Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Favorites from 2014

I hope to tell you the story of these roses next week.  They marked a happy occasion for me this past year and are one of 2014's photos and stories that didn't make the blog.  Next week, I hope. 
The year ends with the wing chair re-do still in-progress.  I'm still looking for fabric for the seat cover and back. 
I mentioned in February that my older brother's "fortieth birthday fudge" arrived broken into pieces and that I was disappointed but was not going to beat myself up about it, but alas, I couldn't resist making a new batch for him later that month.  I left it at my parents' house for him during a visit home along with another gift and a hand-painted deer ornament.  Forty is a big deal; it was worth a second batch of Grandma's fudge. 
My new camera brought immeasurable joy to my days this year.  The Neil Gaiman quote I opened a January post with--"I hope that in the year to come, you make mistakes.  Because if you are making mistakes, you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world"--has come to mind so many times this year, the quote itself has felt like a gift.  I remember my grandfather telling me that, "People who don't make mistakes don't make anything" at a time when I needed to hear exactly that, and to hear this echo of his words in the Gaiman quote has been a blessing to me.  That I now have a real camera to take with me on my walks is just wonderfully fun for me.  The Mourning Dove below was perched on a fence-post as I returned from a walk this summer--
--and I never could have taken a picture with detail like that with the camera on my old flip-phone.  You understand my joy.  :)
I mentioned at the end of 2013 that one of my goals for 2014 was to be more organized and thoughtful with my gift-wrapping like my dear aunt Laurie always is.  I put more thought into my gift-wrapping, but I didn't end the year any more organized with it.  Mom had predicted that it would be harder for us to be as  organized as Aunt Laurie is with these types of things since Aunt Laurie's entire attic serves as her space for craft supplies and gift wrap supplies and gifts-yet-to-be-given.  In a one-bedroom apartment, I don't have the same set-up, and after multiple organizational attempts this year, I've come to accept that I'll just have to do the best I can with what I have when it comes to this.  Maybe someday, I too will have a space I can devote to all things gift-giving-related.  Aunt Laurie didn't have her attic until she was in her forties, after all, so I still have time.  Dare to dream.  ;) 
Our Easter table this year was sweet--turquoise and peach with rabbits--but I never got a post up about it.  One of the local grocery stores had these adorable bunny truffles in its store-made candy department, so I bought two for our place-settings.  If I'm remembering right, the ears were nuts--probably almond slices.  Anyway, I want to make these sometime--maybe for Easter 2015.  They "made" the table. 
 The girl-holding-her-cat figurine above was my favorite birthday gift this year.  This was how it looked after I painted it to resemble me and Stuffed.  I'm not a kick-knack person, but this little figure's so special to me. 
One of the highlights of this past year--that also somehow didn't make it onto the blog--was a Color Run 5k race my friend Marylou and I ran/walked/laughed our way through this summer.  I told Marylou if she'd come up from West Virginia for it and drive us to the race city, I'd pay for the motel stay and race fees.  We made it work, and especially since it was the first time we'd seen each other since 2008, we had a blast.  
That I was still finding purple and green powder from the run in my hair two showers later was a small price to pay.  It was my first race of any length since 2011.  So fun! 
In June, I got home in time to see my favorite rose, Louise Odier, in-bloom. 
I also got to see all three of my mom's sisters.  The above picture of Mom and Aunt Laurie is my all-time favorite of them together.  This is the one I framed as part of Aunt Laurie's birthday gift last week.   
During that June visit home, my aunt Heidi showed me this old picture of me and my mom, and it has become one of my most-treasured possessions.  I'd never seen it before.  Love, love, love. 
I took photos I loved too. 
And wrote at least one post this year that made me proud.  I'd wanted to write about Papa and Grandma's crayon can for years, and I finally found the words.  
A double rainbow appeared behind our apartment this summer. 
 Stuffed was as dear as ever.    Each year--each day--with this sweet soul is a gift.  
I walked many miles in 2014. 
And lost pounds that I have regained and lost and regained since then, the story of my life, it seems, but the glory is in the attempt, etc. 
In 2014, I began donating books and book character toys/dolls to my former elementary school's library.  The new year's first donations will be delivered when the kids return to school after holiday break next week.  :)
Home continues to be cozy and colorful.  
Mr. V wrote back!  A long letter arrived in the mail just a few days after I'd mailed out his in October.    He is now in-touch with my younger brother via Facebook, which also delights me.  I got in touch with my kindergarten teacher and second grade teacher this year too, and they and I have emailed back and forth a few times, as well.  My heart glows just thinking about it. 
More walks.  A glorious autumn, the most colorful one I remember ever seeing. 
And a year that ends with memories of more gifts happily created and given--Emmet!  --
--and happily received
2014 was challenging and beautiful and colorful and full of love.  May 2015 shine just as brightly, and may I be a better and braver person by its end.    I'm working on it, and the work continues.   Ah!  Happy new year to you all! 

Monday, December 29, 2014


One of my dad's retirement hobbies has become making fishing lures.  While I was home, he showed me the lure-making studio he'd arranged in his basement den, and it was an impressive little set-up:  An easel with clamps at his desk to hold the lures in-place while he paints them, cabinets to store the eyes, loops, and hooks; a special lamp to make seeing the detailed work easier on his eyes.  While I was wrapping presents in the dining room one afternoon, Dad appeared with the whittled wooden fish pictured above in one hand and said I could have this prototype--as an ornament or good luck charm.  I will be keeping it out year-round, of course. 
Knowing of his new hobby, I had brought home with me a fish-related ornament for him too (along with some paints ordered from a lure-making supply catalog and some paintbrushes as part of his actual gift), although my fish was one I'd made from a sawed-off wooden spoon end.  He added it to his and Mom's Christmas tree right away, just as I did with mine from him as soon as I returned here.  :)
He also showed me his first finished lure.  "The painting's a little messy," he said modestly.  "This is just the first one, and I hurried to finish it so you could see one while you're still home. . . ."  I am most-impressed.  I told him that and also told him that it's so neat to me that he's learned how to make these.  "Just think:  A few months ago, you didn't know how to do this, and now look--You've made your own fishing lures!  That's so cool!"  He laughed and said, "Well, I learned from a book--I didn't just suddenly know how to make them."  That's just it, though, I went on:  He wanted to learn how to make fishing lures, so he set off to learn, he ordered a book and supplies, he spent hours at his desk whittling wooden dowels and attaching parts and painting--compare my prototype ornament to the first finished one!--and now, he can say that this is something he knows how to do.  The entire process has fascinated me.  Dad listened, laughed his modest Dad-laugh again, mumbled something about it not being that hard, held up the lure so I could take a picture after I asked, and returned to his basement studio to make some more. 

Friday, December 26, 2014

Aunt Laurie's Birthday

My dear Aunt Laurie's birthday is today.  The simple little package I mailed her this Monday reached her on Christmas Eve, and I've been happy this week as I imagine her opening her aqua tissue-papered gifts. I made the aqua gingham puffy heart ornament ornament above and was thrilled with how it turned out.  I had enough of that fabric left in my scrap bag and enough lace--just enough lace--to add the trim and to cut one small snowflake-shape from it. 
I wrote her a letter and had prints made of a bunch of recent photos so she would be caught up on things--"a visit in a box," I called it--wrapped those in tissue, sprinkled a package's worth of white peanut butter cups (since she and her family don't like chocolate [I can't imagine]) around it, framed a favorite photo of her and Mom in an aqua and turquoise floral frame I'm no longer using, and packed it into the bottom of the small aqua toy suitcase that this crochet kit came in when I received it last Christmas.  (I got nowhere learning from the kit, so I will have to take lessons somewhere.  And I'm glad to give the suitcase a new home.) 
I saw this vintage Christmas card online awhile back and saved the picture to the computer to make a 4" x 6" print of, and after I punched a hole into the top, that print became a gift tag I tied onto the suitcase's handle with curling ribbon.  The girl in the illustration reminds me so much of Aunt Laurie. 
With more curling ribbon, I tied the heart onto the suitcase handle too. 
And it has been sweet all week knowing that from a bag of candy, some reprints, and odds and ends around the apartment, I got a very Aunt Laurie-ish package together.  I hope she has had the happiest of birthdays. 

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Orange Christmas

As it did last year at Thanksgiving, an orange table felt like the way to go this Christmas morning.  Each of our four married Christmases so far, I've decorated our Christmas breakfast table in a different color--aqua in 2011, pink in 2012, a creamy yellow last year, and now orange too--and setting the table in it has become one of my favorite Christmastime tasks.  It is the last thing I do before collapsing into bed Christmas Eve.  I set it up while our cinnamon rolls for morning's breakfast are baking and after Mike has gone to bed.  It is quiet and calming and soothing to me, transforming a bare surface and a pile of set-aside-this-year's-color-items into a cozy and inviting table for us.  Christmas morning, Mike makes an egg casserole to go with my cinnamon rolls. 
I decided on orange on Tuesday and looked around the apartment to see what I had on-hand that would work.  A felted bird that had been hanging in the window was pulled down for a table decoration, pieces of orange gingham fabric were ultimately taped together to show up under the white lace snowflake  tablecloth, an orange cup worked as Mike's juice glass (I'm not a juice fan and didn't need one), a pumpkin-scented candle and an apple-scented one from Mom were deemed orange enough to fit the bill, orange star sprinkles and glitter were set aside for table decorations and cinnamon roll toppings, and an orange paper lantern that usually hangs in the kitchen ended up being temporarily taped to the ceiling above our dining table. 
I arranged a few cream and white village houses, snowflake ornaments, and trees around the table to fill in the bare spots a bit. 
An orange gingham gift bag from the drugstore was cut up and became two place-mats, and the two strips of it that were left after place-mat-making became what looked like a trivet for the cinnamon rolls but were actually just a couple two-inch-wide strips of gingham bag/paper stuck under the edges of the pan on two sides.  :)
Two fifty-cent orange-striped candies from the grocery store served as table decorations this morning and became Christmas tree ornaments when the table was cleared.   
A tiny white plastic container that Mike's mom has sent a leftover pickled egg home to him in at Thanksgiving was transformed, with the help of the gift bag's orange ribbon and a small circle of the gingham bag itself glued into its lid, into a butter dish.  The snowflake spreader was a drugstore clearance item years ago. 
Stuffed, Stuffed, Stuffed.    I love his round head and his cheek-fluff and his half-black-half-white face and his paw lines.  He is such a sweetheart, just so dear.  You can see behind him that the orange gingham fabric under the lace tablecloth is really just scraps of fabric that barely cover the top; There is no "drop" or overhang with it, no.  :)  But from above!  From above, it looked good.  ;)
What is it about gingham that is so charming?  I love it in any color.  Dots don't do it for me, although I like them too, especially tiny dotted Swiss.  Stripes rarely make me swoon.  Plaids are pretty, but I've never smiled over one.  But gingham  And orange gingham this morning!  Just looking at the pictures makes me happy. 
The village houses were both gifts from Mom and Aunt Laurie previous Christmases.  The tablecloth was a gift from my younger brother years ago.  The tree candles and trees were from Mom.  Mom also made the pillows on the chairs.  Some of the pots and pans were from my brothers and sisters-in-law.  Others belonged to my grandparents.  The table itself was a housewarming present from my parents for my first all-to-myself apartment back in 2002.  The drinking glasses were given to us by my in-laws.  Oh, this room--this whole apartment--is filled with so much love!  There are tokens of loved ones' hopes for us everywhere we turn, and setting the Christmas breakfast table always reminds me of that. 
We are blessed. 
It was a sweet morning. 
The snowflakes and paper lantern I taped to the ceiling never crashed down on to the lit candles during breakfast either.  A cup of fire-dousing water and a smothering quilt were at-the-ready just in case, reported the Lady of the House in her most-nonchalant-now-that-the-meal-has-passed-without-incident manner. 
I hope your own holidays are bright and beautiful. 
I know many are hurting over losses and transitions and that this can be a heartbreaking time of year.   My dad has been known to declare that "Better days will come," and I concur.  To be hurting during the holidays makes one feel freakishly lonely and lowly.  I have been there, as we all probably will have been at least once in our time here, and it makes these holidays that are filled with orange gingham and snowflake spreader glee all the more deeply appreciated.
Love to you all, and the brightest of days ahead for you. 

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

This Year's Christmas Baking

These pseudo Christmas pudding cakes are my favorite things that I've made this holiday.  They're simply inverted chocolate cupcakes topped with buttercream, cinnamon candies, and mint leaves, but oh!    They're so darling, I'll likely make them every year now.  Last year at this time, I was lamenting that I spent so much time baking every Christmas and never made anything that I liked:  Everything was sugar cookies and peanut butter-filled treats for Mike.  I don't like either, really,  although I love making and decorating the sugar cookies, and I really don't like all that slaving away with no treats around for myself, so this year, I wised up and baked a few of these tiny chocolate cakes. 
I also bought myself a couple Russell Stover-brand chocolate marshmallow snowmen.  I'd never had them before this month but treated myself to one a few weeks ago and have treated myself to a few more since.  ;)  The marshmallow inside is a chocolate-flavored marshmallow, thank you very much.  There are a couple "Val desserts" in our home this year, then, and I'm a happy camper. 
The chocolate Rice Krispie balls above were a (gluten-free) treat I made for Mom while home last week.  Jessica at Such Pretty Things (a gorgeous blog if ever there was one) posted a similar recipe awhile back, and I adjusted it to suit Mom more by using chocolate cereal and drizzling them with melted chocolate chips. 
She loved them, which is always a great feeling for a cook or baker, and they looked cute in their gingham loaf pan packaging too.  If these would survive being mailed--and it seems like they would--they would be cute in care packages.   
I made my brothers the now-traditional gift of our grandmother's fudge.  A seller on etsy created these adorable A Christmas Story-themed ornaments, and since the movie is also part of our family holiday, they worked perfectly as the fudge's package decorations.  :)
Sugar cookies have been baked--
and now decorated, as well.  
Dish-washing, gift-wrapping, and Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas-watching are next.  The night is young.  My favorite night!    

It is currently a balmy 58° here--almost unheard of in this region at this time of year--and all our windows are open.  There is no worrying over family driving on icy roads as they travel to my parents' house tonight for Christmas Eve dinner, at least, and maybe this odd weather will ultimately make this winter feel shorter.  And it will make it easier for me to get out and walk off all the marshmallow snowmen and Christmas pudding cakes in the days ahead, yes?  Yes.  :)  As I do every Christmas Eve, I have been happily imagining what you all are up to today, much like the hostess of the old "Romper Room" show looking into her magic mirror and seeing what all the children were up to at that moment.  "I see Lisa:  She's listening to Christmas carols with her cat!  I see Lorraine now!  Look, she's taking a stroll through her Florida garden!  There's Alyssa!  She's keeping an eye on the Elf on a Shelf!"  I have been like this all day, with all my loved ones coming to mind.  I hope my "magic mirror" is correct and that you are each as happy and safe and cozy as I'm envisioning you.  Happiest of holidays to you all.