Christmas Chaos

buy christmas treeI have to admit that I have not been myself since hitting my head in July. After several weeks of recovery, I finally felt well enough to get back to volleyball. On the first night out, in early September, I blew my rotator cuff and have been sidelined ever since. Between the two injuries, I have found myself struggling to do simple things like get something from high up on a shelf or reach back for something in the back seat. Needless to say any thing that requires any amount of strength or a large range of motion has pretty much been impossible. My house is neglected, my projects shelved and my motivation at an all time low. I feel frustrated and generally speaking, I’m just not myself. I miss blogging, but to be honest, I don’t have much to say these days. I’m working hard at school, but by the time I get home from work and running the kids to their activities, I’m literally out of gas. Most of my days off have consisted of making lists of the things I need to get done, but with very little actually getting accomplished. It just isn’t like me.

Buy Christmas Tree: ✔︎

I have to admit, I have been pretty slow to embrace the Christmas spirit this year and the little bit of shopping I have done has been online. I can’t even imagine braving the lines in the mall.  I’m usually super organized and done my shopping before most people even start, but not this year. I was even dreading the annual Christmas tree shopping trip. Although I have mellowed over the years, it doesn’t seem like that long ago that picking out a tree was at least a 4 hour event. This wouldn’t be bad if we actually trudged into the forest with an axe in hand and chopped down our own tree, but it seems a little ridiculous when we were shopping the tree lots. It was not uncommon for me to haul the family to 4 or 5 lots in search of the perfect tree, only to decide that the best one was at the first lot. (I can’t actually believe my husband condoned this behaviour.) It is however a testament to the type of radical Christmas fanatic I’ve always been. I have always loved Christmas….the shopping, wrapping, baking, decorating, entertaining and making crafts. However, my attitude this year seems to be more of do what has to get done and with the least amount of effort possible. I even bought cookies for the event I had on this evening. To date, I have not stepped into a mall, but have gotten a few gifts to get me started through online shopping, our church craft sale and a gift card fundraiser my son’s hockey team did. I’ve done no baking or crafting, but did muster up the motivation to remove the rag wreath I made last year from the plastic bag and hang it on the nail that is still stuck in my door from last year. (That was my big accomplishment on my last day off….UGH!) You can imagine how surprised my family was when we managed to park, scan the tree lot, pick a tree, pay and strap it on the roof within 6 minutes! I have to admit I went in to it with less of a “its all about tradition” and “let’s embrace the process” type of attitude and more of a “how fast can we complete this mission” kind of thinking. My daughter wasn’t even with us, but I did check with her to see if she minded if we picked-up a tree without her.

With the tree thawing in the living room and the scent of Douglas Fur filling the house, I managed to make a grocery list in hopes of actually getting some baking done. I’m sure that the holidays will provide me with the time I need to recharge my batteries. Until then, I will plug away doing what needs to get done to prepare for Christmas. At least I can say that I have checked one thing off the list of “to do’s”. (I wonder how long the tree will sit in the mop pail in the living room before we actually set it up and decorate it?)

Our church celebrates Christmas every Sunday in December with carols and children performing each week. I’m sure that tomorrow will help to get me into the spirit of the season. If you are looking for a great way to get into the Christmas Spirit, why not check out Springs Church….you’re sure to be impressed!

If you’re interested in some great Christmas crafts, baking, decorating or gift wrapping ideas, check-out the “All Things Christmas” section of my blog.

 

Red Velvet Oreo Brownies

Happy Valentine’s Day! The kids have a bake sale at school today and last night I finished up some Red Velvet Oreo Brownies for the sale. My passion for red velvet only began a year or so ago. I had tasted it occasionally before, but it didn’t become such an obsession until I tasted Piazza De Nardi’s Red Velvet Cake ~ Oh my goodness! Since then, I have tried out recipes now and again, but a Valentine’s Day bake sale seemed like the perfect opportunity to try out a few more red velvet recipes. Earlier in the week, I made Red Velvet Crinkle Cookies. They are absolutely delicious and the recipe is a definite keeper.

Well, these Red Velvet Oreo Brownies are incredibly good as well and the three layers make them look so pretty!  I found the recipe on Sally’s Baking Addiction, so all of the credit goes to her. She mentions at the end of her post, that she adapted the Red velvet layer from Sunny Anderson at the Food Network.

Red Velvet Oreo Brownies:

Ingredients:

BROWNIES

  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1 Tablespoon red food colouring
  • 3/4 teaspoon white vinegar
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour

COOKIES ‘N CREAM FROSTING

(I adapted this slightly as I thought it would be criminal not to include a bit of cream cheese.)

  • 1/4 cup butter (at room temperature)
  • 1/4 cup cream cheese, softened
  • 1 and 3/4 cups icing sugar
  • 2-3 Tablespoons whipping cream 
  • 6 Oreos, crushed (plus 3 extra to break on top of ganache)

CHOCOLATE GANACHE

  • 4 ounces semi-sweet chocolate (not chocolate chips)
  • 1/2 cup whipping cream 
  • 2 Tablespoons butter, softened to room temperature

Directions:

  • Set out the butter to soften.
  • Preheat the oven to 350. Foil line an 8×8 baking pan with extra foil extending over the sides, so that you can easily lift the cook brownies out of the pan after. Set aside or freeze and complete the last two layers closer to the day you need the brownies.

Brownies:

Beat the eggs in a small bowl.  Set aside. Melt the butter in a large microwave safe bowl. Add each of the following ingredients one at a time in the suggested order, stirring between each addition: sugar, vanilla, cocoa powder, salt, food colouring, and vinegar. Whisk in the eggs, then fold in the flour until completely incorporated, but do not over mix. Pour the brownie batter into prepared baking pan. Bake the brownies for 22-24 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out mostly clean, with a few small moist crumbs. Allow the brownies to cool at room temperature for 30 minutes, then transfer to the refrigerator to cool completely.

Oreo Frosting:

Whip the butter and cream cheese together with an electric mixer, until creamy.  Add the icing sugar and 2 Tbsp cream, beating on medium until creamy.  I found that 2 Tbsp of cream was enough, but if needed you can add 1 more Tbsp cream. You don’t want the frosting to be too thin, so be careful not to add to much cream ~ keep the icing thick, but spreadable.  Fold in the crushed Oreos. Lift the cooled brownies out of the pan, remove the foil and spread them with the frosting. Stick them into the refrigerator as your prepare the ganache. You want the frosting to slightly chill on the brownies.

Ganache: 

Break the chocolate into small pieces and place in a small bowl. Heat the heavy cream until boiling, either in the microwave or on the stove top. (I microwaved mine.) Pour boiling cream over the chocolate and stir until the chocolate is melted and smooth. Cut in the butter, one small piece at a time, and stir until smooth. Spread over frosted brownies. Add the additional crushed Oreos to the top and then chill for at least 30 minutes before cutting.

  • Cut the brownies into squares and then cover them tightly in a sealed container. They can keep chilled in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
  • If you double this recipe, use a 9×13 baking pan and bake for 35-45 minutes at 350.

These turned out really good. I was sad to package them up to send to the bake sale. I am sure the original frosting recipe would be very good as well, but I love the cream cheese flavour with red velvet. These are a must try!

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Winter/Snowflake Birthday

Well, my little girl is now 12 and has officially reached babysitting age….I can hardly believe it! The birthday celebrations are behind us, but I thought I would share some photos to show you how the theme all came together for the party. Click on the links below to visit the original post for each of the theme elements:

I did end up making cake pops and I have to say I was quite surprised how easy they were to make. I have heard lots of people say how much work they are. To be honest, I found them much easier than many of the cakes, cupcakes and cookies I have decorated. Watch for the upcoming post on how to make Cake Pops.

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Scrapbooking Christmas

I started scrapbooking when the kids were small and absolutely love it. However, I knew that my personality is such that all enjoyment would be squashed if I tried to scrapbook everything. I devised a plan that would help me to keep my scrapbooking hobby fun and not an overwhelming project on my list of things to do. You can check-out how I manage my scrapbooking in this previous post: Creative Memories: Scrapbooking for the Busy Mom.  One of the books that I created is a Family Christmas Album.

Scrapbooking Christmas:

This scrapbooking album is strictly Christmas layouts. I love that you can flip through the pages of this album and see the growth and changes in family members through the years with the simple flip of a page. Of course, what makes this so easy, is that I only do one double page layout per year. I use a 12″ X 12″ album and with the book open, both pages capture that particular year. The very first page in the album is a single page (of course), so I decided to make it a title page for the album. I find it really funny to look back through the album as it not only reflects how we looked so many years ago, but also what a novice scrapbooker I was. You can see how I have progressively gotten somewhat better over the years.

Here are a few shots of our album.

My advice to anyone taking up scrapbooking is to keep it manageable. For me this meant, letting go of the desire to scrapbook every event and sticking to more of a general focus. Picking the 5 to 10 best shots from that year and capturing it in a layout. Here are some simple guidelines that I use:

  • keep it more general than specific (ie highlights from 2013 to create a layout for each child)
  • make one album for each child
  • make event scrapbooking something you do for fun, not a “must do”
  • create a Christmas album or even a Halloween album if you are big on Halloween (I love having all of the memories in one book)
  • stay on top of it
  • purchase the online photo books to capture the memories from a trip and do it as soon as you get home. (Within about 3 to 4 hours, you can choose your layout, pictures and even journal the whole trip. Well worth the time and money.)

Happy scrapbooking!

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Repurposing Christmas Crackers

Christmas crackersChristmas crackers

I am not sure if your family purchases Christmas Crackers for the holiday season or not, but my sister in-law always has a cracker for everyone at our family Christmas dinner. It is a tradition. I am not sure where she purchases them, but I think she might get them at Costco. They are always quite elegant looking and the prizes are pretty good. This year we got a key chain, an egg timer, a set of mini dominos and a heart pendant necklace. Aside from the fun and the prizes, I also have a tradition of my own. For me the prize is much more about the packaging than the actual contents of the cracker. I always collect all of the little embellishments and take them home for use in other projects. I thought I would share a couple of repurposing ideas for those cute little cracker decorations.

Repurposing Christmas Crackers:

Here are a few shots of some of my salvaged loot from the past three years. You can see that some of the piles are already quite depleted.

Each end of the cracker is usually tied with one or two pieces of ribbon. A wire with little balls on it is twisted around to make a pretty little decoration. The ribbon pieces are quite small and their uses are definitely limited, but I absolutely love those fancy little wires.

  1. I have used the small ribbons and wires to add a bit of extra charm to small gifts in much the same way as they are used on the original crackers.
  2. The wires and bows can also be used to add some pizzaz to a scrapbooking layout.Christmas cracker upcycle

It may be too late, but if you have some crackers hanging around that still haven’t been used or maybe you are saving them for New Year’s, don’t forget to gather all those odds and ends and add them to your stash for future use.

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If You Look For Me at Christmas

baby JesusIf You Look For Me at Christmas

If You Look For Me at Christmas
You won’t need a special star
I’m no longer just in Bethlehem,
I’m right there where you are.
You may not be aware of Me ~ amid the celebrations,
You’ll have to look
beyond the stores and all the decorations.
But if you take a moment
from your list of things to do,
and listen to your heart,
You’ll find I’m waiting there for you.
You’re the one I want to be with,
You’re the reason that I came,
And you’ll find Me in the stillness as I’m whispering your name.
Love,
Jesus 

Borrowed from American Greetings Cleveland, OH 
  

holiday wish

Puzzle Piece Angel Ornaments

I had an old puzzle with pieces missing and was waiting for the perfect project to use them up. I came across this idea on Made By Me and decided these little homemade angel ornaments would be the perfect gift for my awesome neighbours. We are so lucky to live on a street that is filled with kids similar to the ages of our own. It has been such a blessing having each one of them as friends and mentors for our children. Each is unique and we all have different gifts and abilities that we bring to the neighborhood. Together, we sort through the challenges of raising a family and try to support each other through the bumps in life. We are so fortunate to have found a home on such a great street. When thinking about using the puzzle pieces for this project, I couldn’t help but think about how our neighbourhood was much like a puzzle. A puzzle contains a set of pieces that are all different, but each one is vital to the overall design of the completed picture. This is much like our neighbourhood, with each person contributing to our little “village” in their own special way and vital to the “village” as a whole.

Puzzle Piece Angel Ornaments:

I was awake one night planning this project and thinking about how I might be able to articulate my thoughts regarding the little angel puzzle piece ornaments. I thought of writing something, but I am really not much of a poet. I tried several google searches and came up with what I deemed to be the perfect poem. This poem is called the Prime Puzzle and was written by Rabbi Lawrence Kushner.

Prime Puzzle:

Prime Puzzle

This post is dedicated to all of the wonderful people in our neighbourhood. We value your friendship, kindness and support. We are truly blessed to have each of you in our lives. Merry Christmas!

Cindy

Family Traditions: A Roy Christmas Eve

My dad is Ukrainian, but my mom was not. Despite their different backgrounds,  my mom embraced the Ukrainian traditions of my dad’s family and we began to celebrate Christmas Eve ~ Ukrainian style. As a child, I can vividly remember (okay more like vaguely ~ I don’t have the best memory) spending every Christmas Eve with my dad’s family. We would eat a very traditional Ukranian meal with the 12 meatless dishes. This consisted of an appetizer of “wheat” (Yuck ~ I tried it every year, but never did acquire a taste for it!) followed by borscht. The main meal included perogies (potato, cottage cheese and prune), cabbage rolls (sour and tomato), beet rolls, fish, creamed mushrooms, and some buns. I am not sure if the 12th dish varied from year to year or not as I am having trouble remembering it. I know we always had headcheese (not meatless), but can’t remember if it was part of the meal or served later in the evening after midnight mass. I know we also ate pyrizhky (tiny little buns stuffed with sauerkraut). It was always an awesome evening filled with great food, family and plenty of card games. I will always cherish those family gatherings at my Aunty Dora’s. I don’t remember gifts ever being a big part of our celebration. I am not saying there weren’t any, but it was certainly not the focus. It was about family and celebrating the birth of Jesus.

Roy Family Traditions:

When Tim and I were married, we agreed that we would spend Christmas Eve with my family and Christmas Day with his. This has always worked out well for both of us and we are blessed that both of our families are close enough that we never have to choose between the two. We have always attended a Christmas Eve service, but no longer go to midnight mass. Springs Church usually offers multiple service times, so we opt for an early service and then head home for a later dinner. Church is only an hour, but the service is always fantastic and you never quite know what to expect. Our church is far from traditional and the contemporary nature always makes the evening quite spectacular and really sets the tone for the entire Christmas experience. We leave filled with the spirit of Christmas and ready for an awesome evening of fun and festivities.

For many years, my mom and dad would host Christmas Eve dinner, but my mom and I would share the preparations and do much of it together. When she passed away in 1999, we carried on in much the same way, but I took over the roll of hosting. Over the years, we have scaled back on our menu and have stuck to the dishes we like the most. We have made some additions and removed a few items from our meal plan, but much of what we serve has remained the same. My dad was 63 when my mom passed away and he immediately took over the role of helping prepare Christmas Eve dinner. He even made mom’s Christmas cake for the first few years after her passing ~ what a trooper! Now almost 77, dad still prepares a good portion of the meal. He makes beet rolls (like cabbage rolls but made with beet leaves), sour cabbage rolls, cabbage rolls with tomato sauce, and he even made the perogies this year!

I make my Mom’s Borscht (so delicious!), fresh buns, fish, nalysnyky (Ukrainian Crepes), and creamed mushrooms. If I have beet leaves, I also make beetniks. These delicious little morsels are made by wrapping a beet leaf around bread dough. You bake it as you would a bun and then warm them in a whipping cream and onion sauce. To die for, seriously. I found a link to a recipe that looks pretty similar to what I do. I don’t actually have a recipe, but this gal’s post seems to be pretty much bang on. The only extra tip I have is that I always pop my leaves in the freezer. When you take them out and thaw them they are nicely wilted and much easier to wrap.

So, you can see we are down to about 9 or 10 dishes, depending on the year. Of course the meal is super delicious, but very rich and high in calories. Everything is either made with or served with butter and/or whipping cream sauce. In fact, if you count the cream sauce and the butter and onions we set on the table to smother our food with, I am sure you could make it up to the “12 dish” count! It is for this reason, that this meal is restricted to once a year. We indulge, until we bulge, and then restrain ourselves for another year.

We no longer have a traditional Christmas Eve dessert. Sometimes I make a fancy dessert and other times, we just eat Christmas baking. I do miss my mom’s incredible mince meat tarts with ice cream that were our traditional dessert when my mom was alive. I might give them a whirl one year, but I don’t know if I can find her recipe and they just wouldn’t be the same if it wasn’t her recipe.

After dinner, the kids are allowed to open one gift from us (usually new PJ’s) and any gifts from my side of the family. I only have one brother and his family is not always able to join us, so sometimes it is just my dad and the four of us. My mom always had her heart and door open to those who didn’t have family to spend the holidays with and I too try to include anyone that is without family or a place to go. We are thrilled to extend the invitation to others, as no one should be alone at Christmas time.

Of course, it would not be a Wasslen Christmas with games. The evening usually ends very late after a few board games with the kids and a round or two of Canasta with the adults.

tastes of christmas

This is our traditional Ukrainian Christmas meal which we always have on Christmas Eve.

Nalysnyky Recipe:

Crepes:
6 eggs
2 teaspoon sugar
2 cup milk
1 teaspoon salt
flour (enough to make a thin batter)

Using a non-stick pan, spoon a small amount of batter in the pan to form a thin crepe. (I tend to make my crepes about 3 to 4″ wide and about 6 to 7″ long ~ more rectangular in shape. I just find this works better for rolling and holding the filling). Cook until just beginning to brown. If your crepe is thin enough you will not need to fiddle with trying to flip it over as it will cook right through. I transfer the cooked crepes to wax paper and then stack them in layers. You can fill them as soon as they are cool enough to handle. You can also wrap the stacked crepes in cellophane and store them in the fridge until you are ready to fill them.

Filling:
2 cups of dry cottage cheese
1 egg
1/4 cup of cream
pinch of cinnamon
pepper
pinch of sugar

Mix the filling ingredients in a bowl. Fill the crepes and roll them up. Place them in the bottom of a greased baking dish. Cover with cream sauce and bake at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes or until bubbling.

Cream Sauce:

Dice a large onion (or more – you can never have too much onion) and sauté in a generous amount of  butter (about 1/2 cup?). Add about 1 to 2 tablespoons of flour and stir it in to soak up some of the butter.  Add 2 cups of whipping cream and about 1/4 cup of fresh dill.  Simmer until the sauce thickens.  Sauce should be a yellow colour.
This sauce is excellent served on beetniks, beet rolls, nalysnky or on perogies in lieu of sour cream.

This recipe is one of our favourites and is always a hit at potluck dinners. If you are bringing a dish to a family gathering this season, it is a guaranteed hit. I also love that you can make the crepes ahead of time and store them in the fridge until they need to be baked. Enjoy!

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Simple Christmas Centre Piece

Christmas centre piece

Christmas centre pieceYou can’t get much simpler (or cheaper) than this arrangement. I thought I might like a nice arrangement for my table during the holidays, but now that it’s done, it may sit on the little table outside on my front porch….haven’t decided.

Materials:

  • glass vase (bought for a couple bucks at the thrift store)
  • silver ribbon with the wire edges for creating a nice shape
  • white curly ribbon
  • 5 to 7 cheap tacky plastic candy canes from the dollar store ( I think they came two or three in a pack) ~ as a rule of thumb, you should always use an odd number when making an arrangement (I am pretty sure about this “rule” because I learned it in 4H when I was 10, so it must be true. However, you can see I broke the rule. I had 6 and they are so tacky that I don’t want to leave the odd ball hanging around, so I stuck it in to make an even six – yikes!!)
  • 3 springs of berries (wire stem that is pliable for easy manipulation ~ got these on clearance for 99 cents each)
  • wire garland (As you know….I love wire garland and use it on all of my gifts. You can see the twisted swirls of silver holly garland in the arrangement)
  • hot glue/gun
  • glass beads (dollar store) to help with the stability of the candy canes (optional)

Building the Arrangement:

I basically started with the candy canes and added from there. I started by putting a little dab of hot glue on the glass jar and tilted the first candy cane to rest against the edge on the gob of glue. The glue is inside the rim and can’t be seen. I decided to glue three candy canes around the rim, each spaced about 1/3 of the circle apart. I am not sure if I will keep the arrangement or dismantle it at the end of the holidays, but hot glue peels off quite easily, so I wasn’t concerned about the vase.  I then took the second set of three candy canes and secured them together with the silver bow (and a few dabs of hot glue). These were more upright and straddled the first set of candy canes nicely to sit more in the middle of the arrangement. I then added the glass beads to help hold the candy cane based in place.

I then began to “fill” the arrangement. I curled several lengths of plain white ribbon and used it as filler, spilling over the top of the glass jar. I didn’t secure any of the ribbon, just poked it in here and there and hooked it around some of the candy canes. I then carefully pulled the tiny sprigs of the wire berries to give them more dimension and a bit of a whimsical look. Finally, I added a few lengths of the wire garland, randomly twisted throughout the arrangement.

*I was thinking that if this were made for outside, you could probably add a bit of water to the jar and the ice would act as the base to hold everything in place, instead of using glass beads.

All in all, this was mostly made up of odds and ends I already had on hand. The candy canes were 2 or 3 dollars and the berries another 3. Not bad for under $10!

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The Symbols of Christmas and What they Mean

Have you ever stopped to wonder what all of the decorations and symbols of Christmas actually mean? Several years ago, I came across a great children’s book that explained the meaning behind each of the decorations that were put on the tree. Although I don’t have the book or even remember the name of it, I was able to remember some of the book and also used some information on Being Saint Joseph. I found it interesting, as I had never really stopped to think about it before reading the story book.

What do the Decorations Mean?

 

Amongst the presents and the festivities, let’s not lose sight of the true meaning of Christmas. Let’s embrace the true spirit of Christmas and take this time to count our blessings and make CHRIST the center of our CHRISTmas!

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