farewell to 2011...

...it was a challenging year in many ways.

I wasn't planning on a post today, but the sunrise was pretty interesting this morning.

Sunrise, 12/31/11

Happy New Year everyone!

looking back at Eye Candy Friday...

...it started as a rainy day, so it was too dark to take pictures this morning, It's better this afternoon, but the garden is in full winter mode and there's nothing that I want to photograph.  So let's take a look at some of my favorite pictures of the year.

Kayla's begonia
Kayla's flowers

A little bug on a hydrangea:
Say hello to my little friend

Morning glory close-up
Morning glory, close up

White Icelandic poppy:
Icelandic Poppy, view from below

Golden freesias
Golden Freesias looking skyward

You can see all of my 2011 eye candy pictures in this Flickr set.

I've had a wonderful, relaxing few days. I really needed this vacation and I don't feel at all guilty for mostly lounging around! 

Up this weekend: I hope to finish the rest of Jane's Christmas present so I can get it mailed out on Tuesday. For New Year's Eve, the Husband and I plan on a quiet evening and sharing a bottle of champagne at midnight.

I hope you all have a great new year!
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Last WIP-it Wednesday for the year...

...and I still can't show you my WIP.

I've been a bad crafter. :( I failed to complete the Christmas present I was making. [sigh] Well, not totally. I got part of it done, but not all. I'm madly working away at it so I can mail it out a soon as I can.

My other WIP was to pack up the cookies and get them mailed out. I spent several hours packing the boxes yesterday, wrapping the cookie individually before putting them into tins and containers, and then into mailing boxes.


Today's goal was to mail them...DONE!!  One of those boxes contains the partial Christmas present as well as cookies (the other part is coming soon, Jane, I promise!)

After that, I have no idea what my next project will be...maybe more needlepoint. I have so many options, it will be hard to pick.
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day after Christmas...

...and not much was accomplished.

Christmas Eve dinner was a hit. I managed to finish decorating the house and wrap all the packages before I needed to start dinner. Here's the kitchen Christmas tree:

Kitchen Christmas tree

The cioppino turned out great and everyone enjoyed it,  For dessert, I made a Grand Marnier chocolate mousse. The Daughter brought Sprinkles cupcakes and one of her friend's brought baklava.  We had an abundance of sweets! After everyone left, I packed up the fudge, did the Christmas stockings, and did a load of dishes. I spent a few minutes just sitting and enjoying the Christmas tree lights.

Christmas morning

Christmas day was pretty low key. I managed to finish decorating We waited until the Daughter arrived to open our gifts and then went to visit the Husband's parents for  few hours. We had lunch there and visited for quite a while. When we got home, I pretty much crashed on the couch and watched Christmas movies.

I intended on packing and mailing the remaining cookie packages today, but was immediately thwarted when neither of our normal sources for boxes was open.  I probably could have gone to Kinkos-FedEx to buy boxes, but I know the selection and prices are better from my regular supplier. They are open tomorrow, so I'll  do the packaging and mailing then.

Instead I visited with one of my "kids" and her new fiancé, who were here from out of town. I also finished cleaning up the kitchen and then knit for while. Mostly, I just rested and stayed off my feet for a change. Occasionally, the kitties would join me, but they quickly deserted me when they got cold.

The one remaining holiday thing I want to do is finish writing my holiday letter and getting it mailed to friends. After that, i''l just relax, recharge, and do a little crafting.
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Rolling into Christmas Eve...

...I started early this morning when the sky looked like this:

Christmas Eve Eve Morning

Today, I finished packing all the cookies, biscotti, breads, nuts, and bark. Here they are before I put them in their bags.
Staged and ready for packing

This represents gifts for 21 people, including the ones I need to mail after Christmas. I also made  a double batch of Chile-Lime Nuts and a batch of fudge.

Tomorrow, I will cut up and box the fudge, but it won't take very long. I need to finish the last few decorations, clean the living room, and clean the kitchen. And then wrap presents.

The Husband's parents are coming for Christmas Eve dinner at 6pm. I'm making Cioppino, our now-traditional Christmas Eve meal. I went to the grocery store for ingredients and wine this afternoon...what a zoo that was! But I got the things I needed and the Husband will go out tomorrow and get the crab and shellfish while I finish up around here.

Running on fumes...
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it's still WIP-it Wednesday...

...the last day before vacation is always long. But I'm home now, enjoying a glass of wine, and vegging on the couch.  Tomorrow is soon enough to pack the rest of the cookies and find my kitchen floor under the layer of flour and sugar.

My biggest WIP right now is Christmas. My tree is partially decorated, my Star Trek tree is still in its box, there are boxes of Christmas decorations are stacked in the living room, and my Christmas cards are still in the Hallmark bag. I'm behind with the Advent calendar...I think the last date I did was the 13th! At least the baking is under control!

I have made almost everything on my To Do list, and a couple on my Maybe list. I still need to make the Chile Lime nuts for the people who don't want the alcohol-flavored nuts...not hard to make and doesn't take much time. I owe my former boss a dozen Chile Chocolate truffles, but I don't need to make them until just before I go back to work on the 3rd.  I'd like to bake some gingerbread loaves to include in the gift bags, but if I run out of time, it's OK.

As for the secret Christmas gift, I have been so tired at the end of the night that I haven't done as much as I'd like. Now that I'm off of work, I hope to blast away on it.

For now, I'm going to finish my wine and sleep in tomorrow...I need to recharge my batteries!
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Weekend report...

...the short version: I baked more cookies and biscotti. I frosted the sugar cookies and gingerbread, and put chocolate on the biscotti. I did not make chocolate bark.

The long version: I spent 2 days in the kitchen.

On Saturday, I baked gingerbread cutouts, chocolate drop cookies, and polvorones. I also made a double batch of fruitcake biscotti. I made 12 cups each of Grand Marnier Pecans, and Amaretto Walnuts. Afterwards, I collapsed on the couch and vegged out in front of the TV. I totally ignored Mr. Christmas Tree other than to turn on his lights to admire them.

Sunday was frosting day and I intended to make chocolate bark. First I made a quick trip to the grocery store for weekly supplies, plus a few more white chocolate chips. For dinner, we decided a crock pot meal was the best, so I bought the fixings for chili and cornbread.  I got the chili going before I attacked the frosting.

I made a triple batch of royal icing...that's 3 pounds of powdered sugar!  I love that my KitchenAid Pro mixer can handle that much!   I colored part of it green and the rest stayed white. I've finally learned that I don't need icing in 5 different colors to make the cookies colorful.

I iced and decorated most of the sugar cookies (about 80). I iced the snowflakes and ornaments and left them plain white (about 30). These 30 are the time-consuming cookies...they take three steps to complete and must completely dry after each step.

I iced and decorated the gingerbread cutouts to look like snowmen faces. I got the idea from  Family Circle magazine. They turned out pretty cute, but I need more practice putting those chocolate chips on!  My frosting is also a little thinner than theirs, but it works. You can totally control the snowman's expression by how you place the chips! This guy's is a little dopey:

Gingerbread snowman face

If you decide to do this, take note: The recipe says to cut the candy corn in half. Only fresh candy corn can be cut in half. That leftover candy corn from Halloween? It will shatter or split. I gave up trying to cut them and put them on whole. It works fine!

After that it was on to the biscotti. I put chocolate on at least half of each batch except the fruitcake ones (I ran out of steam). Depending on the type, I sprinkled crushed candy or nuts on top. I tried mixing the coconut in with the white chocolate this time, but I'm not happy with how they look. The coconut will stay moist this way, but the biscotti look bumpy. Back to the drawing board for that one.

By the time I finished, it was dinner time, so I threw together the cornbread. While it was baking, I checked the snowflakes to see if they were dry.  They were dry and ready for piping, so I did that after dinner. I finished in time for Dexter at 9pm!

(This is only part of what I did!)

Christmas cookie baking, part 2

I was feeling pretty guilty about Mr. Christmas Tree, so while I watched Dexter, I hung some ornaments. It's starting to look like a Christmas tree!

Last night I finished the 3rd step of frosting the snowflakes--painting on the pearl luster dust and edible glitter. I also made a batch of Macadamia-Lime fudge and a batch of Peppermint Marbled bark.

Tonight is cookie packing night. I deliver the gift bags to my co-workers tomorrow and need to start get things together!

I see light at the end of the tunnel!
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racing towards Christmas...

...not intentionally, of course! 

Today's Eye Candy comes from the last pepper harvest of the year. (Sorry, the lighting wasn't great this morning.)

Ethiopian Berber peppers
Ethiopian Berber Peppers

Anaheim chiles
Anaheim chiles

Bulgarian carrot peppers
Bulgarian carrot peppers

Up this weekend: The home stretch for baking.
  • Another double batch of biscotti
  • Gingerbread cookies,
  • Chocolate bark
  • Truffles
  • Grand Marnier nuts and Amaretto nuts
  • Chile lime pistachio and peanuts
  • Frost the sugar and gingerbread cookies
  • Put chocolate on the biscotti
It sound like a lot, but I can have the sugared nuts going while I make or frost the cookies. The truffles are the big time sink. We'll see how far I get on those...it may be that I only do bark this year!
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WIP-it Wednesday, Christmas style...

...I have a feeling Christmas will be a WIP until at least the 21st.  That's my last day at work for the year.  I'm just too tired at night to do much other than eat dinner and nod off in middle of my knitting or stitching.

Remember Mr. Christmas Tree who we put in a time-out a week ago? He finally redeemed himself and is now standing much straighter (just not perfectly straight) in his stand. We put the lights on and that's as far as we've gotten. He looks nice with the lights:

My week has been so scattered between client projects and HR (can you say open enrollment?) that I couldn't post a weekend report until now. Here's what I accomplished:
  • 6 double batches of biscotti (Espresso, chocolate, Grand Marnier, coconut, and peppermint)
  • 8 kinds of cookies (spumoni slices, chocolate-coffee slices, cut-out sugar cookies, Mexican wedding cookies, pistachio pinwheels, cranberry-coconut, cherry kisses, and spritz)
Still to do some gingerbread cookies, another batch of biscotti, the chocolate bark, the truffles, and two kinds of nuts, one sweet and one savory.  Oh, and frost the sugar and gingerbread cookies and put chocolate on the biscotti. Ok, maybe I should try an make a batch of nuts tonight...

The last installment of the Rockin' Sock Club arrived on Monday. The yarn is a very festive color and the patterns are interesting.  The "extra" is cute, but I don't know what I'd use it for. At any rate,  none of them are crying out "use me," so I think I'll just stash them.  Picture behind the spoiler:

BMFA: We Will SOCK You

I'm seriously considering not enrolling in the Rockin' Sock Club next year, mostly because very few of this year's yarn or patterns really grabbed me. I did sign up for Cookie A's club and I renewed my fiber club with A Verb for Keeping Warm, so the additional cost is also a factor.

My secret Christmas project is progressing. I think I finally have a handle on it. Now if I could only find an additional 3 or 4 hours in the day...
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Eye Candy Friday...

...but not a lot to show for it.  Here is the one picture I have today:

Paperwhite Narcissus

This lone paperwhite narcissus and the silly rose bush from last week are the only things blooming in the front yard. (I don't count the lantana bushes because they always seem to have flowers on them.

I haven't really done much this week because it's been so cold. When I get home from work, all I want to do is curl up under a warm blanket and sleep. I've made very little progress on the Christmas present that I'm making...it's been one of those one-step-forward-two-steps-back kind of thing. I've restarted it three times now. Very frustrating because I can visualize it, but I'm not having much luck getting it into concrete form.  [Sigh]

Up this weekend: I'm starting it a bit early with the company card signing party at 5pm today. We invite our employees to come into the office and sign the holiday cards that we mail to our clients, employees, and colleagues. We have an ornament exchange and mostly just enjoy seeing our co-workers in a social setting. The wassail is simmering now and should be wonderful by party time.

Tomorrow is Biscotti Day—all biscotti, all day! I have the biscotti process down to a science and can bake them all in one day (last year's count was 439). They get their chocolate coating on Frosting Day, when I ice the sugar cookies next weekend.

On Sunday, I'll bake cookies from the dough that has been chilling in the refrigerator and then start working on the others.  I'm going to hold off on making the chocolate bark and truffles until next weekend.  I'll also do a batch or two of the Amaretto Nuts and Grand Marnier Pecans.

Somewhere in all of this madness, we'll take the tree out of its time-out and start decorating.  I'm hoping to have the house look more like Christmas by the end of the weekend. Keep your fingers crossed!
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WIP-it Wednesday, holiday version…

…because I can't show you my crafty WIPs!

Our current holiday WIP:

Christmas tree is having a time-out

Our Christmas tree is in the house, but we're having issues. Here's one of the problems:

Trunk issues

The trunk is huge!  After sitting in water for a few days, the trunk, which was already large, was so swollen that it no longer fit in the stand. The husband and I used a hand saw, a power saw, and a chisel to get it carved down enough to fit. 

The next issue is that we can't get it to stand straight. I think the trunk is crooked. We were both so frustrated last night that decided to let it stand in the corner until we could face it again.  The tree is on a time-out.

We'll look at it again tonight and determine which is the least offensive angle to view the tree, tighten the bolts, and call it done. Then we can decorate it!

The weekend was pretty full. On Saturday,. I did the last grocery run for baking supplies, baked a cranberry cake to take to Spin-In, and then went to Spin-In. On Sunday, we got our tree, I baked the fruitcakes and pumpkin bread, made 4 cookie doughs must be chilled before baking, and went to the Daughter's for dinner.

The baking count to date:
  • Fruitcakes, 12 mini-bundt cakes and 6 mini-loaves
  • Pumpkin bread: 12 mini-bundt cakes and 2 mini-loaves
I'm not sure whether I'll get anything else baked before the weekend. We'll see how it goes!
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November 2011 Recap...

...it was a good month for needlepoint; not so good for knitting (or quilting, or weaving, or...)

Finished:
  • 11/6 Hopi by Susan Portra (needlepoint)
  • 11/27 Zuni (needlepoint)
  • Books:
    1. The Girls with the Dragon Tattoo, Stieg Larsson  
    2. Promises in Death, JD Robb
    3. Salvation in Death, JD Robb
    4. Strangers in Death, JD Robb
    5. The Wedding Quilt, Jennifer Chiaverini 
    6. All Wound Up: The Yarn Harlot Writes for a Spin, Stephanie Pearl-McPhee
    7. Creation in Death, JD Robb

Started:
  • 11/27 Christmas present (that's all the detail you get)
  • 11/8 Zuni (needlepoint)
  • 11/6 Mediterranean Mermaid by Mirabilia (cross stitch)

Worked on:
  • Nefertem Shawl (knitting) [Ravelry]

Works In Progress, did not work on:
  • Isonzo Merino-Bamboo top (spinning) [Ravelry]
  • Seaweed Cardigan (knitting)  [Ravelry]
  • Happy Pumpkin Scissor Fob by Shepherd's Bush (cross stitch)
  • Jungle Songs quilt
  • Natural Dyes batts from Yarn Wench (spinning) [Ravelry]
  • Peacock Pomatomus socks (knitting) [Ravelry]
  • Royale top, 2 oz (Merino-Yak-Silk) top from A Verb for Keeping Warm [Ravelry]
  • Sea Foam Wrap (knitting) [Ravelry

UFOs:
  1. Chasing Rainbows Heather--one Merino-Bombyx (2 oz) and one Merino wool (2 oz) (spinning)
  2. Peacock Majesty by Just Nan (cross stitch)
  3. Violet Needle Roll (cross stitch)
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Welcome to baking month...

...after today, it's going to be mostly all-baking-all-the-time around here.

For Eye Candy Friday, here is this morning's sunrise:

December Morning

A very confused rose bush...

Roses in December

It didn't get the memo that it is December. There are at least 15 blooms on the bush.

Wen I arrived at the office yesterday, I saw something odd out of the corner of my eye...

Floating Leaf 2

This leaf looked like it was floating in mid-air.

Floating leaf

When I looked closer, I saw that it was suspended on a single strand of spider silk. The strand was attached at the top and at the bottom so the leaf spun vertically in the breeze.

Floating leaf, side view

There were many more leaves on the ground....

Leaves in the grass

...and in the small stream that runs through our courtyard.

Leaves in a stream

I officially start in baking mode December 1. While I don't actually get any baking done the first couple of days, I finish buying most of my ingredients. On Wednesday, I did the Smart & Final run for flour, sugar, and chocolate chips. Last night, I did the Trader Joe's run for nuts, white chocolate chips, dried fruit, and butter. I intended on buying pecan halves from TJ's, but they were 62 cents per ounce. Compare that to walnuts, which were 42 cents per ounce...ouch! The Husband is buying them at Costco for me (much cheaper!). Tonight, I'll make my Safeway run for eggs, cream cheese, and what ever else is left on my list.

Up this weekend: Spin In tomorrow!  I'm making a cranberry cake (AKA Crustless Cranberry Pie, but it's more cake-like than pie-like).

We will get our Christmas tree sometime this weekend, but I'm not sure whether it will be Saturday or Sunday

On Sunday, we're meeting the Daughter for dinner at her place. We haven't seen her apartment in a finished state yet and she wants to show it off.

In between all of these activities, I will bake the fruitcakes and pumpkin bread, and maybe make a few cookie doughs. I'd like to make another kind of bread, but I'm a little tired of gingerbread. We'll see what I can find.
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WIP-it Wednesday...

...pretend I'm posting this on a break during my cooking marathon. ;-) WIPs Roll Call Worked On: Charred Teal Shawl (knitting) [ ...