Friday, December 29, 2006

Of Pigs & Prose

I'm beginning to compose my list of "goals" for 2007. Among them is a resolve to reread Strunk and White's The Elements of Style, a practice strongly suggested in one of the many books on writing I've read in the past year or so (naturally I can't remember which one). It's one of those self-improvement goals, kind of like saying I'll go to the gym three times a week (which I'm not saying because I don't belong to a gym).

It also seems like a good time to reread that manual in honor of the editor who revived and revised Strunk's original "little book". Here's a tidbit for you to throw into New Year's Eve party conversations to sound well-read or cultured or something: the White of "Strunk & White" is none other than the author of Charlotte's Web, now showing in movie form at theaters around the U.S. The background story goes something like this: in 1918 Strunk, a Cornell University professor, privately published a forty-three page book containing elementary rules of usage and composition. E.B. White studied under him in 1919, but didn't recall the book until 1957. As editor of the New Yorker, he decided to write a piece on Strunk and his rules of writing. Two years later White was commissioned to revise the "little book" for publication by MacMillan & Company. So the revised and expanded edition is what we commonly know as Strunk & White's Elements of Style. Learn something new? Don't let a discussion of Charlotte's Web go by without mentioning this fun bit of information (then again if you're not a writer geek like me, maybe you should).

And now I'm wondering just how many of those elementary rules I've broken in this blog entry alone. I've definitely got to get my hands on a copy of that book soon.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Fish and Snakes

Christmas morning when my five-year-old opened up the fish tank we gave her the reaction from her older sister was...well, jealous. "How come she got a fish?" were her exact words. "She asked for one," I responded. Then I quoted: "which of you fathers, if his son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead". The response? "Can I have a snake?". For real! And she won't give it up now. I'm thinking of answering this way the next time she brings it up: "Which of you mothers, if her daughter asks for a snake, won't give her a fish instead?".

Incidentally, the fish came into our house because my daughter had tired of begging for a dog and (smartly) switched tactics and angled for a fish. I'm not ready for a dog. But a fish? Well, I guess that's still to be determined, huh?

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

An Obituary

Colorful, a male betta fish. Adopted into a Musing family on December 26, 2006. Died while his owner was out shopping for a light for his tank on December 27, 2006. Leaves behind one loving owner and her two sisters, mom and dad. Is remembered for his beautifully colored body, for which he was named, and the way he liked to swim on the dark side of the tank. He was the first pet adopted into a Musing Family. His owner plans to honor his memory by acquiring another betta tomorrow. Any tips for betta care can be made by commenting on this blog.

My Kids' Christmas Favorites

It's hard to get back to everyday stuff today.The past few days were nearly like a fairy tale to me. We had lots of time with family, all of which was enjoyable. And we had lots of play time. Lots. The funny thing to me was that I spent all day on Christmas playing and still hadn't touched all my new "toys". Our girls had a great Christmas too. When I asked them this morning what their favorite part of Christmas was this year here's how they answered:
Child #2: Opening presents and seeing what I got.
Child #1: Getting anti-gravity chairs and an American girl salon chair.
Child #3: Reading the Christmas story. (Child #1: "Me too!")

Reading the Christmas story? What's so special about that? Well, we have a tradition of listening to daddy read the Christmas story from Luke 2 before opening presents on Christmas morning. This year, however, I thought we'd jump in on his story-telling. So my daughters and I spent every weekday morning from the day after Thanksgiving until Christmas break reading Luke 2. We broke down the passage to make it more of a dramatic reading. The plan was for each of us to recite a couple verses from memory. Guess what? It worked! Daddy read the first few verses and then daughter #1 took over, followed by daughter #2. Even the three-year-old recited a couple verses before letting daddy finish the story. It was awesome. I had tears in my eyes. And the girls had a great time giving their dad that gift.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Merry Wishes...And a Public Service Announcement

We're on the cusp of holiday celebrations this morning. 29 people arrive for dinner this afternoon and then it's one gathering after another through Tuesday. So if I don't get a chance to sit at my computer before Christmas, "Happy Jesus' Birthday" to you. To quote the words of God's messengers: "Glory to God in the Highest and on earth peace to men on whom His favor rests" (Luke 2:14, NIV). I am glad for that peace with God. This time of year, whatever the reason, often brings strife and chaos; close-up views of difficult relationships. But none of that is outside of God's control. I'm thinking it's all a good reminder of why Jesus had to come to earth. To bring peace with God, if not our fellow man. May that peace come to rest on your home this Christmas.

Okay, a quick public service announcement, partly to remind myself. Charge those video cameras today if you want to capture the delight on Christmas morning. Check your stash of batteries so those remote-control cars have power and talking dolls can babble. Enough film in the camera (what am I thinking in this digital age? How about that memory card? Got enough room?)? Now go enjoy your Christmas!

Friday, December 22, 2006

Holiday Entertaining Tip #2

Here's a tip for those who are hosting overnight guests or even just dinner. Pamper your guests by sprucing your linens up with Lavender Linen Spray (lavender has calming properties and a pleasant scent). If you don't have time to put a batch together now, do it in the lull after the holidays. Then use it on your own pillowcase and sheets for restful sleep (which some of us will be really glad for next week).

Lavender Linen Spray
1/2 c. distilled water
1 tsp. vodka or witch hazel
5-6 drops of lavender essential oil (Whole Foods or Wild Oats)
1 - 4 oz. spray bottle (Walgreen's sells them in the beauty aisle)

Mix and pour into clean spray bottle.

To use:spray on sheets and table linens before using or while pressing with hot iron.

For more ideas like this and other information on creating inexpensive gifts and decorations, check out the new book, Pampering Gifts: Crafting a Ministry of Treating People Well For Less.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Walter Wangerin Jr.

Walter Wangerin Jr. is one of top three favorite contemporary writers (Anne Lamott ranks up there with him too). If you haven't read any of his books you ought to. I started with As For Me and My House which is a gut-wrenching non-fiction book on marriage. I loved it and immediately was drawn to read more of Wangerin's work, but I wouldn't necessarily say to start there. The Book of the Dun Cow comes to mind as a good starting place. It's fiction; an allegory.

Wangerin is one of those writers whose prose is so strong and so...stylized? Maybe that's not the word. He just has a very strong voice. One that I have to be careful of for fear of picking it up and coming out with a bad imitation. C.S. Lewis is that way for me too. And Jean Shepherd. I never read any of them when I'm working on a writing project. They have a way of creeping in.

The reason I bring up Mr. Wangerin is that he's been on my mind lately. I had the great privilege of hearing him speak at Calvin College's Festival of Faith and Writing this year (I'd put in a suggestion that they invite him four years ago and hoped and prayed they would). It wasn't a disappointment at all. First, I have to admit my initial reaction to seeing him. I wrote it down in my notes: "he has a goatee and a ponytail!!!". I meant it in a positive way, probably because it validates a certain choice I made (love you, hon!). Anyway, it was great to hear him speak. More of a privilege because he was in the midst of treatment for cancer and wasn't guaranteed to be there. That fact also lent a sort of prophetic bent to his words. Here's a writer, speaking to writers, with death in view. I took lots of notes.

So fast forward. Knowing his condition (it's an aggressive cancer), I've been following his progress in his open letters to the public on his website. His writing there is just as strong and beautiful. But he hadn't written since September and I was beginning to wonder. Thankfully he posted a new letter on his web site about a week ago. I just read it Tuesday. Gladly. You really should read it too. I was in tears when I read the last few lines. What a great writer.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Does anyone get...

Child Magazine? I can't find a copy for sale anywhere and our library doesn't carry it either. If you happen to have a recent copy, can you just look at the last page and tell me what they're calling their personal essay these days? It used to be "What I Wish Every Parent Knew". I just wish I knew what that section was called. Thanks in advance!

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

An Accounting of Holiday Preparations

Here's some of what's happened in our house to date as we get ready for the holidays:
  • 242 cookies baked
  • 144 pretzel hugs made (they're so easy, should have made more)
  • 111 or so ornaments hung on our tree
  • 107 cookies eaten. No, make that 108 as I drop crumbs on my desk here.
  • 68 presents bought
  • 29 cards and 53 Christmas letters mailed. Ok, I've still got 5 on my desk, but I'm almost there.
  • 6 1/2 hours waiting for the piano tuner to finish so we could sing Christmas Carols at home
  • 5 presents made, 2 or 3 more to go
  • 5 stockings hung by the chimney
  • 2 packages sent. Did I miss somebody? I hope not because it's too late now!
  • 2-plus hours waiting to see Santa (we don't do this every year. I have a 5-year old who really wanted to go and ask the man some questions. Questions were answered and requests noted. Thankfully you get to pass notes to the downtown Naperville Santa who deflects requests for Nintendo DS and American Girl dolls that won't be showing up under the tree).
  • Zero cozy fires in the fireplace, but hopefully one will be crackling tonight for our small group dinner
  • Countless readings of the Luke 2 account of Christ's birth. I am remembering the reason for the season while doing all the above!
This is just in case anyone's been wondering what I've been up to lately. To quote from a favorite radio show: "Not much. You?"

Monday, December 18, 2006

Holiday Felt Bags

These are two little felt bags I made to put gifts in for a couple young girls on our gift list. I'd been seeing these kinds of things in lots of stores and kept thinking, 'I bet I could make those myself'. So yesterday I planned out the pattern and today I sewed them. They're quite simple to make and if you're a sewer like me, you've probably got the supplies just lying around waiting to be used. Here's how it's done:

Holiday Felt Bag
2 - 6 1/2" x 7" brown felt squares
1 - 2 3/4" x 20" brown felt strip
2 - 1" x 10" brown felt strips
1 - 3" white circle
1 - 3" red circle
2 white triangles

Start by cutting out all the above pieces. Next cut a pinwheel shape from the red circle. Glue red "pinwheel" onto white circle. Gather points of triangles by stitching about a half inch up from the tip and pulling taught. Stitch inside edges of red pinwheel. Pin circle and triangles to front of one square. Next stitch around perimeter of circle, making sure that triangles are caught in stitching. Pin 20" strip to sides and bottom of one square. Stitch 1/4" from edge along entire strip, making sure to stop and turn 1/4" from end of each section. Repeat with other square. Fold 10" strips in half lengthwise. Stitch 1/4" from unfinished edge on each strip. Pin strips to top of bag about 1" in from each side. Stitch around entire top of bag, catching each handle strip in stitching. Bag is complete! Fill with toiletries or other fun gift!

You could make these in almost any color and put whatever design on them that you want. I'd thought about doing gingerbread men. The peppermint candy was just easier. Have fun creating your own designs for any season or occasion!

For more ideas like this and other information on creating inexpensive gifts and decorations, check out the new book, Pampering Gifts: Crafting a Ministry of Treating People Well For Less.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Another Holiday Gift Idea: Homemade Spa Gifts

Still in need of a last-minute gift idea? There's still time to make a few simple gifts. And homemade spa gifts can be easy and much less expensive than their commercial counterparts, without losing anything in the translation. Here's one that my sister especially enjoys (I'm not telling if she's getting it this year or not).

Raw Sugar Scrub
1 c. raw or granulated sugar
1/4 c. walnut or other light oil, such as almond
1/2 tsp. vitamin E oil
essential oils - I use sweet orange, lime & grapefruit

Mix all together and package in jar. Hinged-lid jars look particularly classy, like Origins. (You may want to note the following on your gift tag: "caution when using: contents can cause surfaces such as shower floor to become slippery").

Here's a few hints on supplies: I used milled cane sugar and almond oil. You can find these at natural food stores like Wild Oats or Whole Foods Market. For vitamin E oil I just buy capsules from the drugstore, poke them with a pin and squeeze the oil out (labor intensive, but worth it). Essential oils can be found at the natural food stores, but even Meijer has started carrying Aura Cacia brand, just not very interesting scents. The essential oils will be the priciest item on the list, but you only need 1-2 drops of each for the whole batch.

Have fun making it. And when you're done mixing and pouring into the jars be sure to wipe your mixing bowls out completely using your hands. Don't waste one bit of this wonderful stuff. You can even rub a little onto your elbows. See how nice it feels? You may decide to keep it instead of giving it away!

For more ideas like this and other information on creating inexpensive gifts and decorations, check out the new book, Pampering Gifts: Crafting a Ministry of Treating People Well For Less.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Life with a Three-Year-Old

...can be so much fun sometimes! My three-year-old is an uber-princess whose favorite phrase is "I love you, Mommy!". She'll be playing in another room and suddenly call out to me "I love you, Mommy!". Or we'll be walking through a store together and she'll burst out with it - loudly. People often stop and give me those "aww, how sweet" kind of looks. Like they know how lucky I am. They don't. She showers me with kisses and hugs all day long. She loves to play Polly Pockets or Pretty, Pretty Princess together, but is just as happy playing on her own. She's full of joy and exhuberance. The mere sight of anything princess in a store and she lets out a big shout,"Look, there's a princess [something]!". I love being with her. And how many people can say that about their three-year-old? I am incredibly lucky indeed.

So this morning, since the newspaper man came after my husband had left for work, I asked my uber-princess if she'd go out to get the paper for me. This is a favorite task of the three-year-olds in my house. Every one of them has been so proud to go out and retrieve the paper. Me? I'm glad to just stay inside where it's warm and pay a kiss in exchange.

Evelyn gladly answered my request. She put on her pink and purple-flowered rain boots over her footed fleece pajamas, while wearing her sparkly Snow White crown. And she proceeded out the door. A minute later she was back inside carrying the paper and beaming. I hope one or two cars drove by while she was out there so someone else could get a good chuckle this morning. Me? I got a kiss and an "I love you, Mommy!". And the paper.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

The "Perfect" Gift

Have you ever had one of those occasions where you're out shopping and find just the "perfect" thing for someone on your list? I love when that happens. I usually spend the rest of the time until Christmas all excited and anxious because I can't wait to see how they like what I got them. That's one of the best feelings. Most years I'm able to do that. This year it seems a little less so, mostly due to lack of time. I'm shopping with a list and dashing in the stores for what I need and dashing on out again. No lingering, no window shopping, no browsing to see if I can find "just the perfect thing" for someone. Thankfully I was able to find a couple of great gifts before the holiday rush began. So I still have the excitement and satisfaction of giving what's hopefully "the perfect thing".

I'm down to only a couple more gifts to purchase. Good thing too. The stores are getting more and more crowded. I had to park way out in the mall lot last night. Another reason for dashing in and out. That "dash" slows to a snails pace at the checkout line. No more "quick trips" to any place other than maybe the grocery store. Still, if I get those last few needed gifts in the next day or two I may have time to go back to browsing. I'm all about swapping out one "okay" gift if the perfect one comes along (and that's the beauty of not waiting until Christmas Eve to shop).

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Mary: Scrapbook Mom? ... Or not?

Luke 2:19 "But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart."

I've been meditating on Luke 2:1-19, the Christmas Story, lately. Makes sense during Advent, doesn't it? I don't have a special Advent devotional or anything. I'm just reading and rereading the text, trying to picture the story underlying it. I've noticed verse 19 before, particularly the phrase "Mary treasured up these things" because it is repeated later in verse 51 of that chapter. I figured it was because Mary is kind of a scrapbooking-type mom; a memory-keeper. But as I've run through these verses over and over today a different thought came to mind.

Here are Mary and Joseph, stuck in a stinky barn after a very long journey. Probably everyone else beat them to town since they'd have to take a slow pace given her condition. How discouraged they must have been. She has to give birth among animals, no doubt lots of them with all the travelers in town. Cramped, smelly, uncomfortable. "Where is God? Doesn't He see?" After all, it's His Son she's giving birth to. It's His Son that has to be put in the manger, full of animal drool and prickly hay.

Then these young boys come running in, all breathless. They're rumpled from sleeping in the fields. Shepherds. They're talking fast, excitedly. And Mary shakes off her pain and exhaustion to listen to what they're saying. "We saw angels, lots of them, in the sky," they report. A brilliant light. And an announcement. And now - here's the baby, just as they'd been told. God has not forgotten her! He does see! No wonder Mary pauses to ponder these things. They must have been a salve to her weary body and downcast soul. That God did bring in the Savior's birth with a heavenly fanfare was something to remember. I imagine it carried her through the tough days and weeks ahead.

So maybe she's not so much a scrapbooker as she is just a human mom in need of encouragement, in need of a milestone to remind her of God's care.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Who Pulled the Plug?

Now that we've passed the two-weeks-til-Christmas mark it suddenly seems like time is draining away too quickly. And every shopping trip I make is an exercise in futility as if I'm caught in an eddy. It's like this every year for me. At about this point I look at the small pile of things I've actually completed and then turn to the mountain of things yet to be done. Panic time! And when it turns out by the end of the day that the completed pile is still the same size after a lot of errand running and hard work, I really freak. But then a week later I'll be going at a snails pace and find that I'm actually checking things off my list in rapid succession. The accumulation of effort will suddenly pay off.

So today I've reminded myself that I need to take deep breaths, keep plodding on and wait for it all to come together. At the last minute. Like it does every year. I'm really hoping I'm right about that. Maybe I should just put the plug back in, turn the water on high and take a bubble bath.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Tea Time

My girls and I visited my husband's British grandmother this afternoon just in time for tea. The girls were thrilled when Grandma asked if they cared for some tea. Cared? Of course they did! They practically count on it when they go to her house. And she loves that they are genuine tea-drinkers (uncommon among American children, but apparently not so in England). So she set out her bone china ("just for you girls"), put on some water, got out a plate of fancy tea cookies and in no time at all the table was ready.

It was a nearly magical occasion. My children's manners came out all polished up. Even my three-year-old held her cup daintily, pinkie pointing outward (where did she get that?!). And although most of the conversation took place between the great-grandparents and I, the girls delighted in every minute of it, groaning when I announced it was time to depart.

Can we institute afternoon tea as an American tradition? I'd love to partake in this genteel social ritual every day. Perhaps you'd like to join me.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Pretzel Hugs & Kisses

I tried a new "cookie" recipe with my kids today. It was for "Pretzel Hugs". I have to tell you I absolutely love it. Not because they're tasty (although they are), but because of how incredibly easy they were to make. Other than popping them in the oven for 10 minutes, I didn't have to be involved at all (I was, for the fun of it). My three and five-year-old daughters totally got into making them and I didn't feel like I need to correct or direct or interject. All that said, here's the recipe (I've heard it from multiple sources. This is from our new church cookbook. So "thanks", Elizabeth).

Pretzel Hugs (or Kisses)
pretzel rings plain M & M's
Hershey's Hugs

Preheat oven to 200 degrees. Place pretzel rings on a cookie sheet and top with unwrapped Hugs (we used Hershey's Candy Candy Kisses. Same idea, minty flavor). Bake for 10 minutes. Remove from oven and immediately place an M & M on top of each Hug, gently pressing candy down if necessary. Cool in refrigerator or freezer until easily removed from cookie sheet. Store in refrigerator.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

No Carols in Church?

I’m still listening to Christmas music at home (at first I’d been ready to turn it off two days after Thanksgiving). Why? Because I like how it sets the tone for the season. It heightens the anticipation.

My church apparently doesn’t agree. This past Sunday (the first Sunday of Advent) they started the service with an instrumental version of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel”. An awesome way to approach the start of Advent. I was really beginning to reflect on Christ’s birth and getting geared up for some Christmas Carols. Then our worship leader announced we wouldn’t be singing any carols, instead we were going to “worship”. And I’m thinking, 'yeah right, because lines like “O Come let us adore him, Christ the Lord” have nothing to do with worship'. To say the least I was greatly disappointed. I’m learning more and more each year that I miss the seasons of the liturgical calendar I grew up with.

So here we are, with probably only one Sunday where we’ll get to sing a carol or two. Why is that? Why can’t we sing carols during advent? Or at least advent songs like “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” (I realize there is a dearth of material to choose from)? I can see a little bit of why you’d save some or even most Christmas Carols for the Big Day. But to pointedly blow off all of it? If you have any ideas on this, let me know. I’m thinking there must be a good reason, but I haven’t figured out what it is yet.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Contentment Part 1: Peace and Hope United

The overall theme of my thoughts these days has to do with contentment. I struggle with it every year at this time. It's because of Christmas Wish Lists. I realize it’s so much easier for everyone to shop if they’ve got a list to work with. I’m that way. I’m hung up on a few gifts right now because those people haven’t given me any idea of what they’d like. I’d love to get creative, but that entails time and risk. I’m feeling a little short on both right now.

Here’s the thing with wish lists: you have to come up with something to put on them. You have to think of what you’re missing out on. Or what you wish you had. It’s always hard for me. I’m generally content with what I have. I don’t feel like I’m lacking anything. But if I think hard enough and look through enough catalogs, store ads and window displays I’ll find some things I didn’t realize I was wanting. One example: my kitchen towels are honestly very shabby; they’re faded and a few even have small holes. I was okay with that until I noticed some cool eggplant-colored micro fiber towels that would match my new kitchen d├ęcor. Now the old towels seem…well, old. I’m not as okay with them any more (hint, hint, dear).

I also feel like I’m encouraging a spirit of discontentment at times in my children when I pull out the toy catalogs and say, “so what do you want for Christmas?”. I don’t do that much any more. For one thing, they snag the toy ads pretty quickly on their own now. But the other thing is I’ve learned to pay attention and make note of things they might like so I can create their wish lists for them. It’s always fun to see how surprised they are to get things they’d forgotten they’d wanted. Or, my mom’s favorite: things they didn’t even know they wanted (I love when she says that before I open a gift from her – she’s pretty much always right).

Now, I don’t want to knock wish lists entirely. There’s this thing about gifts and wishing. It’s called hope (although not the same as the hope we have in Christ). Think about it, isn’t there at least one thing you’d love to have, but almost don’t dare to wish for? Sometimes we get too practical in our Christmas gifting. We need to think more of getting people the kind of things they’d like to have but would never buy for themselves (another idea I learned from my mom). And then maybe we can start asking for those kinds of things ourselves (so forget I mentioned the kitchen towels, hon). It leaves this little spark inside you that burns brighter the closer Christmas comes. It’s that tingle of excitement we had when we were kids and wondered if Santa would really bring that one thing we wanted most of all. That’s hope, temporally speaking.

So this year I’m trying to be content and at peace with what I have and stop wishing I had things other people have or better things or newer things. And mostly I am content. But I’m also trying to rekindle that spark of hope (actually I know what big wish-list item we’re getting this year, so it’s more a spark of anticipation). Most of all, I’m glad the two - peace and hope - can coexist. And I think there’s something of the First Christmas and what it means in that whole concept.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Contrary Kids

Okay, I preface this post with a disclaimer. Blogger beta has lost my post editing toolbar. That means I can't do any formatting or add links or photos. Sorry. Hopefully they'll fix it soon. So far it's the only problem I've had with Blogger beta; I'm not complaining too loudly.

About my kids: I can't figure them out sometimes. Over the long Thanksgiving weekend it was in the 60's here. My husband was out putting up Christmas lights and I urged my kids to get in some outside play before the cold weather hit. They weren't thrilled. In their minds they'd had enough of the outdoors all Summer and Fall. It was time to be indoors. They couldn't see the impending chill and sickness of winter that will keep us shuttered indoors for weeks at a time in the next few months. Me? I know what's ahead. My thought was to fill my kids with enough fresh air and sunlight to hopefully get us through the winter (or at least the Christmas break).

On Tuesday of last week (when it was still in the 60's) I had to force them to stay at the school playground and play. We were there for an hour, thank goodness. Thursday night the cold arrived and Friday morning the snow hit. Friday was a snow day and guess what? They all went outside to play. I think my eldest was out in it for almost six hours between sledding, shoveling and just playing. Then again Saturday they begged to go sledding and stayed out on the hill with my husband for nearly two hours.

Go figure. Give them a warm, sunny day and they want to stay inside. Freezing temps and they're out for hours. I realize it's the novelty of snow and all the fun of winter sports. It's just contrary to what I'd do. I like warmth; period. I did go out sledding for a little bit, but the cold chased me in pretty quickly. But...I didn't get to build a snowman yet or make a snow angel or build a snow fort and have a snowball fight. Maybe next snowfall I'll get out there with them more. Just not for hours at a time. And I'll definitely want to sit in front of the fire wrapped in a fleece blanket drinking hot cocoa afterward. Then it'll be worth it. Now that I think of it, bring on the snow!

Friday, December 01, 2006

Holiday Entertaining Tip #1

Okay, I'm not an expert at "entertaining". I know people who really dress things up well - candles burning all around, fresh flowers on the table, that sort of stuff. I wish I could be like that. And I try, in my own way. Which means I'm always on the lookout for cool things to spice up my decor and food spreads. I'm also budget-conscious. So if I can find some chichi idea that I can do myself for less, I jump on it. One of my favorites for the holidays is chocolate-covered spoons. They seem like a luxury, but they're so easy to make and inexpensive too. If you're hosting a holiday party, try making these to set out by your coffee (or make a set of them and package up with hot chocolate or coffee as a gift). Here's a recipe I clipped out of the Chicago Tribune a few years back (if you do a Google search for "chocolate spoons" you'll find a ton of recipes, most very similar). I've used this one. It works great.

Chocolate-covered Spoons
Melt 12 oz. of chocolate chips in a 2-cup microwave-safe bowl on medium (50% power) for 2 minutes. Stir. Repeat for 1-minute intervals until melted.
Dip a plastic spoon in the melted chocolate to cover the spoon bowl; tap handle against bowl to smooth and remove excess chocolate.
Place spoon on a wax-paper-lined jellyroll pan (I put mine on a cookie sheet). Repeat, making 24 chocolate spoons; refrigerate 10 minutes to set.
Melt white chocolate chips, following the directions given above. Drizzle white chocolate over the chocolate spoons to decorate. (I've seen them also decorated with colored sugar).
If you want to give these as gifts simply wrap each one in plastic wrap or cellophane and tie with a ribbon.

Happy entertaining!

Note: The above instructions from the Tribune suggest this will only make 24 spoons. They must have been very generous with the amount of chocolate on each spoon. I tapped the excess off and still had enough for nearly 3 dozen spoons and 2 dozen pretzel rods (I was tired of doing spoons. For pretzel rods, just dunk 2/3 of the rod into the chocolate, let set for a few minutes in the fridge, then roll in sprinkles and return to fridge until completely set).

For more ideas like this and other information on creating inexpensive gifts and decorations, check out the new book, Pampering Gifts: Crafting a Ministry of Treating People Well For Less.