Christmas

Warm Feet for Winter Project was a Meaningful Success.

 

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pile of my families mismatched socks

Today was a beautiful West Virginia early winter day. The temperature was 50 degrees, the sun was shining, and my car was loaded with donations to the local homeless shelter. 60 pairs of new socks overflowed into the seat of my little station wagon. I was able to collect them from my co-volunteers at our annual holiday dinner.With each donation my friends said “This was so much better than buying a gift for each other.” That they were happy to help in this collection drive, and things like “I picked theses socks for a woman who needs them much more than I do.” Today I  was happy to drop off the donation and I am filled with  the spirit of what Christmas means to me.

As you can see below I created a graphic to share with my friends and co-volunteers from the Appalachin Forest Hertiage Area, AmeriCorps program. I wanted everyone I work with to have the opportunity to do something different with their money for the holiday days.

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I took my lunch hour  the fallowing day to drive downtown to drop off the socks. As I drove the large shopping bag and box to the local homeless shelter, I had no idea what to expect. I thought I would walk into a house with an office with basic amenities where I would drop off the socks. Then an administration person would hand them out and make sure everyone in the shelter would get their fair share.

What happened instead at the homeless shelter was enlightening. I parked at the front of the building only to find a note on the front door to go around the house to the back,  go up to an office on the second floor. Before I could get my foot on the wooden steps to the second floor, a door opened, a woman leaned our of a doorway and asked if she could help me. She must have seen me coming around the house. I told her about dropping off the donation and she said she would send a couple of people out the front door to help carry everything in. So I headed back to the street and popped the hatch of my car.

What appeared out of the front door of the blue Victorian house was sad for me. Two men, one my husband’s age (in his mid fifties) and the other maybe 35. The older was weathered from years of smoking. He wore a faded coat issued by the US Army and had only a T-shirt under his coat. The other younger man was taller, thinner and darker. He asked if he could help me with the box and I passed it to him out of the hatchback. I smiled and said “thank you” to the tall, thin man. He responded with a smile of  broken teeth of a meth addict. The older man took the large bag and spoke very quietly to me. He hoped that my friends and I  knew how much these sock would mean to them and the others who would not get off the street this winter. He reached into the bag and pulled out a pair of heavy thermal socks. He rubbed his wrinkled, dry hand over the bundle of two socks and said” hummmmm these will be so warm.” The younger man turned and walked up the steps to opened the door to the house.  I watched the older man in his green army coat step away from my car and up to the porch. Holding the heavy bag in one hand, he raised it as if in victory, with the other hand he waved saying “Thank you so much, have a Merry Christmas.” I returned his wave and would spend the rest of my afternoon thinking about him and the 11 other residents of this shelter.

I have known and loved some poor people in my life. I have seen men bundle two and three socks together to make a decent pair of socks to cover the wholes in each pair. I have seen the ravages of alcohol, meth and heroin addiction in my own family. It is never easy to look into the eyes  of a person who is struggling, when you are not. But when we take time to see them, talk to them and be kind to them we raise them up. It also raises us up, together we can share in something meaningful even if it is just warm feet for winter.

I challenge you or your work place to do something kind for someone who needs it more than you do over the holidays. It was an uplifting experience for me and my friends. It could be life changing for a person who is on the street and could get not get shelter over the winter. Even a pair of socks can made a difference and I was happy to be part of the Warm Feet For Winter Project.

 

 

 

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Categories: AmeriCorps, Appalachian Mountains, Appalachin Forrest Heritage Area, Christmas, community service, Helping the homless | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

Hard Candy Christmas, Making Old Fashioned Hard Candy

 

One of our family Christmas traditions since my husband was a small boy was making home-made hard candy to share with the friends and family. So this year I wanted to share the tradition with my Daughter-in-Law so that she could make the candy with my granddaughter when she gets just a little older. I also though we could use silicone molds that I bought several years ago to make the candy into fun holiday shapes.Then YouTube took the whole candy making for kids (and some adults) to a whole new cool level. I watched the attached video and had to add these wonderful Lego molds to my collection and start making Christopher’s favorite flavor of candy.

Close up of hard candy Lego men with powdered sugar

Close up of hard candy Lego men with powdered sugar

Lego silicone molds with hard candy cooling

Lego silicone molds with hard candy cooling

Candy flavoring comes in small bottles of oils that can be used for making almost anything that you eat with out the use of alcohols that are in most extracts. The flavor and color are concentrated in each bottle. So for every batch of candy you need one bottle of your favorite flavoring. I made a total of 5 different flavors this year, root beer, apple, orange, cinnamon, and butter scotch. Each batch is about 1/2 of a pound of finished candy and that is every mold you see above filled to at least half. I did reduce the amount of syrup in the heart molds to half full because they were very hard to remove and to big to pop in your mouth.

Candy and Baking flavoring bottles two pack

Candy and Baking flavoring bottles two pack

Then after pulling the candy from the molds it is wise to dust them with powered sugar so that they will not stick together and this is really important if you want to mix the flavors into gift bags. They will not store for long in high humidity without it.

Hard Candy ready to be sent out as gifts

Hard Candy ready  …This Bag is mine !

So here are the very easy to fallow directions on how to make hard candy and the way to test your sugar syrup with out a candy thermometer…Each box of flavoring comes with a recipe booklet for several things you may want to use this flavoring for. The hard candy recipe is also on the back of the box.

Hard Candy regular Batch

2 cups granulated sugar

2/3 cup light corn syrup

3/4 cup water

1 dram or teaspoon flavoring

food coloring or gel… gel does not seem to burn at these high temperatures.

Combine sugar, corn syrup, and water in a 2 quart saucepan. I use my cast iron dutch oven. Stir over med heat until sugar dissolves. Bring mixture to a boil without stirring. When syrup reaches 260 degrees F. add coloring. Do not stir ;boiling action will blend color for you. Remove from heat at 300 deg F. When drops of syrup form a hard brittle threads in cold water ( Hard Ball stage). When boiling action stops, stir in flavoring. Pour syrup into lightly oiled candy molds or on a greased cookie sheet. When cool break into pieces and dust with powered sugar to prevent sticking. Store in an air tight container or Ziplock bag.

This is what the process looks like

sugar, corn syrup and water beginning to boild

sugar, corn syrup and water beginning to boil. It takes about 6 or 8 minutes for the first stage of the sugar to boil

After the sugar reaches a rolling boil I added my gel food coloring of red in this batch… I think I used about three little drops to get a nice light red color.

Soon to be cinnamon hard candy with red food color

Soon cinnamon hard candy with red food color

Now the wait is on. I raise my burner heat at this point to med high or about 8 this decreases the amount of time it takes the sugar to reach the crack stage. The syrup will go from what looks like water boiling to a foamy tinny bubble stage as it heats then finally when you reach about 300 degrees the syrup will have large clear thick bubbles all the way to the edge of the kettle. This process takes about 10 minutes if you do not stir the syrup, longer if you can not resist the urge to stir.

When you think you are close to the correct temperature, or any time you are nosy, you can check the stages of the sugar with a cold water test. Fill a clear glass over half way full of cold water. With a non plastic spoon, preferable a wooden one, drip a small amount of syrup into the cold water…. DO NOT GET THE SYRUP ON YOUR SKIN IT IS VERY HOT AND STICKY! Burns will happen and skin will be lost when the sugar sets up. If the syrup looks like this it is not ready yet.

Cold water test for hard candy soft ball stage not ready yet

Cold water test for hard candy soft ball stage not ready yet.

wait a while longer and test again. When the syrup is ready is will almost instantly get hard… threads of what looks like glass will appear on the glass, in the water, on the counter… just about every where.

Remove kettle from stove and let the sugar cool until the boiling stops add flavorings and stir. It may pop and hiss a little when you add the flavorings but should not burn. Then pour carefully into molds or a cookie sheet for breaking up later. I did not spray any of my molds and the released fine… if working on a cookie sheet of metal I would spray with a cooking spray.

silicon baking molds used to make hard candy

silicon baking molds used to make hard candy.

You can see the sugar threads here between each tray. Let the trays cool for several minutes I left these for about 30 minutes. Then remove and dust with powered sugar.

Tray of Hard Candy after dunking them in powdered sugar

Tray of Hard Candy after dunking them in powdered sugar

We rub off the excess sugar and put in a Zip Lock bag. Then after every flavor has cooled I take handfuls of the different candy shapes and flavors and fill small treat bags. Each bag had at least one huge decorative candy in the bag and about 15 smaller pieces. The Snow Men and Large Lego man were my favorite to add to each bag. I understand that they are too big to fit in you mouth but they look great when arranged in the window of the gift bag. They can still be eaten but would need broken into smaller pieces.

So after about 2 hours my Daughter-in-law and I finished up started to clean up my sugar covered table and finally  tasted our hard work. It all tasted great and my favorite is always cinnamon. The joy of making this candy is it is great for parties at Halloween you could make grape purple bats, or orange pumpkins, at Valentines day make red cinnamon hearts, At Easter make pink or yellow eggs and share them. Use the large pieces as edible cupcake topper or cake decorations. The ideas are limitless and if you want you can also make the Gummies that are in the video  below… so Silicon Molds are some of my favorite kitchen gadgets and always spark my creativity.

Categories: candy, childhood memories, Christmas, Holidays | Tags: , , , | 5 Comments

A 1800’s Living History Christmas at Fort New Salem

A visit to Fort New Salem  is a trip back in time. The Living History Museum and Cultural Center in North Central West Virginia is a collection of over 18 historic cabins and buildings that are arranged as a pioneer settlement. The New Fort Salem Foundation of Salem West Virginia has public events all year to encourage the public to come and learn about what life was like in the 1800’s. It celebrates and educates about the traditions and folk-ways of the settlers of this area. The nationally recognized event ” The Spirit of Christmas in the Mountains” is the year-end gathering and a great place to spend the day with the kids for fun and learning.

The Village at Fort New Salem with woman in period clothing

The Village at Fort New Salem with woman in period clothing

I was lucky to have my whole family along on this afternoon trip to see  the Christmas in the mountain program. It rained most of the day we visited, making it feel a little cool and damp out side but the fires in each  tiny cabin warmed us. We started our visit with the two cabins that had candle making and a small kitchen that served hot chocolate, ginger bread men, pumpkin muffins and Wassel. The kids hand dipped candles for about 10 or fifteen minutes going from wax dipper to water and back again, over and over… The candle maker said to get a modern stick candle you would have to dip 50 coats of wax on a cotton wick to get one that size. Christopher dropped out fast only dipping about 15 times and Paige made it to about 25 dips before the repetition made her ready to find something more to do. The candle maker explained that most woman would make about 8 candles at a time instead of one at a time and a family would need about three candles a day to light their cabins at night. Making candles a very important necessity for settlers.

Paige dipping her candle in a bucket of cold water before adding another coat of wax at Fort New Salem, Salem West Virginia

Paige dipping her candle in a bucket of cold water before adding another coat of wax at Fort New Salem, Salem West Virginia

Christopher dipping candles at Fort New Salem, Salem West Virginia

Christopher dipping candles at Fort New Salem, Salem West Virginia

We then took the little ones to make their own ginger bread men and I got to have a cup of Wassail. (Wassail/Wassel  is an apple cider punch served warm and the above link has a traditional recipe that my family used).  I have not had the spicy cider in years, it tasted wonderful heated in a kettle in the fire-place. We all enjoyed the cookies and music playing while we ate. Christopher could not make up his mind if he wanted to keep the cookie or take it home, in the end it tasted really good and cooked perfectly to eat.

getting some decorating help at the kitchen at Fort New Salem

getting some decorating help at the kitchen at Fort New Salem

music played while we ate

music played while we ate

We then took the kids around to the blacksmith shop and tin shop where we all enjoyed watching things being made. The blacksmiths were making ornament holders and a fireplace set for the cabins. The Tin Smith at another cabin spent a lot of time with us explaining how tin things were made and used. The kids got to make tin ornaments for the tree as a gift from the foundation.

Blacksmith making a fireplace poker at Fort New Salem

Blacksmith making a fireplace poker at Fort New Salem

Tom helping Christopher and Paige make tin orniments

Tom helping Christopher and Paige make tin ornaments

We also went to the apothecary and honey houses. I bought some home-made Vick’s Vapor rub made with bee’s wax and lanolin and the kids got honey sticks to suck on. The day was almost over when we took a few minutes to  play with some traditional mountain musical instruments. We played with two different kinds of dulcimers and a cigar box banjo. The first instrument was a lap dulcimer that Christopher and Paige played along with using a home-made dance toys that made a rapping sound when it hit the wood plank. The other was my favorite instrument the hammer dulcimer. If a person is really good with the hammers they can play with 4 hammers at one time. This man was using two at a time, one in each hand.

Christopher playing in rhythm to a lap dulcimer

Christopher playing in rhythm to a lap dulcimer

Man playing a hammer Dulcimer at Fort New Salem

Man playing a hammer Dulcimer at Fort New Salem

In the same room with the dulcimers were a couple of banjos this one made from a cigar box  had  only 4 strings. Paige could not resist trying it out.

Paige playing the cigar box banjo

Paige playing the cigar box banjo

Even Tom was curious enough to see what the banjo sounded like and if he could play a few notes.

Tom playing a cigar box banjo at Fort New Salem

Tom playing a cigar box banjo at Fort New Salem

Then I took some time to talk with some of the volunteers who made the afternoon so exciting.The one I enjoyed talking to the most was Sarah who at the age of 70 came to play her bagpipes at the settlement. She had a remarkable story to tell me about her learning to play the pipes at 53 and that she had just recovered from a brain tumor  surgery 6 weeks earlier to come and play at this event. She love to play her pipes to remind everyone that many of the settlers of north central West Virginia were of Scotch-Irish decent and many of them were able to bring with them a form of the pipes called a chanter.

Music was  a large part of how the people of this area spend their time in the settlements and still is today.It makes the day so festive to hear so much music in the air. We even let the little ones buy whistles to make music with, which I later regretted on the hour car ride home!

Bagpiper at the Christmas Fair of Fort New Salem

Bagpiper at the Christmas Fair of Fort New Salem

The final event of the day is the annual tree lighting at the Fort. The Luminaries are lit and the candles on the tree begin their nightly glow and the sound of Christmas carols are heard ringing off the roof tops. The costumed volunteers walk and sing around the village shaking jingle bells and holding burning candles . It is a beautiful way to end a great afternoon of learning and shopping for crafts at the village store.

Christmas tree at Fort New Salem, Salem West Virginia

Christmas tree at Fort New Salem, Salem West Virginia

Tree lighting at Fort New Salem, Salem West Virginai... photo by Murphey

Tree lighting at Fort New Salem, Salem West Virginia … photo by Jaime Murphy Fort New Salem FB page

This is what we brought home with us on this trip to the Fort. These things remind me of all the work that the settlers put into everyday living and how lucky we are today. It was a hard, cold, life and it really is amazing the so many of them survived and went on to make better lives for all us Mountaineers. A visit to the Fort is well worth the 5$ for each adult visitor and they encourage you to bring your children under 12 by not charging any admission for them. My family learned and enjoyed a lot this day and I am sure we will be back during the next year. Now if I can just get time to make a kettle Wassail for myself before the holidays are over!

a collection of crafts and gifts from Fort New Salem

a collection of crafts and gifts from Fort New Salem

 

 

Categories: cabins, Christmas, Country life, education, Fairs and Festivals, Fort New Salem, history, Homestead, West Virginia | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

If Martha Stewart had an ADHDD sister.

If Martha Stewart had a ADHDD sister I would be her.I love the holidays it gives me a reason to cook, bake and decorate. I at one time was a professional interior decorator. I worked for J.C. Penny’s custom decorating and I worked with a furniture store doing whole homes of furniture and accessories. So I get into the holidays deep, really deep, baking, candy making, making decorations and trimming trees (this year only three). Yet, as a house wife I don’t have the staff of professionals that people like Martha Stewart does to help me. So what most people do in a weekend I spend all month working on and in the process I make a huge mess. I dream of  someone to clean up every thing for me, maybe a hansom older man to do dishes, a young one to climb the ladder for the roof lights, and a nice granny kinda woman to clean while I decorate the tree. I just wish that I was not so caught up in my disorder ADHDD ( Attention Deficit Holiday Decorating Disorder) that I could say stop all on my own. But  my family all know that the only thing that ends my ADHDD binge is the date Dec 31st. New Years Eve sends shivers down my spine because it is the next day that I start to clean it all back up.

Blue and Silver Christmas tree 2015

Blue and Silver Christmas tree 2015

I feel like the bad sister that Martha would never talks about.  You know the one who suffers from over decorating and over baking. That family member who has a couple of rooms in the house totally covered in exploding  holiday decorations. The one that has two sinks over flowing with pots and pans because on a whim I needed to make candy for the entire 1 st grade class. The one who is making a mad dash to Wal-Mart at 10  pm to get spray paint because you forgot the it 4 times this week. The one who puts more lights on the pre-lighted tree because it is just toooo plain with out blue lights too. The one who has to color coordinate the tree to the curtains and the dinner dishes, you get the picture, right? I have  ADHDD so bad that I can never really finish one project before the next one needs attention. I am usually doing several things at once.

mess of unpacked decorations

mess of unpacked decorations

So this being our first Christmas in the new to us house, I have begun to get things out of the boxes and totes.I  am trying desperately to get a grip on this ADHDD thing and not go over board. I have so much I want to decorate now that we live in town. I never really did much outside before because we lived on a farm.The only people who would really enjoy it were my own kids and making them happy was easy. Now we have neighbors, and  they have begun to decorate outside, leaving me feeling behind in the decorating game. I can’t blame them, the weather was perfect last weekend and I wish I had spent some time trying to make things look festive but in the end we spent time with family instead. It was great too and I hope to write about it soon.

So as I write this I am just finishing up a batch of old fashion hard tack candy and bagging it up. Then putting up stockings and putting out my sons train under a tree. Holiday music is blasting and I cry every darn time I hear someone sing “Mary did You Know?” … something about Mary kissing  little Jesus’s face….. gets me every time.

Sugar covered table and Old Fashioned Hard Tack Candy

Sugar covered table and Old Fashioned Hard Tack Candy

I have three strings of out-door lights that need hung and an inflatable snoopy that needs placed in the yard. I have holiday cards to send out and three holiday parties to attend. I have groceries still to by and two wreaths to make. The silly thing is that in all of this mass of confusion, I am happy, more happy than I have been in years.The ADHDD has kicked in and I will be holiday buzzing for the next month.Maybe it is all the cookies and candy or the extra caffeine but I am feeling grand.

Christophers tree that needs help to finish and a table of trains

Christopher’s tree that needs help to finish and a table of trains

Then as if I did not know it was coming, it will be over, the holidays will end and I have to put it all back. New Years day will come with its lingering effects of staying up to late will make me tired and grumpy. Tom and I will sleep in and  little Christopher will crawl into our bed to snuggle as we say “Happy New Year” to each other. I will be sad, lingering under the covers to long, knowing that a the New Year has begone. I will worry about where to put everything that has arrived at our door over Christmas. I will drink a strong cup of tea in my P.J’s and start the long, slow process of undoing all my hard work in a matter of a day or two. I will miss the blue and white lights, the smell of cinnamon, and the taste of home-made cookies. I will carefully pack away each ornament and place the tree carefully back in its box. I will dust and vacuum up the silver glitter off the floor. The plates of cookies and candy will get tossed out. I will known in my sad heart that my disorder is restrained again for another year. Secretly, I think about my “New Year Resolution”. It will not have anything to do with weight or being more loving, but about taking it easy on the decorating next year. Praying that next holiday season my house will look perfect from beginning to end and Martha Stewart will stop by and be pleased with what I have done. That maybe she will share in my story of ADHDD and secretly nod to me her understanding.. because once many years ago she was a  decorating nut-bucket just like me.

Categories: About me, candy, Christmas, Home Decor, New Years Eve | Tags: , , , , , | 7 Comments

Salt Dough Holiday Ornaments with Kids of All Ages

My older son Cody has always made my life more fun with his unexpected ideas. So you never know what the boy has planned when you see him. Some times its,”Mom you got to see this” or “Mom how do you make this” or “you need to try this”… it is always so much fun when he is around. So the weekend before Halloween ( at little late I know). He arrives at our house for the usual Sunday Dinner with bags of stuff in his hands and the granddaughter  so excited trailing behind him. My daughter in law Jamie explains the Cody wants to make Play-Dough at my house that Sunday afternoon ( he never warms me we are going to make a mess). After looking over the ingredients I quickly realized that what he had brought was not Play-Dough ingredients buSalt Dough ingredients.

Salt dough decorations

Salt dough decorations

Salt dough is a wonderful inexpensive way for kids of all ages ( 4-48 this day) to mold and bake decorations, figures, or models. This dough can be colored and baked to make the craft hard and dry so it will last for years. The hard dough decorations can be painted and sealed with any clear coat. The dough is non-toxic and eating it will not hurt the youngest of artist… but be warned it is very salty.

So with all of us in the kitchen together  we mixed up a large batch of dough. Cody then took the dough and broke it into smaller pieces and added food coloring. All I had on hand was Easter neon colors so we had very bright colors to work with. We gave Christopher and Paige each 4 small bowels of colored dough and turned them loose with my cookie cutters, rolling-pin, tooth picks and watched the fun. With in minuets we were all making things too…

Jamie Powers and Paige Powers making Salt Dough decorations

Jamie Powers and Paige Powers making Salt Dough decorations

Salt Dough family time

Salt Dough family time

I even joined in the fun and made some decorations too. The decorations had both a Christmas feel and a Halloween feel so we covered both holidays with some of our creations. When all the dough was gone I put two full cookie sheets in the oven to bake. I did notice that we made very thin decorations and they do not take as long as the directions say to dry. Worried that at some point they would burn, I reduced the length of cooking time 15 minutes.

Sponge Bob and Patrick salt dough decorations

Sponge Bob and Patrick salt dough decorations

 

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Salt dough ninja

Salt dough ninja

 

So have fun this holiday season, break out the cookie cutters that have not been used for a year and make some lasting decorations with the kids. The kids and grand kid played for about 3 hours making things and baking them before dinner. Now both little ones have home-made decorations for this years trees.

 

Salt Dough: hardening dough

4 cups flour

1 cup fine crystal salt not sea salt

1 1/2 to 2 cups water

mix until can be worked with fingers like heavy bread dough

bake finished work in oven at 300 degrees for up to an hour.

( I bake ours for about 45 minutes because they were so thin)

let cool and paint, glue and decorate and enjoy!

 

Salt dough skull

Salt dough skull

 

Categories: Art, Christmas, crafts, family fun, Halloween, Holidays, Home Decor | Tags: , , , , , , | 6 Comments

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