For two years now, Kate has been lording it over her brother that she came in first in the gingerbread house building contest, kids division,, and he lost.  Now, technically, he came in second, and she won, because there were only two entries in their division.

I am one of those modern parents who thinks it was great that they even entered, and used their creativity and all that. I would give out ribbons and trophies to everybody!

Last year, we were sick for the contest- I actually had made dough, figuring we could roll it out, but that just didn’t happen. It has been in the freezer for a year- I figure since we don’t eat the houses (mmmm! stale gingerbread!) it doesn’t really matter that the dough is old.

So, this year, we are healthy, and ready to go.  The houses have to be at the library at 9:30 Saturday morning.

Image My design is a cabin on a glass candy lake, with an ice-fishing hole.

Kate wants to have a Valentine Post Office, with heart shaped windows made of hard candy.

Will (previously known as “the boy” but it seems reasonable to refer to him by his name now,) is making a gingerbread Jurassic Park…with dismembered gingerbread people who have been ripped apart by the gingerbread T-Rex.

In order to prevent tears on Friday, we have been doing a little bit of mixing and baking and building every night this week. There still may be tears on Friday. We’ll let you know how it goes.

Happy Holidays

IMG_0004Posts have been few and far between here lately. I usually hate it when bloggers apologize for not blogging- you know, this hobby where I write about the stuff I do? I haven’t kept up with it- bad blogger!
No apologies- no explanations…except, well, my daughter has been sick, and I have longer hours at my day job, and I have lots of ideas, but just not enough time. Sorry. Wait! No apologies, no explanations!
Anyway, whatever holidays you celebrate, enjoy them…happy new year, and I hope to get back into the blogging groove.

Family meeting

For many years, I have turned up my nose at the debate so many people have this time of year about real christmas trees versus artificial. We have used a small blue spruce in a pot, which we bring inside a few days before the holiday, and then taken back out again. I rolled my eyes at people with tree carcasses in their living rooms, or tree mannequins. I even wrote about having a live tree in my very first blog post.
It turns out, that separately, we have all been thinking about changing our tree situation. The Boy mentioned the other day that his grandma had teased that our tree looked like the tree from the Charlie Brown special. He felt sad. I felt defensive. She’s right, of course. It does.

This drought has made it hard to make sure this little guy got enough water.

This drought has made it hard to make sure this little guy got enough water.

I found myself rubbernecking the tree lots on the highway, and sniffing at the trees outside the grocery as I ran in to get milk, and as I was putting out our Christmas village, I looked at the box of all the cool ornaments we have collected over the years, but that we don’t have space for on our tiny Charlie Brown tree.

DH mentioned today that he missed the pine smell.
Kate has been lobbying for a big tree for a while- since before Halloween….
So today, we had a family meeting, and discussed pros and cons of live tree versus artificial versus dead tree.
Kate said she would feel guilty about having a tree murdered for her,The Boy just wanted something big and from what I understand, real versus artificial kind of balance out over the years. The carbon footprint of an artificial is huge- made of plastic, shipped from China, but it “amortizes” for a long time.

And, confession, some of the choice boils down to convenience- no stepping on pine needles, no crawling under the tree with a watering can.

We are crazy frugal here, and the tree we get will last us a long time. The interwebs tell me that the expected life of an artificial tree is 6 years- if we are buying a new one in 2018, then I will admit that we made a mistake. My prediction is, though, that we will keep this thing for-freakin’-ever.
DH went on the mission, and chose a 6 foot pre-lit tree.When it first came out of the box, I was nonplussed. It was all mashed together, unfluffy. I had a sad.

Then Kate and DH worked on spreading out the branches and making it lovely.

What is your choice? Fake, dead, live, stained glass? I’m interested in the thoughts behind your choices.

Bojagi is Korean for Furoshiki

Merry Christmas! Can I have the scarves back?

I probably don’t count my blessings enough, but here’s one- DH gets me. He gave me tons of surprising presents, including earrings with the kind of back I like, dove chocolate, a marble pastry board (!) and he laid out and had printed a book version of this blog. I am amazed.
He also gets my quirks- like the wrapping paper thing. Or, if he doesn’t get them, he puts up with them. I hate wasting paper- throwing away garbage bags full of wrapping paper on Christmas morning- ack! Why are we, as a nation, as a culture, wrapping presents in pretty paper, then throwing the pretty paper away?!!!! He gets it- this year, we wrapped everything in scarves or bags- that’s the Bojagi and  Furoshiki of the title.  We had to scramble to make sure we had enough scarves at the end, but everything we took to Christmas morning at my MIL’s house was wrapped in something reusable.
It was my idea, and even I thought, “well, when we run out of bags, we’ll just do the last ones in paper…”
Umm, no, we did all cloth bags and scarves.

I tried to color code- so the Girl had her presents wrapped in pink, the Boy was either blue or orange, DH was green, and I was purple. By the end, it was just all random scarves out of the scarf box.
All year long, when I have gone to thrift stores, I swing past their scarf display, and usually pick up one or two for a dollar or less. Sarongs are good for larger items, like my marble pastry board (squee!).
Peeking might be a problem if you wrap way in advance. We’re never organized enough to get anything under the tree much before Christmas eve anyway.
I tie most things up like a hobo bundle, diagonal corners tied in a granny knot. This works best for square and rectangular boxes, but it is even good for randomly shaped things, like plastic covered airplane models and stuff.  It is way easier than cutting and taping paper.

Easy Fudge Recipe

The kids’ Tae Kwon Do school has a dessert potluck for their promotions ceremony, and the Girl wanted to bring fudge, like Grandmother makes. This is something my mom has memorized, and she will rattle it off rapidly whenever you ask her, but I have never been able to memorize it.
I emailed her, and was surprised to find out it is in a cookbook I actually own- Creme De Colorado, which was put out by the Denver Junior League years ago. Those junior leaguers- they know how to make fudge…I’m not even sure what I mean by that.
The note on the recipe that my mom sent was “doubles easily” and I’d like to suggest that if you don’t double it, you’re crazy. As many dessert potlucks and choir thingies, and classroom parties and brunches as you get invited to this time of year, you might as well, because it is the same amount of dishes to wash, and same amount of time put into it.


My mom uses a hand mixer for this- not the crank kind, the plug-in kind, and by the end it always smells like it is going to catch on fire. I have a kitchen aid stand mixer (best Christmas ever!) and it has the power to do it- you really want to have something with power, rather than using the brute force of your own muscles.

The Girl likes to help with this- the dangerous part is pouring molten chocolate, so an adult should do that, but otherwise this is pretty kid-friendly.

Easy Fudge- double it!

1/2 cup butter (or margarine, but why bother?)

12 oz bag of chocolate chips

2 eggs

4 cups powdered sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla

nuts- optional ( I hate nuts in fudge, so I didn’t even bother to write down how much…sorry.)

Melt chips and butter in a saucepan. Meanwhile, in a large bowl beat eggs until light in color, then add powdered sugar and mix well. Add melted mixture and mix well. The heat from the melted chocolate will cook the eggs, but the sugar will help prevent them from scrambling.  Pour this into a 9″ square buttered pan. Cool in fridge and slice.

It's handy to put in the box, because I don't have to mess with plastic wrap, and can stack stuff on top of it in the fridge. DO store in the fridge, because of the eggs.

I did this in two containers- one plastic box because it was for a weekend brunch, and a parchment-lined pan for the Tuesday Tae Kwon Do thing. My mom pours all of it into plastic boxes, because it’s easier to store and give away.

I wonder about using part white chocolate, or cherry chips? If you wanted to maintain the swirl effect, you’d have to use separate pans to melt, it might be worth experimenting. Let me know…


Edited to add- I am doing another batch (single batch- we’re not superhuman!) of this to bring to treat day in the teacher’s lounge, and I am adding orange extract instead of vanilla. I am realizing that this is very much a “bag of chips, half bag of powdered sugar” type recipe. When my mom would rattle it off, I got lost, but having done it once, it is pretty much memorized. Tryyyyy iiiiiittttttt… you know you want to.

The Heifer Bank

when we got to the bank, they took it out of the rolls to count it in the machine, so we pretty much just practiced counting for half an hour.

We get kind of greedy this time of year- I know I do, more sweets, more stuff, more presents- I want a new yoga top, but I want to pick it myself, I’ll just wrap this for myself and put your name on the tag, I want 6 new cookie sheets before Christmas.

Maybe you don’t get this way. I do. My kids feel greedy this time of year, too. Sometimes the wanting and the waiting is just overwhelming and impossible. For everybody.

Our heifer bank is meant to be a cure for that- I think it helps a bit.

We have a kitschy cow-shaped bank that we fill all year, and before Christmas we empty it and decide who to donate the money to. (Ooh- an 8th grader laughed at me the other day for using “whom” and I find it is getting to me- darn 8th grader.) ahem, “to whom we will donate the money.” That’s better.

When we started, our charity of choice was Heifer International, ( ) which is why we have a cow bank, but in other years, we have done the local food bank, and this year, our local science museum, which is moving to a new building. We put change into the bank all year- money from the couch, or when I lighten up my purse.

This year, we were astonished to count up almost 100 dollars in change, plus a 5 and a 1. That is a big enough donation to get our name on a plaque. We get a plaque!!!! Wait, it isn’t about the plaque- it’s about helping out the science museum.

What do you do to change the feeling of greed for yourself? Or, do you just roll with it?

This is what a hundred dollars in change looks like.

Gingerbread House Madness

Every year, I think it would be fun to make gingerbread houses, and then we do, and I make it so it isn’t fun.

At all.

It takes a full 12 months for me to forget how terrible it is, and then I do it again.
This year we added the variable of a contest.  So we have a brand new way to make it not fun- competition. yea…..

I had a great idea- mine would be a greenhouse, using glass candy for the windows, and candy plants inside that you would be able to see through the windows. The Boy had a cool idea too, a house under construction, using candy canes as the studs of a house. The Girl wanted to stick with tradition, no theme, just a house, but also with windows, and a tree inside.

Okay- the 6 day process begins.

Monday- make dough, last minute trip to grocery for Crisco, not a pantry staple at our house, to make the “construction grade” dough. Chill dough overnight.
Tuesday- roll half the dough, cut out windows and doors, bake and then use every inch of counter space to cool foil sheets of house pieces, for three separate houses. After oven is off- I count up and realize I am 1 piece short…Deadline for entering contest passes, and I feel a little relieved.

1 cup sugar, 1/2 cup corn syrup, 1/3 cup water. Boil for-freaking-ever, or until thermometer reads 260.

  • Photo credit- The Girl
  • How cool is that? Candy you can see through!

Wednesday- Good news- they are extending the deadline…We boil the sugar syrup to the hard crack stage, 260 degrees, and pour it into the windows I cut into the gingerbread. Both kids are watching closely- thankfully no one gets burned. Roll out other half of dough to make more panels and windows. Recount- still not enough panels- resolve to fill in with graham crackers. As the sugar cools, I repeatedly caution the kids not to touch, Not to Touch, Not To Touch!!

Put myself into time out after 2 walls break due to touching…NOT TO TOUCH!!!!

Technically, a box of candy canes was dropped on it. I really lost it- you know it's bad when your throat hurts from yelling.

Thursday- I attempt some repair with sugar syrup- it is partially effective, if by partially we mean wobbly and sticky. (Also, the fruit flies are having a field day). We did have some fun playing with the decorating kit, including making trees out of ice cream cones.

The Girl tinted the icing, and piped it herself- I love this tree.

Friday- Okay, with enough royal icing, the Girl’s graham crackers attach to the sides and form a cohesive house.  The Boy creates a toilet out of a marshmallow and a life saver. Classy.  My greenhouse roof slips twice, then cracks, then finally sticks.

Contest Saturday.

I have second thoughts.

Both kids have nightmares of dropping their houses.

Why are we doing this?


Edited to add- if you do glass candy windows, make sure you get the temperature up to 260, or hard crack stage- my windows were not, and they have slumped over the past weeks.  Not quite a solid, they are a supercooled liquid. The Girl’s windows cooked longer, and are slightly amber colored, but much harder. This is easiest if you have a candy thermometer. We used an instant -read thermometer.

Blueberry coffee cake

We go to DH’s aunt’s house in Nebraska for Thanksgiving every year. We love it. It’s quirky, it’s fun, it’s conservative in every sense of the word.

In one of those senses, it is very difficult to add different things to the menu, or leave anything off. This is probably true of Thanksgivings everywhere, it seems to be a menu we are married to, for better or for worse.

So, I like to bring things that fill in the gaps, stuff for breakfast, stuff to snack on with leftovers.I avoid anything that is too traditional, because when you mess with tradition, people are always disappointed. Nothing with sage, nothing with pumpkin.

DH brings avocados and makes his world- famous guacamole- (the secret ingredient is love).

Last year I brought cinnamon twists, which I baked on Tuesday night, brought in the car Wednesday, fed to people on Thursday and Friday morning, then when we were getting ready to leave, people hugged us, and murmured, “are there any of those cinnamon things left?” To my mind they were kind of stale, but how often do you get real homemade sweet rolls?

This year, I am trying coffee cake. I don’t know how it will go over, will people reminisce about the cinnamon rolls? Is that how menus become fixed?

I seem to remember an old issue of Cook’s Illustrated with a perfected coffee cake recipe. I’ll have to dig through my copies of the magazine, because the coffee cake story on the Cook’s website is behind a pay wall.

You won’t get my credit card number, Christopher Kimball!!! Actually, he probably will eventually, but not today. Even though I complain that Cook’s Illustrated is mostly just American food, and pretty meat-heavy at that, sometimes you want, even need, Meat Heavy American Food. Particularly at Thanksgiving in Nebraska.


Halloween Assemblage (art?)

They're so in love, and so grave...

Last year we came across directions for very cool Halloween decorations in Cloth Paper Scissors magazine (click here -I’m a little obsessed with this magazine)
The article was by Michael DeMeng ( click here– I just learned how to make these linky thingies!)- an assemblage artist with a spooky sensibility. The directions were to take dollar store cake toppers and chop their heads off, replace their heads with skulls, also from the dollar store, and apply sparkle paint liberally.


Maybe the original directions didn’t say sparkle paint, but we wound up using some. And by some, I mean a lot.

I was reminded that I wanted to blog about them when I found them in the decoration box- the photos have been sitting on my hard drive for a year.

The cake toppers that the dollar store happened to have were African- American. I have to say, it felt awkward chopping their heads off- liberal guilt, I know.

The original directions call for using wire to attach the skulls, so they are adjustable. We decided not to- we just hot-glued them instead. Also, the article called for a Dremel tool to cut the heads off with. I thought this might be my excuse to finally buy one, but tried a handsaw first. Let the record show that a handsaw works fine. I’ll have to find another excuse to buy a Dremel.

The Girl and I mixed several shades of acrylic paint together to get a nice grave shade for skin, and we went beyond just cake toppers, we loaded up on figurines, too. The one that freaked me out the most was the toddler on a rocking horse…one of the rocking-horsemen of the apocalypse? Creepy. But fun.

Heart on my sleeve?

Every year I come up with some esoteric Halloween costume idea- something that no one gets, even when I explain it. One year, I was “objectivity” all black, with a sequined black mask. When people asked what I was supposed to be, I asked them what they thought I was. It didn’t really go over very well. Last year, I was a surfer being eaten by a shark. Two years before that, I was a venus flytrap. I still really like that one…
This year, I had this idea of a skeleton shirt, underneath a shredded wedding dress. I don’t know what to call it, or what inspired it. Although I did find this Frida Kahlo portrait that I know I have seen before, so maybe that just bubbled to the surface?

Unlike Frida, I have been unable to embrace the unibrow, but I like this image of a heart split between the two halves of myself.

The boy asked how I got to be such a good drawer when he saw this. I told him lots of practice.

So, I have drawn and colored an anatomical human heart, and started embroidering it, because I am a fiber art nut, apparently, and I have a black long-sleeved tee shirt to attach it to, so I can wear it to yoga, because naturally our yoga teacher encourages us to dress up…I have decided to skip the wedding dress, and just have a white shirt that I can shred. I’ll probably skip the white skirt and just wear jeans. Not for yoga, of course, I’ll wear yoga pants for that.
I am a little panicked about time- just over a week, plus costumes for the kids (the boy wants to be a deer in the headlights! how do you make that?!), and DH is thinking about dressing up as Octupi Wall Street, and the girl is wavering between a couple of things, which pretty much guarantees a last minute request. I can live with that uncertainty, but I’m just wondering, for my own costume, what to call it when people ask me what I’m  supposed to be. Any suggestions?

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