Fall Foliage

Despite the shorter days and onset of evening chill, Fall has been dear to us. We've established a Saturday morning tradition of going to the farmer's market nearby to get produce and treats for the week. On our latest trip, we purchased some pumpkins and foliage like baby's breath and tiny flowers, with the intention of making something festive for the table. 

Carving pumpkins isn't my forte, so instead I made the pumpkins a vessel for a floral arrangement. 

You'll need: 

  • Small pumpkins, one per centerpiece ( I believe the ones we have are of the Long Island Cheese variation. I loved the mellow coloring.)
  • Flowers/Foliage ( I picked Hypericum berries of two colors, baby's breath, and another variation of filler)
  • A serrated knife or pumpkin carving knife (to cut the lid)
  • Spoon (to scoop out the innards)
  • Scissors (to trim your flowers)
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Instructions:

Trim the stems of the flowers until they are just a little taller than the pumpkins.

Next, carve a generous opening in the top of the pumpkin using a serrated knife. Remove the insides and reserve for other use, maybe pie!

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Add a little water in the well of the pumpkin, and arrange your flowers and greenery. I trimmed everything down to different heights to make a well balanced arrangement. While I know nothing about floral arrangements (my roommate and I killed our dorm room plant in 4 days, the first week of college), it was fun to dabble in this art. Snip here. Snip there. More cranberry. Balance with baby's breath. I am guided by the sentiment as I contemplate career goals that us amateur folks are silly enough to believe we can achieve anything. Maybe it's not silly, maybe it's the rightful truth. At the very least, it helps us dream. 

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These centerpieces are perishable of course, and best prepared the day or two before an event. Nonetheless, I intend to let them dry out as they'll be beautiful still.

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And Voila! Fall foliage to brighten your table. 

Picasso Pumpkins

Wandering through the grocery store, we stumbled on sweet little pumpkins. They were too tough and small to carve, so we took some miscellaneous supplies from the craft room and made Picasso inspired pumpkins with them. 

You'll need:

  • Tiny pumpkins
  • Googly eyes of various sizes
  • Scissors
  • Sharpie markers
  • Buttons
  • Scrap paper
  • Ribbon
  • Heart- shaped hole punch
  • Hot glue gun (or strong adhesive)
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Picasso's distinct departure from conventional portraits sparked a movement of innovation in art; to this day it is nearly impossible to not recognize his style and works. We approached his art playfully, with pumpkins as our canvases.

Instructions

Give your pumpkins the gift of sight and smell, with googly eyes and buttons. No need to follow a traditional facial structure. That's what makes this such a refreshing exercise- no symmetry here! 

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The heart shaped hole punch from Paper Source makes a perfect set of lips, outlined with a Sharpie, but any punch or paper smile will do.

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Add some fun details like eyebrows, freckles, and eyelashes. This little gal pumpkin has a bow in her stem as well. 

Lastly, make some more. Even pumpkins need friends.

A Christmas Kind of Mood

Mom and Dad prepare the stuffing like Nonna would have.

Thanksgiving was a whirl wind. It went as quickly as it came.  Our family prepares such an abundant feast that we convened on the Saturday following Thanksgiving to share a meal again. I love that. Such a wonderful holiday, and we get to have it twice. Having been so late in the year though, soon after the turkey and stuffing was digested, Christmas preparation was upon us.

It is the first year in the last seven, that I am home for the entire month of December and it has already been something special. Simple things make it so. Nothing extravagant, but the tangible anticipation of Christmas heightens the enjoyment I suppose. The scarcity of the season, only available one month in twelve, empowers us to live and love more freely? Or maybe Christmas music has subliminal messaging that teaches us to be kind to one another. The egg nog is spiked with happiness. The sugar cookie scented Yankee Candle puts you in the mood to bake. Or maybe it is the Holiday Bloom and Cheer Febreeze. That must be it.

In December, people sing along: in stores, at their desks, in the car. I pretty much sing along all year, and mess up lyrics through and through, but during this time of year it is more common and socially acceptable. The inhibited even sing. Some whistle. There is skipping. All do it to the tune of Carol of the Bells or Sleigh Ride. On Spotify, A Charlie Brown Christmas is alive and well.

In the past few weeks, I have spent more time than usual in Michael's craft store, buying Christmas stickers, treat bags, glitter pens, and blank cards. I've done serious time in the baking aisle as well. What to buy, what to buy? Brown sugar, heavy cream, and vanilla extract. Shall I splurge on new muffin pans? No Francesca, yours are fine. A can of pumpkin here and Anise extract for Mimi's Anisette cookies. Chocolate chips of every variation.

Sitting in my pajamas one evening I was working on Christmas cards, cutting out shapes with my Cricut and deciding on a color scheme. From experience, I know if cards aren't started well in advance, I won't finish them. I made some hot cocoa and added a splash of Eggnog as it needed a little dimension. It felt slightly gluttonous and perfectly "holiday".

 Christmas card making.

Christmas card making.

Dad and I went to Corrado's to pick up the tree, a seven foot Frasier fir. It was loaded into the pickup truck and we drove home sharing a little heart to heart. He works quite a lot so any time he has my ear, I come away feeling grateful and loved. At home, James was preparing the pierogi Mom bought from the Polish Church. They are divine-the potato and sauerkraut kinds. He also made cabbage and kielbasa to round out the perfect, comforting meal. We huddled around the table, elbows knocking one another which happens in an average sized kitchen.  Smaller the better I say, as there is more affection packed into each square foot of the space. Take that, monumental kitchens with islands and elaborate cabinetry. (P.S. Don't get me wrong, if I ever came to have a kitchen like such, I would just have to pack it with more mouths to feed and merriment to share - to maintain the good stuff ratio of course.)

In December, calendars fill up with Cookie exchanges, Christmas concerts, and holiday parties. There is ice skating and tree lighting. Menus are planned and dishes prepared. Flannel sheets with snowflakes make their way on the bed. Gingerbread are decorated with candies and icing. Stockings are hung and gifts are wrapped. Regardless of how little they may have, people find a little extra to give to someone else. My friend Joey suggested we start a message chain in which we share daily with each other what we are thankful for. It has become my favorite part of the day.

I often wonder what would happen if we prolonged the season. Why must it only last from Thanksgiving to New Year's? The holidays can be tiring with the planning and gatherings, I know. We need not have cookie exchanges all year, although it would be pretty gnarly. I am thinking more about the spirit of it all. It would be just lovely to feel that warmth and gratitude all year. Maybe reconcile with someone you have been avoiding or donate your time to a charity drive. Make time for a dinner with old friends.

If I am not mistaken, research shows that Jesus was born in the summertime so I think it's only fair we share the love with the rest of the year.

Crafting for a Cause - Operation Gratitude

Working at a Web Design studio, I spend much of my day navigating the web for information and inspiration. While the extent to which people (over)share frivolous information is sometimes alarming, every so often I find a real gem; I was elated to discover Operation Gratitude.

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Operation Gratitude "annually sends 100,000+ care packages filled with snacks, entertainment items and personal letters of appreciation addressed to individually named U.S. Service Members deployed in hostile regions, to their children left behind and to Veterans, First Responders, Wounded Warriors and their Care Givers. Their mission is to lift morale, bring a smile to a service member’s face and express to our Armed Forces the appreciation and support of the American people." 

In just ten days, Operation Gratitude will send their Millionth package. Yes, you read correctly: one million packages to past and present heroes and their families. 

Having been raised to consider the needs of others and attending a university that stressed Jesuit values, the notion of service above self has been relevant as long as I can remember. The pressing question remains,  how can we integrate service into our daily lives? Having my fair share of student loans, writing a lofty check to a worthy cause is not an option for me, at least not yet. But there are abundant other ways to help. 

Mother Teresa said it best. 

“Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.” 

Operation Gratitude makes it easy and fun to do some good. I like crafting personally, so the hand-made projects looked to be the perfect opportunity. Admittedly, I horde scrapbooking materials and thus had an abundance of paper, decals, stickers, and blank cards on hand. My boyfriend James, a Veteran with twelve years of service in the United States Marine Corps, bought me a Cricut machine for Christmas last year; it was put to good use card making. 

Friends and family were over to celebrate my parents' anniversary, so I took advantage of the crowd, got everyone to the table, and distributed supplies. We decorated Christmas cards and signed them with heartfelt messages of thanks. The guys with poor handwriting relayed messages to be written by their wives; they stuck to stickers and glitter. This unlikely group of crafters made it all the more memorable. 

My friend Lindsay, who makes quite a fantastic Christmas card I might add,  is a school teacher and was motivated to get her students involved too. The children wrote letters to the troops, decorating them with hand-shaped American flags.

Fostering gratitude is important in younger generations. Tthis type of experience will likely leave an impact on them.  As they age, they will hopefully continue to give of themselves to deserving people and causes.

As the holidays draw near, I know not everyone will be home with their loved ones. Some are called to serve abroad and their families are called to carry on at home. Others dedicate their lives to bringing these families comfort and support.  All sorts are heroes in my eyes and it is essential we say thanks...

 Thank you.


How will you share your gratitude this year? 

To learn more about Operation Gratitude and the great work they do, follow them on PinterestTwitter , or Facebook

A Handmade Holiday

The environment is a familiar one. Christmas music is blaring, young couples are walking hand in hand, and ovens are operating at maximum capacity. Everyone is frantically searching for the perfect gift. Go to any store, anywhere in the world, within the week of Christmas day and it will be apparent. People disregard the fact that Christmas is intended to be a season of peace and joy, and they fight one another to get the last discounted ipad on the shelf. But I have learned year after year at Christmas that there is not one gift, anywhere in existence, that can replace the simplicity of something handmade. As the saying goes, money can't buy you love, unless you ask the so-called stars of  The Real Housewives of insert city here on Bravo per say, but I ardently believe this to be true. Sure I succumbed to the pressures of buying beautiful, and thoughtful gifts in the store, but I sought something unique this Christmas as well: a hand made holiday.

I have a love of many things...one of which is scrapbooking. Sneaking about in my Nana's drawers, I recovered loads of photos from their golden years. Their childhoods, my Mama's adolescent years, and even my sister and my own humble beginnings as bright eyed little girls. Antique black and white photos portraying my Nana's wedding day, portraits of my Mimi, and pictures from our beach house down in Forked River from 15 years ago. Regina waddled around in her swimsuit and life vest, while I plotted how to jump into the lagoon. My Papa had to tie me to the boat with a leash like rope, for fear that I would take a running leap to swim with the fishies. It was a beautiful time in our lives, and I looked back fondly on what a fortunate young lady I was to grow up in a loving family. Fortunately, I discovered old photo albums Mommy amassed as well and I had a multitude of picturesque memories to work with. Already well equipped with scrapbooking materials to scrapbook all four walls of my bedroom, I went to the craft store to find a medium for these memories... one for each of my immediate family members. For Mom, a desk calendar, for Regina, a mirror, for Dad, a letter holder, for Papa, a clipboard, and for Nana, my favorite of all, a serving platter. I bought some funky glues and assorted paper mache supplies and went home with my stash.

Early mornings when family was off to work and Regina was asleep, I worked in my little makeshift workspace (aka the kitchen) I labored like a little elf. Making something tangible out of simple polaroids. Photos that might have been thrown away had I not stumbled upon them. With some glitz, a little glue, and lots of artsy additions I made gifts that I am quite proud of. Each of them is functional, as well as personally relevant. Mommy has a small workspace and much need for a unique time piece, while Daddy handles all the bills and boring mail. Regina is a fashionista, Nana loves to entertain, and Papa is always engrossed in some task on his feet and could use a clipboard.

Beyond pragmatism, I think the gifts are simply lovely, because they were made from scratch. In the process, I was able to relive my happiest memories of childhood, and muse about what it must have been like to know my Mimi and grandparents when they were so young. Before ipods as well as facebook and all the other things that preoccupy us these days. Besides the crafting, I baked a few concoctions including coconut cupcakes with cream cheese icing, Granny's traditional "dunk cookies" perfect for a good cup of coffee, and a pumpkin pie. Baking is particularly gratifying because it is a process meant for sharing. Cassie and Christopher came over and we reminisced about awkward high school years, contentment in college, and anxious aspirations for the future. Cassie shared her quick and easy Peppermint Schnapps's Brownie Bites, of which Chris and I ate nearly ten. Yum.

We just finished a splendid spread of fish, fresh capellini, lobster ravioli, and broccoli rabe and are lounging by the fire before Christmas mass. Life is calm, for the moment, and I am with the people I love. All will be well if we continue to have faith in the power of togetherness and the beauty of memories past to sustain us through any trial.

"So for tonight, we pray for, what we know can be...And on this day, we hope for, what we still can't see. It's up to us to be the change, and even though we all can still do more.There's so much to be thankful for."