Monday, December 26, 2011

What a year, 2011

This year, the budget just wouldn't budge for a Christmas card.  I know some of you are holding back tears because our card was *that good* last year.  Maybe we can find a few bucks next year.  But don't be overwhelmed by despair because we have a great substitute.  The online holiday newsletter!

Dear readers/fans/loved ones/enemies,

2011 has been exciting for us.  For one thing, we bought a house!  Faced with the prospect of staying in the un-insulated Victorian in Northeast Kansas City, mere blocks from violent crimes (can you spell carjacking, Winslow?  good girl), we decided to get the heck outta Dodge and flee to the suburbs.  Only problem?  Our budget was in line with the same stuff we were trying to get away from.  In place of carjackings, we witnessed flooded basements, suffocating animal smells, neighbors with plywood signs lining their front yard (Obama haters with quite a beef, I tell ya), collapsed ceilings, decaying garages, and jungle backyards.  We spent a thousand bucks on one house only to be told it was sinking into the ground, making it insufficient collateral for a mortgage.  Right before we were ready to throw in the towel, we found this funky house in Roeland Park, with ceiling tiles, a tiny master bath, a severely outdated kitchen, and still managed to fall in love with it.  What a steal at $99k!  So that's awesome thing #1 (because newsletters have to be filled with awesome).

What else happened?  Andrew learned how to walk!  Who knew that babies did that?  For awhile, I thought he might never make it, but finally at 10.5 months, he took his first steps.  What a late bloomer.  Speaking of late bloomers, Katie, age four, is potty trained.  Almost.  I'd say this one is for the record books, which makes sense, because we are always out to be the BEST, even if it means being the best procrastinators on Earth.  And speaking of the best, Winslow is now a champion sofa jumper.  She can leap from the leather ottoman to the couch better than any other child on the planet.  If you're doubting me, you should know that I never lie or exaggerate.  Ever.  I am absolutely the best, most awesomest, brilliantest, humblest mom in Johnson County.  And you're so lucky to know me. Awesome things #2 through 438.

What about Ryan?  Well, he's a published blogger!  You already knew that, you say?  Dammit, I hate stating the obvious.  That will definitely affect my Klout score, which is well above 50.  That makes me a VIP in some circles--the "high school was the best time of life because I could crush nerds with my pinky and pretend that made me awesome instead of lame" circles. What's a Klout score? If you have to ask, yours probably sucks.  If it doesn't suck, keep it to yourself, you braggart.

What else made 2011 the awesomest year to date?  Well, I could tell you that I am Vitamin D deficient,  Ryan figured out that an AWD vehicle is not a savior in the snow ($$new bumper$$), Drew requires $45/month in diaper cream and has multiple food sensitivities, Winslow needs hernia surgery, and Katie had to have a molasses enema on Christmas Eve, but that would be complaining!  So instead, I'll say Happy Holidays!  Merry New Year!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Christmas Decorations, Kiefer Cottage Style

How to decorate for Christmas without spending any money!

Cheap and easy holiday decor!

How I turned my cat's litter box into the most awesome Nativity EVER!  With only 436 easy steps.  And it was done with items I found around the house!

Yes, I'm selling out, y'all.  'Cause I'm gangsta.  A blog thug, if you will.  I'm here to offer you the most practical Christmas decoration project you've ever seen, and it won't cost you a dime.

Start with your beautifully made bed.  By that, I mean you've managed to put clean sheets on it and a few pillows, not that the bed itself is well-made because, you know, it's from IKEA, which makes much of its furniture from pressed board and paper (yes, paper!), so it's barely survived three moves and now has to be supported by old yearbooks.

Anywho, admire your bed.

Notice that maybe the large blue and white pillow is looking a tad grimy.  Perhaps it needs a bath.  It IS clean sheet day!

Wait.  What is under the case?

O.M.G.  It is a Christmas pillow!  And Christmas is just days away!

Place Christmas pillow back where it belongs on the bed.

And that's it!  The easiest Christmas project of all time.  And I did it with things I found around the house!  Try it yourself and report back.  I love hearing success stories like mine.  Since I am, in fact, a walking success story.  But that's for another post.  

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Berkey Family Christmas Village

Today we feature a dear friend of mine as our esteemed guest writer. Take it away, Heather! 

Well, here we are, with the holiday season in full swing! I don’t know about you, but I love it. I really do. I love Christmas music, I love buying gifts (which would be more fun if I had money…but still..), I love those sappy, crappy Christmas movies and will rarely tolerate anything else on my TV during the month of December. And I LOVE my decorations. They’re not expensive or elite, they don’t match, and they often get swallowed up by the clutter that inevitably takes over my house, but I’m crazy about them. I could tell you the origin of every single ornament on my Christmas tree, but I won’t. At least not today. Our lovely friend Starr has instead asked me to guest-blog about my Christmas Village.

Aaah, my Christmas Village. I’m admittedly pretty obsessed with it. I start pining for it around September, but my husband rolls his eyes and tells me I can’t put it up until after Thanksgiving. Meanie. It’s actually his family’s fault that I have a village to obsess about in the first place. His grandmother had the most impressive Christmas Village that I’ve ever seen. It sprawled out from under her Christmas tree, over hills and valleys made by cardboard boxes covered with snow blankets, and took up half of her living room. Man, it was awesome. When Grandma Berkey passed away, we inherited a few pieces of her Village collection – a train, a house, a church, a tavern, and a jail. We specifically got the church and the tavern because when my husband was a smart-ass kid helping his grandma put the village up, he thought it was funny to put the church and the tavern next to each other. Then Grandma (who didn’t approve of drinking at all) would hit him with a yardstick and make him move them apart. So this is where it all started, with those four buildings, which I proudly arranged under my tree the first year Mike and I were married. In the eleven years that have followed, my village has expanded quite a bit. I’m incurably cheap – no, frugal. Frugal sounds better – about buying stuff for it. My favorite place to look for pieces is Big Lots.  In recent years, I’ve even found some cute things at the dollar store! My sister supports my obsession by shopping the after Christmas clearance sales at Kohl’s. Those clearance sales are key to Village expansion.

Ok, enough talk. I know you’re positively dying to see the Village as it is today. You’re in luck, because I took lots of pictures. I can’t put the Village on the floor anymore because of lack of floor space, unruly pets, and my four-year-old daughter who loves to “rearrange” things. If I had a mantel, maybe I’d put it there. Right, Starr? But I don’t, so it goes on the shelves surrounding the most important thing in my living room: the TV. Here’s the village in its entirety:

I put in the Yule Log DVD for a more festive, mantel-like atmosphere. The stereo is Mike’s. It’s not festive at all, is it? I should hit him with a yardstick and make him put garland on it or something. The nativity there on the right side was MY grandma’s. Oh, the nostalgia of it all!!! The things on the bottom shelves are less sentimental, less breakable items that my daughter plays with and rearranges on a daily basis. The town itself is divided up into several well-planned sections. It takes me like an entire day to get everything arranged the way I want it. Who cares if my family needs dinner? I need to decide where the new clock tower is going!! All right, now for the shelf-by-shelf tour.

This is the downtown area. There’s a barber shop, kids visiting Santa, a chocolate shoppe, a toy store, an antique store/cafĂ©. When you turn Santa on, the kids in line move around in a circle and a light flashes on the photographer’s camera every few seconds. Wait, I think that sounds really dirty. Turning Santa on and taking pictures? Maybe it’s best if we just move on….

This is the residential section of town. That’s Grandma Berkey’s church there on the top. You’ll notice that the tavern is nowhere in sight. I don’t let Mike help put the Village up. The house in the bottom right corner is also one of the originals from Grandma’s collection. The other houses are from my beloved Big Lots.

As we move out of the suburban sprawl section, there’s a little wooded area. This is the first year I’ve gotten to use the whole river….usually I fit about half of it onto a shelf with a house. This year it got promoted!! I got that clubhouse and the skating kids from the dollar store. I’m almost embarrassed to admit how excited I was about them. “The Village kids will be so thrilled to have a clubhouse to play in!” Right, Heather. Right. That’s completely sane.

This is the farmhouse. I decided last year that I NEEDED a cow for my village, so my sister got me one. I love that it came with pre-decorated fences. Such a festive little bovine. My daughter keeps putting the pigs in with the cow. No honey, don’t mess with Mommy’s Village.

Here’s the other side of town. You’ve got City Hall on the top shelf. It used to go in the center of town, but I made the executive decision to move it over this year, to accommodate the new clock tower. That’s Grandma Berkey’s train, going over a bridge that I got for a dollar at a local church festival this summer. Score! On the second shelf is the Zoo. My mother-in-law got that for me several years back because she decided that my village HAD to have a zoo at all costs.  (This is because I work at the zoo in Pittsburgh. I teach kids about animals and such.) To make the zoo more fun, since it only has two exhibits, I put the carousel and the popcorn guy in there as well. The popcorn guy is bigger than the rest of the people in the village, but I figure maybe he has glandular issues….and who am I to judge?

And finally, here’s the seedy section of town - the storied tavern and the jail from Grandma’s collection, along with the brewery. That’s one of my favorite finds from Big Lots! If nothing else, the people in my Village need their beer! That little guy outside the tavern stands there and plays the accordion every year. I feel kinda bad for him. Maybe I should let him share his musical gifts in the middle of town next year.
And there you have it, more than you ever wanted to know about the object of my Christmasy obsession. My daughter tells me that the people come to life at night. I can’t decide if that’s magical or creepy. Or maybe a little bit of both? Anyway, I hope they live it up while they can. It’s only a matter of weeks before I’ll have to imprison them in their boxes again. Sigh. I’ll shun that thought from my mind, and focus on what new pieces I need for next year. What will the clearance racks hold? A school for my uneducated children? A train station for Grandma’s train? A barn for that festive little cow? Oh, the possibilities are endless….
Thanks Starr, for letting me share a little bit of Christmas crazy with the blogosphere. Now go hang your stockings by the chimney with care (stockings! Oh man, you should hear about my stockings!), deck the halls, and all that. Merry Christmas, everyone!

Monday, December 12, 2011

The Bronx is up, The Battery's down

My whirlwind tour of New York was loads of fun.  Exhausting.  Energizing.  The wedding was beautiful.  The two grooms have been together for twenty years and were finally able to be legally recognized as married. Sadly, it's not legal in their home state, how unfortunate.  But the love shared, joy expressed, both made the day celebratory and glorious.  I'm so happy to have been there.

And I highly recommend stopping by St. Ann's in Brooklyn Heights if you ever get the chance.  What a gorgeous church--they're currently looking for about $40 million to help restore the sanctuary.  One of you can surely cover that, right?

My mother and I also enjoyed a couple of delicious meals.  The first was at The Place, a cozy restaurant in the West Village.  I completely out-ordered my mom by having the corn risotto and then the seafood chowder.  You ordered SOUP as your main course?  Yes, meanie.  I am currently in a land-locked city. I wanted some fish, dammit! And I got it piled high in the bowl.

Our second meal was brunch at DBGB Kitchen and Bar.  Loved the pastry basket, loved the service, and apparently, the busboy loved *me*.  I even spoke loudly of my happy marriage and lovely children and still got some serious stares.  Jean-Luc (the guy was French and we all know that every French guy is named Jean-Luc or Pierrre), you'd better watch out because while Ryan agrees that I'm a sight to see, you'd better have been staring at the food in my teeth or my skirt tucked into my underwear, and nothing else!  Consider yourself warned.  Oh, and speaking of Ryan, our adorable waitress shares my husband's name--she put up with us asking about all the ingredients in the gumbo as well as the delicious mustard sauce.

We also saw a show!  No tickets to be had for The Book of Mormon (surprise, surprise) so we went to Seminar.  It was a smart, vulgar comedy about a writer (played by Alan Rickman--you know the guy.  The quiet, handsome Colonel Brandon from Sense and Sensibility.  The cute fellah from Love Actually.  The greasy Severus Snape from The series-that-shall-not-be-named.)  who has four students seeking feedback on their work.  Anyone who has been in academia should see the play--I had flashbacks to courses in which some were praised for no apparent reason while others decimated for equally absent reason.  It was a 90 minute play, just about right. My booty was throbbing and the gal next to me was practically leaning on my shoulder. Guess she had a long day, too.

After the show, people waited outside for Rickman and Jerry O'Connell (playing one of the students) to emerge from the theater.  People were taking pictures with their phones and iPads.  I didn't bother because I had already gotten my picture taken with Alan (yeah, we're on a first name basis).

See how easy that was?  I didn't have to chase him down.  And he looks so realistically detached from our obvious bond! Oh, what an actor.

I would say, though, that the two grooms were a bit sweeter than Alan.  What a great trip!

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Guest post--Cinnamon Rolls!

We are at Type A Decorating today, sharing how we made those divine cinnamon rolls in our quest to make some new Christmas traditions this year.


Thursday, December 1, 2011

We'll Take Manhattan, and Brooklyn, too.

Loyal fans,

The past week has been a whirlwind of activity.  Thanksgiving was a blazing success.  And we've all recovered nicely without excessive bloat (note that I said *excessive*).

You'll notice a little button over on the right --------->.

Tammy over at Type A Decorating is having twenty-five guest bloggers for Christmas, and The Kiefer Cottage will be participating on December 3rd.  I'll remind you, so don't worry about missing it (yes, you're worried.  Don't try to tell me otherwise).  You'll finally learn how to make those yummy cinnamon rolls.

But my big news is that I am going to New York City next weekend!  My friend Charlie is marrying his partner of many, many years, and he's doing it in Brooklyn.  A gay wedding is just what I need.  (When I think of the wedding, the Flintstones' "We'll have a gay old time" pops into my head, too. Wonder if the grooms will be sporting animal skin?)  My mom is meeting me up there, and we plan on eating our way through town.  It'll be a very quick trip, but I know that for Ryan, it will seem like an eternity, so send him your patient vibes.  He'll need them.

What does that mean for you?  Well, you'll get to see pictures of our trip...and not much else this December--we might be doing a lot of cooking, but no new drywall, flooring, or crystal chandeliers.  NYC is so expensive to visit.  I had to sell one of my organs on the black market.  Ryan peddled handmade home insulation on the street corner.  The kids pitched in by offering to eat only three tons of goldfish this month rather than their typical four.  My lovely gal pals did actually throw together some dough as a complete surprise for me, and no, it wasn't bread dough. It was real moolah, and I'm so grateful to them for the treat (love you MMs!!).

Reservations are made, outfits have been chosen (I'm thinking burlap sacks, Mom), Valium has been procured (poor Ryan), stomach has been sufficiently stretched (thank you, Thanksgiving), and I've been breaking in my shoes for all the walking.  I even got my hair highlighted so I could be a New York City blonde (yes, that article is five years old, but I still remember reading it when it was first published).

And in honor of the trip, Katie dressed up as the Statue of Liberty.  Perhaps she can come next time.

I think the dinosaur as torch is brilliant, child.
Edited to Add: Chef Tio at Julian not only retweeted my post last weekend, but she also said to definitely get a picture when we come in next time.  See?  I'm mere moments from my 15 minutes of fame!!
Blogging tips