Christmas Kitchen – Winter Wonderland Transformation Part I

Decorating my kitchen for Christmas has always been a stressful situation for me.  Although this is not the biggest room in the house, I would have to say that there are nearly as many decorations in the nook area as in the great room, just on a smaller scale.  The amount of boxes full of decorations for the nook is 27 plus two 7′ trees, an 8′ cabinet, a 9′ cabinet, a 7′ tree box, and one bag that contains the 48″ wreath that hangs over the breakfast bar.  Both cabinets need to be assembled each November and then disassembled in January for storage and both 7′ trees need decorating with more than 20 different type of decorations.  It is definitely a process, but well worth the effort.

Transforming what starts off as a cozy, somewhat traditional room into a Winter Wonderland took years of tweaking. Finally, though, I think I got it — although every year there are more things that get tweaked and improved on.  The pictures I took of the nook were taken during the day, because although still very beautiful and bright at night with all the lights on, the pictures do not do it justice.  Plus, the lights only get lit when we have company so it is very important to me that all the decorations I spend weeks putting out, look as beautiful unlit as they do lit.

The transformation:

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This room has to be the most complete when it comes to transforming it for the holidays.  Everything from the window treatments to the chair upholstery are changed.  The entire perimeter is utilized and every wall features some sort of decoration.

This 9' cabinet was built by my father several years ago.  I painted it and added the 150 star lights to the front.

This 9′ cabinet was built by my father several years ago. I painted it and added the 150 star lights to the front.

This 8' cabinet was built by my father as well, allowing me to display the animated angels my mother and grandfather bought me several years before.

This 8′ cabinet was built by my father as well, allowing me to display the animated angels my mother and grandfather bought me several years before.

There are two of these angels on either side of the flower arrangement my mother-in-law bought me.  The angels wings move.

There are two of these angels on either side of the flower arrangement my mother-in-law bought me. The angels wings move.

The trees on either side of the 9' cabinet have more than 20 different types of decorations, more than 200 total.

The trees on either side of the 9′ cabinet have more than 20 different types of decorations, more than 200 total.

The doorwall must remain functional, so is limited to changing the valance, adding some snowflake film to the glass, and topping with a simple decoration.

The doorwall must remain functional, so is limited to changing the valance, adding some snowflake film to the glass, and topping with a simple decoration.

Last year when this was added to the doorwall, it just did not seem complete.  I added the bow between the sign and ornament this year.  I think it makes it pop.

Last year when this was added to the doorwall, it just did not seem complete. I added the bow between the sign and ornament this year. I think it makes it pop.

All the valences are changed and white sheers are added to the windows.  Waterfall lights are hidden behind the sheers and light up the room at night.

All the valances are changed and white sheers are added to the windows. Waterfall lights are hidden behind the sheers and light up the room at night.

The chairs are rehupulstered and I made a simple chair cover for the back.

The chairs are reupholstered and I made a simple chair cover for the back.

In the 22 years we've lived in our home, we have never sat at the breakfast bar.  This enables me to decorate under the bar with a tree box made by my father.

In the 22 years we’ve lived in our home, we have never sat at the breakfast bar. This enables me to decorate under the bar with a tree box made by my father.

The oldest decoration in the nook are the angles on either side of the wreath above the breakfast bar.  They were my grandmothers and are at least 60 years old.

The oldest decoration in the nook are the angels on either side of the wreath above the breakfast bar. They were my grandmothers and are at least 60 years old.

This room takes nearly a week to decorate because of the assembly of cabinets and decorating of two full trees.  Obviously the wiring is also rather tricky as there are only three outlets.  This year I put the entire room on remote switches so I don’t have to crawl under the trees to turn the lights on.

I love it when we have a white Christmas here in Michigan, but that isn’t always the case.  Fortunately for me, having my own private little Winter Wonderland right in my kitchen makes every Christmas a white Christmas, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

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Thanksgiving Pies – Tradition With A Twist

I have never understood why people stress so about having Thanksgiving dinner at their home.  For me, this is probably the easiest meal to make.  You buy a turkey, clean it, make some stuffing, stuff it, then put it in the oven for 5 to 8 hours depending on the size.  Done!

Sure there are side dishes to make, but peeling potatoes, cleaning the Brussel sprouts or other vegetable, making some rolls or bread, making a salad, and baking a few pies is pretty much like dinner every other day, so where is the hassle.  Granted there are typically more people eating at the table, but it takes only minutes to peel a few potatoes or make a bigger salad.

I love having Thanksgiving.  Admittedly, I am probably a bit spoiled here though, because much of the work that would typically have to be done on Thanksgiving morning is already done for me and waiting for me in the pantry.  When Grace was cleaning up the kitchen before our guests arrived, she was surprised at how many empty canning jars she had to load into the dishwasher.  This is where all that canning and preparation I do throughout the year really pays off.

First I used canned apple pie filling for the Apple-Cranberry-Currant Pie. Next it was canned pumpkin for the pumpkin pie.  Then four quart jars of homemade breadcrumbs for stuffing, several jars of pickled beets, two jars of homemade cranberry-plum sauce, and of course we had to break out a few jars of homemade fruit-juice-lemonade concentrates to mix with club soda for drinks.  Every time I started working on something else for the dinner, I found myself heading to the pantry to raid the shelves.  It was great!

The one thing I was not able to find in my pantry, YET, were the sweet potatoes.  I have them on my list of things to still can this year, along with white potatoes, but because of my decorating agenda for the holidays, it has not been checked off my never-ending To Do List.  Still, being able to cut down on how much time I spent in the kitchen this Thanksgiving was truly something to be thankful for.

Using some of the canned pumpkin from the pantry was a new experience this year.  I have frozen pumpkin puree for many years, but canning it was a new experience.  Slicing into it after Thanksgiving dinner, I have to admit I was a bit nervous.  Handing the first slice to my father, I asked him to tell me how it was.  He slowly cut off a tiny bite with his fork and sampled it.  After swishing it around in his mouth, as if he were at a wine tasting, dragging it out longer than my racing heart needed, he smiled and told me it was wonderful.  Hubby got the second slice and agreed with my father adding, “This is probably the best pumpkin pie you’ve ever made.”  Granted I think he says that with each pumpkin pie I make, but still, being able to maintain that standard was very important to me.

My pumpkin pie recipe is nothing special, but it is always a big hit, so I thought I’d share it with you.

Pumpkin Pie

  • 1 Quart Jar of Home-Canned Pumpkin (for me this turned out to be 16 oz. of puree)
  • 3/4 Cup Sugar
  • 1 tsp. Cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. Ground Ginger
  • 1/2 tsp. Ground Nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp. Salt
  • 3 Eggs
  • 2/3 Cup Evaporated Milk
  • 1/2 Cup Milk
  • Pastry for Single-Crust Pie

Drain home-canned pumpkin and puree pulp till smooth in food processor.  Combine pumpkin, sugar, and spices with a whisk.  Add eggs, lighting beating to combine.  Add milks and mix well.

Pour pumpkin mixture into prepared pie crust and bake in 375 oven for 25 minutes.  Cover pie with foil after 25 minutes and bake another 25 to 30 minutes.  Cool completely before chilling.

This year, Grace helped with the pies and we opted not to drag out the mixer.  We mixed everything by hand and the pie turned out fine.  Sometimes it’s nice to get away from all the gadgets, although they certainly have their place in my kitchen.

The other pie we made was another traditional Thanksgiving favorite in our home — Apple.  This year, however, I decided to make it with a bit of a twist.  I added some cranberries, currents, and just a touch of brandy.  Definitely a keeper.

Apple-Cranberry-Currant Pie with Crumble Topping

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  • 1 Quart plus 1 Pint Apple Pie Filling
  • 1 Cup Fresh Cranberries
  • 1/4 Cup Brandy
  • 1/4 Cup Dried Currants
  • Pie Crust for Single-Crust Pie

Topping:

  • 2/3 Cup Packed Brown Sugar
  • 1 Cup Flour
  • 1/2 Cup Butter

Combine brandy and currants and let sit for 1 hour until currants are plump.

In a large bowl combine pie filling cranberries currants and brandy.  Pour mixture into prepared pie crust.

To make topping, mix flour and brown sugar and cut in the butter using a pastry blender.  Sprinkle topping over pie.

Put pie on foil-lined cookie sheet and bake 55 to 65 minutes.

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Thanksgiving is a time when people stop and take the time to remember all the things they have to be thankful for. There are so many things everyday to be thankful for, unfortunately not everyone takes the time to remember this. Thankfully this holiday reminds those that maybe forget all the things they should be grateful for everyday to stop and take notice.

This year besides the things that I am grateful for everyday, I was especially thankful for the time spent with Grace in the kitchen making pies, the cut-down amount of time I needed to spend in the kitchen away from the family preparing dinner, and a pantry that made this all possible, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

Woodland Wonderland – Decorating Kick-Off

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Every year when I begin decorating for Christmas I like to start off with a room that can be completed quickly and easily.  I call this my “gearing up” phase.  The room that gets done first therefore is the half-bath. Through the years this room has evolved a lot.  From what was only a few decorations hung on the wall, this room has now become my Woodland Wonderland.

A few notes about my decorating:

  1. Every room has a theme and/or color scheme.
  2. Every room has at least one decoration that has been handed down to me.
  3. Every room has a tree, a Santa, an angel, and an Annalee (most of the time there are more than one of many of these).
  4. Every room has a main focal point.

These guidelines help me to maintain continuity in each room.

The first step to decorating any room is to remove everything from the walls and floors.  This gives me a blank canvas to work with.  Sometimes I end up putting some of the everyday decorations back on the walls, but most of the time these things are packed away until January when the undecorating process begins.

This is what the bathroom looked like before any decorations:

This room took me a little over six hours to complete, including cleaning the bathroom after I was done.

Welcome to my Woodland Wonderland:

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Note the pine-branch wing angel next to the trees.

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One of seven trees in this room.

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I wish I could photograph the room with the lights on better.

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See the Annalee moose in the center of this wreath.

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I consider this wreath the main focal point of this room. Full of red, brown, and copper bulbs, dark red roses, copper ribbon, and feathers, it sets the theme.

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This pine topper was given to me by my mother-in-law from her decorations. I added the bow and a feather to tie it into the room, but otherwise it is just as she displayed it in her home.

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The vanity is outlined with glitter acorns, pine garland, rustic accents, and a rustic lantern at either end.

I wrap the cabinet doors with ribbon and put a bow in the center of each.

I wish the photographs would turn out better.  Seeing as they might not be very detail oriented with the lights off, here are some shots with the flash.

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Having this room done is always a great way to kick-off my decorating.  The decorations give the room a warm, cozy feeling and it’s great to take a little break in here when I get overwhelmed when decorating the rooms that can take a week or more to complete.

When winter weather makes it impossible to get outside and close to nature, it’s nice to have my own little woodland to escape to, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

Prelude To Christmas Decorating – Why I Do This

Tradition does not mean that the living are dead, it means that the dead are living. ~ Harold MacMillan

What is it about Christmas decorating that causes me to become consumed with joy from the moment I turn on the lights in my Christmas storage room until that fateful day sometime in late January when I finally turn that light off for another year?

Growing up with a grandmother who transformed her home with animated figures, rotating trees, flashing lights, and glitter on everything from ornaments to poinsettias into a Christmas wonderland, it was hard not to have some of the magic rub off on me.  Walking into her home Thanksgiving afternoon when all the lights were finally turned on for the first time, marking the beginning of the holiday season, made Thanksgiving my absolute favorite holiday.  I could hardly wait for her front door to open when we’d arrive for Thanksgiving dinner and be showered by the holiday spirit that began with the wreath on the front door and continued throughout every room.

From the tinsel curtains hung over every window to the rotating aluminum tree full of family ornaments to the light switch covers made by my grandmother, not a single detail was forgotten.  Banisters were covered with garland, windows were outlined with lights, and tables were transformed into scenes full of wonder and excitement.  Santa’s, angels, elves, stars, candy canes, carolers, and all the symbols of love and tradition that make Christmas special and irresistible could be found in every corner, in every room.  Everywhere you looked there was yet another reminder of why it was truly the most wonderful time of year.

In July 1999 we lost my grandmother, the matriarch of our family, the spirit that made Christmas more than presents, shopping, and hustle and bustle.  It was a devastating blow to our family, as is the loss of anyone, but the full extent of this loss was not to be felt until that November.  As I pulled the light cord in the Christmas storage area, a rush of memories flooded the room.  Standing there faced with boxes of decorations, frozen with grief, I cried.  Unable to bear the sorrow, I closed my eyes, pulled the cord, and shut the door.  How could there possibly be Christmas without my grandmother?  She was the reason I began decorating.  She was my inspiration.  She was Christmas.

The emptiness I felt from the loss of my grandmother was horrible but the loss of my Christmas spirit as well made it unbearable.  Days passed and I could find no joy…no reason to turn on that light in the storage room.  I pushed myself to get through each day, getting done what had to be done, but my heart ached and my will faltered.  Finding no solace in mourning, I began wondering what my grandmother was doing.  Was she watching me?  Was she anywhere other than in my broken heart?

It is my belief that no one truly dies as long as they are remembered in our hearts, yet the question remains, are they here with us, do they visit or is there reason for them to?  As I struggled to come to terms with the loss of my grandmother, I asked myself how my grandmother would feel if she knew the holiday traditions she had spent so many years establishing had died with her.

In the months after my grandmother’s death, I never felt her presence, only the emptiness. When I began remembering all the wonderful holidays I had with my grandmother, reminiscing about lighting plum pudding, decorating trees, singing carols, visiting her home and listening to the stories of every decoration–every ornament, suddenly I felt a warmth surround me.  I felt my grandmother’s presence as real as if she were standing right there.  Tears welling in my eyes, a lump hard in my throat, I realized I had to turn on that light.

Pulling out boxes of decorations and doing my best to carry on the tradition my grandmother has gifted me with, I know she is here with me, guiding my hands, holding the ladder, giving me inspiration.  I’ve even caught myself talking to her/asking for advise as I try to hide every wire or fix yet another set of lights.

My grandmother may not be here in the way that people readily accept, but there is no doubt in my mind that she is here. She is in every Christmas light, every mince pie, every strand of tinsel, every holiday greeting.  I know she will be forever in my heart and during the holidays her presence is strongest.

This year a new Christmas movie came out starring Harry Connick Jr. called When Angels Sing.  At the end of the movie, Michael, played by Harry Connick Jr., has a conversation with his son,

Michael:  Do you remember when you were in the hospital and you asked me ‘Do you think people can still see us after they die?’

His son:  Yes.

Michael:  I think they do, so let’s make it worth their while.

Every year I do my best to make my home look better than the year before and every year when I finally light the whole house on Thanksgiving day, I ask my grandmother, “So Gram, what do you think?”  As I stand there, looking at the memories filling every corner of the house I know my grandmother is with me loving every little detail.

I miss my grandmother every day, but know in order to keep her spirit alive I have to keep turning the light on, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

Crazy For Cranberries

Last winter, around February or March, once all my Christmas decorations were stored away and the house was back to some semblance of normalcy, I decided to work on some winter canning.  Pulling out my recipes and scanning the internet for ideas, I decided that I wanted to work with some of the fruit juices I’d frozen from the summer before and experiment with combining these and cranberries.  Going to my freezer I found I had only two bags of frozen cranberries.  No worries, so I thought, I’d just run up to the store and buy some.

Well, when I got to the store, there were none to be found.  There were none in the fresh fruit section and none in the freezer sections.  I went to every market and grocery store within 20 miles, calling some and visiting most, and was told they were a seasonal item and would not be available again until late October.  This was not at all acceptable.  I needed them right then, not seven or eight months from then.  Not accepting the situation, I went to the internet.  There I found several sources for fresh cranberries, but in order to purchase them I had to buy 30 pounds or more at exorbitant prices.  The reality hit me hard, but the lesson was not lost.  I made a note right then not to make the same mistake ever again.

At the end of October, just as promised, every grocery store in my area began stocking fresh cranberries again.  I was thrilled and immediately began stocking up.  The first time I found them they were $2.50 per 12 oz bag.  I bought four bags.  With these I began experimenting with homemade cranberry sauce and combinations of cranberry, plum and mixed berry sauces.

My next trip to the grocery store, a different one this time, I found 12 oz bags for $1.99.  I bought 10 and threw them immediately in the freezer. Cranberries are the absolute easiest fruit to freeze because you just throw the bag in the freezer and that’s it.  They keep for up to a year in the freezer as is, but if you freeze them and then slip them into another freezer bag or container, they will keep even longer.

Happy that I’d stocked up on cranberries, I still kept my eyes open for any sales.  Last week, while I was picking up a few things from yet a different grocery store, this time Aldi Market, I found they had a special on their 12 oz bags of cranberries.  They had them on sale for $1.19 per bag.  Oh Happy Day!  I picked up another dozen bags and threw them in the freezer as well.

With 22 bags in the freezer, you’d think I’d be content.  But I NEVER want to find myself in need of cranberries again, so before they are out of the stores for another year, I will no doubt pick up at least another five or more bags — just to be sure.

Although canning at this point in time, due to the approaching holidays, is not realistic (there are just so many hours in the day you know), I am still finding time to bake.  Just the other day I made a batch of blueberry muffins and on a whim decided to make a second batch, but this time I added some cranberries to the blueberry mix.  They were great.  I actually thought that the combination of flavors was more satisfying than just the plain blueberry.  I love my blueberry muffins, but by adding just a cup of cranberries, it really made them pop.

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Cran-Blueberry Muffins

  • 1 3/4 Cup Flour
  • 2 tsp. Baking Powder
  • 1/2 tsp Salt
  • 1/2 Cup Sugar
  • 3/4 Cup Milk
  • 1/3 Cup Cooking Oil
  • 1 Egg, beaten
  • 1 – 1 1/2 Cups Blueberries (I like lots of berries in mine)
  • 1 Cup Fresh Cranberries

Crumble Topping

  • 1/2 Cup Flour
  • 1/2 Cup Sugar
  • 1/4 Cup Cold Butter

Combine dry ingredients for muffins in large bowl.  Make a well in center and add egg, milk and oil.  Mix by hand until combined.  Fold berries into batter.  Fill greased muffin cups 3/4 full.

Make crumble topping by combining flour and sugar and cutting in butter with pastry blender.  Sprinkle one heaping teaspoon of crumble on each muffin and bake at 400 for 20 minutes.

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One of Hubby’s favorite sayings is “When you lose, don’t lose the lesson.”  I am so glad that last years mishap with cranberries is definitely not going to happen again this year and we are well stocked for whatever recipes I want to concoct, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

Holiday Decorating…The Rules!

“I have never seen anything like this!”

“This must take you months to finish.”

“We’re going to refer to your home as ‘Bronner’s East’ from now on.”

“It looks like Christmas threw-up in here!”

These are just a few of the comments I’ve received over the years when people have come by our home during the holiday season and they take in the enormous amount of decorating I do.  For me, because it is something that I have been working on and building up to for so many years, it just seems normal.  But I understand that the typical person does not spend 6 weeks decorating their home for Christmas, sometimes spending 8 to 10 hours a day for weeks on end to get everything just right.  It never ceases to surprise me how taken aback people are when they step through our front door and find themselves surrounded by tradition, decorations, and even a little whimsical fantasy.

Getting to where our home is now was not an easy journey.  When Hubby and I got married I had some decorations, but the accumulation through the years is what now consumes so much of my time during October and November every year.  At first, Hubby was tolerant of my passion for Christmas, although he himself never understood it or even liked Christmas.  As the years passed and my collection of decorations grew, however, the holidays became a time for argument, resentment, and even hostility between us because we were at such opposite ends of the spectrum.  Finally, after several years of knocking heads, I sat down with Hubby and asked him how we could get past this.  There was no talking to him.  He was set in his ways of not understanding or wanting to understand me, and I was forced to either give up my passion for celebrating the holidays the way I really wanted to or continue to have three plus months of unhappiness overshadowing what I thought should be The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year.

The trouble with this situation was that I wasn’t really listening to Hubby.  Although he wouldn’t come right out and tell me what he didn’t like or what he was upset about, there were many subtle clues that I just refused to listen to or see.  Realizing that something had to change because fighting with him every year was getting old, and quick, I finally took a long hard look at what I was doing and how it was affecting him.  Thus evolved “The Rules.”

Whenever Hubby would bitch or scream about something that he didn’t like, or make some snide comment in passing (and believe me, there were many), I’d make a note.  I am a great note taker.  I write everything down.  This too has evolved over the years, but now-a-days I write so many notes, that I need notes to remind me to read other notes that remind me to read other notes, etc, etc, etc.  Anyway, as I listened to what he was saying, rather than just getting defensive and hurt, I realized that he was right in much of what he was saying.  In fact, I learned a lot because of his comments.  You could say that I am where I am today in my decorating because of him.

When Hubby took his arm and flung all the Christmas knickknacks that I’d put on the end table next to his chair high into the air and they came crashing to the ground, breaking several beyond repair, it was his subtle way of telling me that he didn’t want “his” space cluttered. Perhaps he could have found a nicer way of expressing this to me, but for years I wouldn’t listen anyway, so his resentment was completely understandable.

When Hubby came storming out of the bathroom and yanked all the cords from our family tree out of the wall, literally ruining many of the wires and making it so only half our tree actually lit the rest of the season, because the circuit breaker had jumped AGAIN while he was blow drying his hair, he was reminding me that there are other people in our home that have needs that require electricity and I shouldn’t overload the circuits. At the very least, I shouldn’t turn on the lights while he was getting ready.

And when Hubby stood in the center of our great room surveying my decorations and everything that I’d spent weeks trying to make “just perfect” and said, “It looks like you just dumped a bunch of Christmas decorations out of their boxes and threw them every which way.”  I was devastated, but after I calmed down I took a look and realized he was right.  There was no rhyme or reason, just decorations, lots of decorations, put everywhere and anywhere I could fit them.  I realized then, I needed a plan.

There were many other comments, all spat out with his usual patience and understanding (NOT!), that I began to take to heart and really look at, and finally settled on a list of “Rules” that I thought would help us somehow come to mutual understanding.  He wasn’t going to change, and so he shouldn’t have to.  My passion for decorating could still be fulfilled without being a thorn in his side.  I knew I could do it.  I had a new mission:  To make Christmas a time when the whole family could be at peace together, even among all the baubles and bells.

My mission sparked the need for a Decorating Bible.  Something that would spell out what to do, how to do it, where to plug it in, and how to accomplish it in a way that would be conducive for everyone.  It has taken many years and continues to grow and evolve every year, but today I have a three-inch binder and three or four additional notebooks with explicit instructions on how to decorate every room, where to run the wires, which circuit they are on, how much power they require, if there are any glitches (meaning if the lights need to stay off until Hubby finishes drying his hair), and what changes/additions to make in the future.

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My Decorating Bible

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The very first section in my binder (after the introduction explaining what this binder is), the one that is read prior to me starting any decorating every year, is called “THE RULES.”  In this section are all the rules that I have ascertained through the years from Hubby and just plain common sense (something that seemed to elude me during those first few terrible years of marriage and decorating).  After so many years of decorating now, some of these rules seem so obvious, yet I do not want to forget or digress, so I keep them there as a reminder.

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The Rules — Right up front where they wont be forgotten.

Hubby and I have now been married for 22 years and we have both matured, grown, and mellowed.  Now, although I do my best not to upset Hubby with my decorating, he is far less violent when it comes to reminding me if I cross the line.  Also, he has actually told me for several years running now that he really thinks the house looks beautiful.  In fact, for the past couple years he has suggested inviting various friends over to see the house, something he would never have done ten years ago.

I cannot tell you how much nicer it is now come October when I start dragging out the boxes and ladders, preparing for the great Christmas decorating transformation and Hubby actually tells me that it’s okay if I have a bit of a mess with the decorations when he gets home.  It used to be that if I were decorating, I had to be sure to have the mess all cleaned up before he got home or I’d get grief for it.  He now realizes that the mess is only temporary and a necessity during the transformation.

Marriage is so difficult.  I am glad though that I finally “listened” to what Hubby was saying and now we have come to a mutual understanding of Christmas and my passion for decorating.  He may not share my love for every aspect of the holidays, but he tolerates and even supports it now, and for this I am — Ever So Simply Grateful!

 

Easy Concord Grape Juice

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Back a month or so ago while I was working with some concord grapes, I decided to give a recipe a try for what promised to be an easy concord grape juice.  I have juiced grapes in the past by steaming them or by cooking them to extract as much juice as possible, and although not the most difficult job in the world, it can be somewhat time-consuming.  This new recipe intrigued me because there was no fuss and very little prep involved — something I really needed during a busy canning period.

So here it is:

Easy Concord Grape Juice

  • 1 Cup Concord Grapes stemmed and washed
  • 1 Cup Sugar
  • Hot Water

That’s all the ingredients you will need for each quart jar of juice.

Instructions:

To each hot quart jar add 1 cup of grapes, 1 cup of sugar, and then fill jar to top, leaving 1/4 inch head space with hot water.  Cap and process in water bath for 25 minutes.  Put on pantry shelf and let sit for 2 to 3 months.

That’s it!  Easy enough, don’t you think.

Well, I made seven quarts of juice using this recipe and have let them sit on the shelf in the pantry for the past month.  In another month or two I will crack open my first jar and see how they’ve turned out.

Has anyone ever tried making grape juice this way?

I’m not sure if this is going to turn out, but regardless if it’s the best grape juice I’ve every tasted or not, I’m sure that I can use it for something.  If nothing else, I can use it in place of water in some of my lemonade concentrates.  Nothing ever goes to waste around here.

It is so much fun to try something new every once in a while, especially when it is quick and easy, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

A Christmas Pyramid

Ever since I saw the movie Christmas Vacation with Chevy Chase, I have been enthralled with Christmas Pyramids.  That is, until I found out how expensive they were.  Sure you could find some cheap versions in discount stores, but when I brought any of them home, although they looked the part, they would not spin when I lit the candles around them.  Very disappointing to say the least.

After many starts and stops on my quest for a reasonably priced, working Christmas pyramid, this year I finally found one.

Grace and I are always sure to check out the latest in Christmas decorations at every store we go to.  Beginning a week or so before Halloween, many stores already have some of their decorations for sale, and that is when the selection is the absolute best it will be for the entire season.

November 1st Grace and I headed out to Marshall’s and strolled among their several aisles of freshly displayed Christmas decorations.  In the very last aisle we walked down, on the end cap, there they were, a complete display of authentic German Christmas pyramids.  I was thrilled.  For nearly 15 minutes I hemmed and hawed over which one I should get. Finally, Grace, probably frustrated with my indecisiveness, chose for me and we headed to the register.  I could hardly wait to get home and try the first addition to our Christmas decorations for 2014.

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Pulling out some half-spent tapered candles, I cut them down to fit into the three candle holders around the base of the pyramid.  Lighting them carefully, I set the pyramid in the center of the coffee table and waited.  Within seconds the blades on top of the pyramid began to move.  It worked!

Christmas is full of tradition and this new decoration is one that celebrates my German heritage.  The first decoration of 2014 is one that I will hold dear for many years and pass down to my children to enjoy with the generations yet to come, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

A 30 Year Tradition — A Lifetime Of Memories

This year marks the 30th year that I have been building my Christmas decoration collection.  In December 1984 after my 16th birthday, my grandparents picked me up the morning after Christmas to head out to the after-Christmas sales.  My grandparents had been building their Christmas decoration collection since the mid-1940’s when they were married, and every year took advantage of the deep discounts the day after Christmas.  Thanksgiving was always my most favorite holiday because this was the day when my grandmother would first turn on her Christmas lights, inside and out.  It was a wonder to behold.  For weeks prior to Thanksgiving my grandparents worked night and day to make everything perfect. Their home was transformed into a winter wonderland, unlike anything anyone who came to visit had ever seen.  As a child, this was magical; as an adult, it has become my passion.

My mother, who grew up in this wondrous world of Christmas, never caught the decorating bug as her parents had. She put up a few decorations and a tree, but beyond that, the magic remained with my grandparent’s.  When I was in my early teens, my grandparent’s obsession spread to me and I began pulling out any decorations I could find that my mother had gotten from her mother and decorate our basement where I spent much of my time.  It was my own little Christmas that I could enjoy every day.

When I turned 16 and had a job (a source of income) I finally decided I wanted to begin building my very own collection of decorations that I could some day use in my own home.  I shared this with my grandmother, and she was elated.  We made plans to head out together the day after Christmas.

It was a bitter, cold December 26th, with snow falling fiercely.  At 4:30 in the morning my grandparents picked me up and we drove to their favorite Christmas store to wait for it to open at 9:00 a.m.  My grandmother had hot coco and cookies for us while we waited and being that it was so cold and snowy, we took turns waiting in line outside as more and more cars full of people made their way on the treacherous roads to be among the first in the store when it opened.

As we waited, we made our plan of attack.  My grandmother had several things that she just had to have and knew right where they were in the store, so she was going to head to that area first.  There were several things I wanted, one of which was a large nativity.  The original price on this piece was $300.  With the 50% discount it would be only $150.  I’d been saving for this for weeks.  My grandmother gave the job of securing that to my grandfather.  She told him to go immediately to the nativity, and tell the owner he wanted it packed for purchase.

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The other items I wanted were near where my grandmother was going to be going, so she told me to stick close to her and she’d make sure I got there quickly and got exactly what I wanted.

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It was all so exciting.  The anticipation, the thrill, and especially sharing this experience and time with my grandparents.

At 8:30, there were so many people huddled by the door regardless of the snow whipping around, that we all got out of the car and stood in the cold.  Funny how it didn’t seem to feel cold at all.  The three of us huddled together in a circle and we jumped up and down to keep ourselves warm.

The minute the clock struck 9:00 the owner of the store opened the door and greeted my grandparents.  They spent many a day in the store prior to Christmas, buying “must have” things, making of list of things that would have to wait till after Christmas, and many times just stopping by to chit-chat with the staff.  Over the years they had established a friendship with the owners and even had them over to their home to show off their Christmas display.  This particular morning however, the chit-chat was kept to a minimum, as we had a mission.

My grandfather held the door for us as we rushed into the warm store and that was the last I saw of him until much later.  My grandmother took my hand and guided me to a tree where two of the items I wanted were hung.  I’m not really sure when my grandmother began her collection of Annalee’s, but 1984 is the year I started mine.  I bought two pieces that year and have added to my collection nearly every year since.  The two pieces I bought that first year were both boy dolls, one on a sled and the second much smaller piece of a boy holding a snowball.

My grandmother was in the same corner as I, picking up the things she wanted.  Once we had everything that we’d come for safely in our hands, it was time to shop.  Although there were “must have” items that we’d come for, having already secured those, we then had time to just walk around and pick up little things here and there that we hadn’t known we really wanted.

It was nearly an hour before we met up with my grandfather, who had safely boxed up my nativity and bought one very special item for their Annalee collection.  Hanging in the store all through the holidays was a huge 10-piece set of Annalee’s — a Santa in his sleigh with eight reindeer. I actually did not get to see it until the following year when they suspended it from their kitchen ceiling, but it was and is a definite show stopper.

We lost my grandmother in 1999.  With her died the portion of my grandfather’s heart for decorating.  He tried for a year or two without her, but without his lifelong partner to share in the joy of decorating and age making it more difficult and dangerous to get on the ladder to hang much of their collection, he realized it was time to pass the torch.  My grandparents had decided many years prior to my grandmother’s death that they wanted to pass their collection down to me.  Even before that fateful day in 1999, my grandmother had been gifting me with special pieces from her collection each year.  I was so happy that she could part with them.  She told me this way she would be able to see me enjoy them.

In December of 2002, 16 years after purchasing my first Annalee, my grandfather called me over to his house and told me it was time to pass on my grandmother and his most prized Annalee — the Santa, sled and 8 reindeer.  Many tears were shed that day.  Some for the loss we were both still trying to come to terms with and some for the joy I felt in being given such a special gift, a gift that I cherish to this day.

For 12 years now this Annalee has been proudly displayed in our great room.  I’d love to be able to suspend it from the ceiling as my grandparent’s had, but alas, Hubby wasn’t as stoked by the idea.  In fact, dare I say he’s forbidden me from suspending this from the ceiling fans.  Oh well, I doubt the fans would have been able to hold the weight of the 30 pound sled.  Still, on top of the stereo cabinet, it is quite a show stopper.

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So begins the holiday season, so begins another season of finding special pieces to add to my collection, so continues the tradition of decorating unlike most have ever seen.  Although I’ve been absent for several weeks, it has been with good reason — I’ve been decorating.  It takes more than a month to get my home ready for the holidays and with a deadline date set for Thanksgiving, my time has been spoken for.  Much of the main decorating is done, but now all the new additions and changes need tweaking.

My posts for the next month will no doubt consist of sharing traditions, recipes, and decorating ideas that I have been working on for 30 years and have been part of our family my entire life.  The holidays for me are a time to embrace what many have come to find over commercialized and tedious.  The holidays are what you make them.  If people allow the hustle and bustle of outside factors ruin the spirit of the season, they have no one to blame but themselves.  See the forest and the trees, it’s the combination of it all that makes this time of year so wonderful, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.