Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Brainstorming for Christmas

Now that December is officially here, it's time to start planning some of the Christmas projects I want to do this year. I'm hoping you guys can give me some ideas with some of them, so I can get the ball rolling on things.

One of my favorite things about Christmas is the creativity it inspires in so many people. I love to see the baked cookies, and the gift wrapping, and the Christmas cards...all of the things that people create with their wonderful imaginations. I also love to use my creativity during the holiday season.

No, I'm not quite her... and wouldn't really want to be her...

but I do love to get all crafty and creative this time of year. (By the way, her WEBSITE does have some really cool stuff on it. Sure, you might have to devote an entire day of your life to make one cake, but still some good stuff there for the holidays.)

I've been known to make handmade gifts (I have one pretty big project that I'm not going to jinx by talking about, but of course I will share with all of you after the holiday!), and every year the girls and I create a homemade ornament to give to every member of our family (usually this adds up to around 25 ornaments) and I also write a Christmas letter each year.

This is where the brainstorming comes in.

My Annual Christmas Letter

I am at a loss--a virtual brain freeze--when it comes to my annual Christmas letter. Years ago, when I first decided to write a Christmas letter to include with my cards (I'm a writer. I love to write. It seemed like a natural thing to do.), I decided that I would not write the typical "listen to how great my family is" bragging sort of letter. At the same time, though, I wanted all of my family members and far-off friends to know what was going on with our lives over the past year.

So, I always try and do some sort of creative spin on the whole Christmas letter idea. One year I did a multiple choice quiz; another year I did the "Good, the Bad, and the Ugly" from the year before; one year I did a Top Ten list of things from the year; and, in my favorite of all, I wrote a satirical letter where I proclaimed all of the wonderful things that Gary, and the girls, and I had accomplished over the year (which was especially funny when several people thought it was true; although it's hard for me to see how anyone could have believed that Gary had invented a new flavor for Coke, even though he works for Coca Cola, or that McKenna had won an essay contest that won her a trip to the White House!).

Which comes to this year.

I need some sort of fresh ideas.

Can any of you think of some sort of clever way to present my Christmas letter this year? Do any of you write Christmas letters and, if so, how do you do them? Cmon now...I need some help!

Christmas Ornaments by the "Elf Sisters"

Every year, the girls and I work on a handmade ornament that we then package up and give to pretty much everyone in the family. This started back when McKenna was just three years old, after Gary and I got married. At the time, we labeled the ornaments as made by "Santa's Assistant McKenna." When Delaney came along, they were made by "McKenna and her Elf Assistant, Delaney." Since Sydney's been around, they've been made by the "Elf Sisters McKenna, Delaney, and Scout." The ornaments are always well-received and I hope that people look forward to getting them every year (one of Gary's aunts asked me at Thanksgiving if the girls were making their ornaments this year, so someone is!).

Which comes to another quandary...I'm not sure what type of ornament I want to make.

I saw an ornament that I wanted to make in a scrapbooking magazine not long ago, but for the life of me now I can't find it no matter how many times I google it. I think I can make it from memory--it was made by attaching little circles or squares of patterned paper onto styrofoam balls (using pretty sewing pins to attach them). I also figure that it would be cute with felt shapes too.

But, hey, good stuff happens when you start to Google. In looking for "styrofoam ball ornaments," I found these that do the same thing as I was thinking with felt or paper, but do it with little flowers. How cute is this?

Yep, that might have to be it.

But I would love to hear any of your homemade ornament ideas! Let me know what sort of ornament has worked for you; are you making one this year?; what should I make?

The 12 Books of Christmas

I love to read and I've been reading a lot lately (in fact, I really want to do a post sometime soon about the different books I read over the Summer and into the Fall), and I came upon the coolest project on Goodreads (a really cool community for book lovers). It's called The 12 Books of Christmas and it challenges you to read twelve books before the 25th--but there's a catch. You have to read a book that starts with each letter for C-H-R-I-S-T-M-A-S D-A-Y.

The challenge also asks you to read A Christmas Carol for the letter "C," but then the rest of the books are all up to you (and they don't have to be Christmas-related; they can be mysteries, nonfiction, classics, whatever).

I've got a few ideas for a couple of them (I'm trying to use books in my own stash for the challenge...books I may have never gotten around to reading), but I'd love any ideas from you guys. Are there any favorite books that you would recommend that start with any of those letters? I'd love to hear them from you!

A Cookie Swap

I had a girlfriend from church ask me the other night if I'd like to take part in a cookie swap. Yes!!! I replied. I've always wanted to do a cookie exchange, but never have. (This is where every guest makes a dozen cookies for every other guest attending; everyone goes home with a ton of cookies to use throughout the holiday season!).

I love to bake, so this is right up my alley, and I have some old-school favorites that I can choose from. Things like decorated sugar cookies (a classic that I grew up making with Mom), peanut butter blossoms (peanut butter cookies with a chocolate kiss in the middle), or pecan balls (sometimes called Mexican wedding cookies), which are pretty much my favorite Christmas confection.

But I want to try something different, and these look good (Irish Creme Delights)...

and so do these (Milk Chocolate Mini Sandwich Cookies)...

(Those recipes are from Better Homes & Garden's online site, but I also love AllRecipes.com. They've just started a Cookie a Day Countdown that's sure to have some yummy recipes, if you want to check it out HERE.)

What are your favorite cookies to make at Christmastime? I'd love to discover some new recipes, so share away please!

I just. Love. Christmas. and I am definitely getting in the spirit.

And now, for something totally random--that doesn't necessarily have anything to do with Christmas, but does have something to do with food.

Tonight (Tuesday) I got it in my head to make homemade pizza (do you ever do that? just decide that you want to cook and want to do something you haven't done lately?). I have great memories of making homemade pizza with Mom and Dad when I was growing up (back when I was in junior high, we used to do it on Saturday nights). So, I made two of them last night. One with pepperoni for the girls. Another one with pepperoni and green peppers on one side, and the other with pepperoni, green peppers, and mushrooms (for me! Yum!). Wasn't sure what the girls would think about it--they are used to either Papa John's takeout or Tombstone frozen; LOL--but they all liked it a lot.

It was really yummy, and I've seriously got to make them more often!

And then after dinner, as I was reading a book for my challenge mentioned above (I started The Alchemist for the "A" in "Day"), I had these yummy ginger thin cookies. I'm a BIG fan of gingerbread, gingersnaps, ginger anything really and discovered these delicious thin cookies. I had them with some coffee (remember: I've discovered coffee at the ripe old age of 40, although it really consists more of the hazelnut creamer than the coffee itself). Mmmm....a good way to end the day...

As I get older, I find that simple things--like eating a ginger cookie, making pizza dough, hanging up ornaments, reading a book--just make me feel nice and happy. It's a good feeling.

I can't wait to share my Christmas decorations with all of you. I've got at least one more day of getting everything set up like I like it, and then I will share.

And now...I can't wait to get some ideas from all of you. As my second grade teacher Mrs. Martin used to say, "put your thinking cap on"...and share your ideas for my Christmas letter, ornament, books, or cookies (or all of them!!).


Adrienne said...

I am at a blank about the letter!!! I know you will figure something out but that ornament is SO PRETTY! If you decide to do that one let me know, I THINK I have some prima flowers with your name on it lol

Becky Welch said...

Well, I don't think I can help you but you have helped me!! I am in an ornament swap and the crazy person I am signed up to do it!! I have been at a loss on what to do but I love that ornament. If I think of anything brilliant, I will let you know!

Anonymous said...

That pizza is looking good (and so are those cookies). Great ornament idea. We always make the sugar cookies cut into Christmas shapes, but I also like to make buckeyes. They are like chocolate coated peanut butter balls.

Nancy said...

Thanks for dropping in and leaving those sweet words! I enjoyed your post and it left me thinking about things around here for Christmas! Have a beautiful week!!!

Cheryl Wray said...

Adrienne--I may take you up on the Prima flowers offer. I'm gonna look around today too and see what I can find!

Becky--Yay, I'm glad this post gave you some ideas for your swap.

Anon--Mmm,I love those thing too.

Nancy--I hope you're doing better today!

Gretchen said...

"As I get older, I find that simple things--like eating a ginger cookie, making pizza dough, hanging up ornaments, reading a book--just make me feel nice and happy. It's a good feeling."

I sure love that thought, Cheryl. All except the getting older part. :) I often remark that it's unfortunate that we can't be nubile and cute at the same time as we're wise. LOL. I guess it takes a few lumps, bumps, and sags before we realize that simple is best.

In terms of your letter...I dunno...last year, I did a newsletter format. I may go back to that well again simply because it's all formatted and ready to go. I expect to be taking a few short cuts on some stuff and being original on others. Hugs!

Sheila said...

Christmas Letter:
What about creating a story about the events of your family's year into a Christmas-themed narrative.

Have you tried using clear Christmas ornament balls, scanning pics, cutting to size, roll the pics and insert into ornament by removing the cap.

Hope they help.

Monogram Queen said...

I would love to receive your letter! What a hoot and I LOVE the Elf Sisters~!!!

You really imbibe the Christmas Spirit Cheryl!

Kathy said...

WOW! What a inspiring post! It helps get the creativity going!

I have done Christmas letters in the past, but haven't included one the last few years. Mainly because our life seems to stay pretty much the same. I keep thinking I should just tell everyone to "please refer to our last Christmas letter." LOL!

I really like the idea of doing it as a newsletter. Make it look like the front page of a newspaper. I have also read of people writing it from the perspective of their pets. "Our humans are putting up the huge tree house for us to play in again!" LOL!

I LOVE the ornament you have shown with the flowers all over it. I may have to do that one myself. I have also wanted to make some using alcohol inks. If you search Google images for alcohol inked ornaments, it will pop up with a few.

As for cookies, I want to make homemade Oreos, Oreo truffles, Gooey Butter Cookies, and many others. I am always looking at the cookie recipes. They all look so good. (Including the Irish Creme Delights you mentioned)

I cannot help you much with the books, because I haven't read that many since the Twilight series. Although, I did just buy The Secret Life of Bees.

Your homemade pizza looks and sounds delicious! I haven't made homemade pizza in FOREVER! Sounds like it's time to do that again too!

Tamara Jansen said...

Hey, you just gave me a great idea....I don't bake but maybe I could do the cookie swap thing with a twist. I think I'll organize a WINE swap twist :)

I'll have to get right on it!

Auburn Kat said...

I'm thinking I should give away cookies this year, which means I really should buy myself that KitchenAid Mixer I've been wanting! =)

hippo chick said...

I swear girl, you are a dynamo!! You never cease to amaze me.

My friend, Barb, did the satirical "Muffy Letter" one year. I laughed so hard. Sorry, I have no ideas. I'm going to do a very short note in my cards this year. I do have an idea for the card though, which makes me happy.

Also blank on the ornament. I think I need to take Mrs. Martin's advice and "put on my thinking cap".

I started baking today. I put Christmas Carols on the player and mixed cookie dough this A.M. Loved it.

It's good to be back.

~hippo hugs~

Maria Hammon said...

My letter this year (which you should get in the mail hopefully soon) is just a little hightlight about each month of the year. :D
I love including a little letter inside the card! I loved all the different ones you have done in the past! You are so creative! :D

Kathy said...

It's me again Cheryl!

I found another idea you could try for your ornaments. They are called Kusudama Balls. They are origami. You can see the directions on a blog called Folding Trees. The web address is: http://foldingtrees.com/2008/11/kusudama-tutorial-part-1/

My mind has been racing with ideas for these ever since seeing them.

Hope you like them.

Brown English Muffin said...

oh wow I can over dose on those ginger things I get them from Ikea ALL the time...along with a bar of chocolate of course!!!!