Category Archives: Merry & Bright

Book Club Christmas Tea 2015

book club christmas tea 2015One last thing about the holidays…

Last month, Peggy hosted our third annual Book Club Christmas Tea. As usual, it was a festive event with everyone contributing something tasty. I made this Japanese egg salad, which was delicious. (I take no credit…it’s just a good recipe!) I am not a fan of curry usually, but I really did love this egg salad.Book Club Christmas Tea 2015 3In addition to the egg salad, we had ham salad, cucumber sandwiches, and chicken salad served in little bread boats, lemon cranberry scones and English toffee scones served with lemon curd, cream and cranberry butter, grape salad, toffee pudding, plum cake, and Christmas cookies. (I think that’s everything!)Book Club Christmas Tea 2015 4, cranberry pepper shrub with proseccoI also made this shrub to serve with prosecco. I’d never made a shrub before, so I was a little bit worried, but it turned out really tasty. (Though next time I will crush the peppercorns a bit more because it was lacking the peppery bite.)Book Club Christmas Tea, placecards, Yellow Owl Workshop Placecard stampAnd, because I think every party needs a little paper element, I made these simple place cards out of some red cardstock, my Yellow Owl Workshop stamp embossed in white, and some Jolee’s holly stickersBook Club Christmas Tea 2015 2Peggy’s tables were delightfully decorated, as always. img_7308img_7304We read The Bird’s Christmas Carol by Kate Douglas Wiggin. It was a perfect read for December when everyone is busy. (Last year, we attempted an Austen novel and hardly anyone finished.) Most of us finished it in one relaxing afternoon while sitting by our trees. And though it was only eighty pages and maybe more of a tale for children, we found so much to talk about, even comparing it to The Dead. I recommend it if you’re looking for a sweet tale to read this December.

So much work goes into planning this thing–especially by Peggy since she decorates, sets the tables, and cleans up after we all leave!–but it is so worth it. We are already talking about things to add for next Christmas!

(And with that, I think I may be done talking about the holidays…for now!)

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The LWA Holiday Letter Social

vintage Christmas StampsTomorrow, I’ll be joining Kathy and Donovan for the LWA Holiday Virtual Letter Social. We’ll be writing out our holiday cards and chatting about postal and non-postal topics (the subject of cocktails usually comes up!) So get out your Christmas cards and a cup of tea and join in!

Have you gotten any cards yet? My Aunt Karen was the first this year, closely followed by Ryan, whose card came from the North Pole again!

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Another Christmas Tea

Bookclub holiday tea table settings 3 2014Another book club holiday tea is in the books (hehe) and we’re onto a new year. December book club always falls around winter solstice, so it was rather dark all day at Peggy’s, but hopefully you can appreciate the beauty of the rooms and the table settings in spite of my dark pictures. Bookclub holiday tea table settings 2014We split into two tables, each seen above, and as always the place settings were festive and lovely. Peggy should seriously give lessons on how to set a table because I always feel like mine lack the layering that hers have. She has such a great mix of dishes to play around with, too. Bookclub holiday tea cocktail 2014, ginger sage proseccoWe started the morning with a cocktail–ginger sage prosecco. We found the recipe here and I made the syrup, which is easy and delicious and amazingly useful in other cocktails too. It’s warm and wintry, perfect for this time of the year. Bruising the sage leaf before you float it on top of your cocktail is also highly recommended.

Our menu was very similar to last year’s menu. I made ham salad tea sandwiches again, and they were served alongside pimento tea sandwiches and classic cucumber tea sandwiches. We had two kinds of scones, cherry almond and coconut, served with Devonshire cream, Meyer lemon curd, lime curd and lilikoi curd. And we had Christmas cookies and lemon squares and lots and lots of hot tea. peggys house, bookclub holiday tea 1, snowglobesFor our book this month, we read Emma–our first dip into Jane Austen. Sadly, only a few finished the book (which is rare for us!) so the book discussion was not as long and as deep as usual. But lesson learned, choosing a lighter book in December may be the way to go. After the book discussion, we lingered on in Peggy’s comfortable home and chatted about our Christmas plans, families and other books. peggys house, bookclub holiday tea 2, snowmen on the sideboardI’m looking forward to another year of book club, and more reading in general. I didn’t read as much as I should have in 2014, so it’s time for a fresh start. For January we are reading Ethan Frome. Edith Wharton is a favorite of mine, so I’m looking forward to it. We don’t have any other titles planned for the year, which is a preferred way to go. Last year we planned an entire year ahead and a few of us felt stuck with some of the titles. It’s nice to plan a little at a time, and leave some openings for interesting titles that pop up in the newspaper or recommendations from friends. If you’re in a book club, I’d love to hear how you choose your titles.

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Happy 2015!!

new years toast, vintage champagne flutes, 2015Happy New Year! I spent a bit of time yesterday reflecting on how much I failed at my intentions from 2014. Maybe I’ll talk about it on an upcoming blog post, but most likely, I’ll just look to the future. I can honestly say, after 2014…I welcome 2015 with open arms.

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Holiday Cards 2014

holiday cards with presley, christmas cards 2014Siiiiigh…our holiday cards are out…most made it by Christmas. Others didn’t. And that’s okay (she says, begrudgingly.) chirstmas cardsI worked on my cards over two days–one with my friend Jackie and her cats (Eskimo is shown above…she finally warmed up to me on this visit and now that she’s rested on my cards, I’m for sure we are best friends), and the other at home with Presley overseeing my progress (top picture). I took some people off of my list this year, and added some new friends, totaling forty-four cards for the season.Hasui Kawase christmas cards Hasui Kawase christmas cardsI found these Hasui Kawase cards at the Book Table in Oak Park. I love that they are peaceful and snowy. Some people may say they lack “Christmas” but with their “Season’s Greetings” message inside, they worked for a variety of people. 16 Sparrows Chicago winter card, letterpressI also had a few 16 Sparrows Chicago Snowflake cards that I sent to a few former and current Chicagoans on my list. (It’s their interpretation of the Chicago flag.) And since twenty-eight cards were not enough, I mixed in some of last year’s leftover cards and some from a Cavallini kit that I’ve had for a few years. Trader Joe's stickersNot a single piece of washi tape was used for this year’s cards, but I did put a Trader Joe’s sticker on each one. (I often ask for a few stickers when I’m checking out at the store. I like to use them on my mail and my calendar. On a recent visit, the manager gave me the whole roll. Trader Joe stickers forever!!)

So, they weren’t perfect, but I wrote a personal message in each one, so hopefully that part was appreciated, even though the envelopes were a little plain. And now…onto New Year’s cards…I only have a few but the clock -again- ticks…

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Oh Tannenbaum 8: Inge-Glas Ornaments

Old World Christmas, Inge Glas ornaments(Oops, I fell off the blogging wagon last week. It’s still okay to post about Christmas stuff, right?)Old World Christmas, Inge Glas ornamentsAfter the pickle, I chose to buy an orange slice and an apple slice for my next ornament purchases. They both really pop on the tree with their glittery edges and bright colors. The apple came with a little story card that explains how the apple is a symbol of temptation in Christianity. The orange didn’t come with a story, but it always reminds me of getting the tiny oranges in our stockings as kids. Old World Christmas, Inge Glas ornamentsAnd a cigar–its burning end is my favorite detail, black and glittery. I purchased this ornament before I met Naoto but oddly enough one of our first dates involved a cigar bar in Greektown. We were the only non-old men in the place and it was a lot of fun. Old World Christmas, Inge Glas ornaments Old World Christmas, Inge Glas ornamentsMy parents added to my collection with a teapot and a ruby slipper.  I love the delicate little teapot and the bright red glittered shoe. Old World Christmas, Inge Glas ornamentsThe last Inge-Glas ornament I received was the champagne bottle–an engagement gift from my parents. Naoto and I have a lot of “First Christmas” ornaments, but this engagement ornament is my favorite. This year it’s front and center (along with Charlie Brown) on the tree.

Naoto is already asking when we are taking down the tree…but I’m not quite ready yet. I’m still enjoying the Christmas lights…it’s been so gloomy and cloudy here that it’s nice to have a little brightness and sparkle inside for a little bit longer.

For the other Oh Tannenbaum ornament posts, go here.

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Oh Tannenbaum 7: The Christmas Pickle

Old World Christmas, Inge Glas ornamentsDo you know about the Christmas pickle? A German tradition, a pickle ornament is the last ornament hung on the tree, disguised among the green branches and hidden by the other colorful ornaments. On Christmas morning when children wake up, they search for the pickle. The keen-eyed child who finds the pickle gets an extra gift from St. Nicholas. Isn’t that a fun tradition.

Once I learned about the pickle, I was obsessed with finding one for my own tree. Back then, they were hard to find…now I see pickle ornaments everywhere. Somehow, the search for the pickle led us to an Ace Hardware store where they sold Inge-Glas ornaments*. I walked into the store and found huge glass jars filled to the brim with these delicate ornaments–handmade blown-glass ornaments, many embellished with a dusting of glitter, all topped with a signature star. They were all so beautiful and so different than any of the ornaments I had ever seen. They were also expensive…for a college student anyway… But I had to have the pickle. So I bought it and I’ve treasured it ever since. And every year after that, I visited Ace Hardware on Black Friday to add to my collection. My parents added to my collection, too. Soon after, though, the Ace stopped selling the ornaments, so I only ended up with seven ornaments. (But I’ve recently found them on Amazon and here, so look out bank account!)

Since we got Presley, I’ve kept the ornaments off of the tree. Instead, I chose to display them in my china cabinet. But they always got forgotten. This year, I couldn’t resist…I hung all of them, except the pickle, on my tree. I have a lot of ornaments, and all of them are well-loved, but the Inge-Glas ornaments really stand out. They belong on the boughs, glittering among the lights. This week, I’ll share a bit about the others, too.

To see the other ornament stories from previous years, go here.

*When I bought my ornaments, they were known as Old World Christmas Ornaments. But Old World ornaments are now made in China. They are sold at a much lower price point, but what I found so compelling about my ornaments is the fact that they were still handmade in Germany, some using original molds from years ago. Inge-Glas ornaments are the ones to look for now, along with the star on top. (This article explains more, if you’re interested.)

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Oh Christmas Tree 2014

Christmas Tree 2014I think this year’s tree takes the cake…I love its little shape better than the fuller trees of the past two years (2012 & 2013). I’m not a perfectionist when it comes to hanging ornaments, so I’ve found places where there are little ornament clusters and spaces that are kind of bare, but I guess that just adds to the fun. The saddest part of my tree this year is that my favorite vintage tree topper would not light up, so I had to use a colorful replacement. (It’s hard to see in the pictures, but it has multi-colored lights.)  Christmas Tree 2014I included pretty much every single ornament that I own on the tree this year. Our full trees of the past two years meant that some of the larger and heavier ornaments had to be left off, but this year, the strong Fraser Fir branches could handle them all. I also have not hung some of my most loved ornaments since having Presley. This year, I put most of them on the tree. (They will get their own ornament story post next week.) I just feel like I haven’t enjoyed them in ages and they are just too beautiful not to hang. Christmas Tree 2014Here’s hoping this little devil behaves herself. (Knocking on wood, crossing my fingers, rubbing a horseshoe…)

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Thoughts on Christmas Trees

Thoughts on a Christmas treeWhen I was growing up, we always got a real tree for Christmas. I remember always being cold and annoyed at the tree farm while my parents picked out a tree. I remember being bummed that we couldn’t get our tree right after Thanksgiving. (“It will dry out!”) I was jealous of the families who dragged their fake trees out of the basement and got to decorate for Christmas right away.

When I graduated from college, I bought a cheap fake tree at Kmart. It was fine, but it really did lack pizazz. I had it for years but once Naoto and I got married, I convinced him that we should try a real tree. (If we could turn back time, I bet he would veto that decision.) So, we bought a $9 tree stand (which still serves us very well) and found a tree at Menards. I know it’s less than picturesque to buy a Christmas tree in a home improvement store parking lot, but it works for us. Their trees always go on sale the Sunday after Thanksgiving, the price is right and, at this point in my life, I don’t need to visit a tree farm with an ax to make my Christmas complete.

Now, I can’t imagine going back to a fake tree*…even though it can be a lot of work to do the real tree thing, I love that our tree has a different personality every year. I love that fresh pine smell that fills our living room. I love tossing it off the balcony every January and not having to store it in our closet all year. (Our village collects the trees and recycles them as mulch.)

Growing up, I think we always got a Scotch pine. They are very traditional looking Christmas trees, very full, very green. Scotch pine needles are medium length and their branches are really strong, good for heavy ornaments. My issue with Scotch pines–the needles are verrrrry pokey. I guess my dad never minded getting stabbed with thousands of pine needles when he was manhandling the tree into the stand? Naoto and I always alternate between White Pines and Firs, either Balsam or Fraser.

White Pines are one of the least expensive trees ($14.95 on sale at Menards for a 6-7 foot tree, the same price as Scotch pines) and they are really full and lovely with their long, soft, deep-green needles. They also, in my experience, last a really long time, staying green and fresh past the New Year. The big downside to the White Pine is that sometimes the branches are floppy and they don’t support the weight of ornaments as well. And they are so full and the needles are so long that tiny ornaments tend to get lost in the tree. But, the trees are so pretty and traditional looking that I don’t always mind leaving some of my ornaments off for a year.

Balsam Firs and Fraser Firs are my favorites, but maybe that’s because we have a Fraser Fir this year. (Every year’s tree is my favorite.) They are more expensive ($24.95 on sale at Menards for a 6-7 foot tree) but it’s totally worth it. Both are skinnier trees with short needles. Balsams have more olive green needles and Frasers have blue-green needles. The shorter needles allow tiny ornaments to shine. Both trees’ branches are sturdier, so they can handle heavy ornaments. And the branches are more spread out, leaving room for larger ornaments to dangle. Supposedly both retain their needles well, but in my experience, they do dry out a bit faster than the pines…this could just be my luck with trees though. Both Balsam and Fraser Firs have incredible scents…our tree has been around for more than a week and it still smells divine in here.

I’ll share more pictures of our actual finished tree tomorrow. It’s all decorated and my ornaments really pop on its skinny branches. Now, I just need to keep Presley from nibbling the lower branches…

P.S. This post is not sponsored by Menards–we just like their trees. For further reading on Christmas trees, I found this interesting, educational website. I feel like someday I need to expand our tree search and try a spruce or a cypress!

*Sometimes when I’m struggling to string the lights (or swearing as I remove the tangled lights from the tree in January) I remember an old friend whose family kept their fake tree in the basement, fully assembled and decorated. Every year, they would just carry it up to the living room and plug it in. Instant Christmas! But honestly…I’d miss bringing out each ornament and remembering its history as I hung it on the tree…

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Oh Christmas Tree Trauma

Naoto and the tree part 1This was the scene on Sunday night when Naoto and I went to buy the tree. We decided to branch out (hehe) and try other tree variety this year. We’ve had a White Pine for the past two years (2012 and 2013) and this year I wanted to change things up with a Balsam Fir.

So, it was after 6:30 and dark, but we thought there was enough light in the parking lot to choose a tree. After checking out a few, we chose a lovely Balsam, had it wrapped up and drove it home (using our back-seat method as shown above.) We got it into our apartment and cut it open and…I noticed a patch of brown. Not like a tiny bit of brown needles that were falling off, but a chunk of brown needles that faded into green, like the tree had been damaged by the weather or something. I shrugged it off thinking we could put that part towards the window and no one would ever know. But then I noticed that brown spots were occurring all over the tree. The tree could only be described as mottled at that point.

Now, I am not a perfectionist when it comes to the holidays. We’ve had holey trees, crooked trees, dry trees…pretty much every year we buy an imperfectly lovely tree. But, brown? I couldn’t do it. So I said the words my poor husband was dreading, “We have to take it back.” We loaded the tree back into the car and drove back to Menards, which was closing in the next ten minutes.

We returned the tree, and in spite of the “tree guy” offering to open the lot back up and let us choose our replacement, we decided to wait until daylight to choose another one. (Even with the flashlight on my phone, it was hard to see the brown spots on the tree. We didn’t want to risk having to return another one.) new tree ready for trimmingI went back alone on Tuesday afternoon to choose another tree. Several of the Balsams we opened had the same brown damage as our first tree. So, I moved onto the Fraser Firs, which look similar to the Balsam but have a silvery tone to the underside of the needles. Between the tree guy, another customer and I, we found a good one…straight and tall with no noticeable browning. (It’s pictured on the trunk trimming table above.) tree in the car 2014 me and the tree 2014The tree guy–after much skepticism–loaded it into my backseat and I drove it home (after taking pictures in the parking lot!) naoto and the tree 2014The tree stayed in the backseat of the car in the garage until Naoto got home that night (after midnight!) I could have carried it up by myself, but I could never have put it in the tree stand alone, so I figured leaving it in the car was better for the tree as opposed to leaning it in our entryway all day. (Also there were a bunch of judgey ladies in the laundry room and I didn’t want to have to deal with explaining how I would of course come back down to sweep up my pine needles…sigh, the costs of living in a condo.) the tree 2014Here it is all watered and ready. lighted tree 2014I (unevenly) added lights last night and I’m hanging the ornaments today. And then, our apartment is officially ready for Christmas!

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