12.28.2012

friday foto: believe.

I love Christmas. And, every year, as sad as I am to see December 25 come and go, it always feels so good to cleanse after the holiday, doesn't it? I'm talking about the house - the struggling poinsettias, the faux greens, snow globes, bells and balls. Even de-lighting the tree - the most dreadful of all Christmas cleansing, in my book - felt good to me this year, amongst the pricks and pokes of our really, really dried up tree. Evidence that the spirit of Christmas is bigger than any tree, in any shape, size or color. Because ours has been dead for almost two weeks. But it didn't matter to us. Just look at this face.
Not once but twice, this thought actually crossed my mind before the big day: "I really need to get organized so the house is clean for Santa."

I recognize I'm a grown up. Which makes that kind of amazing. It just about knocked me off my feet, both times.

I know that this belief has taken on a new meaning, now that I have a daughter of my own, but I grew up in a house of serious believers, and I am hoping to build the same foundation for Miss Mari.

I made some notes so I don't forget for next year, about building on traditions we've started since she was born, because building traditions builds layers that build belief; things like her advent calendar; making sugar cookies; spending Christmas Eve with her cousins, followed by Christmas Eve mass, then new red-and-white pajamas for her long winter's nap, matched with red-and-white wrapping paper just for Santa's gifts; Christmas morning waffles; saving Mari's gift tags and recycling them from year-to-year, as a chronicle of Christmases past; reading 'Twas the Night Before Christmas the night before Christmas (and really, all December long); and filing Mary's gifting suggestions for next year.

Most of these traditions stem from my childhood, but so many come from reading what you do to make the holiday special for your family, and for that, I thank you from the bottom of my heart. You've helped me rekindle the power of belief, and then pass it onto my little angel baby.

Back to sweeping up pine needles and packing away another magical holiday. Enjoy this last December weekend, and here's to a shiny new year. See you in 2013!

PS: Mari's kitchen came together and was a total success! I can't wait to share it with you.

For more Friday Fotos, see last week's post.

12.21.2012

friday foto: it's in the mail.

This Friday Foto taken exactly one week ago, comes to you from a post office box on a tiny street in Manhattan Beach. I took so much pleasure in signing, sealing and delivering each and every one to our family and friends.
These paper bag envelopes from Paper Source were stuffed with our home-designed Christmas card and were finished off with our custom return address stamp from Paperwink. I hand wrote each address using my favorite gelly roll pens.

From our family to yours, we wish you a most beautiful Christmas. Full of lots of mail, a crackling warm fire, cookies and milk, big fuzzy socks, mistletoe, sparkles, peppermint, twinkle lights and lots of giggles with the ones you love.

See you after the holiday.

For more Friday Fotos, see last week's post.

12.20.2012

gifting: holiday granola.

I'm so excited to share the newest addition to my holiday baking routine: dark chocolate and cherry granola. With toasty oats, almonds, walnuts, coconut and ground flaxseed, plus a couple of spices and lots of honey for sweet flavor.
I saved Annie's Eats' recipe since I saw it posted almost a year ago. At the time, I thought it would make a lovely valentine's gift. As with most projects, the holiday came and went and almost 12 months later, I found my granola calling with this delicious recipe that is so surprisingly easy. I will be making this again and again - and have visions of lots of yummy variations using Annie's base.
This simple and sweet granola is balanced with a toss of roughly chopped bittersweet chocolate, which is made for topping thick vanilla yogurt or ice cream. By the handful also works. All three of us are addicted to it.
I packaged a cup or so for some sweet neighbors and friends in Ikea's Slom glass jars, finished off with some twine, and the occasional addition of an ornament or dish towel. So that the recipients know what's in store, I added a custom gift tag with ingredients listed, printed on Paper Source's paper bag cover paper.
I can't wait to play Santa this weekend and make our deliveries!

Divine Twine in Cherry Red from Shop Sweet Lulu.

12.19.2012

merry merry.

I'm very happy and relieved to report I was almost two weeks early with my Christmas cards this year, as opposed to last year, when I sent them out on Dec. 23. This was a project done all on my own, with the exception of a beautiful photo from Ms. Jenna Beth, of course.
Using the Illustrator skills I learned in Alma's class, plus a spot-on printer reference from Christie, I pieced together the design you see below with my favorite paper bag envelopes from Paper Source and our custom return address stamp from Paperwink.
Paper: Savoy 100% cotton letterpress in bright white.
Printer: Manhattan Re-Pro.









I'm so thankful to have connected with David at Manhattan Repro. He was patient with all my crazy questions, and like a lot of us, appreciates a really thick paper and a beautifully printed product. Oh, and for anyone interested: he also has a letterpress. Goldmine!

PS: If you're considering design classes, but wondering what's best for you, Alma just discussed the differences between InDesign and Illustrator on Nicole's Classes' blog yesterday. Check it out!

12.18.2012

holiday cocktail: pom + prosecco.

I have one more holiday cocktail to share with you, just in time for your Christmas party this weekend, or your Christmas Eve or Christmas brunch. It's with my latest bubbly obsession: Prosecco. It's a little sweeter than your average champagne, and it makes for a beautiful mixer.
Grab some pre-picked and packaged pomegranate seeds from Trader Joe's, some Prosecco and some pomegranate juice and you've got a pretty, pretty holiday cocktail that's as good as it looks.
No real recipe here; but for every 48-ounce bottle (six cups) of pomegranate juice, I'd say you need two bottles of champagne, which was plenty for a group of six. But, if you're like me, you'll pick up extras of each.

To class it up, I poured the pom juice into a glass carafe (for reference: it held nearly all of the juice from the 48-ounce bottle), and left extra seeds out for my party guests. This is a simple and refreshing cocktail that unlike the mimosa, works morning, noon and night.

PS: If you are shopping Christmas brunch recipes, here are two, from last year. Highly recommend.

Vintage bar cart from Almu Design; glasses from Williams-Sonoma; wood tray from Jo-Ann; oversized kraft tag + red circle label from Paper Source.

12.17.2012

a quick list: last minute holiday posts.

Happy week before Christmas! I can't believe how quickly our advent calendar is emptying. I wish I could draw it out longer. As I was combing through my blog checking in on what I did last year around this time, I thought I might share a few of posts past if you're seeking some last minute inspiration this week as we all get ready for Christmas.
Here's a quick holiday-inspired hit list:

+ for crafty gifting: cheap and cheerful clear ball ornament DIY.
+ for your co-workers: mugs + coffee.
+ for the kids in your life: Yoyo.com.
+ for the hostess, plus go-to sweets from Crate & Barrel.
+ for your neighbors: Kahlua Cake.
+ for your Christmas party: cheesecake petit-fours.
+ last but never least: gift tag DIY.

And, of course, my favorite place for all of the above: Anthropologie. As if I didn't want everything in the store, they have perfected packaging. Those are their tags pictured you see, which come with every gift box! This special something was gifted over the weekend to my sweet Aunt Debbie who is one of my loyalest readers.

12.14.2012

friday foto: sugar cookie stars.

Every year, I resolve to make cookies in November and freeze them for Christmas. Never happens. I think I'm married to the idea that Christmas sweets baking must take place during the Christmas season. As in: in the month of December. So started the cookie marathon last weekend.
As my mom always recommends, I do sugar cookies in waves over at least three days, which is why starting in November is a great idea. For next year. I make the dough at least a few days in advance. I bake on another, and the last step, which also gets its own day: frosting. Which, like last year, was made easier with four hands versus two.

I'm a big fan of sparkling sugar, which looks fantastic on bright white stars, and their easy shape makes for easy frosting. I bake off in two sizes: large and mini.

When it comes to the dough, my all-time favorite sugar cookie recipe calls for almond extract, which you can taste in every delicious bite. And... with a quick Google search, you can find the exact recipe right here. It pairs perfectly with Martha Stewart's royal icing. I know you might be tempted to make a butter frosting, but don't bother. These cookies call for the sweet simplicity of royal icing. It's all you need. Promise.

With regards to storage: these cookies were made for the freezer. In fact, after the frosting dries, I freeze all my sugar cookies until the day I want to serve or gift them. I also like eating them cold, straight out of the freezer. Every night of December. It's my weakness.

Oh, and btw: these cookies, dipped in peppermint-spiked white hot chocolate = perfection.

What cookies are you baking up this weekend? Holiday party plans? Do tell!

12.12.2012

holiday cocktail: spiked (or not) white hot chocolate.

White hot chocolate. It tastes as good as it sounds, and if you give it a little pepp with a candy cane or some peppermint schnapps, it's a toasty good beverage that you can make a bunch of, keep warm on the stove and enjoy all night long.
White chocolate seems so festive for the season, doesn't it? Even if you're not a white chocolate lover, have one taste and you'll agree that this is one luxurious cup of cocoa that's really easy to make. For a peppermint twist, add a candy cane or peppermint cocoa stirrers, like these. If you want to kick it up a notch, try adding a few drops (or more!) of peppermint liqueur.
This recipe comes from The Barefoot Contessa who calls for whole milk. I used a combo of what we had in the frig: whole and non-, so that's my very basic adjustment. My recommendation is to use whatever you have on hand, but be sure to get half-and-half. So worth it!

White Hot Chocolate with Peppermint
So very slightly adapted from The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook, page 226

2 cups non-fat milk
2 cups whole or low-fat milk
4 cups half-and-half
1 pound white chocolate, coarsely chopped
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
Optional: Peppermint liqueur, such as Peppermint Schnapps
Peppermint sticks, candy canes or fresh mint sprigs for garnish

Bring the milk and half-and-half to just barely a simmer. Add the white chocolate and gently stir until it melts completely, about 3 minutes. Add the vanilla and whisk vigorously until a bit frothy.

I've left this on the stove for hours, and then re-heated gently as needed. As it cools and sits, you might find a slight film develop. You can bring it back to life with a whip of the whisk. Serve in large mugs and just before serving, add liqueur, if using, and garnish with mint of your choice.

Mugs from Crate & Barrel.

12.11.2012

gifting: for your little one.

Back in July, when Mari turned one, we didn't do much in the way of gifting. We glossed over the gifts in favor of a really fun party, and that in and of itself was the greatest gift for all of us. But, back then, I really, really, really wanted to get her a play kitchen. Did I say really? I held out, and did some research. I even purchased one and then promptly returned it, because at one point I thought I'd try to make one.

Fast forward a few months, and a lot of deliberating but no doing. I decided that I could glam up an Ikea play kitchen, and give it a little personality, just for Mari. So, here's what I've got and am piecing together for Christmas morning.
one // two // three // four // five // six // seven

The palette inspiration for her kitchen set-up came from Etsy seller Lauren of Little Lilly Lulu, who is amazing, by the way. I messaged her with my master plan, and she came back with suggestions and options, and not only did she make the apron you see above, but she customized two play towels for Mari, with coordinating fabric scraps. The whole ensemble makes me so happy and I can't wait to bring it all together!

What am I missing? We've already got some play food, and have hinted to grandparents what would make good additions. We do need play plates/bowls, etc. but Ikea only sells stoneware plates, which seem heavy and not too toddler-friendly. I'm thinking melamine. Any ideas?

12.10.2012

christmas cookie party.

Holly jolly. And full. Is exactly what I'm feeling today. After two holiday gatherings and a fireworks show, I've stuffed (and drank) myself silly. But I do I love that about December - the hustle, bustle and utter indulgence.

In the craze, I'm trying my best to stop and savor things like watching my baby girl help her daddy put up Christmas lights. I'm reminding myself to be grateful for the back aches that come from spending too many hours in the kitchen making too many sugar cookies. Even when my eyes sting and the bed is calling, this really is the most wonderful time of the year.

With You've Got Mail in the background as I type, I'm enjoying leftovers from last weekend's cookie and crafting party. Six girls, plus six sweets and a few snacks rounded out a very filling afternoon. Might as well start the month off right. Right?
With an early afternoon party, the menu called for small bites. To keep it simple, I made just one dessert, and supplemented with a few store-bought go-to's, including a big cheese platter, crostini with bruschetta and a few seasonal store-bought sweets; The Crate's white snowflake pretzels and fleur de sel caramels and dark chocolate bark from Trader Joe's.
My cookie contribution were these delicious raspberry crumble bars from The Barefoot Contessa's newest cookbook, Foolproof. With every bite, they are quickly becoming one of my most favorite bars/cookies/sweets of all time. I tell you: they alone are worth the price of this beautiful cookbook, and they are most delicious with a dusting of powdered sugar (which came after the first photo).
Everyone brought something so delicious to share. Katie brought kiss cookies; Candice made a pumpkin chocolate cheesecake, Monique brought caramel dip and apples and we had two versions of peppermint brownies; Krisa's were topped with candy canes and Whitney's were skinny sticks, which she wrapped just for us in kraft boxes.
You can get all the details on Whitney's creation, including where to find the download for those adorable recipe cards, plus the oh-so-good recipe over at her new blog.

In need of some holiday cocktails? I have two to share with you this week!

12.07.2012

friday foto: natural christmas at home.

I tried something different this year. Instead of arranging the same old decorations in the same old locations and painting the house red and green, I took a cue from my Minted inspiration board and went a bit more rustic. Lots of greens, pine cones and hints of burlap and natural textures are making our home feel extra cozy this most wonderful time of year.
I also love recycling things like fabric. When you have yards and yards of it, it is so nice to put it to good use. A 1.5-ish inch strip of burlap made a great bow - that is holding its shape beautifully - on our fresh green wreath, sent straight to us from Oregon.

What's on your wreath this year?

Have a jolly weekend, by the way. We plan to really get in the spirit with the Manhattan Beach Christmas Fireworks on Sunday. Hope to see you out around town!

For more Friday Fotos, check out last week's post.

12.06.2012

holiday craft party.

About two years and eight babies later, our tiny book club has evolved from a group of six 30-something newlyweds to 30-something moms. While I can't even remember the last book we officially read, our meetings have turned into gatherings, and these women have become my local cheerleaders. When I question what kind of mom I am, they assure me that I'm good. When I run out of food ideas for Mari, they give me some. When I post something personal, they give me a thumbs up and tell me they are feeling the same way, too.

I just love our little group, and hosting them on Sunday to ring in some holiday cheer gave me such pleasure. An idea that was almost two months in the making, and though it took me weeks to do, I made crafty invitations to get us inspired for an afternoon of gift tag making, sweets-eating and champagne-sipping. I provided the tools, and everyone brought cookies to exchange. It was multi-tasking at its funnest, which we moms know exactly how to do.

Here are the details.

Atop a six-foot table that only fit in our living room, each guest got their very own take-home Garnish berry basket filled with tag essentials: jute twine, baker's twine in assorted colors, a white gelly roll pen and for more cookie making at home: a cookie cutter.
paper{whites} // holiday craft party
paper{whites} // holiday craft party
paper{whites} // holiday craft party
The girls also got a sweet surprise, nestled in Ikea's hanging paper cones.
paper{whites} // holiday craft party
paper{whites} // holiday craft party
Inside: candy canes and white chocolate-covered snowflake pretzels from Crate & Barrel. My annual holiday season must-have.
paper{whites} // holiday craft party
Our crafting table was filled with lots of goodies: pens, punches, stamps, stamp pads and card stock. My favorite selection for tag and shape punches is Michael's. And my favorite place for obsessing over rubber stamps: Paper Source.
paper{whites} // holiday craft party
paper{whites} // holiday craft party
Crafting with friends is way more fun than crafting solo (think: 8th grade art class). If you've got tags to make, a craft party could be your answer. Keep it small and simple, and merry. Break out the gear, turn up the Christmas music and pour a little bubbly. Here's how you can do it.
paper{whites} // holiday craft party
More sources:
+ kraft runner: wrapping paper, from Ikea.
+ mini baker's twine spools: Martha Stewart's line at Jo-Ann.
+ all other baker's twine: Shop Sweet Lulu.
+ card stock: mix of Paper Source, Michael's and left-over paper scraps.

Next week, I'll wrap up the party talk with some photos of our eats + sweets.

12.05.2012

'tis the season: designing a holiday party invitation.

This invitation for our little craft and cookie party on Sunday brought everything together that I learned from Nicole's Classes, all tied up in a bow (literally, of Divine Twine from Shop Sweet Lulu, of course). It took me weeks to do it, but I did it. And I'm really proud of it!
paper{whites} // holiday craft + cookie party invitation
After a much-needed schooling in typography from Melanie Burk, I designed this invitation in Adobe Illustrator, which I now know how to use, thanks to Alma Loveland. I cannot believe I am just now discovering the world of AI. Is it too dramatic to say that it's changed my life?

So, with Alma and Melanie's voices ringing in my head, I designed this invitation as my final project for my Typography class. For a really small group, I was able to customize them with personalized gift tags, twine and address labels. Oh, the joy of doing just six invitations for six really special girls!
paper{whites} // holiday craft + cookie party invitation
Tags were cut from Paper Source card stock; kraft address labels cut from Paper Source adhesive label sheets. All were done with a good old fashioned ruler, paper cutter and scissors. I stamped a white circle over the hole punch using an eraser from a trusty No. 2.

You'll notice there are some creases in the kraft labels in the picture above; they came from a quick fold over so I could cut symmetrical angles. Once I removed the backing and stuck them to the envelopes, I was able to flatten the seams.
paper{whites} // holiday craft + cookie party invitation
paper{whites} // holiday craft + cookie party invitation
Fonts used: Carolyna and Novecento Ultra Light. My obsessions for the moment.
paper{whites} // holiday craft + cookie party invitation
paper{whites} // holiday craft + cookie party invitation
Also from Paper Source: red square envelopes. Hand lettering on tags and labels by yours truly, with a white gelly roll pen.
paper{whites} // holiday craft + cookie party invitation
Custom return address stamp designed by Lynette and produced by Paperwink a few months ago for Mari's birthday party invitations. It's one of my favorite possessions. Highly recommend in the gift giving department, btw.
paper{whites} // holiday craft + cookie party invitation
Up tomorrow: craft party pics. We made... you guessed it: gift tags. More goodness to come!

12.03.2012

getting in the spirit.

Happy December Monday. Has the last week been a little crazy for you? Could you use another weekend? That's sort of how I feel today. But, yesterday, for just a few hours, I got to pause, sit back and ring in the Christmas spirit with a few special gal pals.
Details are coming from our afternoon of cookies and crafting. There was card stock, rubber stamps, gel pens, champagne and gossip. In short, it was a perfect Sunday afternoon.

More to come!

Invitation designed by moi! With all my skills learned in Illustrator 101 and Typography. I've signed myself up for two more creative classes in 2013, and I can't wait. My name is Alison, and I'm addicted to Adobe Illustrator.

11.30.2012

friday foto: three cheers.

Someone went to her very first college football game over Thanksgiving weekend. I am not exaggerating when I say it might have been the best day of her life.
I have been trying to be more adventurous with Mari. Because I'm such a homebody, I am content to stay home, or very close to it. Things like football games, amusement parks, road trips and the like give me a little bit of anxiety. I envy other moms who take these toddler outings with such ease. I would like to be more like them.

I'd also rather watch a game on television in the comfort of my own home 99.9% of the time. But, when it comes to the really big games, the ones that get my insides buzzing with anticipation and excitement, I hate to miss out. And now, I want Mari to feel that, too.

Even though our team lost, we had a blast. To entertain the very short attention span of my very active daughter in close quarters seemed impossible, but it wasn't.

Mari was engaged. With everything; the noise, the band, the mascot, the big screens, the fans and of course, her family, who made the whole experience complete. I am so thankful to have shared the experience with her, and can't wait to do it again.

For the big game, a few things were key for us:
+ a big one: timing and getting the naps in before the event.
+ extra hands, like family and friends, who can take a toddler hand-off in a pinch.
+ forgoing the stroller and opting for just the Ergo.
+ lots of crackers and snacks, like Whitney's go-to squeezeable fruits.
+ as Mari says: agua and a straw (or a sippy) always nearby.
+ around this time of year: plenty of layers.
+ with some luck: finding a good, accessible and reasonably close parking spot.
+ for the ride home: teddy.

Happy December weekend, all. Hope you sneak in some college football, and some merriment, too. Enjoy it!

For more Friday Fotos, see the most recent post.

11.29.2012

counting down: the advent calendar.

Last year, I shared my love for the advent calendar. It's one of my favorite Christmas traditions. With just a few days to spare last November, I ordered this Land of Nod calendar (still available this year!) and made do with a small Santa ornament that we moved from pocket-to-pocket as we counted down to Dec. 25.
After the holiday came and went, my mom and I picked up some teeny tiny ornaments (on super sale!) to fill all 25 pockets, and this year, Mari will get to decorate her very own tiny Christmas tree, one-by-one, day-by-day.
I love this calendar because it's simple, has ease-of-access for little hands and perhaps most aesthetically important: it matches our DIY Christmas stockings. I still can't believe we pulled those off last year. Thank goodness for my mom and her sewing machine.

We found most of the ornaments at after-Christmas sales at Crate & Barrel and CVS. Note to self: drug stores have a great selection of small glass ornaments, in box sets, that are cheap and cheerful. They also are sweet additions to a bottle of wine, a plate of cookies or anything that you might be gifting to neighbors and friends in December that could use some merriment.
The ornaments will decorate Mari's mini artificial tree, from Jo-Ann, to which I added a short strand of mini white lights. Her eyes literally twinkle when we turn them on.
I'm so excited to see how she responds to the first ornament on Dec. 1. She's already been very busy with all the ball ornaments. Probably because she can now actually say the word 'ball.' Nothing has ever sounded sweeter.