Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Quilt As Desired - Number Seven

Robin is the youngest of the Batty Babes...and the last in the calendar year to have her birthday. Having a birthday between Christmas and New Years might get overlooked...but NOT by the Babes! We know how to do birthdays. We had her party last night and, as always, had a great time together. And I made her a full-sized quilt top that she can quilt any way she wants to. And in giving her that top, I also patted myself on the back for reaching a goal I had set about a year ago -- to make each of the Babes a large, scrappy quilt top for their birthday. There are nine of us, but one lives out of state and is not here for the birthdays, and the other is that left 7 quilt tops to make. Sounded easy enough. I had planned on pacing myself throughout the year. But, like many of my plans, it sounded good and looked good on paper -- but I should know myself well enough by now to know I sometimes need deadlines. And they came fast and furious in the last quarter of the year. But I did it!

When thinking about what pattern and colors to use for Robin's, I just knew it had to be pastels. She has a houseful of three beautiful, sweet daughters. I found the pattern in a magazine and this is the final product. She liked it very much.
Now I find myself (temporarily) without definite deadlines. So the question is this: Will I enjoy getting creative with new projects? Will I get busy and finish up some long outstanding ones? Will I get more reading, gardening, and scrapbooking done? Will I waste time on the computer? Probably a little bit of all of those!
Happy Birthday, Robin!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Vesele Vanoce

You know...when you're growing up you accept certain activities and traditions as "normal" because that's all you know. You assume that what you do to celebrate certain holidays is what everyone else is doing. It's not until you're older that you realize your family may have been a little weird.

Take for example a Czechoslovakian Christmas tradition we grew up with called "Vesele Vanoce." Actually...that's how you say, "Merry Christmas" in Slovak. That's kind of nice. But what I remember from being a kid is that my older male cousins would go to all the relatives' homes on Christmas morning to "Vinchovatz". That's a verb. I'm sure it is not spelled anything like that. I don't even know if it's a word -- in any language. But that's what I remember. The way I understood it (and I can't find anything in doing research to back this up), the tradition was that it was a sign of good luck in the year to come if a young man was the first person to cross your threshold on Christmas morning. So in order to assure such good luck, the boys in the Mehall family would go out early and make sure they were the first ones over the doorstep. They would be invited in, of course, and they would give the greeting, "Vesele Vanoce a st'asny' novy' rok!" I just this year found out that's what the words are. To my young ears, it sounded like, "Vacille Vanochy, ashta slivy novy doke". But that may be my skewed memory, or it could be close to the truth. make it worth their effort and to ward off the cold of a Christmas morning in Illinois...they were rewarded at each house with a shot of whiskey. So by 10:00 a.m. they were pretty much loaded. Maybe we were one of the later stops.

But I guess things could have been worse. In doing research into this memory from my youth, I found out some other Slovak traditions that we did NOT perpetuate. First, there was the traditional extensive house cleaning in early December. On second thought, maybe we did follow this. It was hard to mother was always cleaning! But I have NOT carried it forward, even if she did. I found out, though, that baking cookies and sharing certain favorites with family and friends was always done. My daughters and grandchildren and I are doing that! I also like to make hand-made ornaments, like I wrote about a while back. But where we use wood, foam, paint, markers, bling, ancestors would make theirs from walnut shells wrapped in colored paper or eggshells decorated to look like fish or angels. And speaking of fish -- I read that these folks would go out on December 23rd to buy the "traditional Christmas carp for dinner". It went on to say that several days earlier, huge wooden barrels appeared in the cities with live carp swimming around in them. The buyer would point to the fish they wanted and the fun of trying to catch it began. Usually, the fish would be taken home alive and allowed to swim in the family bathtub until Christmas eve morning. Right -- I'll be at Kroger's...and when I'm in the shower on Thursday night, you can bet there won't be a carp in there with me -- dead or alive!!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

A Christmas Curse?

People give you many greetings this time of year. Usually, they're "Have a Merry Christmas", "Happy New Year", "Happy Holidays", "Season's Best", etc. But back in the Christmas of 1952, someone must have told my parents, "A Pox on You!".

That was the year that all 3 of us children had the chicken pox. My older sister, Karen, was just getting over she was doing pretty well. I was sporting a full-blown case of them and my brother, Chuck, was just starting to show little signs of breaking out. My mother told me I even had them in my scalp, so she couldn't comb my hair. That's my story and I'm sticking to it!

Mom seemed to take it pretty well, but I know she was disappointed. Especially because she had paid a woman to make matching dresses for my sister and me. I remember the dresses well. They were light pink...and very scratchy. They also had the most wonderful, soft purple velvet vest-style jackets that went over them and closed at the waist. Even with all the scratching -- from the dress and the pox -- I remember thinking they were quite special. Karen was 9 and I was 5 that year.

Fast forward 27 years to 1979. I remembered those dresses so well that I surprised my mom by making them for my girls...then ages 8 and 5. The dresses were made of softer material and I didn't put the purple piping on the collars and sleeves, but they were definitely very close to the originals and it really surprised and delighted my mom to see them walk in wearing them. time flies. Now my granddaughter will be 7 years old tomorrow.
Oh...and by the way...yes, I've had my shingles vaccination!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Decking the Halls

Decking the halls this year began on the Sunday after Thanksgiving. A new tradition for us the past few years has been to make ornaments after our Thanksgiving dinner...which at our house is the Sunday after the traditional Thursday. This year's "craft project" was to take foamy snowman and tree shapes and decorate them as desired using a whole lotta trinkets and trash that were splayed out all over the table. Jeremy's mom and dad had joined us for dinner and were good sports about doing the craft as well. And after all that creativity, we had some very interesting new decorations for the tree. We usually put up two trees. There is a pretty one in the livingroom with all white lights and red and gold ornaments, garlands, and even some sprigs of berries and sparkly things sticking out here and there. And we enjoy looking at it every night during Christmas. Then there is the one downstairs in the family room. It's a good thing it's a big tree, because it is becoming quite loaded. We don't even put every ornament on it any more, but definitely a sampling of all the ornaments we've accumulated over the years. Many of them are hand made. I have some that I made before I was married, we have ones the kids made when they were little, ones my niece and nephew made when they were young, and now the ones the grand kids are making. There are also special ornaments from special friends and family members. And there are some antique ones that I remember being on the tree when I was little.

I asked Jodi if the kids could spend the night and help me do a lot more of the decorating the next day. She was fine with that. What she didn't know, was that I was going to have them for 3 days because Jeremy was surprising her with a little time away for just the two of them. We had set it up weeks before and she knew nothing about it! He's usually as bad as I am at keeping surprises, but he pulled it off this time and they had a great couple of days of "together time". So the next morning, I harnessed all the energy that's stored in those little bodies and there were that many fewer trips up and down the stairs for me to take down the fall decorations and get out the wreaths and poinsettias for the front porch, etc.

It's a funny thing about that energy, though. It only lasts in short spurts, so you have to take advantage of it while you can. So after a while the kiddos drifted off to play and I kept putting a few things up here and there. Later I had to laugh when I went down stairs for something and saw that they had added to the tree decorations down there. There, on some lower branches right in front (where they like to hang everything), they had put some of their stuffed animals on the tree!

So that's one new thing in the decorating department this year. The other new thing is that I was so excited about having a pretty, new mantle to decorate for Christmas that I didn't know where to begin. I asked Jessica if they had anything nice at the gift shop. So one night she brought over several pieces and helped me pick out some things. It looks very nice -- and you sure can't beat the convenience of shopping at home! Thanks, Jess! She also loaned us her Christmas tree since she wasn't going to be putting it up in her apartment this year (and also because she stores it here, anyway) and that looks really nice, too. So now we're all decked out and ready for Santa.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The WOW Factor

We all like to try to please and excite our children and grandchildren. But I think it's getting harder to achieve what I would call "The WOW factor". For example; some friends of ours took their children to Disney World this summer. After all the planning and preparation -- not to mention time and expense -- they finally got there. After a short while of walking around, the kids said they were "bored". Then suddenly...right there in the middle of the Magic Kingdom, in broad daylight, there were fireworks! Only trouble is, they were coming out of mom's eyes and ears -- and even a few off the ends of her hair.

These children are no different from their peers. Youngsters of this generation are born into a world of constant stimulation and instant gratification. They are learning things at an earlier age than ever and expanding their knowledge and experiences constantly. This, like most everything else in life, can be both good and bad. One of the down sides is that it is hard to make their little eyes light up with excitement.

I was lucky enough to be present the other day for a WOW moment for Savannah. Jodi, Jessica and I accompanied her to the American Girl Store. This is something she has been looking forward to and working towards. Jodi had told her that when she reached a certain reading level, she could go to the store. Since this happened to be just a week before her birthday, she got to pick out a doll, and we even had reservations at the Bistro for a sampling of their decadent desserts.

It was fun for all of us to see her face truly light up as she walked around the store looking at all the displays...petting the little doll pets...making sure she'd made the right decision (after poring over the catalog at home and constantly changing her mind)...and FINALLY, holding her new best friend in her arms.

She had known which day we were scheduled to go for a long time and was counting down the days. When we were eating our desserts, she told Jodi that it was even better than she was expecting it to be.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Cookie Bake '09

We had our (7th?) annual Mother-Daughter Cookie Bake on Sunday. Jessica was first to arrive, sporting a cute apron that said, "Santa likes my cookies best". Well...we'll just have to see about that! Then I found out that she got one for Jodi and me, too, so we were all cute! She got Savannah one just like it, but hers said, "Santa's little helper". Emery was already a little bummed because he found a new flannel shirt in his surprise box -- instead of a toy -- and then he found out he didn't have an apron. Jess didn't think he'd want a girlie one. But I had a man's barbecue cook-out apron and we put that on him. At that point he wasn't quite sure how he felt about how the day was going so far.

Enough of the fashion show. Now it was time to get down to business. I had already done my two make-ahead standards -- fruitcake cookies and apricot fold-overs. But we set about making some other favorites like apricot double dips, potato candy, citrus white chocolate macaroons, chocolate truffles, chocolate-covered peanut clusters, Chex mix, sugar cookies, snails, and every body's favorite -- fudge! We tried a couple of new things this year, too; lemon cookies, polar stars, pretzel bark and Heath chip cookies with a Kiss.

Grandpa and Emery spent most of the day outside playing baseball, etc. But when I need extra muscles to stir the potato candy, I need to call them in for some help. Emery told me has stronger muscles than Grandpa. And Savannah learned just how easy (she would say, "Easy, cheesy") it is to make GREAT fudge.

My favorite comment of the day came from Savannah. She was mixing the melted chocolate chips and enjoying "taste testing" while we were making truffles. When I added the sour cream, she wasn't quite sure she was going to like these any more. Then I poured in the Amaretto. She smelled it and said, "What's that???" Jessica told her it was liquor. Her face lit up and she said, "Wow! It smells like magic marker!"

By the end of the day we had filled the dining room table with goodies to share with our friends and neighbors. Just a note for those who live near us: you may need to go outside the county to find any chocolate!

Friday, December 4, 2009

Quilt As Desired - Numbers 5 and 6

The Babes' birthdays are coming fast and furious now towards the end of the year. I gave away 2 more quilt tops in the last few weeks.

First ... on November 24th we celebrated Ardis' big day. She likes fall colors...reds, golds, rusty browns, etc. And she appreciates the traditional use of muslin. She also likes this particular star pattern, and a few years ago shared with us a cool way to piece that star. So I designed this one for her. It's just 3 different sizes of the same star in the colors she likes -- set against a background of muslin. Like the other Babes, she was very appreciative.

Then only a week later...on December 1st, we celebrated Liz's birthday. You'd think that having a birthday in December, she'd want to go out of her way to differentiate between HER day and Christmas. But to the contrary...Liz LOVES everything Christmas. So she's easy to shop for. I made this colorful Christmas scrappy quilt for her. The pattern is called a disappearing nine patch. A nine patch, for you non-quilters, is a block with just 3 squares across and 3 down. In this version, you make the center block a lighter, contrasting color. Then you cut each nine patch block in half vertically and again horizontally...and then turn them and sew them back together to mix it all up. As you can see -- she, too, was quite happy. That's her on the right...wearing the big grin and the antennae.
Happy birthday, girls!