Tips for Having a Happy (And Organized!) Handmade Holiday!

"It is Christmas in the heart that puts Christmas in the air." ~W.T. Ellis

Ah, Christmas.  If there is one time of year that motivates us to don our crafty hat, it's you.  This is how our Christmas storage boxes have come to be lovingly filled with treasured collections that are almost anthropological in nature.  

One could argue that manufactured Christmas-a-bilia demonstrates the styles of the times quite well itself, thank you very much!  So it does.  But there is something about the homemade, the handcrafted, that can really bring to mind a time, a place, an era.

Look at your collection.  Got a smocked ball in there?  I'll bet you a sugar cookie it was lovingly hand crafted in the early to mid 1980's.  Ceramics?  Eighties again.  Knit items are a little trickier, since the grandma set never stopped knitting, but you may have noticed a resurgence of knit ornaments, tree skirts, and stockings since the turn of the millennium, when wool crafting experienced a renaissance.

You get the idea.  As timeless as an item may seem at the moment it is made, there will inevitably be something about it that will mark it as being distinctly "1985," "1994," or even, of course, "2010."  (And yes, I'm still reeling that we're living in 2010.  2010!!!!  We're space age!!).

As I mentioned on Monday, this year I've been embracing homemade gifts and I'm really excited about them!  For fear of ruining the Christmas morning surprise, I'm not going to get too specific, but followers of this blog will know that I knit, sew, and paper-craft, so you can use your imaginations until after the 25th, when I will share my creations with you.  It's been a lot of work, but it's been so much fun and it's given me a good excuse to indulge in some really nice supplies; all in the spirit of giving!  I've become a total yarn snob, so the recipients of my knit creations are getting very spoiled indeed!

While making your Christmas gifts by hand is a lot of work, there are steps you can take to ensure it's all a labour of love, not a panic inducing race to the finish (still-tacky glue will not mail well, my friends!) Based on my experiences this year, I have compiled a list of tips to help make your homemade holiday experience happy and organized, so that your handmade, heartfelt offerings will bring a warm smile for years to come (not to mention a round of "Awwww, that's so 2010!).  Enjoy!

Tips for Having a Happy (and Organized!) Handmade Holiday:
  • Have a plan - Know what you're making, who it's for, and what you need to complete it.  If, like myself, you live off the beaten path, keep a supply list going so that you can make sure you get everything you need when you go shopping "in town."
  • Be realistic - New to sewing?  Then perhaps you shouldn't attempt a queen size quilt for your mom.  Start with something smaller, like a decorative panel.  Short on time? Maybe only make a few gifts this year, or make one simple item (like an ornament) to include with your store-bought presents.
  • Consider logistics - Where is this gift going?  Shipping is expensive, so be sure to consider that when you are deciding what to make. A homemade bookshelf may not be the right gift to ship across the country.
  • Consider cost, both actual and perceived - While some homemade gifts are ideal for those on a budget (think bath salts, cookies, and homemade coffee mixes) the reality is that craft supplies aren't cheap.  So while you may think that hand knit cashmere bed socks would be your mother-in-law's heart's delight, the reality is that they would end up costing you upwards of $200.00 in yarn.  Someone who doesn't know the cost of yarn and textiles (and really, who except wool crafters and fashionistas does?) will just see socks.  Consider using a luxe version of a more affordable medium. (And for the record, my MIL would totally appreciate the value of cashmere socks!  Maybe someday!)
  • Have a support network - My cousin Ainsley (of Pattycake Manners) and I had a cyber crafting night last week, updating each other on our progress via email.  It was fun (read her post about it here) and it motivated me to keep plugging away at that evening's project so I'd have something to report.
  • A housekeeping tip (which will make sense if you read Ainsley's post, as well as this one by me) is to keep any beverages you are consuming in a travel mug.  If you attend a lot of group crafting activities, consider adding a travel mug to your bag of supplies.
  • Another housekeeping tip - When you are sewing or paper-crafting, tape a plastic shopping bag to the table next to your workspace, and sweep your clippings, corners, and threads into it as you go.  A greener alternative would be to move a garbage bin next to your workspace.

 So there you go, the Nestygirl's collected crafting wisdom for Holiday 2010!  I hope you find something helpful in my list to assist you in making your homemade holiday gifts a reality!

Happy December 1! Today marks the start of 25 days of Nesty!  I'm so looking forward to sharing my holiday preparations with you.  And to those of you following me on Twitter, I promise to be back soon!

Today is the first day of Hanukkah!  Happy Hanukah!!

Heartfelt Holidays!

"Love is what's in the room with you at Christmas if you stop opening presents and listen."
~Author unknown, attributed to a 7-year-old named Bobby
There seems to be a feeling afoot, a movement if you will, to re-examine Christmas and how we celebrate it.  It could be the result of several years dealing with a stinky economy, an attempt at meaning and stability in an uncertain world, or perhaps an effort to return to a time where family and true friendship were enough. I'm not sure. My not-so-scientific conclusion, however, is that we aren't celebrating less, we're celebrating more.  With all our hearts, in some cases.

I worked retail for several holiday seasons, and let me tell you, I've seen the bottom of the holidays and it ain't pretty.  I'd never really seen pure rage until I watched a woman seethe in a lineup during a no tax saleAdd to that the stress that we all put on ourselves during the holiday season and it left me wondering...why?  What are we all getting out of this?  Because I have a distinct feeling that, if she didn't spontaneously combust in the food court, what Rage Lady's family probably got out of it was their gifts hurled at them during the world's angriest Christmas morning.

During one of our conversations, my husband and I, who both adore Christmas, revealed that we were actually starting to feel sad around the holidays.  And so, to paraphrase Mahatma Ghandi's famous quote, we decided to "to be the change we want to see in the world."  

In this spirit, we do something a little different every year to fill our hearts with Christmas Cheer (sorry, I couldn't resist!).  One year, we only gave gifts that supported a charity, like the World Vision Gift Catalogue or Ten Thousand Villages.  Another year we skipped both our family's Christmas dinners and had our own instead and invited a friend who was on their own that holiday season.  Yet another year we hosted the family dinner. 

What was really neat about all of this was that we realized we weren't the only ones feeling this way. Lots of friends and family were busy injecting meaning into their holiday observances, too!  A popular movement back home is the "Adopt a Family" program.  I've participated in this at work and it's so much fun.  You get a "wish list" with all the kid's wishes.  The parents don't usually ask for anything but I don't know anyone who doesn't include at least one special gift for the parents.  In addition to the presents, you also purchase everything they'll need for Christmas dinner and stockings. There's also an "Adopt a Senior" program now, and I know some folks (including some seniors!) who are supporting that program this year.

It's not for everyone (and for that, capitalism is eternally grateful).  One acquaintance told me in no uncertain terms that they would never be happy without tangible gifts under the tree (in response to the World Vision gifts I was planning).  I just think that's sad; I get the warm fuzzies just thinking about how happy my Papa was to "receive" his rooster and two hens.  I'm often reminded of the episode of Friends where Phoebe says that good deeds are actually selfish because they make you feel so good.  That may be true, Phoebe, but I'm willing to chance it!

This year, I'm embracing homemade gifts.  I've been crafting up a storm and I'm really excited about them!  My inspiration has been the Christmas Eve excitement that was felt around my in-law's tree a few years ago, when my husband's aunt handed out the hand-knit presents she'd made everyone.  But more about that on Wednesday, when I'm going to share with you Tips for Having a Happy (and Organized!) Homemade Holiday!

Here is a list of quick and easy ways to add some heartfelt meaning to your holiday celebration:
  • Don't forget our furry friends!  Most shelters are in need of food, litter, and even old blankets and towels!  Pick up a bag of kibble and drop it off at your local shelter today!
  • Here's a warm fuzzy that's actually warm and fuzzy (and costs nothing at all except time).  Many animal shelters are looking for volunteers to walk dogs or cuddle cats; what a perfect holiday outing for you and your family!  (Be sure to call first, some shelters have age restrictions on who can actually handle animals).
  • Many grocery stores and restaurants have drop boxes for food bank donations.  Pick up some non-perishables and give a gift that will resonate well past the holiday season.  Some grocery stores even sell pre-packaged kits of the items most needed in your area .
  • Keep your community safe!  Volunteer to be the designated driver for a Christmas party, or volunteer with your community's safe drive home program (if they have one).  You could even commit a Random Act of Kindness and spring for a cab for someone who needs one.
  • Speaking of Random Acts of Kindness, a popular movement is to pay for the car behind you in the drive-though line at a coffee shop.  See a frazzled looking mom in a van behind you?  You could make her day!
  • Contact your local hospital, senior's home, or assisted living facility and inquire if there's anything you could do to brighten someone's holiday.  Think carol singing is cheesy?  Then you've never done it in a hospital or senior's home (be sure to bring Kleenex!)
  • Another RAOK!  Next time it snows, take a moment to shovel the steps of your neighbor (especially if they're elderly).  
  • A classic Christmas practice is to volunteer at your local soup kitchen to serve Christmas dinner.  You'll look at the blessing that is your home and life with new eyes.
I could go on and on, but frankly, I'm interested in your ideas!  Share in the comments; I may even include your idea in one of my holiday posts!

Wednesday is a big day, as it is kicking off 25 days of Nesty!  I'll be keeping to my Monday, Wednesday, Friday posting schedule, but on the days in between I'll be sharing snippets of Christmas Cheer!  See you then!


It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like...

 "The dog is the god of frolic."
-Henry Beecher Ward.

Yesterday was one of those perfect, magical days that really made you feel like the holidays are just around the corner.  Snow had been falling steadily since Wednesday and our world was encapsulated in white.  A trip to the local grocery store revealed that the first load of Christmas trees had arrived, and the entire parking lot smelled festive.  Inside the store, I noted that the "Christmas Foods" had made their annual appearance.  You know the ones I mean, fancy chocolates and cheeses and fascinating breads that only appear during the holiday season.  Storefronts and homes and telephone poles were suddenly alight with Christmas cheer.  We'd even attended our first festive party of the season earlier in the week.

There was just one thing left to do to put us in the Christmas mood...

Walk the dogs in the snow, of course!

If you can resist the sheer joy that is a dog in the snow, then you are made of tougher stuff than I.  Molly is and always has been a winter dog; she handles the cold extremely well and is very agile in the snow.  Our Tinky is all heart and gives it his all; despite his wee size he can hold his own in the snow, even if he does require a bit more coddling once he is home.

Once my pups were warm and fed, I settled in for an evening of Christmas crafting set to my favorite holiday mix.  The scent of cinnamon berry candles filled the air; My world was bursting with Christmas!  God bless us, everyone!

What little rituals or traditions do you follow to put you in the Christmas mood?  Is it something you can plan for, or do the stars have to align?  Share in the comments!

A Happy (if belated!) Thanksgiving to my dear American friends!  I hope you had all the turkey and pumpkin pie you could hold and that you are having a wonderful time at the Black Friday sales!

NB - For those of you concerned that Molly has shrunk, have no fear!  This is an old, old picture of her from when she was a puppy.  I promise to take some newer ones soon!

Retro Recipes + Window to My World - Banana Bread

The days are shorter, and definitely chillier! What could be better than curling up in front of the fireplace with a mug of tea, a Christmas magazine, and a still-warm-from-the-oven slice of this...

To my way of thinking, not much!  If you'd like to re-create this cozy little scene, here is a banana bread recipe very similar to the Better Homes and Gardens recipe I used.  Enjoy!

Mum's the Word!

I'm up to my ears in crafting fun, and I'm itching to share my projects with you, but I can't...

They're all Christmas gifts!  And if I share them with you here, it would ruin the surprise for many of my recipients!  And so, mum's the word until after December 25th!  

What I can say, however, is that I'm having a wonderful time creating heartfelt gifts by hand for all my loved ones!  I'm so much more excited about mailing my Christmas boxes this year!  Not only do I have the joy of giving gifts (making a list, deciding what to give, mulling over choices) I get to decide every aspect of my gifts!  Throughout the year I would have moments of inspiration; a skein of yarn made me think of this person, while a piece of fabric or a beautiful bead would bring to mind someone else.  Every so often I like to take out what I have accomplished so far and look at all of it and imagine being there when the gift is opened.

I'm making good progress but I'll have a few busy weeks ahead of me (well, make that week, if I'm really keen!)  After a bad experience mailing my parcels last year (New Year's gifts, anyone?) I want my gifts in the mail early!

And so, that's all for today, folks.  I really need to go finish...ha!  You thought you could fool me, didn't you!?

Have a wonderful week, and I'll see you on Wednesday!

Happy Thanksgiving, Again!

Hey there American friends!  You have a very big week coming up!  If you're anything like me, you'll be spending a lot of this weekend planning for next week's festivities.  To help you along, today I'm listing my Thanksgiving posts from a few weeks ago:
  • Apple Turkeys make a fun craft and are a traditional Thanksgiving centerpiece in my family.  I've included an easy to follow tutorial, complete with pictures!
  • Need to bring dessert to a Thanksgiving potluck?   Turtle Pumpkin Pie is sinfully delicious and beyond simple to make.  But shhhh!  Let them think you laboured in the kitchen all day!
  • A few hours of "me-time" is always something to be thankful for!  Why not do some scrapbooking?  Check out this adorable Bo Bunny Pickin' Pumpkins album kit I found at our local scrap-book store.
  • Sweet Potato and Pumpkin and Maple, oh my!  Fall has the very best flavours, so why not serve them all up at An Autumn Coffee Party!
    • Curious why I celebrated Thanksgiving last month?  Click here for an explanation AND a recipe for Apple Pie with Cheddar Crust.
    • And of course, in the midst of all the fun, don't forget to reflect on what you have and what you love, and give thanks.

    Have a fun, wonderful week!  Safe and happy travels to all of you who are on the road this holiday season!

    A Good Cow

    This week we observed the end of something we had become very fond of.  It was reliable, convenient, versatile, and, well, delicious.  I'm referring to, of course, our cow.

    Not a whole cow mind you.  Those of you who have been reading along since the beginning will remember my post about purchasing a half a side of beef last Fall.  Well, this week we finally ate the end of it.  Now, if we hadn't experienced the Great Beef Thaw of 2010, last year's cow would probably have gotten to room with this year's cow.  With that in mind, we've decided to purchase less beef this year and will be getting an eighth instead of a quarter.  

    A few weeks ago I took stock of what was left of the cow.  We had consumed almost everything I'd prepared during my Beef Cookoff, or as I like to refer to it "Iron Chef - Battle Thawed Cow." (To briefly summarize what I'm referring to, last June my freezer somehow got turned off.  By the time I discovered it, the contents had thawed, including A LOT of beef.  Thankfully it was still icy but I had to cook for several hours and refreeze all of that.  The grand finale was a Prime Rib feast with our friends, since I couldn't bear to see those cuts fried and re-frozen.)  Now, almost 6 months later, we were down to a container of beef and onion broth, a freezer bag of cooked stew meat, and a container of meat pie filling.

    I made the meat pie a few weeks ago.  Isn't it pretty?

     This week I decided to use the broth and the beef to make a stew.  However, by the time I would have thickened it, the soup looked and smelled so great that I decided not to thicken it.  It was wonderful, especially with the sourdough rolls my husband picked up at the store.

    And so, adieu Good Cow!  We enjoyed having you around, and we look forward to meeting your tasty replacement!

    Festive Choices!

    It's the most wonderful time of the year.  The question is, when does it start?

    A popular discussion topic in person, on Facebook, and in blogland this weekend has been decorating for Christmas.  Some people have been polling whether it's too early to decorate, while others are happily declaring that their decorating has commenced!  All around our town, folks are putting up their exterior holiday lights.  However, considering the forecast is calling for snow (which in these parts can reach depths of several feet), this is a practical exercise.  Nonetheless, a couple festive souls have flipped the switch, casting the glow of green and red lights onto their streets.

    It all leads to the question; when is the best time to decorate for Christmas?

    I'm a firm believer that if it makes you happy, go for it.  Granted, this theory would be stretched if it were August.  My general rule is to wait until after Remembrance Day, and then start moving things out gradually. I start with my "winter" items (snowmen, snowflakes, etc).  Heading into December, I'll begin adding more Christmas specific items, with the grand finale being the reintroduction of the tree.

    It's a funny thing about the tree.  I used to wait until after December 15 to put it up.  Mind you, I used a fresh tree, so keeping it fresh was a consideration.  Last year we cut our own tree with friends.  The tree cutting expedition had to accommodate several schedules, so we went a little earlier, and I found it quite pleasant to have my tree up earlier than usual.  

    In years past, when I was working, we had some last minute situations.  I would have great intentions of having my decorating complete by December 15, but something would happen and it would get pushed back.  One year in particular we had to go tree shopping quite late in the season; it's a great story (now) but you'll have to wait until December to hear it!  Suffice to say, it was interesting.

    I've relaxed a lot on the "rules" of Christmas.  Like I  said, whatever makes you happy is what's important.  This year, I'm starting early and enjoying the whole process, from unpacking my treasures, to deciding where to put my favorite snowman, to sitting by the fire in the the glow of Christmas light, sipping hot chocolate and Baileys.  To achieve this, I'm going to begin doing a thorough late fall cleaning this week, and when it's complete I'll start moving in my "Winter" stuff. (One of my cousins was explaining the concept of "Winter" versus "Christmas" decorating on Facebook today.  I smiled, since this is a conversation I have several times throughout the festive season.)

    As for the tree?  This year I've got some novel ideas regarding my tree (or should I say, trees?) that I'm going to keep to myself for the time being.  However, I will share that I'm aiming for earlier rather than later.  Stay tuned!

    So, I'm interested; when do you begin decorating for Christmas?  Share in the comments!

    On "Busy"

    “Busyness rapes relationships.
    It substitutes shallow frenzy for deep friendship.
    It feeds the ego but starves the inner man.
    It fills a calendar but fractures a family.
    It cultivates a program that plows under priorities.”
    (Dr. Charles Swindoll)

    A friend of mine keeps this quote on her kitchen bulletin board.  Every time I read it I pause for thought as this quote really resonates with me.  I wish I'd read it years ago, when I was starting my adult life of marriage and career.  I wonder, however, if I would have really heard the message back then.

    There was a time when I was an acolyte of "Busy."  I had a challenging job that I loved.  I trained in kickboxing 3 to 4 times a week.  I sat on several committees and one Board of Directors.  At church, I taught Sunday School, sang in the choir, and was forever raising my hand or signing my name to volunteer for yet more activities.  

    For a while, I thought I was thriving on "Busy."  I reasoned that instead of wasting my time on frivolous activities I was making sure that every moment went to something constructive.  I rode the high of accomplishment until one day, no doubt sitting in a board room, I realized something was missing.


    Life was happening while I was taking notes, baking pies, brainstorming fundraisers and cutting out Easter crafts.  While my family met for Sunday tea, I was kicking a heavy bag.  When my husband joined our friends for coffee or drinks, I was choking down dinner after work to dash off to yet another committee meeting.

    I began to loathe the words, "I'm sorry, I'm too Busy."  I'd hear them coming out of my mouth and the guilt would start.  I couldn't reason it out.  I was doing the right thing, wasn't I?  All of this would help me build my career, my portfolio, my reputation.  "I'd really love to, but I'm just too busy."  

    The writing was on the wall almost exactly five years ago.  Dear friends were getting married.  We'd been looking forward to their wedding for months.  We'd booked a hotel room with friends, planned outfits and parties, and were actively involved in the wedding.  And then one of the committees I was involved with announced it was having mandatory training all day Saturday starting at 8:30 AM.  The wedding was Friday night.  And I took calls related to that committee literally as I was going out the door to the wedding.  I suspect the phone may have been taken from me (and for that I am grateful.)

    So, I went to the wedding, and ate and danced and stayed the whole time, but I couldn't toast my good friends as liberally as everyone else.  I didn't go to the hotel "after parties" since I needed my sleep in order to be bright and sharp for my training.  And, the next day, while my friends sipped mimosas and watched gifts get opened, I participated in team building exercises and brainstorming sessions.

    I was bitterly disappointed.  

    It continued like this all year.  I was tired, stressed, and irritable.  Even activities that were supposed to relieve stress, like kickboxing, became of source of ire instead of fitness and enjoyment.  Church ceased to be a place of spiritual fulfillment and became another source of work. Indeed, it was my church activities that finally broke the camel's back.  One day, knowing that I wasn't spending nearly enough time at home, I just didn't go.

    (I'll pause for a moment while you go alert the church elders.)

    We went for breakfast.  We strolled the streets sipping coffee, just as we had when we were dating.  We drove to our favorite bakery, picked up some sweets, and went to Sunday tea at my grandparents for what seemed like the first time in ages.  We talked.   We had a lovely supper and then watched television together.  I laughed.  It felt lovely.  

    I slept like a baby and woke the next morning clear of head and with a plan.

    I was quitting all of it.  All of it.  For one year.  Everything.  I would go to work, and I would come home, and I would see what I was missing.  Because during the talk that Sunday, I realized that I might have a resume that shone, but my Life was dull indeed.

    My sense of responsibility dictated that I would have to fulfill my current commitments. I made this decision in early Spring; most of my activities followed the school year so they would be ending soon anyway.  I gave my resignations, said my goodbyes, hung up the boxing gloves, and breathed a sigh of relief.

    The real challenge came a few months later, when Autumn, of course, brought all my abandoned activities back to life.  I had been candid about my decision, "One year, no activities" so the requests were more creative.  If you won't sit on the board, would you join a committee?  Help us fund-raise?  Help teach a "fitness" kickboxing class as opposed to training?  No, no, and no thank you.    

    Did I burn some bridges?  Maybe, although I tried to be as polite and diplomatic as possible.  But it didn't really matter.  Because by the time the new round of requests had begun, I had had three golden months to breath in exactly what you miss when you're Busy.


    Fitness?  I swam in the ocean, hiked mountains, did yoga and Pilates.  When I needed a martial arts fix, I did a training session at home with my husband.  

    Committees and meetings?  Instead of reading minutes, I was reading novels.  Time spent cooking in stuffy boardrooms was now spent cooking actual food.  And hey, I did have a actual job.

    Networking?  Turns out I had a pretty interesting bunch of family and friends I needed to reacquaint myself with.   There's not a team building exercise in the world like the gliding around the ice with your sisters at your family's annual Christmas Skating Party.

    Culture?  I'd really missed going to movies, plays, and concerts, and I savored these outings, as well as the coffees and drinks afterward.   There were new experiences, too.  I went to my first gnarly heavy metal concert during that year.  Horrified?  Yes, at moments I was, but now, I can honestly say I've seen Motorhead play live!   

    Spirituality?  If walking with my husband and my dog in Petersfield Park on a crisp Cape Breton October Sunday with the leaves turning all around us doesn't bring me closer to God, then I don't know what can.  All my family relationships - marriage, immediate, in-law, you name it - grew stronger during this time.  I think that's more important to my spiritual life, and to God, than fussing over who's making the sandwiches for the social or who's in charge of the rummage sale.

    I learned so much about myself during that time.  I love wine, and wine festivals.  I like to scrapbook and make cards.  I enjoy photography.  In no time a year had passed, and I had a much better grasp of who I am and what is important to me.  It was during this time that the "Nestygirl" you know was beginning to emerge, because she was finally allowed to show her face.  I learned that there's no shame in admitting that I'd rather bake a cake in my free time than go to a meeting.  I'd rather visit with my family than bicker with a committee.  That's who I am and I haven't wasted another precious minute feeling guilty about it.  

    I hasten to add that I'm not judging anyone who thrives on Busy and truly, truly loves it.  Nor am I pooh-poohing anyone who has to be busy out of necessity.  It just seems to me that there are an awful lot of people out there (and I was one of them) who claim to have no time for what is really important and fulfilling (family, friends, a healthy blood pressure score) but have time for everything else.  Ask yourself this; if you're someone who is always "too Busy," when was the last time you made yourself not be for the betterment of your relationships?  I'm not talking about jobs; you have to put in the time to earn your paycheque, and some jobs are more time consuming than others.  I'm talking about everything else.  Because in the course of my blunt self-examination, I realized a lot of things that were making me "too Busy" were not that important in the grand scheme of things.  

    To put it into perspective, I'll use extra-curricular activities like sports as an example.  I know now that while my ego loved the rush of gaining a new belt level, my boxing gloves didn't pour me a glass of wine and tuck me into bed at the end of the day.  Neither do your golf clubs, your poker deck, your boat or your quad.  There's not a day goes by that I don't miss training, and I hope to train again someday, but when I do my head will be in the right place, and martial arts will never take the place of time with my family again.  Because let's face it, I wasn't a professional kick-boxer, and you're not a professional golfer, poker player, sailor or outdoors-person.  

    Essentially, it's the lesson at the heart of the song "Cat's in the Cradle."  If you're not careful, by the time you're no longer "Busy,"  everyone else may have passed on by or be too Busy themselves.  The moral of my story is to make sure that you have balance.  Build your career and resume, yes, but please, please, build your relationships, too.  Take care of your health, both physical and mental.  Don't be afraid to say "No."  You know what they say about how if you want something done, ask a busy person?  People do that, and they will take advantage.  A good friend once told me, shaking his head as I was giving him my name for yet another activity that no one else would do, that I had to learn to say no. 

    So, you may ask, what about those super-busy, super-successful people who really seem to be doing it all with a smile on their face and a song in their heart?  They've probably achieved what is known as "Balance."  For those who are actually pulling it off, not just keeping up a facade, achieving Balance is a skill that requires understanding, empathy, compromise,and communication.  It can be done!  It just requires a lot of work and a lot of honesty about what you can reasonably do.   

    So, did I ever do anything ever again?  Of course, but I am very precious with my time.  When faced with making a decision about whether or not to participate in something, my compass is this; what will I be giving up to do this, and, when I am 80, which decision will I regret more?  It's funny, but I really don't think there are many 80 year olds out there regretting that they didn't accept an executive position on a church committee, but I'm willing to bet there are lots that would give anything for just one more chat with their own grandparents.  

    Life is an ever evolving thing.  When I took that year off I had no inkling that five years down the road I'd be in a much less Busy environment altogether.  And so we evolve.  I craft and cook and clean the way I never could when I was working.  And when I miss the organizing and detail-oriented nature of my former career, I apply these skills to something around my home (my Christmas card database, for example!).  Our home and belongings are finally, after eleven years of marriage, just about completely organized and under control.  

    Who knows where I'll be or what I'll be doing in another five years?  What I do know is that I have a well-defined set of values and an establish sense of what is truly important to me to guide me through.  

    Move Over, Lasagna, Here Comes Baked Ziti!

    As I've mentioned before, I'm a very big lover of cookbooks.  I have several shelves of them in every type and description.  Some of them are veritable tomes of culinary knowledge, very dry reading without many pictures.  Others, however, are as fun to read as a graphic novel, with lots and lots of anecdotes and full colour photographs!

    One such cookbook came into my life completely by accident.  I was on the phone, agreeing (in a moment of weakness) to join yet another book of the month club.  (These clubs are like vampires, they can only come in if you invite them, but once you do, look out!).  This particular club was for cookbooks, and, well, as I said, I have something of a weakness for cookbooks.  As a thank you for signing up, I got to choose a free book from two selections.  I don't remember the first choice, but the second was The Sopranos Family Cookbook.  I hadn't started watching The Sopranos at this point, but I was familiar with it, so I chose that book.  I remember thinking that if I didn't care for it, I could give it away.

    The book arrived a few weeks later.  As is my practice with a new cookbook, I settled in to read it.  By the end of the first chapter I knew three things for sure: One, I was keeping the cookbook, two, I really wanted to see this show, and three, we were going to be making a trip to the grocery store, soon!

    We've made a lot of meals from that cookbook over the years.  From basic "Marinara Sauce" to "Bistecca Pizzaiola" this is the book I turn to time and again for homestyle Italian recipes. Some have become family favorites, such as "Eggs in Purgatory,"  which features eggs poached in zesty marinara sauce and served over garlic bread topped with mozzarella cheese.  One weekend we decided to tackle the "Sunday Gravy" recipe.  This is the original meat sauce; it uses pork neck bones or spareribs, veal stew meat or veal shoulder bones (we used beef ribs instead of veal), Italian sausage, and ground beef or pork.  It was a lot of work, and it was much richer than the pasta sauces we are used to, but it was delicious and well worth it.  However, after all that work, I just wanted to taste it as it was instead of using it in a recipe.  I think we made a "cheat's" version of Baked Ziti at the time, but we always intended to go back and make the actual ziti recipe.

    Fast forward a few years to a couple weeks ago, and it was finally time to make the ziti!  I had made a huge pot of meat sauce (not Sunday Gravy) to make lasagna and I had quite a bit left over so I decided to make the ziti (it was a pasta kind of week!).  Even though I wasn't using the Gravy, I did make the Little Meatballs and added them to the meat sauce.  This recipe itself isn't really difficult, preparation is a pleasant amount of basic cookery; chopping, grating, boiling, and assembly.  Once I slid it into the oven I settled back to wait for it. I was interested in how this recipe would turn out; I was sure it would be tasty but I couldn't see how it differ much from lasagna. 

    Oh, how wrong I was.

    While Baked Ziti does use essentially the same ingredients as lasagna, there is alchemy in the preparation, construction, and design of this dish that transforms it into something else entirely.  Suffice to say, lasagna has met it's match in our house. The layering of the ingredients gives the same experience as lasagna in that you get to savour several tastes and textures in one bite.  The difference, as far as I can tell, lies in the use of smaller pieces. The smaller ziti pasta, the tiny meatballs, and the cubed mozzarella all meld with the sauce, ricotta, and Parmesan cheese and make this dish ooey gooey wonderful.  Although it would be delicious any time of year, it is picture perfect for cold Fall and Winter nights.

    This link will take you to a version of the recipe that's very close to what is in the cookbook.  The only difference that I can see is that the cook, like myself, used their own sauce instead of the Sunday Gravy.  If you're picky, the cookbook instructions say to cut the 8 ounces of mozzarella into a "fine dice" while the cook of the link version says "small pieces."  I'm probably splitting hairs but to me there's a difference.  Or, you could pick up the cook book; I notice that Amazon does still sell it.  It's a great read, especially for fans of the show.  Enjoy!!

    Nesty Creations - My First Craft Fair!!!

    I had a great time at my first craft fair!  Not a lot of sales, but it was a lot of fun and I think I will do it again in the Spring!

    Here are some pictures of our table and wares.  I sold a collection of Christmas ornaments as well as some "Tiny Totes;" little bags perfect for hands-free shopping, strolling, or dog walking. I also made the Christmas bunting that decorated our table.  My table partner Ann sold her original jewelery designs.  I really like her creations; we purchased some for Christmas gifts last year and I bartered a Tiny Tote for a pair of earrings (the funky pink shell ones in the photo collage below).    

    Despite low sales (and developing laryngitis!), I had a lot of fun!  It was great to get out, meet people, and see what other crafters are making. 

    Have you participated in a craft fair lately?  Do you sell your products online, either through Etsy or your own site?  If so, I'd love to hear about your experiences!

    Have a great day!

    Happy Weekend!

    Hi Everyone!

    As I announced on Wednesday, I'm participating in my very first craft show this weekend.  Things get rolling tomorrow afternoon, so I am going to be wise and get ready tonight!  And so, dear readers, I hope you will forgive me for not writing much of a post today!  I'll be back on Monday, and I'm looking forward to visiting some of your blogs for a "real" visit, not just a peruse in my reader!  We've been "staycationing" the last two weeks and so I've been spending time with my family instead of blogging quite as much.

    Thanks for your understanding!  I'll see you on Monday!


    Window to My World - Pumpkin Rock

    When you move to a new town, it can seem strange, cold, and lacking when compared to the place you came from.  I have discovered, however, that in time, something pretty amazing happens.  Suddenly, your "new" town becomes "your" town, a warm, familiar place with traditions and customs you now embrace.  

    Last Halloween, actually, just after last Halloween, we discovered one of our town's unique traditions.  Starting November 1, people from around the town bring their Jack-o-Lanterns to a rock face known as "Pumpkin Rock."  
    We're not sure, this may actually be a fairly new custom, but it is one that we were excited to join in this year.  And so, despite the heavy rain, today we headed down to Pumpkin Rock to deliver our Jack-o-Lanterns to their final home.  They seem pretty happy to be there:
     We were really impressed with the pumpkin carving skills on display at Pumpkin Rock:
     After I said good-bye to our Jack-o-Lanterns one last time, we went for a drive to check out the local Inukshuks, which had been decorated for Halloween:
     And that, my friends, was Halloween in our town, a place that has come to feel very much like home!

    A Nesty Halloween "Post-Mortem"

    I absolutely adore Halloween, and we had a really great time this year!  As promised, here is a photographic review of our "Halloweekend!"  

    We started things off on Saturday night with a Halloween party.  I was pleasantly surprised at how many of the attendees came in costume.  I decided to get all dolled up a la "Mad Men" in a wonderful vintage dress my mother found at a Value Village store several years ago.  I added a bee-hive, bluish red lipstick and some pearls, and I was ready to go!
    One of our guests had celebrated a birthday earlier in the week, so we feted them with a cheerful chorus of Happy Birthday, and, of course, a cake:
     This cake was featured in the 2009 issue of Martha Stewart Halloween.  Another great idea I discovered from Martha was the idea of having a Halloween Candy Bar:
     This station proved quite popular and it sparked many fun discussions about favored (and not so favored) Halloween treats.  I am already planning a Christmas Candy Bar for our annual Typsy Eve bash (more on that in a future post).

    We had a wonderful party. Our guests brought some really yummy treats; I'd like to say I didn't have cake for breakfast, but, well, that would be a lie.  We slept in and were pleasantly surprised that there was very little clean up required the next day.  A load of dishes, a sweep of the broom, and a trip to the barn with some garbage, and we were finished!  We had plenty of time to play dominoes, drink coffee, and carve some pumpkins!
      I used the same  set up from the Candy Bar to display our Halloween Treats.  
     We love to decorate for Halloween, and every year we pick up a new piece.  The treat bowl above was this year's addition, while the groovy silver jack-o-lantern was 2009's.  Below is a collage of some of our decorating, with a sampling of our decorative pieces:
     The Trick-or-Treating part of the evening went well; we had approximately 30 ghosts and goblins come to our door.  We still have lots of treats left over (oh dear!).  In between visitors, I enjoyed sitting by the fireplace and getting the Halloween reports from my friends and family across Canada via Facebook and the phone!  Now, the jack-o-lanterns are almost out, the door bell is silent, and it's just about time for one last cup of tea and maybe, just maybe, one more mini chocolate bar (but only one, I swear!).  Tomorrow, I can't wait to check out all the great Halloween stories in Blogland!

    Have a wonderful week!  'Til Wednesday!