Friday, November 29, 2013

Gathering Christmas Joy for Decorating

Although I have been very good about NOT decorating for Christmas till after Thanksgiving, I have been storing up some new goodies all along the way!

Danielle at Delightful Mom posted this pinecone wreath earlier this Fall and I fell in love. I finally made it, a little bigger to fill the wall above my mantel. I love it's simplicity and pure whiteness! I have pinecones in baskets around my house year round as there is just something about them, so this wreath spoke to me loud and clear..."You need to make me and hang me above the mantel in the parlor!" Since one of my passions is wreaths and making them I had to oblige!

I am going for a more rustic, vintage look this year in my Christmas decorating. I have stored up a lot of decorations over the years to fill up every room in my house but I always find myself wanting to do something a little different every year.

This idea to decorate vintage and rustic started when I saw this 1950's elf at efinegifts on Etsy. There are pages and pages of delightful vintage items and wonderful Christmas decorating items in this shop.

I had been wanting a pixie elf of my own as it sparks a kind of childhood memory in me. The Elf on the Shelf was not a tradition in our house when I was growing up and I had not heard of it when my girls were little so I missed out on that whole thing! I just love the way he looks perched on my kitchen cupboard.

I found this beautiful French inspired, rustic farmhouse tree, handmade by Amy, at ProvencalMarket on Etsy. It goes well in my Victorian pink and cranberry parlor and in my rustic, farmhouse dining room.

I just may have to leave it up year round!

Dru at The NestinSLT on Etsy makes these beautiful banners and I just had to have one for my parlor mantel. I chose JOY.
There won't be any Christmas decorating pictures just yet.....that will be in a future post. I am still gathering new things and planning my vignettes in my head!
There is a wonderful country store in Chesire, a small town near Canandaigua Lake in the Finger Lakes of Upstate New York. I have to visit every Fall to see what is new and I was not disappointed.
I saw this candle holder and was holding it in awe, going through my mind how I was going to afford it and pay for it when my husband saw the look on my face. "You want that?" he asked. I said something like "how can you tell?" and he said "give it to me" and went and paid for it! I was speechless and did not protest! It has been hanging out on top of my wooden truck in the dining room waiting to be placed, probably on the mantel below the pinecone wreath with the JOY banner underneath. That tree to the left is a new find also, a small retro silver tree that I have the perfect vintage silver and ivory ornaments for.

Good Old Days Country Store is another wonderful country store in Pultneyville, NY and on a recent visit I found two things I just had to have since they sparked that vintage, rustic feel I am going for.

I found an embroidered snowman runner for my kitchen table. It was more than half off because of a few spots on it which I think add to it's character. And a woven snowflake garland that I just had to have. Still thinking on where I will use it.

And then there are the things I have been picking and thrifting for to sell in my Etsy shop NaNa's Things. I made a little vignette out of some of them for the basket listing and I liked it so much I am leaving it there till it sells or I just have to keep it all for my decorating!

The basket is a suitcase style wicker basket so perfect for a display like this. The kitties are made from c.1800's quilts, the tray is an Avon item from 1983, the tree is a vintage ceramic tree with the green and red speckled and drippy glaze and the Santa head is a chalkware bank. All can be found in my shop.

Tomorrow we go to get our live tree and a wreath for the front door. That is when the official Christmas decorating begins!

Have you started yet?

Or are you all done?!

AnnMarie xoxo

I am linking up with these great blog hops:

Freedom Fridays with all My Bloggy Friends
Be Inspired
Treasure Hunt Thursday
Pink Saturday
A Bouquet of Talent Linky Party
diy Sunday Showcase
Marvelous Mondays
Inspiration Monday
Make It Pretty Monday
Amaze Me Monday
Talking Tuesday

Thursday, November 21, 2013

DIY Advent Calendars - A Tradition

I am not sure when it all started but one of the Christmas traditions at my home every year is the Advent Calendar. The festivities start December 1st.

I think when I found my advent calendar on sale for half price and had to have it, I instituted the tradition........meaning that I suggested to my husband to fill it for me so that I could have a treat every day of December!

A beautiful display piece with the doors closed

Don't worry....I made both my husband and son their own advent calendars and each year I fill them up with treats for every day in December too.

An Advent Calendar is a special calendar used to count or celebrate the days in anticipation of Christmas. One window is opened every day leading up to Christmas. The calendar windows open to reveal an image, a poem or a portion of a story, such as the story of the Nativity. A small gift, such as a toy or a chocolate item can be put inside.

I will explain how I made my version of an advent calendar for my husband and son and, if you are a sewer, it should be fairly easy to make one of your own. I apologize that this is not exactly a tutorial. These calendars are already made and I don't have any step by step pictures.

I made these for my husband and son. You can choose any fabric and colors to suit whoever you are making it for or to match your décor. You can scale it down also to fit a special spot.

My husband Frank's calendar had to be Spiderman, a superhero favorite of his since childhood....

My son Michael's had to be a Gecko theme since he has a real Gecko in a cage in his room named Geck's. I actually found material with Gecko's on it.....

Materials Needed:
fabric of choice for the front (the screen print spiderman measures 34" x 44")
fabric of choice for the backing (same size as the front)
felt for the pockets - about a yard
black marker
number stencil
36" dowel - 1/2" thick
1 yard cording or twine for the hanger
 A large enough spot to hang it!

For the Spiderman I used the screened by the yard prints that are found at any fabric store. That determined the size it was going to be and the amount of fabric I needed for the back. I used black felt by the yard for the black.
For the pockets I cut out 24  4" x 4" squares from red felt and used a number stencil and a black marker for the numbers, 1-24. If you have a steady hand you could free hand the numbers. For the gecko calendar I used a product called Scribbles in Iridescent Charcoal Grey for the numbers. It is 3D paint which dries to a hard finish. I penciled the numbers on and then traced with the paint.
Next pin the pockets evenly on the front fabric in random order. It's more fun to have to hunt for the number and the treat than to have them all in order! Sew them on three sides on the machine leaving the top open.
Once that is done sew the back fabric on.With right sides together, I sewed all four sides with a 5/8" seam, minus about 6" to turn it inside out through. Once turned blind stitch the opening closed. On the outside I sewed a finishing seam along the black border that was already there. If there is not a border sew a 1/4" seam all the way around the edge.
For the dowel pocket turn over the top 1 1/2" and sew down. If you have a border at the top of your front fabric that would ruin the design by turning it over, leave the top open when sewing the front to the back and add a 2" wide piece of the back fabric after you turn the whole thing right side out. Turn that down 1 1/2" and and sew it down.

 On the gecko calendar I didn't have a border so I just turned the top over 1 1/2" and sewed it down.

Knot your cord or twine on both ends of the dowel. You can add any other embellishments you want, like I did with the gecko with the Santa hat on. I just drew him and cut it out of felt and glued it all on.

Need ideas what to fill the pockets with? I have filled them with small toys, small candies, socks and razors. A fun thing to do for an item that is too large for the pocket is to write a note with a clue on where it is hidden and put the note in the pocket. I have done this many times with bottles of favorite beverages that are hidden in the back of the fridge.

Another great idea is to write out notes of holiday inspired things to do to fill each pocket. For example...."fill the bird feeder today with dried cranberries" or "bake some cookies for your neighbor" or "take a drive tonight through the neighborhood to see the lights"....

Be creative! It is fun for the one who fills and for the one who receives!

One last thing for those of you who love the idea of an Advent Calendar but don't want to sew. There is a wonderful website out of England that I subscribe to year round for greeting cards to send online. Every Christmas they offer advent calendars to download onto your computer that you can go and check every day starting December 1st. They are done with beautiful graphics and lots of activities. I send one to each of my granddaughters as a treat for them leading up to Christmas.

Here is the website:

AnnMarie  xoxo

I am linking up with these great blog parties:

What's It Wednesday Link Party
Adorned From Above Blog Hop
Open House Blog Party
Treasure Hunt Thursday
Thursday Favorite Things Blog Hop
Anything Blue Friday
The Pin Junkie Friday Link Party
DIY Sunday Showcase
A Bouquet of Talent
Sweet & Savoury Sundays
Marvelous Mondays
Inspiration Monday
Make It Pretty Monday

Thursday, November 14, 2013

I've Caught the Knitting Bug

I learned to knit when I was about 12 years old. Haven't since and now I am, well, 50 something. I do remember some of the basics though.

I have my heart set on making a throw for my bed like the picture above. My dream may never be realized as the yarn for this costs $198 a skein!

When my dear friend Bonnie started a prayer shawl ministry I wanted to participate to take up knitting again and learn to make that throw. Bonnie is an accomplished knitter and has the patience to teach others also. I was about to learn a few things from her, and not just about knitting.

Her love of knitting together with her desire to serve the Lord led her to want to start the ministry. As we all can be when stepping out into a new venture, she was hesitant to take that first step. A powerful visual message at our church about breaking down barriers and fears prompted her to step out. Once she did the doors starting opening.

There is a cute café in Williamson, New York called the Firewall Coffee Hall. It is a community sponsored not for profit coffee house. It used to be the headquarters for the Williamson Fire Department and in keeping with that, the inside and outside is decorated with a firemen theme.

Anita volunteers at the coffee house and once Bonnie told her about her ministry, she was happy to open the doors to the ladies.

Anita with her granddaughter Grace who has just learned to crochet.
Every other Saturday morning a group of knitting ladies meet there to knit and chat and drink coffee. They have named themselves The Knit Wits.

The cafe serves Finger Lakes Coffee Roasters coffee, which is locally made and a treat in itself.

 Marcia volunteers serving coffee and goodies and also knits with the ladies.
As I questioned Bonnie about how it all worked, I quickly realized that this was not the place to go and knit what I wanted, but to knit as a ministry for others.

A prayer shawl is a knitted wrap for around your shoulders or legs, a handmade gift covered in prayer. Those that knit pray over the stitches, that they give comfort, peace and warmth to someone who is sick, recovering or downtrodden. They are also nice to give to mothers of newborns, and men who are ill appreciate them also. Bonnie hears wonderful stories about how they are used. One woman takes hers to chemotherapy to keep warm during her treatments. Others have been passed on to the family members as a remembrance of someone who had been in hospice.

A nice discount on yarn at a local craft supply store helped Bonnie supply the yarn at the beginning. Another open door. The knitter supplies the needles. For a beginner, like me, Bonnie casts the stitches on and then you knit. Or, like for me, she had to rip it out twice and cast new stitches on before getting it going because I kept messing it up!

I was so excited to get a couple rows done that I had to take a picture!
After a shaky start I started making headway and my shawl started to show some inches! Obviously I have a long way to go! And that is the part of the draw to join in with these ladies. You don't have to have any experience with knitting, just a desire to serve in this ministry. There is no time frame or pressure to get a shawl done. You just have to reserve every other Saturday for the Firewall Coffee Cafe to sit and knit and chat and drink coffee with other sweet ladies for a couple hours!

Bonnie (right) is helping Carrie (left) get started as Arlene rolls her yarn into a ball.
My daughter Jena joined me the first time I was able to go. She is a knitter herself, since about 12 years old, having learned from her grandmother. She fit right in. I was busy taking notes for my post and knitting in between.

I went around the table asking the ladies how they started knitting.....

Marcia learned to knit  at a women's retreat and has been knitting for 8 years. She makes scarves and socks.

Arlene taught herself to knit from an encyclopedia at 8 years old!

Bonnie learned to knit at 5 years old from an Italian lady in her Philadelphia neighborhood. She made blankets for baby dolls.

Anita started knitting at 17 and made sweaters. She learned to crochet for finishing borders and prefers it over knitting. She has taught her eleven year old granddaughter Grace to crochet. Grace wanted to make a prayer shawl for friends and is learning to make prayer squares and phone cases.

Katherine has been knitting for 7 years and crocheting for two. She knitted and knitted and gave everything as gifts. I have received a knitted poncho, a prayer shawl and a blanket from her. She also has donated baby items to a local co-op shop.

And me, I have been knitting for almost two weeks now and I think I am close to being done with my first prayer shawl! I've got the knitting bug! I've already bought the yarn to start my next one!

 This is a permanent fixture at my couch every night....

The yarn actually matches my bag, a gift from Bonnie!
So pretty, isn't it?

Soon after my time with the Knit Wits I had the opportunity to visit the knitting ladies at a local independent senior living community. Bonnie visits each week to knit and chat and help ladies with their knitting. I was warmly welcomed and asked to come back soon. These two ladies, Carolyn and Peggy were a delight to chat with.

Bonnie is my sister in Christ and like a real sister to me. I truly believe the Lord closed the door on a ministry I was a part of for over 8 years and just couldn't physically do anymore, and opened the door to this prayer shawl ministry. I have already been blessed by my first time with the Knit Wits and my visit to the independent living community. I am looking forward to continuing to make prayer shawls to bless others. I get to share this with Bonnie, my daughter and the other ladies.  I can sit and knit and chat, all things that are not too physically hard to do.

Bonnie and Me.....she is beautiful inside and out

It took me a few months to finally go to the Saturday morning knitting in Williamson....things just kept coming up to keep me from being able to go. I had been struggling with what to do with the ministry I was in and then, in one morning, the doors opened wide to a new ministry while they closed shut on the past one. It's all God's timing and I am happy to step out and obey.

Have you caught the knitting bug yet?

AnnMarie :)

I am linking up to these great blog parties!

Tuesday Trivia
Open House Blog Party
Wednesday's Adorned From Above Blog Hop
What's It Wednesday
Treasure Hunt Thursday
Thursday Social Media Roundup Blog Hop
Freedom Fridays with All My Bloggy Friends
Be Inspired
A Bouquet of Talent Linky Party
Raising Imperfection Link Party
 Sweet & Savoury Sundays
Amaze Me Monday
Marvelous Mondays
Make It Pretty Monday
Nifty Thrifty Tuesday

Monday, November 11, 2013

Vintage Scalloped Potatoes

I had to come up with a unique name for my scalloped potatoes to get your attention! And the recipe I am about to share with you is truly vintage!

There are so many recipes out there for these potatoes and they usually involve making a white cheese sauce. Not mine!

This recipe is my own concoction that I made constantly as a single parent when my girls were little. It was during the time when Velveeta was the 1980's. I don't remember what a loaf of Velveeta went for back then but it wasn't the $5.88 I paid recently at Walmart!

I had the whole package too....the Tupperware container you could store it in and the cheese slicer that was designed to cut the perfect slice. The slicer has long been lost....or maybe broken from too much use!

For this recipe you will need potatoes, flour, butter or margarine, Velveeta and milk.

The Best The Only Easy Scalloped Potatoes
Time to bake: 1 hour     400 degrees

This is a no measuring, no specific amounts kind of recipe. Depending on the size of your casserole dish and how many you want to serve you will need:

Enough potatoes to fill the dish, peeled and sliced thin (for a 2 qt. casserole I used 4)
Butter or margarine
Salt and pepper to taste

Place a layer of sliced potatoes on the bottom of a buttered casserole dish. Top with dots of butter, pieces of Velveeta and sprinkles of flour. Salt and pepper to taste. Keep layering until you fill the dish. Pour milk to about half way up the casserole.
Bake in a 400 degree oven for 45 minutes with a cover on. Take cover off the last 15 minutes.

Let it cool before eating, if at all possible! It is not!

What are you cooking for dinner tonight?

AnnMarie :)

I am linking up with these great blog parties....

DIY Sunday Showcase
A Bouquet of Talent Linky Party
Sweet & Savoury Sundays
Let's Get Social Sunday
Make It Pretty Monday
Amaze Me Monday
Marvelous Mondays
Inspiration Monday
Nifty Thrifty Tuesday
Tasty Tuesday
I Love My Post

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Tips on Starting Your Christmas Cookies Now!

The first week of November is when I start baking my Christmas cookies. Yup, you read that right!

With the right preparation you can bake all your Christmas cookies in November, tuck them away in the freezer and have the whole month of December to enjoy the season.

I have been doing it for 30+ years and I make 10-12 kinds of cookies every year!

There is some prep work and leg work to do ahead of time to make sure all goes smoothly when that first week rolls around just after Halloween.

The idea is to plan, buy, bake, freeze, relax!

I realize that the time to do a few of these first tips has come and gone but you can still catch up and get on schedule. There's still plenty of time! Next year you can get this list out on October 1st and get your head start!

Here is a list of my tips:

1. In late September, early October, make a list of all the ingredients you will need for all the cookies you want to bake. Buy a few of your ingredients every week in October with your regular groceries. Your budget won't feel it as much when done a little at a time. It is also a good time to start saving the nicer plastic containers that store bought foods come in for giving cookies away in....more on that later. Dig out your Christmas cookie tins too! I will have a tip on how to get those returned back to you.
2. Choose a few kinds of cookies to bake each week. I do 2-3 kinds a week because I make so many. Bake in the morning if possible which gives a great sense of accomplishment for the rest of the day! Cool the cookies and DO NOT frost them.

3. Make sure to have plenty of wax paper, foil, and foil pans to freeze in. Put the cookies in layers with wax paper in between in the foil pans, cover with foil and write the name on the outside with marker. FREEZE! This step avoids disappearing cookies at the hands of husbands, little ones or teenage appetites before it's time to really indulge!

4. In mid-December on up to Christmas Day I defrost a variety of cookies as I need them to give away. I frost and decorate the cookies the day I will be delivering them. I always get comments on how fresh they are!

I defrost and decorate cookies for the Post Office clerks, my allergy shot office, the Town Clerk's office, and those that I mail out of town first and package them in a plastic container with wax paper and a bow. All those people are in my life all year and I like to give them a treat. I use the plastic containers for them so that I don't have to worry about getting them back.

Closer to Christmas I defrost, frost and decorate the cookies I will give to my Pastor's and their families, for holiday gatherings, special friends and my family. I layer, with wax paper in between, a variety of cookies and present them in one of my large collection of Christmas tins. I get those tins returned to me every year so that I don't have to keep buying them. They are getting pricey!

Wanna know how I do it?

I hand write this little note on sticky paper and put it on the inside of the cover. I have never NOT gotten a tin back. Maybe because I DO fill them again the next year for those nice people! I have had people panic when they have forgotten to get the tin back to me by January, so worried that I wouldn't give them cookies again. Somehow that makes me feel good!

Most of my recipes are either my grandmother's or the ones I have been making since the 80's. They are mostly Italian Christmas cookies. I add one or two new ones a year along with a different kind of chocolate bark or Christmas candies.

I make the traditional cut outs, gingerbread men and coconut macaroons. The other cookies I make have names like Cuccidari (Italian fig cookies), Chocolate Meatballs and Biscot.

Starting with the first picture at the top of this post and the others of the stages of baking are pictures of the Cuccidari's. Click on the name to get the recipe and tutorial I did a few years ago. In my house  it is NOT Christmas without the Cuccidari's. Of course they have the most ingredients, the most pricey ingredients and are the most labor intensive!

It has been a labor of love for me for 30 years.

I took the Christmas cookie baking over from my mother who took it over from her mother. Still waiting for one of my daughters to take over although I am not sure I am ready it give it up...shhhh!

In December I like to finish shopping, put last minute touches on decorating, go to holiday craft shows and spend time with my girlfriends.

I can do all that and more because my cookies are done!

What kinds of cookies do you bake each year? Are you a last minute baker trying to get them all done the week before Christmas? How many varieties do you make? Do you give them away?

I would love to hear about your Christmas baking adventures!

AnnMarie :)

I am linking up with these great blog parties!