30 December 2010


2010 has been a big year for this household.  We've had lots of changes and exciting transitions--some bad, but mostly good.  And there was the matter of that little wedding back in June.  All in all, I'm content in calling it a good year.  At the same time, though, I'm ready--I think we're both ready--for a new year.

And just in time.

We'll be ringing in the New Year with a few family members in the coziness of our little apartment.  I predict that games will be played, mini-pizzas--homemade, of course--will be consumed, and if I can manage to actually stay awake until midnight, we'll even have a--slightly truncated--view of the big fireworks display at The Space Needle.

I'm all for celebrating New Year's Eve at home.  For one thing, it's a terrible night to be driving.  And for another, it isn't the New Year, in my book, until you've seen the ball drop in Times Square--even if you're watching it on television, with a three-hour delay because, for some reason, you find yourself living on the West Coast, where everything happens three hours later.

If you're still planning your party for tomorrow night, here are a few fun links to inspire you:

the cinnamon rolls I might be making for New Year's Day

No matter how you celebrate, I hope you have a safe and happy New Year's Eve!  Here's to 2011!

25 December 2010


A very Merry Christmas to you and yours!  I hope the day brings you joy, wonder, and maybe even a few moments of calm...

Thank you for counting down the days to Christmas with me.  I've enjoyed having you all along for the ride.  After twenty-five consecutive days of posting here (!), I'm planning to take a little time off from the Sparrow.  Check back next Thursday for a hello and some last-minute thoughts on New Year's parties.

Until then, enjoy every moment of your holiday!

24 December 2010


Every year on Christmas Eve, the church I grew up in ends the midnight service with "Silent Night."  It doesn't sound anything like this version, of course, but I still think John Denver's rendition is especially moving.  Maybe I'm just being a sap.  I hope you'll forgive me for mixing my secular nostalgia with my religious...

Peace to you and your family this Christmas Eve...

23 December 2010


So here we are.  Today, I am planning to:  finish a major knitting project (unlikely), bake a million cookies (more likely), find that last elusive gift for a special someone (50/50 odds), finish wrapping several things (entirely doable, assuming there's still time left at the end of the day) and generally put the finishing touches on Christmas preparations.

Maybe you are experiencing a last-minute crunch of your own.  If so, I wish you the best of holiday luck.  

I spent most of yesterday reminding myself that that I am only allowed to worry about the things that I can control.  It might sound like something out of a self-help book--and hey, it probably is--but if you're feeling stressed, try it out, just for fun.

And there comes a time--just like the time came during the last hours of our wedding planning last summer--that you simply need to stop doing and start enjoying the true purpose of the event.  Right?


22 December 2010


We just received a special delivery on our doorstep, a bag of cookies from a gaggle of our favorite neighborhood kids.  These are not Martha Stewart cookies, I'll be quick to point out, but that makes the little gift even more poignant.

And besides, these cookies taste great.  They will not last long in this house.

Tomorrow, I have every intention of making somewhere between five and eight dozen cookies.  I've got a head start, already, with the two batches of icebox cookie dough that are waiting in our freezer, and I'm not taking on anything that's especially complicated.  It's just that baking cookies has been a part of Christmas for me since I was small, and the holiday just wouldn't be the same without clouds of all-purpose flour, a pile of cookie cutters, and lots of colored sprinkles rolling across the floor.

If you still have a few free hours, here are some of the cookie recipes that caught my eye this season:

21 December 2010


As I've mentioned before, we're celebrating Christmas in Seattle this year.  One of the things I'm missing most about the holiday in Ohio is the time I usually spend with my brothers and sisters when everyone comes home for a few days.  Cookies tend to play a key role in our Christmas preparations.

Last year, though, my sister Meg decided that she wanted to build "a gingerbread house."  Plans were drawn up on my brother's laptop, templates were made, and when the design-build process was over, the end result was not, in fact, a house, but a gingerbread Space Needle, complete with cityscape backdrop.

There are rumors of a new gingerbread project for this year, but I'll have to be satisfied with looking at the photos, instead of "helping" by licking royal icing off of various kitchen utensils...

If you're thinking of adding gingerbread to your collection of holiday traditions, here are some resources for you:

a reliable gingerbread recipe

20 December 2010


I know that we're all excited about Christmas--those of us, at least, that are still making our way through this "Advent Calendar."  (To be honest, I have had a few people point out that Chanukah got short shrift in this space.  I've assured them that I'll try to do a better job next year...)

I do want to take a moment, though, to observe that today is Solstice Eve.  While that doesn't call for any sort of special ritual or tradition at our house, I've always loved the idea of "turning the page" from one season to the next.  Tomorrow night, the longest night of the year, will mark the end of autumn and the official beginning of winter.  Or, for those persistent optimists among us, it will mark the point at which the light begins returning--oh so slowly--to our days.

For those of us paying special attention, there's an added bonus this year, tonight's full lunar eclipse, the sort of event that never fails to make me feel especially small, in awe of the universe.

19 December 2010


It's funny to realize that our little household, as established as it is, is still relatively young.  During the holiday season, everything that we've done once or twice seems to be "a tradition."  For instance, spiced pecans.

To be fair, I grew up with spiced nuts at Christmas.  There's a passed-down recipe in the family recipe box at my parents' house and everything.  I don't particularly recall eating them during the holidays, though--cookies seem to play a bigger role in my childhood memories, for some reason.

In recent years, though, I've been experimenting with different spiced pecan recipes.  I don't think I've settled on one "traditional" recipe yet, but when I do, this one will definitely be in the running.

It's Martha's, of course, so there isn't a lot of explanation required.  I did use a locally-made honey chipotle chili sauce--which complemented the chipotle chili powder I tossed in, I think.  I'm also of the opinion that you could get away with less salt than the recipe calls for, but that's just me...

I made a few batches of these yesterday to share with some of our favorite neighbors, but now that I've given them all away, I'm realizing that I should probably make more, just because.

18 December 2010


Here's something small and pretty...

17 December 2010


A few years ago, my man's parents gave us a beautiful nativity scene.  The figures are all knitted and felted by a local woman, and the wool is from the artist's own sheep.  It's lovely, and I adore getting it out each year and setting it up under our tiny tree.  In seasons past, though, when I put it out, I couldn't help feeling that something was missing.

That "something" appeared yesterday, in a shipping box from Ohio.  Carefully wrapped in tissue paper and bubble wrap was the creche set that we put up every year when I was a  child.  I remember spending hours standing on a tall red stool so I could reach the mantel over our fireplace.  I would play with the figures, moving them around to tell stories that--looking back--probably had nothing to do with Bethlehem.  To be fair, I probably just treated the whole thing as a seasonal replacement for my Playmobil figures.  But that's not the point...

Now the set is at my house--my "grown-up" house--and each year, I'll be able to take the pieces out of the box and share them with whoever happens to be around as our family changes and grows.  Even thought they're no longer stored in newspaper scraps from 1982--I swear I still remember what it smelled like--these little figures will always have the power to transport me.

16 December 2010


Packages have begun materializing at our house.  Some of them have arrived by mail.  Others, I think, have been crafted by elves.  I've done my own share of crafting and packaging lately, and our first round of gifts have already safely arrived at a certain farmhouse in Ohio.

There's still plenty to do, though, and for the first time ever, it seems that I'm reaching the end of what seemed for years to be a limitless supply of reclaimed and repurposed wrapping materials.  Our piles of maps, calendar pages, colored tissue, and paper bags are dwindling.  I might have to get especially clever in these last few days of gift-assembling.  I've got this and this on my to-do list.

I've also found inspiration--yet again!--at SouleMama, Amanda Blake Soule's beautiful blog.  She has all kinds of handmade holiday photos and ideas this week, including a reusable gift bag how-to.  Scroll down here for more on the project.

We're in the end stretch now, my friends.  I don't know about you, but I've still got lots of work ahead of me!

15 December 2010


In case you missed the television broadcast this year...

14 December 2010


Ours is a very small tree.  It is small and fake, but still fairly adorable, and I think we'll have it until it falls apart someday.

I was talking yesterday with someone who buys a new ornament for her tree every year.  I thought this was a sweet idea that I might try, too, until I realized that I would probably have to stop the year after next because our little tree would be too full for me to add any more decorations.

Besides, I don't like buying ornaments.  I'd much rather make them.  While I don't know that I'll have time to make anything new this year--eleven days!--maybe you're feeling crafty.  If so, here are a few ornament-making projects that have caught my eye:

13 December 2010


Today, against my better judgement, I'm sharing what seems to be my husband's favorite Christmas song.  He specifically requested that I do so.  Personally, I'm a bit more taken with traditional carols, but whether I like it or not, this is now part of our little family's holiday playlist.  By all means, enjoy...

12 December 2010


Here's something sweet for you today...

...a friendly reminder to get those cards and packages in the mail!

11 December 2010


Here's the third and final gift guide post for this week.  These are a few of my picks for kids of all ages.  Some things are more expensive than others, but I really do believe in investing in a handful of great toys rather than stockpiling boxes and bins full of things that are less than awesome.  If you're on the lookout for something fun, I hope you find it here...

Stubborn Sparrow's 2010 Gift Guide: For the Kid

10 December 2010


Here's the second in this week's series of gift guides.  As always, please feel free to add your additions or comments below...

Stubborn Sparrow's 2010 Gift Guide: For the Crafter

yarn of the month club
a tour of lotta's life
the gift of color
a worthwhile investment
an engrossing television series
another lovely quilting book--or maybe just a pattern and some fabric
for the book-lover
for the beginning spinner
to play with

09 December 2010


As promised, here's the first of a few holiday gift guide posts.  Please note that while I've linked to some national retailers--and one international mega-retailer--it was merely my intention to give you the best representation of the item.  Please support your local merchants and booksellers whenever possible.

Stubborn Sparrow's 2010 Gift Guide: For the Cook

"gourmet" recipe box (Okay, not really.  But still.)
a cook book like this or this or this
something to hang on the kitchen wall
one of a kind rolling pin
something to put on the ipod
food lit like this or this
salt sampler
a sweet ending

If you have other gift suggestions for cooks or bakers--or anyone else for that matter--don't hesitate to share in the comments below...

08 December 2010


If it hasn't been obvious already, I love the holiday season and nearly everything associated with it.  The only two things I don't like: Christmas decorations that go up before Thanksgiving and the retail industry's endless attempts to convince us that mindless, mechanical spending translates to holiday joy for all.

Please don't misunderstand me.  I love presents.  Seriously.  Feel free to send me one.  It's just that I prefer giving--and receiving--gifts that are well-made and well-suited to the lucky recipient.  (I'm not saying I've perfected this art, by any means.  I'm just saying that it's how I like to do business...)

I also like the idea of giving just a few fantastic gifts, rather than a whole pile of miscellany.  If I ever have kids, I'd like to think I'd stick to the popular adage and give everyone four gifts.   Something they want, something they need, something to wear, and something to read.

Giving something handmade is always my first choice, of course.  Even so, a girl can only do so much knitting (or sewing, printing, crocheting, soapmaking, baking, building, etc.) in one holiday season.  Sometimes, you just need to buy something.

With that in mind, this week, I'll be posting a few Stubborn Sparrow gift guides.  Before I do, though, here are a few other lists for you to wander through:

Do you have other gift guide suggestions?  Or maybe some great gift ideas?  Share with the rest of us by commenting below...

07 December 2010


Last night, as I unpacked our meager little collection of Christmas ornaments, I came across what has become one of my favorite holiday photos.  The sad little elf on Santa's lap is now much older--seven last week!--and I'm sure he doesn't remember this moment at all, but every year at Christmas, the photo comes out of storage and features prominently in our holiday decorating.

Does that make us terrible people?  I don't think so...

06 December 2010


When I was a kid, there was one house in town that was famous for its super-elaborate holiday light display.  After church on Christmas Eve, we would do a drive-by--along with lots of other families--to see the moving reindeer covered in tiny white lights, the red and white flashing candy canes, and the giant sleigh that sat--mysteriously unoccupied--in the middle of the front yard.  For the under-ten set, it was absolute magic.

Now that I'm older, it takes a little more to amaze me, but I'm still ridiculously taken with over-the-top holiday lights.  In December, I plan my walk home from work according to which street has the best lights.  It's probably for the best that our building doesn't seem to have any exterior power outlets.  Who knows what kind of electrical kitsch I'd be indulging in?

I know I'm not the only person in the world that's sickly fascinated by this subject, so I hope you'll forgive me for the following links...

05 December 2010


In spite of the crafting, recipe-surfing, and gift planning, I've realized that I'm still not quite in the holiday mood yet.  This helped me out a little bit, and I thought you might enjoy it, too...

04 December 2010


If you aren't already familiar with it, habit is an ever-changing collection of photography and reflections from women across the country.  This month, habit is featuring posts from all of this year's guest contributors.  If you'd like to get a taste of the joy, frustration, and silliness that seem to be universal to our December celebrations, try visiting habit every once in awhile--or maybe just every day...

03 December 2010


We actually received our first Christmas card before Thanksgiving this year.  I think this was a first for us, and while it was kind of exciting, it also made me feel like a slacker.  I absolutely refuse to send holiday cards before December has begun.  (I feel the same way about putting up the tree, but I know we all have different opinions on that one, so I'll leave it alone for now...)

I don't think we've ever made our own Christmas cards.  We started to, one year, but then we stumbled across something else that was well-designed and affordable, and we did that, instead.  This year, our cards are a cobbled together collection of things from a variety of places, including Hello Lucky! and one of my very favorites, Egg Press.

After a year chock-full of mailing things--invitations, thank you notes, and more thank you notes--part of me feels a little stamp-and-enveloped out.  But then I remember how much I love sending--and getting--mail and I get excited all over again...

If you're planning on making your own holiday cards, but haven't started yet, here are a few ideas for inspiration:

Are you sending out incredibly charming cards this year?  Do you have any other tips or links to share?  Just post in the comments below!

02 December 2010


Everyone knows a good fruitcake takes time--those of us that know that fruitcake can be "good," that is.  I know it's a dessert with a bad reputation, but as far as I'm concerned, combining baked goods and booze is never a bad idea.

If you're up for a challenge that will last 'til Christmas--and beyond, if you want it to--here are some fruit cake recipes for you.  The first one is actually pretty straight-forward, but the next three definitely offer a twist on tradition.

Fruitcake with Chocolate and Cider--and confusing metric measurements...
A last-minute Fruitcake with Olives

Oh, and thanks for sharing those advent calendar links!  It's always fun to see what other people are doing--or at least, are dreaming about doing.  Keep the fresh ideas coming!

01 December 2010


First off, my parents would be quick to point out that Advent this year does not begin today.  It actually started last Sunday, the 28th.  If my father were feeling especially Scrooge-ish, he might also mention that "Advent Calendars" as we now know them have very little to do with observing Advent, and much more to do with counting down the days until Santa Claus shows up.

All of which is true.

We didn't really have lots of Advent calendars when I was growing up, not because my da was a Scrooge--which, sometimes, he is--but more because we were busy with other things in December.  There were a few years that we had the little cardboard calendars with tiny chocolates behind each door.  And of course, we made a couple of those kindergarten-style paper chains that spanned the living room, cutting off one of the links every day until just one remained.

Really, though, my interest in Advent calendars has been fairly recent.  Last year, my man got us a Playmobil calendar, which, while full of forestland goodies, was a little hard to come by.  This year, you might be able to find it on Amazon, but you'll be paying forty or fifty dollars for it.

This year, I'm much more taken with handmade calendars.  If all this talk is putting you in the mood to make a calendar for your house, there are some cute ideas here, and here, and here.  This one might be hard to throw together at the last minute, but I thought it was charming, too.

As for me, I'm doing my counting down right here.  Each day, from now 'til Christmas, I'll be posting a little something-or-other to share with you.  I hope you'll check back regularly for recipes, projects, gift ideas, and a few other surprises.

I'd also like to invite you to share your holiday ideas with us.  In the comments for each day's post, feel free to add your thoughts or link to something you think other Sparrow readers would enjoy.

And with that, let Advent not-so-officially begin...

And speaking of calendars, some of you probably recognize the one at the top of this post.  If you haven't ordered your 2011 Nikki McClure calendar yet, there's still time...