Welcome 2015!

DSC_1294

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

 

Advertisements

Farewell 2014

2014.Helen.Paul.3

This year we are ringing in the New Year with dear friends in Capitol Hill, and while I am looking forward to champagne and all the promise that the new year holds, I can’t help but reflect back on what a crazy, amazing year 2014 was.  I’m so grateful to have had the opportunity to spend so much time with the people we love, to welcome so many new little people into our lives, celebrate milestones with so many lovely friends, and to have been able to explore just a little bit more of the world.

Here are just a few of the highlights from 2014.

Chilly temps and warm friends during a winter visit to Philadelphia.

Watching strangers rifle through our free book box.

2014.Paris.74

Spending a quiet week in Paris with my gorgeous Mama.

2014.Copenhagen.25

A brief but colorful visit to Copenhagen.

2014.Vermont.26

Trying to consume all the cheese in Vermont with a few of our besties.

Lots of time exploring New Jersey and its lovely shore now that we have family there.

2014.Austin.6 A few fleeting, but lovely trips to Texas for graduations and weddings.

Processed with VSCOcam with c1 preset

Celebrating my birthday by biking to vineyards in Sonoma.

2014.Seattle.50

Sunset sails in Seattle.

2014.Michigan.19

Cabins on the lake during a perfect Michigan summer.

2014.California.108

So many amazing weeks in California, including trips to LA, Joshua Tree and Big Sur.

DSC_0118

Finally made it out to Shenandoah National Park.

DSC_0790

And we had the best Beaujolais Nouveau party yet.

Holiday scenes from the District

DSC_1186

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.

DSC_1088 DSC_1098 DSC_1116 DSC_1195 DSC_1200 DSC_1215 DSC_1227 DSC_1236 DSC_1239 DSC_1266 DSC_1283 DSC_1273

DSC_1336 DSC_1315

DSC_1187

Holiday scenes from New Jersey

DSC_1038DSC_0831DSC_1005DSC_0893DSC_1017DSC_0975DSC_0989DSC_1075DSC_1068

December, 2014.

Merry Christmas

DSC_4720

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:

Christmas crackers

DSC_0774

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.

DSC_0779

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

DSC_0751

DSC_0752

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.

DSC_0753 DSC_0754

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.

DSC_0756 DSC_0758

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.

DSC_0744 DSC_0770

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.

DSC_0761 DSC_0762 DSC_0767

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

DSC_0765

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!

DSC_0777

 

Painting wrapping paper

DSC_0624

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.

DSC_0530 DSC_0535 DSC_0540 DSC_0566 DSC_0573 DSC_0622 DSC_0623 DSC_0625

 

Tis the season for holiday cards

DSC_0523

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

DSC_0468

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

DSC_0472 DSC_0476 DSC_0504 DSC_0507

Happy Thanksgiving

DSC_4035

Happy Thanksgiving!  I’m taking today and tomorrow to relax and spend time with family and friends in New Jersey and New York.  Hope you have a wonderful day filled with food, loved ones, and lots of pie!

A couple of fun memories from this time last year:

Welcome 2014!

...

Happy New Year!  Wishing you adventure, good health, and happy memories in the months ahead!

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]

Making Christmas crackers

...

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!

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.

2011

2011

2011

2011

2012

2012

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.

...

Peppermint bark with a crunch

...

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

...

...

...

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.

...

...

...

Making wrapping paper

...

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.

...

...

...

...

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?

...

...

Our holiday cards, featuring the DC Panda Cub

...

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.

2011

2011

Last year, we got caught under the mistletoe.

2012

2012

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?

2013

2013

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?

...

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

...

Rockefeller skaters

Rockefeller skaters

Lord & Taylor's holiday windows

Lord & Taylor’s holiday windows

...

...

Macy's holiday decor

Macy’s holiday decor

...

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

...

Peppermint star sugar cookies

...

Sunday was quiet and snowy, perfect weather for staying warm inside, drinking lots of tea, and wearing pajamas for most of the day.  It was also a perfect day for baking holiday cookies.

...

...

I’ve been working on my cookie-making skills this year, and have been looking for a perfect sugar cookie recipe.  For these star-shaped cookies I used a simple Martha Stewart sugar cookie recipe, dividing it in half to make a slightly smaller batch.

I wanted to try something a little different for the frosting and thought it would be fun to drizzle them with lines of red icing.  The red frosting made me think of candy canes so I added a tsp of peppermint extract to the icing. This turned out to be a great idea, and everyone exclaimed that the icing was both pretty and tasty.

...

...

My approach to icing making was a little less than scientific. I dumped about 1.5 cups of powdered sugar in a bowl, flavored it with 1 tsp of peppermint extract, then whisked in a tsp of water at a time until the icing had reached my desired level of drizzliness.  It took about 15 drops of red food coloring to get the right color of red, and once I’d whisked it in well, I used a long tea spoon to drizzle thin streams of icing over the cookies.

Overall these cookies came out fine, neither crumbly or rock hard; subtly sweet but a little on the crunchy side.  This pleased my colleagues, who got to eat most of them, but personally I’d like to find a recipe for a slightly chewier cookie.  Do you have a go-to sugar cookie recipe for the holidays?

...

Zoo Lights at the Smithsonian National Zoo

...

We live near the Smithsonian National Zoo and are frequent visitors.  One of my favorite annual events is Zoo Lights, which unlike many of the Zoo’s other after hours events, is free to the public.  Every year, from the day after Thanksgiving until New Years, the Zoo stays open late for visitors, puts on an extensive holiday light display, and leaves several of the animal houses open late.

...

...

They have hot chocolate, a tube slide, a gingerbread house contest, a dancing panda, and performances by choirs and other musical groups.  A few nights ago, I ventured over with a small group after work to check out this year’s display.  It’s a great place to visit with kids, but we always have a lot of fun with our friends.

...

...

...

...

...

...

...

...

Holiday decor in a small apartment

...

We’ve been apartment dwellers for years, and probably will be for most of our lives.  In such a small home, space is a precious commodity.  The placement of every object is considered and weighed; most of our possessions have been whittled down to things that are very useful, very beautiful, or, ideally, useful and beautiful.

As much as we like to get into the spirit of the holidays, its hard to justify the space for items we’ll only use a few weeks out of the year.  So, to get a little holiday cheer into our apartment, we buy several yards of fresh pine garlands from our local nursery, and have fun draping them around the apartment.  I hang them over doorways and on the bookcases, and this year I had several feet left over and wound them into a wreath to hang on a door.  They look fresh and festive, and make the apartment smell amazing.  This year, I also bought a couple of red berry branches and they’ve been looking gorgeous set out on our table in a vintage milk glass vase.

One of my favorite storage tricks, is placing things behind the books on a bookshelf.  I’ve designated the space behind one row of books to store my “Christmas bag.”  This beloved old bag from a chocolatier in Paris, holds several dozen gold, sparkly snowflake ornaments, a few candles, some artificial garland, a couple of tiny Christmas stockings, ribbon, and twine.  The snowflakes are hung from the garland, the wreath, and any other obliging place in our apartment.

As much as I enjoy visiting friends’ homes that are completely decked out in holiday decor, I’ve grown to love our simple green garlands and handful of snowflakes.  Our apartment seems lush and cozy, and wanting only for some hot cocoa and a few Christmas carols.

...

...

...

...

...

...

%d bloggers like this: