Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Fast Frost

Last night was verrrrrrry cold for Los Angeles, and this morning...there was frost everywhere!

I love how frost transforms the most mundane of objects, like dead leaves.

Or the roof of a red Mustang GT.

It looks positively holiday-jolly!

Season's Greetings, to you from...The Boy's car.

And, ooops! ...there it goes.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Hot-Cocoa Days

Wintry weather is upon us in most of the nation. Even here in Los Angeles, it's brisk and cold, with gusts of wind making it even chillier.

You could nip into one of those chain-store coffee houses and buy an overpriced cup of hot cocoa to take the frost off your nose.

I've been known to do that, sure.

But the prices! To pay $3.50 or even $3 for something that costs about 35 cents to make? It staggers the mind. Think how much money each of us could save if we stopped going for just one year to these establishments. One year of, say, a daily $3 drink, and let's say 300 times a year (to account for those odd days you don't go). That's $900. That's a lot of change.

All that money that could be going into a 401K or your child's college tuition or your emergency fund or paying down that student loan.

It frosts me. It should frost you!

So, to warm up--and to save a ton of money--try this. It's the best cup of cocoa you'll ever drink. You can make it at home for pennies, and you don't even need to dirty a sauce pan.

Into a tall mug, add:
1 tbsp. good-quality cocoa powder--Valrhona, Scharffen Berger, Droste, or even ol' Hershey's
2 tbsp. granulated sugar
a pinch of salt

Stir these together with a spoon, then add a spoonful of water or milk to make a paste. Stir until smooth. Add a cup of milk and stir again. If you want, add some mini-marshmallows or two large marshmallows, and microwave for 90 seconds.

Remove from microwave, stir in 1/4 tsp. of vanilla extract, and enjoy. If you want to, of course you can add whipped cream on top.

And drizzle chocolate sauce on top of that. And add a candy cane. To stir with, of course.

Because, after all, it's a free country.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Holiday Decorating, for Practically Nothing

Today, I have for you another almost free seasonal decoration idea:


Go on a walk. Look for branches. Find branches. Bring them home.

Arrange them attractively on a mantelpiece, or in a vase or pitcher. Or just lay them on a table.

If you want, tie them with a beautiful ribbon. Cloth ribbon, please; not paper ribbon.

It's richer. More elegant.

If you want, switch out the ribbons to reflect Thanksgiving (above), then later, Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa (below):

Beautiful cloth ribbons can be found at good yardage shops, vintage shops, and flea markets.

If you live in the middle of nowhere and want to find some gorgeous ribbon online, I like this place.

Something beautiful for practically nothing makes my heart happy.

Seasonal Affection Disorder

In mid-October, I was in a large, chain drugstore and was flabbergasted to see they were selling Christmas decorations! Now, a week before Thanksgiving, practically every store, from mega-box to mom-and-pop, is decked out in Christmas stuff.

Xmas stuff by Patrick Q

It's understandable; the economy is dragging along for a second, sorry year. Retailers are scared, and they're hoping to prod us into buying more, and buying it earlier, to make up for some of their losses.

Xmas Mall by Momoc HDR

But what really freaks me out is people are starting to follow suit in their homes! A solid week before Turkey Day, on a walk through my neighborhood, I saw icicle lights hanging from eaves, inflatable snowmen on front yards, and red-and-green wreaths on front doors

Come on, people! We can love the seasons without turning this into Seasonal Affection Disorder! (Yeah, that's an illness. And yeah, I just made it up.)

Just because the retailers are in a hurry to push the Season of Buying upon us, doesn't mean we have to follow suit. We don't have to buy those mistletoeglittergarlandsSantaornamentsHanukkahgeltwrappingpaperdreidelKwanzaacandlesflockingstockings before we've even finished passing out the Halloween candy. And if we do buy our seasonal goodies early (pre-sales! gotta get them before they run out!), we don't have to put them up the moment we buy the stuff.

So I have a humble proposal: Let's hew to a new, saner, calmer schedule of honoring the holidays by celebrating them closer to when they really are. Here's my proposed schedule for the year (feel free to adapt it to your beliefs/observances).

Christmas/Kwaanza: Decor up on December 1; decor down by the first weekend after New Year's Day.

Christmas tree by brianjmatis

Kwanzaa Barbie by Sage E

Hanukkah: Decor up no more than three weeks before the first night. Decor down by the first weekend after the last night.

Hanukkah menorah by The Suss-Man (Mike)

Valentine's Day:
Decor up on February 1; decor down by first weekend after February 14.

Valentine lollipop by Pink Sherbet Photography

St. Patrick's Day: Decor up on March 1; decor down by first weekend after March 17.

Luna the St. Patrick's Day Dog by Beverly & Pack

Easter: This one is tricky because the holiday floats around the calendar a bit. Decor up no earlier than three weekends before Easter Sunday. Decor down by the weekend following Easter.

Easter basket by Sassycrafter

Passover: As with Easter, this holiday is based on the lunar calendar. Decor up no earlier than three weeks before the first Seder; decor down by the weekend following the last (eighth) night.

Passover matzo by ohad*

Memorial Day, Presidents' Day, Flag Day, Veteran's Day, Labor Day, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day: Flags up no earlier than sunrise; flags down a half-hour before sundown. If your flag is properly illuminated, it can stay up until midnight, then down it goes.

Flags by circulating

Independence Day: Decor up on July 1; decor down by midnight July 5. See Presidents' Day, above, for flag etiquette.

Fireworks by Creativity + Timothy K Hamilton

, thankfully, has no major holidays in it. Take a breather and don't think about decorating at all.

Rosh Hashanah: Unless you have little kids who are coming home from Hebrew school with construction-paper shofars, you don't really have an excuse to decorate for this holiday. Save your energy up for Yom Kippur. And if you even think of decorating for Yom Kippur, you need to have your head examined.

Shofar blower by USCJ.Program.Pix

Halloween: Decor up on October 1; decor down by the the time you go to bed that night. Yeah, I know this is harsh, but think about it: Do you really want carved pumpkins and straw scarecrows out on your front lawn while gangs of mischief-makers are up to no good while you're asleep?

Jack-o-Lantern by enart

Didn't think so. Besides, you want to get those puppies up off the lawn and front door so that you can decorate bright and early the next day, November 1, for...

Decor up on November 1; decor down by the first weekend after the holiday. You have my permission to recycle any intact, uncut pumpkins from Halloween for this month.

vintage greeting card from riptheskull

Mothers' Day, Fathers' Day, Graduation season, June-bride season: People don't decorate their houses for these days. Stores do. Unless you run a shop, keep your observances to gifts, cards, and a festive meal for the honoree. You are not a Macy's.

And thank you for recycling your Christmas trees.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Quick-and-Easy Holiday Craft

This afternoon, I took a break from fighting with the bookshelves and did a quick, simple craft. It takes almost no money to put together, and the results are so pretty. I made...

Frosted pine cones and acorns

For this craft, you'll need:
White glue
Pine cones and/or acorns
One cheap paintbrush
Hot-glue gun (only for the acorn project)
Paper plates or foil pie tins

First, gather your pine cones and acorns.

A quick walk around my neighborhood provided me all the natural material I needed. If you don't have conifers or oak trees in your area, you can buy pine cones at your local garden shop, craft store, or even supermarket. (I've never seen acorns for sale, but maybe they are, in parts of the country.)

Frosted Pine Cones

To make the frosted pine cones, first, pop the pine cones in a 200 degree Fahrenheit oven for two minutes. This kills any bugs that might be hiding within. Remove pine cones with a pair of tongs and let cool for a couple of minutes. This one, a very tightly furled specimen, has been "cooked" and is ready to go:

Pour some glue onto a paper plate or foil pie tin. Use a cheap paintbrush to dab a small amount of glue on the tips of each scale. I "painted" about a fourth of the pine cone with glue at one time:

Then just shake or sprinkle glitter over the wet glue. Let dry and shake off any excess.

To keep the look sophisticated and not childish, confine the glitter to all one color. Gold, silver, white, or very pale blue would all be beautiful. The finished product is a lot Nature, a little Glam:

Here's a closeup:

Pretty, huh?

This next one I can't take credit for. I found the idea in the December 2010 issue of Martha Stewart Living.

Frosted Acorns

Gather up some acorns and caps--they don't have to be attached to each other to work. These are acorns from the California Live Oak, and they are longer and skinnier than the acorns you might be used to seeing:

Pop the acorns out of their caps. They should release with gentle pressure:

Using your cheap paintbrush, paint a thin layer of white glue over the acorn. Roll the acorn in glitter, or sprinkle it over, or some combination of the two, so that the surface is completely covered. Let them dry completely:

Then affix the caps onto the glittered acorns using a hot-glue gun:

Again, the result is Nature mets Glam.

Hot-glue the glittery acorns as embellishments on gifts, or on place cards for a holiday meal, or use very skinny ribbon to tie them by their caps onto a garland of greenery. Or just pile them into a pretty little bowl for a touch of sparkle around the house.

And all this really took is a walk outside, a dish of glue...

...and some glitter!

Have a happy weekend, everyone.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Bookshelves, 1: Me, 0

It's been a trying time around here, in our household. We have three kids, all currently trying to get in to institutes of higher learning.

The waiting for acceptance letters--and the worrying that maybe there won't be any--is grinding us all down.

Usually, when I'm down or frustrated or worried, I look around for something to fix up. A garage to clean, a closet to reorganize, a junk drawer to purge: it helps, somehow.

So this past week my eyes landed on our overstuffed living room bookshelves:

Now, we like books. We've got a lot of 'em. We like to keep them out where we can look at them and riffle through them. But lately the bookshelves have spiraled out of control.

Books piled in front of more books. Books piled willy-nilly. And no particular rhyme or reason to why they're on one shelf versus another.

Clearly a purge was in order.

I began by asking every book to explain itself. "Why are you on our shelves?," I demanded. "What is the chance you're ever going to be re-read?" "Who would miss you if you left?"

More than 80 books couldn't answer the questions well, so off they go to charity.

With the shelves somewhat lightened from their overload, I began to play and fiddle. First, I gathered up all my oldest books--the ones with leather binding, gold stamping, and other lovely touches.

Then I grouped some of these vintage volumes together by color:

I sprinkled in some cherished art amongst the old books:

I tried to treat each shelf like a little tabletop and make pleasing vignettes, as designer Nate Berkus suggests:

And then I realized that I don't love it.

All that vintage stuff clumped together looks...OLD. Fuddy duddy. Grandmotherly.

Dangit. So I must figure out a new plan of attack for the living room shelves.

In the meantime, I've got some great stuff for the charity pile.


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