Saturday, November 26, 2011

A Christmas Wish

A Christmas Wish

As a child, the holiday season was a lot more about slowing down than speeding up.

Sure, there was still the hustle and bustle at the shopping mall. Visiting Santa Claus and that that sense of urgency in seeking out and finding just the right gift for family and friends (with a modest Christmas Club from grandma and grandpa).

But, it was more about taking a break from the daily routine, slowing down to bake cookies, make presents or create ornaments. Taking time and care to decorate the tree and the house…just right, and sitting down as a family (broken or not) to watch classic holiday stories unfold again as if seeing them for the first time…all while sipping hot cocoa with a candy cane and whipped cream. These special times were about the doing and being together, not just the end product.

Of course, when I was a child, there wasn't an internet just yet and stores didn't stay open quite as long. There were videos but not DVDs nor 24-hour Christmas marathon channels on cable. So, you planned ahead, and you had downtime when you couldn't run to the store or shop online and had to try to catch your favorite holiday special when it was scheduled to air on TV.

Somehow it seems these days that so many activities meant to give us pause and be carried out with thoughtfulness and love have been assigned to our endless and exhausting 'to do list.' Just one (or a dozen) more tasks that we need to squeeze in rather than joys to be experienced. And we're so busy trying to get items checked off of that list that we fail to take all the pleasure out of them that we could or should.

One of the Christmas traditions that never failed to delight me was getting soft, cozy new pajamas--albeit often presented on Christmas Eve as a gift to satisfy our childish eagerness over…PRESENTS! Still, new fluffy socks and flannel (or fleece) 'jammies' remain a simple but wonderful holiday joy.

For these reasons, I wanted to create this no-place-like-home-for-the-holidays-inspired set filled with items that make you feel soft, warm, cozy and loved. It also includes tastes and aromas that remind us of the simplicity of the season--sweet, minty, chocolaty…goodness!

Whether you sip mint-flavored hot chocolate or a candy cane martini while listening to your favorite holiday music, relax in a hot bubble bath or just spent 5 minutes extra cuddling under the covers on a cold morning, give yourself a pepperminty pedicure or invite a friend over to paint each other's nails in holiday hues, I hope you'll take a little time to remember that the season isn't just about the rushing, buying and noise. It is about slowing down, giving of yourself (even occasionally to yourself) and spending quiet time with the ones you love.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Crafting a (Nearly) Vegan Thanksgiving Dinner

Our nearly vegan Thanksgiving (1018)

Here is the table set with our *nearly* vegan Thanksgiving dinner including (from bottom right) sweet potatoes with pecans, walnuts and vegan marshmallows, green beans, cranberry-apple sauce, tofurky with roasted vegetables and homemade mushroom gravy, apple-pear sauce, apple-raisin stuffing with walnuts and pecans and last but not least mashed potatoes.

Our nearly vegan Thanksgiving (1008)

Our nearly vegan Thanksgiving, a photo by LeighAnneD...Mugging Over Coffee on Flickr.Soy margarine replaced butter in all dishes. Vegan sugar, maple syrup or agave syrup were used to sweeten dishes when needed. While butter was available on the table, no one used it. The stuffing and the pecan pie (not pictured) contained Egg Beaters and one egg (and the stuffing didn't really need it -- note for next holiday meal).

Favorite dish of the day for me, despite the slight flambé, was the sweet potatoes. They were parboiled and then tossed with Earth Balance soy margarine, a sprinkle of brown sugar, a dribble of maple syrup, cinnamon and a pinch each of nutmeg and cloves. They were topped with a light handful of pecans and walnuts and roasted in the oven just to reheat them and meld the ingredients. Then, they were topped with vegan marshmallows, which BRIEFLY caught fire.

While tart, I still enjoyed my homemade cranberry sauce. Unfortunately, I was unable to relocate the recipe I've been using in recent years (it was bookmarked on the laptop that was stolen from our house in August). I did my best to remember the recipe, but believe I was a bit short on the sugar measurement. I used about 3/4 cup of vegan sugar warmed until dissolved in 1 cup of organic orange juice with the zest of one orange and a cinnamon stick added to one 12 oz bag of fresh cranberries and one Granny Smith apple, peeled and chopped. Tasty but, as I said, tart. A touch more sugar or a second apple would've made it perfect.

The apple-pear sauce is always an "ad lib" and a family favorite. A couple apples (usually two varieties) and a pair of pears, peeled and chopped, and then simmered low and slow with apple juice or cider, a bit of maple syrup and cinnamon sticks. Once the fruit reaches a lovely soft consistency, I remove the cinnamon sticks and stir in a splash of pure vanilla extract and let is cook for a few minutes long. Then, I let it cool for a while in the pan before serving or storing in the refrigerator. Delish!

The Tofurky is made with a plethora of carrots, potatoes, celery and onion and the original basting juice recipe of 1 part sweetener (agave syrup), 2 parts soy sauce and 2 parts orange juice. This year I threw in a few pieces of orange in (left over from juicing and zesting for cranberry sauce). My mom cannot eat turkey, and she was delighted by the Torfurky. Her husband can eat it but opted to go veg with us this year...he liked it as well, complimenting the texture as well as taste.

The pecan pie tasted a bit on the sweet side this year (magically compensating for the cranberry sauce?). It contained one whole egg and 4 oz of egg beaters with soy margarine instead of butter and was baked in an all vegetable oil crust. It was served with the option of whipped cream or vanilla Soy Delicious Ice "Cream" and Peet's (Best?) cinnamon coffee with milk (and raw sugar for me).

Although not completely vegan, it was the closest we've come--especially when hosting family members--and was enjoyed immensely by all. I *love* Thanksgiving leftovers since I try not to over-indulge on the day and don't tire of them.

This has been a rough year for us, and yesterday was our first major family holiday without our fur babies, Chestnut (16) and Marble (20), who both passed away in July (intestinal cancer and CRF, respectively).

I am thankful that we got a last weekend with them both, that our mothers came to visit their "grandcats" before the girls left us, that my Bubba and sister-in-law were there beside us and for us when we had to let go. While it kills me inside to be without my girls, I am truly grateful that their suffering is over.  Both were truly companion animals in every sense of the word, and I am so appreciative to have had them in our lives as long as we did.

At Christmas Time – Faux is the Way to Go

The Friday after Thanksgiving may be a “Black” one for retailers and shoppers, but it has another meaning to those who advocate for animals—foes of fur one might say.

It is celebrated as Fur-Free Friday—a tongue twister AND an opportunity to get the message out to all those shoppers (and the retailers they frequent) that they should skip the skins. Whether on the hunt for holiday gifts or fabulous fashions to ring in the New Year, faux is the way to go!

Just take a look at everyone’s favorite jolly and generous ol’ elf, Mr. Kringle, himself. When Santa Claus is coming to town and hurrying down the chimney, he does it in a red velvet suit with white faux fur trim. Why…his boots are probably even PLEATHER! (If your life and livelihood rested on hooves of eight tiny reindeer, would you REALLY want to be sporting cowhide from knees to heels? I don’t think so!)

Inspired by the Claus family fashions is this adorable and even affordable (if you choose wisely) holiday outfit—featuring snow and faux accessories…and even a little evergreen.

At Christmas Time – Faux is the Way to Go

At Christmas Time – Faux is the Way to Go by leighanned (click through to see individual items in this set)

At the base of this outstanding outfit is a vintage-inspired red dress with white Peter Pan collar available from Modcloth. The dress can be paired with nude hoses or, better yet, colored tights. Complement snow-white tights with a dramatic pair of red lace-trimmed velvet high heels by Charlotte Russe and grab a clutch in matching material. (Is it just me or does this handbag remind anyone else of the bonnet worn by Mrs. Claus?)

If you want to go more “ho-ho-ho” with the ensemble, go for the red tights and an all man-made black boot. These, by Naturalizer, are available at Famous Footwear (and I can personally attest to their style AND comfort). Next, say “good night” to the thin white belt and “good evening” for this wide, stretchy black belt with imitation leather panels and gold “stone” closure. Finish off your list of Santa-like accessories with a pair of synthetic leather gloves. Not only are they kind to critters, they balance out the black donned elsewhere in this gay apparel.

Speaking of accessories…Mrs. Claus will be green with envy over this handsome handbag (100% polyurethane). Reminiscent of Santa’s sack, even the name of this evergreen purse -- “Let’s Fly” -- seems ideal to pay homage to the head elf (and his reindeer). Fanciful and festive hair accessories are IN…so leave the stocking cap to Kris Kringle! Choose this headband by Tarina Tarantino instead -- it’s completely feather-free. Tulle is used to create its fluffy flowers, and Swarovski crystals add just the right amount of twinkle.

Baby, did you hear? It’s cold outside...this time of year. So you better bundle up.

For outerwear that’s fun to wear, there are several fabulous and faux options. The first is this adorable “Icing on the Coat in Red Velvet” with white piping by Knitted Dove and available from Modcloth. Layer on a fuzzy fake fur hat and scarf for cozy cuteness and slip on knit gloves (made from acrylic yarns) in either long and short versions. Both red and white options can be seen in this Santa set. If warmth isn’t too much of a worry where you live, you could choose a faux fur shrug -- a thing of beauty that doesn’t harm any beasts.

Well, that wraps up the faux, so now…let it snow, let it snow, let it SNOW! Add sparkle to your seasonal attire and shine to your New Year with snowflake jewelry in silver…and GOOOOOOOLD! (Well, if you can find gold.) Earrings, pendants or pins add that little something special to a winter wardrobe and give Mother Nature (or is it Jack Frost?) a nod for fashioning frozen and fabulous designs.

Finally, while the mention of evergreen originally referred only to the great green accessories, it seemed only natural (and I couldn't resist taking this opportunity) to converse on conifers at this time of year. In other words, let’s get real now and take a minute to talk trees!

As your pining for and pondering whether to choose a spruce or fir (NOT FUR) this season, consider giving a gift to planet earth (and future generations) as well. Plant a tree. You can do it, literally, in your own backyard, or, there are several charitable organizations that will plant a tree when you make a donation. The Nature Conservancy and the Arbor Day Foundation are two that immediately come to mind.

Ho-ho-hopefully you’ve enjoyed this Claus collection, and my merry musings (and didn’t mind my plentiful puns…well, too much).

Soundtrack includes  A Very She & Him Christmas. 

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

That's what they mean by Thanksgiving

That's what they mean by Thanksgiving...

I crafted this fun pair of outfits in honor of "A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving" based on the lesson Charlie Brown learns thanks to friends Linus and Marcie.
Charlie Brown: I don't feel bad for myself; I just feel bad because I've ruined everyone's Thanksgiving.

Marcie: But Thanksgiving is more than eating, Chuck. You heard what Linus was saying out there. Those early Pilgrims were thankful for what had happened to them, and we should be thankful, too. We should just be thankful for being together. I think that's what they mean by 'Thanksgiving,' Charlie Brown.
 A good reminder for us all.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

DIY Halloween Costume: Charlotte's Web

After mulling ideas, and needing to settle on something for work, I decided to create my own "Charlotte's Web" costume--it was subtle (and not that different from regular work clothes) so I could easily work in it all day without distraction.

My creative and talented colleague (who also runs Caseybots on Etsy) went a...different route with her DIY costume, creating her own monster head; she did NOT wear it all day.

The bulk of the work went into embroidering a version of one of the book's famous illustrations onto a plain white t-shirt:

...and finding a stuffed pig (Wilbur) and rat (Templeton). Have you noticed there are very few places that sell a variety of stuffed animals anymore? And that nearly everything looks like a variation on a teddy bear? At least the little cutie I managed to find has more pig-like features. Oh course, if you're searching for Olivia or Otis, you'll have no trouble.

A half-circle skirt with thin ruffles in a wave pattern encircling it and fishnet hosiery contributed to the "web idea" of the costume. A faux spider hot glued to a pin back transformed into the talented arachnid herself.

For the most part, people knew what I was and got a kick out of the costume and the bit of craftiness that went into it.

I love the fundamental message of "Charlotte's Web" (or at least the one that I take away from it) about all life being unique and precious...even if it is just a value to the smallest creature. Also, I like the idea that compassion and words shared and/or put into action can make a difference and that friendship is a gift with no strings attached (pun intended).