I sit here and sip on cocoa; the holidays are here! I know it is not thanksgiving yet, and it is barely time to start decking the halls or singing carols…barely. BUT, until then, we’ve already got exciting things on the move over here at PoppinTalk. I’m not sure what the future will bring, but hopefully it’s at least as good as this perfectly-chocolatey milk.
Since I’ve not written in a while, I wanted to share some of my favorite new and old Christmas traditions…
Cookies for days
Most people make little gingerbread men or gingerbread houses as it nears December, and of course we do that, too, but I always like to make sugar cookies and homemade frosting and buy all the candies you can think of to sugar-up a tiny sweet cookie to the max.
If you’ve never attempted such an art, when you do, don’t limit your designs to strictly Christmas themes. Every year, I take out my year-round cookie-cutter box, dump the whole thing out, stir up some dough, and dig in.
Try decorating an old western boot or a dinosaur or the first letters of your family’s names. And then, as they bake to puffy perfection, add insane amounts of powdered sugar to some water, break out the food colors and become an icing inventor. Once you are satisfied with your palette, and the cookies are scrumptious-ready, pull them out of the oven and get to painting hundreds of yummy masterpieces.
It may not be time to deck the halls, but it is time to deck some cookies to deck my plate with. Pass the sprinkles and red hots and green icing, please, I would like to overdo the most delicious (and edible) cactus you’ve ever beheld.
Cocoa extravaganza is what it sounds like: lots of different hot cocoas. Ones made Mexican-style with cinnamon, and others made with extra chocolate and marshmallows, another with caramel, and a fourth with a candy cane or two for mintiness.
Whoa, whoa, now! Not so fast pulling out the cocoa powder and pots just yet. As much as you probably could manage to make all these (and invent new ones) in just one day, wouldn’t it be better to do one a day? A different one each day as you sit down to a favorite classic movie? Pick out your favorite things that go well with chocolate (I spy marachino cherries and sprinkles) and now pull out the milk and turn on the heat.
If you live in a warm climate, there is even the option of making chocolate shakes… I see strawberries and lots of countertop smudges in your future. Let’s get started!
Home Apple Cider brewery
A few years ago, we posted here on PoppinTalk a delicious homemade apple cider recipe. You can find it here. 😋
The ideas in the below sections also hold some gold-mines of fun for kids and families alike, as much as they are tailored for other audiences… (check out the Mini Christmas Trees and Shrinky Dinks idea in “Going it Solo“, or the M&M dispenser in “For Scrooges“.)
Apples here, apples there
This is a great idea for families, too, but even couples deserve to enjoy the beauty and excitement of an apple-picking orchard. This is definitely one of my favorite activities of the season. Donning flannel sweaters and pulling on some warm boots, grabbing my lover’s arm (I wish) and heading to the countless rows dropping with delicious red jewels.
A lot of apple picking orchards have different kinds of apples, like Gala, Fuji, Red Delicious, etc. Check on their website (if they have one), or visit the customer desk ahead of time and ask if your favorite kind will be available this year.
P.S. Did you know that each apple seed has its own “fingerprint”? No apple seed is alike, and even a seed from a Gala apple could grow into a Fuji apple tree! This is where apple grafting comes in handy. Apple farmers are very skilled at identifying each kind, and crafty at breeding the ones they want to harvest.
I no longer throw out my apple seeds or cores, I toss them out to nature; you never know what you’ll get!
Gingerbread homes, towers, trains, and towns
One year, I found a gingerbread train set and I said, “Oh yeah, I have to try this.” And ever since, I’ve been itching to try new ones and build new things with gingerbread. (And, if you’re wondering, the gingerbread train turned out awesome! The cookie itself tasted like licorice XD–It was a German-made kit, so that was neat in itself.)
Nonetheless, this year, do some searching before settling on which design you are going to decorate this year. There is bound to be one that jumps off the shelf at you and you’ll not be able to resist tucking it into the cart along with your ten-pound turkey (because we ain’t doing small this year) and then have a contest to see whose is the most grandiose.
Going it Solo
If you live an insane travel-distance from your family (Like, say you are vacationing in Barcelona for the holidays this year; or just moved across the country) and don’t have a lover, then I’ve got ideas for you, too, don’t worry. Besides, who needs someone to keep them warm and snuggle under a blanket with by the fire, anyways… *cries*
Make “ugly socks”
Forget about the parties your family and friends are having back home, and don’t worry about walking to the local Irish pub wearing a Rudolf the red-nosed reindeer sweatshirt decked with glitters and pom poms just to cry over a beer. Instead, grab some of your own pom poms and glue and puffy paint, and a cheap pair of socks, and do your own decking. Then, sit by the fire and admire your handiwork with a mug of cocoa, basking in the glorious sight of your attempted Santa portrait.
The good thing about Ugly socks, is that you can still go out in public and even cry over a beer if you like, but at least all the glitter and pom poms will not stick out among the crowds of not-yet-decked folks. Of course, you could even go get knee-high socks that have little elves shoes at the end and dance to an Irish jig to really get in the spirit.
Buy a tiny Christmas tree
…and wee ornaments to go along with it. For years (and when I went to college) my siblings and I would each get our own mini Christmas tree for our bedroom, pick out a little star to go on top, and either peruse the mini ornaments section, or make our own with Shrinky Dink paper.
Find two of my favorite kinds of Shrinky Dink paper here and here
You can find mini trees in tree lots or in your local shopping store. Pick fresh, or skip the mess with an artificial tree. I must admit, though, sometimes the artificial trees do shed a little. Especially fresh from the box.
For Scrooges (and those who have found it difficult to celebrate, out of grief)
If Christmas isn’t your jam, or if this season brings grief, some of these ideas could be for you to enjoy alone, where (for you true scrooges) no one else could break your cover–I know you have a warm heart, even if you’d never admit it.
They don’t even have to be the reds and blues and greens; they can be simple, warm white bulbs strung about each of the four walls of your little personal haven.
You can find indoor lights pretty much anywhere that holiday lights are sold. And they can be left up year-round to enjoy even beyond the season. I left mine up for nearly three years. …Don’t look at me like that.
But, before drifting off to sleep beneath the glow of winter wonderland lights to dream of Rudolf, make yourself a cup of …
Apple Sarsaparilla Rooibos Tea
If lights aren’t your jam, either, then taste the flavor of a warm holiday with Apple Sarsaparilla. It may taste like the smell of the corner candy store from your childhood. 😉 It sure reminded me of the family-run toffee, coffee, and candy store my family always went to. Serve warm with a hint of maple syrup.
Here is naturally caffeine-free Wild Apple Sarsaparilla tea from Tazo, available at Target. You can even steal my idea and mail individual tea packets to your family and friends… The envelope will smell merry and bright.
Make an easy M&M dispenser
These mason jar dispensers are not limited to M&M’s, but will certainly remind you of the joy of the clank of a handful of candies dropping down from the gumball or candy machine as a child.
Some, like this one, here would require a little wood working. My father is a woodworker so this feat was no match for him–he made one for his grandmother to enjoy. (The one pictured in the link is not his, but a little similar…I think his was cooler.)
Or, you could make a fancy contraption out of a mason jar, cardboard, tape, and a plastic cup about the same size as the jar opening. Here’s my idea:
Take a typical mason jar and fill with candy. Measure the opening of the jar and pull out an old cereal box (snack on the almost-gone cereal as you build) and cut out a strip that is as wide and 11/2 (or larger, read on to get the gist before making the cuts) as long as the opening. Cut out another size that is the exact dimensions of the opening and cut a square or rectangular hole somewhere within it, aligned with the center. Place the long strip over the opening without securing it, then place the other right on top and tape that one on the sides. Test your contraption to be sure that the long strip can slide back and forth, nestled in its slip. Now, as you slide it, determine when you’d want the candies to fall out, and cut a small hole in the long strip in the back. The candies won’t fall out until you pull the strip. Test it over a bowl.
Next, with your plastic cup, go into the garage and pull out an exacto knife or a screw gun and (very carefully) punch out a hole in the side of the cup at the base. This way, you get that nice clink when the candies drop.
Once you’ve got that drilled or cut out out, handwash it and place the original opening-side of the cup overtop of the contraption you built on the mason jar. Tape well on the sides.
After the cup is securely attached to the mason jar, be sure the strip is covering the opening, turn it over, so the dispenser sits on the plastic cup, and pull the strip for a nice clink and a little handful of candies! Place the strip back and share with the grandkids (if you’ve got any!).
Anyhow, that’s all for today! Try out some of these ideas and share some of your own in the comments below and spread the joy!
See you all next time when you visit PoppinTalk’s living room!
Wishes for a bright Thanksgiving season and Christmas holiday,