What Martha Isn’t Telling You About Christmas

Christmas starts in July. That’s it! That’s the big secret that Martha and every other Martha Stewert-Like blogger isn’t telling you about Christmas, and all of those beautiful hand made decorations and gifts. I am sharing this little secret with you, because every Christmas the same thing happens to me.

It starts in the Fall with Halloween; I call it Holiday Fever, and I get it bad! I see all of these beautiful hand made decorations and gifts everywhere. They sparkle, and shine — and taunt me. “Make me. Make me! Make Meeeeee!” They call from the magazine rack in the grocery store. “Don’t you want to give me to your friends?” They beckon from my e-mail. “Your house will be the prettiest on the block,… if only you will decorate it just like this.” I hear as I scan my favorite craft blogs every morning. But what they aren’t telling you is, you have to start planning months in advance to achieve these beautifully decorated houses and handmade gift baskets. If you are a procrastinator with high hopes, like myself, then you may have attempted to get all of these things done in previous Decembers, only to have Christmas come and go in a hot, stressful, flash; leaving you feeling unsatisfied and disappointed.

How can you achieve a beautifully decorated home, make heartfelt handmade gifts and still have the time to enjoy your friends, family and true spirit of the season? Easy, start now! There are so many things you can do in the summer to prepare you for the Fall Holiday Season. Here are a few (ok, several) suggestions to get the ball rolling.

1. Start collecting! Start collecting pine cones for decorations (or one of these cute, homemade fire starters) on your next camping excursion. Not only will you save time, but you will save money, buy not having to buy them.

Click picture for link!

2. Spray Paint now! If you have items (like your pine cones) that you want to paint gold or silver (or white, or green, or red…) do it now. Spray paint doesn’t dry well in the wet Fall weather; dry summer heat is ideal for spray painting.

3. Get cooking! (Or canning.) Homemade jams or jellies, and liqueurs are always appreciated. Jams can be made and stored for months in advance, saving you time later. Liqueurs need time to infuse with flavors and taste better with a little age, so they really need to be made ahead of time. In order to save yourself precious “holiday time,” avoid giving “fresh baked” gifts that have to be made the same week they are given. If you like giving fresh baked cookies, consider making the dough ahead of time and freezing it in an airtight container. That way you will always have fresh baked cookies on hand within 15 minutes.

4. Get Sewing! Or Crafting. There are so many handmade gifts that can be sewn or crafted ahead of time. My current favorite blog is EverythingEtsy.com They have…

5. Simplify! Don’t try to design a different homemade gift or basket for every single person on your list. Pick one or two crowd pleasing themes for your baskets, (or sewing pattern, or craft) and stick to it. Here are two of my favorite gift baskets:

  • Coffee for Two Basket: Include 2 coffee cups, homemade irish cream, chocolate or coffee liqueur (made ahead), a tin of your favorite coffee and a bottle of milk or cream. Save your coffee tins and frappuccino bottles over the summer. Remove labels and decorate with your established theme between now and Halloween. Set aside until Christmas, then fill with store bought bulk coffee and milk or cream just before gifting. You can even make Biscotti a month in advance and store in an air tight container, or cheat, and buy it from your bulk store. Oh, and one more tip; wait to buy your baskets until you know what is going in them! This will save you money, and a head ache, when you go to put them together. I speak from experience on this one.
  • Spa Basket: Make skin care items over summer and decorate the jars ahead of time, so all you have to do is put the basket together come gift giving time. Here are a few recipes for DIY Skin care products: Exfoliating Scrub, Bath Salts, Bath Bombs.

6. Pick one theme and stick to it. Whether it be red, green, and blue plaid; blue and white snowflakes; snowmen or nature inspired; pick a theme and stick with it. You will be amazed at how much easier it will be to decorate your home, and your gifts, if you pick one color combination or character and focus on that when purchasing or creating your decorations. Plus, your friends and family will be amazed at how well “put together” everything looks when even your tree decorations and presents match.

5. Start your decorations early. You don’t have to hang them, but most decorations can be made ahead of time and stored unit the fall.

I hope I have motivated you to get started on those Christmas gifts and decorations, or at least got your wheels turning. For more DIY decorating and Gift ideas, see my Pinterest page!

 

8 Things Every Parent Should Know For A Successful And Affordable Family Fun Day

I could pretty much sum this post up in two words; PLAN AHEAD, but I will elaborate. If you want your family fun day to be both successful and affordable, planning ahead is key. Following is a list of things to consider when planning a fun and affordable Family Fun Day…

1. Create a checklist of items to take a few days in advance (not the morning of) and check them off as you prepare for the big day of fun. Think towels and dry clothes for beach or lake trips; snacks, meals and drinks; sunglasses and sunscreen for summer days, rain or snow gear for winter days, maps or directions, schedules for events, etc.

2. Check the weather the night before and be sure everyone dresses appropriately. Pack extra clothes, umbrellas, sun hats or whatever is appropriate the night before, so as not to forget in all the excitement of the next day.

3. Plan and pack meals and snacks. Not only will your family fun day go much smoother if your food is already prepared, but it can save you loads of money. The price of a snack at a movie theater could buy you a meal at the grocery store, and beverages are one of the highest marked up food items. Insulated beverage cups are a huge money saver in our house. I use mine every single day, and Little R’s milk stays cool and fresh for hours longer in her insulated sippy.

4. When planning your family fun day, check event schedules and business calendars for discount days and times. Everyone knows mattine movies cost less, but did you know, most zoos offer a discount day, as well as most county fairs? Even our local pool has one day a month when entry is half off. Just be prepared you may have to deal with larger crowds those days.

5. Speaking of crowds, check event calendars for special entry days and times. For example, our local pool offers “toddler time” for a few hours before it opens to all ages. This is great for little ones (or parents) who get a little overwhelmed by large crowds and noisy teenagers.

6. Consider your regular daily schedule and try to keep to it. Family fun time can quickly turn not-so-fun, when interrupting normal sleep and meal times. If your family is anything like mine, they get a little cranky when they are hungry and a lot cranky if they don’t get enough sleep. Try to avoid any activities or events that interfere with normal sleep patterns, and pack “emergency” snacks, meals and beverages. If you have nappers in your house, then be prepared to get out of the house early enough to be back in time for nap, or leave after they’ve woke from nap.

7. Dress appropriately. Okay, so I kind of touched on this one, but I want to remind parents that this one is for you too. As a stay-home mom, i don’t get out much. Sometimes I can get a little overexcited when I do leave the house and forget to dress for the occasion. Like I want to wear a skirt and strappy heals to the bounce house. Yeah, I actually did that. Oops! So remember, comfy clothes and tennies are best for keeping up with your kids, and trust me, they will want/expect you to do everything they do.

Last but most importantly…

8. Choose age appropriate activities. Remember, Family Fun Days are all about the kids! This is an opportunity to build lasting memories (as well as impressions) for your kids. You may be an avid fisherman, but your 2 year old daughter may not be ready to sit in a boat for hours on end waiting for something exciting to happen. Young kids have very short attention spans, so activities in which the entertainment changes as quickly as their interest is best. For example; the zoo has a ton of different exhibits, if your child gets bored with one, then you can simply move on to the next. Just remember to stop for drinks and snacks along the way!

Italian Mellocello

Italian Mellocello-Refreshingly Mellow Lemon and Vanilla Infused Alcohol

So refreshingly "mello"

So refreshingly "mello"

OK readers, I’m going to let you in on a little secret. We like to booze it up a little at my house. Especially during the summer. There’s just nothing like an ice cold fizzy concoction to take the edge off, and cool your head in the hot summer sun.

This amazing lemony yellow treat is bright and summery, not just in color, but in taste as well. Plus it has a lingering “mellow” vanilla finish that will definitely “chill you out” this summer. My husband and I made this for the first time last year and we loved it so much that it ended up becoming the unofficial “Signature Cocktail” for our wedding, or rather wedding party, as it was just too good to share with all of our 250-odd guests. This summer, we doubled the recipe with intent to share a little… We’ll see how that goes.

I’d love to take credit for this amazing liquer recipe, but I can’t. Unfortunately, I can’t give anybody else credit for it either, as my husband printed it (without reference) off the internet last Spring, and I have no idea where he found it. No matter where it came from originally, you are going to thank me for sharing it. I guarantee it. You will notice this is a two part process with a bit of waiting for the alcohol to infuse, but it is totally worth the wait!

Drink up!

Italian Mellocello Recipe

INGREDIENTS:
20 Lemons
2 750 ml bottles of Everclear (or Vodka if you prefer)
5 Vanilla Beans
6 c distilled water
4 c sugar

EQUIPMENT:
Sanitized 2-3 Liter glass jar with lid (we used a big pickle jar)
cheese cloth
Fine mesh sieve
Bottles or container for bottling final product

DIRECTIONS:
Part 1:
1. Wash and dry lemons thoroughly.
2. Pare off spots, blemishes and stem ends.
3. Using a very sharp paring knife or peeler, remove zests (that’s the yellow part of the peel) and place in distilling container, or pickle jar as we like to call it. Be sure you do not get any of the white pith, for it will make your mellocello very bitter. If you do, just use your knife to scrape it off, before dropping the peel in the jar.
4. Add Everclear to jar.
5. Slice vanilla pod down the middle and scrape insides into your mix.
6. Seal tightly and allow to steep in a cool, dark place for 3 months. We sealed our lids with Saran Wrap and duct tape to be sure it was air tight. If your container is not air tight, the alcohol fumes will evaporate and the drink will lose it’s potency.
7. Swirl lemon peels around twice a week to mix oils and alcohol.

Part 2:
1. After 3 months has lapsed and you are ready to bottle your concoction, you will want to sweeten it up a little… or a lot, whichever you prefer.
2. Bring 4 cups of sugar and 6 cups of water to a boil in a large saucepan. Remove from heat and allow to cool.
3. Meanwhile, strain your lemon infused alcohol, through a cheese cloth lined sieve, removing all the peels and vanilla grounds. Squeeze cheese cloth to be sure you have removed all of the alcohol and oils from the peels.
4. Add sugar-water to lemon-alcohol and stir.
5. Bottle your mellocello! It’s done! . . . or drink it, whatever. I won’t judge you.

The longer you let it set after bottling, the smoother it will become, but it is perfectly drinkable right away. I suggest storing it in the freezer as it is delightful served “up” ice cold. I prefer mine in a rocks glass topped with seltzer water. So refreshingly mellow. I really hope you try this recipe. I know 3 months is a long time to wait for a cocktail, but it is so worth the effort and time put into it, and it will be ready before you know it. If you start yours today, there will be plenty of hot summer days left to enjoy your mellocello.

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