on our holiday menu: christmas crackers!

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Once many years ago, I was fortunate enough to spend a Christmas in London. I fell in love with so many of their holiday meal traditions — roast beef with Yorkshire pudding, sticky toffee pudding for dessert, and of course, lots of booze. But the true secret to a happy holiday meal – no matter what kind of tense family dynamics may be present — is to give everyone a Christmas cracker. I’ve started seeing them in stores here in the U.S. (I love these from Pier 1) and have added them to our must-have list. Here’s how they work: Everyone gets a cracker on their plate, and at some point in the meal (I like to do it early on), each person takes a turn “challenging” the person sitting next to them. You have your neighbor pull one end of the cracker while you pull the other. Eventually the cracker tears open with a loud “pop” and out spills the goodies inside. Everyone gets a surprise toy, a joke and a paper crown hat. It’s really hard to be grumpy when everyone is wearing silly hats and reading corny jokes out loud. In England, Christmas Crackers are serious business. These ones at Harrods cost nearly $500 and come with silver “bling” inside. I’m happy with our plastic tops and paper hats.

What holiday traditions have you adopted? I’d love to hear about them. — Angela M.

From our partners

from beer bottle to beer glass, part one: ‘cutting with string’ fail

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If you enjoy beer as much as we do in our household, you probably share the love for microbrews. One of our favorite makers is Portland’s Hopworks Urban Brewery (or HUB), whose Abominable Winter Ale features art (by Martin Ontiveros) as cool as the beer is delicious. We love the Abominable so much, we’ve decided to keep him around by turning those empty bottles into snazzy drinking glasses.

Now, we’re pretty handy, but we don’t own a glass cutter, so of course I Googled for other ideas. I landed on this tutorial on cutting a bottle using string and acetone. As you may have gathered from the post headline, it was not a rousing success. It looks so easy in the video! What did we do wrong?

Step one: Tie a string around the bottle where you want the bottle to be cut.
Step two: Soak the string in nail polish remover (that’s the acetone — we used a small ramekin for this).
Step three: Place the string back on the bottle (wear gloves and keep the open acetone far away from you) and set the string on fire with a match; rotate bottle to distribute the fire. (I did the “one-one-thousand, two-one-thousand” counting thing for between counts of 12 and counts up to 20 and beyond while the string was on fire.)

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Step four: plunge the bottle into a sink filled with icy water and apply pressure to both ends of the bottle — voila! the bottle should cleanly snap at the string. Except in our case, when the bottle should do NOTHING AT ALL, not matter how many times you try.

First we tried cotton string: caught on fire, but bottle did not break.

Then we tried cotton yarn: soaked up more acetone, burned better, but bottle still did not break.

Then we tried several rows of cotton twine that looked more like what they use in other videos online): burned well. Burned for an entire minute. Bottle did not break.

These bottles bear mute testimony to how many times we tried:

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Next step: Anyone have a glass cutter? — Mary T.

From our partners

the puppy files: introducing…cupcake!

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Hello dear readers! It’s Monday afternoon, and though I am a little more sleepy than usual I didn’t want to wait a moment longer before introducing you to our new puppy, Cupcake. (Yes, our four-year old daughter picked out his name.) We picked him up from the breeder on Saturday, and spent about an hour there playing with him and his siblings, and getting some last minute tips on puppy care. It really helped to see where he was coming from. The house was big and warm and cozy — a puppy paradise, really.

We brought him home via a four hour drive that went surprising well. The little guy mostly snoozed contently the whole way. As soon as we got home, he promptly set about exploring his new place. It took him about five minutes before he found a spot to poop. Luckily, it was on the hard floor and was easy to clean up. We spent most of the night laughing and playing, amazed that he was already so good fetching; all those squeaky toys really are actually a ton of fun! The first night in the crate was not so bad. He fell asleep after about ten minutes and only woke up once around 2 am. After a quick, cold visit to the backyard, he went back to sleep until dawn. I thought, this is easy…

That was until last night, which seemed much harder than the first. Perhaps it was finally sinking in that his brothers and sisters were not going to show up? What ever was going on in that little walnut of a brain, Cupcake would not quiet down. After about 20 minutes of unsuccessfully trying to lure him to sleep, we decided to move the crate downstairs. Bad idea. He cried all night! Well, at least until around 2:30 a.m. when I took him outside (burrrrr — when did it suddenly get so cold here?!) and then moved the crate back up to our room. I got him to go to sleep by literally sliding it as close to our bed possible and then sticking my fingers in the crate. Not exactly comfortable for me, but it worked! We’ll try that again tonight. My plan is make sure we wear him out with lots of play before we put him in the crate to sleep.

People keep telling me that dogs learn to love being in their crates but it’s hard to imagine. From the wails he made last night you would think we were torturing him. Please tell me it gets easier! — Angela M.

Previously on the Puppy Files

Getting Our Home Ready For a New Pup

After Losing Our Dear Cat, We Ask: Is It Time For a Dog?

Chosing the Perfect Breed

What to Look For In A Breeder

From our partners

a fuzzy wuzzy holiday: felt takes over

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Front door wreaths aren’t the only thing popping up in felt this holiday season. We spotted this lovely felt menorah over at Etsy (via iVillage). This clever design allows kids of all sizes to partake in the lighting of the flames — or rather, the buttoning of the flames! The wool felt is from upcycled sweaters, and is a great new homey tradition. ($60)

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Another great seasonal tradition is the mistletoe. We love this one from branchhome.com. Each one is unique and comes ready to hang. Though kisses are not included it does come with thanks: Sales of this product help provide an income stream for sheepherders and artisans in the Rajasthan State of India, where it is made. ($26)

From our partners

the puppy files: getting our home ready for a puppy

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This is the weekend we go to pick up our new puppy! It seems like we have been thinking about and preparing for its arrival for ages now. I am excited and also nervous. Here are a few of the things we have done to get our home ready for the incoming bundle of energy. Are we ready?

Fenced in our yard. We have a small backyard, that already had border fences along the back and to one side. Luckily our neighbors didn’t mind that we wanted to finished it off on the other side and add a gate to the driveway. I thought the gate would make the yard feel smaller, but it actually does the opposite.

Bought a couple of baby gates. We’re not big believers in hanging on to things we don’t we need, so we mistakenly gave away our baby gates once our kid mastered the stairs in the house. We were able to replace them with a cheap ($15), portable version that we picked up at Babys R Us (rather than at a pet store). This will help us close off the house and keep an eye on the puppy. Hopefully they’ll do the trick!

Got a crate for training. It’s the one thing we’ve heard over and over again: Crate train! I’ve never done this before but I am trusting all I have heard and read that it will work. I love the idea of also using it create a safe place for the puppy to hang out when things in the house get overwhelming (like when we have screaming kids running around — it happens, though not everyday). We picked one that the puppy would grow into that has an adjustable section.

Read a few books. The first thing I read, to get myself psyched up about the dog, was Jill Abramson’s wonderful The Puppy Diaries. First, I am fascinated by the author because she is the new editor and first woman to run to The New York Times. Secondly, it’s an honest, emotional account of ups and downs of puppy-ownership.

Another book I picked up, at the insistence of Pam at EdenValleyDoodles, was Raising Puppies and Kids Together. It offers some great practical advice on how to teach your kids not to abuse or frighten the dog, and how to make sure your dog doesn’t pick up bad habits like biting and jumping. It even has some fun suggestions for games, like hide-n-seek, that I can’t wait to try with Isadora and pup.

Started instituting new “pick up all your toys” rule. If you have ever visited a home with young children, you know how often there are little things scattered about the floor. All those tiny plastic dollhouse pieces are gonna look mighty tempting to a young dog. We got some new sturdy bins from Ikea and organized their contents in big Ziploc bags. We also did a purge. Always healthy!

Began saving all our plastic bags. I know we can buy doggy poop bags (and some are even flushable!) but it doesn’t take long to gather a stash of plastic bags (even if you try your darnedest to always bring your reusable tote with you to the grocery store). I hear the ones that our newspaper comes wrapped in are especially good. Got ‘em!

Bought some things we’ll need: Such as sturdy food and water bowls, a mini Kong toy, rawhides, leash, collar, dog brushes, etc.

Bought some things ’cause they’re cute: Toys (thank you Martha Stewart, again), basket to put them, a jingle bell collar for Christmas morning, a puppy stocking to hang on the mantle with ours, and Poochie Bells, which you hang on your door frame for your dog to ring when he has to go out. (I’ll let you know if they work!)

We haven’t seriously invested in a dog bed yet — just a simple washable one for the crate. There are so many to choose from and they seem so pricey. We’re gonna wait. Also, I haven’t gotten any dog sweaters — though I know it will be cold out and puppy is just getting used to going outside. It’ll have a nice curly fleece coat of its own — will an extra layer be needed?

Dog owners, what am I forgetting? Your advice as always is appreciated and extremely welcome! — Angela M.

Previously on the Puppy Files
After Losing Our Dear Cat, We Ask: Is It Time For a Dog?

Chosing the Perfect Breed

What to Look For In A Breeder

From our partners