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Posts Tagged ‘Blogmas’

One of my favorite traditions is that each year, we acquire one ornament that represents a highlight for us that year, whether it’s travel-related or a specific activity – it can be anything that reminds us of great memories for that particular year. For that year’s Christmas, we place the selected ornament at the top of the tree. We choose to forgo a regular “topper” like a star or angel in favor of something meaningful to us. Every year when we decorate the tree, we place our memory ornaments and it brings back great memories. 🙂

On our tree, we hang those ornaments (we’re at year 9 so far!) as well as homemade rustic ones that I made (Christmas tree twigs and ribbons, cinnamon sticks wrapped in plaid ribbon and paper snowflakes). There are some “regular” ornaments too and a couple of others that have a special spot (gifts from friends).

See below for our traditional annual ornaments:

2009: At the end of 2008, we moved from Montreal to Toronto but our washing machine didn’t make it and we survived, hilariously, without a washing machine for 40 days. Thankfully we had a ton of clothes but the pile of laundry was never as big as that year! We had to commemorate the event. 🙂 (Note: This was the year we started our annual ornament tradition and our move was such a big change for us that we needed something to commemorate it and the washing machine saga fit the bill.

2010: One of the activities we started enjoying since we now lived so close to Niagara on the Lake was wine tasting. The region is well-known for wine. We went to a ton of wine events and festivals that year which sparked a new hobby / passion.

2011: In 2011, we had an amazing time on a vacation where we visited Grand Cayman, Orlando and Cozumel and had a blast. We named the worm Alonzo after one of the hosts of the Amazing Cozumel Race activity we did. So fun!!! Not to mention the 2 Margaritavilles we stopped at and had a blast with nachos, margaritas and singing along to Jimmy Buffet songs.

2012: This year we went to Alaska which blew our minds. The untouched scenery, incredible wildlife and feeling like you’re the only one around for miles made us fall in love with the place; we can’t wait to go back. We’re still in awe. We picked this ornament up at a local artisan shop – it’s made with wood and reindeer and beaver fur. Love it.

2013: One word: Paris. Fabulous trip where we saw spectacular art and historical monuments and ate delicious food. Truly a trip of a lifetime…we seem to have a lot of those! The ornament depicts the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame and the Arche de Triomphe, all places we got to visit.

2014: Again, one word: Hawaii. Another incredible trip. We named this hula-girl ornament Hana after having driven the “Road to Hana” on our trip which is a well-known scenic drive – gorgeous views, fabulous food and culture. We visited Kauai and Maui; we preferred Kauai because of it’s natural beauty and it’s still relatively untouched by tourism (at least in 2014).

2015: In 2015, we did a lot of exploring in the conservation areas and hiking trails near our new house. We try to get out and enjoy nature as much as we can and that year, we really outdid ourselves and got out there during all four seasons.

2016: Last year, we took a road trip around the maritimes and explored New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and PEI, The seafood and scenery were to die for. The loop around Cape Breton will always be a highlight – just beautiful. We still order goat’s milk soap from the Great Canadian Soap Company; we stopped there on our trip and met the goats so of course, we have a bond now. 🙂

2017: This year we traveled to Italy and boy, did we ever have an amazing time. We ate all the food, we drank all the wine, we visited so many gorgeous places, saw amazing art, met fabulous friendly people. This is another spot we can’t wait to return to. But for now, we’ll daydream while peeking at the ornament that we picked up in Florence.


Looking forward to what 2018 will bring! We already have a cruise to the Greek Isles planned (plus Croatia and Montenegro) and I suspect that might be where we pick up next year’s ornament. Opa!

Here are some of our other special ornaments that brighten our holiday tree:

I gathered sticks from the nature paths around our house, bought some Christmas ribbon and made little tree ornaments. 🙂

Cinnamon sticks hung with plaid ribbon – smells good and looks adorably rustic:

I love paper snowflakes. I can’t help it.

This was a gift from a friend back in Montreal (thanks Olga!!) I still hang it on the tree every year – I love to cook. 🙂

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Christmas holiday shop windows.

It seems that as soon as Halloween is over, the holiday season is upon us with the pressure to buy buy buy. I actually have a pretty good system that keeps me relatively stress-free about Christmas shopping with some money-saving tips thrown in. There is enough going on over the holidays that shopping should be fun with the excitement of making people smile when they open your present!

  1. Make a list: The fun part about Christmas shopping is figuring out the perfect gift for everyone on your list. I start thinking about this in November and anytime I good idea comes to mind, I jot it down. I use an Excel spreadsheet and save it on OneDrive so I can access it anywhere from my phone.
  2. Make a budget: This goes hand in hand with #1. Assign a budget for “gifts”. You can further allocate it out by person on your list. This helps you keep things in perspective and under control, as long as you stick to it.
  3. Start buying early #1: The sooner you start, the sooner it’s paid off (if using a credit card) or if using cash/debit, the expenses can be spread out over a longer period of time, which makes it easier on the monthly budget. Really, you can accumulate Christmas gifts all year instead of doing it all in 1-2 weeks in the most expensive month of the year in many households.
  4. Start buying early #2: If any of the “hot toys” or “popular gifts” are likely to be on your shopping list, buy it as soon as you can. Otherwise, you risk being disappointed when hot ticket items are sold out or worse – have their prices jacked up because of the high demand.
  5. Use your points: This requires a bit of planning. Keep track of your reward/loyalty points. Many allow you to redeem for gift cards or merchandise. As long as you redeem them to allow enough time for the items/gift cards to be shipped to you by Christmas, you’re good to go. You can either give the gift cards as gifts themselves OR use them to purchase gifts to give. Either way – it’s a huge money-saver.
  6. Online shopping is your friend: You can buy literally anything online these days. Amazon literally is the BEST online retailer out there. They ship fast, they have fantastic prices and offer free shipping for pretty much all orders over a small amount and/or other deals. If you leverage #5 to redeem loyalty points for Amazon gift cards, it’s a win win. Other retailers have clued into the “free shipping” as well. Why would I spend hours/days running all over town and in crazy-packed malls when I can shop online (with my Christmas music playing and cookies/coffee by my side) and be done in a fraction of the time? I dared venture into a mall last year ad in several stores when asked if they had so-and-so item, they told me to go online! It’s a sign of the times; retailers can’t afford to keep huge inventory on the floor – but you have access to everything they sell on their online store. I’ve seen the occasional size sell out online but never as bad as in a store.
  7. Earn points on every purchase: I literally buy everything with a credit card to earn points/rewards. I feel like I’m leaving money on the table if I pay cash because I don’t earn points. Granted, this requires discipline to pay off your balance every month so you don’t pay interest (and lose the money you were so clever to have earned in the first place). Also use reward cards like Optimum, PC Points, Scene, all of them.
  8. Use an online rewards site: Sites like Swagbucks or Ebates offer “cash back” when you shop through their portal and can redeem those earned rewards for gift cards (to use in #5). It’s easy to sign up and they have special promos during high peak shopping times too!
  9. Buy during sales: Don’t wait for a specific time of year to do your holiday shopping. There are good sales going on all year. After Christmas is one of those times – so why not get a head start on next year’s list when prices will be at their lowest?
  10. Get your craft on: You can always make homemade gifts. This is always an option and typically costs less, as long as you have the time (and skill and patience) to dedicate to making something.

If you use #5, #6, #7 and #8 together, it’s a perfect formula. For example, I accumulate points all year by using #7. In October/November, I redeem those points for Amazon gift cards (#5) – or sometimes other retailers if I want to give a particular gift card. Then, for my holiday shopping, I go to Swagbucks.com (#8), then “hop” to the Amazon site (#6) to earn Swagbucks for any purchase I make, pay with a credit card that earns points (#7), so you will earn even more points to exchange for gift cards/merchandise (#5). Easy peasy.

I’ve done the same when shopping on the Hudson Bay site (go to Swagbucks, hop to the Bay site and pay with a credit card that earns rewards). So I earn Swagbucks on the purchase, reward points on my credit card and Hudson Bay reward points because I’m a member (which is free to join). 🙂 Win, win, win! Honestly, I can’t imagine shopping any other way.

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Our family loves board games. We grew up playing on birthdays, summer vacation, Christmas, rainy days and many times just because it was fun. Us kids have fond memories of playing The Game of Life and Backgammon for hours on end. I played with my mom almost every weekend for years and we got excited to try new games that came out. I remember playing Yahtzee, Scrabble, Scotland Yard, Payday, Clue, Stratego – you name it. For games that needed more than 2 players, we made up our own rules.

As we all got older, the games changed but the wish to play never did. Over the years, new favorites came up and with new games coming out every year, there are always some new winners in the bunch.

Below are our favorites that we seem to play on a regular basis; some during our monthly “game nights”, others typically during the holidays.

Pictionary

This is a hilarious when you set it up with paper/easel and markers and sit around the living room so everyone can see the drawing. We’ve kind of transformed traditional Pictionary into Win Lose or Draw. We still split into 2 teams (often guys vs gals). The competition is fierce and both the artists and the doodlers have good chances of helping their team win!

Trivial Pursuit

I think we’ve played about 8-10 different versions of this trivia game over the years. It’s always been a favorite. In our family we call the pieces “wedges” that you put in a “pie” but I’ve heard other names being used in other families (like “cheeses” and “slices”). Many laughs have been had over the years and the occasional shock-and-awe gasp that one of our family members knew the answer to a particularly obscure question. Great game!

Apples to Apples

This is a more recent addition to the repertoire. The first time we played, we laughed til we cried. There are 2 decks of cards, one that’s in a stack (Descriptions) and the other gets dealt out to the players (7 to start). One player selects a description card (usually has an adjective) and the other players place one of their cards face down that matches the description card in an accurate or funny way. The player who selected the description card chooses the best one out of the bunch.  It can be downright hysterical.

Cards Against Humanity

This is also pretty new and is similar to Apples to Apples but with a bit more snark/sarcasm. This one has two decks of cards, one in a stack and one that gets dealt out to the players. Each turn, one player picks a card from the stack (black card with a description or fill in the blank) and the other players place one of their cards face down they think best matches the black card. But the key here is going for funny, slightly immoral and hilarious combinations. Not for the easily-offended. Samples below

There are so many more: Charades, Taboo, Guesstures, Telestrations, Scattergories, Cranium, even plain old cards.  We have a whole cabinet full of games to tap into whenever the mood strikes.

The goal is to get together and have fun, enjoy good company, great snacks and have a good time!

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Christmas wouldn’t be the same without homemade cookies and other treats. I have my usual favorites but also enjoy discovering new recipes that are good enough to make it into the annual repertoire.

Chocolate Chip Cookies (aka Alton Brown’s “The Chewy”)

This is the best chocolate chip cookie ever. Hands  down. Look no further. Alton Brown did a series on the Food Network about chocolate chip cookies and explained how the chemistry of the ingredients resulted in different types of chocolate chip cookies (chewy, crisp, etc.). Genius!

This chewy morsel of deliciousness if heaven on a plate (if it eve makes it to a plate from the cookie sheet that is)! The secrets: Use bread flour (not all-purpose), melt the butter and have a mix of brown and white sugar. You’ll never need another recipe for chocolate chip cookies for the rest of your life.

Ingredients

  • 8 ounces (2 sticks) unsalted butter
  • 12 ounces (2 1/2 cups) bread flour
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 ounces (4 1/2 Tbsp) granulated sugar
  • 8 ounces (1 cup) light brown sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 1 ounce (2 Tbsp) whole milk
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 12 ounces semisweet chocolate chips

Directions

Melt the butter in a 2-quart (2 litre) saucepan over low heat. Set aside to cool slightly.

Sift together the flour, salt and baking soda onto a paper plate. Pour the butter into your stand mixer’s work bowl. Add the sugar and brown sugar and beat with the paddle attachment on medium speed for 2 minutes.

Meanwhile, whisk together the whole egg, the egg yolk, milk and vanilla extract in a measuring cup. Reduce the mixer speed and slowly add the egg mixture. Mix until thoroughly combined, about 30 seconds.

Using the paper plate as a slide, gradually integrate the dry ingredients, stopping a couple of times to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Once the flour is worked in, drop the speed to “stir” and add the chocolate chips. Chill the dough for 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F and place racks in the top third and bottom third of the oven.

Scoop the dough into 1 1/2-ounce portions onto parchment-lined half sheet pans, 6 cookies per sheet. Bake 2 sheets at a time for 15 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through. Remove from the oven, slide the parchment with the cookies onto a cooling rack and wait at least 5 minutes before devouring.

Yield: Makes about 20-24 cookies. They keep well in an airtight container.

Note: The darker the sugar you use, the chewier your cookies will be.

My adaptations: I don’t sift the flour. I use dark brown sugar. I don’t use a stand mixer, I mix everything in a bowl by hand with a wooden spoon and when incorporating the dry into the wet ingredients, I stir until just mixed, then stir in the chocolate chips and scoop with an ice cream scooper onto cookie sheets lined with either silicon sheets or parchment.

Before baking:

After baking:

The next recipe is a new one (to me) that comes from the Outlander Kitchen cookbook. The cookbook is based on the Outlander book series by Diana Gabaldon about Claire, who travels through time to mid 18th century Scotland and falls in love with highlander Jamie Fraser. The recipes are pulled out of the book (where foods are referred to in passing) and being able to make them yourself makes it seem like you’re right there in Scotland with Claire and Jamie.

Ginger-Nut Biscuits

This is not your traditional ginger snap cookie. This is a slightly spiced soft pillow of ginger and cinnamon goodness. Perfect with tea, or coffee, or plain old tap water for that matter – they’re that good.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 1 1/3 cup brown sugar, lightly packed
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 2 eggs
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 4 tsp ground ginger
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp kosher or coarse salt
  • 1/2 cup white granulated sugar (for rolling)

Directions

Preheat oven to 375°F.

In a large bowl with a wooden spoon, cream butter with brown sugar vigorously until fluffy. Beat in honey and eggs until well combined and smooth.

In another bowl, combine flour, ground ginger, baking soda, cinnamon and salt. Stir into wet ingredients until just mixed.

Shape into golf-sized balls and roll in white sugar to coat. Place on an ungreased or parchment-lined cookie sheet 1 inch apart. Do not flatten.

Bake for 10-12 minutes.

Remove from oven and rest on sheets for 5 minutes, then transfer to racks to cool

These keep well in an airtight container, or you can freeze them too (although they’ve never lasted long enough in my house to freeze them).

Soft Chewy Caramels

These aren’t a cookie but they are definitely a decadent treat to enjoy during the holidays and make a great gift (just so you don’t lose complete control and eat them all!!). There are only a few ingredients and you don’t need a candy thermometer. Win-win! Although making candy can be a tricky experience, I’ve never had issues with this recipe.

Ingredients

  • 1½ sticks butter (12 tablespoons)
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 3 tablespoons light corn syrup
  • 14 oz sweetened condensed milk
  • Optional: coarse sea salt, ½ teaspoon vanilla (see note)

Directions

  1. In a medium sauce pan combine butter and sugar and stir over medium heat until melted. Stir in corn syrup and condensed milk.
  2. Bring to a boil and then decrease to simmer 7-10 minutes or until mixture achieves deep golden color, stirring constantly. (*For lower altitudes, simmer time may need to be reduced 2-3 minutes, watch carefully for coloring!)
  3. Pour caramel into a foil-lined 8×8 inch pan and allow to cool completely. Sprinkle with coarse sea salt if desired.
  4. When completely cooled, cut into squares and wrap in wax paper.
NOTES
  • Makes about 20-30 caramels (depending on how large you cut them)
  • Recipe prep time does not include cooling time which may be 1-2 hours
  • For additional richness and flavor, you can stir in ½ teaspoon vanilla after removing the caramel from the heat and before pouring it into your prepared pan. sprinkle coarse sea salt on top of caramels for a boost of rich salted caramel flavor!

Sorry for the blurry pic – it was all I could do to hold back from scarfing them all in one sitting. 🙂

Here’s to Christmas cookies, treats and other goodies!

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There are a few variations of this one but I like this one best. 🙂

Twas the Day After Christmas

Twas the day after Christmas, and all through the house,
Every creature was hurting– even the mouse.

The toys were all broken, their batteries dead;
Santa passed out, with some ice on his head.

Wrapping and ribbons just covered the floor,
While upstairs the family continued to snore.

And I in my T-shirt, new Reeboks and jeans,
Went into the kitchen and started to clean.

When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the sink to see what was the matter.

Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the curtains, and threw up the sash.

When what to my wondering eyes should arrive,
But a little red truck, with an unwanted prize.

The driver was smiling, so lively, like most;
The patch on his jacket said “CANADA POST.”

With a handful of bills, he grinned like a fox
Then quickly he stuffed them into my mailbox.

Bill after bill, after bill, they still came.
Whistling and shouting he called them by name:

“Now Dillard’s, now Moores, now Levi’s and Sears
Here’s Zellers and Costco and the Bay—They’re all here!!

To the tip of your limit, every store, every mall.
Now chargeaway-chargeaway-chargeaway all!

He whooped and he whistled as he finished his work.
He filled up the box, and then turned with a jerk.

He sprang to his truck and he drove down the road,
Driving much faster with just half a load.

Then I heard him exclaim with great holiday cheer,
“ENJOY WHAT YOU GOT … YOU’LL BE PAYING ALL YEAR!”

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Christmas makes me thirsty. As do many other things…like Christmas shopping, caroling and Tuesdays. 🙂

I like to enjoy a festive cocktail especially during the holidays when happiness and excitement are in the air, everyone is in a god mood and revelry is rampant. Good times!

I came across this post and found so many recipes I wanted to try all in one spot that I wanted to share it with all of you! Look at these White Christmas Mojitos…

And Cranberry Margaritas? Yes please!!

And who can say “Jingle Juice” without smiling? No one. I dare you.

Check this link out from our good friends at Country Living to discover some fun new cocktails to try for yourself this holiday season: 30 Easy Christmas Cocktails – Best Recipes for Christmas Alcoholic Drinks

Cheers!!

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We each have our favorite Christmas songs. You know the ones. The song that reminds you of a special someone. Or a funny memory that makes you giggle each time you hear it on the radio. Or the song the whole family knows all the words to. Or the one from your favorite holiday movie that never fails to warm your heart. Or the song that fills you with Christmas spirit in the early days of December. Or the one that makes you wistful for simpler days and an old-fashioned Christmastime.

I’m feeling warm and fuzzy just thinking about it. 🙂 Even if the same song is done by different artists, there’s usually one version that speaks to you more than the others.

See below for my favorite Christmas songs; they have a permanent spot of my Xmas playlist. It was very very difficult to keep it to 20. In fact, my title started out as a top ten list…lol

  1. White Christmas – Bing Crosby
  2. Silver Bells – Bing Crosby and Rosemary Clooney
  3. Blue Christmas – Elvis Presley
  4. Holly Jolly Christmas – Burl Ives
  5. The Christmas Song – Nat King Cole
  6. Jingle Bell Rock – Bobby a helms
  7. O Holy Night – Celine Dion
  8. All I Want for Christmas is You – Mariah Carey
  9. It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year – Andy Williams
  10. Carol of the Bells – Mykola Dmytroych Leontovych, Peter J. Wilhousky, John Williams (Home Alone)
  11. Sleigh Ride – Phil Spector
  12. Jingle Bells – Michael Buble
  13. Do You Hear What I Hear – Whitney Houston
  14. Pentatonix the whole album: PTXmas
  15. Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree – Brenda Lee
  16. Baby it’s Cold Outside – Rod Stewart and Dolly Parton
  17. Santa Baby – Madonna
  18. The Nutcracker Suite – The Brian Setzer Orchestra
  19. The 12 Days of Christmas – Straight No Chaser
  20. Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) – Mariah Carey

I’ve created a playlist on Spotify including the songs above plus many more:

https://open.spotify.com/embed/user/22qpxvtyeazyyq6hxaks7elmi/playlist/28bH9xmEhoShpYYE9ZNNX4

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