Christmas has come and gone now. I’m one of the unlucky few who had to drag themselves out of bed this morning and schlep myself to work. It wasn’t all that bad, really. Apart from the waking up at 7:30 and moving about when everyone else was still asleep part. Aside from that, I’m not really all that bummed. I looked out the window while getting ready for work this morning, to find snow on my car and a light dusting on the ground around the house. It had turned to sleet/hail/freezing rain by the time I was finished making toast and toting gifts out to my car, but I didn’t mind all that much. Babe (my car) made the commute just fine in the dreary weather, and in record time! It helps when there’s no one on the roads.Usually, my return to work after a weekend away from the office is filled with a lot of “What did you do this weekend?” questions. Apparently, the folks here think I lead a pretty interesting life. However, seeing as how there are perhaps four people here other than myself, and it’s relatively quiet, I’ll discuss the holiday here.
The extra-long weekend of holiday celebrations started on Friday, with an almost empty office here at the farm. There were slightly more people on Friday than there are today, but there wasn’t much for most of them to do. The phones weren’t ringing, a number of businesses we deal with were already short-staffed due to the upcoming holiday, and it was COLD outside. I had some database stuff to work on throughout the day, but I made time throughout the day for “brain breaks.” It’s not too hard to do, when my office mate is the sum of all good cheer in the world, personified. We blew bubbles over the bookcase in the back room, made hot cocoa, played Christmas music, and made an ornament or two out of felt that happened to be in her desk drawer.
After work, I continued my holiday-themed fun with the tradition of Christmas caroling in Old Town. This started…oh, I don’t know how long ago. I think, by now, it’s about 8 years. Friends and I get together and put on numerous layers of clothing – hoop skirts, petticoats, long skirts, sweaters, cloaks and bonnets for us women, slacks, wool coats, warm hats and scarves for the men – and go stand on the cold steps of the town square in Old Town Alexandria, singing Christmas carols until we can’t feel our feet anymore.
Most years, my friend David brings his keyboard. This year, he brought an accordian, and Jack brought his ukelele, and much merriment was had. After singing, we all retire to La Madeleine for some delicious food and the wonders of electric heat.
Mom and I went out Saturday afternoon to pick up some last-minute craft and food needs at the store. Aunt Diana stopped by the house with some chicken (which Onyx got a small nibble of, in the spirit of generosity and holiday treats) and I got to work finishing up some of the gifts I was making for people. Apples were peeled and cut and prepared for apple butter for my brother-in-law. Earlier this fall, I went apple-picking with a couple of friends, and wondered what to do with my half bushel of apples (besides just eating them out of the box). Maggie found an excellent recipe on Cooks.com, and I discovered that my brother-in-law LOVES apple butter. That made his Christmas present much easier. He wound up getting two jars of apple butter, with fabric and ribbon wrapped on top in Steelers colors. I’ve included the apple butter recipe here, with the tweak of honey instead of sugar. If you’d rather use sugar, it would be 3 cups of sugar, but I like my apple butter a little less sweet, and the natural sugar of honey is easier for the diabetics in my family to digest than processed sugar.
Approximately 3 lbs apples
1 cup honey
1/2 tsp allspice
1/2 tsp cloves
2 tsp cinnamon (I usually wind up using more, just because I like cinnamon)
1 tsp nutmeg
dash of salt
3/4 cup of fresh apple cider
Fill the crock pot 3/4 full of peeled, cored and sliced apples. Add the remaining ingredients and stir until evenly mixed. Cover and cook on the low setting overnight, or until butter is of thick, spreadable consistency. If the apple butter has too much liquid, remove the lid and cook on high until it has thickened. Stir often as butter thickens, to keep from scorching.
To can, pack apple butter into hot jars, leaving 1/4″ headspace, and process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.
Now, the first time I made apple butter, I actually wound up adding a few more apples after the first few hours of cooking, let it cook for much longer than overnight, and I wound up with about 4 full pints, and a fifth jar that was about 2/3 full. The batch I made on Saturday was a much smaller batch. I didn’t add apples halfway through, I didn’t cook it as long, and I ended up with a smaller yield (by about a jar). I do suggest using a masher at the very end of the process, to squish any chunks that haven’t yet given up their form and become mush, but if you cook it longer, you’ll have less need for this.
My sister Heather was the recipient of a new scarf – Tardis blue. I had originally thought of putting a little felt bar at one end, but I liked the feel of the yarn too much to break it up with another texture. Instead, I went hunting for a nice, large white button in my button jar, and wrote “Police Public Call Box” around the edge. I think it looks a little more chic than the original felt idea.
Andrew’s gifts were fairly simple this year. Apart from gear for his upcoming world travels, we all ended up getting themed gifts for him. He’s got a tattoo of a mustache on his finger, and we wound up finding mustache-themed gift ideas everywhere this year. The whole thing started with fabric that Mom and I spotted at the Quilt Patch, over in Fairfax. Despite a power outtage that had drenched the majority of the store in darkness, this bolt of fabric managed to grab our attention. I figured it was too good to pass up, and got it with the intention of making pillowcases for his bed. The pillowcases are red flannel on one side, and the mustache fabric on the other. Mom made a jar with a mustache on it, and the words “My stash” printed on it. Heather painted an ornament for him (“Staching through the snow”), and we managed to find some stick-on mustaches and a tin of mints shaped like a mustache.
Some other folks were the recipients of Handmade Christmas this year: My nephew Joey asked for root beer this year – specifically, the kind Maggie and I make. It takes 10 days to cure, and we were able to just barely squeeze in making it so that it would be ready ON Christmas. He got several bottles of it. Robert got a scarf. Yes, I know he now crochets and could make his own, but he didn’t and I did, so it counts. Connie got a set of four quilted hotpads. I really enjoy making them – it’s like doing a quilt on a small scale, and it uses up some of my fabric stash. The four patterns I made for her were Shoo-fly, Shooting Star, Flying Geese and Ohio Star. I made Aunt Diana some embroidered pillowcases – they unknowingly fit in with the color scheme of the wine-themed gifts Mom made her this year. David Maley was the recipient of the bacon and eggs ornaments I made at work.
I think LeeAnn’s gift ended up being the most emotional. She is in the process of adopting a baby. I gave her something to go in the nursery: a framed piece of embroidery in the shape of Africa, with a little heart over the Congo, and the phrase “Loving You Already” stitched around it. She cried. I tried not to cry. It was, I believe, a successful gift.
I still have a couple more handmade items to work on – things for people who don’t live in the immediate area and who don’t necessarily get their Christmas gifts in a timely manner (I need better time management, in terms of craft-creating). For now, though, the major push to finish this year’s attempt at Handmade Christmas has passed. I’ve already got ideas for next year. We’ll see if I actually start them more than a month ahead of when I need them. :S