Make chili and cornbread in jar.
Make delicious caramel apples with your kids this year. No dipping in hot caramel here!
Picture this: It’s Christmas Eve, the kids are in bed, the tree is lit, you’ve had your hot cocoa, and it hits you…..you still need to finish that one handmade gift, and wrap the rest of the presents!
When it comes to the holidays, I always bite off more than I can chew, and try to get things done last minute.
Well not this year. I solemnly swear to get things done early so I can enjoy the holidays.
If you’d like to join me, here’s my plan. I’m starting 12 weeks out.
12 weeks out (week of September 28)
the week in short: Get organized. Get cards ready.
Start browsing for cards or buy supplies for handmade cards (including holiday thank you cards).
For card addressing, buy a fun pen or labels.
Make a gift list. Include birthdays and anniversaries through January. Start brainstorming.
Make a holiday budget.
Make a receipt envelope.
Get holiday calendar ready.
Make a rough list of people to send cards to, home and business.
Set out a box for items to donate.
Subscribe to online bargain updates.
Make a very rough draft of holiday menus.
11 weeks out (week of October 5)
the week in short: Buy handmade gift supplies. Make freeze-ahead goodies.
Buy supplies for handmade gifts.
Make and freeze some cookie dough and appetizers.
Start making cards if handmade.
Begin to organize pictures for custom-made books and other photo gifts.
Put out handmade gift supplies and begin working on them whenever you have a moment.
10 weeks out (week of October 12)
the week in short: Finish up last week’s projects. Unschedule December.
Finish buying supplies for handmade gifts.
Make and freeze any other types of cookie dough and appetizers you’ll want.
Finish making handmade cards.
Finish organizing pictures.
Look at December schedule and find things that can be done in advance.
Have friends over for a hot dish on a cool night.
9 weeks out (week of October 19)
the week in short: Buy packaging and ingredients. Start writing some cards!
If you haven’t bought cards, do so.
Buy packaging for baked gifts, neighbor gifts.
Buy nonperishable ingredients for baking.
Buy any nonperishable specialty ingredients for holiday dishes.
Make or buy tags for baked gifts and neighbor gifts.
Make any other gift tags.
Write five cards!
Schedule any professional cleaning needed during the holidays.
holiday countdown 8
8 weeks out (week of October 26)
the week in short: Shop for media. Happy Halloween!
Start shopping for books, dvds, music.
Write five cards.
7 weeks out (week of November 2)
the week in short: Plan events and decorations.
Shop for Thanksgiving and Christmas table settings, buy missing pieces.
Shop for any Christmas decorations.
Buy any gift wrap supplies still needed.
Buy tickets for holiday concerts and events.
Continue working on handmade gifts as you find time (this includes photo books).
Write 5 cards.
Make a note of missing addresses for cards.
Make a note of missing serverware for holiday meals.
Plan and assign Thanksgiving dishes.
Put away Halloween decorations.
Get into your storage, pull all Christmas decoration boxes to the front.
Plan a holiday photo.
holiday countdown 6
the week in short: Buy office gifts, advent calendar, take your holiday photo.
Buy gifts for the office.
Buy any specialty candy.
Buy holiday stamps.
Buy any holiday wardrobe pieces for yourself and kids.
Make or buy an advent calendar.
Write 5 cards.
Clean out the fridge.
Collect missing addresses for holiday cards.
Take your holiday photo.
5 weeks out (week of November 16)
the week in short: Make handmade gifts. Prepare teacher and hostess gifts. Buy groceries.
Buy anything that takes a special trip.
Buy groceries for Thanksgiving, buy nonperishable groceries for Christmas.
Make or buy teacher gifts.
Make or buy hostess gifts.
Get serious abut making handmade gifts and photo books.
Write 5 cards.
Collect any pictures from others for custom photo books.
Make a list of people to take goodies to.
Visit GiversLog and share ideas of what you’re getting for kids.
4 weeks out (week of November 23)
the week in short: Happy Thanksgiving! Buy gifts for grown ups and get in the Christmas mood.
Buy gifts for grown ups.
After Thanksgiving, begin decorating for Christmas.
Test outdoor Christmas lights before putting them up.
Put together a Christmas playlist.
Mail any gifts abroad.
Go shopping for a new Christmas book.
First week of advent Sunday.
3 weeks out (week of November 30)
the week in short: Buy gifts for kids, mail gifts and cards.
Buy gifts for kids.
Buy final gifts that need to be mailed.
Buy fresh garland and tree if fresh.
Order the holiday turkey or ham.
Finish handmade gifts.
Finish and submit custom photo books.
Make preparations for baked gifts.
Write 5 cards.
Mail Christmas cards that are finished. au revoir!
Put on a good Christmas flick and wrap gifts that need to be mailed.
Mail gifts (the last day to mail should be December 10).
Schedule the babysitter.
St. Nicholas Day (Dec 6).
Have a tree trimming party.
Join friends for a Christmas devotional.
2 weeks out (week of December 7)
the week in short: Buy gifts for household helpers, bake, clean.
Buy gifts for household and neighborhood helpers (babysitter, mail man, etc).
Buy batteries for kids’ gifts.
Order food trays for any holiday parties.
Make baked gifts.
Make neighbor gifts.
Write remaining cards.
Mail any final gifts by December 10.
Plan New Years.
Put on a good Christmas flick and wrap gifts that are going to stay.
Clean house! Sort through toys. Don’t forget to add to the donate box.
Plan some Christmas service work.
Invite a friend, drive around and see Christmas lights.
Go to the city.
1 week out (week of December 14)
the week in short: Return and donate!
Buy fresh ingredients for holiday meals.
Give teacher gifts.
Return any merchandise you don’t need.
Have a friend for cookies.
Enjoy some photos or videos of Christmases past.
Do some Christmas service for someone who could use it.
this is the week! (week of December 21)
the week in short: Enjoy! Merry Christmas.
Prep camera, charge batteries.
Defrost the turkey 3 to 4 days ahead.
Set the holiday table a day or two ahead.
For my son’s birthday this year, we made a photo booth out of our front door. The photos turned out so cute!
The key ingredients for a great photo booth? A beautiful backdrop, good lighting and cute props. That’s about it.
As far as sweets go — I consider homemade caramel to be one of my all-time top 3 recipes. Rich, buttery, warm — it’s the stuff of dreams.
I’ve spent years perfectly this recipe, and I have the fingertip burns to prove it!
I love the process of making homemade caramel. Getting the caramel started, pulling out a bowlful along the way to use as homemade caramel dip, then dipping apples just a little bit further along the way. Then reaching the end, where it’s ready to be candy, real homemade caramel, the heavenly stuff. For a week after I’ve made caramel I melt one piece of caramel in each cup of hot cocoa I have. Try it. You’ll like it.
Following is my fail proof recipe. Or at least it is really really nearly close to fail proof. I have failed at it many times in many different ways in order to bring it to you in this bulletproof form. I’ve also had some minor degree burns. So be careful when you make homemade candy. Respect the candy. (You’re welcome.)
Homemade Caramel (or caramel dip)
Yield: about 60 caramels
Prep and cook time: 1 hour (not including time to cut and wrap caramels, save extra time for that)
1 cup butter, unsalted
1 cup light corn syrup (11.5 oz)
1 14-oz. can sweetened condensed milk (or substitute two cups half and half or light cream, I almost always use sweetened condensed milk b/c makes for shorter cooking time)
2 1/4 cup brown sugar (14.5 oz.), white sugar is also okay, but I prefer brown
1 tsp. vanilla
(Note: if you try any substitute ingredients, I’d love to hear how it goes! I’d love to accommodate readers with any dietary restrictions!)
heavy, 3-qt. sauce pan, or 6-qt. if doubling the recipe, which I always do (having a heavy pan is important, if your pan is too thin it can heat the caramel unevenly and make it separate)
parchment paper (how I love parchment paper, I’ve never found anything that sticks to this stuff)
8×8 or 9×9 pan (or large jelly-roll cookie sheet if doubling recipe)
wax paper for wrapping caramels
- Every time before using a candy thermometer, clip a candy thermometer onto a pan full of cold water and bring it to a boil (make sure the thermometer is not touching the bottom of the pan). I cheat on a lot of things, but I never cheat on this. Boiling water should read 212°. Once the water is boiling, make note of any difference in your reading, and adjust your reading accordingly when you make the candy (for example, if thermometer reads 210° in boiling water instead of 212°, then take caramel off at 242° instead of 244°). High-altitude note: If you live above 7k feet, see the high-alt info below.
- Line pan with parchment paper, even up the sides. Prepare any apples, pretzels, or other things you’ll be dipping. Chop any nuts or prepare any candy you’ll be sprinkling on top.
- Cut butter into smaller, even sized cubes for even melting. Melt over low in sauce pan.
- Carefully add sugar by pouring it into the center of the pan. If any sugar crystals stick to side of pan, push them down with a damp pastry brush so they do not crystallize the entire batch and make you want to cry. Stir slowly until well combined with melted butter.
- Add and mix in corn syrup and sweetened condensed milk (or cream).
- Cook and stir on medium for one minute, then to med.-high until boiling. You want to change temperatures slowly so you don’t shock the candy. Once boiling, clip on your candy thermometer (again, don’t let it touch the bottom of the pan). By the time your caramel is boiling, if you have been stirring well, you should have the butter fully blended into the caramel mixture, not separated.
- Reduce heat to about medium, adjusting so that you keep a moderate, steady boil. Stir frequently. I’m serious about the stirring. If you let your caramel go too long without stirring, you’ll end up with a separated, greasy batch of caramel. No good.
- Temperature does not raise at a steady rate, so watch thermometer closely. If you have any doubts about the accuracy of your thermometer, periodically do a test by dropping a little in cold water. When your thermometer reaches thread stage (230–233°), take out any caramel that you would like to use as dip. When thermometer reaches late soft ball stage (234–240°), dip in a few apples for caramel apples.
- When thermometer reaches 244°, remove caramel from heat (this is low firm ball stage; reaching this stage from boiling takes me about 30 minutes with sweetened condensed milk and longer with cream, though I have had a reader reach it in less time, so watch closely).
- Stir in vanilla. If dipping, start immediately. If making caramels, pour the caramel into the prepared pan. Either way, take care not to burn yourself, this stuff is so so hot.
- Allow to cool for several hours and use a butter knife or kitchen shears to cut pieces (UPDATE: a clever reader suggested a pizza cutter, another preferred preferred her trusty Santou knife, lightly buttered, thanks Susan!). Wrap in wax paper. Or to save on cutting time, just leave the whole batch out on the counter with a knife next to it and watch it gradually disappear.
And, for handy reference, here is the candy temperature list:
234–240° Soft ball
244–248° Firm ball
250–266° Hard ball
If you like the look of traditional embroidery, but want a project with a little more “instant satisfaction”, you will love punch needle embroidery. Needle punching is a fun way to create projects like a textile wall hanging or pillow cover in hardly any time at all.
What is Punch Needle Embroidery?
Punch needle embroidery is the craft technique of using a punch needle tool to loop yarn, floss or ribbon through fabric to create a pattern or design.
The punch needle tool pierces the fabric on one side and leaves a loop a thread or yarn on the other. Traditionally, punch needle projects are worked from the back, or “wrong”, side of the fabric. The back side looks more like embroidery, while the looped right side looks more like a hooked rug. Although the looped side is traditionally called the “right” side, some artists prefer to display the back of their work — it’s a matter of preference!
Punch needle tools come in different sizes to accommodate different weights and types of fibers. Smaller punch tools, like the Ultra Punch, are used with 6-strand embroidery thread on fabric with a tighter weave — like linen or weavers cloth.
Other punch needle tools, like the Amy Oxford punch needle, are used with bulky wool yarns and ribbons on specialty fabrics with a looser weave — like monk’s cloth or rug warp.
What You Need to Get Started
- Punch Needle tool
- Foundation fabric
- No-Slip embroidery hoop or frame
- Rug yarn or bulky weight knitting yarn
- Pencil or Water-Erasable Marker
Let’s get started with punch needle embroidery. For this project, we will be using the large size Amy Oxford punch needle and bulky weight wool yarn. For our foundation fabric, we will be using monk’s cloth.
- Transfer the Design. Use a pencil or a water-erasable marking pen to transfer your design onto the fabric. Trace your pattern onto the “wrong” side of the fabric, remembering that it will be reversed when turned over.
- Stretch the Fabric. For punch needle embroidery work with wool yarn, monk’s cloth is a recommended foundation fabric. Wooden frames or no-slip embroidery hoops work best for punch needle embroidery. It is important to stretch the fabric tightly in the frame or hoop for best results.
- Thread the Needle Tool. You can thread the Amy Oxford punch needle by hand — first by threading the yarn through the eye of the neddle and then pulling the yarn down into the slot in the handle. Some other punch needle embroidery tools require a threader to help get the yarn loaded. First, pass the threader up through the needle end. Pass the embroidery floss through the metal loop sticking out. Then, pull the threader out of the tool. Next, insert the threader into the front of the eye of the needle. Insert the embroidery floss and pull the threader through. With that done, you’re ready to punch.
- Start to punch. To start, outline your design with stitches. Insert your needle, leaving a small tail of yarn through the eye of the needle, and the rest of the yarn out through the handle. Pull the tail of thread to the “right” side of the fabric. (Remember, you are punching from the back!) Punch your needle tool straight down, making sure the shaft of your needle has gone all the way down. Gently pull your needle back up. Move the needle along the surface of the fabric a small distance, and punch again. (Don’t pull your needle too far away from the surface of the fabric!) To change directions, turn your needle in the down position.
- Keep on Punching. As you go, you’ll see a line of flat stitches on the back and small loops on the front. Continue filling in your design by following your transferred design on the fabric. To change colors, rethread your needle with a more yarn. Insert the tool as before, leaving a small tail as you did with the very first stitch. You don’t need to tie any knots. The tension of the fabric will keep your stitches in place.
- Make a Mistake? If you make a mistake or a stitch doesn’t want to stay in, gently pull on the embroidery floss to undo the work. Gently scratch over the fabric to erase any mistake punch holes, and punch the area over again.
- Finishing. When you’re done punching, simply trim your thread, leaving a small tail on the “right” side of your work. Remember, no knots are needed.