Tuesday, December 30, 2008

December Charity: Heifer International

I'm trying something new. Each month, I will highlight a charity (it could be local, national or worldwide) and feature it on my blog. I will be making a $25 donation to that charity. It doesn't seem like much, however that is part of the point of why I'm doing this - to show that every little bit helps. I'm also doing this because charities have been hard hit by the recent economic crisis, and I'm hoping by highlighting a charity a month it will spark others to donate, too - donate money, items, time - anything to help. Choose your favorite charity and help make a difference.

Heifer International is a charity that aims to end world hunger and poverty while caring for the earth at the same time. The organization has several global initiatives, from educating on sound agricultural techniques to providing small monetary or livestock loans.

One of the most interesting aspects of Heifer International, and probably the reason the group is well known, are these loans of livestock around the world. Through donations from people like us, this non-profit is able to provide children and families with animal gifts that teach them self reliance and provide them with resources they desperately need.

A gift of a flock of ducks ($20) is good for both people and the environment. This gift will add protein to a diet from eating eggs. Recipients can sell eggs and ducks to make money. Ducks will also improve crops, because they eat weeds and bugs and add fertilizer. A gift of a pig ($120 and/or share of $10) is considered the most interest-bearing of the Heifer animals. Pigs don't need much land and can eat garden scraps. They can provide up to 16 piglets a year, too.

What's even better than the animal gift giving is that the recipient is not the only one to benefit from this gift. In accepting a Heifer International animal, recipients are required to donate the first offspring, spreading this goodwill that much farther. It's also a chain reaction - once the first offspring is donated, that family will donate the first offspring of their gift, too. For instance, if a heifer is donated (Cost $500 and/or $50 share), that cow can give birth to a calf every year. That first calf is given to another family in the community. Once their calf matures and gives birth, that calf, too, is donated. In this way, an entire community can eventually transition out of poverty.

Heifer International doesn't just find a community and dump off a bunch of animals. Recipients receive education in animal management, helping to insure that the animal will be treated well and families will benefit as much as they can from the gift. The livestock is kept in environments where it could be found naturally, as to not disturb the ecology of the area.

Since its founding in 1944, Heifer International has seen success in Africa, Asia, the South Pacific, Central and Eastern Europe, Latin America, the Caribbean, North America, and other parts of the world. It continues to grow and have an impact, and is certainly on the right track to ending world hunger and poverty, all the while sustaining the earth, too. I've thought this was an amazing charity since I learned about it several years ago, and that's why I chose it to highlight this month and to receive my little monthly donation.

Visit the website and choose a gift - they range in price from $10 shares to $1,500. With a few clicks of your mouse and a bit of money from your pocket, you can help end world hunger from your family room. Now, that's powerful.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Piper's Christmas

For Christmas, I baked Piper some peanut butter dog treats. She also received a bag of treats she likes from Animal House, a beef bone and a stuffed green and white striped candy cane. She loved everything.

The peanut butter treats are really a hit. It's a recipe from the Three Dog Bakery Cookbook. I made a double batch and gave some to plenty of pampered pooches - Chipper, Seven, Mackie, Murphy and the Waddell clan. Joan bought four tins from me to give out. I forgot to send Ferris's home with Ryan, so I'm going to have to bake another batch and mail some up to Poughkeepsie. (I know, I know, Ryan, he doesn't need treats, but what dog really needs treats, anyway?)

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Another year gone by

The holidays were strange this year.

Christmas came and went with very little fanfare. While the day after Christmas is often a bit of a let down, it was less so this year because I felt like there wasn't as much build up to the big day. It couldn't be a let down if the holiday itself was, well, not as bright.

Don't get me wrong - it was all very nice. I had a great time at my parents' on Christmas Eve. It was lovely to visit with John's family Christmas day. I received some awesome gifts, too, and I think everyone was equally happy with what I gave them.

All the same, there's been a kind of shadow obscuring some parts of my life as of late, and that couldn't be ignored on Christmas. I missed my brother, mostly, and that removed presence left a mark on all things holiday-related. It made Christmas arrive more quietly, and slip away even more so. Honestly, the day after Christmas I woke up without the usual sadness that accompanies my favorite holiday's end for another 364 days.

I woke up and it was just another day.

I wonder if things were just different because of that shadow, or if maybe Christmas has lost even more of its magic. Every year it seems less of a big deal, weeks of holding your breath only to end up letting it all go in a little sigh at the end. Maybe it's just me. Maybe you have to work to keep that magic, and I haven't done a very good job of it.

Looking back, the year as a whole was okay. I wouldn't call 2008 stellar (by far), but it also wasn't as bad as they've come. (Perhaps closer to bad than great, though.) There were plenty of challenges this year. There were also tons of problems that I couldn't even come close to fixing. I'd like to say that 2009 is going to be much, much better, but who knows? It's not like I planned for 2008 to turn out how it did.

I don't mean to sound like a martyr. I'm totally aware that, considering the lives of many people, my 2008 was far from disastrous. However, I've realized in the past that it's futile to measure your own trials and tribulations against those of others; true, it can give you moments of clarity and perspective, but if you have reason to be upset, it's not healthy to constantly push those feelings aside by reasoning that you don't have it as bad as it can be.

You can't drown in self pity, but it's okay to acknowledge when life has dealt you a rough hand. Yes, there is always going to be someone with a worse hand. Along the same vein, there will always be someone with one better.

I guess I'll hope for a happier, healthier, all-around-better 2009. What's done is done, and in three days, 2008 is totally in that category.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas!

Boy does she hate that hat.

Merry Christmas! I hope you have a happy, healthy and wonderful day spent with family, friends and loved ones.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Coworker Christmas Gifts

Cookies are my staple coworker holiday gift, but I like to add a little something else to the giving every year. Two years ago I did cookies and mini beaded lampshades with electric candles for the ladies and cookies and fudge for the guys. Last year I did cookies and chex mix in little tins. This year I gave bags of cookies and mugs filled with homemade candies. Oh, and a candy cane reindeer, too.

I collected the mugs throughout the year, keeping an eye out for when places like Starbucks and Pier I had sales. That way, they're really nice mugs, but not for a huge bill. I liked how the mismatched mugs all looked together before I wrapped them up. I filled the mugs with peppermint bark and chocolate covered pretzels, wrapped it up with cellophane and tied a candy cane reindeer and handmade tag on with ribbon.

The cookies were put into crimson-stripped cellophane bags and tied with pretty red ribbon, both items my mom's friend found on the internet for a fraction of the cost they would have been if ordered from Williams-Sonoma. We didn't bake nearly as many cookies this year, but between my mom, Ryan and I, we had a nice little variety. I think I should have made some normal gingerbread men, though - the sad ones missing limbs looked like they were in candy cane jail in the cellophane bags, as Ryan pointed out. Haha.

Here's how everything looked all wrapped up.

And everyone seemed pleased to receive them! Happy holidays, coworkers!

Oh, and I received some very nice gifts, too! Joan gave me eggnog truffles from Starbucks (mmm...) and Mary gave me a very cute, sparkly wicker basket full of awesome baking supplies - actually, all supplies I either didn't have or needed to replace! Plus a cookbook. Dave gave me spices from Penzeys, which I haven't used yet but am anxious to try out. I think with all my new baking stuff (the Godfreys gave me a three-tiered square cake pan set!), I'm going to have to try out some new recipes and decorating ideas.

Can't wait!

A survey.

I snagged this from Ryan's blog. There are quite a few numbers missing. I don't know why.

In 2008 did you. . .

1) Did you kiss anyon​e?​​
Yes. John. And my parents and brothers and Piper, but not like that.

2) Did you date anyon​e?​​
Yes. John.

3) Are you going​ to kiss someone when the ball drops?
I hope so.

4) Did you lose any frien​ds?​​
Sort of.

5) Did you gain any frien​ds?​​
Yes, I think I did.

6) Did you do somet​hing new?
I climbed a waterfall. That was new.

8) Did you chang​e?​​
I'm sure I did.

9) Are you happy​ with the year over all?
Hm. Yeah, 2008 wasn't so bad.

11) Did you fall in or out of love?​​
Kept falling, I suppose.

12) Are you happy​ the year is almost over?
Doesn't really make a difference to me.

13) Are you going​ to change something about yourself this year?
Yes. I want to be healthier and in better shape.

19) Did you get in troub​le with the law?
Well... no. Except that time my headlight was out.

20) Did you go on a summe​r vacation?
Yes. On a cruise with John. And a short trip to Cali to see Shanon and Tim.

22) Did you get into a fight​?​​
Of course.

24) Did u have a good birth​day?​​
Why yes. It was lovely.

27) Did you dye your hair?​​

31) Did anyon​e tell you they loved you?
Many people.

32) Did you go to the hospi​tal?
Yes, this one time when I thought I was dying. I wasn't, as it turned out.

Moved​ :

New schoo​l:​​
No more school for me, sadly.

Have you chang​ed:​​
Wasn't this already asked?

New look:​​
For the new year? I'll probably stay about the same.

Okay. Your turn. Fill it out and leave me a comment to let me know you posted to your own blog.

Friday, December 19, 2008

O, Christmas Tree.

Two weeks ago, Ryan, Felicia, Michael and I went to a local church to pick out a Christmas tree from the youth group's sale. All money raised from the sale went to local charities, so we figured this would be a win-win situation.

To give a little background, I don't remember having a real tree. From photos, I know my parents would get them when I was very small, but I only ever remember decorating a fake tree. Ryan's had real trees all through her childhood, so she was totally into the idea of us picking up a live one this year.

When we got to the tree lot, we parked and walked over to the sale, where a bunch of 12-year-old boys were running around being, well, 12-year-old boys. One kid asked if we needed help, and he showed us the smaller trees on the lot and told us some tips about picking out a tree. Then he told us if we put our tree into boiling water, it would make the whole house smell nice.

Put the tree into boiling water? Having no experience in this area, I figured he must mean pour boiling water into the tree stand. It didn't sound like a good idea to me, but what did I know?

We chose a tree, and the kid helped carry it to the car. Or, I should say, he tried to carry it by himself to the car. About halfway there (after we tried to offer help), a youth group leader took the tree from the kid so he didn't fall over. He stuck it on my car, but then asked if we wanted the stump cut.

"Well, I don't know. Do we?" I asked.

"You need to cut at least some stump off," stressed the leader, hauling the tree back off of the car and using a saw to trim the stump. The kid then trimmed off some of the stray branches at the bottom.

Wondering about liability issues, I asked if we should tie the tree onto the car ourselves.

"Ah, no, he'll do it," the leader motioned at our kid, who ran off to grab string.

While the kid was out of ear shot, I questioned the leader about the whole tree-in-boiling-water bit. He shook his head.

"Sometimes I don't think these kids listen to the words that come out of my mouth," he said. "You don't put the tree in boiling water, you take the piece of stump that was cut off and put that into boiling water. Yesterday they told some lady to put her tree into a pot on the stove."

And this was the kid about to tie the tree to my car roof. Comforting.

When he returned with the string, the leader walked away and the kid got to work. The whole while, he was quietly talking himself through the process. I kept looking at Ryan with raised eyebrows, but we tried not to laugh for the kid's sake. He was trying so hard.

I told him to make sure he was tying the tree really tight, and we could help if he needed us to.

"I think that's as tight as it will go," he said. As an afterthought, he added, "You know, this is the first time I've done this."


When he was finished, I asked him if he wanted to round up some youth group members and I'd take a photo for the newspaper of their tree sale. This was a huge selling point for him, so he ran off to get everyone together. Ryan, Felicia and Michael were able to better secure the tree at this point without hurting the kid's pride.

Obviously, we got the tree home. It was a little precarious, particularly driving over the bridges onto the island, but it made it safely and we were able to set everything up. Ryan and I decorated the tree that night, and I must say there's so much more charm in having a real tree than a fake one.

I love our tree... I may love the whole experience of picking it up even more.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Sweet success!

Tonight's Holiday Cooke Swap was a smashing success - without the smashing of any cookies, of course. There were 14 of us there and 16 types of cookies (Ryan and Stef made two types each), and it was mighty tough not eating everything while you were taking your share.

It was such an awesome variety, too - no one tried to go the boring chocolate chip or oatmeal raisin route. Some of the cookie types were chocolate caramel thumbprints (by Megan), rocky road bar cookies (by Jen), cream cheese cookies (by Pat) and peppermint hershey kiss blossoms (by Karen). Mrs. Laughlin made scrumptious cherry cookies, my mom created a delicious chocolate coconut bar cookie, and Nancy made wonderful little coconut numbers. Stef's cookies were lemon spritz and shortbread animals; Ryan did chocolate chip shortbread dipped in red chocolate and Nutella cookies. Pam brought a cranberry, white chocolate cookie. Her friend, Fern, did a spiral-like spritz; Shawnda had spritz cookies that were little green trees with jimmies and sprinkles.

I made my merry little gingerbread men:

Haha. Or maybe not so merry, as it were.

These are Tanya's jammy flowers:

I think everyone had a great time, too - at least, I really hope they did. I had a lovely time and hope I can make this a new tradition. It's a fun way to get a nice variety of cookies. If anyone reading this came to the swap, thanks so much for coming!

You brightened my holidays - and made them much sweeter!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Leave a message at the...

I've been up for a new phone since May, so sooner or later I'm going to persuade my dad to head over to Verizon with me to pick up our free little upgrades. I can't wait. I have the pink Razr, and it's a piece, all right.

For instance, yesterday it started to beep maniacally to let me know that its battery was going to die (again). I plugged it in to charge, but as soon as I put it down my brother called. I unplugged for a quick hello and quickly returned the phone to charging (as to avoid the maniacal beeping), and it pleasantly blinked "fully charged." It was dead again after one short phone conversation.

It's also missing a button - the center button, the one that you press about 10 times more often than any other button on your phone. I have to push my hand into a little empty divot now.

It just goes to show that paying extra for the fancier phone isn't at all worth it. The free upgrade phone will do just fine this go round, thanks.

There is one reason I will be sad to give my little pink phone the heave-ho. My saved voice messages.

When you get a new cell, you can transfer your phone book, and sometimes little details like ring tones. You can't, to my knowledge, transfer your saved voice mails. I have about ten that stay saved consistently.

The first one is of my parents singing me happy birthday. One is a birthday greeting from my Uncle Gordie. Another is Bill wishing my Happy Birthday as Mickey Mouse. There's one that is just a cute hello left by John (the boyfriend), and a quick hi-love you-bye from John (the brother). In one of the messages, my dad is explaining how he wore the mathematics tie I gave him to work and was complimented. Ryan left a message - just some simple, probably a call back - that I saved. Then there are two from Stef - the first is when she was in labor with Salem, the second one when she was in labor with Finn. (I was number one on the call list because I was on Seven watching duty, and then Seven-and-Salem watching duty.)

I don't know why I save all of these messages. Part of it might be this irrational fear of losing someone, but being able to remember their voice. It's also because they all make me smile - they're all happy messages from people I love. Whatever the case, I'll be sad when I switch phones and I have to lose those messages.

But who knows - maybe they will transfer over. It is just the voice mailbox, after all - not something that's actually inside your phone on the memory card or anything, right?

Whatever the case, I will miss the messages, but I'm certainly not going to miss the phone.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Gingerbread Houses: Part II

The houses from Saturday's class turned out great!

I was supposed to have five kids in my class, but only two showed up. That was a big disappointment (and frustrating, considering the six hours I spent on making the houses the night before), however the two little girls who did come had such a great time it was hard to stay upset about the turnout. One of their moms decorated a house, Ryan came and decorated a house (and helped me out a lot), and the other two houses went home with my mom and to my parents' neighbors.

At least nothing was wasted.

Here are a few more shots from the whole shebang. These are the houses Saturday morning, before I left:

This is another decorated house - don't you love the door made of licorice rope and icing?

And here are the backs of the houses shown above:

I love the candy cane hearts and ice cream cone trees. The kids were so creative!

I wish I had the chance to decorate a house. One thing I know for certain is that there's going to be a lot of gingerbread houses in my future.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Gingerbread Houses: Part I


I spent the last six hours making six little gingerbread houses. (Hey, that's easy math!) I did it all from scratch. I created a pattern out of cardstock, made the dough (four batches), and rolled and cut and trimmed and baked and trimmed some more.

By the time I was getting toward the end of the baking, I was able to start assembling the first houses. They are very, very simple - a little shorter in length and taller in height than the pre-made houses you get in those kits at the craft store. They are quite tasty and super cute. I'm making these for a class I am teaching tomorrow. After the kids get to them, I'm sure they will be a million times cuter.

It's a lot of work, making a little town of gingerbread houses.

I had to make the dough and chill it. I rolled the dough directly onto cookie sheets, traced my templates, cut everything out, and then had to put the cookie sheet in the fridge again for 10 minutes before putting it into the oven. (Helps prevent spreading.) And between each cookie sheet use, I had to cool them down with cold water, because I couldn't roll dough onto a warm sheet - too sticky.

I could only bake one sheet at a time, because when I tried two it was too uneven (yes, I rotated - didn't matter). It took two sheets per house, and baking time was 12 minutes. That's nearly two and a half hours of solid baking time, so factoring in the dough making, cleaning, cookie sheet cooling, dough chilling... the six hours makes sense. It just made for a very long night.

Tomorrow is going to be busy, busy. I'm still trying to figure out how to transport all of the houses to the class. There should be at least one gingerbread house update - with plenty of pictures. Here's to hoping, anyway!

Now, however, it's time for some sleep.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

'Let's escape this town for a little while'

I'm in the mood for a vacation. I know, I know - when would a person NOT be in the mood for a vacation? I usually take my vacation time in the summer months, but I'm starting to think that having a week off in the dead of winter would be nice. Especially before Christmas - there are just endless things to do.

I still have tons (and tons) of baking to do. I have to make dog treats, an army of candy cane reindeer, and many other gifts that shall remain unnamed because I don't want to spoil anyone's surprise. I have to assemble my coworker's little gifts. And I have classes to teach this weekend and on Monday night - and I still have to do practically all the prepping for them, because I haven't had time to yet.

There are things I have accomplished, though, believe it or not. I have 90% of my shopping finished, and everything but two gifts that arrived on Tuesday are already wrapped and under the tree. My and Ryan's place is decorated, pretty much as far as it's going to get. I'm on top of cleaning, except for mopping the kitchen floor and the upstairs bathroom. So... there is some stuff done.

I have to keep reminding myself of that or I'm going to go crazy.

But can you imagine if I had an entire week off what I could get done? Baking and baking... and cleaning and crafting. I'd be so set, and I'd have time to relax to boot. Unfortunately, I didn't plan for that this year.

Maybe next year. We'll see.

(The above photo is during a sunset last week just up the street of our house. Too pretty not to post.)

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Hello? Is this thing on?

I would ask if anyone has noticed that I barely ever receive comments on my blog (except pity comments from Ryan), but it would be a mute point, wouldn't it? Because if no one is commenting, there's a good chance no one is reading, either.

No matter - look at these cool cookies my mom made!

They are soft, chewy chocolate blossoms with peppermint hershey kisses on top. It's the perfect amount of peppermint and they're totally delish. I'm not too sure if she semi-made up this recipe or if she found it somewhere, but either way it's a definite keeper. And aren't they pretty?

Ryan and I made chocolate chip cookies the other night, but with swirled red and green chips instead of plain ol' brown. They were pretty flat when they baked (don't know why - there were four eggs), but definitely tasty. They were those soft, chewy chocolate chip cookies, which are second best next to the soft, non-flat variety, in my opinion.

Next on the cookie agenda are peanut butter blossoms for Ry and I. I'm sure we'll be baking a lot of others. I am going to be baking with my mom, too.

Next Thursday Ryan and I are hosting a Holiday Cookie Swap at our place - I'm super, super excited. I know we have at least five people coming for sure, so that's at least seven types of cookies! (Even though Ryan and I agreed we'll both make two types, being the hosts and all.) I'll certainly post about this after the fiesta next week, with lots and lots of photos.

Mmm... I love cookies. And Christmas. And Christmas cookies!

Monday, December 8, 2008

I won a raffle!

My local Starbucks held a raffle for a basket filled with relaxation goodies (tea, soaps, lotions, etc.) on Black Friday. To enter, you had to bring in a receipt from a purchase you made during the day. The whole idea was after spending a day shopping for everyone else, you could win something to pamper yourself.

And look!

I won.

As you can see, it's full of really great stuff. I haven't broken into yet - really, it's been too busy - but I'm going to scrub out the tub upstairs and take a nice bubble bath and such later this week. I think I could use the relaxation. I've been stressed to the breaking point over a lot of things lately.

I have this strategy with raffles - I always tweak my raffle ticket before I put it in with the others. I crumple up the corner or twist it a bit. When a hand goes in to pick the winner, this makes it stick out from the rest of the straight edges. And you know what?

I win raffles a lot.

Sunday, December 7, 2008


...you wish it was your own secret.

(This and more at PostSecret.)

Friday, December 5, 2008

Happy Birthday, John!

Monday was John's 29th birthday, and we celebrated a couple of times, once with friends and the other with family.

Saturday night Chris made reservations for all of us at Coyote Crossing, a great little Mexican restaurant in Conshohocken, Pa. The food was great - the company was better. And I think John had a great time, with a candle in his chocolate mousse dessert and all.

Afterward we ended up at John's (and the guys') 10th high school reunion at a bar in his hometown. It was fun to meet some of John's old classmates and even better to see John and his friends having so much fun catching up. I was a bit out of the loop (naturally), but I talked for a while with Dibya's girlfriend, Joyce, who is also an out-of-towner. So - fun all around!

Monday, being John's actual birthday, we went out to eat at Filomena, an Italian restaurant in Berlin, with John's mom, sister and her boyfriend. It was a delicious dinner, but the best part was probably our waiter, Frankie, who was not just attentive but thoroughly entertaining to boot. He even played guitar when they sang John "Happy Birthday."

So, this is just a little recap of John's celebration for the big 2-9. I think he had a good time - I certainly did. Happy birthday, John!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

I choose pie heaven.

Two weeks ago I took a class on pie making at the Academy of Culinary Arts. My mom was supposed to go but couldn't because of a last minute meeting, so Ryan said she'd go with me. (This was more out of being nice than pure interest on her part.) It was a fun class, anyhow, and Ryan decided she was going to use her new knowledge to make the pies for her family's Thanksgiving dinner.

The pictures below are all of the pies made so far. The pecan and key lime were made by Ryan (yes - she made the pie dough from scratch!) and the pumpkin and chocolate pies were team efforts. The apple pie is mine, and I'm going to make my own pecan pies tonight. (I made a batch last night and fell asleep, so they burned up pretty well.)

Without further ado...





Key Lime

Have a safe and happy Thanksgiving! And eat lots of pie.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Shiny, happy cookies.

My latest culinary endeavor was buttery sugar cookies with a simple icing for The Maple Tree's holiday open house. I was excited to try blending the icings on the snowflakes, and the above light blue one came out best. Isn't that swirl in the center great? I drizzled icings together, too, like on the stars above. It was all neat effects, and the icing dried just as I hoped - hard, shiny and sweet.

Apparently people at the open house were asking what bakery they came from. And if I do say so myself, they tasted just as delicious as they looked... which was probably the best part.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

November Charity: Community FoodBank

I'm trying something new. Each month, I will highlight a charity (it could be local, national or worldwide) and feature it on my blog. I will be making a $25 donation to that charity. It doesn't seem like much, however that is part of the point of why I'm doing this - to show that every little bit helps. I'm also doing this because charities have been hard hit by the recent economic crisis, and I'm hoping by highlighting a charity a month it will spark others to donate, too - donate money, items, time - anything to help. Choose your favorite charity and help make a difference.

This month's charity is the Community FoodBank of New Jersey Southern Branch. The FoodBank is located in Egg Harbor Township, New Jersey, and supplies food (and some non-food) items to charities across three counties - Cape May, Atlantic and Cumberland. It also houses its own emergency food pantry. This non-profit is run almost entirely by volunteers, with just a few paid employees, and it relies on the kindness of the communities it supports to keep its shelves stocked.

Unfortunately, an influx of people in need (because of mass layoffs in the area) has been wiping out the FoodBank, and it has been hard to keep its own pantry stocked let alone give supplies to the hundreds of others it works with (these include food pantries, food kitchens, homeless shelters, etc.). Items that are especially needed include turkeys, protein of any type (canned beef stew, canned hams, tuna fish, etc.) and coats.

On Friday I dropped off two turkeys, eight packages of instant mashed potatoes, four cans of green beans, four cans of corn and three cans of gravy to the FoodBank. One of the turkeys I bought for $30. The other was free from Acme's Thanksgiving promotion (spend enough money, get a free turkey). The groceries I bought all on sale and that cost me $20. So for $50*, I supplied enough food for two modest holiday dinners for a family of six.

When I spoke to the FoodBank's director earlier this month, she said, "If everybody could donate, would donate, we'd be in much better shape." She said she understood times being tough - it was tough for her, too - but if she could pay her mortgage, put gas in her car and pay her bills, she could afford $5 or $1 or just one can of food a week to donate to a local food pantry.

That one can of food - to you, it may not seem like a big difference. But to that person it feeds for one meal, it's huge.

*I know I said I'd be donating $25 a month to the charity of choice, however if I am able to, I will certainly try to donate a little bit more than that.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Where's the snow?

They've already started.

The snow predictions.

Every year, the meteorologists go snow-crazy, with a light dusting overnight here and snow showers through the afternoon there. And then...


This year is following suit nicely. This week we've already had a few snowy forecasts, and save for a handful of flurries yesterday, there hasn't been much white falling from the sky. It's okay - it's still early in this season. Sometimes I just wish the weather forecasts would ease up, though. It's disappointing, the promise of some snow and then the delivery of barely cloudy skies.

I'm still a kid at heart when it comes to snow, waking up in the morning and quietly peering outside, the disappointment all over my face when I'm not gazing out at a world of white. There's a prediction of light snow showers today, enough to cast a snowy blanket over the area for at least an hour or two.

Let's keep our fingers crossed!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Everything is okay.

As I walked across the Starbucks parking lot this morning sipping my Peppermint Mocha Twist with the first flurries of the year floating to the ground, I knew everything was okay. It sounds trite, but in that simple little moment, I was reminded that I am happy and life is not perfect, but good.

I started to crash yesterday in early afternoon. My worries and stresses caught up with me, and I was suddenly feeling incredibly overwhelmed and anxious. Some rough things happened at work this week. We powered through and things pulled together just fine, however trying to remain calm, cool and collected through the whole ordeal ultimately took its toll. Yesterday was deadline day for one of our editions, and I continued to finish everything like I needed to, but my mind was whirring. I felt like I was in a fog. How were the next few weeks - the next few months - going to shape up?

I stayed almost an hour late at work trying to map out the next two weeks. I figured out what there was to cover for stories and how I could juggle my schedule to get to it all. I saw my free time - my crafting and baking and shopping time for the holidays - slowly slipping away. I realized one event I wanted to get into the paper was on John's birthday night, and it just simply wasn't going to get covered now. (Because I certainly wouldn't be skipping my boyfriend's birthday dinner.) That unnerved me, though. How many things would conflict? How much more would we miss?

When I got home, I tried to unwind, only to realize I had cupcakes to make for the high school's scholarship dinner Thursday night. Ryan was awesome, though - after making a great dinner, she stopped at the grocery store for me while she was running an errand and picked up a couple things I needed. I ended up making pale pink mini cupcakes with bright pink frosting (pictured above), since the theme of the dinner is "Pink Panther" because it is being held the same night as the school play's opener. The baking helped me relax (as usual) and I took Piper for a nice long walk. It was freezing, but the cold night air calmed me down, too.

Which brings us to this morning. I delivered my cupcakes, and they loved them. I went to cover a story but was told the wrong day, and that's how I ended up grabbing a quick Starbucks. With the Christmas music playing, the flurries falling, holiday decorations going up all around... it pulled the rest of the worry out of me.

Work will be okay. I won't really let it not be okay. And life is okay. I have bills, I don't much money, but I have a great family, a wonderful boyfriend, some close friends and my entertaining (albeit exhausting) dog. And I have a job - right now it's not exactly the best job, there are a lot of concerns, but I'm lucky to know I'll still have this job tomorrow and next week and next month.

It's all going to be okay.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Want a tree?

The Atlantic County Women's Center is hosting its annual "Trees of Hope Festival" from now until Dec. 18. Visitors to Cornerstone Commerce Center (New Road in Linwood) can stop in the atrium, check out the trees, and participate in a silent auction by using the bid sheets posted near each tree. There are all types, too - a tree full of stuffed bears, a little retro silver tree, a white tree popping with vibrant balls and bangles.

All of the trees are donated by area businesses and organizations. My office sponsored a tree for the second year. I spearheaded the efforts again. Last year we had a silver and blue snowflake themed tree. This year it's a cream and cranberry seashell theme. The only thing I wish is that I had some larger shells on it, too. Otherwise, doesn't it look beautiful?

My mom helped my make the seashell ornaments - I glued, she glittered. Above are just a sampling. They sparkle when the lights are turned on. There are also cream and cranberry colored Christmas balls, cranberry beads, cranberry and cream ribbon and a glittery starfish topper.

You know you want to bring this gorgeous tree home for the holidays. Go bid. All proceeds benefit the women's center, which is a safe haven for women and children throughout Atlantic County. Find out more about ACWC.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

First cookies of the season

My mom and I started baking for our holiday gift giving today. You may be thinking, "Really? Today? On November 9th?" We're actually behind where we were last year. My mom started in October and I started the first week of November. If you bake the right types of cookies that have long freezer-times, you're safe to start baking early. And with as many cookie gifts as we give out and the thousand of cookies we end up pulling off, we simply have to start early.

Today we made four cookies - crackles, peppermint pinwheels, cappuccino cookies and coconut bars. It was a rather discouraging baking day. First, my mom's crackles didn't turn out, well, very crackle-y. They're pictured above. They tasted great, though, and still looked very pretty. After the dough cooled down she was able to make the whole crackle-effect better, or at least that's what she reported to me after I returned home.

Second, my peppermint pinwheels didn't turn out nearly as nice the photo in the cookbook. I'm really bummed, too, because this was a very long, involved recipe. I added crushed peppermint to the white swirls, and I shouldn't have done that because it melted and made the cookies all blotchy. I'll leave that out next time - or make sure I crush it extra fine. The white swirls also browned in the oven, and they weren't supposed to, but when I pulled the cookies out early they weren't finished baking yet. They do taste mighty yummy, though.

Here's a couple of the best cookies:

I haven't done the cappuccino cookies yet - I was so upset about the stupid pinwheels that I decided I'd hold off on that dough until tomorrow. (All I have left is to bake the dough - it's a slice and bake recipe.) The bar cookies my mom made earlier turned out really well, although I didn't taste them.

When we bake, the most important thing for my mom is that the cookies look pretty. The most important thing for me is that they taste good. And even though our cookies today didn't go as planned, they still meet both of our requirements. We're now about 25 dozen cookies closer to Christmas.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Rain, rain go away...

It's been raining for forever. Or at least for four days, which is far from forever, I suppose... but you know how when it's damp and dreary and gray, it seeps into your psyche and you just forget what the sunshine is like? That's how I'm feeling right about now.

I have another headache and I am driving up to John's in a little while to spend the evening with him. We were going to go to Second Saturday in Collingswood, but walking around in the pouring rain on a chilly night isn't really my cup of tea - or John's. Instead we're just going to grab dinner and (I hope) rent a movie and stay in. Rainy nights are nice for snuggling and movie watching, no?

Oh, and I hope we can grab some hot chocolate at Starbucks.

So, I know I just blogged about Starbucks, but I forgot to talk about a couple of exciting things going on with the company. And just to get it out of the way - I do, I love love love Starbucks. (As though you couldn't tell.) They serve consistent, quality fare at all times, and what more can you ask for? It's nice to be able to rely on something, even if it's as simple as a cup o' coffee. I frequent the local, independent coffee place in my town, too, but it's actually pricier than Starbucks. Anyway...

Starbucks is starting a new philanthropic effort. (Starbucks) Red launches on Nov. 27, and when you buy certain (Starbucks) Red products, a portion of the proceeds is donated to the Global Fund, to help save lives in Africa. Read about it right here. It's mainly just a countdown, though - no hint at what (Starbucks) Red is really about.

It gets me to wondering - what will these products be? A special coffee blend or flavored beverage? Classy mugs or tumblers? Totally different items made specifically for the cause, like apparel or accessories? I'm definitely thinking the company will stick to what it does and what it does well, so its graphic design and idea teams must have been pretty busy as of late. I'm envisioning mugs and tumblers, yes, and probably journals and pens, too. Maybe a sampling of cards, a cool new Starbucks gift card design, and some special coffee blends. I can't see them bringing in new stuff that's been foreign to the store in the past.

Starbucks also just started its Starbucks Gold Card. As the website says, it's the card for "people who really love Starbucks." There's a $25 membership fee. The Starbucks Gold Card will afford you 10% discount on most purchases, a free drink in-store if that's where you purchase your membership, a free birthday beverage, discounts throughout the year, special offers and free WiFi access in-store for up to two hours every day.

Inarguably, this is a good deal for those who frequent Starbucks. I'm tempted to get it myself, however I recently promised myself I'd stop going to Starbucks so often - it's down to once or twice a week. It's a very expensive habit, and I don't have money to be squandering, even on something as quality and delicious as Peppermint Mocha Twists or Pumpkin Spice Lattes. So I don't know if I'm going to become a Gold Card member yet. But it's sure tempting.

That wraps up my nice little free advertising for Starbucks! I'm going to go get ready to leave for John's now and try to enjoy this lovely rainy weather.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Peppermint Mocha Twist

John and I had our first Peppermint Mocha Twists of the holiday season today at Starbucks. I don't remember the Christmas drinks coming out this early last year. The store isn't decorated yet, though - that happens the day before Thanksgiving. Or the day after? Something like that.

I like the holiday cups. I think last year's might have been slightly cuter, but these are pretty neat, too. Nothing can be worse than those weird cone wreaths from a few years ago. I don't know what Starbucks was thinking.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008


Get out to the polls and vote today. You'll be making history.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Happy Haunting

Ryan and I threw a lovely little post-Halloween bash Saturday night.

It was a small gathering, but of all quality people, so it made for a fun time. There were friends from across the board - John and his crew, a sprinkling of college folk and my coworker Eric. Plenty couldn't make it for various reasons (work-related, apartment moving-related, hung over from Phillies celebrating and/or Halloween night related). Nevertheless, I think everyone had a pretty good time.

We did, however, have a slew of leftover alcohol, most of which wasn't even tapped into. I guess another party is in order.

Thanks to Joe for the photos!

Friday, October 31, 2008

My little one turned two.

My little one being Piper, of course, because I don't actually have any human littles ones yet. All the same, today was Piper's birthday! (Well, yesterday, really - Oct. 30.) She turned two, and I've been told over these past couple years that a dog is in "puppy" mode until they hit two, so I'm looking forward to waking up tomorrow with a very well mannered, friendly little pooch. Don't worry, though - I'm not holding my breath.

All the same, I don't know what I would do without the crazy canine. She causes me great headaches and sometimes drains me of all energy and patience, but I love her dearly. She's always thrilled to see me - even if I've just gone to take the trash out. She's super quirky and makes me laugh all the time. I love how Piper's tail wags in windmill mode when she's over-the-top excited. I also love how she starts to prance with her nose high in the air when she sniffs something passing by in the wind on one of our walks.

Piper's my first pet since living on my own, and I really wouldn't have it any other way. But hey, if she feels like calming down even just a tad bit tomorrow - say, not act like she's going to rip the mailman's throat out every time she sees him? I'll just consider that a little bonus.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

World Champs 2008!

I'm far from a Phillies aficionado, so I'm hoping to have a special guest blogger post a more comprehensive celebratory entry tomorrow. Let's hope he agrees to it.

It took five days to play this one game of baseball, and boy, what a game. Our Philadelphia Phillies have done us proud, bringing home their second World Series Championship in the franchise's 125-year history.

Fans poured out of bars, restaurants and homes in Philadelphia to flood the streets, and my parent's block at the Jersey shore was a cacophony of car horns, fireworks and banging pots and pans. After a 28-year wait (and a 25-year drought of no sports championships at all), the Phillies have broken the curse of William Penn.

And the wait was well worth it. Go Phillies!

Monday, October 27, 2008

Caffeine blitz

Turns out, coffee really does do the trick when you're tired.*

I was dragging by the time I got to John's tonight to tool around in his awesome new car and watch the Phils game (10-2 victory!), so Mrs. Dowd was sweet enough to make me some coffee. I don't usually drink straight up coffee - it's normally some fancy latte or specially blended beverage from Starbucks and the like. I think straight up coffee, however, gives you more of a buzz. At least, that's my guess as to why I'm still wide awake at 2 a.m.

This was a great weekend, and not as speedy as last. Stef and I made out like bandits at the Holiday Faire/Rummage Sale at a nearby church Saturday morning. (This is the same church I baked cupcakes for.) I spent $10.75 for:
• One raffle ticket for a quilt (didn't win)
• One game of chance (won a bottle of grape juice - yes, weird, I know)
• Five colorful glass bottles from the '70s (Ryan later discovered these were a series of Seasons Greetings bottles put out by WheatonArts - formerly Wheaton Village - depicting images of the "12 Days of Christmas")
• Eight holiday tins
• A little plant (they have a plant room, with live plants and dried flowers)
• A Christmas ornament (that's where the 25 cents came in)
• Green material for a Christmas tree skirt
• A 6-foot-tall Martha Stewart brand Christmas tree

The tree was definitely my best bargain. And the price tag?

"$2.00 or best offer!"

No kidding, that's what it said. Best offer? Would someone have really argued paying two bucks for a near-$200 tree? True, it's used. I still need to get it out of the box to make sure all the pieces are in order. But, let's face it. This is Ocean City. People are wealthy here. Chances are this was just a tree someone tired of and donated to the church for the rummage sale. In other words, I doubt anything is wrong with it.

I'm going to use the tree for my office's donation to the Atlantic County Women's Center's Tree of Lights Festival. The trees are all donated by area groups and businesses and set up in the atrium of the Cornerstone Commerce Center in Linwood. Visitors can then bid on the trees for a few weeks leading up to the holidays, and winners get to bring the trees home. All proceeds benefit the ACWC, which advocates for women's welfare issues.

Last year we could only get a fairly small tree, although I think it looked very nice dressed up in the silver and blue theme I came up with. This year I'm so excited we'll have not only a big tree, but a high quality one at that! I'm already trying to think of a unique way to decorate it. I think a "Christmas at the Shore" theme would be nice, with homemade seashell ornaments. And then maybe with a silver and crimson color scheme. Oh - and a big starfish at the top, with ribbons cascading down the sides! I'm going to have to get rolling with this...

I also set up a few classes to teach at The Maple Tree over the next couple of months. They're all a couple hours on weekends (so it doesn't conflict with work) and for kids. There's gingerbread house decorating, no-bake holiday cookies, a class to make an apron and holiday ornaments... should be fun. I certainly could use the extra cash, too.

And although the tree was a major highlight, the best part of the weekend? Our Phillies are now 3-1 in the World Series against Tampa Bay. It's going to be our year.

*I can't take responsibility for the flow of this post - it's very late, and I'm on this caffeine buzz that's leaving my thoughts scattered. I hope it wasn't too terribly difficult to get through. :)

Saturday, October 25, 2008

The great pumpkin (cupcakes)

If you like to bake and you haven't had the pleasure of checking out "Hello, Cupcake!" by Alan Richardson and Karen Tack, I highly suggest you stop reading now and head straight to your local library or book store to procure a copy. Actually, why not check out what I was inspired to make first? Trust me - then you'll be even more motivated.

I made these pumpkin cupcakes for a bake sale at a nearby church. The cupcakes themselves were pumpkin cinnamon flavored - I used the recipe from "Cupcakes: From the Cake Mix Doctor." (That's another must-have if you bake cupcakes or cakes... Anne Byrn's books rock. Each recipe uses a boxed cake mix, but other fun ingredients to make it semi-homemade and simple.) I filled the liners so the cupcakes would dome nicely at the top, and then I made a homemade buttercream icing tinted orange for decorating. Each cupcake was covered in icing, rolled in orange decorating sugar, piped lines, and accented with Twizzlers rainbow (green) for the stem and Twizzlers pull-apart (sour apple) for the vines.

It was so easy. And that's the best part of "Hello, Cupcake!" - anyone can do the recipes. It may take a bit of patience and a lot of time for the more intricate designs, but they're not super difficult. And there are tons of tips in the book's introduction to explain the best methods to use, from icing the cupcake to piping designs.

They tasted as good as they looked, too. The pumpkin cinnamon cupcake was scrumptious, and of course you can never go wrong with homemade buttercream.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Plethora of polymer!

I've been making tons of little polymer charms and such lately. I'm using sculpey, which as far as I've heard is not the best brand, but it is the cheapest so therefore I went with it. I found that if I use the translucent sculpey as a base glue before baking, and then glaze the whole thing afterward, it holds together perfectly and is quite durable.

Anyway, I made lots of little charms that I turned into earrings, and then a handful of little pumpkins to sit on my desk at work. These are the pumpkins:

And a few more shots of the earrings:

The little orange pumpkin earrings are my favorite.

I want to learn how to texture better with polymer. For instance, the dollop of whipped cream on the pumpkin pie could look much more realistic, as well as the pie filling itself. The little bats were a pain and I only made one set of them, but I think they turned out so well with the beads that I'm going to have to make more.

I think I'll start making some Thanksgiving and Christmas charms now.