Welcome 2015!

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Happy New Year!  Wishing everyone another year full of friends, family, laughter, and adventure!

 

Holiday scenes from the District

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My family came in for a few days right after Christmas and it’s been absolutely wonderful.  We’ve invited over lots of friends who were in town for the holidays and went to Zoo Lights, and made tacos and played Loteria into the wee hours.  There’s been a lot of sparkling wine, a lot of hugs, hours spent wandering around Capitol Hill, and even a magical few hours watching the Nutcracker at the Warner Theatre.  I wish they could stay forever.

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Holiday scenes from New Jersey

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December, 2014.

Merry Christmas

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We’re spending the next few days with family in New Jersey, and more family visiting from Texas.  I’m so happy to be surrounded with the ones I love best.  Merry Christmas to you and yours!

A little holiday reading:

Merry Merry

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Almost Christmastime

Christmas crackers

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I love having Christmas crackers during the holidays, but apart from the paper crown, which is amazingly fun to wear and beloved by all, I always find the goodies inside a little disappointing.  A couple of years ago, I decided to start making my own, and I think this year’s are the best yet.  This video has great instructions, but I’ve also outlined what I did below.

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I used the end of a pen to stamp white polka dots on this cheery coral paper leftover from a project.

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Once the paint had dried, I turned the sheet over and lightly secured a cracker snap to the back with a little tape.  I get my cracker snaps from Old English Crackers.  Don’t worry if they hang over the edge of your paper a bit; you can trim them back later.

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Line up three cardboard tubes on the paper, with the middle tube spaced exactly in the center, then roll the paper lightly around the tubes and secure with tape.

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Pull one of the outer tubes out from the center about 1.5 inches.  Hold the center tube in one hand and the separated outer tube in the other, and twist them in opposite directions.  This will crinkle the paper in the open space between the tubes, and create a smaller opening along the side of the central tube so that your cracker contents don’t fall out.  Cut a piece of ribbon or yarn and secure the crimped area of the paper tube.  Once secured you can remove the outer tube from that side of the cracker.

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Next you should fill the cracker with a variety of small gifts.  I like to use candy, stickers, scratch tickets, and this year I found some googly eyes.  And of course, don’t forget the tissue paper crown.

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Once you’ve stuffed your cracker with gifts, secure the other end in the same way as before.

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At this point you can trim the cracker snap so it lines up with the edge of the paper.  Use a little glue to secure it to outer edge of the cracker, and you’re all set for Christmas fun!

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Painting wrapping paper

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Last year I started experimenting with making my own wrapping paper.  Nothing too fancy, just paint and paper.  I like that I can buy basic materials and make just as much as I need, a critical idea when you live in a place with a shortage of storage.  This year I found a roll of basic butcher paper and white tempura paint, figuring it would be easy to reuse them for any occasion.  I tore off four foot sheets and experimented with patterns of lines, dots, and triangles.

To add a little color, I make gift tags with a little bit of butcher paper and pages torn from the stack of catalogs I get around the holidays.  Anthropologie and Boden had particularly beautiful winter catalogs this year, and I love how nicely these came out.  A bit of yarn and some of last year’s sparkly gold washi tape, and I have a simple but pretty stack of gifts waiting for Christmas Day.

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Tis the season for holiday cards

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I’ve always been a big fan of mail.  Whenever I travel I try to send postcards, and though I’m rotten at remembering to send birthday cards, nothing makes me cheerier during the holidays than the annual exchange of holiday cards.  I love coming home every day to check the mail and find a small stack of colorful photos from friends and family across the country.  This year we found a gorgeous card from Minted to pair with the colorful photo we took in front of our beloved bookshelves.  In the past we always did slightly irreverent cards, but this year I just felt like doing something pretty, and I’m really thrilled with how these came out.

PS. Our cards from last year, which featured our new neighbor, the DC panda cub.

Ever green

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Picking up a little seasonal greenery to add some holiday cheer to our home.

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Another Christmas

Pass the Pigs antics

Pass the Pigs antics

Hope everyone had a lovely Christmas and a relaxing weekend.  We had an amazing few days of wonderful food and great fun with friends.  Here are twelve of my favorite shots from Christmas.

Nostalgic gifts

Nostalgic gifts

The best kind of Christmas eve lunch

The best kind of Christmas eve lunch

Roaring fire and mini stockings

Roaring fire and mini stockings

Champers and paper crowns

Champers and paper crowns

Roasted duck feat

Roasted duck feat

Enticing a few gifts out of Caga Tió

Enticing a few gifts out of Caga Tió

Somebody decided to make wrapping paper for my gifts as well

Somebody decided to make wrapping paper for my gifts as well

Borrowing babies from the neighbors

Borrowing babies from the neighbors

Pretty thrilled that everyone shared my enthusiasm for paper crowns

Pretty thrilled that everyone shared my enthusiasm for paper crowns

Pass the Pigs

Pass the Pigs

It’s Friday, I’m in love

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Working between the holidays is pretty tough, especially when the Mister is home.  I’m glad for the weekend and a little more quality time with him.  We’ll be working on freshening up the paint on the walls and putting in shelves.

Here are a few photos from the week.  Hope you have a great weekend!

A little decadence peeking out of my purse on the commute home

A little decadence peeking out of my purse on the commute home

Smitten Kitchen has taught the Mister to make the perfect poached egg every time

Smitten Kitchen has taught the Mister to make the perfect poached egg every time

The jewels of winter

The jewels of winter

Enjoying a few last Christmas cards over champagne cocktails

Enjoying a few last Christmas cards over champagne cocktails

Boxing day sales

These calf hair flats have seen better days

These calf hair flats have seen better days

Though I have to head back to work today, later in the day I’m planning to take advantage of the Boxing Day sales to fill a couple of wardrobe holes.  My beloved leopard-print calf-hair flats have seen better days and I’m thinking of replacing them with these similar loafers from Madewell.  They look comfy, and leopard print seems to work like a neutral and pair with everything.  What sales are you planning to hit?

The Teddy Loafer from Madewell

The Teddy Loafer from Madewell

[Lower photo courtesy of Madewell]

A very merry DC Christmas!

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Happy Christmas morning!  We’re spending the day munching on sweets, beating a few presents out of Caga Tió, and then heading over to see friends for a holiday celebration.

Here are a few photos of the National Christmas Tree at the White House, which we which we stopped to visit after work a few days ago.  Happy Holidays from DC!

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Paper crowns

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I mentioned yesterday that I can’t think of anything more fun than wearing paper crowns on Christmas.  Last year I cut out colorful tissue paper crowns to go in my homemade Christmas crackers.  We hosted family and a friend for the holidays last December, and paper crowns on every head made for a festive Christmas dinner.

This year, I went a little fancier and used gold watercolor paint on a large piece of rice paper.  The 21 x 18 inch sheet cut down perfectly into eight crowns, each of which got embellished with little golden star stickers.  The paper crowns are now all tucked away in Christmas crackers, which we plan to bring over as a gift to the friends who are generously hosting us on Christmas day.

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Making Christmas crackers

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I’ve always loved the idea of Christmas crackers.  One year, in an office white elephant exchange, a box of Christmas crackers briefly entered and exited my possession.  They were the real British kind, that made a cracking sound and were filled with prizes and paper hats.

Disappointed but determined to have my own crackers, a little googling showed me that they were pretty easy to make, and now it’s one of our traditions.  All you need is a few cardboard tubes (spent wrapping paper tubes are perfect), tape, string or ribbon, and wrapping paper.  For the prizes that go inside, I make paper crowns and add a few chocolate candies.  Traditionally small toys also go into the crackers, but since there aren’t currently any children in our family, I think it’s fun to throw in a few scratch tickets.

We had a lot of fun with these last Christmas when my in-laws were visiting.  This year, we’re spending part of Christmas day with friends and I’m planning to bring my homemade crackers along.  Hopefully everyone will be as excited to wear paper crowns as I am.

Materials: cardboard tubes, wrapping paper, paper crowns, scratch tickets, chocolates, and twine

Materials: cardboard tubes, wrapping paper, paper crowns, scratch tickets, chocolates, and twine

Place scratch tickets in the tube

Start by inserting a scratch ticket in the tube

Roll up the crown and slide into tube

Then, roll up the crown and slide into tube

Tie one end of the paper with string

Wrap the tube with a bit of Christmas paper and tie one end  with string

Add a few small candies

Add a few small candies

Secure the other end

Secure the other end with string.  Ready to go!

It’s Friday, I’m in love

The atrium of the building I work in never looks lovelier than at this time of year

The atrium of the building I work in never looks lovelier than at this time of year

Since the Mister spent the earlier part of the month traveling, we’re staying in town for the holidays this year.  This is the first time we’ve spent the holidays alone together, which is kind of sweet and romantic.  We’re planning to do a little baking, wrap a couple more gifts, and enjoy a few cocktails while DC is at its quietest.

Here are a few photos from the week.  Hope you have a great weekend!

The bar cart looking lovely in the midday winter sun

The bar cart all aglow in the midday winter sun

Tiny stockings hung from the bookshelves

Tiny stockings hung from the bookshelves

White poinsettias lined up on the marble staircase

White poinsettias lined up on the marble staircase

Gingerbread and candy zoo!

Gingerbread and candy zoo!

Caga Tió

Caga Tio

Caga Tio

Since we’ve been together, the Mister and I have adopted our own little hodgepodge of holiday traditions.  One of our favorites is Caga Tió.

I first experienced Caga Tió, or Tió de Nadal, while spending part of the holidays in Barcelona.  As I wandered the Christmas markets, I kept seeing these adorable wooden logs with smiling faces and red caps.  This was Caga Tió, which in Catalan translates roughly to Poo Log.  The tradition works like this: leading up to Christmas, children offer Caga Tió little gifts of food like nuts and candy, and cover him with a blanket so he doesn’t get too chilly; then on Christmas, they entice him to “poo” out presents by beating him with a stick and singing songs.  The presents “appear” under Caga Tió’s blanket.

Caga Tios at the Christmas market in Barcelona

Caga Tios at the Christmas market in Barcelona

Spanish children beating a giant Caga Tio

Spanish children beating a giant Caga Tio

While in Barcelona, I saw children lined up in the market square to take a turn beating a giant Caga Tió with a stick, much like other children line up to visit Santa.  I thought this was a pretty delightful tradition so I bought a small Caga Tió as a gift for my mother, who likes to fill her home with Christmas decorations.  She loved it and every year our family dutifully feeds it treats during the holiday season.

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When I started to bring the Mister home for the holidays, he was equally enchanted with the idea of Caga Tió, so one Christmas a few years ago, he surprised me with a homemade Caga Tió.  We adore him, and he takes the place of honor in our little apartment that would normally be reserved for a Christmas tree.  Every year we feed him treats, and every year we give him a good beating with a stick so that he will “poo” out our presents under his blanket.  We’ve even gotten friends and family to participate, and it has become one of our fun traditions.

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Peppermint bark with a crunch

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I’d never heard of peppermint bark until the first Christmas I spent with the Mister’s family, and it has since become a holiday favorite.  This year I wanted to try making my own, and I scoured the internet looking for the perfect recipe.  I’m a big fan of Shutterbean and when Tracy posted a recipe for crunchy peppermint bark a few days ago, I knew I’d found the one.

These have been a hit both at home and with my colleagues;  I think the Mister ate about half the plate by dinnertime.  Fortunately they are super easy to make, so I think I may whip up another batch before Christmas.

Candy canes, white chocolate, rice crispies, dark chocolate

Candy canes, white chocolate, rice crispies, dark chocolate

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A few tips:

Tracy recommends buying “good” white chocolate.  I’ve never bought white chocolate before so I wasn’t sure whether this was for flavor or ease of use.  I get my good dark chocolate (for baking) at the local organic store, so I just bought the only white chocolate they had and it tastes good and melted well.

I took her advice and refrigerated the crispy white chocolate layer, then added a dark chocolate layer and the crushed peppermint.  This was a fantastic idea and I like the way the white and red of the crushed peppermint stands out against that dark chocolate layer.  I do think next time I’ll look for a slightly more bitter dark chocolate since the white layer is already so sweet.

I smoothed my white chocolate and rice crispy layer between two pieces of parchment paper.  This meant that the upper surface was nice and smooth by the time it had set, and much easier for me to spread a thin layer of dark chocolate over.

When crushing the candy canes, I recommend doubling up on the plastic bags.  The sharp edges of the candy tend to bust right through the baggies, and the peppermint dust will go flying.  I went through three plastic baggies altogether for this batch.

Tracy breaks her bark into jagged pieces, but I found it pretty easy to cut into neat little rectangles with a knife.

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Making wrapping paper

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This year I decided to make my own wrapping paper.  This decision was less about any crafty inspiration on my part, and more about not wanting to go buy wrapping paper and then having to find storage space in my tiny apartment for the half I don’t end up using.  I’m already using storage space on perfectly good rice paper, gold paint, and brushes.

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While I was at it, I made little gift tags out of a cut up Madewell bag and a small pile of Christmas catalogs that had recently come in the mail.  Then, as I was making more wrapping paper, I realized that painting the Mister’s face right onto the wrapping paper accomplished both the decorating aspect and the labeling aspect.  I am pretty pleased with the result and may paint his face onto all of his presents next year.

Have you ever made wrapping paper?

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Our holiday cards, featuring the DC Panda Cub

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Christmas cards are pretty much my favorite part of the holidays.  I love getting them in the mail, especially photo cards, and especially especially, the slightly irreverent ones some of our friends make.  We like to have a bit of fun with our holiday cards.

Two years ago we had fun “baking” with a little Maker’s Mark.

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Last year, we got caught under the mistletoe.

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This year we decided to express our excitement about our newest neighbor, the panda cub born at the National Zoo this summer.  I love Cardstore for Christmas cards.  They have so many great options and are super affordable.  Isn’t their packaging adorable?

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While I hate that so many of our friends and family live so far away, when I’m filling out mailing addresses on the cards it’s fun to think about all the different places they’ll be going.  This year our mailing list includes Ann Arbor, Austin, Berkeley, Boston, Brooklyn, Chicago, Durham, Hoboken, Houston, Irvine, Los Angeles, Merrimack, Milford, Monmouth, New Orleans, New York City, Norwalk, Philadelphia, Portland, Richmond, San Francisco, Seattle, Tampa, and a dozen small towns in Texas and Massachusetts where we have family.  Do you send out holiday cards?

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Christmas in New York

Rockefeller Center

Rockefeller Center

New York City is a dazzling place any time of year, but around the holidays the city seems to have a little extra magic.  From department store windows to ice skaters in Bryant Park, to the smell of roasting chestnuts and Rockefeller Center, spending a few hours walking up and down 5th Avenue was a great way to get into the spirit of the season.

Macy's holiday window

Macy’s holiday window

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Rockefeller skaters

Rockefeller skaters

Lord & Taylor's holiday windows

Lord & Taylor’s holiday windows

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Macy's holiday decor

Macy’s holiday decor

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Holiday window selfie

Holiday window selfie

Ice skating in Bryant Park

Ice skating in Bryant Park

Lord & Taylor's holiday windows

Lord & Taylor’s holiday windows

Saks' holiday window

Saks’ holiday window

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