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!