Fa La La La La, SWEET MERCY, it is already Christmas Day and a new year is right around the corner. I want to thank all of you who have jumped in and breathed life into this mission of gathering, growing and connecting here at Arkansas Women Bloggers yet again this year. Seven years ago when this little seed took root, we could have never known that it would become what it is today.
Our community continues to get stronger. Many new faces, many who have continually stepped up to make this a more beautiful, loving group, and many whose life season does not include blogging, but still are a part of this community. We welcome any and all that have a true heart for community and are willing to open up and help one another with true kindness and giving. That is what this Christmas season is about, right? And, we try to keep that going all year long.
Business is booming in the influencer world and those of you who choose to grow as a business in some way, 2017 is going to rock your world. More and more brands are looking to partner with influencers, and yes, there are more and more blogs and social media accounts established every single day. Remember, comparison is the thief of joy, there is room for everyone, so be open to the amazing. Let The Women Bloggers be your training wheels, helping you to learn and keep upright in this busy, ever-changing world, while helping you to refine your message and your goals.
I look back with gratitude for the Lord’s many blessings on my family and this community in the past year. And I look forward to another great year with you.
Remember to exhale, to seek the beauty, the peace and the love that this season is all about. And carry it in your heart all year long.
“Our bread it is white and our ale it is brown…” Ok, I’ll stop. In case you’re wondering, those are the words from the traditional English Gloucestershire Wassail song. Come on, indulge me, you’ve got a minute to explore that link and the background on wassail!
Apparently, my high school years of performing in a Madrigal dinner had quite an effect, and now those around me must also endure it. If you don’t feel like delving in, here’s the gist of it: today’s definition of a madrigal dinner is a multi-course, Medieval-style meal served by costumed performers singing traditional (old English) Christmas carols. (“The boar’s head, in hand bear I…” Ok, sorry – I’ll really stop this time.)
So, why does this matter on foodie Friday? Because wassail (literally “waes hael” or “be you healthy”) is a foodie tradition you should most definitely explore! Before we go further, though, I need to offer my standard disclaimer from The Food Adventuress: I’m quite horrible at precisely following directions and tend to just do whatever I want in the kitchen and wait to see how it turns out. So, if you’d like a real recipe for wassail, you’d best go elsewhere. Just do a quick search on the Interweb and you’re sure to turn up lots of lovely options. Now, don’t tell my Mom, but here’s what I do:
Grab crock pot a little too late in the day for 6 p.m. wassail readiness.
Have a glass of wine or your relaxing beverage of choice.
Recollect that you were going to make wassail and get back to it.
Fill said crock pot about 2/3 full of apple cider.
Top it off with generous pours* of orange juice (I like pulpey for this!) and pineapple juice.
Add a good amount** of lemon juice and honey.
Start adding spices to your taste. I choose cinnamon (lots!***), ground cloves, freshly grated nutmeg and sometimes ginger and allspice depending on my mood/desire to exert myself.
Decorate your wassail. I typically add a cloved orange (sliced or not, per your own desire to exert yourself) and some apple slices from near the core along with a cinnamon stick or two.
Let simmer for several hours and return to your aforementioned beverage.
Serve to standing ovation (or at least a few compliments).
* In this case, generous pours mean probably a cup or two each, but let’s not get too precise.
** Under duress, I would probably estimate that a good amount means half a cup?
*** I’m pretty sure my favorite measurement is “to taste.” That’s what you do here – you won’t mess up!
A couple of notes that will increase your cool factor: first, everybody has a scratchy throat around the holidays. Wassail is the guaranteed fix-it and soother – offer it to everyone who enters your home. Of course, your home smells completely fabulous because you made wassail! Also, I recommend not adding alcohol. Shocking, I know. Wassail is enjoyable by all… the kids and those who abstain should enjoy it as much as everyone else, and anyone who wishes to doctor (ahem) their drink may do so with ease once in the mug.
Finally (insider tip!) just store the wassail outside between servings, assuming it is even mildly chilly at night in your neck of the woods of Arkansas (and beyond). Just slowly warm it up starting a little earlier on subsequent serving days. The wassail gets a little thicker as the spices mull, so just add some more of the juices prior to simmering and the original batch should get you through several servings.
Again, this is all highly unscientific but fairly popular Chez Stephens, and it’s standard fare throughout the month of December from tree-decorating through New Year’s. I hope you’ll try it, and maybe add a few of the old English carols to spice up your holiday tunes as well! Give some background to your family and your kids may be the smartest ones on the block. Mine is definitely the one who knows about wassail, which either makes her incredibly cool or highly nerdy. I’m ok with both.
Beth is the marketing maven and one of the four founding members of Arkansas Women Bloggers, but her real job is as executive director of the Ozark Natural Science Center – a nonprofit field science, environmental education, camp and conference facility in northwest Arkansas. She blogs over at The Little Magpie and The Food Adventuress and finds herself eating far more of her mother’s rum cake around the holidays than she would care to admit.
Please note: all images and links are public domain from the web, and used only to illustrate topics for your personal use.
Don’t misunderstand – this doesn’t mean I have my act together. Today, for example, I finally removed the remaining pumpkins from our front porch in recognition of the fact that a) it is mid-December and b) they looked kind of goofy along with our Christmas lights. I stand by my reasoning that they work right through Thanksgiving, but then my arguments get a little fuzzy. I promise, though, that pumpkins are (eventually) relevant to this post.
Our bird tree has evolved from a single branch to trimmings from our real Christmas tree to the point that this year, we’re using a potted tree that will grow slowly and can be reused for many years moving forward. We set it somewhere very visible in the front yard – both for ease of bird-viewing and to incite questions from neighbors and hopefully inspire similar actions from other families. In fact, last year we used the same idea as a holiday staff activity at my workplace, the Ozark Natural Science Center (read Slowing Down with a Cranberry Garland).
The bird tree is meant to be a slowing-down activity, and a gift to nature at a time when many of us are incredibly focused on doing and rushing and buying. We start with a bowl of freshly popped popcorn (on the stove, without all the extras birds do not need) and a bowl of fresh cranberries. We sit together – talking, working slowly, getting sticky, pricking our fingers – and string them into garlands using needles and thread.
When our garlands are complete we set out to hang them on the tree along with quartered oranges, little reusable baskets of birdseed, pinecones with peanut butter and seeds, sunflower heads and anything else we think our feathered friends would safely enjoy. This year, we found some millet sprays to use, and sometimes we add twig or straw stars or other decorations. And, there is some good to those pumpkins left so long and forlornly on the front porch: I cut them into little pieces and found the weather had preserved them. They are full of good meat and seed that will help visiting birds this winter, so some good came of my inability to get things done!
This is such a great activity for anyone, and especially when you can include your own (or some stray neighborhood? With permission, of course!) kids. As an aside, we often start putting birdseed and treats out well before the weather turns very cold in order to start “coaching” the birds that we are the dining establishment to visit all winter long. We also took a little time several years ago to make our yard a certified wildlife habitat through a fantastic program from the National Wildlife Federation – this is another outstanding, free, educational, fun and ongoing family activity!
As you look for meaningful activities this holiday season, think outside the box when you consider handmade holidays. “Crafts” do not have to mean hours of baking and decorating cookies, purchasing pricey supplies or spending hours at a daunting task that may or may not turn out the way you intended. Creating a bird tree feels good, looks good, has a tangible outcome and is one of those tiny steps toward making the world a better place. Happy handmade holiday!
Beth is the marketing maven and one of four founding members of Arkansas Women Bloggers, but her real job is as executive director of the Ozark Natural Science Center – a nonprofit field science, environmental education, camp and conference facility in northwest Arkansas. She blogs over at The Little Magpie and The Food Adventuress and finds herself eating far more of her mother’s rum cake around the holidays than she would care to admit.
Thanks, Arkansas Women Bloggers, for the opportunity to guest post today! If you are new to the Arkansas Women Bloggers site, be sure to register and get to know other bloggers around Arkansas! It has been such a privilege to meet some really fantastic ladies through ARWB!
Today, I am going to show you how I used this Pinterest image as inspiration to make this simple, inexpensive, Christmas tree project that will take you about 30 minutes to create, but gives fabulous results!
Canvas-I used an 11×14, but any size will work (use coupons at craft stores for great prices)
Scrapbook papers for trees, tree trunks,or stars–I made matching trees, but you can use 3 different papers for interest. It doesn’t have to be “Christmas” paper!
Scrapbook embellishments (optional,for stars)
Mod Podge applicator–spongebrush pictured
Stars for treetops–use coordinating paper or other scrapbooking embellishments
Using a ruler, lightly draw a triangle on the scrapbook paper. Trees shown are 9 1/2 x 3 3/4 inches. Use this first tree as a template to cut out the next two.
Cut three mini triangles for tree trunks. Only the bottom of the triangle will show.
Measure and lightly mark the middle of the canvas so you can place your first tree, but do not glue the tree yet!
Using a spongebrush, cover the entire surface of canvas with Mod Podge. Then coat the back of your first tree with Mod Podge and place it in the marked spot. Glue the tree trunk under the bottom of the treebefore brushing the entire surface, including tree, with Mod Podge again. Be sure to seal edges of tree.
Repeat this process (ModPodging entire surface) after each tree and trunk.
Lightly press with your finger to seal the edges to the canvas.
If your paper bubbles, no worries! Magically, these disappear once the Mod Podge dries!
Next, cut the Ric Rac the exact length of the canvas. Glue it to the canvas using Elmer’sglue.
Glue paper or other”star” embellishment to tops of the trees, using Mod Podge for paperstars or Elmer’s for 3-dimensional ones.
Hang directly onto the wall,
or use a plate stand to display it on a table!
This versatile craft can easily transfer to any Holiday using different paper, shapes, or colors!
Amanda is a mom to three kids and has been married to David for 13 years. She has a passionfor cooking, journaling, blogging, authentic relationships, and making her homea “haven.” You will find creative ideas for your home, recipes, and anauthentic place to be yourself at www.myheartsdesireblog.com.
‘Tis the Season: Holiday Cookie Exchange
Written by ARWB Dec. 2011 Blogger of the Month, Stephanie Hamling of Proactive Bridesmaid
I got my annual cookie exchange invitation in the mail today, and, so, the wheels are turning. Have you ever hosted or participated in a cookie exchange? This gathering has become one of my favorite Christmas-time traditions. The effort that goes into both hosting and being a guest can be overwhelming, but it is, without a doubt, always worth it.
One of the members of my cooking club, along with her sister-in-law, hosts the yearly event. After ten years, they have it down to an art. I’ve never hosted an exchange, but I’ve taken mental notes from them every year.
In case you are unfamiliar with the concept, here’s how the exchange works. Each guest and hostess bakes a set number of cookies, which they take to the exchange. During the exchange, each person gets a set number of cookies from each of the other guests. Basically, you end up with however many cookies you brought, but you get a far wider variety.
You can organize the event a number of ways, but I’m fond of the way my girls set it up. Two to three weeks in advance, a cheerful invitation arrives in the mail. We know about when to expect it, but for an inaugural event, a little more notice might be in order. Included on the invitation is the standard when and where, RSVP info, how many cookies to bring, and a listing of prize categories.
Yes, there are prizes, and the more competitive among us take them very seriously. Awards are given for best taste, best presentation, and best overall cookie. The first two categories are chosen by popular vote and the hostesses choose the third winner. The prizes are glory, a year of bragging rights, and a small Christmas-themed treat.
The prize for best taste necessitates tasting, of course. After a round-robin story telling session about the origins of our cookie recipe, we have a tasting. We make the rounds to check out the presentation and have a nibble. Each person’s cookie is assigned a number for voting, and secret ballets are cast. After prizes are awarded, its time for everyone to grab their take-homes.
And, that is how it’s done folks. There are more bells and whistles that can be added as you wish. Our hostesses start the party with appetizers and drinks and we play a few rounds of party games, everything from bingo to a complicated race involving unwrapping a Hershey’s Kiss with mitten-covered hands. They end the night with a handmade party favor for each guest. Seriously, these ladies could write a book.
A cookie exchange is great to find new favorites, to get more bang out of your baking time, and to take care of treats for holiday parties or teacher gifts. If you ever have a chance to attend one, I hope you will. If you are encouraged to start your own, your friends will love you for it!
Tips for the hostess:
Tag team with a friend. Split the duties and alternate houses each year.
Don’t limit your group to only great bakers. Break-and-bake and even bakery cookies are welcome in our crew.
Send the invitations early and have clear instructions.
Have a few boxes or plastic bags on hand for folks who forget to bring anything to transport their cookies home.
Tips for the guests:
Put in some effort, but don’t stress. Some of the worst cookies make the best stories and bring out some great cooking tips.
If you know how many cookies each guest gets, prepackaging make things go more smoothly.
Thank you cards are never out of fashion. A hostess gift is a nice touch.
Bring a copy of your recipe for each guest, so they can recreate their favorite. Try to pick a recipe that travels well and has a good shelf-life.
My name is Stephanie Hamling. Originally from Wonderview, Arkansas, I now live in our state’s capitol, Little Rock. A freelance graphic artist, I also work as a social media liaison and webmaster for a local grocery market. My joys include gardening, cooking, photography, spending time with family, and blogging. Stephanie is the Arkansas Women Bloggers December 2011 Blogger of the Month.
I love everything about Christmas except for commercialism. I’m not at all into the whole Black Friday thing and I’ve never really been into the “gimme, gimme” attitude that a lot of people have around Christmas. I do love the magic and the surprise and I love getting gifts as much as the next person but my favorite part of Christmas has always been making things. Whether cookies and cakes, scarves, toys, or ornaments I love making Christmas special.
2000 was the year that the meaning and importance of a handmade Christmas really rang true with me and it involved an empty toilet paper roll, two paper stars and glitter.
My husband Richie and I had been married for less than five months and were about to celebrate our first Christmas together. We were both in college full time, neither of us was working and we were BROKE! Living off “extra” loan money that had long since run out, Christmas looked to be a fairly bleak that season.
Sadly Christmas decorations are expensive and are not really budget worthy in a newly married college couples world. We did splurge and buy a fresh tree that year but everything else had to be borrowed or made. We borrowed lights and some old ornaments from Richie’s mother. My sister bought us candles for our windows and we spent a whole Saturday making ornaments together. We strung popcorn that we popped on the stove, we made cinnamon ornaments and ornaments out of found popsicle sticks and fabric. It was fun and romantic and we still use most of the ornaments today. We got everything hung on the tree and I stepped back only to realize we were missing something. A TREE TOPPER! There was no angel, no star, no pretty bauble for the top of the tree. We had literally spent our last dime and could not purchase anything for the top of the tree.
We began to look around. Surely we had something we could use. We scrounged around and came up with an empty toilet paper roll, two paper stars and some glitter. Combined with some glue we were able to fashion a very crude star for the top of our tree. I remember the sense of peace and joy and accomplishment that came over me when Richie placed that star on the top of the tree.
In the years that have followed we have travelled all over the world (Paris, Rome, Alaska, Hawaii, Mexico and all over the US) and collected beautiful Christmas ornaments to remember places we have been. Still, over 90% of the ornaments on our tree are handmade. But every year the ornament I most look forward to putting up is that crude little star. It now lives on a smaller, table-top tree but it is so beautiful to me and it wouldn’t be Christmas without that little star!
Handmade Holiday is the Arkansas Women Bloggers theme of the month. We would love for you to share your Handmade Holiday story with our readers. Please visit our Guest Post Guidelines page for information about how to submit a story to ARWB.