Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Tree traditions

Hi everyone, and welcome to my stop on the Holiday Tales and Traditions blog hop! Bernie at Needle and Foot organized this hop to spread a little holiday cheer. I know this holiday is different from all the others, and at least some of us are having a bit of a time this season. It's been a hard year, so let's pull up a chair, grab a cup of whatever you like, and share some happy stories of our holiday traditions. At the end of my post today, there is a small giveaway just to spread a little more cheer, and also a fun holiday recipe that we have enjoyed for years and years. (And it can be made gluten-free, too!) Read on and enjoy, then share your own story in the comments! Off we go. . .


My holiday traditions story will be quite familiar to people in the Upper Midwest, where Christmas-- and sometimes Thanksgiving or even Halloween-- are usually marked by lots of snow and cold. We always had a "real" Christmas tree, and as soon as our kids were old enough to walk a bit in the woods, we started going to cut-your-own lots, where you can cut down your own tree. We did this until our kids left home, and we have some of the best memories from those times.

My very first Christmas ornament, bought for my first "adult" tree almost 40 years ago.

We usually had a great time getting a tree, walking through the whole lot to get the best one. Then of course the kids each had to take a few swipes with the saw, which really did not make any progress in cutting down the tree, but it felt good to them. One year we picked a tree that came with pinecones already attached, and I saved them and still have them.

Non-digital photo that survived from the 1990s.

My favorite year was the year that it was 5 degrees below zero and very snowy. You would think that we would have just forgone the tradition that year, but nope-- traditions do not die that easily! And we were pretty hardy folks, you know, so we bundled up the kids and went out and found a tree. It was probably the longest time we spent in a tree lot, and it was hard walking through the snow, but it turned out to be one of the best times ever. And no frostbite, either! We all still talk about the "freezing year." 

Christmas trees meant for eating!

Of course, after all that activity, we needed hot chocolate and cookies! While the tree thawed out (and dripped) in the garage, we had as many cookies and as much hot chocolate as we could hold. It ruined everyone's lunch, but who cares? They got plenty of vegetables at dinner, I promise. Then, of course, we got to decorate and enjoy our prize tree, which somehow always ended up being way too tall for our room. They look much smaller outside!

Ah, memories! I might be tearing up a bit. I know the picture of those cookies up there is making your mouth water, so now I have two small gifts for you. First, at the bottom of this post is our family Christmas cookie recipe, which makes a *lot* of cut out sugar cookies. Also, I am offering a small giveaway so that you can create something fun in the new year. I have this to share with you:


This is a small package of Christmas-tree-colored Aurifil threads in different weights and types. There is some floss, and a spool of regular 50 weight, and some 12 weight thread, too, I think. I didn't want to open the package, so I'm not super-sure, but I know that someone who enjoys experimenting with these things will have a great time with these threads. To enter the giveaway, just share a happy holiday memory in the comments! If you don't celebrate Christmas, that's okay, too! I'm happy to hear any of your happy family stories. I will choose a winner using a random number generator on Sunday evening, December 20. 

This giveaway is now closed! Thanks for sharing your stories!

Be sure to visit everyone else on this hop for some more holiday stories, too:



 And, as promised, here is the cookie recipe:

Note: This recipe makes a LOT of cookies-- between 10 and 12 dozen. Hey, I come from a big family! The dough can be divided and frozen, and it will keep a good six months in the freezer if well wrapped. I have made cookies at Easter from dough that I froze at Christmas, so don't be afraid to make the whole batch and have cookies for months.

2 cups butter, softened
2 cups granulated sugar
3 eggs
5 tablespoons milk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
6-1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt

In a large bowl, add the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt and whisk to combine.
In a very large mixing bowl, cream together the butter and sugar, beating for at least one minute until well combined and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, beating after each addition. Beat in the milk and vanilla and scrape the bowl to be sure everything is well combined.

Gradually add the flour mixture to the butter mixture, making sure all of the flour is incorporated after each addition. Dough will graually become stiffer and the last of the flour mixture may need to be added with your hands. When well combined, smooth the dough and shape into a rough loaf shape. Wrap tightly and refrigerate overnight (at least 12 hours). Dough can also be divided and frozen at this point.

To bake, preheat oven to 350. Roll out dough to about 1/4 inch thickness a small portion at a time on a lightly floured surface. Dough will be stiff but will soften as you work with it. Cut with cookie cutters in any shape you desire. Place cookies about an inch apart on greased cookie sheets. (Cookies do not spread a lot.) Bake until lightly browned, about 8-10 minutes. Cool completely on wire racks, frost or decorate, and enjoy!

To make these cookies gluten-free: I am gluten-free and I have successfully made these cookies using Bob's Red Mill Gluten Free 1-to-1 Baking Flour. I find it helps to let the dough sit on the counter for about an hour before refrigerating it when using this flour blend. Then refrigerate and bake as described above. Yum!

I hope this was a cheerful post for you, and I'm really looking forward to reading your stories. I have some tea and some cookies, so I'm ready! Share your stories below, and pass on some Christmas cheer!

Friday, December 11, 2020

Small but satisfying

 Hi everyone, and happy weekend! It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas around here, except for the fact that today it was 55 degrees outside. I feel like I could make do without snow, though, as long as there are plenty of Christmas cookies, and maybe a small bit of mulled wine. Our tree is up and decorated and there are even a couple of presents. Wait, how did those get there? And are they for me?

Back in the sewing room, which is decorated with various fabric scraps and snippets in festive piles on the floor, the repurposing of unfinished RSC projects continues. This week I have a particularly satisfying repurpose to show. Here is a small but happy finish:


This is a small doll quilt that was repurposed from an unfinished Boston Common project from RSC19. I had planned to do another round every month, with some white or neutral rounds to separate a few of the stronger colors. I did great until it was time to move to Baltimore! It went into the project box and did not come out, sadly. I really intended to work some more on it, but I never did. I'm blaming the virus, but really, I also lost enthusiasm for the project. You know how that goes, right?

Why do I say this little quilt was a particularly satisfying finish? Because one minute it was a sad, unfinished project hanging on the design wall waiting for some love, and a couple of hours later it was a cheerful little doll quilt. What a transformation! This little quilt is about 20 by 26, a perfect doll size. 

I quilted this in a simple, fast cross hatch with a pale yellow thread, because it happened to be handy, then bound it in some leftover orange, which also happened to be close at hand. I really like the way cross hatching makes a quilt look. It's super-easy, but it always turns out looking great. I'm also really happy with the orange, which I gave literally no thought to at all. It was just a handy leftover, but it gave the quilt just enough zing. 


This little quilt is going to live at my house and wait for the time when some small girl (or boy--no fossilized gender roles here!) can come and play again. I have three granddaughters now, and sooner or later this stupid virus will be finished and they will be able to come over and have a tea party with some dolls. I can't wait for that day to come, truly.

Anyway, one more project repurposed and finished. Yay! Now I think I need to get going on some more of those Christmas cookies. It's wet and foggy right now, a perfect day for some baking and stitching. Enjoy the weekend, everyone!

Sharing at soscrappy for RSC20.

Tuesday, December 8, 2020

O is for orange

Hi everyone! How are you doing these days? Are you getting ready for 2020 to be finished? I certainly am ready to kick this year to the curb and move on to something else. Before that, though, I have to finish grading these confounded exams and finish up a bunch of quilty projects. Which of those do you think I am looking forward to more? At this point, I honestly couldn't choose!

I hope you are all in the mood for color and brightness today, because I have a finish to show off that is very, very bright and very, very orange:


Yep, the big orange quilt is finished and ready for my nephew! Everybody do your happy dance now, because this was a bear to get done and I am so, so happy to see it finished and in the mailing box.
This is the Elvira pattern from Gudrun Erla, and she had a quarantine quilt along for it some time ago. Somehow I hadn't made a quilt for my nephew, even though I know he likes them because my sister-in-law's mom was a quilter before Alzheimer's took her. He's grown quite a bit since then, and he needed a couch quilt that would cover his 6 foot 4 frame. I (foolishly!) asked him what color he would like, and he requested orange. I think this fits the bill!

I was determined to quilt this myself, which I eventually succeeded at, but I have to tell you-- it was a bear and a half. This quilt finished at about 65 by 87, which is much larger than I usually think I can handle (but a great size for Joe!) I knew I'd quilt this with a walking foot and just straight lines, so I thought it would be okay. Well, it took me four days to baste this monster, and even then I was obsessive about flipping the quilt and checking the backing after every stitching line. I even resorted to a few small spots of spray basting to keep things from shifting.

The lines here are about an inch and a half apart, and they took forever. There are a few wobbles, but mostly the lines turned out straight because I was obsessing over them and stitching pretty slowly. I'm not sure it's apparent in the pictures, but on the top half of the quilt, the lines go diagonally, and in the bottom half they are straight. In person this looks great, and it was easy enough, but it did take a long time, and then I had to bury the threads from the bottom half. After all that worrying, it worked out fine. I used an antique gold thread for the top and a gray for the back, and somehow that worked, too!
The backing is a geometric gray print, and I used whatever pieces I could find to make a scrappy orange binding, which I then spent several evenings stitching to the back. I love the binding, and it used up a whole lot of the leftover orange pieces that I still had. Looking at the scrap basket, it seems like I'm back to a "normal" amount of orange scraps, which feels pretty nice. Orange may be Joe's favorite color, but it isn't mine!

I hope you've enjoyed this bright and happy quilt, and that you got a nice dose of happy color. It does brighten the day, doesn't it? I'm hoping to have a few more finishes before the end of the year, so stay tuned! And please stay healthy and safe, too! 
Sharing at Confessions of a Fabric Addict, Finished or Not Friday, and Brag About Your Beauties

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Challenge met

 Hi everyone, and welcome to December, the last month of this wretched year. Has winter arrived in your area? I understand many places have had snow. We haven't had snow, but we did have a lot of rain and it's gotten a good bit chillier. I am not up for this, I have to confess. It seems like the cold is just 2020 piling on. I really dislike beaches (sand is just dirt, you know) but for maybe the first time ever I feel like a beach would be a good idea. This year has definitely turned everything upside down.

By the time you read this, I will have taught my last class for 2020. Yahoo! Let the chorus of Hallelujah begin! We still have finals next week, but my exams are all written and so for the next few days I am relaxing just a tiny bit for what feels like the first time since July. As a part of this new relaxation regime, I finished off the Color Challenge blocks this afternoon after class:

To be clear, I only made the red ones today. The "buff" ones were for November, though somehow they never got posted. Oh, well! I know the December block just came out yesterday, but there it was, all ready to make, so why not? It was easy enough, though it did involve a lot of pieces. I'm not sure I like either of these blocks, but they're finished, so let's call that good. No fair checking the points on those blocks, either.

And speaking of finished, here are all of the 2020 blocks:

Twenty four finished, colorful blocks! The question now is how to set them. I'm thinking that I should make one more block and set these five by five, just like they're shown here. The other option is to just set them four by six, which might make for a better donation quilt. Thoughts?

I'm so happy to have finished these off and be at this stage, and I can't believe I kept up with it! Seems like a miracle right now. And I'm really, really happy to have spent some time in the sewing room today. A little relaxation is good, right?

Hope you are all having a relaxing day and are getting some stitches in, too. And maybe dreaming of beaches. . .

Sharing at  Midweek Makers at at Patterns by Jen for her linkup.