Category Archives: christmas

Sand Art

Before I begin this post I’d like to issue a disclaimer for my readers to the north.

Disclaimer: this post references 80-degree weather in November but is in no way intended to be a gloat, brag or the like. I braved enough winters in the Midwest to be empathetic during this time. Please accept my apologies for the unseasonably cold spike. Should you consider a trip to visit because of the following photos, I will not deter you. Seriously though. Come see us!

Do you remember when you were little and you would convince your mom, dad or aunt who happened to live in California to spend ridiculous amounts of money on colored sand art you would take home and display proudly next to the rock collection on your shelf?

I do.

And perhaps that’s the reason I took more than 20 photos this weekend of sand. But not just any sand. Sand art sand. The kind of sand art that takes 3 full days and a wee bit of elmer’s glue to complete. Don’t believe me? Check this out.

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Sand not your thing? Well if you come visit me I will treat you to a bag of the best mini donuts you’ve ever tasted. Sorry Illinois State Fair. Siesta Key mini donuts have just taken the lead for best donuts to be eaten in full sun while counting how many people you see without their shirts on.

siesta key crystal classic, sand sculptures, sand castles, siesta key beach, crystal classic, florida, vacation, margaritaville

 

Stay warm, Midwest!

on holiday lulls

I must admit I’m feeling a bit melancholy now that Christmas is over. Perhaps it was the mid-week occurrence or the late Thanksgiving this year, but it just doesn’t seem like it should be over yet.

I am very grateful for some time off work to celebrate with friends and family, but I can’t help but feel that familiar let down now that the season and year are coming to an end. It all just flew by so fast! One minute Mariah is telling me I’m all she wants for Christmas for the 75th time, the next I’m surrounded by piles of boxes ready for the recycling bin.

Wah. Wah. Wah.

It could be that we typically plan a ski trip between Christmas and New Years, but this year our schedule just didn’t work out. Note to self: plan a vacation after Christmas next year to avoid the post-Christmas lull.

So instead of living in the lack of Christmas present, let’s reflect on the recent Christmas past, shall we?

In the last week, we cheered on the Illini to a win over Mizzou in the annual Braggin’ Rights game:

Illinois Mizzou Braggin Rights game, st. louis, broadway oyster bar, basketball, arch

Best friends were made, vans were tested for capacity limits and cousins were reunited on a cold and rainy Saturday in St. Louis.

On Monday, we shopped:

I had the pleasure of hanging with one of my nephews earlier this week where we were tasked with completing other family member’s last minute shopping. Since running errands doesn’t exactly thrill most 7 (or 29) year-olds I decided to turn the day into a scavenger hunt.

We started at Target, an oh-so familiar location for my nephew, where I picked up a few items and got a lesson on the difference between regular and SWAP Force Skylanders. Once we were ready to check out, the clue for our next location was given.

Within a few hours, we had 5 stops under our belt and were ready for lunch. We hit up local favorite McCormicks, where Owen drew in some a la carte clues to signify our trip to back to Target and the chocolate chip cookie we were having for dessert.

scavenger hunt, nephew, frozen movie date, disney's frozen

Our final clue took us to the movies to see Frozen. To fit with the theme, we bought an ICEE that cost us as much as our ticket and giggled our way through the afternoon. Frozen was a super cute movie. Funny jokes for kids and adults alike and minimal scary parts. I say that because I only had to remind O once that I wouldn’t dare let a Disney princess die on my watch. We agreed that Olaf was our favorite, followed closely by Sven the reindeer who reminded us of another big goofy animal we both know well.

sven frozen swiss mountain dog puppy

The rest of the time,  we baked:

thumbprint christmas sugar cookies, holiday sugar cookies with sprinkles, red and green christmas cookies

My mom and I share the habit of continuous baking. It’s a blessing really. As the holiday drew near, we alternated use of the oven to bake batch after batch of holiday treats, well-knowing we had more than enough to go around. Scones, muffins, cookies, quiche, cookies and more cookies. Even the boys got in on the fun by icing a few of my leftover sugar cookies. My favorite was the green present on the right that J layered with surprise sprinkles.

kids royal icing christmas sugar cookies, present cookies, snowman cookies, holiday iced sugar cookies by kids

When Christmas Eve finally rolled around, we headed to mass and then home for dinner and presents.

christmas tree christmas presents simply social blog

We traditionally change into pajamas for this portion of the evening, but Jake introduced a new wear your Halloween costume element to this year’s festivities. Who doesn’t love to watch Captain America open Christmas presents?

christmas presents captain america, christmas tree, simply social blog

As usual, we all ate too many sweets, got too many gifts and had a wonderful holiday.

I hope you had a wonderful holiday as well. I’m off to try and sweat out some more sprinkles and reminisce about one heck of a year.

http://fgr.am/f/4TYYNzEj7F

We Wish You a Merry Christmas

Part of me hopes that you are too busy celebrating with friends and family to read your email but in the off-chance you are traveling checking social media today, I wanted to take a moment to wish you a very Merry Christmas.

From my family to yours,

christmas card photos simply social blog

christmas card design naughty or nice with puppy simply social blog

Merry Christmas!

Lessons in cookie decorating

Last night I faced a serious dilemma. I had a lot of baking and decorating to do but my back was locked up like Chris Brown during the holiday season. See what I did there? In all seriousness, my back tends to lock up on me if I spend a lot of time standing in my kitchen. I should use this as an excuse so people will cook for me, but I enjoy the process. Long story short, I needed a workout to loosen me up. I know what you’re thinking and yes it’s true, I am 29 going on 75. Fortunately running usually helps with the back issues.

So after Finn and I made our nightly dog park visit where he proceeded to eat every form of snow ball, clod, brick, and poof in sight, I decided to attempt a quick run outside. While my distance is low and my pace is slow, I’m excited to be getting back into a regular running routine. I’ve been religiously rehabbing since the Marathon and after a few test-runs on the treadmill I felt pretty confident I could maneuver the outdoors for a few miles.

It’s been so long since I ran in the cold, I nearly forgot my temperature threshold. As a personal rule, I don’t typically run outside if temps are below 30 degrees. Call me crazy but I’d prefer a 98 degree hot yoga class to nosecicles most nights. But I was in a time-crunch so off I went. It was a few blocks in that I began my internal debate as to whether my temperature threshold was set before or after wind chill. I quickly determined that it was in no way after as a frigid 20 mph wind blasted my face.

It was cold. But the more I ran, the more I remembered how much I love running in the cold. Fresh cold air in your lungs seriously trumps inhaling other gym rats hot sweaty exhales. Great mental picture, huh?

So do yourself a favor and go out and run in the cold. Watch out for black ice and dogs eating snowballs, but go out and run in the cold. And after a few miles, go ahead and stop at your local pet store and pick up a 30-pound bag of food as a final kick. Throw it over your shoulder and try not to fall down as you lug it home. And then, only then are you ready to spend the rest of your night in your kitchen decorating cookies.

dog food workout simply social blog

What does running have to do with cookie decorating besides loosening up your muscles, you might ask? Well, I believe that if you’ve already mentally and physically pushed through a form of exercise in frigid temps, you are more inclined to finish a cookie project that you expect to physically and mentally exhaust you even more so. Tis. The. Season folks.

royal icing christmas sugar cookies, santa cookies, present cookies, holiday iced sugar cookies

It’s been a while since I’ve attempted sugar cookies as they can be a royal pain in the icing. Royal icing can be difficult and time-consuming. My dad loves this type of cookie though so each year for Christmas I attempt to improve my icing skillz without completely losing my sanity.

royal icing tricks christmas tree sugar cookies

I use a basic sugar cookie recipe and follow Wilton’s royal icing instructions. I’ll save you the monotony and just give you a good link to a very talented blogger who is well-versed in icing 101. For this year’s batch I attempted to use her 20 second icing as I didn’t want to spend a ton of time piping and mixing flood icing. I know I’m speaking in cookie language so let’s just look at another picture shall we?

royal icing tricks christmas tree sugar cookies

Since this is a thicker icing, the easiest way to create texture is to ice the cookie in layers as I did above here with what started as Christmas trees and ended as woodland trees.

note: I’m horrible at remembering to get out my camera mid-process so please accept my apologies for my lack of in progress photos. 

Work your way through the various layers and go back and fill in with the second or third color once your first layer has dried.

royal icing christmas sugar cookies, santa cookies, present cookies, holiday iced sugar cookies

For example, with the presents, I did the green bows when I was doing the trees, the white part of the Santa hat along with the candy cane stripes and so on and so forth.

royal icing christmas sugar cookies, santa cookies, present cookies, holiday iced sugar cookies

As I was digging through my cookie cutters, I noticed that my acorn looked an awful lot like a gnome head.

I bet I could make a Santa beard out of that gnome head/acorn

No way is this going to look anything like Santa. 

Huh. This kind of looks like Santa.

And so ends your moment inside my head. When I first decided to attempt a freestyle cookie (i.e. one that doesn’t match it’s intended cookie-cutter purpose) I thought it would be a major fail, perhaps even end up as a Finn cookie. But the more I layered, the more I enjoyed being able to decorate it however I wanted. And so Santa was born, or arrived, or came down the chimney.

royal icing christmas sugar cookies, santa cookies, present cookies, holiday iced sugar cookies

On a side note, the last two days there’s been an elf at my bus stop. Yesterday she was dancing. Today, bawling her eyes out. An elf’s life is tumultuous this time of year. Hug an elf if you get a chance.

Have a very merry Christmas!

It’s the Christmas countdown

final countdown santa hats

I’m sorry. I can’t type the word countdown without hearing that song in my head. And no that’s not the original album cover. I jazzed it up a bit for the season.

Speaking of seasons, did you know Christmas is just a short 10 (by the time you read this 9) days away? Are you freaking out yet? Pretty sure the better part of Chicagoland is. I can say this because I experienced their craziness first-hand while out shopping yesterday. Blame it on the late Thanksgiving or the coldest December on record, but Christmas is coming and no one seems to be ready, yet.

We got hit with a big snowstorm this weekend which put a royal kibosh on our plans to travel to Indianapolis for this little one’s 1st birthday party.

Apparently someone heard the theme was winter ‘one’ derland and took it ever-so-literally.

baby grace turns 1 simply social blog

So Grace turned one. It seems like just yesterday we were celebrating her upcoming arrival with a cute little baby shower and now she’s on her way to becoming a teenager.

grace turns one, first birthday party cake, winter onederland party

photo credit Grace’s mom

(sobbing)

In just a few years I’ll be known as that auntie who is going to tell a bunch of teenage girls:

I remember when you were a tiny little baby! 

Someone slap me if I ever resort to cheek-pinching though.

As bummed as I am to have missed the celebration, I got to ogle over the party details thanks to technological advances like the iPhone and Facebook. Plus, because Christmas is only, wait for it, 9 DAYS AWAY, I get to see my friends very soon.

ugly sweater party, simply social blog, reindeer antlers

Then we can reminisce about the times we were tan and wore ugly Christmas sweaters.

I did manage to start my holiday baking this week. And by baking I mean that I dipped some Oreos in white chocolate and decorated them with sprinkles. I was snowed in and unprepared.

holiday white chocolate oreo cookies with holly sprinkles

Regardless of my lack of ingredients, these holiday Oreos really are revolutionary folks. I’ve made these nearly every year 1) because I refuse to pay extra for 7 of the white fudge Oreos that taste like rubber and 2) you can make them a week ahead and add them to your holiday assortment, should you be the crazy type that gifts a holiday assortment of treats each and every year no matter how intense your battle with royal icing becomes.

I hope to have more treats to share with you later this week. Virtually of course. You know so you can get ideas for holiday cookies without enough time to actually make them in time for the holiday? Just kidding. Kind of.

Have a great week!

In the holiday spirit

Before you start reading go ahead and click that little button above this sentence and join me in grooving to some Brenda Lee on this snowy Monday morning. Oh and try not to picture Kevin McCallister as you listen. If you are any generation near me, or have kids in any generation near me you’ll appreciate this reference. If not, just enjoy the music gosh darn it.

Can you tell I’ve been drinking the holiday kool-aid punch? I hope you have been too. After all, we can’t let a few Black Friday maulings ruin the holiday season for us now can we?

This weekend I finally got a chance to do a little decorating and celebrating for the upcoming holiday. I say little because I’ve made the practical-yet-saddening decision to not get a real Christmas tree this year.

greater swiss mountain dog, swissy, puppy

Finn’s photo above sums up my feelings towards the decision.

But in reality, he’s ultimately behind the decision. All 80 pounds of him.

I may still change my mind on the decision.

Don’t worry this isn’t a Lebron-style special on the decision.

I’m just sad because I love little more than to get myself covered in glitter and sap while decorating a real Christmas tree. But there’s just not enough room this year. So instead I decorated my baby tree and turned my bookshelf into a mantle, complete with DIY stockings.

DIY mini stockings, Target, plaid DIY stockings

Did I just throw out the D-I-Y? Don’t break out in hives folks, these are very simple DIY stockings.

DIY mini stockings, Target, plaid DIY stockings

Step one. Get a box.

Just kidding. Step one is to buy those cute mini stockings from Target. Stockings are usually way too pricey for what you are getting (a giant sock) but these are only $3.00 so there’s really no excuse not to buy them.

Step two is as simple as cutting out shapes or letters and gluing them onto your $3.00 stocking. If you don’t feel comfortable free-handing your letters, you could use stickers, felt shapes or buy them while you are Target. Of course they have twine-wrapped letters to go with your mini-stocking. It’s Target!

DIY mini stockings, Target, plaid DIY stockings

Step three. Now here’s where it gets tricky, hang your stockings up.

DIY mini stockings, Target, plaid DIY stockings

But the holidays aren’t just about decorating now are they?

holiday party tablescape, mini christmas tree, holiday punch

Nope. How can we forget the parties.

On Saturday night, one of my former roommates/life partner and friend hosted a holiday dinner for our other former roommates/friends and their now life partners. Are you confused yet?

Christmas tablescape,christmas leggings, Christmas tree

We sipped holiday punch, sat around the fire and had a delicious meal. We don’t get together as much as we used to, so it was really nice to share some laughs. Don’t worry I didn’t wear my Christmas leggings to the party, I just needed another photo to fill the collage. But how sweet are my new reindeer leggings? Surely I will get my money’s worth as it’s not like these are specific to the month of December or anything.

note: I realize this is the longest post ever. Feel free to pause here and come back Wednesday if you need a break. 

Back to the party. I brought a kale, apple and pomegranate salad, the token cranberry salsa and a batch of sweet potato and rosemary biscuits. We didn’t need them of course, but they turned out pretty well for a first-try.

sweet potato rosemary biscuits, savory scones, holiday recipes

I knew when I saw these from Two Peas and their Pod that I had to try them out. We had a few leftover so the next night I re-heated them in the oven and they were even tastier the next day.

Sweet Potato and Rosemary Biscuits

  • 2 1/4 C  flour
  • 2 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • 3/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt (I use kosher)
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1-2 TBL fresh rosemary, chopped
  • 6 TBL unsalted butter
  • 1 C diced roasted sweet potatoes
  • 1 C buttermilk

I had a bag of pre-cut sweet potatoes so I just roasted them at 375 degrees for 25 minutes with a little olive oil and rosemary before I made the dough. Once they cooled a bit, I just chopped the potatoes into smaller pieces.

sweet potato rosemary biscuits, savory scones, holiday recipes

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Line jelly roll pan with silpat.

Whisk flour, baking powder, soda, salt and sugar in a large bowl. Add fresh garlic and rosemary. Cut butter in with pastry fork or hands. Fold in sweet potato then add buttermilk. You may need a teaspoon more or less depending on how dry your dough is. It should be sticky and not fall apart.

Once dough is combined, flatten into a circle and divide it in two. Cut each half into triangles and place on prepared pan. Brush with buttermilk and sprinkle with kosher salt.

Bake for 15 minutes or until edges are golden.

sweet potato rosemary biscuits, savory scones, holiday recipes

Now grab your biscuit, pour yourself a glass of holiday punch and jam out to some tunes, ya filthy animal.

Thanksgiving reflections

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Ok so I’m a little delayed on my post-turkey post. But let’s get serious, if you’re anything like me you are just now starting to feel like a normal human again after a serious bout with tryptophan. Just me? Ok, then.

I love Thanksgiving. I would tell you it’s my favorite holiday but I say that every holiday and I don’t want to have a wolf cry moment. Plus, Christmas is just around the corner and that whole birth of Christ shebang is pretty cool.

Truth is my perception of Thanksgiving has shifted over the years. There was a time when I nearly cried because our attendance dropped to 5 people after years of record celebrations. I made so much of a fuss that my dad asked everyone from out-of-town family members to the mailman to join us so we could fill the quota. I feel badly about that. College will do that to a girl.

Don’t get me wrong, I still believe in ‘the more the merrier’ concept. In fact I love nothing more than a big family gathering, but I’ve also learned to appreciate quality over quantity when it comes to most things in my life, friendships, family gatherings and food included.

A few years ago, I might have scoffed at the idea of not spending the actual holiday with my immediate family. I’ll be the first to admit that when it comes to them I’m a bit holiday selfish.

Can I use holiday as a modifier? I should know this.

What I do know is there are millions of people who never get to celebrate with their family, those who don’t get enough to eat, let alone a meal big enough to keep them full until the next Wednesday. So in the spirit of being thankful, I’ve learned to not only accept, but to enjoy that I am being welcomed into another family’s home on Thanksgiving Day.

And because my family is only a 3 hour drive away, I’m thankful to share a bonus Thanksgiving dinner with them a few days later.

I wish I could take credit for some of the spread, but my mom is a Thanksgiving ninja. One minute you’re snapping green beans and the next they are prepared and ready to be placed on the already-adorned table. And it’s not just simple things like green beans, ninja Nana stealthily roasts a turkey, whips up two kinds of dressing, alternative sides and dessert without breaking a sweat.

Speaking of breaking a sweat, I did manage to make a simple place setting on Saturday for our family dinner.

simple holiday place setting, rosemary napkin, ribbon-tied napkin, holiday china, thanksgiving place setting

I had brought home some fresh rosemary to make a batch of sweet potato rosemary drop biscuits. I know they sound delicious, don’t they? I might just have to make a batch this weekend because we had more than enough food on Saturday. So instead of using the rosemary in the biscuits, I tied a sprig up with ribbon around mom’s fancy silver and placed it on her grandmother’s china that I hope someday is my china. No rush, mom.

Here’s all you need:

  • silver or normal silverware
  • linen napkins
  • ribbon or twine
  • fresh rosemary

This is a great way to ensure that your guests have the utensils they need but don’t waste extra ones when you serve buffet-style. Simply wrap the napkin around the silver and tie a small bow around a snipped piece of rosemary. I’m a big fan of using natural elements in place settings as little to nothing is wasted as a result.

So I made a few place settings and bought a turkey cake. Probably a big letdown for those of you expecting more from me this year, but with my mom making things like rainbow pumpkin muffins, how can you compete?

turkey cake, thanksgiving, swiss mountain dog, rainbow pumpkin muffins

I’m just kidding. She made the pumpkin muffins. The rainbows were just simple light refraction. I am still waiting for them to take off on Pinterest, though.

Speaking of light, each year I ask my nephews to tell us what they are thankful for at Thanksgiving dinner. Why you might ask? Because they are boys, ages 7 and 3 and you just never know what kind of answer you are going to get. We already knew what Jake was thankful for as my sister shared it on Facebook the week prior.

hyenas

Yes hyenas. His selection confirmed again at dinner when he said that he chose them because they are cute.

If you say so, kid

I expected a similar answer from the older one, or at least something referencing his iPhone, Lego droids or the XBox. I think everyone in the room let out a breath when Owen raised his hand and said,

“I’m thankful for the sun that gives us light each and every day.”

Nothing like a 7 year-old to put you at a loss for words.

And nothing like his 3 year-old brother to follow it with a rousing rendition of gangnam style.

As we continue through the holiday season, I encourage you to be thankful for what you have and not to focus on what you want. And while it took a 7 year-old to remind me, after this weekend my heart is just about as full as my belly. I hope yours is, too.

Have a great week!

Gobble, Gobble

OMG it’s Thanksgiving week y’all!

I know. I can hardly believe it either.

I can hardly believe it because we’ve been experiencing full-on Christmastime weather here in Chicago. Saturday was the annual Magnificent Mile Lights Festival, complete with 14 degree wind chills and boughs of frozen holly.

As a staunch no Christmas cheer before Thanksgiving is here supporter, I must admit this weather is throwing me for a loop. Our rapid decline in temps has me ever-so-close to decking my halls. Pair that with an especially tempting holiday collection from Target and I nearly broke my own cardinal red rule this season.

I may even have purchased a pillow from the above collection this weekend and tucked it away for later decorating. That was until this guy pulled it out of hiding.

greater swiss mountain dog, holiday pillow, Target holiday pillow, swissy

At first he looked like the might snuggle it nicely but then I saw a little of myself in him as he thrashed it back and forth, poked a few holes in the top and began chewing it to shreds like one of his other toys.

How can you be mad at him? He’s right. It was too early. Too soon.

So I invite you to join me in slowing down on the Christmas craziness. There’s plenty of time for finding the perfect tree. Weeks and weeks until you finally pick the last piece of glitter out of your hair. Let’s not be too rushed to miss the reason we gather together this week and stuff our bellies. After all, we’ve got Pilgrims to thank!

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I offer you the most welcomed holiday recipe you will ever bring. On a buffet full of taupes, tans and cocoas, this red gem stands out not only in color, but in taste. I invite you to share it as an appetizer before your Thanksgiving feast, or carry it through your holiday parties into the New Year.

holiday cranberry salsa, cranberry relish, thanksgiving, christmas appetizers, cranberry side dish

It’s fresh. It’s sweet. It’s tangy. It’s your go-to contribution for potlucks all season long. Special shout out to my cousin Lindsey for bringing this on Christmas Day a few years ago. It’s really become the gift that keeps on giving.

holiday cranberry salsa, cranberry relish, thanksgiving, christmas appetizers, cranberry side dish

Holiday Cranberry Salsa 

  • 1 bag fresh cranberries
  • 1 green apple
  • 1 red pepper, seeded
  • 1/2 med red onion
  • 1/2-3/4 C sugar
  • 1/3 C apple juice
  • 1 jalapeno
  • zest of 1 lime (plus a little juice)
  • 1 bunch cilantro (1/4 C)
  • Kosher salt to taste

Rough chop apples, peppers and onions. In a food processor, chop fresh cranberries. Transfer to a large mixing bowl. Add apple, peppers and onion to food processor. Chop until finely diced. Add to cranberries in bowl. Finally, chop cilantro. Add sugar, apple juice, lime zest and lime juice. Add cilantro and salt to taste.

holiday cranberry salsa, cranberry relish, thanksgiving, christmas appetizers, cranberry side dish

The sugar will start to pull out the liquid in the cranberries and so be sure to give it a few hours to sit. Serve with blue corn chips as an appetizer, as a relish on turkey or over cream cheese with crackers.

holiday cranberry salsa, cranberry relish, thanksgiving, christmas appetizers, cranberry side dish

I hope you have a wonderful holiday with family and friends. What a great time to be thankful for all we have been given this year.

greater swiss mountain dog, holiday pillow, Target holiday pillow, swissy

Christmas Cookie Creations…

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Occasionally I bake. Ok, so maybe I bake a lot. Especially around the holidays. And this year was no exception. I love the holidays because it gives me an excuse to crack out the sprinkles and try some new recipes. This year i went a little nuts on cookies, and cake balls, and bark and pretzels. 
The best part about baking all these things is the gift boxes that come as a result. Who doesn’t love a variety of home-baked goodies as a gift? Here’s hoping I can rid of them all before the New Year.

Festive Fabric Flowers…

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It’s not often that I post about much else besides food, but when I saw this fun holiday wreath on the Our Best Bites blog I just had to try my hand at making the rolled fabric flowers that fill it. After all, it looked easy enough.. cut strips of fabric, roll, twist and glue. Normally, attempts at homemade craftiness end up costing me more than buying the ‘pottery barn version,’ but in this case it worked! These flowers were really easy to make and by simply pinning them, along with some berries I had from Christmas decor, you have versatility versus gluing them on. Try swapping them out depending on the season or adding them to other items like a scarf or hat. They make great holiday gifts as well! Check out the our best bites blog for detailed instructions.

Rolled Fabric Flower Wreath