Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Blanket of White

It snowed!

I love – LOVE – snow. I've yet to outgrow the excitement elicited by a good snowstorm. Last weekend Ocean City received 8 to 10 inches around the island, but some parts of New Jersey - like John up in Cherry Hill - were walloped by almost two feet of snow! There are few things cozier than sitting in a warm house, wrapping Christmas presents and sipping hot cocoa as the winds howl outside and snow falls from a night sky...

I hope we have a few more snowfalls before the end of winter. There's been predictions of this being a pretty crazy winter, snow-wise, but I never quite fall for the hype. Luckily, we decided to go shopping and get some snow shovels and salt just in case last week, which turned out to be a very good thing.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Cookie Crazed!

It's Christmastime, which in the Riley household always translated to cookie time. My mom and I (and my Mema before she passed away) bake thousands of cookies during the holidays, usually starting in late October. We give most of them out as gifts for Christmas - huge cookie platters, little decorative bags and boxes full ... you get the idea.

Since I'm living on my own now, my mom and I bake in our respective abodes and also do some baking days together. We take inventory of what cookies we're each baking so we don't overlap, too.

Last night I realized I'm way behind. I've made eight varieties so far (two with my mom, six on my own): Cranberry Cookies, Turtle Bars, Snickerdoodle Croissant Cookies, Peanut Butter Kiss Cookies, Zebra Cookies, Chocolate Peppermint Kiss Cookies, Sand Tarts and Italian Lemon Cookies. My mom is baking today, but to my knowledge hasn't had the chance to bake any other cookies to date. What this means is that we only have two weeks - two weeks! - to bake dozens of more varieties of cookies.

Tonight I'm doing sugar cookie snowflakes, but some of this batch is going to be for a cookie walk I'm co-organizing next week for the FoodBank. (Come to think of it, I still have to make two other types for that event, too.) Tomorrow I have a birthday cake to make for my friend's 3-year-old. Sunday I'm baking with friends, so that should give me a little more cookies, although not the mass quantities (double, triple batches) that I usually do on my own.

I guess what to do now is make a list of all the cookies I definitely want to bake this year, and then try to come up with some sort of schedule. I know my Mema's Raisin Puffs and my mom's Pecan Cups will make that list. What else? You'll have to just wait and see!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Merry Mixmas!

Since all the little packages are on their way to destinations around the country, I thought I'd post about the early holiday surprises I put together for friends and family this year. This was, in fact, a project I started last Christmas season, but I never got around to finishing them up. Better late then never, though, right?

Anyway, I made Christmas music mixes with some of what I think are the best holiday songs. I tend to lean toward more recent covers, although some of the best classic versions made the list, too.

I bought wintery scrapbooking papers (three types - blue/white snowflake, red snowflake and swirl candies) and made them into CD envelopes, with brads for closures. (That was the part I did last year.) I love how they turned out and kept my template for my future needs of cute CD envelopes. The CDs themselves I decorated with permanent markers, and each one says "Merry Mixmas" and the name of whoever it's for. The envelopes are closed with glittered tags.

I had to decorate the envelopes, too, of course. They all looked similar to the one for Jamie above, and the back of each one had a quote I love from the movie Elf: "The best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear!" Because, naturally, I imagine everyone's going to be singing along to these mixes. Who can resist singing to Christmas music?

I can't wait until they arrive in everyone's mailboxes! My hope more than anything is that they just spread a bit of Christmas cheer.

Friday, November 20, 2009

A Starbucks Christmas

I finally got my first Starbucks fix of the holiday season '09!

I knew our local shop made the Christmas-turnover on Monday, but I didn't want to go over by myself. (I know that sounds ridiculous, but my first Peppermint Mocha of the season is a huge deal to me, something I want to celebrate in good company.) I held out until last night, when John came over.

We each ordered a Peppermint Mocha and cookies (John got the polar bear sugar cookie; I got a chocolate chunk). I also picked up the new Starbucks holiday album, "Making Merry" (always a guaranteed good mix). I was practically squealing with excitement when we parked the car, and let's just say John didn't quite share my enthusiasm. He also wasn't too into my taking photos of the occasion, but to be fair, I only used the camera on my cell phone. (I could've busted out my huge camera from work, but I was trying to be considerate to John's fear of embarrassment in front of strangers.)

Anyway, here's the goods:

They tasted divine - a perfect blend of cool peppermint with bittersweet chocolate, topped with fluffy whipped cream and chocolate shavings. Seriously - what sounds better than that?

I love this year's theme and decorations. John and I critique every year (and still shake our heads at the whole paper-cone-wreath fiasco from 2005), and I think he agreed with me that this year's were pretty sweet. There's a whole "wish" theme going on, and the typeface has a fun, handwritten feel to it. The design is like a Christmas tree - lots of pine boughs and "hanging" ornaments.

Although, the decor is not as in-your-face-festive as usual, which I imagine some people are grateful for, but it left me wanting a little bit more. For one, there's no wreaths on the doors. There's always wreaths on the doors at Starbucks for Christmas, so that was a little sad. Howev, they did have these cool snowy pine bough decals across the windows and glass doors; the snowy theme was continued indoors, too.

So, overall? Great time. Excellent drink, festive atmosphere, perfect partner in crime - save for the whole not-quite-sharing my holiday obsession thing, of course. I wonder if it has something to do with his working in retail and having to listen to Christmas music around the clock?

Nah. Can't be that. ;)

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Land ho!

And this wasn't even at high tide...

The remnants of Hurricane Ida spent last Thursday, Friday and some of Saturday hanging out in South Jersey, dumping plenty of icy rain and strong winds through the region. It flooded in Ocean City. It ruined our beaches. We're now looking at $89 million* worth of damage.

Oh vey.

I honestly don't know what Ocean City is going to do. They spend millions to truck in loads of sand and dredge the beaches, only to have storms like this wipe everything away again. Our beaches are tiny, the boardwalk is practically over water at this point and, whenever it rains heavily (I'm not even talking storms here), my roommates and I can't even leave our house because the south end floods so much.

It's not looking good, O.C. Not looking good at all. Can you really fight Mother Nature and win? Not to be a Debbie Downer, but I don't think so.

Anyway, on a happier note, I'm going to be crafting some very wonderful surprises for friends tonight. I've got phase one of the project finished, but there's still a lot to do and many packages to prepare. I'm hoping to have them ready to mail out by early next week. I can't say anything here to give away the surprise, but I'll certainly be posting photos, so stay tuned!

*Edited to add: We found out on Thursday that the $89 million figure was a teensy bit inflated. Turns out, the people who assessed the damage did their math wrong. It was supposed to be $8 to $9 million. Nice, huh?

Monday, November 9, 2009

Making sense of it all

Growing up, my mom always wore Cinnabar when she and my dad were going out for the evening in the wintertime. A whiff of the Estee Lauder perfume now takes me back to being four, wrapping my tiny arms around my mom's legs, covered with panty hose and soft woolen skirts. When I smell the perfume now, I'm not smelling Cinnabar - I'm smelling a million memories of my mom.

I think the sense of smell is the most powerful in sparking old memories.

There are others, sure. Hearing a certain song, for one, can definitely transport me back to a particular moment or period in my life - my trip to Australia, a school dance, the first (and only) guy who broke my heart. Tastes can do it, too, like a bite of a Twinkie would make me feel like I was five again. But smell ... that's what really gets me.

A smell can make me stop in my tracks, close my eyes and remember something so vividly, sometimes even something I hadn't known was still filed away somewhere in the depths of my brain. A smell can make me broadly smile. A smell can bring tears to me eyes. And sometimes, a smell can make me ache inside, too.

Even something as innocuous as soap in a public restroom can do it - only when it's that cotton candy pink soap, though. I hadn't smelled that soap in years and years, until about six or eight months ago when I was washing my hands somewhere. I can't remember where I was, but I remember the smell - that sweet, strange, tangy smell of the pink soap of my childhood. The same soap they would use at the Millville Motor Inn, where I went for countless meals when my dad's mother was in town.

It's not all childhood memories. There's smells that cause newer sparks, too. Cool Water cologne makes me miss John. Homemade spaghetti sauce simmering on the stove with meatballs and sausage brings back my Mema. Lavendar shampoo lets me remember Piper when she was brand new, a little ball of faux-ferocious fluff.

And then there are the smells that jog my memory in general - they don't bring me back to a particular moment, but they do make me remember general things. Like the smell of fresh pine trees in the winter flood my head with Christmas thoughts. The smell of a cool ocean breeze brings back countless days spent on the beach. The smell of crisp, frigid air that promises a snowfall fills me with countless memories of snowman building and snowball fights.

It amazes me what a smell can do, like setting off a trigger in my brain that fills me with emotion - with happiness, usually, and often with longing ... longing to be small again, when I would hug my parents before they went out for the evening, my dad in a suit and my mom smelling of cinnamon and spice.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

The Red Cups are Back!

I'm a Starbucks lover.

That's not a terribly surprising statement, especially when considering there are 11,000 Starbucks around the country (and 5,000 elsewhere). With that kind of popularity, there must be a lot of people loving the Seattle-born coffee chain (whether they admit it or not).

What is a little surprising, though, is that for my birthday last month, I topped out at $115 worth of Starbucks gift cards. I think that fact itself says a lot about my Starbucks infatuation.

So, what's to love? Hm. A better question would be where to begin. The coffee is fantastic, of course, but it's not just about the coffee. Starbucks is an experience, from the deep green barista aprons to the seasonal beverages to the iconic two-tailed mermaid. I love the products, too. The mugs, the tumblers, the Barista Bears. Even the logos and typography and packaging - all of it makes me swoon.

I've also got to give credit where credit is due - the staffs of the two Starbucks I frequent the most (the one near me in Somers Point and one up by John in Voorhees) are really top notch. Always a smile, always pleasant. So much so that I gave a jar of homemade candy cane reindeer to my Starbucks team last year for the holidays. (I'm also a little weird like that.)

Anyway, where was I? Ah, the coffee. I'm a skim latte girl myself, but I've ventured to try a variety of beverages at Starbucks - all delicious. My favorite? It's a tie - a true, could-never-decide tie that I don't even bother trying to break - between the Pumpkin Spice Latte and the Peppermint Mocha. Both mark favorites of mine - the start of autumn (favorite season) and Christmas (favorite holiday time).

In fact, I was pleasantly surprised to get my first red cup on my weekend Starbucks visit Saturday. (See? The experience - those cups make me so happy every year!) Although, Starbucks won't be in full holiday mode (with the drinks and the decor) until November 16, the red cups make me realize that Christmastime is just around the bend in all its jingling glory.

The main reason I'm a skim latte fan is that I drink far too many lattes to partake regularly in the more fattening varieties. However, next week is going to be a (huge) exception. I'm anxiously awaiting my Peppermint Mocha. I'm even considering driving up to John's neck of the woods after work and dragging him along with me. (He'd come. He loves Peppermint Mochas almost as much as I do.)

After all, it isn't just about the drink. It's about the experience - that first perfect drink of my favorite holiday season.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Starting fresh

I love blogging, but I haven't been doing it for a while. I used to blog at A Mercurial Nature, but my last post was nearly seven months ago. (And even at that point, I was writing sporadically.) I've been meaning to get back into the blogging world and, unsurprisingly, it was one of those things I kept putting off and putting off until I had more time.

Then I realized that, for now, I'm never going to have more time.

So I'm just doing it and seeing where it leads me. I wanted to start fresh - new blog, new name, new everything. My life is taking some new directions right now, so I felt a blog taking a new direction would be a good idea, too. (Plus, no one really liked the name of the other blog because - let's call a spade a spade here - I am many, many things, but "mercurial" is not really among them.)

Like so many out there, I blog about life. While you'll most likely find the occasional post that was written in a less-then-stellar state of mind, this isn't my avenue for complaining. I craft a lot. I bake a ton. I like to read and write and create. I'm newly engaged to a wonderful guy, I have a lovable (and incredibly high-strung) dog and I live five blocks from the beach. So, those are the kinds of things you can expect to find here. Oh, and also pictures. I love to take pictures, so all that crafting and baking I was just talking about? You'll see the results.

Thanks for visiting. I'll be back soon.