What a difference 30 minutes can make.

“There’s a generous current in the American spirit.  And if we can simply give voice to that once in a while, I think it’s a good message.”  ~ Fred Rogers

The saga:  Once, when I was maybe about fifteen, I attempted to mow a lawn. Sadly, it was not counted as a success. At the time, we were even living on a fairly flat piece of ground, for East Tennessee real estate. I think I pushed the machine around for about 15 minutes before giving up. Time has dulled my memory of just what caused me to give up so quickly – was it a too-hot summer day? I have a vague memory of sneezing, wheezing, and watering eyes – allergy excuse? Was I just being lazy?

I am just not a garden or yard person, and have managed to live in apartments most of my life ~or in houses where someone else tended the yard.  I used to buy house plants – and I love painting plant pots – but was so rarely successful at keeping the plants green (or their appropriate color) that I finally decided to stop the madness and wanton destruction, and just gaze from afar at other people’s plants, with envy.  I love gardening television.

This year, I am taking responsibility for a yard for the first time ever.  Thank goodness for National Public Radio on a Saturday morning!

Wait, question, before you even get to the mowing part, what do you do with all the branches that the wretched trees are constantly raining down on the lawn??  I hope they will work in the fireplace this winter; otherwise, they’re going to be returning to the earth naturally, and possibly right where they lie.  Kidding, at least I have been putting them into a pile.  Anyway…

The yard is a really nice size (whoa, it looks awfully big from behind the mower).  I have been working at it for a couple of months, and can do the front, sides, and part of the back in about an hour and a half.  I have accepted the fact that my neighbors are standing behind their curtains (in cool air conditioning) laughing and laughing and laughing as they watch me winding back and forth and up and down and crossing over myself multiple times, very inefficiently working this mowing-the-yard thing out.  What do they know, they all have riding mowers.  At least I’m getting some exercise!

Well, the farthest portion in the back has been a challenge.  I decided to approach it by adding about 5 passes of the mower each time.  I worked my way halfway up the hill, having to go over the overgrown grass a couple of times, but knowing each next time would be faster.  (Yes, that makes sense, just read it again more slowly.) 

The happy ending:  Saturday was a lovely, sunny, cool morning.  At 8 a.m., I started by taking down a few rows in the back, and it was such a nice morning that I just couldn’t stop and  ended up doing a whole section of the upper stretch, all the way to the neighbor’s yard!  Figuring I had about an hour and a half more of the double-duty stuff to finish off the last section, I was running out of steam by 10:30 and stopped to feed myself and my visiting niece.  The one who was asleep on the couch the whole time.  Did I mention she’s an energetic 16-year-old who runs track and plays tennis?

After a breakfast of leftover chicken quesadillas, off we went to the dump and then for some window shopping.  (It’s a small community.)  When we got home after three, I realized I was hearing a lawn mower awfully close by, just out the back.  When I stepped out, there was my neighbor with his mower!  It took him about 30 minutes to knock down the last few yards of tall grass!  I love my neighbor!  He said his wife commented to him that I was working hard on it all morning ~ I guess she took pity on me and sent him out to finish it off.  I love that about her!

So, now all the grass is finally at “neighborhood” level, and will be a snap to mow next time.  What a difference 30 minutes of time from a generous stranger can make in your world!  This is one I will be paying back and paying forward.

Hope your grass is green and you have a great week!

~Janet @ The Christmas Place

“We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.”  ~ Winston Churchill

Food for Friday

Today, a super-sweet -and super easy- treat from Melissa in Illinois!  Fortunately or unfortunately, these don’t linger long…

Magic Cookie Bars

1/2 C butter or margarine
1-1/2 C Graham Cracker crumbs
14 oz can of condensed milk (you can use a lower fat version, but what would be the point?)
1 C each of chocolate chips, butterscotch chips, coconut, and chopped nuts of your choice

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  In a 13×9 pan, melt the butter in the oven, remove and sprinkle in the cracker crumbs, and spread this to a consistent thickness in the bottom of the pan.  Sprinkle the chips, coconut, and nuts evenly across the crust.  Coat everything with the condensed milk.  Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, uncovered, keeping an eye on the edges as they will brown more quickly.

Cool and cut into squares.  These have a tendency to disappear rapidly, possibly even before they get to the party! 

~Janet @ The Christmas Place

Part of the secret of success in life is to eat what you like and let the food battle it out inside.  ~ Mark Twain

Around the courtyard

We have added a really neat photo site in the courtyard.  This was designed and painted by one of our personalizing artists ~ she is extremely talented, isn’t she?

While I was taking that picture yesterday, I noticed that we have TWO trains running in the courtyard now!

Not only do we offer all this great shopping, it’s fun to just hang around the place, too.

~Janet @ The Christmas Place

Merry Christmas, North Dakota!

Groovy – it’s National Underwear Day!  Someone’s been waiting all year for this day.  (silly laughter here.)

But – wait.  I’ve been thinking.  Even though National Underwear Day was created by a company to sell more knickers, nothing wrong with that, and it’s fun to be silly about it, I believe we really need an international underwear day ~ for at-risk children around the world.

Most of us who have the resources to be on the Web looking at this post probably don’t give a second thought to our skivvies on any given day – but millions of children around the world, and plenty here in East Tennessee, likely didn’t have a clean pair for the first day of school ~ and possibly don’t have any at all, or a school to attend.   I’m suggesting that we start an Underwear in August Day as a day to donate either money or underwear or both to an organization in your area that serves needy children.

Project Underwear was created by an individual who saw a need and is doing her small part to make a positive change.  According to the latest Charity Navigator reports, Save the Children uses 90% of donations and Compassion International 83% of donations for program expenses.  Look closer to home, and you’ll find a variety of local organization striving to make a positive difference in a child’s life – help them in any way you can.

It’s easy to grab a name off an angel tree at Christmas and tuck some clean undies into the goodie bag, but ~ pardon me while I state the obvious ~ kids have needs all year round.  “Underwear in August” just might be something woth thinking about and even acting on.  I’ve even know schools that accept donations of clean underwear and socks to send home with students when a need is discovered. 

What a great impact you can make on a child’s world with a simple pair of clean underwear.

Completely unrelated except by the calendar, it’s Elvis Week, Thank you very much!, so get those hips a’ shakin’…here’s something to help.

~Janet @ The Christmas Place

Two for Tuesday

This is it.  I give up.  I am surrendering to the inevitable and changing this post to “However many I feel like for Tuesday” – with all the new items now hitting the sales floor, it is hard to limit myself to just two!  I don’t want to!  You can’t make me!

The design team is staging a new tree just about each day now, and I can no longer resist the desire to try to include a picture of a full tree.  Please look closely at this and try to make it out as best you can, because it is adorable.  Gorgeous, natural woodland theme, and I was caught this morning by a very serious-looking polar bear made of wood and carrying a wooden trout.  He is tucked in behind some chesnuts, copper leaves, and a star-shaped tree toper made of willow branches stuffed with nuts and seed pods.  He’s about halfway down, just left of center, below a tree stump.  Yes, they even put a tree stump in the tree, just above the fence rail.  Yes, a fence rail, down which are tumbling a series of “Santa Gnomes”.

The tree is loaded with ornaments made of natural materials, including owls, pheasants, snowmen, bears, and more.  There are also gleaming blown glass ornaments, resin characters, and all sorts of adornments – it takes more than a bit of exploration to absorb all the elements they have tucked into this tree.  While I was attempting to photograph the tree, I talked with a guest who said she thought it should be staged for display in her governor’s mansion!  Are you listening, Gov. Joe Manchin III, D, West Virginia?  We’ll be happy to send this along to your estate.  Even your constituent’s husband, a non-decorative-fussy kind of guy, would love this tree, says our guest.

Here are a few close-ups:

Serious Polar bear with fish catch

Serious Polar bear with fish

I'm undecided - is this "Santa, I've been good!" or is it "But I love the cookies!"

I am undecided - is this "Santa, I've been very good!" or is it "But I love the cookies!"

A forest Frosty!

Forest Frosty!

Mischevious Santa Gnome

Mischevious Santa Gnome

Hoo-s looking for presents under my tree?

Hoo-s looking for presents under my tree?

Snowy Pals

Snowy Pals

Now you begin to perceive the depths of my frustration with photography and the challenge of doing verbal justice to the visual feasts throughout the store!  It is decided.  You will have to come in person to experience the wonder of each tree.  I haven’t even talked about the nativity tree yet, or the snowman tree, or the musical tree or the….anticipation!

~Janet @ The Christmas Place

Giggle-iscious Jokes

What kind of frog can jump higher than a telephone pole?

Any kind of frog.  Telephone poles can’t jump!
~ – ~ – ~ – ~ 

Why was the goldfish afraid of the computer?

He didn’t want to get caught in the Internet!
~ – ~ – ~ – ~

Why did the scoccer team bring string to the game?

So they could tie the score!
~ – ~ – ~ – ~

Which mammal has four knees and is the only mammal that cannot jump?

The Elephant!

All funnies today courtesy of Quaker Instant Oatmeal Peaches & Cream Cereal.  Have a great Almost Monday!

~Janet @ The Christmas Place

Food for Friday

SOMEone (you know who you are, Kristy) complained that “spaghetti” wasn’t Christmas-y enough for the blog.  (This may have been after I asked her why we do not have any spaghetti ornaments in the store.)  So, this week, here’s one of the desserts I make every Christmas to share with my friends and family.  When I can find it, I’ll be back with a recipe for these scrumptious things, I don’t know what they are called, that are made with white almond bark, peanut butter, peanuts, and mini marshmallows.  (Brief pause here while I run down to Mrs. Claus’ Candy Kitchen for a pick-me-up before I go on.)

My friend Patty first shared this with me when we were in college together just a couple hundred months ago.  Most of the time I burn my finger, because I can’t wait for the pan to cool before going for the last crumbs.

Choc-Quick Oatmeal Cookies

Mix together in a bowl:
3 C Quick Oatmeal flakes
3/4 C peanut butter (smooth is best, reduced fat works fine)
1 t Vanilla
I find a fork pretty effective for incorporating the peanut butter with the oatmeal flakes; this will have a fairly rough texture.

Heat together in a sauce pan large enough to add the oatmeal mix above:
2 C sugar (cane is best)
1/3 C cocoa powder
1/2 C milk
3 T (heaping) butter
Heat, stirring continuously, to a rolling boil.  Boil for a scant minute.

Add the oatmeal mix to the pan and stir as quickly as you can; quickly drop by tablespoons onto waxpaper.  The mixture starts to come together very quickly, so work fast.  Cool completely (I know from experience they taste better when cooled).  Enjoy!

C = Cup; t = teaspoon; T = Tablespoon

Maybe to make Kristy happy I had better add “Place 3 or 4 cookies into a decorative Christmas plastic baggie and tie with a bit of red and green curly ribbon.  Attach a hand-lettered gift tag to each recipient, along with a recipe card if you like.”  (Ooo, Martha moment!)

~Janet @ The Christmas Place

Great, now I gotta go ask her if we have ornaments in the shape of a chocolate-peanut butter-oatmeal cookie…….

Nietzsche at the beach

A lot of the locals are headed out to the beach for a last sunburn before fall, and I would like to help them make the most of their time.  You’re saying you never thought of Nietzsche as beach reading material??  Think again – on NPR, Alain de Botton makes a compelling argument for at least one of his publications, along with two others he’s recommending as quick reads for short attention spans.  I’ll bet they are available at your local library.  Of course, Nietzsche is a kook, but you could say you’ve read him.

~Janet @ The Christmas Place

“A thought, even a possibility, can shatter and transform us.”

Really…I want the WHOLE thing!

We’ve established that I am still a newbie at this big-time Christmas thing, since I am seen walking around the store stary-eyed and with my mouth hanging open most days…and I love to go downstairs and help the cashiers by wrapping and bagging for customers…clearly I have not yet had to survive a December day when we are THE. BUSIEST. SHOP. IN. THE. KNOWN. UNIVERSE.

But to me, this is soooooooooooo cool ~ a customer came in last week and pointed at one of our fully-decorated trees and said “That one…I want that one.  All of that.  Star to skirt, the tree and everything in between.  The WHOLE enchilada.”  We were even able to include some stockings and other coordinating goodies as well.  I just think that’s the most fun!  That tree was decorated by the college-bound daughter of one of our staff members – such a proud Mama!

Now, they tell me that this is likely to happen a bunch more times this year.  Of course, some guests think we’re just going to bring out a gianormous box and wrap it around the tree and send them on their merry way.  Au contraire!  Sadly, you’re going to have to glam it up yourself at home ~ we have to send it out of here in pieces….

This kind of service ~ a professional decorator IN THE STORE to help you put together colors and ribbons and ornaments and lights – tell me where you’re gonna find this somewhere else on the continent?  We truly know how to deliver the best Christmas experience, “soup to nuts”, to our customers.

See ya real soon!

~Janet @ The Christmas Place

Check in tomorrow, I’m going to try to get a picture of the tree to add here.

Two for Tuesday

Today I found a fantastic collection of nutcrackers that are new to me – take a look at this wonderful fellow.  Standing about 2 feet tall, he is beautifully crafted of fine wood and fabrics, including dark red velvet with fur trim.  This is an Ulbricht handcrafted German nutcracker, and the quality is extraordinary.

This Santa and reindeer also caught my eye – I love the curly antlers on the deer!  Santa has a pack full of toys, and the reindeer has one shiny bulb hanging from an antler.  Such a cute piece this would be on your mantle.

Have you checked out the new shopping site and registered in the Community Forum yet?  We’re so anxious to hear from you!  Stop in for a quick “hello!”

~Janet @ The Christmas Place