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Friday, December 8, 2017

Natural Christmas Decoration Ideas

The Christmas season is in full swing in the Blair household!
For the first time in a few years, we have our own space, and can really realize our own interpretation of Christmas.  For a couple years we lived with a friend, and she was always super generous in letting me put out my Christmas decor, but it's a whole different feeling when it's in your own home.  Add to the excitement of it, that we're finally in Slovenia after nearly 2 years of talking about it - the magic is definitely there.



In the age of Joanna Gaines, DIY and hipsters, it's not revolutionary of me to say that I love natural Christmas decor, but there you have it!  I like looking at 50s-60s inspired Christmas decor, and trees busting with shiny-brite-style ornaments - in fact I have a couple boxes of shiny-brite reproductions from a dear sweet woman who loves me as her own, and they are precious to me.

But in this season of my life, natural beauty is what is really speaking to me.  One of the reasons, I'm sure is that Slovenia is the "Green Capital" of Europe.  People here are really into organic, local, natural, etc.  It's basically hipster heaven.
Another reason probably, is the easy access to a local market.  And then, of course there's just the esthetic of it.  So, this holiday season I've made a few natural Christmas decor things, and thought I'd share them with you, in case you feel inspired to do the same!

One of the best things about this, is you need basically the same 5-6 items for all of these.  Here's what you're going to want to stock up on:

Star anise
Cinnamon sticks
Oranges
Twine
Cloves
Rosemary
Cranberries
Pop corn
Holly, or any other red berries


1. Dried Orange Slices

A couple weeks ago, I wrote a post about making a dried orange slice garland.  The instructions are all there, and we had lots of fun making them.  My garland actually fell the day after I posted about it, so I just kept the slices, and ended up using them later.





2. Okay, a couple things I bought

So, as I mentioned, having a local market is a dream come true.  The produce is local, the flowers are as well, the prices are so affordable, and there is always about 5 ladies selling wreaths they've made.  So, about a month ago, I found some red berries.  The lady selling them told be to spray them with hair spray, and they'd keep.  That didn't quite pan out, unfortunately, but luckily I like how they look dried too.  The next week I bought some branches of cotton, and added them to it.  I love how it looked!



Yesterday we went down again, and I totally fell in love with this wreath.  The sweet man we bought it from gave Aidan a tulip, which our flower-loving-boy is cherishing!


This wreath just screams Christmas, and I can't get over it.  Something like this would be easy enough to make, you would need different types of greenery, berries and pinecones, and you're good to go!


3. Cranberry and Pop Corn Garland

What you'll need:
- Cranberries
- Pop corn
- Fishing line
- A large needle

Instructions:
There's really not to much to say, except to choose a cranberry/pop corn ratio that appeals to you.  I found 2 pop corn kernels to one cranberry to be the prettiest!  This is a really fun one to do together with the littles!  It's a great way to teach patterns!






4. Rosemary/Orange/Cinnamon Ornament

For this you'll need:
- Cinnamon stick
- Rosemary sprigs
- Dried orange slice
- Twine


I tried to think of the yummiest Christmas smells, and put them together.  Our apartment doesn't have many shelves, or places to hang things, so I wanted something that I could hang on our window handles.

So, I arranged about three sprigs of rosemary, with one cinnamon stick, then wrapped it together with twine.  I attached an orange slice, to where it hung off a little, and then made a hook.




5. Potpourri

Okay, when you hear potpourri, I know you're thinking of some great aunt, and a bowl of dusty dried pieces of flower in a bowl.  BUT!  This is not that.  I found a couple recipes on pinterest, and added them together to make something with things that I had, and liked the thought of.  So, here is what you need:

- About 10 cloves
- 2 cinnamon sticks
- 4 star anise
- An orange, cut in slices
- Rosemary sprigs

Other things you can add:
- A dash of vanilla
- Pine branches
- Apple slices
- Cranberries
- Lemon slices/lemon zest


You put it all in a pot, then you fill the pot with water, and let it simmer on a low setting on your stovetop for the day.  It smells divine!  You do have to check on it every once in a while, and add more water, but it'll last throughout the day.  I love how it filled the house with the warmth of Christmas smells.  It's a great way to use ingredients that are about to go bad, like too-soft oranges, or rosemary that is starting to brown.



 6. Natural "stuff" arrangement

To me, there's hardly anything more traditionally Christmas that clove studded oranges!  We always made them in school, and Aidan and I have made them every year of his short life.  So, we made some again this year, and then placed other things in the bowl, such as star anise, cinnamon sticks, rosemary, pine branches, red berries, cloves, dried orange slices... basically everything I had left.


It's simple, yet festive, and of course smells good!

Also, that beautiful runner you see there?  Yes, my amazing mama made that for me for Christmas, and yes, I'm crazy spoiled!
It's just gorgeous, and I love-love-love it!

So, there you have it!  Some ideas for easy natural Christmas decor this year.  Do you have any fun, family-friendly, DIY Christmas traditions?  I'd love to hear about them!

Have a wonderful holiday season, dear friends!

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Globe "Together in Heart" Ornament DIY Tutorial

Ahhh, it's the most wonderful time of the year!
Which for me, means it's ornament making time!  Every year, I make my family a new ornament.  One year I made a felt cupcake ornament, one year a clay one in the shape of Hungary, one year I made a wood ring one, with our family picture on it, and last year, I made Clothespin People versions of each of us.

This year, I wanted to highlight, that even though we all live so far away, that we are still all together in spirit and heart.

This is what I ended up with:


To create your own, this is what you'll need:

3-inch foam craft balls
Segmented World map (I'll upload the one I used)
Paint (a color that matches the water color)
Modge Podge
Paint brush
Paper (for the strip around)
Black Sharpie pen
Small metal hook
Twine
Red-headed pins

Here is the map I used:


Instructions:

1.  Print out map.  I printed this one out at 155%, to fit the 3-inch foam ball.  You'll want to print out out, cut it out (when you're cutting it out, cut on the inside of the black line, you don't want that on it), and try it on the ball before you commit.  I did end up having to add another segment to it, because it didn't go all the way around.  So, I used that far left segment, that is mostly the Pacific Ocean.



2. Paint the foam ball.  I wasn't sure how the foam would handle the mode podge, if it would suck it up, and cause it to warp.  When I googled it, I saw someone suggest painting it first.  I chose a color that pretty much matched the color of the water, that way if if it peeked through a little, it wouldn't be so noticeable.  


3. Let them dry.  I used toilet paper rolls for them to sit on.


4. Brush modge podge on the white side of the map, then carefully wrap it around the ball.  This part is very tricky, because the glue causes the paper to curl and stick to itself, and you're trying to line up your segments at the same time.  I had one tear, which was distressing, but honestly, mode podge forgives much.


Even with this overlapping, there was still a little bit of space left uncovered, just for reference sake.

5. Next, brush the modge podge on the outside of the ball.  Run your fingers along it, trying to get rid of any bubbles or wrinkles, paying special attention to where the segments meet up.  As it dries, every once in a while rub your fingers along it, smoothing it out.


6. Let them fully dry


6. I screwed a small hook in the top, and looped some twine through it.




7. This part is optional, but after this, I wrote out "Although we're Worlds apart, we're together in heart." on a strip of scrapbook paper.  I then played around with placement, until I liked it.  I used the modge podge again to glue it around.




8. Finally, I pushed the pins into the four places we live.  Well, approximately, because New York is close to new Hampshire, and Slovenia is close to Hungary.





And there you have it!  I hope you've enjoyed this tutorial, and even more than that, I hope my family loves their new ornament!
Please share with me your favorite Christmas traditions, or ornaments,  I'd love to see them!

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Orange Slice Garland

I love the holidays.  Not just Christmas, but Thanksgiving, Advent, Saint Nicholas Day, Saint Lucia Day...

One of my favorite things to do when it comes to the holidays is natural and/or handmade ornaments.  I wanted to make something Aidan could help with, and that would work for the Fall, but could also go into Christmas.


I decided to make a dried orange slice garland.  I only had clementines on hand, so the slices turned out a little smaller, and thus a little less impressive than I'd hoped, but we made it, it was fun and cute. :)  So, here's how you make one for yourself:


1. Cut orange/clementine into rings, no thicker than 1/4 inches.  I got about 4/clementine.  Preheat oven to 215 degrees Fahrenheit or 100 degrees Celsius.



2. Pat the juice out of the rings



3. Line baking sheet with wax paper or aluminum foil.  Place orange slices on the baking sheet.




4. "Bake" orange slices for 40 minutes on one side, then 40 minutes on the other.  For the record, I totally burned my first batch, as the directions I was following were for full sized oranges, so called for a longer bake time.




5. I used a nail to make holes in each slice, then strung them on some twine, and hung them in the living room.  Because of where I hung them, it was hard to get a great shot, but it looks really cute!


Couple Tips:
- If you have a needle large enough to string twine through, you could add a cranberry or craisin between each orange slice, or pop corn, you could switch it up with rosemary sprigs.. 

- I used clear command hooks so as to save the wall, and to be inconspicuous. 

Please let me know if you make your own, I would love to see pictures of it!  It's the most wonderful time of the year!


Monday, November 6, 2017

The Day I Felt Strong

Growing up as a little girl, there were many adjectives one could've used to describe me - cute, blonde, graceful, girly, talkative... 
but strong probably wasn't one of them most people would associate with me.  I've never been athletic, and was definitely on the gangly-side.  I have an opinion, and usually feel free to state it, but I'm not one to shout it out loud.
Growing up in a bit of a fish bowl - as a missionary kid - being well-behaved was valued very highly.  As a textbook compliant eldest, this was not too hard for me.  Apart from a lying streak in middle school, I was always mild-mannered, and minded my p-s and q-s. 



As girls, that is often what people expect from us.  Be sweet, don't hurt anyone, and don't be too loud.

With these as our primary "virtues", it's not so hard to understand all of the headlines in the news recently.

Thankfully, I had parents who always taught me from a young age that I could say "no".  My mom was one of those one-in-a-million moms who actually talked to her kids about their body parts - private or otherwise.  My dad one day abruptly asked me on the way to school, "you know about parts of your body other people can't touch, right?"  With my parents, no topic was off the table.  They empowered me to own my body.


There was a boy at church.  He was one of those boys who was always inappropriate, but since we were all still "kids" (about 10-11), no one seemed to think it was that big of a deal.

We were standing in line to go back into the adult service after Sunday school class, and we were standing on stairs.  
I was standing higher than him, and he kept leaning back in such a way that his head was resting in my "lap".  
I told him to stop.  
He did it again.  
I told him to stop again.  
He did it a third time.

I kneed him in the head.

He went and told his mother.

I became afraid, knowing I would surely be in trouble for hurting him, and for being "mean".  The boy and his mother came up to me and my mom.  The mother demanded that I apologize.
Then my mom looked at me and asked me what happened, and I explained it to her.  She asked me if I asked him to stop, and I said yes.

Then she said the most empowering thing.  She told me I didn't have to apologize.  So I didn't.
I had protected myself when I felt violated, and was justified in doing so.


I felt strong.  I was strong.  I am strong.

I am strong because I am encouraged to have a voice.  I am strong because I matter.  I am strong because I can say no.

That is the way I try to parent.  It's hard when we are constantly meeting new people, on whom we have to make a good first impression.  But we've always told our son that he doesn't have to give hugs, or things like that.  We ALSO teach him, that he can't make anyone hug him, and that sometimes people don't want to be touched.  That it is okay to say no, and also to be told no.
I hope that someday we have a little girl.  I hope that she is sweet, kind, cute and talkative.  But I will also teach her to be strong.  To say no.  I do understand that there are times that people aren't afforded the opportunity to say no, and they are taken advantage of.   But I will teach her that it is her right.

There is no easy or quick fix to our world's problems.  But empowering our kids is a good start.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Hungarian Cold Sour Cherry Soup Recipe

One of the delights of Hungarian cuisine is Cold Sour Cherry Soup.  Yes, you read that right.  It is a dessert disguised as a soup.  For those of you who are wondering, yes, it is sweet.  Yes, you eat it before dinner.  Yes, for real.  Do you need this in your life?  Of course you do.  Read on to find out how to make this bowl of deliciousness.


Ingredients:

12 oz frozen sour/tart cherries (if you can't find frozen sour/tart cherries, you can use regular ones, but only add 1/2 cup of sugar, and simmer about 5-8 minutes longer)
12 1/2 cups of water
1 1/2 cups of sugar (1/2 if regular cherries)
2 cinnamon sticks
1 1/2 cups of sour cream
3 tbs flour
2 egg yolks

Optional - whipped cream and cinnamon

(Serves approx. 8)

Directions:

1. Pour frozen cherries into a large pot.

2. Add water, sugar and cinnamon sticks.  


3. Bring mixture to a boil, stirring occasionally, and simmer for 10 minutes.  (Taste the "broth", if it doesn't taste cherry-y enough, simmer a little longer.)

In the meantime...

4. In a separate bowl combine sour cream, flour and eggs.














5. Whisk mixture together until it is smooth.




6. By this time your cherry mixture should look like this:

7. Fish out the cinnamon sticks.

8.  Scoop out about a 1/3 cup of the broth (without cherries in it), and mix it into the sour cream mixture.  Mix it in quickly, and evenly.

9. Continue to add scoops of the "juice" to the mixture, until you bring the sour cream mixture up to a decent heat.  (You probably won't be able to get it as hot as the original broth, but try to get it hot.  If it's too cold, it'll separate, and create little floaty chunks that'll rise to the surface.)

10.  Slowly poor the sour cream mixture into the broth, while continuously stirring.

11.  Heat the soup back up a little bit, but be careful NOT to bring it to a boil, or it'll to cook the eggs, and curdle.

12.  In your sink, create an ice bath (ice and cold water).  Put the pot in it, and stir it, until the soup is genuinely cold.  If you don't cool it down enough, and place it in the fridge, it'll sour.

13. Place in the fridge overnight to chill.

14.  The next day you'll need to stir it together, as it'll separate a little, but that's normal.

15.  Serve in a bowl, with a little (or a lot of) whipped cream, and a dash of cinnamon.



Tips:
1. Hungarians make this with a variety of fruit (like apples), so feel free to experiment!  Just keep in mind, that the amount of sugar will probably change.
2. This recipe is NOT hard at all, there are just a couple things you have to pay attention to: 1; get the sour cream mixture hot before you add it to the broth, 2; don't let the soup boil once the sour cream mixture is added, 3; thoroughly cool the soup down before placing it the fridge.
3. Make sure it tastes like the fruit, not just "sweet".

And there you have it!  Please let me know how your's turns out, if you decide to make it!  Especially if you use other fruit!
Happy cooking!