December 23, 2010

Christmas Give-ting

[Side bar// We are home for the holidays :) And could not be happier to spend three care-free weeks with family, friends and each other! Bella was especially excited to come... she loves "Disneyland" aka my parents' house!]
She was ready to go before we were even packed :)

Now onto the real post! Christmas gifts have evolved for me quite a bit over the years. They started in grade school with handmade gifts I'd craft for my family members at school and then carefully place them under the tree until Christmas morning where my parents and siblings would feign excitement over my sloppily painted wooden puzzles and crooked clay snowman figurines. {All of which are still displayed in my parents house to this day, by the way!} As we got older (and broke-r) our high school "sister gifts" were gifts my mom had already bought for us girls, that we'd wrap up and scribble our names on. And in my engaged/married years, our joint gift-giving has tended to be of the nicer, pricier variety. Although we are by no means any less broke ;)  

This year gifting has evolved again for me. I'm not sure if I'm becoming more thoughtful in my old(er) age, or if its just a functions of the countless hours I've spent reading crafting blogs. But I felt the need to revert back to my hand-crafted gifting ways and conjure up at least one unique gift this holiday season. The lucky winner of my crafting skills this year: my youngest sister, Meredith. She is an avid reader and truly loves books - not just reading them, but collecting them, touching them, feeling their pages, she even loves the smell of book stores - more than anyone I know. She is also in the process of moving into my middle sister's old bedroom and she is redecorating it with a very Anthropology/Urban Outfitter flare. She loves all things shabby chic, and when I saw this wreath on a blog recently it just screamed "Meredith!" So naturally I had to try my hand at making it.

I will give this disclaimer to anyone else who thinks this is a cute idea: it took an insanely long time to make!!! I spent about 5 hours just making the rosettes and went through at least a bag of hot glue sticks. I also have a couple of nasty blisters on my finger tips from the tedious process. But I think that it will be well-worth the trouble come Christmas morning! I'm obsessed with this recycled book page wreath!

It will be the perfect wall art for her bedroom once it is all put together! And the ribbon and frame can be easily changed out for something else if her color scheme or style changes over the years. If I had any skin left on my fingertips to roll up and glue more book page rosettes I would honestly make one of these for my own house! Maybe next Christmas break...

On to our next out-of-the-ordinary holiday gift. {And the reason why I'm calling it Christmas "give-ting" this year.} My in-laws have a heart for missions. My father-in-law went on a mission trip to Africa this summer, and as a result of the need he saw there, they asked that in lieu of material gifts this Christmas, that their children give them the gift of a donation to a church organization that provides goats to African families in poverty. For $85, a family in Africa gets a goat, classes in animal husbandry, and food for the animal... from there, they are able to produce milk, cheese, and other dairy products for their families - and others in their village - to consume, and eventually even sell. It is the most selfless gift anyone has ever asked me for. And we couldn't be more excited to give them this gift that will keep on giving for years to come! 

Wonderful organizations like these have similar programs you can donate through if you are interested:
Aside from my one and only crafty gift, and the thoughtful give-ting opportunity presented to us by our generous parents, we're giving the usual - sweaters, wallets, jewelry and the like - so I won't bore you with those details. Whatever it is you are giving and receiving for Christmas this year, remember that the most precious gifts in life aren't things at all. Enjoy this special season with your family and loved ones :) 

Merry Christmas to you and yours!

December 15, 2010

Sugar + Butter = Christmas

I spent the entire day Saturday baking up a storm - nothing like a baking marathon and sugar coma to help me recover from finals - holiday cookies were bursting from every seam of my counters and table tops... and now they occupy 1/3 of my refrigerator. I took two plates to GNI last night, and most of the cookies then found their way over to Sheila's bf's house as a "thank you" for him saving my domestic relations grade! Two more plates were delivered to our friends on Saturday night. And two more are waiting patiently on my washer/dryer to be enjoyed by the little cuties I babysit. 

And yet... 5 days post-baking frenzy... I am still left with the temptation to get up every 30 min from the couch for another "piece" or "bite" of cookie. This will quickly turn into an extra 4 lbs. I'm sure of it. So I plan to get rid of them - and fast! Where better to dump excess baked goods than the office?? :) I'm sure the girls at work will love them (or will share with their hubbys)... and I'm happy to pawn off the extra 20,000 (give or take) calories on someone - anyone - else.

Here is a glimpse at my creations - and the recipes! All turned out fabulously - I would make them all again... just not until next Christmas because at this point I think I've eaten my weight in butter and sugar, and my wardrobe - read: love handles - just can't afford to do this for another 10ish days until Christmas! First things first though:
Disaster zone

What I wouldn't give for twice as much counter space!
Ok, so I didn't do such a good job of documenting this process. Or the before/after. But in my defense, I was elbow deep in flour so grabbing the camera to snap a quick pick between sending batter flying across the room/all over the walls and grabbing cookie sheets out of the oven every 10-12 minutes. I don't know how Pioneer Woman and Bakerella do it!
Oatmeal White Choc Chip Cranberry Cookies

Chocolate Chip Cheesecake Bars

Homemade sugar cut-out cookies... sans homemade icing/sprinkles
I found the Oatmeal White Choc Chip Cranberry cookie recipe on this little cooking blog I love to read: Two Peas and their Pod - they are a fun twist on traditional oatmeal cookies, and they look SO festive. 
The other two recipes I found flipping through the pages of my Taste of Home Winning Recipes Cookbook (thanks, Mama-in-law!) but they can be found online too, click the links for the full recipe: Vanilla-Butter Sugar Cookies and Chocolate Chip Cheesecake Bars
These are cute, but I swear mine turned out even prettier :)

Looks just like mine, right?! Yay!
In a few days we'll be heading home to Ohio, where my mother's house awaits - filled with pizzelles, M&M cookies, and whatever goodies she brings home from the neighborhood cookie exchange this evening! So I'll gladly pass the byproducts of my therapeutic post-finals-week-baking on to my friends in Atlanta to enjoy. I've had more than my share!

What are your favorite holiday baking recipes?? Would love to try out some new ones. After all, Christmas comes but once a year! And I think my skinny jeans are 2% spandex... :)

December 14, 2010

It's beginning to look...

a lot like Christmas :)

While most precocious law students spend the valuable hours between final exams buried in their books, I find that taking therapeutic study breaks is a better use of my time and helps me really process what I've studied. That's a lie. I just procrastinate a lot and am trying to justify my shameful study (or lack thereof) habits. 

Instead of putting the precious few days between my first couple of finals and the next three to good use, the afternoon after my second exam I headed to Home Depot to put my plastic to good use instead. Logical, right? I stocked up on a new holiday-ish wreath, outdoor "snowflake" lights and some totally unnecessary light timers. The last item on the list wasn't festive or Christmas-y, but I did talk my hubbs into putting the outdoor lights on one of the timers so that I didn't have to turn them on and off in the cold (or, more likely, just leave them on until February). Then I rushed home to dig out the holiday decorations I accumulated from last year!

These are the easy and inexpensive holiday touches I put on our home to be enjoyed for the 2 short weeks between Thanksgiving and when we head back home to Ohio for the holidays.
Our Charlie Brown tree (aka Bella's newest toy)

3 ft. of pre-lit, mini ornament adorned cuteness :)
The "tree" is more of a shrub than a tree. This fact was only magnified after watching my dad put up my family's 10 foot live tree just a few days prior to dragging this little nugget out of storage. But it has really grown on me!
A red place mat and a some inexpensive bulbs = my simple holiday centerpiece

My tackiest purchase by far... but I just liked the thought of this guy hanging from our door knob!

Festive little towels add some holiday cheer to both bathrooms
I had some left over ornaments, so I put some in a bowl on our counter
I think I have dish towels to accompany every holiday... but these might be my fave. I love all things "fruffled!"
Red ball and pine cone delish smelling potpourri was another easy change of holiday scenery
And last but not least....... my lights. I have never had outdoor Christmas decorations of my own, so I was pretty excited about these. Since the Ohio snow typically doesn't make its way down to Atlanta {the past two days have been a rare and unexpected exception to the norm!} I got these cute little snowflake shaped lights for our balcony. Andrew was a trooper and changed the light timer settings for me until I got it down just right - I can see them light up while we eat dinner, and they shut off while we are snuggled in bed. These are the little things in life that brighten my day :)
I was so anxious to get my lights lit up that I forgot to take in my off-season decorations!
The view from inside was even cuter, but hard to photograph through the glass!
Andrew and I aren't the only ones who have been loving the outdoor lighting... or the falling snow flurries! The curiosities of a certain indoor kitty never cease to entertain us.
Miss Bella stares at the little twinkle lights every time they pop on :)
Going home to spend the holidays with our families makes Christmas decorating in our little abode slightly impractical... but there is just something about studying for finals beside the dim light of a miniature Christmas tree and then crawling into bed for a few precious hours of sleep with the subtle glow of snowflake lights peeking through the bedroom window that is good for my soul. And I would trade practicality for good-for-the-soul-decor any day!

December 10, 2010


I can finally say that I am officially HALFWAY done with law school!


That means I still have 3 semesters to go... but looking back on how quickly the first half of law school went, and how much happened between August 2009 and today, I am just amazed that I am already at the halfway mark! When I first decided to embark on this stressful little journey, it just seemed like it would never end. But now, I can finally say that I see the light at the end of the tunnel!!!

The fact that I have a whole month to enjoy time with friends and family, to shop, to bake, to sleep, to work out, to read for leisure...... etc. seems surreal after the late nights and long, miserable hours of studying and exam taking I endured over the past month. Being so crazy busy leading up to this break makes me appreciate it even more!

I am SO thankful to have made it this far. And I'm even more thankful to be rewarded with a nice, long holiday break :) Now! Onto the fun stuff - I have a long weekend of Christmas baking ahead {stay tuned for pictures and recipes!} and am sooo anxious to make a major dent in my holiday shopping!

And in the midst of my euphoria I was (unpleasantly) reminded... the sweet just isn't as sweet without the sour, right? I think the universe decided that it needed to keep me in check and ensure that I was sufficiently appreciative/grateful/whatever... because only minutes before taking my last final of the semester I discovered that my Macbook Pro was drenched in water. Wouldn't turn on. Wouldn't charge. Nothing! So Sheila's awesome bf came to my rescue - he brought me his laptop to take my final on (my hubbs has a desktop... which normally I groan about but I'm sort of enjoying plinking away at his noisy keyboard at the moment!!) and then Andrew performed surgery on my computer last night. It is currently dismembered and recovering in a caserole dish full of rice...... in a few days, I'm praying that I will turn it on and magically it will be fine! Wishful thinking? Maybe. But I'm still drunk off of the thrill of being done with school and free as a bird until January, so I'm not going to cry over spilled milk water :) I'll let ya know how it turns out...

December 5, 2010

Holiday baking... mmm

My mama and I went a little nuts with Thanksgiving pie baking this year. Actually... she baked the same things she always does - so I guess I'm the one who got a little carried away! But I wanted to try a couple of different variations on our holiday classics :) 

My first, and possibly favorite, addition to our Thanksgiving dessert line-up this year was a Brownie Pecan Pie. Y.U.M. I found this recipe on Bakerella and couldn't resist trying it. I don't get that excited about plain old pecan pie (although, my mom's is surely the best I've ever tasted) but this was a pie I could make again and again! So delish. And, more importantly, SO easy!
Looks like a regular pie... but there is an ooey, gooey brownie in the middle!
There are two versions of this pie on - one with a more "fudgey" brownie layer, and one with a more "cakey" brownie layer. I opted for the more cake-like filling... because I notoriously take my baked goods out of the oven a few minutes early, and it turned out perfect

My cute momma makes all of her pies - crust included - from scratch. She always brings 2 traditional pecan pies and 2 traditional pumpkin pies to my grandma's for dessert. They turned out, as always, perfect! She's a pro.
Mommy :)

MA's Punkin' Pies
Perfect Pecan Pies
And that little beauty to the right of her pretty pecans?? That would be my updated version of my favorite Pumpkin Pecan Cheesecake. Remember my dad's bday cake? Well, that was good... but this was better! I cheated a little (in the interest of time) and used a store-bought graham cracker crust. I used pumpkin butter instead of pumpkin puree in the filling... and topped it off with a pecan streusel! My very first streusel :) It. was. phenomenal. 
Perfection ;)

We had a fun mommy-daughter day in the kitchen whipping up a grand total of 7 pies! I was especially thankful to be in my mom's kitchen that day - nothing like going home to lots of extra counter space and double ovens when I've got the holiday baking bug! Can't wait to share the Christmas baking recipes I decide on after finals... yummm! And I really can't wait to get back home to my mama's kitchen :)