Monday, December 29, 2008

Our Christmas Baking

We love to bake cookies and other Christmas treats together each year. This year, we continued to simplify this process by whittling down the amount of varieties that we made. I can easily get carried away when baking. Everything is so yummy!

We decided on five different kinds and in the end, I narrowed it down to four, eliminating the time-consuming sugar cut-outs. I think I'll make some of those at Valentine's Day instead!

The treats we made:
1)Chocolate Peanut Squares
2)Chocolate-Dipped Pretzel Rods(directions below)
3) Chocolate-Mint Cookies(recipe below)
4)Oatmeal-Raisin Cookies(recipe below)

The dough for the cookies was made ahead and chilled. We started the cookies baking then did the other two no-bake varieties. We kept the cookies baking the entire time-14 dozen in all! I also made 3 batches of the chocolate-peanut squares and then one bag of large pretzel rods and a half bag of smaller rods that I found this year.

We use a lot of these cookies for sharing. Some of our friends and family request specific kinds at Christmas.

The simplified list was much more manageable and we were able to get everything completed in a timely manner! Not having to frost or decorate anything sped up the process considerably.

We both decided that if we were to choose one kind the make next year, we would make the Chocolate-dipped pretzel rods. They are so pretty and everyone loves them. Plus they're so easy even a non-cook, like my husband, can easily do the whole process by himself. He does most of the work on these every year and does a wonderful job!

Once I made up a platter of our treats, I noticed the brown and tan theme! haha

From left to right, we have chocolate mint cookies, chocolate-dipped mini pretzel rods with toffee bits, chocolate-peanut butter squares and oatmeal raisin cookies. The middle row is a combination.

Chocolate-Dipped Pretzel Rods

--Bag of pretzel rods
--almond bark(white or chocolate) or chocolate chips
--toffee bits, sprinkles or nuts

Melt chocolate. I do this by pouring the chocolate chips in a microwave-safe bowl and heating at 30 second intervals until melted, stirring after each time.

Dip pretzel rod in chocolate. Let drip off the best you can. Sprinkle with sprinkles, toffee bits or nuts and let dry. We try to rig up something to hold the rods up straight so that one side isn't flat, but you can lay them flat on waxed paper, too. A cooling rack with the metal grid works well for some of the rods, depending on the size of the holes.

After dry, you can melt a bit of the opposite color of chocolate to drizzle on the finished rods, if desired. We put white drizzles on the large rods we did(not pictured), but left the smaller one plain with just chocolate and toffee bits. Both were very pretty!

Chocolate-Mint Cookies

This is my own variation on a basic chocolate chip cookie recipe. Because I cook and bake, people bring me baking ingredients that they haven't used. Apparently, they don't have extra money laying around, just flour! A friend brought me several grocery bags of baking supplies last spring, with one bag full of fancy varieties of chocolate chips.

When it came to using the mint chocolate chips(Nestle Toll House Swirls), I was at first just going to add them to a plain chocolate chip cookie. While mixing the dough, I decided to add cocoa and mint extract.

Move over, Girl Scout Thin Mints! These are just as good or better.

The only bad thing about making up this recipe is that I now have requests for the cookies and haven't been able to locate more of the Nestle mint and chocolate chips around here. I've been using Ande's baking chips which taste about the same but aren't as bright green, which I thought was so pretty in such a dark cookie.

--1 cup butter, shortening or margarine
--1 cup brown sugar
--1/2 cup white sugar
--2 eggs
--1/2 to 1 teaspoon peppermint extract- a little goes a long way, adjust as needed. You can also use 1 teaspoon vanilla in place of the mint.
--3/4 cup cocoa
--2 1/2 cups flour
--1 teaspoon baking soda
--1 teaspoon salt
--1 1/2 to 2 cups mint chocolate chips

Cream butter and sugars together. Add eggs and extract. Mix well. Stir in cocoa, flour, soda and salt. Lastly, add chocolate chips.

Roll into balls and flatten slightly. Place on greased baking sheet and bake at 350 degrees for 8 to 10 minutes.

**Add a bit more cocoa if it doesn't seem quite dark enough. This amount has been good for me. A friend made it and hers turned out a lot lighter with the same amount of cocoa. Not sure if different brands would cause that?

Makes about 3 dozen cookies.

Dishpan Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

This is an old fashioned recipe that my family has made for years. 'Dishpan' is in the title because this makes such a large batch of cookies that a dishpan would need to be used to mix the dough!

--2 cups shortening or butter
--2 cups white sugar
--2 cups brown sugar
--4 eggs, beaten
--1 teaspoon vanilla
--3 1/2 cups flour
--2 teaspoons baking soda
--2 teaspoons baking powder
--2 teaspoons salt
--5 cups rolled oats(I like quick oats the best.)
--1 cup raisins
--2 cups coconut, optional
--1 cup chopped nuts, optional
--1 cup chocolate chips, optional

Cream together shortening and sugars. Add eggs and vanilla; mix well. Sift together flour, salt, soda, and baking powder and add to above mixture. Add oats, raisins and any of the optional ingredients. Mix well. Chill dough for at least one hour, then drop by teaspoon full on ungreased cookie sheets. Bake at 350 degrees for 12 to 14 minutes.

Makes about 8 dozen cookies.

**Recipe can be successfully halved.


Saturday, December 27, 2008

A Late Merry Christmas!

We're back from almost a week away that was spent with family. We had a good time but are glad to be home again.

I had planned to have some posts scheduled for automatic posting while I was gone but it just didn't happen. So in the next few days, I'll be posting a few posts that I had planned for before Christmas.

I hope and pray that you all has a wonderful Christmas with your families!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Tour of Homes: Come see Our Christmas Decorations!

Once again, BooMama is hosting the Christmas Tour of Homes. I'm so excited to join in this year! We keep things simple but we always enjoy the decorations that we've put up. We're glad to share them with you!

Come on in! I know you are just miserable standing outside in the 60 degree weather!

Upon entering the room, your eye will be drawn to the mantle where our stockings are hung. The fireplace is not in working order, so no need to be afraid for a fire hazard! Yes, those are gifts set up all pretty on the mantle. We have limited space for items that will be out of reach of little ones and the dog. I used my $1 set of Cat's Meow village as part of the decorations this year. They were already up there; I just removed the fall trees and we have ourselves a winter village! I made the Names of Jesus garland new for this year. We love it!

We like to cut our own tree at a local farm. This year, we wanted a table top size. Again, out of reach of toddlers and pet. Also, small house! We got this child's tree for $5!!!

Every year, we add a new ornament to represent something for that year. We haven't yet received this year's ornament: a dog similar to ours sitting in front of a gingerbread dog house. I can't wait to get it and hope it's as cute as it looked online! We got our dog on New Year's Day so it seemed fitting to add a dog ornament this year.

Because of the size of the tree, we only used our favorite ornaments. And I bet you couldn't tell that the tree skirt is really a tablecloth! It covered the tree stand as well as the dresser on which the tree is setting.

Every year when we go to the tree farm, I admire their fresh wreaths that they've made from clippings. But I usually can't afford both the tree and a fresh wreath. But with this year's $5 tree, I was able to splurge on this beautiful wreath. It was too fat for our front door so it hangs in the living room instead. It smells wonderful! My husband spotted this music-themed Christmas ribbon in a free box while yard-saling this past spring. It made the perfect bow for our wreath!

On a bookshelf stands our nativity. One of my favorite memories from childhood was setting up the nativity each year. It was one of the only decorations we had in our home and we greatly enjoyed it!
The forest of tree candles you see here and on the mantle are handmade beeswax candles from Andy's mom and grandfather.

Isn't it funny how even without collecting, I can end up with enough snowmen for a themed display? These snowmen items have been given to me from various people. I thought they'd look cute on the desk in the dining room this year. My mom has given us some Christmas books which you see held up by snowman salt and pepper shaker "bookends".

Last,we make a stop in the kitchen where you see my intricate method of displaying Christmas cards. They're hung on the mini blind. I got this idea from my mother-in-law. No matter where I hung the cards, they'd always fall down. This solves that problem! The kitchen is a great place to look at pictures of our friends' cute kids, too.

This is the end of our Christmas tour. Thanks so much for stopping by! I hope you enjoyed yourself.

Merry Christmas!

Be sure and stop by BooMama's for a complete list of the Tour of Homes.

A Stocking For Rock

Alternate Title: The Rocking.

Andy and I both have fleece stockings that I made for us the first Christmas that we were married.

Then, we went to Wal-mart and spent a considerable amount of time picking out the right fleece and embellishments. They were/are a simple design. Just sew around the edge, then blanket stitch with crochet thread. I added pom-pom fringe for me and a green ribbon on Andy's.

Fast forward a couple of years and we have a 3rd family member to prepare a stocking for--our sweet dog. I mentioned a stocking and Andy wasn't too sure at first. Then he said that would be fine if I made one instead of buying one that would be more expensive.

I have definitely grown in frugality since that first Christmas. I didn't even buy fleece. Or bother with purchased embellishments. The leftover thrifted red fleece blanket used to back one of these blankets worked perfectly. A brown scrap of felt and a bone-shaped cookies cutter provided the cute bone applique.

I positioned the pattern against the edge of the blanket to take advantage of pre-done blanket stitch for the cuff of the stocking. Then I used the same white crochet thread for the outside of the stocking as what was done on ours. Except for the hand-sewing, this stocking was completed in about 10 minutes flat!

**I still would like to embroider all of our names on our respective stockings.

Rock probably won't care about the stocking. But it looks cute to us and makes us happy.

He will like the bag of treats that will be inside come Christmas morning, though!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Bloggy Progressive Dinner-Three Different Appetizers

Today, Kate from A Simple Walk is hosting the appetizer portion of the Bloggy Progressive Dinner that is going on this week at various blogs. You can read the details of the progressive dinner here.

We love appetizers and I thought of 3 different ones that I could share.

Bacon-Wrapped Smokies, Smoky Cheeseball, and Buffalo Chicken Dip.

Bacon-Wrapped Smokies

My sister introduced me to these yummy morsels this Thanksgiving when I had a package of Little Smokies to use and wanted a good recipe. Is there anything better than bacon-wrapped nitrates? I didn't think so.

These are easy to make, don't have a long list of ingredients and can be frozen ahead.

1 pound package Little Smokies
1 package bacon
brown sugar

Cut bacon strips in 3rds. (You may have some left over. Use another package of Smokies or fry up the bacon and use for another recipe.)
Wrap a raw bacon strip around each sausage and secure with a toothpick.
Place in a glass pan.
Sprinkle the brown sugar over all and drizzle the vinegar over it. At this point you can bake or refrigerate a few hours to overnight.
Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour. May remove to a small crock pot to keep warm, or eat right away.

Next on the list, we have a family favorite, The Smoky Cheeseball.

This can be made ahead as well as frozen. Make one recipe for a smallish ball; make a double recipe for a large cheeseball. I like to roll this in nuts but shredded cheese, parsley or just plain works just as well. Whatever you like! Before I was married, I made a bunch of these and sold them to my sister's coworkers at Christmas. They loved them!

1 (8-oz.) package cream cheese
1/2 pound grated cheddar cheese
1/2 tsp. liquid smoke flavoring
1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1/2 tsp. onion salt
1/8 tsp. garlic salt

Mix all ingredients and beat well. A hand mixer works well for this recipe as does a food processor. Shape in to ball and roll in chopped nuts. Cover and store in refrigerator. Allow to soften a bit at room temp before serving. Serve with your favorite cracker assortment.

Makes 1 1/2 to 2 cups and serves 6-8.

Last but not least, I have a crock pot of Buffalo Chicken Dip to share.

I got this recipe from a coworker of my husband's. She makes this every year for the company Christmas drop-in. In fact, I'll get to eat some of her dip tonight. Yum! This is wonderful for football parties or a simple dinner at home.

5 cups cooked and shredded chicken
1 cup ranch dressing
2 cups shredded Mexican cheese
1 (8-oz.) package cream cheese
1 large bottle Frank's hot sauce(less if you don't want it too kickin')

Combine all ingredients in crock pot. Heat on low for several hours. Stir to combine every so often.
Serve with tortilla chips.

Head over to Kate's for more appetizer recipes!

The Stable-A Story of God's Provision

This morning, Monica shared a heart-warming account of how God recently provided for her wants in the form of a child-sized Pottery Barn chair.

She asked for her readers to share stories of how God has provided for them. I was reminded of my stable story which I had not shared on my blog yet. But what a great time of year to share this with my readers!

This was my comment on her post:

"God has provided so many times it's hard to keep track, which is why I like to chronicle these things on my blog-so we don't forget what God has done for us!

One story that I haven't shared yet on my blog happened last winter. This was not a need but a want.

I have a nice nativity set that I purchased years ago at the Pottery in Commerce, GA for $1.50. I've used this for a long time. In recent years, I decided that I really wanted a stable to go with it as the $1.50 set only included the figures. Last fall(2007), I saved some money to purchase a stable. I started looking around in October. Hobby Lobby had one but I really didn't like it-some parts were flimsy. Michael's right out and told me they didn't"carry that sort of thing." Well, honestly,after a bit, I kind of forgot that I was looking for a stable and had come to terms with my holy family being homeless another year.

The day that I was going to set up my nativity, we stopped at a yard sale(in December, mind you!) on a whim. As soon as I got out of the car, I spotted a table of the usual tacky Christmas decorations but something wooden and rustic was sitting in the middle. My husband says that he's never seen anyone move more quickly than I at the prospect of a bargain and I practically flew over there!

Sure enough, it was a stable and exactly the style that I was looking for. They had $2 on it, which it was definitely worth, but after counting my nickles and dimes, I found that I only had $1.50. I asked if they would take $1.50 instead and after a bit of hesitation, they were glad to.

We got in the car and drove home, me holding my precious stable. My husband asked as he always does after we've seen God provide, "You prayed, didn't you?" Which I had, but only at the beginning of my search as I asked God to direct me to the right place to find what I was looking for and then I forgot all about it.

God did not forget, however. As I put up my nativity set this year, I was reminded of how I came to have the stable, and how if God desired to gift me with a house for a set of ceramic people, how much more He desires to care for us as His children!"

We have seen God provide in tangible ways in the past few years. This has grown my faith and trust in God tremendously. God is not my personal Santa giving in to my every want and whim, but He does desire to provide "good things for His children." Luke 11:13

As I include God in my daily activities and ask for His guidance in all areas of life, I am much more aware of how He provides. It's noticeable when God provides in a tight spot but how about when He provides for me to have a decent sized grocery budget which allows us to buy really good food and more than we need, a roof over our heads when it's raining,central heat and air when it is very cold or hot? The things I take for granted and see every day are the very things that I should be thanking God for.

For a few more accounts of practical ways God has provided for our family, you can read all about the $5 chair, the futon and even my husband's need for a belt!

Psalm 37:4: "Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart!"

Monday, December 15, 2008

Menu Plan Monday

Looking back to last week' menu, I made a couple of changes throughout the week. Instead of roasting a chicken, I tried this Rotisserie-style Chicken in the crock pot. It was super delicious! The juices made wonderful gravy, too! I had planned three chicken meals to use up the chicken, but we ate so much at the first meal, I only had enough to make a batch of chimichangas(enough for dinner and a meal's worth to freeze).

I didn't get to the Garlic, Chicken and Spinach Spaghetti. Instead, I filled the crock pot with a bunch of odds and ends of meat, rice and veggies-even some veggie broth- from my fridge and freezer and made a yummy vegetable soup that fed us for dinner one night and several lunches over the next few days.

I also followed the Crockpot Lady's instructions for making chicken broth in the crock pot. It was so great! I didn't have to worry about it boiling over on the stove. It just simmered all day.

I'm really loving the Crockpot Lady's blog, by the way! There are so many wonderful ideas and I love having my crock pot slaving away during the day preparing goodies for us to eat!

After baking Christmas goodies all of Saturday afternoon, my sweet husband took me out to Chili's for dinner. We had a coupon for a free appetizer and we split an entree. Sweet! The hamburgers that I planned for that night's dinner will reappear this week.:-)

Now this week, I'll probably only be cooking 3 or 4 dinners at home. I have 4 planned as well as a few lunches since I won't have as many leftovers since I'm not cooking every night. I'm also focusing on using food up as we'll be away for a few days next week!

1)chicken gravy on toast;peas
2)hamburgers,celery and carrot sticks
3)salmon patties, baked butternut squash,buttered noodles
4)scrambled eggs, toast, fruit

-- pork bbq** sandwiches(2)
--homemade pizza**(1)
--quick spaghetti(1)

--cereal, milk(2)
--bagels, cream cheese, apple slices(2)
--breakfast cookies**, smoothies (1)
--oatmeal, hard-boiled eggs, fruit(2)

**denotes ready-made freezer items

For more menu planning fun, visit Organizing Junkie!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Another Way to Simplify Christmas

After posting about how we are simplifying our Christmas baking this year, my husband and I were talking about what we each wanted for Christmas from each other. You know, getting ideas for sneaky Christmas shopping.

We were talking and all of a sudden one of us brought up, kind of tongue in cheek more than anything, the idea of not shopping for each other but rather taking the money we would spend on each other and pooling it together for a fun outing, experience or day trip.

We liked it. We'll still fill stockings for each other, which we both love to do, but we'll not do anything else in the way of gifts under the tree. You would not believe the stress that took off of me when we decided to do an "experience" gift instead of more shopping! My husband was relieved too. We do like to get each other gifts, don't get me wrong, this just seems like a great way to simplify this year!

Plus, it will give us something to look forward to during the more dreary winter months long after the gifts have been unwrapped. And it will be time spent together.

Now,we just have to figure out what we'd both like to do. We've tossed a few ideas around but haven't landed on a really exciting one yet. Even though, the amount we're spending isn't huge, I've become so accustomed to planning free or cheap activities that I'm not sure what to think of! Of course,we both love to eat, so we could go out for a very nice meal, but we really don't want to just eat our Christmas gift!

What about you? If you were going to plan a day out with your spouse and spend a reasonable amount of money, what would you do? I'd love to hear your ideas!

Christmas Happenings

I didn't plan for this week to be so sparse in the blogging department. I have a whole list of subjects to blog on and just haven't taken a few minutes to get them ready to post.

I focused this week on getting a lot of stuff finished for Christmas. I tend to leave things until the last minute, knowing what I need to do but with a list only in my head. My husband and I sat down at the beginning of the week and I wrote the main things down that needed to be accomplished on the corresponding day. That has worked!

What's been done:
--Christmas letter has been written. I can't quite justify just sending a card with postage as high as it is and we didn't have a picture to share this year. Plus, I always enjoy reading what others have been up to throughout the year, whether it is a form letter or a personal one.

--Christmas cards have been mailed with the Christmas letters. :-) Well, most of them. I still have a couple of new addresses to locate and a few people I forgot in the first round.

--Gifts have been bought. I'm making a few more but all shopping has been done for our extended families. We keep our gifts pretty simple and I was extra careful to stay in budget this year. I had a specific list and shopping was easy-peasy! I actually got almost everything at Target in about 1 hour of shopping! A first for me as I am not a speedy shopper!!! Of course, I had a few of the gifts already and I'm still making a few, but still....

--Gifts have been wrapped. The ones that are finished anyways! I let my perfectionist tendencies go by the wayside and kept this extra simple as well. I'm focusing on using up the same wrapping paper that I've had for the 4th Christmas now. I cut gift tags out of the wrapping paper for matching tags. No stamps, no stickers, no gluing on card stock-just simple wrapping paper tags cut into a tag shape with a hole for tying on. I used a plain tag from my craft box for a pattern and traced it on the wrapping paper. Took about 20 minutes for 30 tags. I tied all the gifts with raffia in Christmas colors that I had gotten on 90% off Christmas sales last year. I wrapped and tied and wrote the to's and from's last evening in about one hour-another record for me!

--Christmas donations have been made. I kept putting this off but it was done within 15 minutes by doing it online.

Still to do:
--Get Christmas tree. We want a small table top tree this year. Preferably a real one. We're going to the tree farm to look for a little tree this afternoon. Every year, we're looking for a little different style of tree to accommodate our needs . This keeps life exciting and is actually good, because we always forget what kind of tree we've gotten from year to year anyways.

--Bring in decorations and take fall decorations down. Yes, the pumpkin, fake leaf garland and bunch of Indian corn are still up. Please don't fine me!

--Christmas baking. I'm mixing all dough up today and we're baking tomorrow afternoon. This is simple too. I've pared down to 4 kinds instead of my previous simplified five.

--Christmas decorating. We're doing that tomorrow morning. It doesn't take us long but we enjoy doing it together.

--Clean house from top to bottom. I'm doing that today. I love to decorate in a clean house, with everything freshly vacuumed and dusted, windows sparkling and cobwebs out of the corners. Oh and fresh smelling trashcans...hopefully by tonight!!!

--Send packages. We'll be with Andy's family in Georgia for Christmas and also visiting my sister on the way. We have two boxes to send out-one to New York and one to Oregon. Talk about extremes! I'm aiming to get them out by Monday, since they are pretty much packed already!

What kind of progress are you making on your to-do list? Even with simplifying, this is one of the busiest(yet fun!) times of the year!

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

A Patriotic Little Side Business

Hi readers!

Andy here. I wanted to let you know about some great people that I recently got involved with. Products For Good is a company that offers patriotic products while generating money to help support our troops and their families. Particularly those who have been wounded in combat. Here's how it works. If you click on this link, it will take you to my Products For Good order page. Any products that you purchase will provide a little extra income for MaryAnn and me AND you'll be supporting our troops as well.

Let me try to give you a brief history of the company. In 2003, British and American troops were sent in to Basra, Iraq to secure banks and other key facilities. In the bank vaults were found approximately 6,000,000 uncirculated, decommissioned Iraqi coins. As it turns out, the coins were decommissioned in the mid-1990's because Saddam Hussein's face was not on them. He actually ordered the coins to be melted down when he replaced them with something that featured his face. The coins were later brought to the U.S. and were sold to the gentlemen who run Products For Good. With the sale of shadow boxes that feature the coins, as well as other military-branch specific products, they (we) are able to give to our troops and their families in times of need.

I have never served in our military. My disability prevented that from taking place. However, I have two generations of incredibly proud military service ahead of me in my family. I see Products For Good as a tangible way that I can finally serve my country. For those of you reading this post who are serving or have served, thank you for fighting for my freedom. For you civilians, thank a veteran. Of course I would love for all of you to purchase something from the site. But even if you don't, I encourage you to take a moment to think about those who make the sacrifice of fighting for our freedom.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Menu Plan Monday

I hope everyone had a wonderful weekend and is ready to dive into a new week!

Here's what's on tap for meals this week:
**denotes pre-made freezer item

B-breakfast cookies**, yogurt, banana
L-sweet and sour pork over rice
D-Caesar salad(a kit from the store-a coupon deal!), molasses cookies

B-eggs in a nest, banana
L-leftover sweet and sour pork, rice, cabbage salad
D-eating at leadership meeting

B-Baked oatmeal
D-roast chicken. mashed potatoes, gravy, green beans

B-leftover baked oatmeal
D-chicken chimichangas with sour cream & salsa, salad

B-breakfast cookies**, fruit smoothies
D-chicken, spinach and garlic spaghetti, salad, baked butternut squash

B-banana oat pancakes**
D-appetizers(not sure what yet but something fun for the holiday season)

B-bagels, cream cheese, fruit
L-leftovers or frozen pizza
D-hamburgers, carrot and celery sticks

For more menu-planning, fun, please visit Organizing Junkie!

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Simply Living Saturdays: The Christmas Edition

This week's edition of Simply Living Saturdays is about ways to simplify our Christmas celebrations and focus on what is truly important.

One way we have scaled back and simplified is to limit the amount of Christmas baking we do.

One of our favorite traditions as a couple is to bake Christmas treats together. It started out as a wonderful idea of spending part of a Saturday completing all of our Christmas baking. It ended up, even the first year, as taking a whole lot longer to do with me planning too much and then still frosting and decorating cookies late at night. It became a stressful day instead of the peaceful and enjoyable tradition we had envisioned.

Not to mention that we had way too many cookies and treats left over after the holidays.

Last year, I decided to pare my list down and make it more manageable. Instead of trying to make the same stuff just because that's what I had always done, we prepared my husband and I's top 4 or 5 favorites and left it at that.

It was a little more manageable but still took more time than we wanted. And instead of having too much, we ended up almost running out of treats to share! I do enjoy giving a few plates or bags of treats to friends and sharing them at different get-togethers throughout the season, so I like to have enough for that.

This year, we're spending an evening doing the Christmas baking. I've made a list of 5 favorites. I'm still not sure if we'll do the cut-outs as they tend to take the bulk of time. They are my very favorites, though, and would add a different flavor to our other three favorites which are all chocolate! When deciding what kinds to make, I try to pick out a variety that would look nice on a plate together as that is how I often serve them at get-togethers and parties.

Maybe if I baked the cut-out sugar cookies ahead and only did a small amount, then we'd only have to decorate them.

Another favorite which is quite time-consuming but so yummy is kiffles. This is from my husband's side of the family. We'd like to make some of those to take to his family at Christmas, but only if we really really want to! This would be in addition to our baking night.

So as you can see here, I don't quite have all this figured out. Simplifying and changing what you've been doing for years can be difficult!

So the list of treats that I'm planning to make now is:

1)chocolate-peanut squares
2)chocolate-mint cookies
3)chocolate-dipped pretzel rods
4)oatmeal raisin cookies
5)cut-out sugar cookies(maybe)

Doing less and really enjoying the traditions that we do participate in is what makes the Christmas season so much more enjoyable!

What kinds of treats do you like the most? How have you been able to simplify this fun holiday tradition?

Thanks to Stephanie for hosting Simply Living Saturdays each week!

Thursday, December 04, 2008

"Naptime" Freezer Cooking

I have always loved cooking ahead and having a number of yummy main dishes, sides and baked goods ready to pull out and use whenever I want them.

Lately though, it seems I just haven't been keeping up with stocking the freezer. Between working at home and being a homemaker, I have a lot of different activities on my schedule each day. I love to cook and bake(which is why I don't just buy lots of pre-made foods) but it becomes tiring to cook a meal from scratch each night. Especially when I know I can cook ahead and save some time here and there! Having meals made ahead also really helps with hospitality.

One of these days, I would love to spend a whole day cooking freezer meals, but until then, I'm going to carry on with what I've termed "naptime" freezer cooking. With some planning ahead, I can schedule a few things to cook or bake while my childcare kids sleep. Doing this once every other week or so will ensure me a nice supply of make-ahead foods! Whatever I've planned should take me no longer than 2-3 hours to prepare and sometimes only about an hour will be involved. Perfect for a naptime or evening in the kitchen.

As I go along, I'll be sharing recipes, tips and ideas for things to freeze. There will be a variety of entrees, side dishes and baked goods as well as preparing specific foods such as pre-cooking meats or shredding cheeses to aid in fast meals later.

Today, I made pizzas and twice-baked sweet potatoes to freeze. (Not all my combos will make sense.:-) I will plan what to make based on what I have on hand. It all comes together when I menu plan each week!)

I made a double batch of my pizza crust and ended up with five par-baked crusts. I froze 3 plain and froze the other two with toppings, ready to go. The finished pizza in the bottom right has a stuffed crust(cheese baked into the crust). The other one is just regular.

Sweet potatoes were on sale for $.39 a pound last week, so I bought about 10 pounds of them. I knew I'd want to cook some and freeze them before they spoiled and also to enjoy later in the winter. I put the potatoes in to bake at lunch time and by naptime, they were ready to work with. I quickly mashed them in my mixer and soon they were ready for the freezer! These will be great for a side dish with any kind of meat.

I almost always double wrap my food before freezing with plastic wrap and foil. I have pretty good success with items in freezer bags not getting freezer burn. I double bag all of my bread or rolls. If you're going to go to the effort of cooking, you certainly want the food to be protected.

Another key aspect of freezer cooking is labeling. A permanent Sharpie marker is one of my well-used kitchen tools. I mark right on Ziploc bags and use sticky notes(attached with tape) or labels to write the name of the food, directions on how to heat, and the date it was prepared. Guessing what a frozen food is can be very difficult as they seem to often look the same after being frozen! Also, if cooking directions are clearly marked, there is no need to pull out the cookbook. My husband will also know exactly how to prepare the food if I am away.

Happy freezing!

What kinds of foods do you like to stock your freezer with?

Twice-Baked Sweet Potatoes

My sister made these twice-baked sweet potatoes for the first time for our Thanksgiving dinner.(We had both noticed the recipe in the November '08 issue of Country Home magazine and really wanted to try them!) They were so delicious, I knew I would have to make them for my husband and I too. I was pleasantly surprised how simple these are to prepare.

Best of all, this is a great make and freeze ahead recipe! The picture in this post shows the sweet potatoes ready for the freezer.

Twice-Baked Sweet Potatoes

8 medium sweet potatoes(about 3 3/4 pound total)
1/2 cup butter, cut up
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper

Line a large baking sheet with foil. Prick each sweet potato twice with a fork and place on the prepared baking sheet. bake in a 425 degree oven for about one hour or until nearly tender. Remove from oven and let stand until cool enough to handle.

Cut each sweet potato in half lengthwise. Scoop out the cooked pulp from 10 of the sweet-potato halves, leaving a shell about 1/4 inch thick. Remove all the pulp from the remaining sweet potatoes, discarding skins. Transfer pulp to a large bowl. (I used my Bosch mixer.) Add the butter, salt and pepper to the pulp and mash with a potato masher(or mixer) until the mixture is fairly smooth. Add desired flavor options to the puree.

Use a spoon to fill the 10 shells with puree. transfer filled sweet potatoes to a large airtight freezer container. Cover and freeze up to 3 months.

To bake, remove sweet potatoes from freezer. Thaw overnight in refrigerator. Transfer potatoes to a foil-lined sheet. Bake in a 375 degree oven until heated through, about 40 minutes. Sprinkle plain sweet potatoes with ground cinnamon, if desired.

Makes 10 servings.


Maple-Pecan: (We had this version for our Thanksgiving dinner! Yummy, yummy! ) Stir 1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon into sweet-potato puree mixture. Fill and freeze as directed. When ready to bake, drizzle tops with 1/3 cup maple syrup and sprinkle with 1/4 cup finely chopped pecans.

Pear and Ginger: In a medium bowl mash 8 drained canned pear halves with a potato masher until nearly smooth. Add 2 teaspoons ground ginger and stir pear mixture into sweet potatoes. Fill, freeze and bake as directed. Sprinkle with 1/4 cup snipped, dried cranberries.

Manchego and Smoked Paprika: (I've never had this kind of cheese but it sounds great! I suppose you could substitute another kind of cheese for this.) Stir 1/3 cup finely shredded manchego cheese and 2 to 3 teaspoons smoked paprika into sweet potatoes. Fill and freeze as directed. When ready to bake, sprinkle tops with an additional 1/4 cup of shredded cheese.

Homemade Pizza

I love making our own homemade pizza. It isn't difficult once you master it and is less expensive than ordering out!

Even though pizza isn't difficult to make, I like to make extras and freeze them for busy times. Sometimes I freeze a completely prepared pizza and sometimes I just freeze the plain crusts. I love the convenience of frozen pizzas and it is cheaper and healthier to make my own. A frozen homemade pizza is just as quick to throw in the oven as a store-bought one!

Another benefit to making your own pizzas is the ability to customize them to however you like. Our pizzas generally consist of some combination of pepperoni, sausage, mushrooms, green peppers, and black olives. I also love making a pesto pizza with pesto spread on the crust instead of traditional tomato sauce and topped with yummy sauteed veggies.

The recipe that I use is a Taste of Home recipe from several years ago. I've tweaked it and made enough changes to the original recipe that I think I can safely call it my own!

I use my Bosch mixer to mix and knead my dough. This is a small enough recipe to be easily done by hand as well, which I have done a few times with great success.

This recipe makes two 12 inch pizzas. Making just two makes the crust quite thick, I think, so I usually end up making one or two personal pan size crusts along with the bigger ones. You can decide how you want to do yours!

Homemade Pizza Crust

1 package(1 tablespoon) active dry yeast
2 cups warm water(110 to 115 degrees)
3 tablespoons olive or vegetable oil
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
garlic powder, dried basil and oregano, to taste
2 cups whole wheat flour
2 -4 cups all-purpose white flour

In a large mixing bowl, dissolve yeast in warm water. Add oil, salt, spices, and whole wheat flour. Beat on medium speed for 3 minutes.

Stir in enough white flour to form a soft dough(not too sticky and not too stiff). If kneading by hand, be extra careful with the flour amount as kneading on a floured surface adds more flour into the dough.

If using a heavy-duty mixer, continue to mix for about 5 minutes or so. If kneading by hand, turn out on floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic, about 6-8 minutes.

Place dough in a greased bowl, turning once to grease top. Cover and let rest in a warm place for 10 minutes.

Divide dough in half. On a greased surface, roll each portion into a 13 inch circle. (I start the rolling process on my counter top then transfer the dough to the greased pan and use my fingers and this amazing roller to roll the dough right in the pan. )

Transfer dough to two greased 12 inch pizza pans; build up edges slightly. bake at 375 degrees for 15 minutes or until lightly browned. This step is called par-baking the crust.

Now, you can cool and freeze the plain par-baked crusts(double-wrapped in plastic wrap and foil) or you can top the pizzas and freeze the same way. To bake after being frozen, place on greased pan and bake at 375 degrees for about 20 minutes or until done.

Or if you decide you want to eat the pizzas right away(imagine that!), you will top the crusts as desired and bake for an additional 15- 20 minutes.

**For pizza sauce, I add a little grated onion, basil, oregano and garlic powder to an 8 ounce can of tomato sauce. This makes enough for 1 or 2 pizzas, depending how much sauce you like. I spread it right on the crust then top with toppings and cheese. This is the simple way to make sauce and we like it that way! My sister likes to cook her sauce a little and then spread it on. Or you can use jarred spaghetti or pizza sauce from the store. Whatever you like!

**The pizza pictured above is a stuffed crust pizza. To make, I rolled the dough our to reach a little over the edge of the pizza pan. Inside the edge of the pan, I placed small sticks of mozzarella cheese. You can also cut string cheese for this. I like to cut slits in the dough all around and then roll it in under the cheese stick for kind of a twisted crust look, but you don't have to cut the dough but just roll it under the cheese all around the pan. Bake as usual.


What kind of pizzas do you and your family enjoy?

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Yogurt In The Crockpot

I've been making my own yogurt for over a year now, using a small yogurt maker that I found at Goodwill.

I've often read about making yogurt in a warmish oven overnight and wanted to try it, mainly because I could make more than 1 quart at a time and also because I like to eliminate single purpose gadgets from my kitchen if at all possible.

Well, I hadn't gotten around to trying it in my oven but when I came across the Crockpot Lady's yogurt recipe, I just had to try it! You can make 2 quarts at a time(probably more if you wanted to) and it uses the crockpot which I already have.

This method of making yogurt is easy, easy too!

I tried it last week and sure enough, it worked! I was really nervous about whether or not the crockpot would be warm enough for the yogurt to culture, but it was!

I'll definitely be making yogurt in the crockpot again and again!

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Menu Plan Monday...on Tuesday!

One of these days, I will stop being a slacker and actually have my menu plan up on Monday like everybody else!

But until then, enjoy reading my menu on Tuesdays!

Except for a small bit of pineapple-lime cranberry sauce(which is exceptionally good, by the way), we've snarfed down all remains of our Thanksgiving dinner. This is not including large amounts of roast pork that is left, but is safely tucked away in the freezer to be used whenever I please. Some of it will be making its way into our menu this week!

B-cold cereal
L-white chicken chili (made with pork instead) in crock pot, sour cream cheese, salsa, tortilla chips,wheat rolls, chocolate cake
D- leftovers from lunch

B-scrambled eggs, wheat rolls, bananas

B-cold cereal, bananas
D- stuffing-stuffed acorn squash(my own concoction-can you tell?!, but it was really good!), salad

B-toast, smoothies
D-spaghetti, salad

B-eggs, toast
D-pork and veggie stir fry over rice

B-oatmeal with dried fruit
L- leftovers
D-homemade pizza, fresh veggies

B-muffins, fruit
L-leftover pizza
D-pancakes, scrambled eggs

To read more menu plans, visit Organizing Junkie!

Saturday, November 29, 2008

The Ham That Wasn't

We had ham on our Thanksgiving menu this year. I purchased a big 20 pound ham on sale early, pleased to get such a bargain and dreaming of all the wonderful ham dishes I could create with the leftovers it was sure to yield.

Ham bundles, split pea soup with the ham bone, ham sandwiches, ham and beans, scalloped potatoes with ham, breakfast casseroles....

I put our mammer-jammer ham in the oven on low heat Wednesday night. It cooked until late morning on Thursday. I thought it smelled a bit different than a regular ham, but oh well... I don't usually cook big 'ol hams!

I could hardly wait to eat this ham that I had been looking forward to for so long. But the first slice revealed a brown meat instead of the pink meat I was expecting.

I tasted it. It tasted like roast pork.

Apparently, before purchasing a "fresh" ham, I should have consulted the Joy of Cooking which reads:

"Fresh ham is a misnomer; it is in reality simply a pork roast---the hind leg which has not been cured or smoked..."

I had cooked up a huge pork roast for our Thanksgiving dinner!

The meat was delicious though, especially with cranberry sauce. But I still want that ham!

In the meantime, what to do with a lot of leftover pork roast?

I cut it all off yesterday. I have 9 freezer bags full of slices or pieces, plus the bone which still has a good deal of meat on it.

For leftover dishes with the pork, I've so far come up with...
--barbecue pork sandwiches(I know the South is standing up and rebelling right now but while this is an obvious answer to using leftover pork, I am not that fond of pork barbecue. My husband likes it a lot though and it makes a quick meal, so I'll make at least one meal of this.)
--heated slices alongside sweet potatoes and apples
--used instead of chicken in white chicken chili
--shredded in burritos
--the bone cooked with beans

I suppose I can use it in place of any other cooked meat in recipes, but does anyone have any pork recipes or ideas to share?

I can use the help!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Our Thanksgiving Menu

I'm hosting Thanksgiving dinner this year. It will be only a small group of five around our table this year with my sister, her husband and their son joining us. So far, I haven't discovered anyone else who doesn't have a place to go for the holiday, but if I do-they will be welcome!

Anyways, Kathryn and I planned our menu together. We love side dishes for Thanksgiving so we planned for a bunch of those-each in small amounts. We also like to try new recipes so we planned for some of those as well! We like Thanksgiving leftovers so there should be plenty for all of us to eat on for a couple of days!

Our Thanksgiving Menu
**means Kathryn is bringing that dish. Otherwise, yours truly!

Baked ham

Mashed potatoes
Twice-baked sweet potatoes**(new recipe from Country Home magazine)
Green bean casserole
Stuffing(I doctor up Stove-top mixes.)
Orange-ginger carrots
Fruit salad**
Pineapple-lime cranberry sauce**(another new recipe from Country Home magazine)

dinner rolls

Kathryn's choice. She makes really awesome desserts. Last I heard, we were having pumpkin pie and homemade cream puffs!

Appetizers(which we will be eating in the evening for dinner along with ham sandwiches)-
bacon-wrapped smokies(not sure if this is the exact recipe but looks pretty close)
fruit and veggie plate

Wish the rest of our family could be here!

How is your Thanksgiving dinner coming along? What are your favorites?

Friday, November 21, 2008

How Can I Recycle A T-Shirt?

In my closet cleaning and sorting frenzy last week, I came up with a stack of old t-shirts. Most were a little stained or too worn to donate to Goodwill but nice enough that they still had some life in them.

I really like rags cut out of old t-shirts, so I cut some of the thinner, stretchier shirts into squares. These rags are great for dusting and polishing or drying as you clean.

I had long wanted to try making some of these t-shirt bags. I've admired them on other blogs and kept wanting to try them! I ended up making 8 of them in all. All 8 bags took me 30 minutes to complete!

I wasn't totally satisfied with these bags, though. In my opinion, they are not as cute in real life as they appear on blogs. I did find that the ones that looked the best to me were the smaller shirts that I used. Most of my shirts were too big and looked really wonky! I kept my two favorites and cut the rest into more rags. The two that I kept will be used for grocery bags. I'm guessing that they will work best for light-weight items. If I really like them, I'll make more when I have more shirts to recycle! As for looks, I imagine they will look better filled with groceries.

More ideas for reusing t-shirts:
-make a quilt
-cut squares to use as hankies especially when you have a cold-I can use some of my rags for this!
-Lindsay has a great post about re-using t-shirts. There are more ideas in the comments!
-sew other articles of clothing
-make a rug by knitting or crocheting strips of t-shirts together

Edit: Thanks to Monica for letting me know about Mama to Mama; a charity that donates baby hats sewn from old t-shirts! This would be a fun project to do with friends.

Any more ideas for re-using t-shirts? Please share!

I love finding new uses for things that I have around the house!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Grocery Budget Update

It's been a little while since I posted about how I'm doing with my grocery budget. I find that it is a lot of work to take pictures of each shopping trip and post about it each time so I won't be making a habit of it. I don't want my blog to be all about grocery store deals either. There are plenty of wonderful blogs that have that subject covered!

Since going back to really using coupons, I've been able to get so much more to stock my pantry. I've also been much more aware of what I'm adding to my grocery cart.

I'm still working on having everything planned out. This past month, I've done pretty well.

One thing I've noticed that helps me to stay within budget is to have very detailed lists with sale prices and coupons I have for each grocery store I'm visiting. On my last grocery trip, I only bought what was on my list at each store. At a few stores I found items that I needed marked down. I purchased them even if it wasn't on the list for that store but was cheaper than I had planned and then crossed them off my lists.

Aldi has great everyday prices but other grocery stores sometimes have sales that beat the Aldi prices by far. I'm making a habit to go to Aldi last and get the staples that I couldn't find cheaper elsewhere. I use Aldi prices as a guide for how much I will pay for a particular item.

The downside to using a lot of coupons means that I'm bringing more processed foods into my house. We are still eating pretty healthy but more processed foods than I would like. I am still working through that !

I admit that coupon shopping is a fun pastime for me. I enjoy seeing what coupons are available each week and then matching them up with sales to get things at the very lowest prices! I have so much fun going to CVS every week, too. So for now, I'm continuing to use coupons and still buy as much healthy foods as I can!

My rule is that I will buy the best I can afford on my budget. Sometimes that means organic and sometimes not. I just do what I can! I keep taking more baby steps towards a more natural and healthy lifestyle.

So that's what's happening in the grocery department around here!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Works For Me Wednesday: Christmas Budget Planning

Each year, we save a certain amount of money each month for our Christmas spending. Since we use the cash envelope method for budgeting, it only seemed right to get the Christmas money in cash and put it in an envelope for easy access when I wanted to purchase Christmas gifts throughout the year.

It took us a couple of years to realize that this really wasn't working out. Having the cash on hand made it too easy for me to "take a little out" here and there if I needed some extra money for something. This invariably meant that we would end up not having the money in hand at the end of the year when it came time to do the bulk of our Christmas shopping. Then we would seriously go over budget.

When we reworked the budget at the beginning of this year, we decided to hide the Christmas money away in our savings account all year. If I saw something that I wanted to purchase for a gift, I could take a little out for it.

Since we are a work in progress where budgeting is concerned and each year we learn a bit more, we also realized that just budgeting for our family's gifts wasn't cutting it either. What about a budget for gifts for my husband and I, a Christmas tree, shoe boxes for Operation Christmas Child, and any charitable giving around the holidays?

Those all needed to be added to the Christmas budget as well.

To decide how much to put aside for the year, we divided it into these categories.

1)Gifts for 16 family members.
2)Gifts for my husband and I.
3)Operation Christmas Child shoe boxes.
4)Christmas tree.
5)Charitable giving.

We decided on a reasonable amount for each category and added it all together. Then I divided the total by 12 and that is the amount we put in our Christmas budget each month.

This year, we saved $35 a month and that should cover everything. Obviously, we are not extravagant spenders! And neither do we have children which would change our priorities considerably. Every family's priorities will be a bit different. And if your total amount comes to more than you can save each month, consider where you can cut back or get more creative!

My gift budget for family members is $5 a person. I am determined to really stick with it this year. Sometimes I'll spend only $2 on a person then I can spend a bit more on someone else. I do this by making gifts and watching for sales. We do not give large gifts. It helps that our families tend towards smaller and more useful gifts.

We don't give many gifts to friends. I often make kitchen gifts that come mostly out of my regular grocery budget if we want to give gifts to coworkers,friends and neighbors.

As for charitable giving, we like to choose 2 organizations each year-one local and one international. It's hard to choose only two as there are so many good ones! Unless God leads us to give otherwise, two seems to be the right number for us right now.

Putting the Christmas money in our savings account this year has worked wonderfully! Last week when I needed to buy stuff for our shoe boxes, it was so nice to get the predetermined amount of money out and have those perimeters to work within.

Now some of you are thinking that this will not help you for this year. You've had so many other things come up and saving for Christmas was the last thing on your mind. I don't have any quick fixes for you other than reducing your monthly household budget if you can and using what you save for some Christmas gifts. Money Saving Mom has a great list of ways to make a little extra money, if you need it. I would also advise you to keep it simple and make at least some of your gifts. Look for ways to make the Christmas season special without spending a lot of money. Also, purpose to spend only cash! That way, come January, you'll be ready to start saving for next Christmas instead of paying for the previous one.

Dave Ramsey says that Christmas is not an emergency since it always comes at the same time each year. Treating Christmas as a monthly expense by saving all year definitely works for me!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Making My Home A Haven: Inviting & Giving

Friday's theme was Inviting & Giving.

We had a lot of things already planned for the weekend so I wasn't able to invite guests to my home. I determined early in the week to bake some treats to send with my husband to work to share with his coworkers.

I baked a batch of cinnamon rolls on Thursday afternoon so they would be ready. I used all white flour instead of wheat like I often do. Using all white flour produces a much lighter cinnamon roll. Whole wheat is fine, but a cinnamon roll isn't really meant to be healthy anyways!

Friday is my day off from babysitting. I often plan way too much to accomplish on this day! I had a lot that I wanted to do so I wrote it all down in a long list. I knew that I wouldn't be able to accomplish everything but seeing it written in front of me gave me incentive to work as hard as I could.

This list will make you tired to read. You'll be glad to know that I wasn't able to do it all!

-empty dishwasher/reload
-one load laundry
-update checkbook
-quick run through house to vacuum, sweep, straighten up, dust/wipe
-water plants
-finish closet
-sew tote bags for Operation Christmas Child shoe boxes
-work on last minute details for tomorrow(Andy was setting up at a vendor fair.)
-make dinner (BBQ chicken, green beans, a box of rice mix)
-make yogurt
-make chicken pot pie for Monday
-print shoe box labels for Sunday
-gather all supplies to fill shoe boxes on Sunday
-make lunch to take with us tomorrow

I immediately finished several quick jobs on the list so I could cross off several things in a short amount of time! This helped to motivate me.

Next, I cleaned up the house and emptied the dishwasher. I knew I definitely wanted to finish cleaning out my closet, so I tackled that next. After spending a few minutes on it her and there throughout the week, it really did not take very long to complete. It is not a big closet at all, but I had a lot of trash stuffed in there!

While I was working on the closet, I finished switching out my out-of -season clothes. I'd done some earlier in the fall but it was still so warm that I was using both cold and warm weather clothing. I purged everything that I wasn't wearing anymore or was worn out or didn't fit right. My goal is to have a minimal but functional wardrobe where I wear everything in my closet. I will probably find that I kept a few too many of some items, but that's ok. I'm very pleased with what I have in my closet and drawers now and most everything can be mixed and matched. There is a place for everything now, too!

In the before pictures you will see some piles on the floor and trunk. I took care of all of that too. Our bedroom is quite tiny so any piles look very messy!



Isn't this nice and empty now? Even the diapers are clean! Now to hem the curtains....

After I was done with the closet, I ate some lunch then got out my sewing machine. I sewed two more tote bags that I wanted to pack into the Operation Christmas Child shoe boxes. I had hoped to sew one for each box that our group was doing(8 in all). But I was only able to get 3 sewn so I left it at that.

Here are all three little bags that I sewed this week:

After this was done, it was time for Andy to come home. I put the sewing machine and supplies away.

I put the chicken in the oven along with extra for the pot pies that i knew by this time that I wouldn't finish today and then started doing last minute details for the show. We wanted everything to be ready to go the next morning!

I finished cooking dinner and we sat down to eat. As soon as we were done eating, we packed up the table and a few supplies and headed out to partially set up for the show.

When we got home, I packed our lunch for tomorrow and headed for bed! It was a busy busy day and I was exhausted!

Thanks to Monica for hosting Making Your Home A Haven this week! I enjoyed participating and getting a few extra things done. I decided that I need to get back into the habit of making a short to-do list for each day. This keeps me more focused! Also, I'm trying to implement my quiet time with God early in the day again. When I don't schedule it, it gets pushed to bedtime when i am tired and am more apt to rush through. Reading God's Word first thing gives me a boost to start the day and even if I don't get anything else done, I feel so accomplished knowing that I've spent time with Him!

Making My Home A Haven: Fun

I didn't get around to posting the last two days of the Making My Home A Haven week, so I'm doing it now.

Thursday's theme was fun.

I started out the day with making pumpkin smoothies and bagels for breakfast. I had a little canned pumpkin to use up so decided to try a new kind of smoothie! I added the pumpkin to a banana, plain yogurt, cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg, vanilla and honey. It was really good! I think I would add more honey next time.

After breakfast, I headed out for a walk with Rock. For a while, this was a regular part of my early mornings, but lately I'm having trouble getting it in. I love a nice brisk walk!

It was rainy so the boys and I stayed inside and finger painted, as well as our regular reading books and playing! I really felt very unmotivated to get things done around the house, though. I did a few routine tasks, but nothing major! I worked for a few minutes on the closet but got side-tracked.

During nap time, I baked a batch of cinnamon rolls to send with my husband to work the next day as part of my Inviting & Giving Day on Friday. My husband goes to work so early that I had to plan ahead and bake the rolls the day before so they'd be ready. My inspiration for the cinnamon rolls was that I had a big bowl of leftover frosting in the fridge to use!

In the evening, we were needing to run errands and do some shopping. I really did not feel like cooking, so we went out for dinner using a coupon. I guess eating out was our fun for the day!

Then we did our shopping. I finished shopping for our shoe boxes. This year, our Sunday Home Fellowship went together to pack the shoe boxes, so we all contributed the various items. We ended up packing 8 shoe boxes.

Andy needed a few extra things for his new business venture, so we got those and came on home.

Not a horribly productive day, but a good day nonetheless!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Making My Home A Haven: Cared For

Another day!

I was a bit more on schedule today. Andy was well enough to go back to work so we were up bright and early like usual.

As Monica suggested in her post, I chose a few tasks that I've been putting off-stuff that just needed to be taken care of.

My list for today was:
-dust and vacuum living ,dining and bedrooms
-clean out magazine basket
-clean out closet
-make macaroni and cheese for dinner

Before the boys arrived, I dusted and vacuumed the living and dining rooms as well as our bedroom. I cleaned out our overflowing magazine basket which had also deteriorated to the point of needing to be thrown out. I love to read magazines but they end up as clutter after a while since I don't want to get rid of them because I may need something out of them later. I bit the bullet and got rid of most of them. I saved a few that we really do like to re-read or use for pictures and the rest I recycled. I let the moms of my childcare kids take what they wanted before I filled the recycling bin. I threw out the basket. Maybe not having the basket will force me to purge more regularly instead of passing the magazines off to the Bin of Avoidance? I'll have to see how it goes just to have a small pile of magazines on the coffee table and not have a magazine basket/rack. How do you decide when to toss magazines? What do you keep?

By this time, my first charge arrived and he was in an exceptional mood so he helped me while I started on my closet. We sang a song about the letters and their sounds which he loves. He found all kinds of interesting items to capture his attention.

Soon, the second child arrived. After they got settled, they were playing together so nicely that I went through a couple of bags of stuff from our bedroom. Little ones do like to help go through bags!

For our outdoor time, I decided to let them help me rake some leaves. I purchased 2 small Montessori-style rakes at a yard sale this summer for $1 each. The rakes really do work as well as the "real" larger ones. The boys did so well! They loved raking as well as walking through the leaves and jumping in the pile. Their joy was contagious! This time wasn't as productive for me getting the leaves raked but was more intended as a fun learning and exploring time for the boys. When their attention started drifting, I loaded them up in the wagon and we walked around the neighborhood.

After our walk, it was lunchtime. Then a little T.V. time and stories before nap.

During nap time, I got to work on mending a couple pairs of pants that have been draped over a chair in the dining room for several weeks. It took all of 10 minutes to mend both pair. Why had I been putting this off exactly? While I had the sewing machine out, I sewed a quick tote bag to be included in our Operation Christmas Child shoe boxes. I plan to make a couple more of those and I'll post a picture when that is completed! It felt so good to sit down and sew something! I often put off sewing because of the effort involved in getting everything out and then having to put it all back away soon after.

By now, nap time was almost over so I sat and read the newest issue of Reader's Digest until the boys woke up. Then we had a snack and Andy and I played with the boys (or rather were entertained by them) until their parents came.

After they left, I walked the dog and began to work on supper. Andy's dad was traveling through on business and stopped in for a few minutes. While he was here, our new laptop was delivered. Yeah!!! I can't wait to blog using that!

After all the hullabaloo died down, we sat down for a simple meal of homemade mac & cheese and steamed broccoli.

After cleaning up dinner, I looked at my list for today. I had finished everything but the closet. I did, however, get a great start on that and will make an effort to finish that up first thing in the morning. I took before pictures and will post them after the chore is completed.

See you all tomorrow!

Making My Home A Haven: Clean

Today's assignment was to clean.

But since I did more cleaning than tidying yesterday, I decided to do a little tidying today.

On my list for today:
-care for my childcare kids
-vacuum and sweep
-water plants
-do a couple of small tidying projects
-rake front walkway
-clean out closet/piles in bedroom

I fixed baked oatmeal with cranberries for breakfast. Yum! This can be mixed in only a few minutes then I baked it while I showered and dressed.

Before the kids arrived, I did some general cleanup around the house, including vacuuming and sweeping, disinfecting doorknobs, etc. with Clorox wipes(I am not usually OC with germs but since we've had some sickness here, I wanted to take precautions!), watering the plants and raked the walkway.

I find myself to be very occupied during the time that my childcare kids are here. Once both of them arrive, I pretty much play with and supervise them exclusively while they are awake.

My morning with the kids consisted of reading, playing and supervising. One of the boys is now being potty-trained so that requires flexibility and consistency on my part to make sure that he is making trips to the bathroom every little while.

The boys were very restless this morning so I bundled them up and loaded them in the wagon. We walked to the park and stopped at the ball field. I closed the gates to the field and let them run to their heart's content. They loved it and I was feeling pretty pleased with myself until they both figured out how to open the gates and make a run for it. So I loaded them back into the wagon and we went home for lunch.

After lunch, they watched their favorite TV show-Super Why! and then I put them down for their naps. I quickly checked my email and then went to the kitchen to clean up the lunch mess and emptied and filled the dishwasher. I had forgotten to start dinner earlier, so I went ahead and soaked a couple of cups of pinto beans for bean burritos. I usually make this in the crock pot but since I hadn't planned ahead, I had to improvise. I also took a package of tortillas out of the freezer to thaw.

For my tidying projects, I put away a suitcase filled with a bunch of toys I was switching out. This all went into the shed along with some empty boxes that may come in handy for Christmas. I spent a few minutes in the shed putting the toys into the proper tote and stacking the suitcases.

After I came back in, I remembered that I needed to also put my canner and canning supplies away so I made another trip out to the shed. Having these things put away makes some extra space in the house!

Next I cleaned off my dryer which seems to be a catch-all. I took everything off and wiped it down then sorted and decided what needed to stay. I have to store some things on the dryer for the time-being; it's just hard keeping it neat and orderly looking! I swapped out some baskets from another area and I think it looks much nicer now!


After this was done, I spent a few minutes straightening a few more shelves in my laundry room/pantry.

The boys were still sleeping soundly and since Andy was home again today(although feeling a whole lot better!)and could listen for the boys, I ran outside to do some raking. In about 15 minutes time, I had about half of the front yard raked.

Evidently, the fresh air did the boys good this morning since they both took really good naps with one sleeping over 3 hours! I finally woke him up and gave them both a snack. After snack, they played with stamps at the table until one left. I read stories to the other one until his mommy came a little later.

I had planned to work on my closet while the beans were cooking but we ended up working on some other things instead. Andy has signed up with a new part-time business venture and his first show is this Saturday. We set up a table and figured out a basic layout of the products so we'll be ready! I assisted with the table cloth and making a pleasing arrangement.:-)

After this, the beans were cooked. I scooped some out into a bowl and mashed them with some salt, garlic powder and cumin. I served the beans with tortillas, cheese, sour cream and salsa. I'd brought some leftover taco shells and meat home from Monday night's leadership meeting so I served them alongside the burritos. Obviously, Andy's appetite was back that he could appreciate Mexican food! He was excited about the "combo" meal.:-)

After dinner cleanup, I worked on blogging a bit then watched a little of NCIS. Around 9:30 it was time for bed!

Thanks to Monica for hosting this week's Making Your Home A Haven!

Monday, November 10, 2008

Making My Home A Haven:Tidy

I was excited to join in with Monica's Making My Home A Haven week. My home could really use the help right now!

On my list for today was:
-clean bathroom
-clean kitchen
-clean out my closet
-catch up on my Bible study from last week

My husband woke up sick about 3 am. I had trouble going back to sleep after that. He was pretty sick so I made the executive decision to not have my childcare boys come today. (This is the first time I have had to cancel, but I didn't want the boys to be exposed to the flu and I wanted him to be able to rest.)

My schedule was off with Andy being home sick from work. I ran to the store to get him some more medicine and ginger ale.

What I got done today was:
-cleaned bathroom and kitchen(both were pretty bad!)
-took a nap(I was so tired!)
-caught up on my Bible study
-made chicken soup for Andy

The closet will just have to wait. It really needs to be done and it has bothered me something awful! It'll get done another time.:-)

I'm really glad to have the bathroom and kitchen cleaned, especially the floors! That will have to count as my tidying project for the day.

Supper tonight is homemade chicken soup for Andy and I'll be eating at our weekly church leadership meeting.

I'm looking forward to what Monica will share with us tomorrow!