Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Gingerbread Pancakes

There's something about molasses. The mere smell or tiny taste of it automatically transports me back to my grandmother's kitchen. Her spice cabinet was filled with its scent, and I vividly recall sitting on her countertops staring into her bowl of molasses cookie dough (and occasionally giving it a stir). Her soft cookies were a family favorite.

So, it's no surprise that I'm also a gingerbread fan. Like, huge. My mother once brought gingerbread to celebrate my birthday instead of a cake in college, and it was AWESOME. There's just something about the spongy, spicy goodness (topped off with homemade whipped cream...always homemade).

I decided to make some of my "mug" pancakes in the gingerbread tradition, complete with (real) butter, (real) syrup, aaaaaand whipped cream. Yep. Let's just say they're perfect for your Christmas morning. Oh, and try using some greased cookie cutters on the griddle to make adorably festive shapes!


Gingerbread Pancakes

1 mugful flour
1 mugful milk
1 egg
about 1/8 - 1/4 c. molasses
1 tsp. cinnamon
sprinkle clove
1/4 tsp. ginger
pinch salt
1 1/2+ tsp. baking powder
1/2 baking soda
1/2 tsp. vanilla

Whisk together dry ingredients and spices. Separately, whisk egg with molasses and vanilla, then add, along with milk, to dry ingredients. Don't overmix.

Cook in greased skillet or griddle over medium heat in spoonfuls (depending on size you prefer). Flip when you see bubbles appearing.

Top with butter and syrup, cinnamon and sugar, vanilla yogurt, or a dollop of homemade whipped cream (or a variation of any of these).

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These would be a perfect holiday breakfast, along with some sausage or thick-cut bacon and sweet potato hash browns. Hope you enjoy them, too!

Monday, December 15, 2014

Welcome Back, Red

In the early days of my blog, I had a lot of red decor in my house -- and I HATED it. So, over the years I neutralized things with a white slipcover, a switch-out of pillows/curtains, and (the best part) a freshly painted no-longer-crimson dining room. I had a huge bias against anything and everything red.

But, now it's Christmastime again, and I decided to pull out some candy cane colors...mixed with some traditional neutral, vintage and woodsy items, of course. It's how I do.

I'm a great believer in picking a theme every year. It makes it way easier when I'm looking at the bins of decorations, deciding which to use (can't possibly use them all in our tiny house). It also helps me flex my creative juices, which I always find fun. I even found a few minutes to string some white and red pom-poms onto some red threat for a homemade garland (to add to a banner that I made in the fall and totally forgot to share with you...so let's pretend that's new, too, mkay?).

One of my favorite things is that everything except for that new garland (which was super cheap; under $5 with plenty of materials leftover) were free from our stash. I've had a stack of vintage Christmas cards that I bought in VT years ago that my husband loves as much as I do, so I love that I was finally able to pull them out and find a purpose for them. With all of the old-school movies were tend to pull out this time of year (okay, and throughout the year), it's very "us" to use these, with messages and images that harken back to those lovely, simpler times. 

I've added a thing here or there since these crappy cell phone pictures were taken, like building up the greens more (had to trim the tree) and I realized that the chunky trim above our built-ins is PERFECT for displaying Christmas cards, like a free ledge shelf.

So, here's a little view of our Christmas cheer this year.




Hard to see, but here's some detail...















The tree is super simple this year (it's a Toddler + Cat Tree). Looking through the pictures, I realize how many are personal touches. I grabbed some red books from our upstairs shelves and mixed them with my winter magazine collection. The beautiful, rustic blue painting in the dining room is one Dave did in high school (I know, right?!). We mixed antiques and chalkboards (did a quick reindeer sketch on my $1 board and a surprisingly simple drawing of Nest of Posies' printable) and some of my favorite all-season accessories (like mercury glass candle holders and switching out vase fillers).

I like to think this mix makes the house feel fun and festive but in a cozy, hint-of-the-modern way. Oh, and I only decorate those few spaces, usually. (No bathroom or even kitchen decor here this year.) What about you guys? Do you decorate the same way every year? Do you try new things or find comfort in the tradition of your favorite pieces? How does your place look this year?

And I totally know I don't have a tree topper. I'll actually be talking about that later this week. 

Friday, December 12, 2014

The Real Santa

Isn't it strange how belief and acceptance can come in phases? It can be applied to much in life, but for today, I'm talking Santa.

My belief in the big guy only lasted until about second grade. I wasn't out to "find out" about him. I didn't really question a single bit of it. I was riding merrily along in full belief mode, ignorant of the facts.

But, then I found myself in a storm of constant sickness. One evening, I was resting poorly in my mother's bed (to avoid getting any siblings sick), flailing around uncomfortably, when I absentmindedly fell out of bed. When what to my eyes did appear but...Teddy Ruxpin.

I furrowed my brow. Huh. Well. Maybe Mom bought him for me instead of Santa since she knew how badly I wanted him. Yeah. That.

So, on Christmas morning, when I opened the gift and noticed that the tag did, indeed, say that the gift was from the jolly man in the red suit, well...I was depressed. The fact that good ol' Teddy only lasted a week before he started speaking a low, eerie language all his own that even my grandfather couldn't fix added insult to injury.

Fast forward 25+ years. I've been excitedly attending the Candlelight Evening at a local living history museum on and off since I was a teen. At this event, it is always the coldest time you can imagine having on planet Earth, and it is always incredible. There are white bag luminaries and lanterns lit throughout the grounds, where you can visit "local shopkeepers and vendors" like the printer, doctor, pharmacist, tavern, church and more. There's a working farm with animals that you can greet, and wassail cauldrons over bonfires strewn throughout the space. Delicious comfort food is served (can you say "gingerbread"?) and you can buy handmade goodies (or more touristy stuff) at several shops, all while hearing the sound of carolers and performers wafting with the sound of horse-drawn carriages.

I mean, seriously. What's more traditionally Christmasy than that? We hear so many songs about jingle bells and horses, sharing cheer and the like, but how often can you see it in person? It's unimaginable.



The best part of all, though, is St. Nicholas. My God, guys. It's the REAL Santa. Seriously. He talks in the schoolhouse about the tradition of St. Nick, as well as telling a story about what preparations were made for Christmas in the 1800s ("saving the best apples in the cellar from the autumn harvest"), before wandering around outside for people to interact with him. When my nephew was younger and in that is-he-or-isn't-he-real phase, he saw Santa, dropped his jaw, and went up to him to say, "It's such a pleasure to meet you, sir!!" I mean, good!


So, of course, after Dave experienced this whole thing for the first time (we even dragged some friends along over the years), we decided that it would be a tradition, barring bad weather, for our family. I honestly don't recall whether we brought Hadley when he was a baby-baby (I almost think so...?), but last year was his first memorable experience (check it out here and here). It was cold and snowy - terrifyingly so on the ride home - but wonderful. He met Santa, who knew our names (!) and the rest is history. And of course we'll be visiting this year, although we have a far antsier little toddler on our hands who may or may not allow me to sit and enjoy my gingerbread (an old fashioned peppermint stick bribe may be in order), but as long as we can see THE Santa, we'll be happy.

But I WILL have my gingerbread. Oh, yes. Make no doubts about that.

I've always tried to keep the Santa concept going with my young students, although it used to be awkward and kind of difficult for me. Now that he's part of our vocabulary, though, I find myself having total dialogues with Dave (or even myself) about what Santa's life must be like, and how he gauges between a naughty deed and being a truly naughty child, and so forth. As if I'm part of a play that turns incredibly "method", I have actually started to believe again.

I mean, of course I realize how the whole thing works. Clearly. But, thanks to this little boy (and the help of a few hundred elementary students and one incredibly convincing old-fashioned Santa), the spirit of St. Nicholas is still very much alive and well in my heart.

And, really, isn't that the idea of Christmas?

So, be honest, guys. Do you believe? Has anyone else had a "rebirth" regarding the issue? Or go ahead and tell us how you found out "the truth"?  

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Holiday Cleaning



Things may be fully holiday decorated at our house, but things seem more disheveled than usual. I'm pretty sure it's because we a) have a super small house, b) bring so much additional "stuff" in (like gifts, Christmas cards, wrapping, etc) this time of year, and c) didn't plan ahead and clean before the onslaught of the holidays. So, today's just a brain dump of all the "unfun" stuff to do so that my brain isn't swimming by Christmas. Let's blame my mother; she always had the house quite clean for the holidays. I always assumed it was because we were having a special guest (Santa) come; it was probably actually because of the REAL guests (family) coming. Duh, Meg.

Anyhoo, some of this I'm sure I won't get to, but I also have T-W-O whole weeks off for the holidays, so I foresee a "New Year project" or two here...

- Kitchen walls/shelves. My open shelving area is a bit of a hot mess. The dishes we use all the time are perfectly clean, but the shelves themselves have a layer of grease (which attracts more than a little dust and probably cat fur) and need a good scrubbing and reorganizing.

- Kitchen cabinets. Also in the kitchen and also in need of a good scrubbing are my cabinets. The insides are also SUPER disorganized (namely the bottom ones, which hold all cookware). Truth be told, a scrub + paint job are in order. Blah.

- The damn "V." Okay. So. Over Hadman's crib, I applied papier-mache letters that spell out "LOVE" when he was a baby. They've worked perfectly up until this point. One day, while he was supposed to be napping (that's a whole other issue lately), I hear over the monitor a weird clicking noise. Come to find out, he had pulled the "V" off of the wall and started using it as a clapper -- tearing the middle of the letter so that he could "clap" the two sides together. I. Was. Livid. He got pretty upset, too. He's still asking where the V is and I have a hard time not snarkily responding that he's responsible for the death of the V. (sigh) I don't say that. But I want to. :-\

-  Office disorganization. This is an ongoing headache. For now we've just gotta pick the place up and make it look presentable, but ultimately we've gotta figure out our storage and do a total overhaul of how we use the space.

- Gifts are messy. I love giving gifts, and even kind of enjoy wrapping them. But, keeping the joint somewhat picked up is a pain. I always end up with a bag containing tags, ribbons/bows, tape, and a pen that I use for the whole shebang, and generally keep a large box of boxes, bags, tissue paper, and gift wrap nearby, but I'm not one to schlep the whole thing down to the basement when done only to drag it back up later. Maybe I'm just lazy? We also have a HUGE gift that arrived, box in shambles, that's giving me an eye twitch.


This is all aside from the fun "responsibilities" of the holiday, of course, and the usual upkeep of the joint. Can you say floor mopping? :-( I was hoping to get a chore or two (along with a fun "chore" or two!) out of the way today, thanks to some inclement weather, but that didn't turn out to be very bad. Blah.

I didn't really do a good fall cleaning this year, so if I had I'm sure I'd be less bummed about these jobs. So, please don't take this as complaining as much as my own mental checklist of crap I have to do -- and commiserating, if you will! :-)

What about you guys? Any chores you dread doing but that you're sick of having hanging over your heads this time of year? 

 

Monday, December 8, 2014

Christmas Tree 1, Us 0

I'm a fan of real Christmas trees, I am. I even recently wrote a piece for Green Child Magazine finally answering a constant question in the green community: which is greener, a real tree or artificial? But this year, we found ourselves having a battle that found us grumbling the pluses of fake trees.

As with last year, we found our tree (and a couple of inexpensive, gorgeous wreaths) at Candella's in Marcy. It was a nerve-wracking trip home, between the line of traffic piling behind us and keeping a constant eye on the branches jutting off the car roof. When we finally got home, Hadley gave us a hell of a time going down for a nap (the time we were going to use to put the thing up).

Eventually, we started working on dragging the tree in and setting it up. The two lessons of the day are, if possible, determine how many branches REALLY need to be trimmed off the bottom of the tree when the gentleman asks how we'd like it trimmed and, um, we need a new tree stand.

Let's just say it took about an hour+ of frustrated finagling (and a couple of small pieces of scrap wood in the water bowl part of the tree stand as a makeshift support/wedge) before the tree was freestanding.

As I sit watching "White Christmas," I'm in a fowl mood, eying the unadorned tree. It's Sunday night and I now have absolutely zero motivation to even decorate the thing. But, since Had's STILL sleeping (um, it's dark out) and I know the glow of those glimmering white lights will be worth it. Coming in to the cozy glow at the end of the work day will be awesome.

But, at the moment, I'm feeling simply defeated. Oh, yes, we will buy another real one next year...but hopefully with a new stand and a keen eye for the "that one looks PERFECT!" allusion.

Who uses a faux tree here? Real? We grew up with the fake kind (and I remember some issues with those, but they were old school), but there's something about the smell of fresh pine that says "Christmas!" Oh, and I also strongly believe in white lights; not colored. ;-)