Saturday, December 22, 2018

Holiday Panic- NOT! How to avoid it and a couple easy ideas for those really, really, really last minute gifts.

     This is not a quilting-related post.  This is a rambling, stream-of consciousness post about how I really hate Christmas shopping and what I've learned to do about it.

     Let me start by saying I'm not one of those crazies who puts the tree up Thanksgiving weekend and buys presents all year long. Somewhere around the  second week of December I begin to think about gift giving, and around now, while everyone else is running around like the proverbial chickens with their heads cut off, I'm calmly sipping tea and munching on the gingerbread star whose point broke off and the biscotti that crumbled when I sliced it. I prefer to support locally-owned shops and creative entrepreneurs, but am not above the very occasional foray into the big guys when necessary, and I may even order one or two things online occasionally. I can't tell you the last time I shopped in a mall, but I know it was when we were living in Florida, and we moved back to New England in 2002. You do the math. No, I lied. not about the time, but about the word "shopped". I remember I walked out empty handed. Nothing there for me.

    Let's start with Christmas cards. I "met" an artist on Facebook who does a very limited run of a few of her prints as cards. I buy a package each year to send to a select group of friends and relatives.  These little prints are signed, and perfectly fit a 5"x 7" frame, so they have a little gift that lasts.

     Food gifts are great, but pre-packaged food gifts can be really, really bad and/or really, really expensive. Take those gift baskets that look pretty but contain lots of small boxes of mediocre (at best) munchies, usually stuff you can find in your supermarket. Put together your own baskets. Or skip the basket altogether, wrap each item in tissue paper, and fill a gift bag, or better yet, a tool box, sewing basket, tackle box...something practical the recipient can reuse. I've even bought reusable supermarket bags for that purpose.

    I love to give local foods. One year I gave my bread-baking dad a box filled with bags of every kind of flour milled at a local grist mill.

    Every region has some famous food specialties. Check out the ones in your area. 

    Although I seldom give "potent potables" (tea is my beverage of choice, coffee in the early morning), when I do, I give locally made wine and beer. Another product available just about everywhere is local honey.

    Christmas bazaars and farmers' markets are good places to pick up jams, jellies, sauces, and other condiments. One year I bought amazing seasoning mixes. You just mixed a teaspoon into a brick of softened cream cheese for the most delicious cracker spreads you ever tasted. These are also good venues for handmade goats' milk soaps and lotions and other skin care products, which make great stocking stuffers.

     Check out museum gift shops and local artists cooperatives for more high end handmade items. These are my favorite places to shop; I've purchased  jewelry, pottery, prints, and books of local interest. Each year a local art museum has a Christmas market; this year hickory syrup made its way into a gift bag of condiments.

     I'm a sucker for bookstores, having worked in a couple over the years. A good independent bookstore knows its readers, and a signed first edition is a lovely gift. Years ago I was fortunate enough to work at a shop that hosted a book signing with John Glenn. My father worked for the space program, and, like Glenn, was a Korean War veteran. A signed copy of John Glenn; A Memoir was a no-brainer that year.  The award-winning children's picture book, No, David! by David Shannon, could have been written about my trouble-making youngest brother David as a child. The author signed a copy to my mother, "To David's mom, bless her heart!".
   My brother Craig's favorite book is Moby Dick, so of course he also read In the Heart of the Sea. I was browsing in the bookshop at Mystic Seaport last year and came across The Wreck of the Whale Ship Essex: The Complete Illustrated Edition in paperback. I picked it up and was ready to buy it when I saw a single remaining hardcover copy on the sale table for $1 less than the paperback. Snagged it!

   Now for the really, really last minute gifts:

      Last year one of the gifts I received was a DNA test. Discovering relatives I knew and those I did not know was great. I even found out a friend in Canada and I have mutual relatives! But equally great was seeing those old family photos! I saved a few never-seen photos of grandparents and great-grandparents to my computer and ordered one-hour prints through Because photos are picked up at the photo desk, I was able to just swing by on the way to work, run in and out,  and not have to stand in line.

     Baked goods are yummy, and I do bake fruitcake for my family every year (yes, we're weird that way) and lots of cookies. But they're time-consuming, and you may not have or want to take the time. Muffins are quick and easy, especially this, my go-to muffin recipe for about 20 years.
     As long as you don't overmix, this is the most foolproof muffin recipe I've ever made. (Tip: do not totally incorporate all the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients before adding your fruit or other add-ins; if you do, by the time you've stirred them in, you'll have overmixed the batter) I've at one time or another added all kinds of fruits and nuts, used EggBeaters instead of eggs,  used low-fat or skim milk in place of whole milk, and substituted half whole wheat flour in place of white. They all worked just fine. If I feel like gilding the lily I top with coarse sugar crystals,which I don't expect you to have these at home, and for crying out loud, if you don't have them don't go out and buy them now! Make a simple streusel, drizzle with a confectioner's sugar glaze, `or top with a maraschino cherry
   If you have a pan that makes large muffins, this recipe makes six muffins. I think larger ones are more "special". Wrap them individually in plastic wrap and tie with a narrow ribbon.

   Do you have any evergreen shrubs, trees, or ground cover in your yard? How about boxwood? Anything with red berries? Clip some branches and arrange in a decorative container. This makes a quick, impromptu hostess gift or centerpiece for your own table.  You can dress it up with small ornaments, ribbon, etc.- stuff you have around the house.

     And let's not forget gift cards and gift certificates. No, not store or restaurant cards, but cards for experiences- theatre/concert tickets, zip lining, day spa, sight seeing, things like that. Does your (or your recipient's) Chamber of Commerce offer town wide gift certificates?

   Now excuse me while I have another cookie.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Who loves a mystery?

    I'm excited that C&T Publishing invited me to participate in the blog tour for their new giveaway. They are giving away not one, not two, but the entire set of ten e-books of Carol Dean Jones' Quilting Cozy series. The first six are out now, with four more to come soon. These are fun, light, G-rated mysteries centered around a retirement community. Each volume also contains directions for the cover quilt. 


How to enter? 
     Click on this link, and you're entered. Link will go live at midnight EST.

Don't forget to follow the rest of the tour:

For more quilting fun, follow this blog,and follow me on Facebook.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Where has the time gone?

     I could start by saying it's hard to believe I haven't posted since March, but honestly, it's very easy for me to believe that.   It's been a quieter year than usual - not a lot of quilt shows, and a long uncreative slump.
     Remember those Civil War reproduction churn dash blocks in my last post? They made it into a quilt I finished in September. I rented the longarm at Stitch Chicks in North Franklin, CT. for my first attempt at using a pantograph, and I'm quite pleased with the result.  I had to make a few extra blocks to get my layout symmetrical, and had enough Civil War scraps in my stash to have no repeating fabrics! The background fabric is a greyish purple, which made all the other colors pop! People who think Civil War reproduction fabrics are dull, take note!

     We adopted a new dog! We said a sad goodbye to little Rosie early this summer, and missed having a furkid around the house. Annie came all the way from Tennessee and is loving life in New England. Here she is the day after we got her, seeing the ocean for the first time.

And here she is relaxing.

 We're pretty sure she's part terrier, as she would love to chase squirrels if we'd let her off the leash, and boy, can she jump!  She loves to walk, and we've explored many squirrel-laden side streets in my neighborhood. She's a sweet-natured little girl who warms up to strangers in seconds, just not at HER house, where her watchdog skills come into play! One of these days I'll discover where she's hidden all her chewy toys. I don't even know if she knows!
     I finally finished a new quilt design and am working on writing up the pattern. I did it as a mystery with my Thursday night group, and it was fun to see it worked up in so many diverse fabrics. No pictures yet, but stay tuned.