapbook entitled "Christmas at Grandma's Through the Ages." She and her siblings have even listed all the traditions they recall from their childhood and have told how they've continued each in their own homes. Again, she's dug out those annual group photos of the family and added them throughout the book. This will be the last year they will "do Christmas" at her mom's home as Mama is moving in with one of the children after the holidays.

The miracle of computers and printers in our homes has really simplified a lot of these ideas. Give it some thought, I'm sure you can come up with some really creative ideas for your gift list, too.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Christmas Tree Lots!!!!

I couldn't believe my eyes yesterday. We passed at least 6 Christmas tree lots that were already well-stocked with CUT trees. What's worse? Folks were looking at them!! At least we didn't see any tied to car tops yet. Don't get me wrong. I LOVE real trees and I wouldn't have any other kind in my living room. (One day, I'll tell you the tale of our short-lived artificial tree experiment.) I just feel they're pushing it when they're open for business the week BEFORE Thanksgiving.

I mean, isn't it tradition to see all those lonely empty wooden frames sitting around this week just waiting to be piled with trees on Friday morning? What's happening to TRADITION? I know the trees have actually been cut for quite some time (in most instances) and they really aren't going to be any fresher if they don't put them out until Friday. Yes, I know that tractor trailer sitting on Walmart's lot for the last week has been full of trees just waiting for the Lions or the Kiwanis to get their stands set up. (At least they've had the good manners NOT to do it yet!)

Let's review some REAL Christmas Tree facts:
  • Real Christmas trees are an all-American product, grown in all 50 states, including Alaska and Hawaii. Most artificial trees are are manufactured in Korea, Taiwan or Hong Kong.
  • Real trees are a renewable, recyclable resource. (For every tree cut on a tree farm, 2-3 trees are planted as replacements.) Artificial trees contain non-biodegradable plastics and metals. (Most artificial trees are replaced every 3-5 years.)
  • There are about 15,000 Christmas tree growers in the United States and they employ over 100,000 people, either full or part-time, in the industry.
  • There are approximately 5,000 cut-your-own farms in the United States.
  • The top Christmas tree producing states are Oregon, Michigan, Wisconsin, California, Pennsylvania and North Carolina.
  • The air at a Christmas tree farm not only has that great fresh pine scent but also features lots of freshly oxygenated air. The process of photosynthesis removes carbon-dioxide and other harmful gases from the atmosphere and releases oxygen into the air. This helps delay the earth-warming "greenhouse effect."
  • Just one acre of Christmas trees produces the daily oxygen requirement for 18 people. Young trees in their rapid growth years have a high rate of photosynthesis and produce more oxygen than older trees.
  • After the holidays, you can use the branches as mulch in the garden. (Many urban areas offer a chipping service at certain locations to turn your tree into a bag of mulch.)

So, for these reasons we will once again have a real cut Christmas tree. However, I refuse to go buy it this week!!

(I understand if you insist on going with the balled live trees. You may be younger and more energetic than us or maybe you have softer ground this time of year and can manage to dig a hole large enough to accommodate the new tree after the holidays.) What I can't understand is a silver aluminum tree!!!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Has Santa gone South, or what?

First, a turkey tale ...

A wild turkey in New Jersey decided to take his fate into his own hands (er, "wings," as the case may be). Whether it was a case of turkey-cide or simply trying to assume a lower profile identity, he played a game of "chicken" on the New Jersey Turnpike, running in and out of the high speed traffic. Of course, maybe he was just trying to cross the road. (Just in case you are too young to remember WKRP in Cincinnati - turkeys CAN"T fly.) Maybe he was just trying to run away from home over some sort of family squabble (or would that be "gobble"?) In any case, authorities were able to catch him alive and move him to a "more appropriate" location. Let's just hope it wasn't someone's oven. After all that effort on his part, old Tom Turkey deserves a break. (He's already gotten a few "brakes"!)
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Now, back to our promised feature ...

Is the Post Office closing down the North Pole?

For years (since 1954), thousands of children's letters addressed to "SANTA CLAUS, NORTH POLE" have found their way to the Alaskan town of North Pole. There, a team of volunteers opened thousands of letters each year. Their replies to the children were hand-signed by "elves" and were postmarked "North Pole." (Perhaps you received one of these as a child.)

Of course, the sheer volume of letters meant only a small percentage (thousands, though) actually made their way to North Pole, Alaska. Others were handled in side branches throughout the large post offices around the country. At those satellite locations, volunteers opened and read letters to determine true need and when such was found, made efforts to deliver packages to those children - packages signed by "Santa" and his "elves."

Unfortunately, the state of the times caused the postal service to begin restricting the policies of the program known as Operation Santa in 2006. At that point, they began requiring volunteers to show identification in order to participate. Then, last year, a volunteer in Maryland was identified as a registered sex offender and activities in a number of the satellite "Operation Santas" were suspended. (This person was identified and eliminated from the program before he had access to any personal information concerning a child.) The Post Office was forced to institute further regulations concerning the implementation of the program.

This year, Post Office branches wishing to participate In Operation Santa must redact all information identifying the child's last name and address from each letter. This must be replaced with a computerized address code, known only by the Post Office. It is a labor intensive and costly effort. Budgets and labor forces have been cut. Many Post Offices can't do this. The Anchorage Post Office (headquarters for the North Pole, Alaska branch) has determined the restrictions are simply not feasible due to cost cutting efforts. The North Pole Post Office will not be doing Operation Santa this year.

Back in North Pole, where light posts resemble candy canes and streets bear names like Kris Kringle Way and Santa Claus Lane, the elves (town folk) are outraged! Their Mayor, likens it to a Dr. Seuss tale, "It's Grinchlike that the Postal Service never informed the little elves before the fact. They've been working on this for how long?"

The 2100 residents of North Pole pride themselves on their Christmas ties and spirit. One of the tourist attractions is Santa Claus House that sells over 100,000 letters from Santa, postmarked "North Pole." They have a store that features everything Christmas, year round. Visitors to the Post Office get a hand-stamped "North Pole" postmark on postcards and packages. All are devastated by the news. Further upsetting the elves is the fact that out-of-state requests for "North Pole" cancellations will now be handled in Anchorage - some 260 miles to the South!

***Many Post Offices around the country are attempting to continue the Operation Santa charitable efforts. It just won't be happening at the North Pole. So don't be surprised if your child's letters arrive with postmarks from such exotic Toy Workshop locations as Boise, Santa Fe, Philadelphia, or even Miami!

The residents of North Pole are appealing to their Congressional representatives in Washington to take action to save the North Pole tradition before Christmas. I'll keep you posted.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Finally - A creatively productive day!!!

I spent the day painting both orders and some new holiday items for the shop. I have a bunch of stuff to photograph and list by next weekend when I believe (or at least fervently hope) folks will hit the computers with their credit cards handy and start buying - a lot!!

I did get some holiday potholders listed yesterday and I've already sold a few of those. I was also able to list a product that I've been selling off line for a while but had trouble working out a practical means of shipping until now. I haven't sold that one yet but it did get quite a few views yesterday when I first added it to the shop.

In between painting, I also did some major cooking and even caught a little interesting news along the way.
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Did you know, you could actually be arrested for refusing to tip a waitress?

It happened in Bethlehem, PA recently! A group of eight friends reportedly spent a little time at a pub and racked up a $73.00 bill. Service was awful. It took over an hour to get their order and one of the women needed to get up and get their own napkins and silverware. The place was busy but this was a bit unreasonable. They even had to go up to the bar themselves for a soda refill as the waitress "never came back."

When the bill arrived, there was an 18% ($16.00) gratuity tacked onto the bill since it was a large group (not an unusual practice). This was just too much to bear for one of the couples. They went to the bartender in charge and complained about the gratuity when service was pretty much non-existent. Supposedly, the bartender offered to comp the food but demanded the gratuity be paid. They refused to pay the tip but paid the bill for the food in full. The bartender called the police and the couple was actually arrested and charged with theft since the gratuity was officially a part of the bill.

They have a Court date scheduled for next month!

I know they felt it was a matter of principle, but wouldn't it have made more sense for the establishment to simply forgive the tip in the interest of customer service, OR, in the alternative, wouldn't the customers have made out better to pay the tip under protest but accept the comp on the food? To quote my b-i-l, "Let's pretend one of us wasn't stupid here..."
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On a sad note, the U.S.P.O. has discontinued Operation Santa. There's hope it will be resurrected. The Alaskan town that serves as North Pole Central is frantically working to resolve the issue. I'll tell you about this one in tomorrow's post.

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Okay, now for something a little lighter...

Let's look at some of my new stuff!!!!





Here's one of my handpainted tables that I've finally been able to list in my online shop.

I love painting these and they sell fairly well offline but I had been unable to find a practical means of shipping them. I could not locate boxes for packing them and could not afford to swallow the costs of having one of those shipping stores box it for me. (Boxing and packing is where those guys make their profits!)

Recently I read a thread in one of the Etsy forum posts about shipping framed artwork and it was suggested they use boxes available from the U-Haul Stores referred to as "mirror boxes." I checked this out and they do have an appropriate box at a reasonable cost. The actual shipping, once it was boxed, was not outrageous. Look for more of these tables in the shop in the future.

I was also able to get some holiday potholders listed yesterday and today.

Want more details, simply click on the pic for a link to the listing at Splashin (my online shop).
Santa and Frosty are all smiles. Wouldn't these be great Secret Santa items?


I'm sure Granny and Great Aunt Mable would love them in their kitchens, too!





Then there is Mr. and Mrs. Ginger, "the cookie couple." I listed these this morning just before lunch, ran out to the grocery store and came home to find they'd already sold! So, I listed a second batch of them.

These have proven to be the most popular in my offline sales, as well.



This is Ray the Reindeer, he's the lesser known cousin of Rudolph. He wasn't blessed with a glowing nose so he's been relegated to helping Mrs. Clause in the kitchen!






****There's a bonus Christmas Cookie recipe included with every potholder purchase.

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Oh yeah! I mentioned cooking today, too. Seems we bought some oversized produce this weekend. What can I say, I can't resist a bargain. Among our purchases were a bag load of bell peppers at 4 for $1 ( I cut these up for the freezer. We use an inordinate amount of peppers around here. They're as much a staple in my kitchen as flour and eggs!) and a giant head of broccoli for 75 cents! We do love broccoli, so we just cut that up and have steamed some every night this week. (I believe I will be ready for a different green veggie in the next few days. I like it, but enough is enough!) Then there was the large economy size head of cabbage, weighing in at close to 6 lbs!! This was the deal at only 50 cents!! I couldn't resist taking their picture ( the soda can is for size perspective) and sending it off to my b-i-l the "bargain king". He's so jealous!!
Today I shredded all that cabbage and I'll be cooking it tomorrow. I have a great recipe for a hot spicy slaw that tastes like a richly seasoned sauerkraut but is much more colorful. it really looks "harvesty." (Is that a word?)