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Thursday, December 25, 2014

Christmas Fun - part 4 - On the Shelf

I think that the ladies who came up with the Elf on the Shelf concept were marketing geniuses.  I also think that social media has done more for them than any other form of advertisement.   Even before I gave in to the craze, I enjoyed looking at the pictures on Pinterest and Facebook of the silly antics that people were coming up with.   I admire those who actually carry out the expectation of their elf moving around the house every day to find a different place to spy from, or those who come up with a different mischief for their elf to carry out.

Since we don't have children but I do teach a children's Bible class, that was my justification for allowing an elf into our lives.   It gives me one more subject to discuss with them before and after class, and our elf is always up to something.   He is never just "on the shelf".  Plus I can use the creative side of my brain for something fun.

This year, I was inspired by my friend Kristie Williams, who is a phenomenal blogger at  (Check out her journey as the mother of a child with brain cancer.)   Her family has a Christmas Fonzie, not an elf. She encourages her friends to go against the grain just for fun with their own vintage toy.  I decided to combine our elf with some vintage/classic toys that lived at our home for this year's adventure and maybe the next few.

So this year, Henry (Our elf is named Henry because if we were going to have an elf, he HAD to have a gun related name.) was late showing up, or so I thought.  When we finally found him the first time,  he was not very happy.   The green army men had caught him sneaking in the house and captured him.

Henry was rescued and the army men were assured that he was not a threat.  He kept a low profile for a few days, just hanging out and watching the SEC Championship Game and the annual viewing of "White Christmas".

Then he really got in with the classic toys for some enhanced spy training.  I mean, really, like hiding amongst the snowmen was going to work.

First, he had to live up to this name of his.   The GI Joes gladly set him up a firing range and worked with him on his ornament making skills.

Next, he worked with Steve Austin, the Six Million Dollar Man, to improve his physical strength and agility.  How many elves can claim to have Steve as a personal trainer?

Just when he thought he was finished and chilling out with some tunes, he got a lesson in disguise from the Transformers and decided to give it a try as Santa's sleigh.

One last training session on light saber use was in order before he headed back north.  Who better to teach him than Master Yoda?

He heard us talking about our friend Noah and how it was raining so much.   He started rounding up the animals to be helpful, but later realized that it was not necessary after all.

All in all, I think he had a good visit.  I peeked over his shoulder while he was wrapping up his report to Santa.  Thankfully, all of the nice kids made it onto the Good Guys list.

Did you chuckle?  Did you reminiscence?  Or just shake your head at the silliness?
Then mission accomplished.  Elf out!

Christmas Fun - part 3 - At the Theatre

Sometimes it is nice to have a tradition that involves being inside and warm.

For the past 25 years, the Fantasy Playhouse has performed Dickens' "A Christmas Carol".  It is a real treat for us to know someone in the cast, and this year was no exception.   Some of our friends from way back in our single days were in the cast along with three of their children.  How fun for them and for us!    There are always a few subtle differences each year, but the pyrotechnics always catch me off-guard.  Mark your calendar for the first weekend in December to see this presentation of the Christmas classic.

(Photo courtesy of Fantasy Playhouse fb page)

Thinking that we were supporting a few young people that we knew, we also planned to see Huntsville Ballet's "The Nutcracker".   We discovered after we ordered the tickets that they were in a different performance that we could not attend.    Oh well.  We will do better next year!
It had been several years since either of us had seen The Nutcracker performed.  So many times we go to plays and musicals, and we forget the beauty and skill involved in ballet.  Initially, I thought, "They aren't talking!"  and then my immediate next thought was "Duh, it's ballet!"   The music was almost soothing, as that we were pretty exhausted from a full weekend of activities.  I can definitely appreciate the physical strength and endurance that the performers exhibit especially the guy that did the toe touches and the lady who was the Sugar Plum Fairy.    I highly recommend this as an activity to add to your Christmas traditions as well.

Christmas Fun - part 2 - In The Great Outdoors

One tradition that we have is to view the Galaxy of Lights at the Huntsville Botanical Gardens.   The first few years we went, we drove through the lights listening to Christmas tunes and admiring the programming that went into some of the displays.  (It is the curse of being an electrical engineer and recognizing a PLC panel on the side of the path).

After we became members at the Gardens, we started participating in the walking nights.  This allows us to walk at our own pace through the 1.7 mile display and take pictures.  They also offer cookies and hot cocoa along the path, and of course, Santa is there.
A still photo doesn't quite capture how pretty this is.

One of my favorite Disney movies - Beauty and the Beast.  The mirror changes.

to Belle!

T can't shoot these deer.

Probably our favorite spot - the icicle forest.

And they have SNOW!

You can kinda see the how the legs "move".

We are quite patriotic in Huntsville.

This one is kinda new, but a cool idea to represent the state.

The train track near the visitors' center is changed for every season.  I love the attention to detail on everything.

It was a bit chilly and breezy on walking night.

In 2012, the Gardens held their inaugural Galaxy of Lights 5K, and I chose to give it a try.  It was a bit of a challenge, running in the dark and on large gravel, but I liked the atmosphere and the fact that it was not a morning 5K.  In 2013 I missed the sign up and did the Fun Run instead, but this year, I was able to do the 5K again for my last one of the year.  I did make sure that I saw Santa too!

Normally I also participate in the Rudolph Run in downtown Huntsville but had to pass this year.  Christmas spirit is alive and well at this event each year.
Not sure who this is, but you gotta admire their tenacity.

Something new that we added to our activities was visiting the Tinsel Trail in downtown Huntsville.  I got a kick out of seeing the creativity that goes into decorating these trees.   Some are cute, some are clever, and some are touching.  It also is a great opportunity for learning to take photos at night with various lighting.   Below are just a few of our favorites.

Everyone's favorite snowman - Olaf

Part of being in Huntsville is the overwhelming support of our troops

This tree was all kitty ornaments

Santa in scrubs sponsored by Huntsville Hospital

And a tribute to "The Christmas Story"

You're a mean one, Mr. Grinch!

Love Mr. Peabody!

This picture doesn't do this tree justice.  The green lights were SO pretty!

Since the weather was so nice where we were for Christmas Day, we decided to go for a hike to at least try and justify all of the good food we had been stuffing ourselves with.  So we hit the trail at one of my favorite places from my college days - Burgess Falls State Park.  DH had never been here, so it was a real treat to take him.

 With the recent rains, the waterfalls were just GUSHING.   We really couldn't carry on a conversation because the rushing waters were so loud.

DH wanted to hike down to the bottom of the Big Falls, so away we went.    What a nice surprise to see rainbows!

The rolling hills of Tennessee are full of barns and old buildings.  What a treat to run across this festive cabin on our travels!
Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Christmas Fun - part 1 - In the Kitchen

The holidays are all about traditions, starting them and keeping them.  My goal was to do as many fun Christmas-y things as I could manage.   And I have lots of fun in my kitchen, tiny as it is.

I decided to emulate my aunt Thelma and make all kinds of sweets.  As long as I can remember, she has always fixed all kinds of candies and cookies and bars during the holidays.   It just seems to be the the thing to do to get in the spirit and make the house smell wonderful, and I really like making desserts.

My first sweets of the month of December were these cupcakes for a party that DH was attending.   I think this qualifies for a "Pin Win".  I saw this idea on Pinterest and tried to copy it.  All you need are cupcakes with chocolate icing as a start.  Then gather the following:
Vanilla Wafers
Red M&Ms
White Icing
Junior Mints
Chocolate-covered Flips

For the white icing, I would not recommend the cookie icing that you can buy pre-made.  It was too thin, and as you can see, some of my eyes ran.  I think a small amount of cream cheese icing would work just as well.
Use a dab of the white icing to stick the red M&M on the vanilla wafer.  Use a bit more for the eyes, and then add the junior mints.  Break one Flip in half and stick in the cupcake for antlers.  Ta da!
I recommend the assembly line method:  do all the vanilla wafers first, then the noses, then the eyes, then the antlers.

My next task was Peanut Butter Cup Bars.   I forgot to get a picture of them alone, so you can look at the link.  They are under the wrap on the round plate below.   

This is an assortment of goodies that I made for Thomas' Wednesday night Bible class.  He teaches the 7th and 8th graders, and what better gift is there for teens besides food, especially chocolate?

Clockwise from the bottom left: Coconut Balls, Orange Balls, Peanut Butter Cup Bars, Chocolate Cherry Dips, Nutella Fudge, and Oreo Balls

Coconut Balls and Oreo Balls look the same since they are both dipped in chocolate.  The recipe for the Oreo Balls can be found here .  The Coconut Balls were actually in a previous blog here.  Funny thing is that when I asked DH what he wanted me to make, he said "coconut balls".  I thought he meant the ones above.  Later, I find out he was actually talking about the next ones.

These are actually called "Orange Balls".  I had these at a Christmas party a few years ago and liked them so much, I googled until I found this recipe.  I am not a huge fan of chocolate (I know - what?!?!) so this is a great sweet for me.  Just be sure to measure out the orange juice concentrate; only 3/4 cup is needed.

Nutella Fudge was a new recipe for me this year.  Fudge is a Christmas must, and there seems to be a Nutella craze going on.  It is a non-peanut item and super easy, so it was an easy choice.  It is very rich and the recipe even recommends cutting into very small pieces. The sea salt is a nice touch.

 These Chocolate Cherry Dips were new also.   I wanted to do something that involved chocolate and cherries but that was not your usual chocolate-covered cherries.  These were quite easy as well, but I do recommend that you drain the cherries really well and pat them dry before chopping to keep the liquid out of the creamy filling.

And lastly, I saw this recipe for Monster Cookies and wanted to make them to give away to folks.  They have great presentation and don't fall apart like some other cookies.  I used the dark chocolate red and green m&ms instead of the milk chocolate.

I hope that you had Christmas fun in your kitchen - or someone's - this year! 
Happy Christmas Eve!