At the Stickler house, Christmas is always about celebrating family-style. Mom Darby, the creative blogger behind the popular “Fly Through Our Window, ” makes every attempt to put together memorable, budget-friendly festivities for her children, no matter if there is wintry white snow or sugary, ivory sand outside their window.
Husband Justin’s job as an archaeologist brought him to the Gulf Coast shortly after the oil spill. Once done “hotel hopping, ” he landed in Orange Beach. So last spring, Darby packed up the kids — 6-year-old Morgan, 5-year-old Paige and 3-year-old John Martin (also known as “Rover”) — and headed southwest from Dothan to join him on the waterfront. “Not only is it a beautiful place to live, but it’s a double blessing because we’re reunited, ” Darby says.
Unsure how long the stay might be, they’re living it up. “We say ‘we might not always have this opportunity’ which usually precedes something out of the ordinary like a weeknight dinner cruise or a date night by boat, ” Darby says. “But my favorite thing is just parking our boat on an island and letting the kids run, play, catch crabs and build sand castles till their hearts are content and stomachs are growling.”
Now that the holidays are approaching, they are spending a little less time on the water and more time prepping for Christmas. As often as schedules allow, they prepare cheery goodies and crafts together. “I’m a fan of gifting with food, ” says Darby, who usually has plenty of eager little hands to help her. She browses other blogs, Pinterest and magazines for kid-friendly project ideas and recipes that don’t break the bank. “That makes anything more special, if we can do it together, ” Darby says.
Her how-tos and the family’s day-to-day happenings are chronicled on the blog. She also has a mini marketplace of her T-shirt line, Honey Bee Tees (see picture, right), which features her hand-sketched illustrations. The site began as a place to keep friends and family updated. “I imagine the same is still true four years later, ” Darby says. Although she now tailors to her audience, providing less details and more posts that she’s willing to share with more than 12, 000 viewers. “I have enjoyed getting to know readers from all over. I glean from them and even develop cherished friendships, ” she says.
Most of all, Darby treasures the blog because it is their virtual scrapbook. On her little corner of the Internet, she posts, “Reminder: this is a blog, not a real life account, but merely a tiny glimpse into our lives. We don’t sit around and craft, bake and smile for pictures all day long.”
She adds that like every other mom, “when I’m not blogging or taking pictures, I’m usually doing laundry, making meals, cleaning the house or running the kids here and there.”
No doubt, with all their festive preparations, the Sticklers will celebrate one of their merriest seasons yet on the shores of the Gulf of Mexico. Visit flythroughourwindow.com for a peek.
Darby’s Salt Dough Christmas Ornaments
4 cups flour
1 cup salt
1 1/2 cups of warm water
small to medium cookie cutters
1. Preheat oven to 200 degrees.
2. Whisk together flour and salt in mixing bowl until incorporated. (Use a stand mixer with the bread hook attachment.*) Gradually add water until dough ball collects.
3. Using half the dough at a time, roll out on a floured surface until flat and very even. (Dough does not rise at all.) Dip cookie cutters in flour and use to cut out shapes. Using a straw, add a hole at the top of each ornament. Transfer to cookie sheets lined with parchment paper.
4. Bake for 2 hours. Turn off oven and let sit for another hour.
5. Remove from oven and place on cooling racks. Using a basting brush, dust off excess flour. If still soft, put back in preheated oven for another hour.
6. Once dry and hard, paint ornaments, if desired. To finish, spray with clear polyurethane (outside or in a well-ventilated area) or glossy Mod Podge, or leave all natural. Yields 30 – 40 small-to-medium-sized ornaments.
*If you don’t have a stand mixer, mix by hand. Knead until dough is well incorporated and pulled together in a ball.
Maple Cinnamon Pecans
Darby says these are perfect gifts, especially when made with local pecans. They’re delicious by themselves or on top of oatmeal or a salad.
2 cups of pecan halves
1/4 cup of real maple syrup
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon butter
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon sea salt
1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees.
2. Spread pecans over parchment lined baking sheet. Place pecans in oven and toast for 8 – 10 minutes until fragrant.
3. Remove pecans from oven and let cool to room temperature. In a small saucepan, over medium-low heat, add remaining ingredients and stir until well combined and butter is melted.
4. Add pecans to a medium-sized bowl. Drizzle with maple syrup mixture and toss until well coated. Spread pecans back onto parchment lined baking sheet. Return to oven and roast at 300 for about 18 – 20 minutes.
5. Remove from oven. Using kitchen tongs, remove warm, sticky pecans from baking sheet to a parchment lined cooling rack. Spread them apart so that they don’t touch each other while they cool. Once cooled, place in an airtight container or package as you like to gift others.
Candy Cane Crunch Cookies
1 cup butter, room temperature
1 cup white sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 cup heavy cream
cookie cutters, dipped in flour
Buttercream Frosting (see below)
6 – 10 candy canes, crushed
1. In a medium bowl, cream together the butter and sugar. Stir in the eggs and vanilla.
2. Sift flour and baking powder, stir into the creamed mixture alternating with the heavy cream.
3. Cover dough and for best results chill overnight (or until firm).
4. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper.
5. On a lightly floured surface roll out 1/4 of the dough to 1/4-inch thickness. Cut into desired shapes and place cookies 1-inch apart.
6. Bake for about 12 minutes, removing before the edges turn golden. Remove from cookie sheets and let cool. Store in an airtight container until ready to frost.
7. Spread a generous amount of Buttercream Frosting on each cookie. Immediately sprinkle with crushed candy canes.
1/2 cup butter, room temperature
1/2 cup shortening, room temperature
4 cups confectioners’ sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
a few ounces heavy cream
1. Cream shortening and butter until light and fluffy. Add confectioners’ sugar and continue to cream until well incorporated.
2. Add salt and vanilla. Slowly drizzle in heavy cream using only enough to thin to a spreading consistency.
3. Beat on high, scraping sides of the bowl regularly, until light and fluffy.
christmas round the corner 398 Fairhope Ave. 928-8822. • cottage hill ace hardware, 5017 Cottage hill road. 660-8291. cottagehillace.com • daisy couture, 266 S. McGregor Ave. 460-5995. dctween.com • east bay clothiers, 39 N. Section St., Fairhope. 928-6848. eastbayclothiers.com • fish river trees, 13982 Woodhaven Dairy Road East, Summerdale. 988-8114. fishrivertrees.com • holiday inc., 4513 Old Shell Road. 342-4911. shoptheholiday.com • honeybeetees, honeybeetees.com, flythroughourwindow.com • kidz klozet, 3679 Airport Blvd. 990-9024. (Open seasonally. Visit mykidzklozet.com for january dates.) • robert moore and co. christmas town, 4213 Halls Mill Road. 661-5252. robertmoorechristmastown.com
To keep up with Darby and the rest of the Stickler family, visit flythroughourwindow.com.
And keep your eyes peeled for the 12 Days of Stickler Christmas, coming soon!
Christy Dobson Reid