Saturday, December 31, 2011

Our Christmas: A Photo Recap

We celebrated Christmas with multiple family gatherings, as we do every year. I think it adds to the fun by stretching out Christmas a little more.

The finished tree at John's parents...cousin Griffin added the tinsel.

We started with Christmas at John's parents' house with his family.

Lillian and her cousin Trenton had their first Christmas.

Closer to Christmas, we headed to Iowa to spend time and celebrate with my family.

Lillian enjoyed her first Christmas morning by chewing on her new book.

One of Levi's favorite gifts...overalls from Uncle Nathan.

After a long night's work, Santa stopped by for a visit. Thank you to my uncle Leonard for arranging that one.

Levi was so excited by the present Santa brought him.

Lill was a little overwhelmed by all activity and excitement so close to bedtime.

I'm so happy that we live close enough to both of our families that we can celebrate holidays with them. It is always great to spend time with family, whether we see them often or not. I hope you had a wonderful Christmas and that you have a fun and safe New Year's Eve.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas

I want to wish all of you a very Merry Christmas. I'm so happy to be able to share with you here all the little things that make my life so happy. I am so blessed to have a wonderful family to share the holidays and my day-to-day life with.

I pray that this holiday season you will remember the greatest gift given to each of us--the gift of Christ Jesus.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Dad's Sugar Cookies

Sometime in my childhood, my dad began baking sugar cookies. It didn't take long before they were "famous." He'd make them at Christmas and various other holidays throughout the year for our family and to share with others. When he made them at Christmastime for his coworkers, he usually made two or three batches and people would come from all over the building to get one of his cookies. They're that good!

Usually, the division of labor looked like this...Dad did the mixing and baking and the rest of us decorated them. It was a fun job because if you happened to break one or "mess up" in anyway, you got to eat the mistake.

Five years ago when my dad was sick, he wasn't really feeling up to baking his sugar cookies for Christmas. Instead, I took over the baking. Christmas just wouldn't seem the same without them. That first time was frustrating and I couldn't help but think that they'd never be as good as his. I didn't know all the little tricks he had developed over the years. Still, they turned out. Since he passed away, we have continued the tradition of baking sugar cookies each year. I have to be honest and say that I have gotten better each year, and I think that they're just almost as good as Dad's were and probably as close as I can get.

These sugar cookies are puffy and soft, and topped with cool cream cheese frosting. Even those who profess to not liking sugar cookies like these. They're amazing--at Christmas or anytime!

Dad's Sugar Cookies
2 C. sugar
2 sticks margarine or butter, softened
2 eggs
1 C. sour cream
2 tsp. baking soda
1 rounded tsp. baking powder (Dad actually used a kitchen spoon for this)
1 tsp. salt
5 C. flour (maybe a little more if it's too sticky to roll)
1 tsp. vanilla

Cream sugar and margarine/butter. Add the rest of the ingredients and blend well. Chill overnight. Roll out on floured board to about 1/4 in. (not too thin--it helps with the softness) Cut out with your favorite cookie cutters. Bake at 325 degrees until bottoms are turning golden (not brown). Remove from oven and let them sit on cookie sheet for a minute or two. Remove to wire racks to cool completely before frosting. These also freeze well unfrosted.

We have a small paintbrush designated for brushing off the excess flour.

Cream Cheese Frosting
1 stick margarine or butter, softened
1 (8 oz) box cream cheese, softened
1 tsp. vanilla
4 C. powdered sugar

Cream together margarine/butter, cream cheese, and vanilla. Add powdered sugar and beat well. Add generously to sugar cookies. Cookies must be stored in the refrigerator once they are frosted.

(This is a standard cream cheese frosting that's good on cakes, bars, and other cookies.)

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

A Visit with Santa

On Saturday, we headed to downtown Crystal Lake to visit Santa. This is the first time we've seen Santa here and I think it's a great location. Santa is in a charming little house at Brink Street Market. Inside, it's cozy with a fireplace and comfy chair for the big guy. There is no photographer to pay for a less-than-perfect picture. You don't feel rushed while your little one talks to Santa and you capture the moment with your own camera.

I'm happy to say, there were no tears for our kids. Levi has never been afraid of Santa and Lillian seemed very interested in his beard.

As planned, Levi told Santa he wanted "more trains and more train tracks." He was thrilled to receive a candy cane.

Another simple, but fun Christmas tradition.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Little Touches of Christmas

Earlier in the week, I took you on a house tour to show you my Christmas decorating. While I love seasonal and holiday decorating, there are definitely rooms in my house that look pretty much the same year-round. I have to draw the line somewhere for the sake of my own time (and sanity).

For Christmas, however, I do add some small touches to bedrooms and bathrooms. It's surprising how just a few things can bring the holidays to those rooms.

I mentioned before that I don't have a lot of display space in my kitchen, but I try to utilize my wide window sill to display small seasonal decorations. This year I added this simple bottle-brush tree and vintage-style figurine. They make me happy when I'm washing dishes. If only there was a blanket of snow outside the window behind them, it'd be perfect.

In the bathrooms, I usually add a tree and seasonally-scented candle, along with some small decor on the vanities.

In our bedroom all I do is swap out an everyday picture we have hanging, with this one which has a holiday theme to it. It still goes with the rest of our room decor and doesn't scream Christmas too loud.

Levi decorated this small white tree for his room. I've used this tree on the counter in a bathroom in the past, but especially since we didn't have a big tree, I wanted Levi to have a tree in his room. The ornaments look like decorated cookies and there's also some miniature wooden ones my mom sent to him.

Also in his room, I put this rocking Santa and reindeer. A fun touch for a kid's room.

So, even if you don't have a lot of Christmas decorations, just a few small things placed throughout your home, can bring Christmas to your whole house.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

O Christmas Tree

After Santa came to town, we headed to John's parents' house to decorate their Christmas tree with them. Since we didn't get a tree of our own, we wanted to help them decorate theirs so Levi could still have that fun experience. The tree was beautiful and very full.

Once the guys had brought the tree in and got it in the stand, Levi helped cut the string on it.

John and I put on the lights and then Levi got busy with the candy canes. He was more than happy to eat one that broke when he dropped it on the floor.

He got some help from Grandma Sue and Daddy.

Grandma Sue found the angel for the top of the tree. It was crocheted by her mom. Since John was little, it has been at the top of every Christmas tree they've had. Daddy helped Levi place her on the top of this year's tree.

While Levi hung the candy canes, I put on some of the glass ornaments. Levi found his reflection in one and entertained himself (and the rest of us) making faces in it.

Lillian missed out on the tree decorating this year, but enjoyed the toys in the playroom before her nap.

A Christmas tree, carols, and family...the perfect way to prepare for the holidays. 

Monday, December 12, 2011

Christmas Decorating Open House

While the Christmas season can mean lots of fun outings, my favorite part of the holidays is gathering at home, or in the homes of others to spend time with family and friends. It's also fun to see how different families decorate their homes for the holidays. So, as part of The Inspired Room's Christmas Home Tours link party, I am inviting you to step into our home to see how we've decked the halls.

Last week, I shared how I decorated by our front door. I started my decorating inside while my mom was visiting for Thanksgiving. We got a good portion of it done, but I've been adding little touches since. You'll notice that we don't have a Christmas tree this year. Since we won't be celebrating Christmas here and have curious little ones, we decided to skip a tree this year. Levi does have a little one in his room, though.

In my entry, I have this great antique table. I didn't have it last year so it has been fun to decorate it for the holidays since getting it. It's quite tempting for Levi, so I try to keep things on it that aren't breakable. This year I put up a wooden sign, simple evergreen tree, and a lantern. I also hung a rustic star. (You may notice that the wallpaper in the entry is now gone. Just have to finish removing the glue and paint it now.)

Also in the entry is this simple rack. While it can hold coats and purses of our visitors, I like to put some holiday touches on it too. For Christmas I hung a decorated stocking and a green wreath.

We have a vaulted ceiling in our entry and I decorate the railing above with a garland and a string of bells. I love my garland and look forward to putting it up each winter. It is wispy and light, and looks more realistic than some.

In my living room, I have a few spots where I add seasonal decor. I love my corner cupboard. With all its shelves, I can display a lot of different things. I've learned that its important to add a variety of materials, shapes, and sizes to create the most interesting display. Adding greens, berries, and pine cones brings in a touch of nature and fills in the background nicely. My favorite part is the antique egg nog bowl my mom got me last Christmas.

In another corner, I have this bookshelf. While it houses a few photo albums and holds a lamp on top, it is mostly for decorative purposes. Again, I've mixed candles, ceramic, glass, and metal pieces, along with greens. Since the wood is dark, I try to add in glass pieces, as well as some brighter colors.

In my dining room, I decorate the top of my buffet. I wanted to use mostly glass container to reflect more light.

On one side I placed a bunch of winter berry branches in a vase. It's flanked by a red candle and another vase filled with small acorns.

On the other side, I filled a large glass container with a mixture of greens and glass ball ornaments. Then I added a miniature evergreen tree and a wooden nutcracker.

My mom made me this beautiful holly table runner. Holly is one of my favorite Christmas symbols.

Unfortunately, my kitchen doesn't have a lot of display space, but I take advantage of a little corner of my counter to create a seasonal grouping. I filled an antique box grater with greens, cinnamon sticks, and berries. I added an antique holly napkin, an old jar, and an antique syrup dispenser. I plan to pick up some peppermints to put in the syrup dispenser.

On my table, I have a glass bowl filled with vintage ornaments, pine cones, and greens. I like to have something decorative on the table, but since we use this table for most of our meals, I always put something there that moves on and off easily.

The last stop on our home tour is our family room. I have a wooden pegboard shelf between the windows that is a perfect spot for displaying small seasonal decor. Again, I tried to use a variety of materials and textures, and added in greens and berries.

My mom made this cute mitten. Just pick up the inexpensive little kid mittens and fill with greens, berry picks, cinnamon sticks, and a candy cane made of pipe cleaners. Stitch on a holiday button and add a hanger and you've got a great ornament or decorative piece. It would make a great homemade gift.

Above our fireplace, I have a berry wreath. I put it there last Christmas, but I decided to leave it up all year. To add more Christmas to the mantel, I put a Christmas stitchery, a wooden cardinal, and hung our stockings.

The stitchery is a gift from my friend and I absolutely love it. I wish I could leave it up all year.

Our stockings are hung by the chimney with care. I made them out of felt last year. I added Lillian's this year. Poor Rosie (our dog) is still waiting for hers to be finished. I didn't get it done last year and it's gotten pushed to the bottom of the list this year too. I've promised her to get it done this week.

Well, that does it for our Christmas home tour today. I hope you got some ideas for your own decorating. I'll be sharing more later this week of how I bring small touches of the holidays to lesser used or smaller rooms. Be sure to visit The Inspired Room's Christmas Home Tour to get ideas from Melissa and all the other readers and bloggers who have linked up there.